Flight 105:  Skull vs. Fairy



For combat training, Sheryl joined all the first-years and some second-years at the shooting range.  Their instructor was a tall zentran named Bruce Gamelin.  He outlined the morning events with as few words as possible.

"I'll talk to each of you.  Tell me what you want to improve.  Practice while you wait your turn.  You're not graded here.  Take this time to learn."

Sheryl felt relief at his words.  She adjusted her headset and goggles before picking up the practice gun with her left hand.  Six months ago, she would not have dreamed of being here and holding a weapon.  The target loomed before her.  She pointed the gun at it, imagined Ozma's face and fired.

On her turn, she met Mr. Gamelin in a trailer office.  He looked over her data and asked, "What do you want?"

Based on how he phrased the question, she answered in a determined voice, "I want to shoot a man down."

Like a sales clerk, he asked for specific details with such a stony expression that Sheryl wondered if he realized what she asked for.  "In the ground or in the air?"

"In the air."

"With a suit or in a plane?"

"With a suit."

"Experienced or not?"

"Very experienced."

"By when?"

"By Friday, after camp is over."

He began typing into his terminal.  "You'll do dogfight exercises with your suit.  My assistant, Ray Ivanov will instruct you.  Pick up a rail assault rifle with a forearm assist brace and paintball ammunition.  Report to Ames field." 

Then he pressed some keys on a control panel and spoke into a mic.  "Poly Noryansky, report to my office."

Sheryl guessed that she was dismissed and walked out.  She picked up her equipment, suited up and met Ray Ivanov at Ames field.  He was a tall, blonde-haired man with a wiry frame and slanted gray eyes.  He checked her data on his digipad.

"Dog fighting left-handed?  That's tough," said Mr. Ivanov with a Russian accent.  "Better to use your dominant arm.  But there are still things you can do though.  I'll have you start with the droids at level 3, and we'll go from there."

"Will my aim improve if I use my right?"

"Yes, your data from three weeks ago is much better than the Thursday's."

"The suit's right shoulder is locked.  Can you unlock it?"

He looked at her dubiously.  "I don't know... I had a dislocated shoulder before, and it took a long time to heal.  I'm not a doctor, so have them look at it.  If it's ok, I'll take it off.  For now, use the left.  Here, I'll setup the brace for you."

She allowed Mr. Ivanov to adjust the brace and rifle.  When he was done, she launched from the catapult and flew to the waiting droids.   As soon as he gave the go signal, she fired at the droids.  The Galaxy Fairy was not going down without a fight.

-----

The droids chased her through the sky.  With deft moves, she dodged their shots and counted patiently.  18, 19, 20.  It took a few seconds for the droids to switch to another cartridge, so she stalled in the sky and turned in place.  Her rifle swung in an arc and she fired at an angle relative to the droids to compensate for the opposing wind direction.  Three shots hit and the droids fell silent.

However, one was missing.  A gush of wind came from her left.  She turned quickly to see it aiming just six feet away from her.  Engines in reverse, she dropped down in a steep backward pitch.  Bullets sailed over her face.  To prevent it from aiming, she kicked the droid with her foot.  Lining up the sight with her left eye, she fired the final shot.  The droid fell silent.

"Nome!  Don't damage the equipment!" scolded Mr. Ivanov.

"Sorry..." breathed Sheryl heavily.  "I... got carried away.  What's next?"

"That's it for today.  You did well.  I'll set the next level to 5.  If you keep going up a level everyday, you can be at level 7 on Friday."

"That's not good enough... I have to go higher."

"What?  Don't be greedy.  You're up a level since yesterday, so you're improving pretty quickly.  There's no need to rush.  Anyway, see you tomorrow."  He began to turn off the droid control system.

She made a mental note to ask him for level 6 instead.  Her hands gripped the rifle.  "I can do it... I have to."

-----

After two days of debating sessions, Cathy was hoping to spend a quiet evening with her uncle.  To her chagrin, he continued to bring up problematic issues.

"If I were you, I would seriously challenge the Resource Allocation Act.  This planet is the richest source of flow crystals.  It is a gold mine waiting to be plundered.  That Act would give the Earth government power over mining licenses without any consent from the Frontier government.  Do you realize what this means?"

Her forehead creased in concentration.  "It means... unregulated trade with Earth and no benefits to Frontier."

"Exactly.  Given clause 63.2, a new world remains an Earth territory for a year in the name of stabilizing the colony.  During this time, Earth can impose its law on the colonists."

"If that's the case, then there's no way out, is there?"

He rubbed his chin thoughtfully.  "There are some possibilities.  First, consider that..."

Cathy listened attentively to his ideas and realized that she really was not up to the task.  It would be better if her uncle became president.  However, when she brought up the topic several times, he evasively changed to another topic.  When he finished his explanations, she appealed one more time. 

"Don't you see, Uncle?  You have a better understanding of the issues.  Frontier needs someone like you."

Without warning, Felix picked up his wine glass and dropped it on the floor where it shattered into many pieces, splattering red liquid on the marble floor.  Cathy was shocked at his action, since he was not a violent man.  However, when he spoke, there was no violence in his words.

"Glass can be brittle or it can be strong enough to stop bullets.  It can shatter and cut or it can break into small pieces to prevent injury, sacrificing itself to save.  Tell me... what kind of glass are you?  No... it's too early to ask you that.  Rather, what kind of glass will you be?"

He paused for several seconds before continuing.  "You say you lack experience?  Then get some.  You say that you're too young.  I say let the people judge you for your deeds rather than your age.  As for age, I'm already 62, just 8 years younger than Lehr and 3 years before retirement.  Based on the proposed constitution, the president is in office for 4 years.  Your Aunt Cire has been looking forward to moving to our condo in Hawaii.  Even if I became president here, I can never convince her to come with me.  My place is at her side, on Earth.  Besides, I'm old, kitty Cat.  Old folks like me will move on and someone has to take our place.  So it's my hope to live long enough to see the next generation take control of their future."

Cathy thought about his words while the butler swept the shattered glass into a dustpan.  When he was done, she spoke.

"How dare you..."

Now, it was Felix's turn to be surprised.  Cathy did not take his criticism well at all and was retaliating to the perceived affront.  Perhaps, he had overestimated her mental maturity.

With a disappointed tone, he responded, "I see that I had wasted..."

Her words cut him off.  "You'll pay for that, Uncle.  That was Mom's favorite crystal from Italy.  I'm sending an expense report to your secretary."

Felix blinked.  Then he regained his composure and he smiled slightly with nostalgia at the sight of that poker face and steady eyes.  It reminded him of Howard.  "I apologize for that, kitty Cat.  I must be getting senile, breaking Cordia's wine glass.  I'll ask your Aunt Cire to send you a replacement.  She has a matching set that's been sitting unused in our cupboard.  Our Hawaiian condo is small, so I doubt we'll take it with us."

Cathy smiled sweetly and leaned back, steepling her fingers.  "Thank you, Uncle Flex.  Now about the Resource Allocation Act..."

-----

The VF-19 training proved fruitful.  It was obvious which pilots were too used to the wind tunnel and were unable to handle the turbulent air currents of Frontier.  Like separating chaff from grain, Ozma eliminated pilots on his candidate list.  He was pleased with the remaining candidates so far and was looking forward to talking to Cathy about them.

Wheels screeching, he parked in front of the Glass mansion and got out.  With long strides he walked up the marble steps and rang the doorbell.  Just then, the door opened and instead of Erenmeyer, an old man stood at the doorway.  With his hat and overcoat, it seemed that he was about to leave.  As Ozma stared at him, his features looked familiar.

"May I help you?" asked the man.

Assuming that he was probably a servant, he replied, "I've come to see Cathy."

Cathy's voice came from behind the man.  She stepped into view.  "Ozma?  Is that you?  C'mon in."

"Kitty Cat, who is this gentleman?" demanded the old man.

"Oh, Uncle, please remember not to call me that in public," implored Cathy.  "Anyway, this is Ozma.  Ozma, this is my Uncle Flex."

The photograph in the hall flashed in Ozma's mind.  Felix looked much younger then.  However, he could see the resemblance to Howard.  He shifted the pie to his left hand so that he can shake.  "Pleased, to meet you, sir."

Felix firmly shook his hand.  "And I as well."  Then his nose twitched.  "Dare I guess that there is pineapple pie in that box?"

"Er... yes..."

"Then it is best to have it while it's fresh.  Kitty Cat, where can we partake of this dessert?"

Cathy was confused about her uncle's sudden change of plans.  "Ah, let's go to the sitting room.  I'll ask Murine to serve us."

They gathered in the sitting and soon, each received a slice of pie.  Murine poured Ozma's zencoffee from his thermos into their cups.

"This is an excellent brew, Ozma," remarked Felix as he sipped the coffee.

"Thank you, sir."  He did not touch his slice and instead, watched Felix warily.

"I did not catch your last name."

"It's Lee, sir.  Ozma Lee."

"Ozma Lee..." repeated Felix.  "Now, Ozma, how did you meet my niece?"

Cathy did not like how this was going.  Ozma seemed very tense, like an animal cornered by a predator.  Her Uncle Flex was firing questions like a court prosecutor, candid yet imposing.  Before she could think of a way to break the ice, Erenmeyer came in and whispered in her ear that Lehr was on the phone.  Regretfully, she had to leave them alone.

"I'm sorry, but I have to take a call.  I'll be back as soon as I can."  As she exited the room, she prayed that nothing serious would happen.

Ozma patiently answered Felix's questions.  The first batch was about his history with Cathy.  He responded as discreetly as possible and tried to avoid revealing how intimate their relationship was then and now.  The next batch of questions was about himself.

"A pilot... and still enlisted in NUNS?" asked Felix.

"Yes, sir."

"This is a problem.  Although she is several levels above in the chain of command, ultimately, it is the consequence of her decision as Commander-in-Chief that will send you to certain death."

"Only if she's the president, sir."

His deep-set brown eyes looked at him intently.  "I see... you're aware of her efforts to convince me to run for office.  I must tell you that we have reached an understanding."

Ozma's voice rose with hope.  Cathy would no longer suffer the stress of the presidency.  "Then you'll do it?"

"No."

He banged his fist on the coffee table, causing the cups to clank on their saucers.  "But you gotta!  I've watched the hearings on public TV and they're tearing into her like a pack of wolves!  Are you gonna let 'em do that?"

"It is expected.  There will always be opposition and disagreements.  Every politician must learn to deal with it."

"Well, it's breakin' her heart!  She's not ready!"  If she remained in politics, it would turn her into one of them.  Felix had to be convinced.

"If not now, then when?"

"When...?"  The question drew fear into his heart.  "You're gonna encourage her to remain in politics?  To live her life among conniving..."

Before he could finish, Felix interrupted sternly.  "You make us sound like heartless jackals.  I assure you that quite a good number of senators are men AND women of integrity."

"Sorry, I didn't mean you, of course, which is why I'm asking you to reconsider..."

"It's alright, Ozma," said Cathy as she walked into the room.  "Uncle Flex and I talked about it already.  I'll tell you later, ok?"

She sat down and picked up her slice.  "Now then, let's put politics aside.  What were you two talking about before?"

Felix leaned back and steepled his fingers.  "Oh yes... Ozma was not clear about certain things.  He mentioned that he escorted you after the Miss Macross parade, but if I recall, Howard complained that you did not come home until 1 AM that evening.  A proper escort would bring his charge home after festivities were over, but such was not the case.  Perhaps, you could enlighten me."

The piece of pie slid off her fork.  Ozma shifted uneasily in his seat.  Silently, she cursed at his big mouth.  Quickly, she prepared an excuse and hoped that she would not reveal anything embarrassing for the rest of the evening.

-----

Sheryl closed her eyes and tried.  The link remained cold and silent.  Ever since last Friday, she tried contacting Ranka by link or by phone.  Nanase was not having much luck either in trying to figure out what happened between her, Ozma and Brera. 

She gingerly touched her shoulder.  It was still sore, but she was able to move it more freely.  Reaching over her head, she picked up the digipad and reviewed the shoulder exercises.  As she did some exercises, she hoped that it would feel well enough to use tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Eriko met with Kanagi in the common room.  "What's going on with Pink?  She's been really down since Friday and last I heard she's been training like a maniac."

"W-well... she probably misses her b-boyfriend..." said Kanagi.

"Did she tell you anything when she was out last Friday?"

"S-she didn't say much," replied Kanagi evasively.  "She just told me that she was on her way back."

Deep blue eyes stared at the green-haired meltran.  "Why do I get the feeling that you aren't going to tell me?"

Kanagi swallowed and strengthened her will against those probing eyes.  She promised Sheryl after all.  "I-I really don't know anything about her boyfriend."

"Hmmph.  If that's all there is to it, then I won't pry anymore.  But if you ever change your mind, I'd like to hear it."

"I-I'll tell you if I find out m-more."

"Thanks." 

The captain turned and left the room.  At her exit, Kanagi exhaled in relief.  However, as she walked to the bathroom, she could not help but wonder how Ranka was involved.

-----

Motorized wheels whirring, Sheryl hurried.  She was on her way to Ames field but Mr. Gamelin called and told her to report to shuttle port 10.  There, she found a group of meltrandi boarding a shuttle.  The instructor in charge waved her in. 

"Hey, it's Pink!  Over here, Pink!"

After enduring hours of yelling, she knew that voice instantly.  She made her way through the shuttle and stood near Tadyana and Aris.

"How's it going?" asked Aris.

Sheryl shrugged.  "Alright, I guess."

They exchanged news of their lessons.  A quick trip later, the shuttle landed at large facility.  Sheryl stared in awe at all the gigantic meltrandi walking around.  

The redhead slapped her on the back.  "Welcome to the MWA.  I don't know why you're here, but you're about to get some special training."

Based on what she said, Sheryl realized that Tadyana did not know her goal for doing combat training.  Her eyes wandered across the newly built buildings that were supposedly modeled after the destroyed original on Island-3.  "I've always wondered what it's like."

Aris tugged excitedly on Tadyana's arm.  "Here she comes."

Sheryl's eyes widened in recognition at the sight of Clan Clang.  However, instead of her pilot's suit, she wore a traditional zentraedi officer's uniform.  With her long red waistcoat, she brimmed with authority as she approached at a stately pace.

"Good morning, Mihoshi cadets," boomed Clan.  "I welcome you to the Meltrandi War Academy.  I am Clan Clang, commandant.  Your combat instructor has sent you here on recommendation.  Everyone of Meltran descent should proceed to the macronization chambers.  After you macronize, you will be assigned a proctor who will oversee your training.  Everyone else, please follow instructor Rora."

Sheryl and two other girls followed a micronized Rora to a waiting room.  Rora gestured at the chairs and stools. 

"Please wait here until you are called."  Then she exited through a door at the other end of the room.

Sheryl made a study of her rifle while she waited.  Overt glances at the other girls indicated that they were just as bored.

About five minutes later, Rora opened the door.  "Cadet Nome, please follow me."

Sheryl obeyed and followed her through another room.  Then she was admitted to a large hall, or in the case of a macronized meltran, an office.  In particular, she stood on a platform overlooking Clan's office.  A light-projection monitor floated near Clan and displayed some data.

Clan leaned forward.  "Gamelin said that you wanted to shoot a man down.  What's this all about?"

"Exactly what he said," replied Sheryl.

"Aren't you getting ahead of yourself?  You're just a first-year!  You have time to practice your skills."

"I don't have time."

Concern flooded the meltran's face.  "Is it the virus?  You're not sick again, are you?"

"It's not the virus.  I just need to defeat a man, that's all."

"Gamelin said that your opponent is very experienced.  Who is he?"

"Do you have to know?"

"The more I know about your opponent, the better my chances are of being able to help you."

With a deep breath, Sheryl named him with all the spite in her being.  "Ozma Lee."

For a moment, Clan did not react.  When she did, she began to laugh.  "Ozma?  That's a good one..."

"I'm serious!" yelled Sheryl.  When Clan continued to laugh, she tried to get her attention.  "Hey!"

At Sheryl's expression, Clan composed herself.  "Why go through all this trouble?  Just ask Alto to do it for you!  He's your boyfriend, isn't he?"

"Alto has nothing to do with this.  I need to defeat him myself."

"Why?"

Her hands tightened on the rifle.  "Because I have to..."

Suddenly, Clan's friendly tone changed.  "Do I have to repeat myself, cadet?  State your reason or leave!"

Reluctantly, Sheryl gave in.  With all the bravado at her disposal, she declared, "I want to challenge Ozma for the right to date his sister!"

Clan's eyes went round.  "What?!"

Sheryl repeated it more slowly.  Clan leaned back and crossed her arms. 

"Aren't you dating Alto?"

"No."

Clan cradled her head in her hand and began to laugh bitterly.  Sheryl resisted the urge to snap at her and kept quiet. 

"I thought both of you were interested in each other."  The meltran sighed with a far away look in her eyes.  "Another strike for me in the romance category..."

Then with a tone of a curious schoolgirl, the commandant asked, "Is he opposed to it?"

"Very.  He thinks Ranka should date guys."

"Is she interested in you?"

Before Friday, Sheryl would confirm it without hesitation.  "I... I think so... I hope she does..."

Clan nodded in understanding.  "I get it.  You want to get Ozma's approval.  You're hoping that his approval will make things clear."

"Can you help me?"

She snapped her fingers.  "Of course.  Gamelin was one of my teachers, back in my cadet days.  I'm happy to help his student."  Her hands danced over a light-projected keyboard.  On the monitor, data whizzed by. 

"Yakk!  Your combat scores are really awful.  What's this?  Ozma proctored your test?"  She fell silent as her eyes read the data.  When she watched the accompanying video, her face scrunched up as if in disgust.

"Ok, now that's low.  I don't care if he's an officer, but he shouldn't do that to a first-year," remarked Clan as her eyes continued to read.  "Deculture!  Where'd you learn to barrel roll like that?"

"It was luck."

Those green eyes bored into her.  "Look, you're incredibly inexperienced.  If there's something, anything you can use to your advantage, I want to know so I can factor it into your training."

Sheryl told her the training with the Vajra queen.  Clan listened with obvious fascination. 

"A link across Vajra minds... this has possibilities... Hmmm...  When do you plan to challenge him?"

"This Friday."

"You're really masochistic, aren't you?  With your scores and the progress you've made so far, you don't have a chance to win.  No wonder Gamelin sent you to me." 

She began typing on the keyboard.  "I need to talk to the other girls.  In the meantime, Rora will show you to a training room.  Get out of your suit and log in to the terminal.  I've sent you access to videos and simulator records of Ozma.  Watch them until I come over."

Sheryl bowed deeply.  "Thank you very much."

"You're welcome.  I'll be right with you when I'm done."

Rora brought in the next girl.  Then Sheryl followed Rora to a large room with shelves full of various equipment and weapons.  She did as she was told and watched the videos.  Ozma was a very impressive pilot.  Clan was right.  The gap was wide.  However, she did not want to give up.

About thirty minutes later, the room's long wall split in two and slid to the sides.  It revealed another large room with Clan sitting on a chair.  She fiddled with a zentran version of the recording system.

"Sit comfortably.  Have you ever done mind battles before?" asked Clan.

"No," replied Sheryl.

"Assume that we're in battle with our suits.  I'll describe my action.  Then you'll describe your action.  We alternate back and forth.  Once we try it, you'll get the idea.  Ready?" 

"Yes."

"We start facing each other 300 meters away, out of range of our paintball rifles.  I veer left, 20 degrees."

At first, Sheryl was confused.  Clan was flying toward her firing arm.  And then she remembered that she was supposed to be firing with her left.  In this case, Clan was flying away from her firing arm.  If she flanked her too far, then it would be harder to turn and fire at her.

"Yaw right, 10 degrees."

"Pitch up, 30 degrees.  Climb 20 meters."

"Pitch up, 50 degrees.  Climb 10 meters."

As the battle went on, it was getting harder for Sheryl to picture how far they were.  Several moves later, Clan fired her rifle.  Sheryl fired on her turn as well.  They did about ten or so turns before the meltran declared a stop to the exercise.

"What did you notice about your moves?" asked Clan.

"It was getting really confusing," replied Sheryl.  "I lost track of how far apart we are."

"Anything else?"

Sheryl could not think of any.  "No, nothing else."

"You were just reacting to my moves," explained Clan.  "Your purpose is to win, so your moves must get you to your goal.  Let's try the exercise again, but this time, I'll describe why I'm doing it.  Then you'll describe your action and your reason."

Clan repeated her moves.  "Veer left, 20 degrees, flank your weaker side."

"Yaw right, 10 degrees.  Pitch up, 10 degrees.  Prevent flanking."

"And what else?"

"What else?"  She was confused.

"You're trying to win, right?  Do something to win."

Unfortunately, Sheryl's mind drew a blank.  She stared at the floor helplessly.

Clan rubbed her temple in exasperation.  "Don't tell me you haven't planned a strategy."

"I've been doing intense combat training since Monday!" protested Sheryl.  "I haven't gotten a chance to think of one!"

The commandant waved it away as if it meant nothing.  "Any kid in an arcade can shoot droids.  You're up against a real person, so you have to outsmart him as well as outmaneuver him."

Her fingers tapped on the control panel and a screen was projected on the wall closest to Sheryl.  Ozma's simulator recording began to play.  A red pointer appeared next to Ozma's plane and traced the path of his approach.

"To give you an idea of some strategies, let's analyze how Ozma fights.  Now watch his approach towards his opponent.  Notice the steep knifing maneuver..."

Sheryl listened in rapt attention at Clan's explanations.  As they went through each session, she began to get a better grasp of strategy. 

They reviewed Ozma's records until lunch and a few hours after.  Then Clan stood up. 

"That's it for now.  We'll do more mind battles tomorrow.  Remember, don't just react.  Anticipate his attack, and even better; force him to where you want him to be.  Do that, and he's going down."

Her eyes rose up with determination and hope.  "I will.  Thank you very much."

Clan nodded.  "Rora will send you to combat training with the human girls for the rest of the day.  Fly however you like and shoot them down.  In a real battle, you don't fly textbook."

A wolfish grin graced her face.  "I intend to.  See you tomorrow, commandant."

The meltran returned her grin and waved as she walked out.  "Later."

Sheryl suited up and looked forward to some shooting action.  After all those mind battles, her fingers itched to pull the trigger.
 
-----

The next day, Sheryl met Clan again at the same training room.  Before they got started, the commandant showed a picture of Hope on a roof.

"Is this your Vajra?"

"Yes."

"Can you bring it in here?  Some of my cadets have noticed it, and it's distracting them.  I don't want it to be involved in any 'stray shot' accidents."

Her eyebrows arched in surprise that Hope was noticed at all.  She usually concealed herself very well.  If the airbase knew that she was there, they never complained about it.

"Do you have a window that she can fly to?" asked Sheryl.

Clan went to a window and opened it.  Then she took out a handkerchief and tied it to the window latch.  "Tell it to come here."

"Ok.  Just a minute..."  Sheryl opened her mind to Hope.  Within minutes, Hope flew in.  Clan's eyes never left Hope until she landed next to her caretaker.  Then the meltran retrieved her handkerchief.

They began their first mind battle.  After the third one, Clan leaned back with a pleased expression. 

"You've gotten better.  I can tell that you're beginning to see several moves ahead.  However, it's still not enough.  You need to level the playing field.  As the challenger, you can state the terms of the duel so that it works to your advantage.  As long as it sounds fair, Ozma will accept it.  Is there anything you can do to give yourself another edge?"

Sheryl slumped back into her chair and stared at the floor.  In the uncomfortable silence, her mind tried to think.  As she thought, her eyes aimlessly traced the floor's wooden grain until they encountered a Vajra's green limbs.  At that moment, Hope was preening her wings.  

Just then, an idea popped into her mind.  "What if... what if I have Hope be my wingman?  Will he accept that?"
 
"Hope?  Who's that?"

"This Vajra.  Her name is Hope."

"Oh... I didn't know that Vajra had names.  And such an unusual name too."

Sheryl cleared her throat and repeated her question while pointing to Hope.  "So what if she helps me?  Will he agree to that?"

The meltran leaned back in thought for a few seconds.  "He might... especially if you argue that he's more experienced than you.  Sort of appeal to his ego.  But even if he agrees, how will Hope help you?"

"She'll be my wingman.  With her claws, she can fire a rifle."

"Does she have combat experience?"

Sheryl bowed her head down.  "Umm... no, but I can tell her what to do."

"Hmm... Are you sure that you can handle flying and communicating at the same time?  Tsk... There's no time to speculate.  It's probably best to try this out."  Clan picked up the phone and punched some numbers.  She spoke to Rora and gave instructions.  When she was done, she told Sheryl hers.

"Suit up and meet Rora on practice field C.  Take Hope with you."  A screen projected on the wall and showed her current location and field C.

A few minutes later, Sheryl found the field.  Clan and Rora were already there.  To her surprise, Rora unlocked her right shoulder joint.  Then she handed Hope a sleek rifle and walked to the opposite side of the field where catapulted herself into the sky.

"Ok, show me what you can do," said the commandant.

Sheryl did the same and faced her opponent.  She shifted the rifle to her right hand.  Although she was getting used to shooting with her left and even passed level 5 yesterday, it felt more comfortable with her right.  Then she opened her mind to Hope and projected her thoughts.

She and Hope circled wide for a pincer attack and tried to trap Rora.  However, Rora climbed and dodged.  They chased her through the sky and tried to shoot her down.   When they finally had her cornered, they fired at the same time and heard the satisfactory sound of paintballs splattering. 

"Not bad," came Clan's voice in her helmet.  "Prepare for round two."

Sheryl looked across the field to see Rora pick up a rifle on top of Clan's upturned palm.  On the commandant's signal, they began a new battle.  This time, she and Hope were dodging half the time.  Rora was very skilled. 

At the end of several consecutive scissors maneuvers, Sheryl had Rora in her sights.  She aimed and fired.  However, Rora reversed her engines and pitched backwards.  The bullets passed her harmlessly and splattered right onto Hope.

To her chagrin, the HMD declared Hope as eliminated.  Clan's chuckle broke through the helmet's speakers.

"Looks like you need to work on your strategies, AND concentrate on where your wingman is.  Don't forget to avoid friendly fire.  I've seen enough.  Come back to the training room and we'll talk it through.  Then you and Rora can practice some more.  Also, I recommend staying tonight.  I'll tell Gamelin."

Gratitude rose in her heart at Clan's efforts to help.  She blinked the tears brimming in her eyes.  "Thank you.  Thank you very much."

-----

Cathy rushed to the gate.  She made it in time to see Felix walking to the flight's boarding gate.

"Uncle Flex!"

Felix turned around.  His plan to leave discreetly failed.  For now, he tried to act surprised.  "Kitty Cat!  Shouldn't you be at City Hall?"

Cathy took several deep breaths.  "Same... to... you...  Why are you... leaving?  The voting's tomorrow..."

His misty eyes stared longingly towards the horizon and his voice was wistful.  "By the time I get back, one month would've passed since I last saw your Aunt Cire.  Don't you think she'll be lonely?"

Then his tone changed back to his usual formal, businesslike style.  "Besides, I don't think I should vote, given the circumstances.  I'm your uncle, after all."

"But the constitution... it hasn't passed yet!  There are still some odds and ends..."

"Which you can take care of, I'm sure.  You've got good people supporting you."

"How can you be sure about that?" asked Cathy dubiously.

"Lehr's with you.  So learn as much as you can from him.  You've got good people in your cabinet as well.  And besides... the pineapple pie was good.  You're not alone in this."  He winked with the last statement.

His words assured her insecure heart.  Her eyes rose with courage as she walked up and hugged him.  "Thank you for everything and give my best to Auntie Cee.  Have a nice trip, Uncle Flex."

"I will.  You take care, kitty Cat."  He let go and walked through the gate without a second glance.  As the door closed behind him, he hoped that he could come again.  "I'm looking forward to your world on my next visit, kitty Cat."

-----

Pilots milled about, some euphoric, some despondent.  For third-years, boot camp was a big chance to improve their ranking.  From the faces of some students, one could guess who were successful and who were not. 

A lot of students had already packed and were headed for the shuttle ports to catch a ride back to the main city.  Strangely, one lone pilot waded against the tide.  For Sheryl Nome, the last day of camp was not over yet.

Immediately after returning from the MWA, she made her way to Moffett field where the VF-19 training was held.  As soon as she saw Ozma, she rolled over to him.

"Major Lee, may I have a word with you privately?"

"What is this about?" asked Ozma brusquely.

"Ranka."

He nudged his head to the left.  "C'mere."

Sheryl followed him away from the other instructors and pilots.  When they were out of earshot, he turned to her.

"What do you want?" asked Ozma.

"I want permission to date Ranka."

"After what you did to her?  You gotta be kidding.  Besides, you're a girl."

"Alright, I admit that I made a mistake.  So I'm asking properly now.  Please let me date her!"

"Which part of 'you're a girl' didn't you understand?"

"That doesn't matter nowadays."

"Cut the crap!  She worshipped you... trusted you... and you fuck her first chance you get!  I haven't protected and raised her all these years so you can corrupt her!  Face it."
 
He enunciated the next three words slowly.  "You're.  A.  Girl.  You're not strong enough to protect her!  You need to be saved yourself!  Give up and let Alto take care of her!"

Those sky blue eyes hardened.  "So if I can prove that I can protect her, you'll agree?"

"You're saying that you could?  I've seen your combat scores!"

"Yes, I am.  If I shoot you down, would that be enough?"

"You and what army?"

"Just me and Hope versus you, standard air duel rules.  If I shoot you down, then let me date her."

Ozma crossed his arms.  "And if I win?"

Her throat felt dry as she stated the worst outcome.  "I'll withdraw from Mihoshi and never see Ranka again."

"This girl doesn't know what she's getting into.  She's practically asking me to win," thought Ozma.  In his mind, he could already see her weeping in defeat. 

He crossed his arms and jeered.  "Remember what you said.  If you don't do it, I'll make sure that you do."

"Please meet me at Ames field in thirty minutes."  With that said, she wheeled away to prepare.

After equipping himself, Ozma made his way to Ames field.  To his surprise, Luca was manning the recording station.  Meanwhile, Sheryl had mounted the catapult and waited to launch.  Up in the sky, a Vajra flew with a rifle in its claws.

"What're you doing here?" asked Ozma.

"Sheryl asked me to referee," replied Luca. 

Whether a witness was there or not did not matter.  He was going to win anyway.  He went to the opposite side of the field and mounted the catapult.

Luca's instructions were broadcasted to their HMDs.  A timer counted down for the launch:  5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  Catapults fired and launched the combatants in the air.

As soon as she became airborne, Sheryl began to sing. 

   Turn the stars at the center of the world.                                     [1]
   If you sneeze, a butterfly in a forest somewhere will dance.
   The door you guard has a useless key.
   It's an embarrassing story.
   Though they often lick one another, lions are strong.

   I want to survive.
   I want to survive.
   I still can't stop wanting to live.
   Guided by the constellations, our eyes met.

The wind carried her voice to Ozma's ears.  "What in space is she doing?"  In the distance, Hope's belly glowed.  "Shit!  She's powering it up!  I gotta stop her before she goes too far..."

He accelerated towards them and watched the distance on his HMD.  He would take out the Vajra and then finish off Sheryl.  When he closed the distance to 200 meters, he braced his rifle and aimed.

After a few shots, he realized that the Vajra was very fast and the strong headwind caused a large deflection.  He had to be closer to compensate for the bend in the bullet trajectory.

A barrage of bullets whizzed by from behind.  It was probably Nome.  To his surprise, she was using her right arm.  She probably was not as injured as he thought.  He noted her location on the radar and kept his distance at 100 meters or more because of her improved aim.  That was enough room to react and dodge.  With a burst of acceleration, he went after the Vajra once more. 

Despite the distance, Hope was still able to evade him.  Her belly glowed again.  Ozma changed his plans and circled about to focus on Sheryl instead.  To his surprise, Nome was not attacking.  Instead, she was flying away. 

Ozma gave chase.  Although the rules of the duel allowed them fly as high as they dared, they were restricted to the boundaries of Ames field.  She would have to circle back.  When he was within firing distance, he aimed.

Suddenly, his radar flashed red and he immediately broke his pursuit.  Bullets sailed over where he once was.  The Vajra had its rifle pointed at him.

"Damn bug!"  roared Ozma in anger at the interruption.  He fired back and gave chase once more.  This time, the Vajra did not fly as fast.  As he wondered why, another set of bullets flew by his left flank.  He dodged away to put some distance. 

The tables turned as Nome and Hope chased him through the sky.  As they climbed, vapor trails formed from their wingtips.  When he saw the pattern of the trails, he realized it.

"What the fuck?!  They're using Planet Dance!" yelled Ozma in anger.  Who could have taught it to them?  At that moment, Luca's face popped into his mind.  If he did it, he was going to assign him to night patrol for two weeks.

He hated to admit it, but the Vajra was an excellent wingman in terms of speed and reliability.  It was there when Sheryl needed a diversion, and switched to offense when he chased Nome.  To his chagrin, their coordination and timing were as good as an experienced team. 

"Is she controlling it with her crazy singing!?" thought Ozma as he did a Wing Over.  He wished that he could do something to make her shut up.

Even more disturbing was their tactical effectiveness.  Despite his aggressive attacks, they answered back with countermeasures that kept him at a disadvantage.  He was forced to break off his attack and retreat.  It was as if they had already anticipated his response and automatically changed strategies on the fly.  If her aim was better, he might have been shot down by now.  He shuddered at the thought.  Whoever coached her did a good job. 

-----

Meanwhile, Ranka and Brera arrived at the airbase.  They asked an instructor where Ozma and Sheryl were.

"Last I saw, they were talking out in Moffett field," said Mr. Neumann. 

As they walked there, faint notes reached Ranka's ears.  She stopped and listened more carefully.

   ...stop prowling,
   And settle down next to you bashfully.
   Until I show you my true self,
   I will not sleep.
  
   I want to survive.
   Even as a nobody.
   I love you.
   The lives waiting for awakening were drawn to one another.

"Sheryl!" cried Ranka.

"Where?" asked Brera.

Ranka concentrated and tried to feel her presence.  Sheryl was not in the direction of Moffett field.  She turned around and began to walk.  "She's... she's not over there!  She's somewhere else!"

   In place of my wildness,
   I shall offer a prayer.
   I love you.
   Constellations, please guide me...

Alarm whipped through her heart.  That usual confident voice sounded desperate.  A sinking feeling churned in her stomach.  Sheryl was doing something reckless.  She began to run. 

"Ranka!"

Her brother forgotten, Ranka only had one thing on her mind.  She had to go to Sheryl.

-----

As they wove through the sky attacking and defending, he recognized other ones:  Seventh Moon, Light the Light, Love Heart and Diamond Calling.  He had taught those techniques to the squadrons assigned to Macross Quarter.  Feelings of betrayal fueled his anger.

"I'll be damned if she gets me with my own techniques!"  It was time to get serious.  He climbed and banked steeply.  At the apex, he reversed the engines and plummeted down.

"Spiral Answer!" yelled Ozma as he spun in a corkscrew while firing away.  He still had techniques that he did not teach to anyone.

As he dove, Nome hastily retreated.  However, she did not expose her flank and managed to dodge despite the barrage of bullets. 

Using the momentum of the spin and additional thrust from the engine, he accelerated towards her with swept wings.  For a few seconds, the resulting speed was almost the same as her Vajra.  Despite the time limit, those few seconds were long to get her within 30 meters.  At that distance, there was no way she could dodge all his shots.  He braced his rifle and aimed.

Instead of hitting his target, the Vajra swooped down and with its rifle extended, deflected his bullets.  The block gave Nome the opportunity to dive away.  However, the action came with a price.  The Vajra was effectively disarmed.  The activation light on the rifle blinked off.

Ozma took the opportunity to shoot down the blasted creature but missed.  After several attempts, he decided that he was wasting bullets and focused on his original quarry once more.

Without the Vajra, there were no more interruptions.  Ozma thought that it would be easier, but Nome still managed to dodge him.  Then he noticed how often she changed her wing configurations and the sharp turns that she made.

"She's flying like them... so that's why!"  Then he grinned wolfishly.  "Fly all you want... but in the end, you're still human.  The G-forces will wear you out.  You can't keep it up!"

He chased his prey patiently and maintained a higher altitude to keep his back to the mid-afternoon sun.  Sooner or later, Nome was going to make a mistake.

His chance came when Nome pointed her rifle up towards him.  All the sudden, the rifle slipped and her right wing retracted.  She spun around with the rifle clutched to her chest with her left arm.

He dove and fired.  However, instead of hitting Nome, the Vajra swooped down and blocked his shots with its rifle.  Ozma cursed.  Since he did not officially shoot it down, it was still included in the duel.

When he aimed at it, it flew away.  Ozma focused on his prey again.  The sunlight reflected off Nome's visor.  She raised her rifle with her left arm unsteadily.  With the sun behind his back and her pathetic left-handed shooting, it was a futile attempt.

"It ends now!"  He aimed and pulled the trigger.  The bullets sped towards Nome and hit.

Just then, purple paint splattered on his suit.  He stared at himself and then at Nome.  She was covered in red paint. 

Was it luck that she was able to hit him?  As he wondered how, a buzzing sound reached his ears.  He looked behind him and saw that the Vajra hovered nearby. 

His eyes widened in disbelief.  "Don't tell me... it helped her aim?"

With a battle cry, he charged at it with the butt of his rifle.  It dodged away nimbly.  He climbed into the sky and chased it.

Meanwhile, Sheryl stared at the red flashing letters on the HMD. 

Shot down.  Eliminated.

"Sheryl!"  Luca's voice crackled on the helmet's speakers.  "What's wrong!?  You're falling!  Sheryl!"

The wind whipped around her.  She did not care anymore.  It was over.

Another voice pierced through her consciousness.  "Pink!  Retract!  Go limp!"

At the sound of that demanding voice, her fingers automatically pressed the wing sweep buttons.  A few seconds later, she felt the impact on her back.  Her eyes focused and looked up to see that obnoxious vice-captain.

"What's wrong with you?  Are you giving up just like that?  That's not the Pink I trained with!  Even if you lost, accept it and move forward!  As long as you breathe, you gotta keep fighting!"

Slowly, Sheryl realized that she was right.  She may have lost this battle, but the war was not over.  Today was a bitter setback, but tomorrow, she'll find another way to get Ranka back.  She blinked away her tears.

"Yeah... give me a second to go level..."

Tadyana held her hands and she extended her wings.  Her engines burst to life and she regained level flight. 

"How'd you know?" asked Sheryl quietly.

"When you didn't come back yesterday, we got suspicious, so we followed you after you got off the shuttle.  When we saw you with Major Lee, I had Aris hack into your radio system.  Sorry about that... we heard everything," said Tadyana.

Sheryl sighed.  "Didn't I tell you to mind your own business?"  However, there was no malice in her voice.

"I can't do that when my wingman is in trouble," replied Red with a sly grin.  "C'mon.  Let's land."

They flew down to Luca.  Ozma was already there.

However, her eyes were not on Ozma.  They were focused on the person running behind him.

"Sheryl!"  Ranka ran up to her and stopped abruptly.  Her eyes filled with concern and those petite hands touched the red paint.  "Are you wounded?"

"No," replied Sheryl.  However, a part of her wished that she really was.  Maybe, she would have been unconscious and would not have to feel the pain of disappointment tearing in her heart.

"It's from practice bullets," explained Luca.  He sprayed the red areas with a white mist from a can.  With a pat of his hand, the red dust flew into the wind.  "See?  This stuff transforms it into tiny particles and it dusts..."

Before he finished, Ranka hugged her fiercely.  "You dummy!  I was worried about you!"

"You were?"  exclaimed Sheryl in surprise. 

"Yes!  If your friend didn't catch you, what would've happened!?  You pushed yourself again, didn't you?"

For several seconds, Sheryl was dumbfounded.  When she found her voice again, she asked, "Then... you're not mad at me?"

"I... I was a little bit..."  Then Ranka bit her lip before blurting out, "I'm sorry I didn't answer!  But I promise, I'll never doubt you again!"

Her words calmed her heart a little.  Sheryl drew a deep breath to calm her nerves before she said it.   "I'm sorry too... I... I failed you..."

Ranka drew back.  "What do you mean?"

Her voice was close to cracking.  "I... made a bet with Ozma... and I..."

Those red-orange eyes grew wide and her face paled.  "What did you bet?" asked Ranka slowly.

Sheryl could not look at her.  She replied softly, "For permission to date you."

That verdant head whipped towards Ozma who was staring at the recording console.  "Ozma-nii...?"

"She didn't win," said Ozma gruffly.  However, there was no joy in his voice.

"It was a draw," announced Luca.  "She fired before Major Lee's bullets hit, so her hits counted.  The rules state that the winner must survive after all the bullets hit.  Since both combatants received fatal hits, the duel is a draw."

"If Nome didn't win, she said that she'd quit school and never see you again," declared Ozma.

"No..."  Ranka walked over to him, trembling.  "No... You can't make her... you can't!"

When Ozma did not reply, Ranka clenched her hands and stared at him coldly.  Her voice was low and dangerous.  "I hate you."

Ozma held her attacking glare.  "You're saying that even after everything you know?"

Red-orange eyes did not waver.  "Yes."

For several tense seconds, they stared at each other.  Finally, Ozma looked away.  "I didn't win either."

Ranka voice rose with hope.  "Then... she doesn't have to quit?"

"Actually..." started Luca.

"One year!" declared Ozma, cutting Luca off.  "She can date you for one year!  After that, she fights me again after next boot camp."

He turned to Sheryl and pointed his finger for emphasis.  "But no Vajra!  It'll be just you and me, Skull-1 vs. Phoenix-5.  We'll decide once and for all then.  So you better level up!"

Simultaneously, their faces flooded with relief.  With a half-run, Ranka threw herself at Sheryl and the Galaxy Fairy hugged her, spinning full-circle with joy.  Then Ranka wove her hand around Sheryl's neck.

Alarmed, Sheryl projected her thoughts.  "Not here... we're in plain sight of a lot of people."

"I don't mind," replied Ranka who was rising on her toes.

"I do."  Before Ranka could protest, Phoenix-5 carried the Super-Dimensional Cinderella in bridal style.  With wheels running at full speed, the engine flared and they took off.

After they had flown about fifty feet up, Ranka asked, "Is this good enough?"

With a whoosh, her visor retracted into her helmet.  "Yes."

A sweet smile bloomed on that adorable face and a warm hand caressed her cold cheek.  Then silken, rosy lips landed on the Galaxy Fairy's.

It should be a kiss like those before.  However, when those rosy lips touched her own, a shiver ran down her spine and Sheryl felt herself melt with each tender caress.  It was as if she had forgotten her touch over the last three weeks and was experiencing it again for the first time.  Somehow, she managed to activate cruise to sustain level flight.  Only then did she surrender herself fully.

Despite their meetings in the link, it did little to quench their longing for each other's touch.  Ranka's hand pressed against the back of her helmet and those petite lips overwhelmed her with each expressive caress.  They had kissed so many times before, but today, that simple action set her entire being on fire.  Sheryl answered in kind, returning those expressions of love.  Then that velvet softness brushed against her teeth tentatively.  Sheryl recognized the request and granted permission for entry wholeheartedly.

In response, her Cinderella deepened their kiss with even more passion, probing, feeling, and tasting.  The Galaxy Fairy's hands relaxed on the control sticks.  If she were standing on land, her knees would have given out by now.

When she finally drew back, she found tears running down her beloved's cheeks.  Then a slim finger reached out and brushed away her own tears.  Despite the tears, there was no sadness in those red-orange eyes that gazed at her adoringly.  Those rosy lips bloomed once more and her Cinderella's voice filled the sky with song.

Sheryl heard this particular song so many times before.  But now, before the small group of witnesses below, it was a true declaration of love.  It filled her heart with indescribable joy.

Meanwhile, Ozma watched them fly away.  Beside him, Luca cleared his throat. 

"Her terms were if she shot you down, not if she won the duel."

His hard eyes probed him.  "How'd you know that?"

"She opened her audio channel to me so I can record the deal."

Ozma leaned over and whispered so that only Luca can hear.  "Remind her and I'll kick your ass.  I can't give all of Ranka on her first try!  She's gotta work for it!  And I'm not doing this 'cuz it's her.  I'd do it to Alto too.  'Sides... somebody's gotta give her some discipline!"

Luca gulped nervously.  "Yes, sir..."

Off to the side, the Phoenix squadron watched quietly. 

"Now, that was totally unexpected," remarked Eriko as her eyes tracked the lovebirds in the sky.

"I-it's like a space opera," said Kanagi with a dreamy look on her face.

Feeling envious, Aris asked, "Shouldn't we go up there, too?"

Tadyana put her arm around her and pulled her close.  "Nah.  They've earned their wings today.  The sky belongs to them right now."

A playful zephyr tickled their ears with a faint melody.

   Zoom, zoom...
   Zoom, zoom...
   My girlfriend is~~~ a pi~~~lot...           [2]



Preview

Ranka:   This fic was mostly about you. *pout*
Sheryl:  *hug*  Don't worry!  The next one is about your boot camp!
Ranka:   Really!?  *hair rising*
Sheryl:  That's right!  Please join us for the next  Frontier Generations:  Serenade!


Author's notes:
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List of  References
Frontier Generations Index