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. All other references to pop culture likewise belong to their respective copyright holders.
Special thanks to Wild_Goose_01, who was invaluable in correcting all my misconceptions and reminding me that a dozen battalions worth of BETA is a bit much, even for them.
WARNING: This story takes place in Mid-2003, well after -Try Again- and -Valkyries-. Read at your own peril!
"Most people don't grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity. What that is, is aging."
- Maya Angelou
"Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing."
- Abraham Lincoln
In the besieged world of Earth, there are legends that walk among men.
"Beginning final flight checks."
For the first time in the thirty year long war, hope has been once again given physical form to the human race. Men and women capable of defying impossible odds once again walk among the living.
"Left flaps and stabs, check."
Foremost among these heroes are the two champions of the Independent States Allied Force, the newly established special response arm of the United Nations. Two exceptionally skilled pilots who achieved deeds that were thought to have been beyond mortal limits, limits that even other 'aces' could not hope to reach. They were Aces whose presence would turn the tide of battle.
"Right flaps and stabs, check."
The first was the White Knight of the Atlantic and the right hand of Project Valkyrie, 'Mobius-1'. He had protected and guided humanity towards a brighter future ever since he took up arms. He was their beacon of hope, the pillar of morale on which the human race could rely on, one so desperately needed in this dark time.
"Initiate HMD visor and weapons systems checks."
"Visor, OK. Gun, ready. Missiles, ready. Countermeasures, ready. Sensors, ready."
The second was the Black Demon of the Pacific, an enigmatic warrior who appeared only to rain destruction down upon the land in the direst of times. She asked for no praise, nor did she accept any gratitude for the lives she had saved through her actions… nor did she choose to answer for the lives she had taken. It was rumored that her actions were motivated by regret and the need to atone for some terrible sin she had committed, much like her mythical namesake from the native Mayan islander legends.
Whatever the case may be, she was loyal to no single nation. She turned her power on alien and human alike, to preserve the human race by any means necessary. She was both destroyer and savior, the embodiment of salvation through destruction.
"Everything checks out. I have good ends, good highs, good lows, all green, no out lights."
She was a silent guardian, one who only unsheathed her terrible sword when there was no other option.
Loved by some, feared by all, this demon had a name.
"Razgriz-1, all flight checks completed."
"Razgriz-2, all flight checks completed. Flight is ready."
A pair of VTF-0(5) Valkyries waited on the deck of the USS John F. Kennedy. Painted jet black with crimson trim , the dual and single seat 'Valkyrja' prototypes were among the most recognizable aircraft in the entire Pacific theatre, if only because of the fear and awe they invoked whenever they were seen.
"Razgriz Flight, putting tension on. Watch the shooter."
Although it was only late afternoon, the cloud overcast and a slow continuous drizzle seemed to cast a shadow over the battle group as it sailed through the stormy weather. The truly massive fleet was a mixed force of ISAF, US, UFC and COSEAN warships, all working in concert to eliminate the Mandalay Hive, in what was now a four day siege on the BETA stronghold.
All around the Kennedy, TSFs from the three other carriers launched, while the sound of the long range missiles being launched from cruisers and battleships roared in the sparodically. In the far distance, almost beyond the horizon, white lances of light appeared: anti-air fire from a Hive's worth of Lux and Magnus Lux-class BETA, standing on the upper layers of the Hive were desperately trying to shoot down everything the fleet was throwing at it. Such a concentration of military power would have been a daunting prospect for mankind years ago, but today those BETA were living on borrowed time.
All the lower levels of this once impregnable fortress had already been compromised by the combined effort of Earth's defenders, and it would only be a matter of time before the Hive fell.
Already, two members of Razgriz Flight were in the thick of combat, culling the numbers of the BETA like a scythe through wheat. Things were going to get a whole lot worse for the alien defenders.
Now the leader of the four wings was about to join her comrades.
The shooter's hand dropped and the lead Valkyrja, the two seater, rocketed across the Kennedy's deck as the catapult launched it forward into the air at high speeds. Moments later, the single seat Valkyrja followed right after her.
"Good shot. Good engines. Good end speed. Gear up…"
"Razgriz-1, come to heading 0-9-0, how copy?"
"Good copy. Razgriz-1 turning now."
"Razgriz-1, Razgriz-2, leveling on your port."
Both fighters, now airborne, turned and ascended towards the dark clouds in the distance, gaining distance from the crowded airspace around the carrier, as a new voice, the AWACS controller, spoke to them.
"Razgriz-1, this is Crux. Come to heading 0-4-0. We have a last minute update for you from the Chinese. A pair of Carrier-class BETA are approaching from the direction of Chongqing, likely attempting to deliver last minute reinforcements. You have your target. Proceed to mission area, how copy?"
"Crux, Razgriz-1, good copy. Turning in now."
"Razgriz-1, Crux. Good hunting, Demon Lord."
And the Demon of the Pacific took to the skies.
Muv Luv: Do You Remember Luv
"Wait a… that's the Razgriz! That's the Razgriz on the deck of the Kennedy!" Jackie 'Madder Jack' Churchill's exclamation caught the attention of nearly everyone on the helicopter as it approached the USS John F. Kennedy. It didn't take more for the thirteen or so pilots, engineers and mechanics of Project Valkyrie's Rouge Squadron to crowd around the windows, all eager to see the living legends.
"It's the two seater in the front! That means it's the Demon Lord that's getting ready to take off!" Wei Chan squealed with delight in a rather un-manly fashion. "I knew we'd see one of them sooner or later, but the Demon Lord on the way in? What luck!"
"There they go!" The small group gave jubilant shout in the small transport, when the first fighter rocketed off the deck towards combat, followed shortly by its wingman. The group followed the pair as best they could through the small windows, but eventually both fighters entered the clouds, well out of sight.
"Well, this is a good start to our stay!" Jackie grinned brightly as she sat back down on her seat. "The Razgriz on the way in, what are the odds? I do hope they leave some of the action for us though!"
"Do you think we'll have a chance to see real action?" Wei asked questioningly. "I heard from Miss Manadal that Argos Flight used to be babysat all the time back in the old days."
"Don't worry, the Black Knives won't babysit us too much. They're old friends of our unit and know that Project Valkyrie pilots can handle themselves." Jackie assured him. "And don't call Tarisa 'Miss Manadal'. You know she hates it when people do that."
Unlike their predecessors in Argos Flight, the second generation of Project Valkyrie's test pilots hadn't seen much actual combat. The veteran 'test pilots' from Argos had ironically seen more action than most frontline soldiers, and were test pilots in name only, had been folded into ISAF at its inception, leaving the institution they had built in the hands of a new generation. Even Director Takamura had to divide her time between her responsibilities as the Deputy Commander of the ISAF's Atlantic fleet and her duties at Project Valkyrie, and had subsequently delegated most of her duties there to Melvina Vidya Advari, their resident civilian contractor from the Stonewell Corporation.
With the old guard having moved on to the ISAF, this young generation was left as the successors to the Project Valkyrie legacy. They were raw, untested and eager to prove themselves as worthy successors to their predecessors.
Unfortunately, that was something that had been hard to do in the Atlantic theater. The one man 'Mobius Squadron', namely their senior Yuuya Bridges, was practically tearing apart the enemies of humanity all by himself like an All-American action hero. Then when they factored in the Warwolves, the Cerberus Battalion, the Drakes and the other famous heroes of the European Front, there had been nothing for Rouge Squadron to do except run simulations all day.
However, that was all about to change. Now they were in the Indian Ocean, during a large scale Hive siege of all things. They'd finally earn their wings.
"I can't wait to check out the navalised Lightning II," Wei said excitedly. "I hear it's even better than the F-23A Noir Squadron is testing out for the Space Forces."
"Don't be dumb, Wei. No way is the Space Force going to let the Navy upstage their so called 'one TSF army'," Jackie jabbed her old friend in the shoulder, "But hey, those Widows cost more than a Battleship to build. I bet it's nothing more than a jumped up show pony anyway."
"True enough," Wei shrugged. He then turned to their flight lead, who had been uncharacteristically silent through the trip. "So, Tama, excited about being on the front lines?"
First Lieutenant Miki 'Tama' Tamase gave a shaky nod to her friend. "Yes, but I'm a little nervous. I've never really fought in real combat before."
She didn't add that the last time she'd ever seen a real battle was when Hayase Mitsuki had executed Captain Isumi's Shiranui mercilessly during the Yokohama hostage crisis, a year and a half ago. The woman who would have been her commanding officer had died valiantly against that despicable traitor and saved over four thousand lives, but that still hadn't been enough to stop Tama and the rest of the 207th from becoming hostages for days. The death hadn't been a clean one either, and it was something that haunted the daughter of UN Secretary-General's dreams every night since that day.
"Hey relax. Jackie and I are just as green as you are," Wei reassured Tama jovially. "And you're our flight lead on top of that! Don't worry Tama, we'll be fine!"
Then that woman opened her mouth.
"Your fear is a weakness, young pilot."
"Nobody asked you, Jap," Jackie hissed angrily in Tama's defense, at the last passenger on the transport.
Captain Tsukuyomi Mana, proud member of the Imperial Royal Guard, sat with her arms folded in the far corner of the Super Stallion, as far away from them as she could. "I meant no disrespect. I am just making a curt observation about someone whom I have not seen in a long time."
"Well you can take that observation of yours and shove it where the sun don't shine. I don't care if you and Miki knew each other from her cadet days. That was just plain rude!"
Mana merely gave an indifferent shrug at Jackie's righteous fury. "Believe what you will, Englishwoman. I speak the truth, nothing more."
"I'm SCOTTISH, you berk-"
"Jack, it's okay." Tama laid a calming hand on Jackie's shoulder to calm the Scotswoman down. "Besides, she's a superior officer."
Wei, who had been one step short of leaping out of his seat to tackle Jackie to the floor, if he really had to, nodded in agreement. "Yeah, Jack. It isn't worth it."
For a moment it seemed like Jackie would strike out at Mana anyway. Thankfully, she relented, if only for her fellows' sake. "I can't believe the IRG officers out here are all cunts and fags. All the ones back in England were good lads," Jackie muttered darkly under her breath as she took her seat.
Tama shot an apologetic look to Mana at Jackie's snide comment, but found that proud woman wasn't even paying attention to them anymore. The proud Eishi of the IRG had closed her eyes and was in deep thought, likely already having written off the encounter as inconsequential.
Honestly, Tama wasn't sure why Mana had been a last minute addition to their transport to the Kennedy. From what she could gather, the woman was on some sort of mission that was of the greatest importance to the Empire.
For the life of her, the young sharpshooter couldn't figure out what it could possibly be.
"This is going to be on interesting trip," Jackie sighed.
"Be careful not to jinx us. 'May you live in interesting times' and all that," Wei said, as the helicopter made its final approach to one of the Kennedy's helicopter landing areas.
Agent Yoroi Mikoto wondered just what life would have been like for her if the Yokohama hostage crisis had never happened. That one event had completely derailed her entire life plan and had sent the young woman's career spiraling into directions she'd never even considered.
Mikoto most certainly wouldn't be dining with the Admiral of the ISAF's Pacific Fleet and most of his command staff as a special guest, had the situation been any different, but there she was.
"We are very thankful for all the help you and your father have rendered us, Agent Yoroi," Rear Admiral George Alston said sincerely. "I know it must have been quite troublesome for you to have gone out of your way to provide us with the Intel on the Allegiance bases in the Pacific Rim."
"It is no trouble at all, Admiral." Mikoto replied. "It's the least I could do since my government is unable to assist you more."
Although the Empire was bound by obligations to the UN to assist in this Hive assault, the IRG had stubbornly refused to release any assets to the ISAF, leading to her government having to find some other way of trying to appease the international community.
The issue seemed to have arisen over the selection of Mandalay over Cheorwon and Chonqing as the target of this operation. While many in the Japanese were upset that their preferred target wasn't chosen, the IRG had definitely crossed the line with their childish refusal to render aid. It was very embarrassing for the more moderate members of the interim government that the only aid Japan was able to render to ISAF's most recent endeavor was the deployment of the Imperial Japanese Army's 'disgraced' 1st Tactical Armored Battalion. Even the Chinese, who had not been able to go after their own preference, were willing to send a large chunk of their Navy to assist.
Mikoto had managed to uncover the locations of Allegiance's bases in the course of her duties to the Empire, and had been sent to the Kennedy to try and make up for their lackluster contribution and save face. Thankfully, the ISAF brass and their allies seemed to be understanding sorts, and she hadn't been ridiculed or taunted by anyone she had met. So far.
"So kiddo, what do you think about our boat-"
"Ship. Boats are for RIBs and subs," Lieutenant Commander Claudia LeSalle cut in, curtly correcting Commander Focker's 'erroneous' terminology. The pair shot each other amused looks, showing it was all in good humor. "Really, Roy. You have to give our flagship a bit more respect than that!"
"-Ship, then. So kid, what do you think of the Big John?"
"It's a magnificent vessel. There aren't many people in Japan who have been on a dedicated VTF carrier before, much less the flagship of your fleet. I am deeply honored," Mikoto said diplomatically.
"We don't just carry Valkyries, you know," Focker informed her enthusiastically. "The Kennedy used to be a conventional TSF carrier before the refit. We still have some space for a squadron of Lightning IIs. There are proposals for dedicated Valkyrie carriers but the Navy's still debating on what we're gonna do with our TSFs, or whether we're going to stick to hybrid fleet carriers. We've got a side job figuring out the optimal Valkyrie-TSF mix, given they're different horses for courses-"
Mikoto noted that most people outside Japan tended to just refer to VTFs as 'Valkyries', but just couldn't wrap her tongue around the unfamiliar word. Perhaps it was a cultural thing, but non-Japanese seemed to see the VTF as more than just a machine and addressed it as such.
The Commander Air Group of the Kennedy continued his enthusiastic lecture, the rest of the room looking on in amusement. Once again, Mikoto was struck by how open the Americans and ISAF were. The Japanese forces considered disclosure of any technical details to be dangerous, forbidding the practice. She had thought that the American's would very much be the same way, but in a surprise move the US Navy had publicly disclosed many details of the Enterprise-refit carriers on the date of the ISAF's founding, and the official training manuals were unclassified.
Save a few exceptions in certain censored documents, the Kennedy was an open book with almost no secrets. Personnel assignments, intelligence work and the operation of the carrier's nuclear powerplant were all publically available. If ISAF had any secrets, the capabilities and specifications of its fleet carriers were not among them. It had gone a long way to mending America's public image, especially after all the recent blows they'd taken to their public image.
But in truth Mikoto knew that for all their supposed openness, their greatest secret was something entirely different.
"Sorry to cut you short, Commander Focker," Mikoto said. "I know the Kennedy is interesting and all, but I would very much like to know how the IJA detachment we have sent to take part in this mission has been faring. I do hope they haven't been causing too much trouble?"
"The 1st Tactical Armored Battalion?" Focker scratched his head in thought. "I heard of their reputation, but to be honest but they've been nothing but a credit to the team. Well, they're a bunch of mavericks and oddballs that's for sure, but to be honest they're brilliant. For army pilots, anyway." There were unanimous nods from the other members of the command staff, showing Focker was not alone in his assessment.
"I see." Even though she had half expected this, Mikoto hid her intense relief behind her practiced façade.
As Saigiri Naoya's former command, the 1st TAB was considered the worst penal unit in the IJA… what was left of it, rather. Her superiors would be pleased that the IJA's so-called "Bad Company" had not completely embarrassed their nation before the international community, even if Mikoto had already known that would never be the case. She had known that Brigadier General Jinguji had been right even when her bosses were skeptical: the 1st TAB were much more skilled than anyone gave them credit for.
Japan's honor was secure with the 1st TAB, especially with her old friend holding the reins.
"Hm, if I so recall, Lieutenant Colonel Ayamine was an old acquaintance of yours when you were still a UN Army cadet in the 207th, isn't that right Agent Yoroi?" Alston said curiously.
"Yes, she was," Mokoto admitted with some surprise. While it was hardly classified information, she was surprised that the Admiral would bother to bring that up. "How did you know?"
"You could say that we're acquaintances with an old classmate of yours."
Mikoto frowned at that news. Although she hadn't been in touch with her former classmates in the 207th, far from it in fact, she couldn't recall any of her friends being in any position to be an 'acquaintance' with the Admiral, until Ayamine and the 1st TAB had arrived on the Kennedy. "I hope Kei hasn't been saying too many bad things about me?"
Alston looked confused for a brief moment before shaking his head with amusement. "Well, she gave me the impression you were a much more lively and active person that what I'm seeing now! She told me you were one heck of a wilderness expert, so it's a bit surprising you ended up behind a desk."
"That was a long time ago. I did have to grow up some time," Mikoto said, carefully squashing the stab of bitterness and melancholy before it showed on her face. "Working for the Intelligence services doesn't give me much time to go camping or fishing, I can tell you that much."
When the others laughed at what they thought was a flippant joke, Mikoto found it just that much harder to fight off her bitter feelings.
"I'll call you once the Captain is free to see you. If you need anything else, don't be afraid to call me." Mana gave attending crewman a curt nod of appreciation as the door to her newly assigned quarters closed behind her.
As soon as she was able, Mana quickly locked the door and began to sweep the room for any bugs or listening devices. This might have been rude in any other circumstance and was a definite insult to her hosts' hospitality, but Mana didn't care.
For all their overt intentions and supposed dedication to international cooperation, Mana did not trust the ISAF one bit. Over half of this supposed UN special taskforce was made up of US Navy and US Marine Corps assets. Recent events had soured relations between America and the Empire, Mana wouldn't have put it past them to do something as underhanded as spying on a guest.
Even if they were as honest as they pretended to be, the sensitivity of her mission still meant that it would be a good precaution to check anyway. After all that had happened in the last two years, Japan understandably wasn't in the habit of trusting outsiders.
It didn't take very long to do a sweep, and although Mana was no expert in these matters she was fairly confident her room was clean. Satisfied, she put her meager belongings away in the small cabinet they her provided her, than lay down on her bed, mentally replaying the mission she had been given from Lord Ikaruga himself. To be honest, Mana would have likely gone on the mission on her own accord, without his intervention or approval, but the fact that the Lord Protector had asked her personally drove the urgency of the situation home.
The future of the Shogunate, no, the Empire itself, now rested on her shoulders!
"Chūsa, we've arrived on the Kennedy."
Kei Ayamine felt herself being gently shaken to full consciousness from her power nap by her adjutant, 2nd Lieutenant Komaki Sayoko. Never really being one for words, the CO of the 1st Tactical Armored Battalion merely nodded her thanks to the older woman, as the pair quickly got off the transport helicopter. The sun was now beginning to set, and the VTFs that had been sent out earlier in the day were going to start returning from battle and fresh, fully armed ones needed to be sortied to replace them.
While the rain had slowed to a drizzle, the deck was still uncomfortably wet as the pair walked out onto the deck. Kei walked purposefully and deliberately as to avoid slipping on a wet surface. It wouldn't do to have an embarrassing pratfall now to ruin this deployment, not after she and her men had spent all this effort to make a good showing of themselves to the ISAF.
"Lieutenant Colonel Ayamine! Nice to have you aboard!" A young Lieutenant with brown hair and hazel eyes Kei had never met before greeted them as they disembarked. "I'm Lieutenant Lisa Hayes. I'll be your guide aboard the Kennedy today."
Oh, pity. She was hoping to have Rick Ichijo again. That kid was a hundred times more fun to tease.
"It is not problem… Lieutenant Hayes." Kei said. "Are we the last ones?"
Hayes shook her head. "No, Major Davis is still debriefing his people, and Captain McManus from the Black Knives is delayed by some mechanical trouble with her Over Hornet."
In the corner of her eye, Kei noticed Komaki roll her eyes at the news, but this behavior was quickly stopped with one firm look. A year ago, it wouldn't take much for Komaki Sayoko to have some disparaging comment about the tardiness of foreign soldiers, but Kei had made it a point to stamp that behavior out of her right hand woman, since it was those very attitudes that had gotten the 1st TAB into the position they were in today.
Besides, it wasn't Davis or McManus' fault at all they were running late: the Over Hornet was well known to have frequent problems after prolonged operation in wet weather conditions. Vincent Lowell's attempt to give the Super Hornet the same treatment he gave the Strike Eagle hadn't been an unqualified success, particularly given the unique challenges of naval aviation.
"It sounds like those two would definitely like to see the ISAF and USMC start transitioning to F-35s," Komaki quipped, as Hayes led Kei and Komaki to down some stairs into the bowels of the ship.
"The Project Valkyrie team slated to do the OPEVAL arrived just a few hours ago," Hayes explained. The three women walked through the corridors of the carriers, careful to keep out of the way from other crewmen who were going about their duties.
"An OPEVAL in these kind of conditions?" Komaki said with no small amount of surprise. As if to accentuate her point, a series of loud booms, louder than the sound of thunder itself, sounded from outside the ship. Kei knew it was likely the USS Missouri or HMS Warspite firing their main guns at something, possibly closer to the shore.
"It's a bad habit of Project Valkyrie. They like to test their equipment by taking it straight into real combat," Hayes said. "You'll have to ask them yourself, but from what I can gather it's a cultural quirk they have."
"Charging into a warzone with untested equipment is a 'cultural thing'?"
Hayes shrugged. "Argos Flight used to get in all kinds of fights, especially ones they weren't supposed to. They're trouble magnets, and it looks like their successors have picked some pointers from them."
"I see. They must be a very particular bunch then."
Not unlike the people in her own unit, Kei mused to herself, and mentally filed away this information for later. It might be an interesting conversation topic if she wanted to make inroads with this particular team. "Formidable reputation. Very fitting." Kei agreed.
Normally most foreign services wouldn't be so quick to dispense with this information, even if it was pretty much common knowledge, but in the time she had been here Kei had worked to carefully cultivate a good rapport with everyone she had come across.
Kei Ayamine, once thought to be a very anti-social young woman, was literally forcing herself into all these conversations to try and make acquaintances, if not friends. As much as it annoyed her to be the social butterfly, the IJA depended on her conduct and her ability to act diplomatically just as much as it depended on her ability to command.
Kei was more than just a representative for the Empire: she was a representative for the IJA.
Heaven knew they needed every friend they could get in these dark times.
"Komaki, our schedule after the conference?"
"Nothing much ma'am," Komaki informed her, flipping through the notebook she carried on her at all times. "Our unit is off rotation and all our TSFs are down for maintenance until next morning."
"Good," Kei nodded with satisfaction. "Want to meet them. Lieutenant Hayes, you know where they would be?"
Hayes scratched her head. "Well, I am your guide this time."
Having inroads with Project Valkyrie would be very advantageous for the IJA, especially since the IRG had pretty much left them with nothing but outdated scraps after the latest draw down. It was frustrating to see the Royal Guard fielding brand new, state of the art Type-02 Shiranui Niigatas and Type-01 Shinden IIs while the IJA was left with half broken old Type-94 Shiranuis and nothing to repair them with. The possibility of seeing her men die because of defective equipment and uncaring superiors who denied her even the most basic elements of logistical support was a thought Kei would not tolerate for a second longer.
If there was even a slim chance Project Valkyrie could help her she would take it.
The sun was below the horizon when the Razgriz finally returned.
As was normal, the four-man squadron had expended every last bit of their ordnance in the battle and were flying home in a textbook finger four formations. Under the cover of darkness, with their stealth systems active, unless one knew where to look it would be nigh impossible to notice them. The battle group was still waging war against the distant Hive, with the sky filled with other launching and returning TSFs and VTFs, destroyers and cruisers firing terrain-following cruise missiles, and a steady bombardment by battleships. The four black-and-red Valkyrjas flew almost unnoticed in all this activity.
Even their comm chatter was kept to an absolute bare minimum. There were no jests or friendly banter as the four wings returned. That would come later, once they were back in the concealed safety of the Kennedy's hangar.
As they neared the Kennedy, the formation broke. One fighter came in for a landing as the other three patently waited for their turn. Each landing was swift, silent and professional, and soon all four Rangriz fighters were back on the deck of the Kennedy. Then each fighter was lowered into the bowels of the ship, to a specially cordoned off area of the hanger deck, the pilots not even leaving the cockpits. Even if they did, their tinted helmet visors would prevent anyone from ascertaining the identities of the five pilots.
Within thirty minutes, all trace of the Razgriz having ever landed on the Kennedy was gone and normal operations resumed. It was as if they weren't even there.
This was how the Razgriz had remained anonymous for so long, despite serving on a cramped carrier of over five thousand souls. For all their fame and potency in battle, the Razgriz were but ghosts; never once advertising their presence unless it was called for and remaining discrete at all times.
The Ghosts of Razgriz.
The F-35B EMD Lighting II that Tama was supposed to test wasn't the same machine that bore that designation a year and a half ago. After Project Valkyrie had signed up with the Joint Strike Fighter program and had chipped in their two cents to the designs, many wondered why they even kept the name. Outwardly it seemed like mostly the same machine. The larger legs containing obvious internal missile bays were the only really obvious differences. Underneath the exterior, though, was a machine that was truly the next generation TSF.
Tama knew it wasn't the best thing out there. It certainly wasn't the unstoppable killing machine that was the F-23A Black Widow that Noir would be testing out, but the F-35B was designed to do anything and fight anywhere, anytime of the day, and that made it special in her eyes.
"Seems okay. Everything checks out," Tama said as she poked her head around the machine. With her were the rest of her maintenance crew, who were scurrying about to make sure her F-35B and the prototype 1200mm Over the Horizon Mk III Cannon had been delivered without any problems.
"You know, you could just leave it to the boffins," Jackie said from where she waited with Wei, just far enough out of the way so they wouldn't be a bother.
"Hey in case you've forgotten, I'm one of the best shots in the UN Army! I have highly personalized settings for my machine that I have to make sure don't get muddled up!"
Tama was Rouge's sharpshooter, and was probably one of the best marksmen in the world. While she had never actually taken part in a live operation before, thanks in no small part to her father's meddling, her performance in many of the simulations and test exercises showed Tama was inside the top 1% of all snipers worldwide. Tama was so good, she had even beat the records set by her predecessor in Project Valkyrie, 1st Lieutenant Stella Bremer of the ISAF's Warwolves, one of the most renowned TSF snipers in the entire western hemisphere.
Now all Tama had to do was prove she lived up to the hype in live combat.
"I keep having to remind myself that I'm actually doing this," Tama said with no small amount of awe, curiously poking her head around the machine to make sure it was delivered without any visible problems. "The F-35 is so amazing, I still can't wrap my head around it. I would never have gotten a chance to pilot something like this back in Japan."
"Doesn't the IRG have that Shinden thing they're so proud of?" Jackie pointed out.
"I don't think the IRG will let anyone have any of their toys," the Chinese Eishi recalled. "If I'm not mistaken it was the same case with the Type-00, wasn't it?"
"Uh huh. The Royal Guard doesn't like it when other people touch their stuff at all." Tama couldn't help but wince at the memory of the first time she'd ever seen a Takemikazuchi. Imperial Royal Guard officers really didn't like it when other people touched their stuff, especially when that someone was a nosy UN cadet touching a Type-00R that was obviously meant for someone of great importance.
Now that she thought about it, Tama realized that she never found out who it belonged to. It would be pretty pointless to do that now anyway, since as far as she knew that particular machine had been blown to pieces, along with the rest of Yokohama Base.
"How do you think our Lightings will hold up to the Shinden anyway?" Wei asked.
"I have no idea. From what I hear, the specs are classified to the highest levels for the IRG. I heard not even Director Takamura can look at them," Jackie admitted.
"Hm, I think I can chip in," Tama said as she made her way over to a nearby wash basin, her two friends patiently following behind her. Her hands weren't dirty, at least in comparison to the mechanics on their team that were going over her machine like a fine toothed comb, but it paid to be hygienic. "There were a few recordings of a Shinden in action from the recent skirmish near Sadogashima. Unfortunately, from what I've seen I think from the few video recordings… I'd say it's better."
"You're shitting me."
"I overheard Vinnie complaining about how it has an ECA that's better than ours. It also seems to have better acceleration and top speed."
"Damn," Wei grumbled. "We have the latest tech and all the financial backing in the world. How'd they manage to pull that off?"
While the Tama was busy cleaning her hands off, unbeknownst to the trio, a number of visitors to their part of the carrier had stepped out of the elevator and were walking over.
"There you go. Last stop on our list, the Project Valkyrie hangar bay, and the F-35B Lightning II EMDs," Focker motioned a hand to the metal behemoths in the berths with a grin. "Now you can tell your government that their investment has been well spent."
"I should hope so. Five percent of our gross military spending is going to this program alone," Mikoto curtly informed him, as she walked over to one of the machines for a closer look. Neither of them were challenged: Focker was the Commander Air Group, and apart from being escorted by him, Mikoto was also wearing a special pass clipped to her suit jacket, designating her as a VIP visitor. And that was before counting her security clearance, which was so high she could probably get an audience with any world leader she wanted within a week of making a simple phone call.
It sure paid to be the daughter of the most skilled espionage experts in the business.
"Your government is way too cautious. I mean, Takamura's your golden girl, isn't she?"
"She's been spending more and more time as the vice commander of the ISAF's Atlantic Fleet, and pretty much leaves the day to day running of Project Valkyrie in the hands of Miss Advari. Some… members of my government are more than a little worried about our 'investments', especially since most of their more recent projects have been more towards the EU and US." Mikoto clicked her tongue in disapproval.
While it was certainly true that Project Valkyrie's more recent innovations were done in concert with American and European companies, she could hardly blame them; aside from Seburo Arms Incorporated, a small arms manufacturer who steadfastly continued to work with Project Valkyrie in spite of mounting pressure, many Japanese companies had bowed down to pressure from the IRG and had withdrawn their support from the international program. Granted, Project Valkyrie hadn't suffered from this too much, but it boggled the mind that Japan was considering leaving the program just when every other country was scrambling to hop onto the bandwagon.
"Looks impressive," Mikoto mused from beside Focker as she allowed her keen eyes to take in every inch of the three prototypes. "At least, more impressive than the old Fubukis that I used to pilot back when I was a trainee."
"Oh yeah, you were a TSF pilot before you became a spook."
"That was a long time ago," Mikoto replied, walking up to one of the F-35B EMDs to have a better look. She ran a hand along the smooth armored surface of the machine's exterior. She hadn't been this close to the cockpit of one of these ever since her unexpected career change and Mikoto suddenly felt overcome with a feeling of nostalgia. "I haven't been in the cockpit of one of these in over a year-"
Mikto stood mid speech as she saw something that caught her eye. Something that stopped all her thought processes in a mere instant. Something so shocking and unbelievable that for the first time in recent memory, Mikoto lost her poker face, completely dumbstruck at the revelation.
Namely, what had managed to catch the skilled spy completely off guard was the name written on the side of the cockpit hatch: '1LT MIKI TAMASE'.
"Hey, Yoroi. You okay there?" Focker laid a hand on her holder, jolting the young spy back to her senses.
"Focker." Mikoto shook her head, inwardly admonishing herself for her brief off of control. Damn, when did she forget her training? She'd known Tama was with Project Valkyrie for goodness sakes! "Sorry, I just got caught off guard after all."
"Hey!" A shout came from nearly, followed by a patter of feet. "Hey, who are you people? You're not authorized to be here! Get away from that TSF!"
"Easy guys, I think they're authorized to be here."
Feeling a tingling sensation on her back, Mikoto turned to the three Eishi who were now talking to the chief mechanic to confirm that yes, Mikoto and Focker were indeed allowed to be there. In particular Mikoto felt her eyes drawn to a short young girl, who returned the look with recognition of her own. It was one thing to know a fact about a distant friend on paper.
It was another to actually see said distant friend face to face.
"So wait, that girl, not a guy, in the suit has a security clearance level of WHAT?" One of the pilots said in a distinctly Scottish accent, earning a shrug from the mechanic. "Well, balls to it. You should go over and say hello since it's your machine she's looking at, Tama…. Tama?"
The Scotswoman turned to the younger girl, who was staring at Mikoto, wide eyed and open mouthed. "M-M-Mi-Mikoto?"
"Tamase Miki. It's been a while," Mikoto greeted politely, squashing the urge to rush over and embrace the small girl in a hug. Damn, of all the times to run into an acquaintance it had to be in public where she was representing Japan. It wouldn't do to have one of the up and coming agents of the Empire's secret services acting like a little school girl now wouldn't it?
Tama, on the other hand, had no such restraint.
"Mikoto-chan, it is you!" Tama rushed past everyone in the way to scoop up Mikoto in a warm hug.
"Tama, not here!" Mikoto protested to no avail.
"Oh my god, it's been so long! Where have you been all this time?" Tama squealed, bringing herself face to face with Mikoto, not caring that everyone else in the hangar was now staring at them with varying degrees of surprise. "It's been ages since I last saw anyone with the old class! It's been so long and I have so much to tell you! Did you come over here to catch up, because that'd be great!"
"Tama, let me go! People are watching!" Mikoto saw that everyone on the entire hangar was looking at them. Everyone was watching some random UN Army pilot manhandling a high ranking member of the Empire! Damn this!
"I mean, no offence Mad-Jack and Wei, but it hasn't been the same without the old class! When I got assigned to Project Valkyrie I thought I'd see Meiya but she's completely disappeared, and I was so lonely and-"
"Tama, let go!"
"-We should catch up! I haven't seen anyone from Japan is so long, especially after everything that's happened it makes it so hard for me to come and visit! Say, do you have any idea how Kei and Chizuru-chan are do-"
Mikoto put her foot down, all but showing the small girl away from her with both arms. "First Lieutenant! Control yourself!" Mikoto ordered.
The silence that came over the hangar could be cut with a knife.
"Mikoto-chan?" Tamase took an involuntary step back, confusion and hurt written all over her face. She looked every bit the picture of a kicked puppy that didn't understand why its owner had just rejected it.
For a brief moment Mikoto was seriously considering saying to hell with it all and just go hang out with her old friend like the good old days.
But alas, she had her own duties to fulfill.
"First Lieutenant Tamase. I am an agent of the Empire and, more importantly, their acting representative on the USS John F. Kennedy for the time being," Mikoto lectured authoritatively, arms folded and eyes steeled. "And you are a TSF pilot of the UN Army, and the only daughter of the UN Secretary General. Conduct yourself appropriately. You are not a child!"
Tama opened and closed her mouth several times, clearly embarrassed, hurt and confused out of her mind at Mikoto's violent rejection. Mikoto felt like a complete tool for doing this, but she had no choice.
Focker laid a hand on Mikoto's shoulder and gave her a goofy, relaxed grin. "Er, Miss Yoroi, she's just happy to see you. She's an old friend of yours right? I don't think we mind her being affectionate."
"Well, I do." Mikoto shot him a dark look that caused the older man to shut up pretty quickly.
"Mikoto-chan?" Tama whispered still too shocked to do anything. "But… why? Aren't we friends?"
"We are friends, but there is a time and place for everything, and it certainly is not in the middle of a hangar while we both have things we need doing." Mikoto said, folding her arms coldly. "Grow. Up."
The look of complete betrayal on Tama's face really made Mikoto want to crawl under a rock somewhere.
"Hey, ice bitch." Mikoto had just enough time to turn her had before a closed fist landed itself rather squarely on her nose.
"Sense of direction: really impressive. I will include it on any future references and evaluations, Komaki."
"With all due respect Chūsa, shut up."
When Kei initially became an officer in the 'new' 1st Tactical Armored Battalion, a sorry lot comprised of people craped from the bottom of the barrel, she had thought she would be taking up the worst job in the world. Granted, this was something she had chosen for herself, but Kei was prepared to suffer like nothing before, to try and redeem the good name of the Ayamine family and the IJA. She had been prepared to suffer through days upon days of humiliation and thankless work, just for that one chance of redemption. She had expected to be miserable.
And then she met Komaki.
As it turned out, life did have silver linings.
"You turned down Hayes' offer. If we are lost, your fault," Kei quipped, with her trademark level tone disguising how perversely pleased she felt. "Should have known how hard it would be to navigate an aircraft carrier."
"But everything is clearly labeled! See, the arrow says 'TSF Hangar Bay 1', right there!" Komaki protested, clearly at her wits' end.
"Labels were from before the refit. Not updated. Yet."
"You can't just move an entire hangar!"
"Evidently, they did. Either that, or your sense of direction-"
"Gah! Curse these Americans!" Komaki roared, and Kei couldn't help but give an amused smirk as her distraught subordinate.
Komaki Sayoko had been Sagiri's executive officer during the coup, and it was only because of a personal plea from the late shogun herself and the fact that the IJA had become so shorthanded that Komaki had narrowly avoided life imprisonment. Even so, she had still been demoted down to 2nd Lieutenant, only narrowly retaining her commission, and had been dropped back into the 1st TAB by Kei's political enemies as a way to make Kei's efforts to redeem the unit as difficult as possible.
Komaki was but the first of the problems that had led to Kei's original company being disparagingly known as 'Bad Company', a name that had since come to be associated with her entire battalion.
Granted, Komaki was a capable tactician and a brilliant administrative officer, however the woman's entire belief system left quite a bit to be desired. Komaki had been one of Sagiri's hardcore followers, a woman whose views could only be described as 'ultra-nationalistic', and that in itself colored the majority of Kei's interactions with her. It was beliefs like Komaki's that had caused the downfall of the IJA in the first place.
The woman was straight-laced, uptight and the antithesis of Kei's relaxed command style, not to mention a walking talking symbol of everything Kei despised. Perhaps she was being unfair to the older woman, especially since Komaki had since come a long way from when the two of them had first been lumped together in Bad Company. Still, old habits it seemed died hard.
Besides, it was like having her own personal Sakaki to taunt, with having the ability to pull rank on top of everything the icing on her cake. It was all in good fun though, and Kei made sure never to go too far.
"Why is it so important we see Project Valkyrie anyway?" Komaki grumbled. The pair made their way through the mazelike corridors, slowly making their way towards their destination, albeit with numerous detours. "It's not as if they can do anything for us."
"Inroads with Project Valkyrie about political capital," Kei lectured Komaki. "Takamura very powerful and influential. Audience with her might be needed to restore IJA. She's the end goal. Meeting her subordinates just the first step."
"I… see." Komaki said, rather impressed by her commander's foresight. "I never would have thought of that, Lieutenant Colonel."
Neither would Kei have a year and a half ago, but she didn't say that aloud. "And that is why I am the CO, and you are my secretary."
"You make coffee for me and do my paperwork. Ergo, you are my secretary," Kei stated blandly, prompting Komaki to slap her face in shame.
Kei never had been one naturally inclined to command; she was antisocial, lazy and had a certain disregard for authority. However fate was a fickle beast, and here she was, a Lieutenant Colonel in the IJA, forced to learn the intricacies of command on the fly. Furthermore, she only had her position because there wasn't anyone else willing to do her job after almost every other self-respecting Japanese soldier had jumped ship to the IRG, or gotten themselves killed in their misguided attempts to go out in blazes of glory, leaving her as one of the most senior officers in the entire IJA at her young age.
2nd Lieutenant fresh out of training one day, Captain in command of Bad Company the very next, Major commanding the battalion a month later, and then Lieutenant Colonel a year after that. If Kei managed to get through this in one piece and successfully redeem the IJA, she should probably write a book or something.
That kind of story would make a killing… And generations of readers would share her delight in taunting Komaki, which was always a positive.
"Well, this must be the place," Komaki announced as the pair came up the doorway to what looked to be a large cavernous room. "Sign says 'TSF Hangar 1'."
"Let's go in."
"Hopefully, they take visitors and won't take exception to us dropping in," Komaki grumbled. "I told you we should have made an appointment."
And that was when they saw the commotion.
For a moment, Kei and Komaki were rendered speechless. Across the room, a young woman in a Project Valkyrie jacket had just punched a young man in a suit in the face, prompting the aggrieved party to retaliate with a finely executed akido throw. Pandemonium followed seconds later as everyone else in the room rushed over to pull the two apart.
"Break it up! Break it up, both of you!" Someone cried.
"Let me go, Wei! Bitch needs what's coming to her!" The young woman who had started the brawl screamed as she struggled against the man restraining her. "How dare you! She's your friend, you bloody tit!"
While the young woman struggled against her bonds, the young man merely dusted himself off, straightened his suit and wiped his bleeding nose with a handkerchief. "I am going to have a word with Takamura about the disciple of her men."
"And you are a cold hearted bitch!"
As the situation developed, Kei noticed a few things of interest.
First, Commander Focker was already there, and the CAG had pulled the young Project Valkyrie pilot who had thrown the punch aside, and was tearing the young woman a new one. Second, the 'young man' was in fact a woman, and just so happened to be an older Yoroi Mikoto. Thirdly, and most problematic, was the fact that a third Project Valkyrie pilot, a very familiar girl with short stature and pink hair, had retreated to the side of the scene and was openly crying.
For anyone who was formerly part of the 207th, a crying Tama was a crime against the universe.
"Stay here Komaki. Stop anyone from entering. Going over to talk with them."
"Lieutenant Colonel, what are you-" Komaki said as Kei started towards the commotion.
"It's a fight. I'm a senior ranking officer. What do you think I am supposed to do?" Kei finished, her mind dead set on sorting out the mess.
Tama had no idea what to do anymore. Within a few short moments, her day had gone straight to the hell, and she had no idea why. Her eyes darted between Mikoto, who was simply straitening her suit as if she hadn't just been punched in the face, and Jackie, who looked like sure was in big, big trouble.
When she'd seen Mikoto, Tama had been so happy she couldn't help herself. But now thanks to her impulsiveness, this happened. Jackie was in trouble because of her.
"Lieutenant, I don't care what your reasons are! You punched an envoy of the Empire of Japan in the face! On your first day here too! I have a half mind to throw you in the brig right now!" Focker swore loudly as he bore down on Jackie, who looked like she was torn between remaining defiant and cowering in the man's presence.
"What do I do? What do I do?" Tama murmured to herself. Like out of her nightmares, it was happening again. Once again, Tama had caused more problems, and once again, she couldn't do a darned thing. Why did this always happen around her? Why did she always let people down?
Just as she was feeling helpless and unable to do anything, Tama felt a reassuring hand gently set itself down on her shoulder. "I'll handle it, relax."
Tama had just enough time to turn her head and register her surprise when the newcomer brushed past her towards Focker. "Commander Focker, situation?"
Focker turned to Kei and gave her a familial nod. "Colonel Ayamine. It's pretty clear-cut: Project Valkyrie girl here decided to punch Miss Yoroi over there in the face. I believe she's an old acquaintance of yours?"
Tama couldn't see what Mikoto's reaction to the sudden twist was, but that was because she was too busy staring at Ayamine Kei to even bother. Out of the blue, another of her old classmates had shown up, and this time wearing the twin sakura and bars of a Lieutenant Colonel in the IJA of all things.
Kei-chan was a Lieutenant Colonel.
The bombshell was so abrupt that Tama forgot her depression, her mind going completely blank.
"She and Lieutenant Tamase both," Kei said, turning to regard Mikoto with a questioning look, to which Mikoto returned coldly. "I can guess what just happened."
"Well, it's nice to see you too, Ayamine," Mikoto grumbled.
"Indeed," Kei nodded to return the greeting before walking over to where Jackie was retrained. Much to everyone's surprise, the Lieutenant Colonel motioned for Wei to release his comrade. And then she did something Tama had never seen her do before: speak in full compete sentences.
"Commander, I know this is your boat, but I'm calling in the favor you owe me. I need you to ignore what happened here. I'll take full responsibility."
"Call in the-It's not that simple, Kei," Focker sighed. "She punched a guest of the ISAF in the face. You know how relaxed I am, and even I can't let that slide. There will be ramifications, you know that."
"There will only be ramifications if this leaves the room, Roy," Kei noted stoically. "No member of Project Valkyrie will speak out against one of their own. I and my subordinate won't, because I'll order her to be silent and you won't because I'm calling in my favor."
"And what about me?" Mikoto said crossly, if a bit curiously about how Kei was going to pull off this audacious plan of hers.
"You're not going to say anything because of one fact." Ayamine Kei declared, turning to face her old friend with her arms folded confidently across her chest.
"And what's that, Lieutenant Colonel?" Mikoto said mokingly.
"You made Tama cry."
Both young women then turned to look at Tama.
In fact, everyone in the room turned to look at Tama.
Suddenly the center of attention Tama gave a little' meep' and desperately tried to wipe away her tears, to preserve what little dignity she had left.
It was as if someone had set off a flash bang in front of Mikoto. She opened her mouth to protest. Then she closed it. And then she opened it again. And then she closed it.
This repeated for a few more times before Mikoto sighed in defeat and folded.
"…I made Tama cry."
"See, there are no problems then." Kei nodded with satisfaction, then turned back to Focker. "So?"
Focker merely gave an appreciative whistle at Kei's achievement. "Damn girl, remind me never to play any game involving money with you!"
It didn't take much longer to disperse the crowd. Focker and Kei agreed with every other ranking officer there to keep silent on the entire ordeal and Jackie had managed to get off lightly with a mere extra mess duty, far less severe then she would have if Kei hadn't intervened. All in all, the whole incident had taken less than ten minutes to wrap up.
One caveat though: as soon as she had finished tidying up the scene, Kei had grabbed both Mikoto and Tama and dragged the pair with her down to the officer's mess hall, any further obligations be damned. She had correctly guessed it was something between the two of them that had caused the incident, and had used that as an pretext to drag the two aside and 'sort it out'.
Really it was just an excuse to catch up with them, but who was going to call out a Lieutenant Colonel?
Although space was a luxury on an aircraft carrier, especially one as busy as the Kennedy, the good people of Project Valkyrie had managed to squeeze in enough room for an extra, very small wardroom for the officers in their refit of the mighty vessel. Granted, it shared one of the galleys serving one of the main mess halls for the enlisted sailors and it was still rather cramped, but it afforded much more privacy for anyone with access to it.
"You know, you weren't even supposed to be in there. That was a restricted area, and the last time I checked you don't have my kind of security clearance," Mikoto lectured Kei from across the small square table the trio had taken for their own.
"…you do check up on me. I'm flattered." Kei gave a sly grin at Mikoto, who snorted in response. "Would have liked to see you in person. Should have dropped by. IJA needs more friends."
"I had things to do. Time is a resource we in the intelligence services don't have enough of," Mikoto shot back, massaging her temples as she did so. "Ghuh, I knew you were on board. I should have figured the IJA's infamous military maverick would show up."
Tama looked between the pair sitting at the table with her and tried oh so hard to match them with the people in her memories. She was failing.
Ayamine Kei, the young daughter of a disgraced IJA officer. Stoic, irresponsible and free-spirited, Kei was the last person Tama thought would have been suited for command. Yet here she was. The woman wearing her face woman may have had the taciturn exterior her friend used to have, but aside from that she seemed like a complete stranger. Heck, Kei was a Lieutenant Colonel! She was so high up on the command chain it blew Tama's mind.
Yoroi Mikoto, the young daughter of the Empire's most skilled spy. The person Tama had been closest to in the old 207. Mikoto had been friendly, outgoing, and knowledgeable about all kinds of things. Tama had always believed Mikoto was someone who wore her heart on her sleeve and could tell no lies. The girl sitting at the table could only be described as guarded and more than a little jaded.
Tama couldn't understand it at all. Both of them had changed too much, yet it had only been a mere one and a half years since they went their separate ways.
"So how goes the war?"
"You should know. You're the spy."
"You've been to the front line. I want to hear it from you," Mikoto said talking a sip out of her glass. "Eyewitness accounts have plenty of value to a person in my line of work."
"Fair enough. Hive has almost fallen. ISAF occupy ground level. BETA reinforcements destroyed by the Razgriz," Kei curtly informed them. "Just had meeting with other battalion commanders. Feels good. Winning, that is."
"Hm, I never thought I'd see the day where conventional weapons and combined arms could take down a Hive." Mokoto shook her head.
Tama had to agree. Just a year and a half ago when she had still been a cadet, the world had been a very different place. The European Front had started their major push to retaking their mainland about then, but for someone living in the Far East such as herself, things had been as bleak as they always had been. Now, a year and a half since those days, humanity was finally on the offensive.
"Never thought you would be a spy. You have changed," Kei pointed out.
"Speak for yourself. Lieutenant Colonel, at your age? Sakaki would have a fit if she ever saw you. She only just made Taii you know," Mikoto said, and everyone at the table couldn't help but give a small chuckle at the thought. If the daughter of the late prime minister ever saw her rival now, she'd die of a heart attack on the spot. Being a Captain in the 16th Guards Battalion was impressive, but an IJA Lieutenant Colonel, for all the problems the IJA were in now, still outranked her… and it was so much worse when it was Ayamine.
"Don't deserve rank. Only have it because IJA is short staffed and nobody else wants 1st TAB." Kei sighed tiredly. "Also, everyone senior to me kept dying. Eventually fell to me. Thankless job."
"Yeah, yeah, I know. But you're selling yourself short. I know you think that everyone and their ancestors think the 1st TAB and the IJA are lower than dirt, but take my word for it, people do notice the good that you do," Mikoto informed Kei. "You have more allies than you know."
"Nice to know. IRG has too much political power. Dangerous."
So much had changed indeed.
Tama just sat and watched her two friends, no, two strangers who looked like her friends, talk about things she'd never even considered. The topics that Kei and Mikoto talked about were things that flew way over her head. It was mindboggling that the Mikoto and Kei had changed so much.
More importantly, what did this mean for her? Had Tama changed as well? All Tama could do was sit there, head bowed and her thoughts muddled, staring at her glass of milk absently while Kei and Mikoto got reacquainted over a pair of cold beers.
"Tama, you're too quiet." Kei asked with concern. "You okay?"
Tama sighed. "Sorry, Kei. It's just, you and Mikoto… Yoroi-san have changed so much. I don't know how to talk to either of you know."
"The real word has a habit of doing that to people," Mikoto said dryly. "And not just us. The whole world is changing. Nothings the same anymore, not since-"
"Not since the Shogun was assassinated?" Kei supplied with a raised eyebrow.
"Well, I was about to say when Hayase hijacked a Shiranui had put Yokohama to ransom, but that works better I suppose." Mikoto agreed.
In the last few years, Japan had undergone many different shakeups. First was the Yokohama Base Hostage crisis, an event Tama had seen firsthand, that ended with the entire base going up in a ball of fire. Second was Sagiri Naoya's ill-fated coup later in the year, a civil war that had ended up with the ruling cabinet dead, a quarter of the Imperial Capital reduced to ruins, over a hundred thousand civilian casualties and the IJA disgraced as an institution, something Tama knew Kei was working hard to rectify.
Thirdly, and most important, was the assassination of the Shogun on Christmas Eve last year.
The death of the Shogun had been a shock for Japan. It was one thing to have Sagiri launch a coup, because at least he had noble reasons behind his misguided actions, but it was another to have a damned foreign terrorist run in and kill their spiritual leader right from under their nose. Even the BETA razing the old capital of Kyoto of the ground hadn't shaken them that badly. Even if Lord Protector Ikaruga had managed to settle things back down and had secured the country's borders, nothing was the same anymore.
To the average Japanese person, Koubuin Yuuhi's death at the hands of Alfred Walken, an American soldier, was undeniable proof that they couldn't rely on anyone but themselves.
"Ever since Koubuin-sama died, the political situation in Japan has been volatile." Mikoto sighed. "The isolationist and ultranationalist movements have more and more support from… well everywhere. Going against them now is political suicide."
"I wouldn't know about that. I've been overseas for most of that time." Tama said shamefully.
"Better. Ugly business. Don't get involved if you don't have to." Kei assured her.
Tama had been aware of the Shogun's assassination at the hands of that murderer Alfred Walken. She knew it had devastated the Japanese people in ways not even they could even begin to comprehend and brought relations with America to an all-time low. Unfortunately for Tama, she had been halfway across the world. Her father had pretty much shielded her from the entire sordid mess by pulling strings so that she was reassigned to Yukon, and from there to Project Valkyrie. While she was grateful for being placed in a position where she could make a difference, Tama felt humiliated that her father had thought to do such a thing when she wasn't even remotely involved.
How old did he think she was?
"Ugly business doesn't even begin to describe it," Mikoto scoffed disdainfully, her eyes glinting dangerously at the thought. "Ikaruga-sama may have calmed down the situation somewhat, but it won't last. There's talk about who's going to be the new Shogun, and many of the noble families are jockeying for their own candidates. The problem is that most of the candidates are distant relatives, from cadet branches, so there has been a lot of political mudslinging about legitimacy. Koubuin, Takatsukasa… all of their legitimate heirs are dead. Ikaruga-sama is the sole candidate whose legitimacy would be unquestioned, but it's such a hot seat even he doesn't want to take it."
"Ugly business," Kei agreed. "Prefer being a soldier."
"Yeah, well I'm in the middle of that. Fun times for me," Mikoto groused, then raised a glass to Kei. "But hey, it's better than being saddled with a battalion that keeps getting all the 'suicide missions'."
"We get the job done."
"If you didn't I wouldn't be talking to you," Mikoto nodded. "That stunt your boys pulled off in Siberia really turned heads overseas. It's too bad the brass hushed the whole thing up and won't let the rank and file know, because something like that getting out will really boost morale."
"A prophet is never welcome in her own country," Kei chuckled.
"You two are amazing," Tama said sadly.
"We're not. We just get by."
Tama didn't think so. All this time she had been overseas believing she was fighting the good fight, and she hadn't been aware of just how bad Japan, and her friends were, having it. Kei and Mikoto were carving out their own paths in the world, and here Tama was, only just embarking on her first actual mission. What did that say about her?
"Do you… do you wonder what it would have been like?"
"What do you mean, Yoroi-san?" Tama asked.
"What it would have been like if none of this ever happened." Mikoto clarified, tapping the base of her glass against the table. It suddenly occurred to Tama that for the first time since they'd met, Mikoto looked tried. Not tired in the physical sense, but tired mentally and emotionally. "If we had graduated normally and gone onto being pilots for the UN. Not… what we are now."
"Those Halcyon Days?" Kei provided, and Mikoto merely nodded somberly in response.
The trio drank together in silence for a bit, the ambient chatter of the officer's mess downing out their melancholy, if only for a bit. Here they were, the three of them, all having reunited after going their separate paths, and Tama had no idea what to say.
None of them did.
What a joke.
"…I wonder what Meiya and Chizuru are doing now?" Tama finally said once she'd grown too uncomfortable with the silence.
"Sasaki just made Captain," Mikoto curtly informed her. "I told you earlier. She's a rising star in the IRG, that one. Ikaruga transferred her into the 16th Guard Battalion."
"No idea. I was hoping you could tell me actually."
That had been unexpected. "You don't know either? I thought for sure if she wasn't with me she was back on the mainland." Tama said, her unease growing.
"None of your seniors in Project Valkyrie have anything to say about her?"
"They don't like to talk about the only person to ever flunk out of VTF training," Tama sighed morosely. "It's a bit embarrassing to say I actually knew her. She didn't have the best reputation with them."
"I see. Can't be helped, I guess. My office lost track of her about eight months ago," Mikoto admitted, clearly disturbed by her lack of information in this area. "I knew she enrolled in the VTF school after what happened in Yokohama and was subsequently dropped out after an altercation with one Captain Yifei from China, but then nothing. It's like she vanished without a trace. And believe me, when I found out about how little we knew about where she'd gone, I had a look into the matter myself."
"Suspicious." Kei noted. Both Tama and Kei leaned in to listen more closely. Meiya had been one of the two strongest personalities in their training squad, and next to Chizuru she was probably the next best thing they had to a natural leader. To hear that one of their friends had disappeared so completely was juicy news indeed.
"Her practical scores were below average in the training program, they had invested too much time and resources into her training to let her go," Mikoto told them. "This was back when VTFs were very new, and the number of people who knew their way around one numbered less than a hundred. No matter how bad she was at flying one, she had the theory and that was valuable in itself. Project Valkyrie simply couldn't let her training all go to waste. Not back then at least."
"So what did they do to her?"
"I found out she had been reassigned to the USS Enterprise. I don't have the specifics about what she was doing there exactly, but I do know she was there during the VF-8 tests and evaluations." Mikoto shook her head sadly. "But while she was there, I found out something very concerning. She fell into the company of Nastassja Ivanova."
Tama felt the hairs on her back stand up at the name.
As a member of Project Valkyrie, Tama had heard of the infamous 'Ghost of Kamchatka'. The Last Daughter of Zhar, the Revenant, the Gray Reaper, the Bloody Rose of Russia… those were some of the names given to the enigmatic young mercenary who traveled through the battlefields of Earth, leaving destruction in her wake. Thought to be long dead along with the rest of her comrades in Zhar, Ivanova resurfaced last year to bring down a maelstrom of destruction on the heads of several corrupt Soviet officials who were conducting illegal experiments on refugee children, before disappearing back to whence she came.
Since then, her story, from her survival at the bloodstained fields of Kamchatka to her service under Takamura, had become public. Ivanova herself always remained hidden in the shadows, but her reputation was very much in the open. She was one of the so called 'aces', and a very dangerous and unpredictable one if the stories were to be believed.
"She met the Revenant?" Kei whispered. "Not good."
Mikoto nodded, showing some grudging respect of Ivanova's ability to evade her. "Ivanova is dangerous, not to mention very hard to find. My office has an entire file on her, but even with her operating under her real name, nobody can find out where she's gone until she wants to be seen. I thought the only people who know for certain where she's gone are probably Project Valkyrie and the ISAF, and Tama here hasn't got a clue."
"Not your fault. She's the 'ace', pardon the pun, up Takamura's sleeve. Obviously they're going to keep her whereabouts a need to know thing." Mikoto reassured Tama. "In any case, Mitsurugi-san fell into her company and then disappeared. That's why she's been so hard to trace."
Kei folded her arms and leaned back in her chair, thinking deeply about the matter. "What could Ivanova want with Mitsurugi?"
"Don't know, but if I hard to guess it had to do with Mitsurugi's knowledge of a VTF. Her practical evaluations were below average, but she had high scores on theoretical knowledge."
"Radar Intercept Officer?" Kei speculated.
While Kei and Mikoto speculated about the fate of their final classmate, Tama was once again left out of the conversation. Unlike them, Tama really didn't have anything to contribute. She was a pilot, plain and simple. Stuff like this flew way over her head, but she couldn't very well tell that to her friends since they were so into their conversation.
Tama allowed her vision to wander around the officer's mess. This was going to be her new home for the time being, so it wouldn't be bad to see if there was anything of interest in the room. Well there was a dartboard in the corner that some of the Americans were using. The large flat screen TV that someone had installed onto of the walls that looked interesting, although the movie they were watching was unfamiliar and seemed to be showing VTFs fighting strange battle suits in space. She could see some Marine officers lounging around near that…
It was then Tama eyes settled on a very familiar young girl in an orange jumpsuit. The young girl was near the front of the mess hall talking to the duty officer, and seemed to be in the process of getting some packed dinners.
A very familiar young white haired girl.
Wearing rabbit ears.
Tama's mouth promptly hit the floor.
"Girls!" Tama said, nudging Mikoto's arm without once taking her eyes off the girl in question.
"…No way they'd make her a VTF technician. She's a fully trained TSF operator and combatant. Making her a technician is like taking one of the Shogun's bodyguards and making him the cook."
"Girls!" Tama turned to Kei, only to receive similar results.
"Fell out with Takamura's friend, punishment perhaps?"
At this point, the white haired girl had been handed the packed lunches from the mess officer and was on her way out of the hall. With no further options and the object of her interest leaving, Tama took drastic action. Before Kei could even react, Tama had seized the sides of Kei's head and wretched her had towards the entrance of the mess hall.
"Tama, what are you-?" Mikoto began, but the look on Kei's face, recognition, was more than enough to draw the spy's attention as well. Tama had succeeded.
The trio watched in opened mouth shock as a very familiar face carrying a small mountain of packed dinners exited the mess hall.
Yashiro Kasumi, the mysterious young girl who hung around the Yokohama Base and was often seen in the presence of the late Professor Yuuko Kouzuki, wasn't someone the girls of 207th had known very well. That is, until the day Hayase Mitsuki and the Suzumiya siblings took the entire base hostage and dumped them together in an empty classroom. They hadn't been able to get to know her very well in those short three days, but they'd been close enough that every member of the 207th often wondered what happened to that sweet little girl after her guardian had perished in the tragedy.
To see her here on the Kennedy, flagship of the ISAF's Pacific Fleet in the middle of a war, was very unexpected, especially since they'd been of the opinion Kasumi was a civilian.
"I feel like a creepy stalker," Mikoto grumbled as the trio quietly shadowed Kasumi from a distance as the young girl made her way through the ship. The young girl was taking a most peculiar route though the Kennedy, going through the corridors that were seldom traversed by the crew towards the lower levels of the carrier.
"Three adults. One girl. By definition, we are stalkers." Kei chuckled.
"Can't we just go up to her and say hello?" Tama wondered,
To be honest, Tama was feeling more conspicuous then she actually was. They certainly were going past plenty of crewmen, most of them were too busy to mind three girls following a fourth. Those that did think they were suspicious would simply decide that they were not worth the trouble, especially when one of the people involved was a Lieutenant Colonel, another was wearing a Project Valkyrie jacket, and the last had a VIP pass clipped to her suit jacket.
"Hey, she's going in there."
It was than Kasumi stepped through a doorway which was seemingly her destination. Once they were sure she was through, the trio cautiously approached the large stainless steel hatch that barred their way. A quick check of the hatch showed that Kasumi had forgotten to properly seal it on the way through. Other than that, the doorway itself looked completely unremarkable. It wasn't even labeled.
What could possibly be through here?
"Are we going in?" Kei asked after a few tense moments.
"We should say hello to her at least," Tama agreed, pulling the hatch open and stepping though.
What was behind it was unexpected, to say the least.
"This is… a VTF hangar." Mikoto observed, her voice unable to keep back her surprise. It was smaller than the other hangars on the ship, with the walls formed by heavy curtains and plastic sheeting secured to the floor. Mikoto felt a jolt, as she realized this was part of the main aft hangar. The length and width of the room was only enough for a single flight of VTFs, parked neatly together in the tight confines.
The sparsely populated mini-hangar had all the basic necessities despite its small size. The curtains, Mikoto realized, could be drawn apart to allow access to the shared elevator and aft hangar. All the standard equipment for maintaining a VTF squadron was present, and the four VTFs sitting dormant inside the mini-hangar, were arranged in a manner to maximize the space available.
Four very distinctive black and red VTFs.
"This is the Razgriz's hangar," Mikoto murmured in shock, a sentiment echoed by Tama and Kei. The black and red VTF-0(5) Valkyrjas that were before her were unmistakable, as was the emblem of the red headed women in black armor that was on their tail fins and their squadron markings.
RACS-1. '1st Razgriz Air Command Squadron'.
"We've just stumbled upon the ISAF's biggest secret. By accident." Mikoto gaped, unable to comprehend that she'd simply walked into the hangar bay that the Razgriz were using without so much of a fuss. "But… where's the security? We-we can't just walk in like this. There should be guards. Alarms. Closed circuit cameras. Passwords! It's… but my training? Too easy? Unprofessional? Cardboard box?"
"…I think Mikoto's broke," Tama whispered to Kei.
"I think so too." Kei gently took Mikoto's arm, the dazed spy still murmuring incoherently, and guided her further into the hangar.
Really, logic dictated that they should get the heck out before they saw anything of real importance, but caught up in the heat of the moment not one of the former 207th cared. Besides, the door was unlocked and they were looking for a friend. It wasn't their fault if they stumbled upon this place and wanted to have a look around, was it?
It didn't take them long to locate Kasumi. The young girl walked over to one of the Razgriz's fighters, the two seater that belonged to the Demon Lord of all things, and was carrying a pair of packed dinners. Inside said VTF's rear seat was another woman in an orange jumpsuit, who was singing quietly to herself as she was seemingly in the process of running some diagnostics on the machine.
"Retsu ni haire yo, warera no mikata ni.
Toride no mukou ni, akogare no sekai…
"Mina kikoeru, DRUMS no hibiki ga,
Karera yume mita asu ga kuru yo!"
And wouldn't you know it, it was another familiar face.
"Retsu ni haire yo, warera no mikata ni.
Toride no mukou ni, akogare no sekai…"
"Mina kikoeru ka, DRUMS no hibiki ga,
Karera yume mita asu ga kuru y-"
"Dinner." Kasumi held out one of the boxes to the woman in the RIO seat.
"Thanks, Rabbit," Meiya replied in accented English. The young woman took the box off her friend and plopping the still warm meal to one side before going straight back to what she was doing. "Just need to get this done first."
"Are you going to be done soon? Revenant and Rebel are getting impatient. They want to know what's taking so long."
"This OS is being uncooperative, that's what's wrong. I'm almost done with recalibrating your visor," Meiya informed Kasumi offhandedly. "The targeting computer on this dual seater is much more fickle that the single seat. It's an experimental machine after all-Rabbit, your hand is blocking my view."
Kasumi had placed her hand between Meiya's face and the monitor of the laptop she was using, and despite Meiya's annoyed expression, Kasumi wasn't taking no for an answer. "Eat your food, now, before it gets cold." Kasumi ordered, her expression cutely serious.
Meiya heaved a defeated sigh, then set aside her laptop.
"Alright, ma'am," Meiya popped open the packed dinner, steak and gravy, and began eating it under the watchful eye of Kasumi, who stood to the side with an adorably stern expression. "Really Rabbit, you worry about me too much."
"And you don't worry about yourself enough."
Then someone cleared their throat, causing Meiya and Kasumi to turn their heads to regard three intruders into this very exclusive and very private hangar.
"Ko-ni-chi-wa, Mitsurugi-san," Yoroi Mikoto greeted with a curt nod. Right beside the woman stood the Ayamine Kei and Tamase Miki, also looking very interested in what was going on. "It's been a while."
Meiya and Kasumi just stared.
"We were just talking about you actually, Meiya," Tama said with a nervous laugh. "Imagine our surprise when we ran into Kasumi here!"
Meiya and Kasumi continued staring.
"Nice to see you are well," Kei said stoically.
Meiya and Kasumi continued staring for a few seconds longer.
The impossibility of three people not affiliated with the ISAF standing in the middle of the Razgriz hangar bay aside, the mere fact that three of her old classmates had managed to somehow track her down had sent Meiya's mind reeling. The surrealism of what was happening was so overwhelming it overrode her initial impulse to jump out of the Valkyrja and call security. Considering they had been scattered to the four winds and hadn't seen each other in over a year, the odds of Tamase, Ayamine and Yoroi showing up on her doorstep like they had only parted ways yesterday was practically nonexistent.
Yet there they were, standing right next to the Demon Lord's Valkyrja while she was in the back seat doing diagnostics in a bright orange jumpsuit.
Thankfully, Meiya eventually managed to gather her wits and the presence of mind to say something in response. "You do realize this is a restricted area and you are all trespassing."
"The entrance hatch was unguarded and unlocked," Mikoto pointed out.
Meiya directed a glare towards Kasumi, who palmed her face in shame, blushing adorably, then turned back to the three intruders. "Okay, I know this is going to sound a little rude, but I am going to have to ask you three to leave immediately."
"We will. But we wanted to say hello first," Kei said, "So. Hello."
Did… did she just get made fun off?
Who was she kidding? This was Ayamine! Of course she would have been made fun of!
Meiya wondered if she had fallen asleep at her console out of exhaustion and was currently passed out, drooling over her laptop. It wasn't impossible, since such things had happened to her before.
"Mitsurugi-san, can't you come out of there and talk with us?" Tama shifted from one foot to the next bashfully. "None of us have seen each other in ages, and we suddenly ran into each other by coincidence. Can't we just catch up?"
Meiya looked to each of the three faces in turn, still trying to come to grips with what was happening. "Tama, I-"
"What the hell is taking the two of you so damned long? The movie's already started! Ronin, if you're passed out because you overworked yourself again, I swear to god I'll…"
As if the day wasn't complicated enough, Meiya turned to face the person who had just arrived onto the scene through the changing room entrance. A young woman in a navy blue ISAF work uniform was staring at the scene with wide eyes and an open jaw. She was of average height with Eastern European features and her brown hair tied into a simple ponytail behind her head.
Lieutenant Nastassja Ivanova was not amused.
This was not good.
"What the hell is going on here, Mitsurugi?"
Meiya winced. This was going to get ugly, fast. "Nice to see you too, Rev. Some old friends of mine dropped by to say hello."
"Hello," Kei said.
"Kei-chan, please, not now," Tama whimpered, wilting under Ivanova's furious gaze.
Unlike Tama, who was cowed by Ivanova's anger, Mikoto let the anger wash over her like water off a dunks' back. The agent put on a winning smile for Nastassja and bowed. "Hello Miss Ivanova. I have heard a great many things about you. I take it your presence here means you're the Demon of the Pacific we've been hearing so much about?"
"Lieutenant Colonel Ayamine of the IJA and Agent Yoroi Mikoto, the very last people we want sniffing about this place. In our damned hangar. How the hell did they even get in here?" Nastassja questioned, the woman looking more and more annoyed at what she was seeing. "What happened to the guard?"
"I didn't see a guard when we came in." Tama said. "So we thought we could come in… maybe?"
Revenant dropped her face into her hands and gave a loud groan.
Kasumi and Meiya shared a look. Without even speaking, the pair came to an agreement: This day couldn't possibly get any worse.
Tsukuyomi Mana walked through the bowels of the mighty ship in silence, her stride purposeful and her mind focused on her objective. She had already gotten directions to where she needed to go, so all Mana needed to do was go there and wait.
She ignored her surroundings. Even though she was on a state of the art American carrier that happened to be the ISAF's flagship, Mana paid no heed to the bustling activity around her. Unless something happened to place it and her mission in jeopardy, Mana felt that the battle raging around her bore no relevance to what she needed to do.
She eventually reached her destination, a small cabin in one of the quieter areas of the ship. Living quarters for carriers were often cramped with many people often living together in crowded bunks. In that light this small cabin, which had been set out for two, was actually an uncommon luxury.
Letting herself in, Mana took note of her surroundings. The room had a double decker bed, a steel desk and a chair and a pair of lockers, one for each occupant. There was a peculiar-looking stuffed bunny on the upper bunk, but Mana was more interested in the traditional Japanese katana that was displayed ceremonially on the desk next to a small pile of well-worn VTF maintenance manuals of some kind.
Although there was little chance she was wrong, Mana inspected the blade anyway to make sure it was the right one. It was.
"This is the right place." Satisfied that she hadn't accidentally walked into the wrong room, Mana settled herself down on the lower bunk and patiently waited for its occupant to return from wherever she was on the carrier. Given that the room looked like it hadn't been visited in some time, Mana was aware she might be in for quite a wait. Even so, she was prepared.
Be it now or later, Mana would meet Mitsurugi Meiya: former UN pilot cadet, washout of Project Valkyrie's VTF School, ISAF soldier…
The future Shogun of Japan.
First off, before anyone complains, I did warn people that I might jump around a bit when it comes to writing for this setting. In case anyone is wondering why I skipped so far into the future of the DYRL timeline for this particular fanfic, I thought it would be a good idea to give everyone a taste on how things would evolve thanks to the meddling of the Macross protagonists. It also helps me hint of future events, notably the altered events of Sagiri's Coup, the Shogun's assassination, and arguably the shadow 'civil war' in the US that Goose is so excited about (which is why they're 'nicer' than in Muv Luv canon).
The ML: DYRL world cira 2003 is a better place in some ways, and more messed up in others. On one hand, the ISAF is showing a resurgence in international cooperation between the NATO countries and their combined arms approach is working very well against the BETA. On the other hand, Japan is undergoing political upheaval on a scale never before seen, and could possibly become a fascist state at the rate they're going, and a fascist state with better tech than the ISAF to boot.
More importantly, we get to see what happened to Takeru's girls without the bratty savior to light up their lives., and wouldn't you know it: none of them are doing things they thought they would be doing! Kei's the CO of the unit that ALMOST destroyed Japan, Mikoto is a spook that is too at her job, Tama is a Project Valkyrie test pilot, Chizuru is… not here… and Meiya is in bright orange overalls getting chewed out by Nastassja for letting intruders into the hanger! Hooray for unexpected career changes!
All and all, consider this a sneak preview on what the future holds of ML:DYRL, one that will receive a few updates from time to time to deal with the ongoing plot. And just to be a bastard to sucker in more readers, here's a spoiler: Max Jenius is one of the characters. Guess where he'll show up? *evil laugh*
In any case, Valkyries Pt. 3 is actually already written up and undergoing some revisions. Probably will only be out once I get another break though. There are also two 'newpaper clippings' covering some of the events I described earlier that I'll put up sometime soon. Thank you for your continued support, and I you enjoyed my fic!