Part Twelve: Pattern Entry
Chapter Sixty-three -- Torture
The first of September, 2013… Khyron Kravshera has captured a resizing chamber and sent out a beckon call for all Zentraedi to join him. Operation Southern Cross is teetering on the brink of catastrophe. I am medically discharged from the Navy with a meager pension and a handshake from my Admiral. I am a civilian now. Lost and adrift it seems. My depression is thick and pervasive. I have no purpose in life now. I have been married to my job and in course have managed to forget--or neglect--all the responsibilities of fatherhood. The only trade I know is that of defending others. I have nowhere to go...nothing to do. I can only sit and mope.
Then came my father’s phone call. A video from a Zentraedi group showed a grainy picture of twelve humans, all military, from various branches of the RDF and varied ethnic backgrounds. It took but a second to recognize my friend--my brother--Joshua. Horror consumed me as a Micronized Zentraedi foot soldier struck each of the prisoners in the back of the head with a rifle butt. Josh’s eyes were wild with fire and he spit at his captors in defiance. His reward was more beating with the rifle. But he spat again until he passed out from another beating, bleeding from a head wound that was certainly a reopened one. By the time he came to he was met with a most grotesque scene.
I grabbed my hair with both hands and pulled as I struggled to contain a groan I was powerless to stop. Groggy and shaky, Josh continued to project a resolute air of insolence beneath a tattered flight suit soaked in blood that caked at the edges.
A Zentraedi officer read a terse statement. With blue hair dangling haphazardly he demanded safe passage of his fellow warriors. He insisted his goal was not to attack but to flee. His only desire: to depart the Earth immediately and take his crew to their proper place in the universe. The lean, chiseled Zentraedi commander’s terms were clear and the penalties equally so. Deliver a Protoculture matrix to power the downed ship or face the execution of one prisoner per week, by lot, until the demands are met.
The Zentraedi officer motioned one of his subordinates to come over. The enlisted Zentraedi soldier held a bucket into which the officer reached to retrieve what appeared to be a stone. He grabbed one for each of the humans at his feet and handed it to the Zentraedi guard watching over each respective prisoner.
The pilot to Josh’s left was the unlucky fellow. The stone drawn for him was black. The Zentraedi terrorist--there is nothing else to call him--fired a bullet into the back of the man’s head. As he crumpled to the ground I felt an urge to kill that defied anything I had ever known, and buried my head in my hands to weep--as much in frustration as in pain. I could do nothing for my friend.
The anguish in Harriska’s eyes was unmistakable. She was dying inside. But she also understood the importance of being strong for the sake of the kids and met the news with a stiff upper lip. The girls were shielded from the terror being foisted upon their father/uncle but they sensed the pain.
My words of reassurance were hollow, but I did what I could to put up a good front, putting forth the impression that all was well without being too overt. But I was a stranger to them. Even to my own flesh and blood daughter Casey I was something of an enigma. The man who said he loved her but was never there. I held my family close to my heart but with the girls it probably felt like a hollow gesture. They bounced away happily as children do, concealing the sadness and betrayal they doubtless felt.
My nights were pure agony. I stared at the ceiling as my mind raced wildly in a mad scramble to answer questions that had none. Sleep came in fits, often interrupted by visions of Josh’s brains being splattered into mist. I found myself going completely crazy.
In a moment of rash thought I devised a half-baked scheme to find Josh. I called in favors, trying to get the most up-to-date information from my friends in the intelligence wings of the RDF. I had always been an accomplished outdoorsman, and to this day can survive anywhere in North America with nothing but a pocketknife if I must. I sat at my desk and drew up a list of things I needed then spent two days shopping to gather the necessary items. Two handguns and a rifle are the final pieces of the puzzle.
My family could see the folly and tried to talk me out of my fantasy but I would have none of it. I loaded up a rented Suburban 4x4 and hit the road, making a beeline south at nearly a hundred miles per hour. I was a gray blur in the cool morning air pressing ahead without the first clue what to do when I reached the mountains.
Sitting down at the computer in the hotel lobby I am utterly beside myself when I see the note. It is from James Sprabary. Surely it is someone’s idea of a sick joke. But it is not. I know it has to be him when he addresses me as “Jarhead”, one of his cuttingly fitting comments directed at my “Marine-wannabe” status. He always said it with affection and it was good for a smile any time of day or night.
You wanna’ know something? I'm really tired of being MIA out there. By now, I've located a hastily constructed, minimally guarded Zentraedi base, and terminated all the personnel. During my search of the base, I managed to piece together a hybrid ship composed of both Zentraedi tech and Veritech parts. I'm off that damn rock! Oh yeah, since I was there so long, I just got crazier than I was and started collecting "trophies" of Zentraedi guards. Yup, sounds like something I'd do.
I envision that crooked tooth grin of his and hear him cackling with glee as I read the note. James is alive! Damn! How can it be nobody has told us? I find myself leaping for joy on the inside. But James’ smiling face is replaced by Josh’s... He screams in agony as the Zentraedi twist him around like a pretzel and beat him mercilessly.
I bolt out of bed soaked in a cold sweat. Another fucking nightmare has come and gone and robbed me of another year of my life. Bastards.
Over a paper and a doughnut I begin to realize my plan is completely senseless. There is absolutely nothing I can do that isn’t already being done. All I am liable to do is get myself killed. Where would any of us be if that happened? This reality is not accepted easily or willingly, but my impetuous nature has given way to common sense for once.
What can a man do when he has no options? I want desperately to do something to help but I cannot. Life would not sit waiting for me to save my friend. I have no alternative. I must get on with the business of taking care of my family and realize there is absolutely nothing I can do but make phone calls and prayers on behalf of my friend. My responsibility, as he would demand it, is to my family, his family--OUR family.
When Admiral Hughes informed me of my discharge I had immediately began thinking of going to college and completing a degree. I was not employable in my present state. Ex-military officers with disabilities and lacking an education were not in high demand. But a man with a “sheep skin” hanging on the wall could go places. I twirled it around in my mind at great length on that long flight home and on the even longer drive to Macross City.
I think of Harriska and the girls. She is such a beautiful woman and that evil part of me allows a thought of a life with her when Josh is gone. It is not a selfish thought just one following the thought train to its destination. Would the survivors not be better off as a family? I quash the thought. It seems twisted and makes me feel filthy.
I contemplated turning back to New Macross to grab up the girls but that wouldn’t work either. I had to do it alone. There was nothing else to do. I would have loved to take Harriska with me but she needed the support network she now had. The girls, whom I would miss desperately, were in Harriska’s capable and loving hands as she in turn was in the custody of my parents’. Ever bound by duty, I felt I could only show my love by improving myself. In this way I would arm myself with the tools to better care for them. Had I been more mature perhaps I would have acted differently, but like many men I didn’t realize that a hug was much easier for a child to understand as love than putting a nice roof over his or her head. Perhaps in hindsight I would have been a better father had I stayed in New Macross.
Between phone calls and frets as I drove south I managed to find a few universities in my native Texas and headed south at top speed to check them out. The school year would start in only a few days and I had to get there if I was to enroll now. It was impulsive, to be sure, but tragedy can cloud the mind, and with Josh’s status in doubt I knew I would go crazy just sitting around worrying. Perhaps a task would help preoccupy my mind.
It seemed to make sense at the time when so little else did.
I drove day and night. My mind thought of little else but Josh. I couldn’t believe my powerless state. A man in charge of a multi-million dollar fighter feels invincible. Youth and vibrancy camouflage the fact that one is dying every day of life. Stripped of my hardware I was ordinary again, a man--perhaps a mere boy in fact--no different than any other.
Yet there is some strange comfort to crossing the Red River back into Texas. The beautiful rolling hills and pine trees of southeastern Oklahoma gave way to Hackberry and Johnson Grass, both less than desirable. But I didn’t care. I was home again and my spirit, in spite of all the turmoil that surrounded me, received a much-needed boost.
Time after time the lots were drawn. Josh was saved from execution but not from being tortured on live television. The fire in his eyes dimmed with each broadcast, but he clung to life savagely. Another week passed, another RDF pilot was murdered in cold blood, and I felt hollow in the desolate East Texas Prairie.
My new home became a small state-run university some eighty-five miles east of the burned out shell of Dallas, Texas. Through some quirk of fate this previously little known school built for itself a reputation of excellence among those who desired majors in business, technology, and education. Small class sizes, an instructor core that was almost entirely comprised of Ph.D.s, and a rural atmosphere were a tremendous advantage to anyone wanting to get the most education bang for the buck. I had no idea what degree program I would pursue, but it didn’t matter. Getting in the door was at least a step in the right direction.
Orientation went by in somewhat of a blur. I remember a strange, gothic girl named Opal, with black eye shadow, black fingernail polish, black clothes, and a surprisingly cheery--if somewhat twisted--personality. I was in a strange environment with no support network to speak of as I fretted over my friend’s fate. Putting one foot in front of the other, I clung to the self-discipline instilled in me by the military and MMA. It worked. I pressed ahead, acing all the entrance exams and setting up a full schedule of classes beginning at 0900 each day.
In the midst of an impending tragedy I stumbled upon one of the most amazing coincidences in my life. While lugging belongings into my new dorm room at 101 Hubbell Hall I passed a bearded young man with a bandana on his head. I was stunned by the similarities in voice and manner between this man and my former leader, James “Ogre” Sprabary. Amazingly, this version of Ogre was also named James and had the same biker persona. I could hear my mom’s voice, just as she had years previously to the original Ogre asking him if he was a nice boy. Giggling with delight at his pride in being the first person in his family to go to college. I was destined to be lifelong friends with this James, and his appearance before my eyes made me wonder if the dream of Ogre’s e-mail message was prescient or déjà vu.
Hubbell Hall was a building that was laid out like an old Spanish mission. Square in shape with a large empty courtyard in the center, it was four stories tall. Much like MMA, two rooms with a maximum occupancy of two each shared a head (toilet). A shower room with three stalls was located on each wing of each floor. Built in the 1950s, it was old, but the sturdiness of its design had survived a global holocaust so it would be difficult for anyone to complain.
In my zeal to maintain some focus I signed up for a private room. I was at the far end of a long corridor near the janitor’s closet. Every other student would turn right past the pool tables and stairwell to get to their room. I turned left to reach mine.
The room I lived in was unremarkable by most standards. The doorway was about three feet deep. To the right through a door was the shared head. To the left a door-less closet with two clothing racks and a large, centrally located dresser took up about sixty square feet. The sink and mirror were adjacent to the closet. To the left of my sink was a large cinderblock walled room with two beds and two fixed desks along the outer walls. Two large windows filled the center of the outer wall providing an unremarkable view of a segment of the parking lot with a vacant field beyond.
These were my humble trappings.
I unpacked the rented SUV throughout a good portion of the afternoon, dumping much of the six-week supply of soda I had brought along onto the parking lot. Cursing as I wiped the sticky mess from my hands and arms I trundled back and forth numerous times from car to room.
In time I had completed the task. In short order I began hanging pictures on the wall--naked women, airplanes, sports icons, the usual things one would expect of a horny, plane-obsessed, sports loving ex-fighter pilot. It didn’t take long for boredom to strike and I eventually made my way down the lobby. The rental car needed to be returned and I accomplished this task after one last trip to the store. A bike for transportation, a television for distraction, and a refrigerator for food were all I needed to make my small corner of the dorm comfortable.
At some point I ran across James Sprabary’s “clone” and met his roommate, an affable, if somewhat geeky Junior named Jeff Morgan. A mathematics major, Jeff was a huge sports fan and a true intellect. Having lost his mother to breast cancer at a young age, he was a bit rough around the edges in a social sense, but he would prove a loyal and entertaining friend.
During those early days of my first school experience the three of us hung out together all the time. It was a delightful surprise.
I was glad to have friends. I would lean on them in the days to come as I sweated out Josh’s detainment.
That first semester in school was flying by as I dutifully attended classes and did my homework. The harsh academic grind at MMA prepared me for the college experience far better than I could have ever wished. My grades were outstanding from day one.
It was during this time that a series of events of tremendous magnitude occurred, two of which shook me to my core.
As the September gave way to October and the leaves of East Texas began their annual transformation from green to gold, the massive attritional warfare campaign in South America took a dramatic turn in favor of the Earth Forces. Captain Plog’s tactics were beginning to have the effect he had hoped for. The reversals our forces had dramatically suffered were not sustainable by the Zentraedi. In the meat grinder of the Amazon jungle it became apparent that the Zentraedi simply could not replace the losses they were sustaining as the result of our incessant carrier raids on their positions. The Zentraedi First Team of fighter pilots was being cut to pieces one by one to the point that their combat hardened veterans were no longer spread liberally throughout their forces. Interceptions by Zentraedi Fighter Forces wanted not for aggressiveness, but they did reveal a slow reduction in skill.
Skill wasn’t the only problem slowly revealing itself among the Zentraedi opponents. Though our production capacity was still at a highly diminished state we were at least able to send more men and equipment into the fray. The Zentraedi, with no production facilities of their own had to rely on repairs to existing equipment stocks and a rapidly diminishing recruitment effort for bodies. As Plog continued to smash through their bases with ferocious and unrelenting attacks, the Zentraedi had fewer bases of operation--and a corresponding reduction of men and materiel to draw from.
The operation was perhaps still in doubt, but the commanders on the ground could see a light in the tunnel. Whether or not it was the light of an oncoming train remained to be seen, but at least there was hope.
In the midst of the slowly expanding chaos among the Zentraedi forces, the maniacal Khyron made another characteristically bold move. In a daring raid, Khyron managed to capture Lynn Minmei--along with her manager/cousin, the Peace Activist Lynn Kyle--as she prepared for one of her increasingly popular concerts. Khyron’s move showed his singular obsession with the SDF-1. By capturing the woman whose voice had frightened millions of Zentraedi into paralysis during the climactic battle of Robotech War I, he had at once deprived the Earth Forces of a powerful weapon and seized for himself a valuable bargaining chip.
This did not sit well with RDF commanders. Having learned a harsh lesson at the hands of Josh’s captors--the torture and murder of the human prisoners on worldwide television serving to embolden Zentraedi aims at conquest--their response was swift and brutal. A rescue operation, in conjunction with a massive strike against several key Zentraedi outposts, was initiated to save Minmei. Rick Hunter, now a Captain and one of the most senior pilots in RDF, personally led the air component of the rescue mission titled Operation Star Saver.
Minmei and Kyle were rescued in brilliant fashion as undercover Zentraedi used their own brand of guile and deception to catch Khyron’s forces completely flatfooted. The result was a rout of monumental proportions. As usual, Khyron did not pay for this failure with his own life, however. As his soldiers perished around him, the Zentraedi commander slithered away into the Amazon jungle yet again. His rendezvous with fate delayed for another time.
Fresh upon the success of Operation Star Saver, a similar, more direct attempt to rescue Josh and his surviving comrades in arms was launched. Unlike its counterpart, however, this mission was doomed to failure with tragic consequences.
As the ill-fated rescue mission was being carried out half a continent away, an old friend from my days at MMA managed to track me down with some intriguing news. Oz Parrish, a retired veteran who was tasked with the care of the Confederate Air Force’s World War II-era North American PBJ-1J Mitchell medium bomber, “Devil Dog,” had been a source of delight during my days at the Marine Military Academy. I spent many a weekend’s liberty with Oz in the old hangar at Harlingen’s Rebel Field washing “Dog” from nose to tail and keeping her paint in pristine condition. When Dolza’s Rain of Death turned the gallant old PBJ into slag Oz turned his pursuits in a logical direction. He became a self-funded, amateur aviation archeologist.
In just a few short years, the wiry, gray haired Parrish had at his disposal a very large team of recovery experts. They founded a large museum and restoration complex in South Texas and called it simply, “The Texas Air Force.” It was a discovery Oz made that autumn that prompted him to contact me through channels.
The letter that arrived in my mailbox was veiled but the message was clear.
I think I have found something that may have meaning to you. Cannot confirm without your input.
P.S. - Did you ever wonder what happened to “Wild Bill”?
The blood in my veins turned to ice as I read and re-read that portion of Oz’s note. Did Oz just find the clue to Brubaker’s fate? Geezus Kee-rist.
In a matter of seconds I was on the phone, hands shaking as I fumbled to dial the number on Oz’s enclosed business card.
The response came in a puzzled tone. “Yes.”
“Oz! Jeff Framton here.”
“Jeff,” he said with relief in his voice. “How are you doing young man?”
We spent the next few minutes catching up on things. Oz’s wife had recently passed away and I expressed my condolences. Then the conversation abruptly changed.
“We were out in the South Pacific locating and marking wrecks on one of the islands in the Solomons Group. One of the locals pointed us to an area about thirty miles northwest of the island where they claimed a jet had crashed. We investigated--it didn’t’ take us long to find it--and determined it to be a VF-1 with Prometheus markings and somewhere in excess of three hundred victory markings on the canopy.
“There were no remains. We found no other truly identifying marks on the wreckage, no name on the canopy--nothing. It was smashed up pretty good.
“Is this your pal’s jet, son?”
I sat there in stunned silence. Brubaker was lost near Earth. Did he? Could he? Re-entry through the atmosphere? Made it home after all only to...
“Well, I only know of maybe four legitimate three-hundred victory aces. If the kill markings are for real, then yes, it’s quite possibly Wild Bill’s airplane. But I don’t understand how he could have made it back. We were still a few days from coming home when we disappeared... I...”
Oz’s voice took on a grave tone when he continued. “Jeff, I think you should also know that we found the Valkyrie had been hit by gunfire. Friendly gunfire.”
“Friendly? What do you mean, friendly?”
“There are numerous 55mm hits from the airbrake aft. The vertical stabs were blown clean off the airplane and shrapnel penetrated the fuselage well into the cockpit. I have some photos.”
“Gawd...damn...” Was Brubaker assassinated?
“I know. I don’t think anyone knows we are aware of this. I’ve been trying to keep this quiet until I know for sure. If we blow the whistle on this one it could embarrass some very important people.”
I sat in stunned silence.
“Jeff? You still there?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m here. Can you recover the wreckage?”
Oz was confident. “Absolutely we can. But we need to meet soon to confirm.”
“All right, all right. I need to think here. Let me get back to you tomorrow. I’ll fly out there if I have to.”
“Okay, friend. Keep a lid on this one for now. We don’t want anyone getting wise to us. That plane will wind up in a smelter if they know we are onto them about something like this.”
All I could do was mutter an acknowledgment.
No sooner had I hung up the phone than the TV announced the raid on the Zentraedi base where Josh was being held captive. The only sentence that I remember was this:
“The status on the captured military personnel is unknown at this time but preliminary reports are that there were no survivors.”
Chapter Sixty-four -- Waiting Games
My family had been through enough. The news of Joshua’s likely loss was the final straw for them all. It wasn’t official, but with each hour the foreboding grew and the chances of his survival diminished. The Framton clan were realists, and as hope faded, all began dealing with what lay ahead. Mom and dad began making preparations intent upon a return to Texas where they always longed to be. Though weary of flying, the old man’s experience was in great demand wherever he went--he would have no difficulty continuing his career after the move if he so chose and the change of pace would do him good.
What none of us realized was the race against time we were in the midst of. A critical gap in the U.S. defense network along the Rio Grande, left vacant in the wake of the military response to the raids on the training bases in South Texas some months before, was the perfect opportunity for a fanatical Zentraedi commander. Khyron Kravshera, for whom the words “dedicated” and “relentless” do no justice to his singular willpower, was up to his old tricks yet again. Having been defeated in his quest for power he slipped away into the jungles of South America.
In the confusion of the battles fought within the shadows of the Brazilian jungle he began his final mission to slither north in a repaired Zentraedi Monitor “Cannon Ship” to destroy his enemies once and for all. Bristling with firepower, the Monitor was the Zentraedi attempt to wrap the smallest possible vessel around a city-destroying reflex cannon. With a freshly recruited army of disgruntled, battle-lusting Zentraedi warriors, and using equal parts stealth, guile, and a courage, the Zentraedi leader and his lone ship would soon slip through the vast wastelands of West Texas and Eastern New Mexico. Undetected, unnoticed, he made his way with incredible skill, daring, and patience toward a rendezvous with destiny.
I was feeling a range of conflicting emotions over the reports of Josh’s death--sadness, disbelief, resignation, denial. The internal strife brought upon by helplessness made it a difficult time for me. I knew Harriska was being tormented, but unlike her stoic acceptance, denial was still my dominant emotion. In my gut I simply could not accept the thought that Kaufman was gone. I had only known him a few short years yet it seemed as if we had been friends for a lifetime. The idea that his smiling face would not greet me again didn’t seem real. From my perspective, fighter pilots possessed an aura of invincibility and indestructibility--an immortality because of their place in my psyche. Sometimes they disappeared and never came back. But they never really died. I’ll believe it when I see the body.
My friends were supportive. James and Jeff did their best to keep me distracted. I focused on my assignments, workout sessions in the athletic center, and other hobbies to occupy my mind. I still felt like a ship without a keel as I adjusted to civilian life and the additional strain of my new responsibilities. At night my mind raced. During the day I felt exhausted. It was a vicious state of affairs.
I continued my studies in full denial of the idea that Josh was gone. It proved a major distraction as would be expected. To call my behavior irrational--the mere thought of continuing on with life as normal in the face of such a personal tragedy would be sufficient for admission to a mental institution. But my brain, heart, and soul had long before become hardwired to the ritual of duty at all costs.
During those long months aboard SDF-1, friends and loved ones died all the time in the face of continuous siege... Pressing ahead was the only choice available. Now, without a military commitment hanging over me, these ingrained reflexes still held sway over my actions. I had turned from the child living in fear of authority to an unthinking automaton.
Still, even in the gloom of despair one could occasionally find light. My friends were bright with laughter as I regaled them, at their continual insistence, with tales of my journey to this station in life. They were always rapt with attention to anything I had to say about those yesterdays that seemed a lifetime ago. I felt like quite the celebrity in their presence, and it was a welcome distraction.
They were also pranksters of the first order.
One of the prime targets for their humor was a sad sack of a lad named Teddy Draper. His last name was unavoidably funny when associated with his physical appearance. Tipping the scales at a whopping 340 pounds, Teddy was as wide as he was tall. One could always tell he was coming by the noise his feet made within his shoes as they squeaked along the tiled hallways in the dorm building, and no person who ever experienced it would ever forget the smell that followed in his wake, the result of wearing the same shoes far beyond their expiration date.
After hearing my tales of the inept Honingsblum from Basic Training, it didn’t take long for my comrades to dub Draper “Fat Fuck.” They harassed the lad in ways I found sickeningly humorous, going so far as to stick lotion-filled condoms on his doorknob at all hours of the day, stopping only when caught red-handed.
My contribution to the mayhem was the discovery that clicking the button on the base unit of the telephone after dialing another room caused a continuous ring on the other end. One can only imagine the demented laughter at hearing Draper scream at the top of his lungs in frustration when awaken at 2 AM to this nonsense.
As with all things, torturing Draper grew stale and thus we turned to each other. One of our favorite pranks was taking Jeff’s car, a small Honda that hardly weighed more than Draper did, and lifting it by the front end and moving it, then doing the same with the rear, placing the vehicle sideways in his parking spot with cars in the adjacent spaces blocking him in. James was so strong he could practically do it by himself. It was good for a laugh.
My friends were a great help. I can only imagine how those miserable weeks would have passed without them there as a distraction from the pain inside. In moments of solitude I wrote letters to my family and began to move down the road away from the military. It would be a difficult adjustment. My hair would remain short, my routine little changed from what it was. In crisis we seize upon the familiar. I clung to it like a life preserver.
It wasn’t long before the lingering summer-like weather finally broke, the oppressive heat giving way to autumn followed by leaves that turned from green to shades of yellow, orange, and brown. In short order the first cold fronts appeared, and the brisk air was a refreshing jolt to the senses. Still, no wind-induced tingle of the skin could match the shock that greeted us outside the doors of our dorm one afternoon. We gazed in astonishment upon a sea of black crickets that covered every inch of the ground. It was as if the Book of Revelation were playing out before our eyes. James jokingly referred to it as “The Pestilence” and he wasn’t far off. For more than a week an incredible number of these insects swarmed the campus. The snap of their exoskeletons could be heard at a machine gun pace when cars drove past, some intrepid souls even using them to make doughnuts on the street with their vehicles.
It was during this time I lived up to a promise I made at my Eagle Scout Board of Review to give back to Scouting by becoming a Boy Scout Leader. I joined the local Troop and became an Assistant Scoutmaster. What greeted me was a unit on the verge of collapse. At the time of my arrival we had seven adult leaders but only four boys, the minimum required to keep a Troop Charter alive.
Our Scoutmaster was a Technology professor named Dale, one of the most dedicated and driven men I’ve ever met. In a matter of just a few short years, Dale would not only bring the Troop from the precipice, but in so doing would save the Area Council which was in jeopardy of being absorbed into another. It would prove to be an exciting, occasionally exasperating experience, as dealing with any group of teenagers can often be.
I became very close with my fellow Assistant Scoutmaster Tim, an Eagle Scout like me. A tall, thin, Computer Science major with long red hair that seemed more appropriate to an aging hippie than a highly accomplished Boy Scout, he was an exceptional fellow. The bright orange 1966 ½ Ford Mustang he drove was his trademark, and our mutual interests in classic muscle cars was just one of many areas where we saw eye to eye.
My first experience as a Scoutmaster involved Scout Leader Basic Training at Camp Dierks, just south of the Texas/Oklahoma border. Donated to the BSA by the paper company that owned the land surrounding it, Camp Dierks was a magnificent place. The tall pines and rolling hills stood in sharp contrast to the burned out, flat, dull, Hackberry-infested East Texas prairie of Commerce.
The program was a primer in running a successful Boy Scout Troop covering everything from First Aid and basic campcraft to the roles and responsibilities of an adult leader. As was my custom as a Boy Scout, my favorite place was around the fire, and I spent my nights there until well past midnight, watching the stars as the crackle and scent of burning wood floated through the air. My mind drifted back to more innocent times from what felt like another lifetime and an impromptu camping trip in the unexplored catacombs of a giant alien vessel with my two best friends.
The tears flowed silently. How could they not?
Oz Parish had managed to stay in touch with me regarding his plans to explore and possibly recover the crashed Valkyrie that was certainly Brubaker’s. It was going to be a risky operation in the best of circumstances, but the pall of a government conspiracy hovered over it in an unseen but clearly felt oppressiveness. It wasn’t anything we could prove just yet but it was a feeling sensed by all involved.
The local fishermen knew of the crash and on Oz’s first expedition to the area they were able to point him in the right direction. He didn’t attract much notice with his small submersible ROV, controlling it from a native handmade outrigger canoe. But a recovery operation with a vessel large enough to hoist the crashed Valkyrie from the sea floor would almost certainly attract attention.
I had wanted more than anything to be there to assist with the recovery firsthand, but it wasn’t in the cards from a timing standpoint. Oz had to get confirmation and complete the recovery in a very compressed timeline without the benefit of delay. Once the team from the Texas Air Force Museum was ready to pull the Valkyrie out of the sea they would have to move rapidly to avoid discovery, especially if the wreckage could serve as an indictment of higher authorities.
As the former property of the UNDF, the Valk was covered under International Treaty. The salvage laws contained therein made the aircraft the property of whoever recovered it, unlike airplanes of the U.S. Navy (which retained ownership regardless of who recovered one of their planes or ships). Despite this, we knew that if anyone discovered us we would be stopped. We had to move fast, sight unseen.
In an irony like many in life, Oz’s crew would be saved from imminent failure by a timely distraction half a world away. Khyron the Backstabber would grab the world’s attention unlike anything since the first appearance of SDF-1 in 1999.
With events converging on me from different directions, I settled into a routine, attending classes and making friends. I was doing my best to accept that the Three Picassos numbered only one. I was not prepared for a phone call from my mom late October that awoke me with a start at three in the morning.
“Jake, they found Josh,” she said breathlessly.
Time stopped. Everything stopped. My heart sank for what I knew she was going to say.
I could feel my throat tighten as the blood drained from my face.
“It looks bad but he’s alive, son,” she continued.
I exclaimed into the receiver. The words don’t come to mind, but the emotion still does. When I was able to speak rationally again she gave me the details as best she knew.
Josh was in grave condition in an Intensive Care Unit in Dover, Delaware, having been thrown on a Medevac flight after being discovered alive amid a row of bodies. A Marine Corporal, working a clean up detail after the mission to rescue the hostages, sensed something amiss out of the corner of his eye. When he looked at the broken corpses that had been lined up at attention, side by side, something about Josh’s appearance struck him.
Husky was in bad shape with multiple broken bones, lacerations, and lost blood. Both his eyeballs were blown out of their sockets and lay dangling at his temples. He looked dead. To the people who moved his body he felt dead. No vital signs had been detected. To everyone but this lone Jarhead, he was dead. But the Marine thought something different, guided by instinct more than sense, and walked over to look at the mangled body. He discovered that Josh was not dead after all, though close to it.
He called out boldly for help and a medic ran over from a triage tent to look. Sure enough, though weak and on the edge, Josh Kaufman had somehow managed to hold on. It was touch and go just getting him on the flight and he was by no means out of the woods when he came out of surgery to put his shattered body back together.
But he was alive.
There was hope.
I kneeled by my bed and prayed.
Fear and worry tempered the excitement of knowing Josh was alive. But the days passed, and as he moved from critical to stable, fear gave way to guarded optimism. Optimism ceded power to unabashed enthusiasm, and eventually prayers of intervention turned to outright thanks to God for sparing our friend.
As Oz Parish hauled Bill Brubaker’s smashed Valkyrie off the sea floor, Josh gingerly, and with help, lifted his own battered body from a hospital bed and into a wheelchair. Half a continent away, Khyron Kravshera pried himself off of Azonia’s naked, sexually spent figure and pointed a bony finger at a Lieutenant on a monitor screen, then hoisted a vodka bottle and drank deeply--through a glass empty. The curtain on his last battle was soon to rise before falling like a guillotine on his obsession-driven reign of terror, bringing the final act of the First Robotech War to a devastating end for all involved.
Harriska and I were there to greet Josh at the hospital. Thanksgiving would welcome him home again and his condition would improve steadily.
It was a great reunion for all of us. I enjoyed tremendously my time with my daughters. They were growing and maturing rapidly. We had established that ideal relationship of respect coupled with banter and good-natured teasing. Their laughter, wide smiles, and bright eyes as they ran around playing were a boost to my spirit. Crayon drawings depicting their family and “heroic” fighter pilot dad scattered across the coffee table were seemingly insignificant reinforcements of how grateful I was to have them.
Josh was a good sport the entire time and the fire in his eyes remained. He was determined to get back to flying no matter the cost. I admired his guts. We talked late into the night in front of the fireplace, wondering how we wound up here, two broken down old men barely in our twenties. Was it even possible that we had lived a life like this? The things we had seen and done and felt and tasted and smelled and feared...and loved...were more than a dozen lifetimes should have contained. But it happened. It was real. Every damned glorious, tragic, insane bit of it.
“Was it worth it?” I asked him.
My friend, casts and bandages flashing in the flickering firelight, glanced at the drawings on the table and the pictures on the mantle, then took a sip from his drink. A silent pause. “This is why we did it... What isn’t worth this?”
I pursed my lips in thought and simply nodded.
“We sure lost a lot of people to get here,” I noted later, my mind thinking of Brubaker, Carr, all our squadron mates over the years, and most importantly Waylan.
“Yes we did...” he said, a crack in his voice that channeled Tom Hank’s weary Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan. “Yes we did.”
We would have several conversations like this one during that short week. Many of our mutual thoughts went unspoken. They didn’t need to be verbalized. But the sadness over the cost was something that perhaps words could not convey anyway, so it was probably best not to try.
As always happens during the holiday of Thanksgiving, I ate too much, slept too little, and ran out of time. The goodbye was long and I delayed leaving until well past a prudent time. I was not in the mood to leave. Finally, one last time before departing, I kissed my kids, hugged my family, and headed back to school. I had to get my new life started as quickly as possible by completing this task. Time was of the essence.
I was on the verge of tears as I drove off. My kids were really tough and brave. I promised myself I would make it up to them when they were a little older, justified my actions by saying the end game was more important than the immediacy of the present. I seared my conscience and pressed forward, never knowing if--or perhaps believing--I was doing the right thing.
When James rang my phone two days later I felt certain I had made a mistake.
Jason W. Smith
Copyright © 1995 by Jason W. Smith
(Author's Note: This is a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual events, persons, etc. is coincidental--even if intentionally so! --June 1995)
Based on characters and situations from
Robotech, © 1985 Harmony Gold, USA, Inc.
Robotech (R) is the property of Harmony Gold. This document is in no way intended to infringe upon their rights. The author has not accepted any remuneration for this work.HTML by Robert Morgenstern
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