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P.S. – The Next Generation

-Excerpt from VALKYRIE: A Pilot’s Life, by Maj. Gen Harris Goodman, USMC-JNAC, with additional material by Capt. Loretta Goodman, USMC.  3rd edition published 2050 by the Institute for Military Studies.

 

 

Postscript: The Next Generation

 

My father was very surprised by the success of this book, so much so that when they wanted him to work on new material for this edition he didn’t quite know where to start. My mother’s (and later my) Valkyrie designs brought in more than enough money to keep our family going while he was in the service, but no one was prepared for the public’s response to what he calls “the half-coherent ramblings of an old soldier.”

 

As I write this he’s talking with a roomful of lawyers, screenwriters, and government censors about what other parts of his story can be released to the public. So when they asked me to help, I thought they were looking for technical information and annotations about the early Valkyrie program.

 

I certainly didn’t think my own time as a pilot was worthy of inclusion alongside his.

 

Being the child of celebrities, I’ve been in the spotlight all my life. Being a child genius was a little harder to navigate, but after the second doctorate reporters rarely asked me what it was like to have a hero for a father, or what my mother was working on next.

 

In fact, the requests for interviews stopped altogether after I broke the jaw of a talking head who accused daddy of being untruthful about his time in Kazakhstan. The general gave me an official reprimand, of course, right there in the studio for the world to see.

 

“Young lady, that’s no way for a future officer to act in public.” But both he and Momma were smiling when he said it, and reporters don’t ask us stupid questions like that anymore. Besides, I’d wanted to be a Marine my entire life, and sinking my career before I officially started it would have made this chapter very short indeed.

 

But even for a prodigy, rules were rules. I kept my nose clean from then on, my eyes on the prize, and three years later I was driving my first Valkyrie.

 

There’s been a lot of talk about what happened in the Sinai last year. Some see it as a precursor to the kind of war my father predicted when he first wrote this book, but for anyone who’s been out there it’s a bit more serious. It was the end of a century of friendship between the United States and Israel, hard on the heels of losing our other longtime allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia. We were no longer welcome in a country that once depended on us for its very survival, and it marked the end of a fragile peace once held together by the threat of mutual destruction.

 

For me, it was the most intense fifteen minutes of my life, and thanks to the exploits of my father and Captain Kawamura over a decade before, my rig’s cockpit recorders preserved it all for posterity.

 

***

 

 

Our mission was to stare out into 360 degrees of nothing while guarding a solar array which in theory still belonged to the New African Union. Whatever Egyptian faction was about to take control of their perpetually collapsing government had yet to work out their differences with the others, and while they were talking, we were waiting. There were still a few hours in my watch, and even the shiny butter bars on my collar didn’t give me the right or authority to abandon my post in favor of a cooler one.

 

In the desert, you’ve got two choices inside a Valkyrie. Boil or Freeze.  My unit’s ground armor crews could screw around in the shadow I cast, but all that beautiful sunlight was heating up my rig to the point where touching the outer skin would have burned me to the bone. So like a lot of pilots, I wore as little clothing as possible while inside. The tankers were the closest any of us got to the “official” uniform, but the armor jocks and I were in skivvies and sensor rigs. Sure, I could have run the coolers off solar cells, but with the side vents open the cross breeze 15 meters up keeps a cockpit tolerable enough. Besides, I’d already spent a month acclimatizing, and saw no reason to ruin that just because I could.

 

Hurry up and wait was the order of the day, so I was making full use of the time to fix my personal armor. There’s not much room in a Valkyrie cockpit, even if you’re not built like a truck. Besides, in the unlikely event I survived the destruction of my Valkyrie, I wanted to be sure I could rely on the equipment. It was essentially the same suit I’d submitted to the DoD a few years ago, but with an upgraded sensor suite and a lot more firepower.

 

Two minutes before everything went pear-shaped, I was cleaning out yet another layer of omnipresent silt from a clogged cooling pump in the armor’s left leg. In addition to keeping me plugged into the coms and radar intercepts, my Valkyrie’s flight helmet made an acceptable magnifying glass, and I could see that some bright bulb in the DoD decided the filter I’d designed to prevent this particular malf was either too expensive or too experimental to waste on a lowly lieutenant, especially when she had a multi-billion dollar fighting machine as her “real” protection.

 

Thankfully, my exact thoughts on the matter have somehow been erased from the official record, but the problem remained. If I needed to wear the suit as it was, I’d be dead within a couple hours from heat stroke, assuming the enemy didn’t get me first.

 

I was replacing the access cover when the call came in.

 

“Starbird, this is Overwatch. We show three frames converging on your location, can you confirm?”

 

I dropped the panel and reached for the command chair’s straps. My helmet visor wasn’t showing anything on radar, but Overwatch wouldn’t have called on a lark. I used my left hand to strap in and my other to hit the Valkyrie’s action lights and startup sequence on a panel to my right. Outside, red lamps and claxons blared to life, and I got an instant ready ping from both tanks.

 

“Negative, Overwatch. My board is clear. 15 seconds to full power.”

 

“Overwatch, this is Marks. Confirm negative contact. Repeat, negative contact. “

 

Once I was strapped in, the gimbals took over and rotated with me as I “flexed” the Valkyrie’s metal muscles. I flicked my eyes up to the HUD, and focused on the icon for the exterior cameras. There was a bank of monitors at my feet and windows of polarized ballistic plex in front of me, but for most purposes the HUD was more reliable and a lot easier to operate in a fight.

 

“Copy that, Marksman. Bogeys are 4 klicks out, no transponders. They’re arrowing in on the array from three vectors…damn. We just lost them. They’re moving through a blind spot in our satellite coverage, retasking a Navy bird now for visuals. Starbird, you are clear to engage at your discretion.”

 

The tanks were already rolling, and the armor jocks were sealed up and hopping after them. But I was the point of the spear, and even though Capt. Marks was the senior officer, I was the one piloting a skyscraper over shifting sand. The squad would take their cues from me from now on.

 

“Copy that, Overwatch. Give me a plot as soon as you can.”

 

The fact that Marksman and I couldn’t see anything on radar meant we were literally on our own for this fight. Air support couldn’t lob anything our way without a real target for fear of hitting one of us. My own missiles needed something to lock onto as well, but Capt. Marks and Lt. Anders would be able to hit anything they could see well before my guns could reach their targets.

 

And as the tallest structure for 50 clicks in any direction, I was sure to be target number one for the enemy.

 

My first priority was to move far enough away from the solar array that any stray ordinance didn’t destroy the primary source of power for over 10 million people. But my second was to protect it for whoever it’s rightful owners turned out to be, and I’d be damned if I was just going to hand it over to a hostile force.

 

As the seconds ticked away, my thoughts were a mixture of how to break through whatever jamming was futzing up my sensors, and trying to figure out who was either stupid or desperate enough to come after us like this.

 

“Marksman, kick up some dust for me. 2 clicks out.”

 

Marks must have been thinking the same thing, because a couple seconds later his tank’s main gun dipped slightly and belched a couple shells out into the desert. My sensors tracked them just fine all the way to impact, which meant our hostiles were using some impressive EW suites—good enough to defeat the ones I’d devised myself for this model of Valkyrie.

 

“Overwatch, time to intercept?”

 

“You should see them now, Starbird. 60 seconds on the satellites”

 

I knew what me and my rig could do in 60 seconds to a stationary target, and had no intention of becoming a casualty in an undeclared war. With three apparently invisible enemies coming right at me, going on the offensive was the only option.

 

“Weapons free. I repeat, we are weapons free. Anything larger than a sand flea is fair game, Marines.”

 

A chorus of “oorah” came over the coms, and the game began in earnest.

 

The squad spent that minute pinging me at 3 second intervals as we advanced, giving us a bunch of points where the enemy definitely was not while the tanks and I looked for a target. The settling clouds of smoke and sand split the desert into more manageable chunks—the enemy was either on the other side of the line we’d drawn, or running around it.

 

Cpl.  Sandra Wilkinson was the first one to get eyes on the hostiles. Or more accurately, boots on them. She was just at the edge of our smoke when she stepped on something hard and definitely metallic.

 

“Jesus, what the hell is tha—“

 

Wilkinson went flying as 30 meters of desert erupted into action. The half-buried enemy Valkyrie sprung to its feet, and we no longer needed Overwatch or the Navy to tell us who we were fighting. The frame was an MV(MR)-501, identical to mine save for one very important difference. Painted on the front of its chassis was the star-and-sword symbol of the Israeli Defense Force, just like the ones on the other two charging out of the smoke.

 

Marks and Anders had now something to aim at other than sand, and let fly with HE shells.  They took one of the “newcomers” high in the chest, and it spun back and to the right. The Valkyrie stumbled briefly but kept on charging, spewing a line of bullets ahead of it as it ran.

 

I cycled HE missiles into my launchers, and prepped the laser. If they’d been running all the way from the Negev, the Israelis’ power plants had to be right at the edge of overheating, and their batteries were questionable. If I could get close enough, not only would the laser do some serious damage, but the extra heat would be a lot more effective than bullets.

 

If. Too many ifs.  And since I was effectively fighting myself, I was vulnerable to the same tactics. My own hull was registering around 80C, which made me all the more glad I’d done a full diagnostic before starting work on my personal armor. While they may have had me outgunned, I wasn’t fighting alone, and I had “fresh horses.”

 

I sent two missiles at the same Valkyrie the tanks were pounding (an FS-502 missile rig), but only needed one to finish the job. The frame came apart in a shower of hot metal, and I was already lining up my next shot before my missiles hit. Of course, so were the Israelis, and the ground in front of me exploded just as my hull started ringing with the impact of a heavy cannon.

 

I dodged left, fighting the urge to duck and roll. The chair harness does more than just keep a pilot secured, it has haptic sensors to read their muscle movements. Our design theory was that coordinating the natural reflexes of a pilot with the controls they operated would give a boost in performance, and with people like myself and Daddy those reflexes were decidedly above average. But the drawback to the system was the pilot’s experience at suppressing unwanted responses. And right about them my brain said fight, while my gut was screaming flight.

 

Although the log doesn’t show it, I hesitated, unsure of my surroundings in the flying sand. It’s was exactly why we’re trained to rely on the HUD rather than what we can see out the windows, and it took he half a heartbeat to remind myself that I was safe inside the cockpit. A 501’s heavy cannon is meant for smaller targets, and with all that debris in the air a laser was useless.

 

So of course, it was a missile that got me. Two of them actually. Whoever was in the opposing 501 had guessed my maneuver exactly and blew off my Valkyrie’s left arm with a perfect double salvo, taking my laser with it. He’d neutralized my powerful weapon and put me on the defensive with a single action, and I wasn’t even sure where, or who, he was.

 

Minute two of our lopsided duel gave me a clearer look at our remaining enemies. In addition to my opposite number, and the -502 we’d taken down, the Israelis had also sent along an SC-503 scout frame. I must confess, if the bastard hadn’t been stomping all over my Marines, I’d have admired his technique. The “Loki” was the last design I worked on before boot camp, and the latest one to roll off the line. Of course our closest ally would have them, especially in the terrain we made it for.

 

I just never thought I’d be fighting one, especially in a big pig like the “Heimdall.” My machine was designed to work as part of a mixed force, and as already noted, my big gun was out of commission.

 

There was nothing wrong with my legs, though, and this time the haptic harness worked in my favor. I zeroed in on the opposing 501, and sent missiles at a point just off its right shoulder. I didn’t really have them to spare, but they had the desired effect. The 501 dodged one direction, and the 503 in the other. Marksman’s next shot blew out the scout frame’s “knees”, and the one after that turned his cockpit into a smoking crater.

 

We were now down to one operational opponent, who wisely decided he did not want to suffer the same fate. He spun his chassis around as he ran, firing his laser straight at the center of my Valkyrie’s chest. Alarms flashed all over my HUD, and throughout the cockpit screens went dark.  I could have stopped to reroute power, but not with my Marines dying out there. I had to end this now, before we lost the upper hand.

 

I may have only had partial main power, but my batteries were fully charged, and that’s all I needed for my plan. I was betting everything on the fact that the enemy pilot was splitting his attention between where he was going and where he was shooting, a problem I’d figured out how to solve when I was 15 years old. I spent 30 seconds running as hard as I could, letting the harness and main computer record my legs’ desire to stretch out each step as far as I could.  When I had enough data in the buffer, I looped it, turning my walking weapons platform into a runaway train while I slipped out of the harness.

 

Technically, I was abandoning my post. But damnit, I wanted to know why those fools were attacking us, and if I blew the last pilot up, I’d only have whatever diplomatic bullshit his government was going to shovel at us after the dust settled.

 

I kept my flight helmet on until the last possible moment, blinking another salvo of missiles his way before ditching it. As soon as the command interface came up, it notified me that I was missing an access panel on my right leg. I promptly dismissed it, cursing myself for not taking the extra three seconds to finish the job earlier.

 

It’s not like my life was on the line, or anything.

 

I felt the missiles launch through the soles of my armored boots, and counted off the flight time in my head as I ran through calibration exercises. Normally I wouldn’t need them at a time like this, but the diagnostic routine I ran earlier reset the suit’s default user, and I had to remind it who I was.

 

“Good afternoon, Doctor Goodman” appeared in glowing letters on my suit visor, and I was ready for the next phase of my hastily constructed suicide plan. My opposite number was still pumping coherent light into “my” chest, and was probably wondering why I wasn’t firing back with the weapons I had left. I used that confusion to pop the canopy, and squeezed myself out onto the upper chassis of my Valkyrie.

 

The armor’s visor immediately polarized, blocking both the light of the sun and its deadlier counterpart a few meters below me. I had to time this exactly right, or I’d be one fried Marine, not to mention part of a training video of “what not to do” for the next hundred or so classes at the OCS.

 

60 meters.

 

50.

 

40, 30, 20…

 

I launched myself with all the mechanically assisted strength I had just as my Valkyrie stopped running. It took one last step and planted itself in the sand, but I had more important things to do than admire its pose. I hit the Israeli 501’s cockpit full on, and grabbed hard at its canopy bar. There was no way I was going to break through it with anything short of high explosives, but that wasn’t my goal.

 

The bastard inside flinched, and his own haptic harness transmitted the movement to his controls, and then to the 501’s legs. We went down in a crashing heap, and while he was trying to unhook himself I hit the emergency canopy release, let myself in, and put an armored fist against his chest.

 

Game over, Ari.

 

***

 

A few minutes later, Overwatch relayed Israel’s official denial of responsibility for the incident, citing “rogue elements” and promising a full investigation. But I’d already got the truth from my prisoner (in between some entirely unkind comments about my parentage and personal habits which someone wisely removed from the interview before my father could hear them), and our problems were only beginning.

 

The Israelis wanted the solar array, but their intent wasn’t to pack it up and take it home. It was the first step of a plan to “establish a permanent peace” by taking control of the entire peninsula. With the UAS in disarray, and the Democratic Islamic Califate still figuring out what it was supposed to be, it was a bold move that probably would have worked if we weren’t already thinking about doing the same thing. As it was (and is), we both got booted out of the region, and the Egyptians decided to be Arabs instead of Africans.

 

The DoD offered me early retirement, but I used some of the new words I’d learned to tell them what to do with that nonsense. Instead, I got my choice of assignments and a shiny medal, along with a promotion that lets me continue doing what I do best.

 

After the Israelis “declined to discipline” their pilot, my cockpit footage and testimony was immediately declassified. It’s just happy coincidence that my—our editors were the first people to ask for it. And while my father is busy promoting this updated edition of his memoirs, I’ll be busy at Project Valkyrie, designing the next generation of frames to keep our people safe.

 

War has changed, my friends, and we need to change with it. Are you ready to take the next steps?

 

Capt. Loretta Goodman, USMC

 

April 7, 2050