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Prologue - "24 Hours Ago" for Richard "Ricky" Rolland

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Kaerri's Man. =)
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"Love on a Real Train" (State Azure Cover) by Tangerine Dream

"Awaken... or you are going to die."

* * *​

(Prelude 1 of 2)

Somewhere in the grip of a relentless dream, Ricky heard his beloved mother calling him. He was in his bed, much younger, and looking out through his bedroom window into a wintry Maine forest blanketed in fresh drapes of white snow. His limbs felt like stone. He was having the hardest time getting out of bed.

"C'mon, my little daredevil. Hop up. Time to get ready for school. I need your help to shovel the car out. Remember our deal?" His mother's smile was warm and wishful, but something felt strange to Ricky. She recounted, "You get good grades and work around the house and your grandpa and I help you with flight school."

Ricky's mind swam with confusion. Why were his limbs so heavy? Why was he in such a daze?

"C'mon, Evel Knievel. I made your favorite breakfast. You do want to fly, don't you?" Her voice seemed now to echo her question over and over.

She leaned over, looked him calmly in his eyes and said something that sounded completely inhuman but altogether true - "Awaken... or you are going to die."

* * *​

(Prelude 2 of 2)

The last thing Ricky remembered before he fell unconscious was sliding into the Milo's bay at breakneck speed, his heavily-damaged Valkyrie "Jezebel" in jet-mode screeching across the shuttle floor causing sparks to fly in every direction. Warning lights flashed from his HUD and alerts blared from all over his cockpit. If it sounded like all Hell was breaking loose... perhaps it was because it may as well have been.

He remembered the Milo's bay doors sealing in behind him. He had remembered before landing in the airborne shuttle his jettisoning the Jezebel's FASTPack (which in turn had saved the Jezebel from destruction via incoming Malcontent missile volleys).

He recalled her right engine blowing. There was a heck of a lot of smoke. But most of all he recalled being the last remaining member of his squadron, the Blue Hares. He was alone now. This was it. The Blue Hares, his twisted, daring gang of fellow Valkyrie pilots... were dead as dead could be - all to save some VIP ASC military scientist who had seen too much of something. All Ricky knew was the VIP's name and rank on her nametag - Lt. Ylva Sveadotter.

The mission was all to save her, or rather, whatever was in her head. Something in there was quite possibly a real game-changer as far as the military was concerned. The Malcontents had captured her in Florida. The Blue Hares had rescued her in Brazil. Where in heck they were now was beyond him. All he knew was his Blue Hares... were dead! One by one, Ricky suffered through each one of them dying at the hands of the Malcontents as the base they had rescued her from had thrown everything it had at his dying squadron. But he and the VIP should be safe now in the Milo, something in him argued.

They had finally made it onboard the Milo - an ASC shuttle piloted by micronized Zentraedi loyal to Earth and capable of housing four Valkyrie-sized veritechs. There was a dogfight happening outside... way, way up here - a dogfight! But against what? his training asked. What did the Malcontents in Brazil have that could reach them some 60,000 feet - over 12 miles - above Earth's sea level? Not to mention keep up with a Valkyrie! Nothing Ricky knew and he had done his homework on Zentraedi war machines.

In the soft, illusory land of dreams, unconscious Ricky Rolland's mind traveled. It was an uneasy travel with smoke and fire but soon the mind-scene changed until he saw something more familiar, more comfortable. Definitely more comfortable. He saw his squadmates drinking together with him. Raising some kind of toast to him. But he had no idea why.

He saw all of them. Lucy, Harold, Rupps, Alice, and Capt. Reinfeld. They were smiling and carrying on in some beautiful pub somewhere with real-wood bar, full cold mugs, good lighting, energetic music, and great atmosphere. Where it was, Ricky could hardly guess, but they were raising copper mugs to him.

"Here's to you, Ricky-boy! Here's to the last of the Hellraisers! The lone Blue Hare himself, Ricky!" Lucy had raised her pint to him.

"Ya made it, ya sorry ass! Can ya believe it?" Harold teased, looking like he'd had a few. They all looked that way.

Rupps poked him. "I told you we were all gonna die! You'd better make the best of your life now, man! "

Alice winked. "And you'd best do it soon, babe. Your clock? It's ticking like a damned timebomb."

"She's right, Rolland." Captain Reinfeld filled Ricky's vision. The recently-deceased squadron leader of the Blue Hares grabbed Ricky by his shoulders. He shook Ricky a bit as if trying to rouse him. Still smiling, staring him straight in the eyes, Captain Reinfeld spoke the words slowly.

"Awaken... or you are going to die."

That phrase kept repeating itself inside of Ricky's mind. It made no sense. The voice didn't even sound like Captain Reinfeld's. But if it wasn't him, then who in God's name was it?

* * *​

(Prologue begins - present time for Ricky)

"Enter Sandman" by Metallica

Ricky couldn't open his eyes. He wasn't quite conscious, but he heard a nearby voice. A guy's voice. Maybe a Londoner. He had no idea, but the guy sure as heck sounded awfully happy in a way that made Ricky feel terribly uneasy.

"Blimey! Fucking gor blimey! It's Christmas! It's bloody Christmas! An' you Rotten Rolland are goddamned Santa Claus!" Ricky could not identify the guy. He had no idea who he was. "The blasted aliens are out there killin' each other! I've got a free ride! And you! Look what you did! You brought home the princess for me! The goddamn VIP herself!"

Ricky felt something being lifted off of his body. Ricky's battered body was helpless to stop it.

"Saved me all the trouble! All for the nice price of yer whole bleedin' squadron! All dead! No open caskets fer any of them, are there ye stupid son of a bitch!" Without warning, Ricky felt something nail him right straight in the mouth. His head reeled and it helped to wake him up a little. He tasted something strange. Maybe boot-leather. Then he tasted something else in his mouth. Blood. His blood. Then he heard clicking sounds from all around his body. "Now yer about ta crash an' burn like all the other alien-lovers out there! Well, I'll tell ya, bloke! Ya ain't gettin' this one! We need her... but we sure as hell don't need you! Ha ha ha! Yer gonna die now, Rotten Rolland!" Ricky heard his voice as if he were making his way away. "Good riddance to you, ye beautiful fucking failure!"

Something inside Ricky was on fire. The fellow martial artists of his past would have called this a 'rising of spirit' or 'an unleashing of the dragon within you.' Whatever it was, Ricky found himself with every reason in the world to live and his body was slowly, oh-so-slowly, attempting to respond.


Suddenly, he heard the words, not with his ears, but straight inside of his mind! All this time he knew - it was somehow Jezebel!

"...or you are going to die."

There was movement and sound all around Ricky. The whole world was shifting. He smelled smoke. Not nice Maine-firewood during winter smoke but ugly, black burning of something synthetic toasting dangerously. He fought and fought to rise, to awaken. There was a shower of strange lights all around him. Finally, he was able to open his eyes - and what he saw was chaos incarnate! He was still inside Jezebel, his helmet off and now in his otherwise-empty lap, her HUD was going nightmare-crazy with alerts. Then Ricky realized - he was still onboard the Milo! He saw the burning bay, the blaring alert sirens and lights! The bay doors suddenly opened and another aircraft, a Logan in jet-mode took off and burst out into the sunny sky.

Quite possibly the second-most frightening moment of Ricky's life (at least while alone inside of a Valkyrie) was right now! The Milo was being destroyed. Inside the bay, there was smoke everywhere and when the shuttle tilted, it titled in such a way as to make the Jezebel start to slide down the floor and toward the edge of the bay. The shrieking sound of the savaged Valkyrie's frame sparking against the shuttle-bay floor filled Ricky's mind to fully wakening! His Jezebel, all 15 tons of her, was sliding across the floor like a chess-piece on a board. The bay filled with sunlight and the Milo continued to tilt threatening to sending Ricky and Jezebel outside!

This frightening moment was only eclipsed by the sensation of the Jezebel leaving the bay and falling out into Earth's open sky.!

Not only did Ricky feel his feet leave the Jezebel's pedals, he also saw for certain that the jet-fighter's canopy was left wide open. Then Ricky felt his legs and rear end begin to lift up and off from the pilot's seat - and then he realized - the scumbag who had absconded with the VIP had also unlocked Ricky's harness! He was about to fall out of Jezebel! Ricky had about 3 seconds to act before he left the Jezebel, plummeted some 10+ miles to his death, joined the Blue Hares, and left the VIP they had all died for in the hands of a madman.

But... if anyone could make it out of a mess like this, it was a Valkyrie Test Pilot!

There were a number of things Ricky could consider...
1. Attempt to transform the battered Valkyrie
2. Close the cockpit
3. Attempt to punch out (eject).
4. Try to put his helmet on.
5. Anything else Ricky could think of.

What does Ricky do?
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Dreams or hallucinations. Was hard to tell, especially given that he wasnt even trying too. His mind in a full fog, a daze, pulled through old memories of his mother. Very tranquil. Only to be roused by a very bizarre statement... didnt sound like her at all. Scary, even.

A brief jolt of energy coursed through him, like awakening from a bad dream, only to fall into another. Conciousness struggling to surface. The briefest glimpse at the present, an almost overwhelming one... yet his fuzzy mind drifted back out. Reminded of his mates. He could see them now. As if they were right there. They were dead... but maybe he was too. He could hear them. Yes, they cheered him, but he could barely comprehend them. It was all he could do to watch the dreams in an inner stupor.

But then the Captain said that phrase again. Trying to shake him as if to emphasize it... no... wait... he could feel that. He was being shaken...

The vision ended with darkness. And the present caught up with him. He was in the Milo... only him. Everyone else was dead... but he should be safe. But he had a sickly feeling that he wasnt...

The shaking stopped, and he felt a weight lift off of him. Quite literally. The VIP, he reminded himself.... someone must be pulling her out.

The voice he heard was not what he was expecting. It was that taunting twat... he would have grabbed for her... but he could barely move his arms. Wait... where was the crew? Why did he still smell smoke? And who the hell was this guy-

His world was shaken again, a kinetic impact to his face. But the pain didnt register. Taunts... threats... was the Milo hijacked? He was going to kill this guy...

He spat out a mouthful of blood, red specks splattering over the console. No. Not here. Wake up, Ricky. Something is wrong.

Then the phrase came again, so familiar like the alerts of his veritech. So calm and clinical and definitive. He could feel it reverberate through his skull.

A failure... death... no. Not like this. With a low determined growl. Ricky forced his open, the bright light from the open bay doors almost blinding him. Fire and smoke, his senses telling him the ship was off keel, and some ugly ass logan blasting out of the hangar.

But before he could truly collect his bearings. The world began to spin... no... that wasnt in his head. The Milo was actually tipping!

The screech of sliding metal amd the movement around him told him exactly what was happening. He was about to slide out of the hangar!

Shitshitshitshitshit. Not even enough time to take stock and ye was already outside of the hangar. Heart pounding at the dreaded feeling of free fall that now plagued him. If the fear of falling didnt wake him up, the cold rush of thin air did the rest.

His gut twisted into a knot as he felt himself lidt from his seat. And he almost made the fatal mistake of panicking. The harness undone to have gotten the VIP out. And she had his helmet. He could hear it rattle on the floor by the pedals.

If he left the cockpit, he was done for. He needed to secure himself, now!

Ricky pressed his hand against the open cockpit, trying to grab ahold of it. It slid until his fingers reached a laser hole.

As he grasped onto it, he hooked his boots underneath the console and tried to pull it down.

His grip broke with the glass, but he reach for the hole again. The shards digging through his glove and into his hand, turning the fabric red.

Using his core muscles, he pulled as hard as he could to get it closed. Thankful that the bottom flat of Jezebel was breaking most of the wind that would make this an otherwise impossible task.

If he could get it closed. He could strap back in and get his helmet back on... and hopefully, keep Jezebel from going into a spin.

She should still fly. Surely she could. She had to. Because it seemed they weren't done with their mission yet. They had a Logan to catch. And all hell was breaking loose.

Dannigan Dannigan
Thought up a suitable name for the squadron.

The Blue Hare squadron. Or as they like to call it, the Blue Harem Squadron. Easy to make such an in joke, Given they are sent to do things quick and dirty, and whored between the labs and military, as well as the pilots being a bunch of crude and uncultured folk who like their job a little too much. Paint some bunny ears on the ladies, and you got a good excuse why they have such lewd imagery painted on.

I hope you don't mind, D., but for the sake of the story and the fun, I want to take this and run with it for a little bit. =)

As Ricky tried and tried to get the canopy lowered, his training kicked in. The canopy, he remembered, was far too heavy for him to simply pull down with one hand like pilots did back in the days of World War Ii. It was also too high above his head for him to safely reach up without falling out to his death. Then he recalled the hydraulic system that closed the thing for him. With a smack on the switch from his bloodied hand, the canopy began its mechanical closure, but Ricky knew this was just one of many problems. "Prioritize!" his training seemed to shout.

At about 50,000 feet up and falling, Ricky realized that to take a single breath might damage his lungs for the rest of his life. Plus, he wouldn't get any oxygen anyway - human lungs were only good up to around 5,000-8,000 feet or so his Valkyrie instructors had taught him.

Then he heard the Blue Hares going off again...

* * *​

"Miss Holli Would" by Mark Isham for the "Cool World" Motion Picture Score.

As Ricky fought for life, his imagination swam in a sea of delirium. The Blue Hares had shifted gears a bit. They were getting snarky, salty, grabbing each others' bums in this dream-pub they were cheering from him from. With alcohol came transformation... into who else? The Blue Harem...

If reputations were to be believed, Alice wasn't the naive little Alice in Wonderland, but an Alice with her own Wonderland. She did not share beds with just anyone, but with those she did, they came out with an entirely different something than before. These men came out possessing a new lust for life they did not have before entering the bedroom with Alice. It was a lust for life all of the Blue Hares had for fighter jockeys required it. And test pilots? It was their very adrenaline.

But now in Ricky's mental playground, Alice was licking her lips and checking Ricky out in a way she never had in life. Then the teasing started. "Ricky," she purred, "you realize if you die there... you'll be coming here too soon. And you know how I can't stand 'short fuses'." When the Blue Harem was in naughty mode, Alice made no secret that she never liked men who served only to please themselves. This, of course, created a series of remarks from the men in the squadron about how long they could last and so on. But as far as Ricky knew, Alice had never went to bed with anyone in the squadron.

And here she was maneuvering in her chair in ways that set fire to most men's imagination.

"You've got to make this, Ricky-baby, or you'll just be another short fuse!"

* * *​

Ricky struggled with his harness while his lungs begged him to take a single breath - but Ricky knew better! To open his mouth was death! All around him, the Jezebel spun slowly and lazily revealing a blue sky all before him. And then Ricky realized. He wasn't going up, of course, but down. That meant... all that blue... was an ocean! He was going to hit water at terminal velocity at this rate!

Click by click, his harness came together. His butt lowered and stayed in the seat. His legs and feet bounced around but it was his helmet he needed most. Oh, for just one breath of oxygen!

* * *​

Then the Blue Harem returned. They wouldn't leave him alone! His buddies began teasing him hard as loving, crude squadmates do. It was just like when they were alive - they were merciless! Ricky heard them all except for the captain.

Rupps bellowed and patted a nearby empty chair at the table. "We've got a seat right here waiting for you... when you fuck up and join us, man! Don't screw the pooch!"

"Oh, wait Ricky!! Lucy suggested saucily. "Before you put your helmet on? Make sure you puke in it! You'll smell so much better, hon!"

Harold could not stop laughing. "If you die, you pay the tab, Dicky! So stop fucking dying already!"

From behind them in the soft, warm light of the pub, Ricky saw dozens of patrons stop what they were doing and look over at the Blue Harem's table. One patron shook his head in envy, "What the fuck are those guys drinkin'?"

But out of his whole team, the captain may have been the worst.

Captain Reinfeld slowly rose from his seat to stand at the edge of the table, one hand on his pants zipper. Reinfeld took from the table a container of Cool Whip topping and gave the most wicked grin Ricky had ever seen out of the man. This he opened, displaying the white, sweet treat and he showed it to everyone and lastly, Ricky.

The table went dead-quiet. No one had a clue what Reinfield was doing. He was normally the one to call for order, but that was before he was dead. Reinfeld's stare into Ricky was strong-willed and downright hypnotic. "Now you listen to me, lieutenant! I swear to you... if you buy the farm here, Big Willie is coming out. And so help me - if you die, I'm dropping him straight into this Cool Whip!"

This news hit the table like a thunderbolt. Everyone at the table swore uproariously and just about fell over, their shocked howls and uncontrolled laughter filled the pub.

* * *​

His helmet! Ricky had to get his helmet back on! With both hands, he was pulling it on, but it was heavy! So heavy now. But somehow, he got the thing on. He felt the seals pressurize. His canopy may have been ruined but his flight suit was still capable of putting oxygen in his lungs. And it did. As he sucked in the oxygen deeply, in the delirium of his mind, he heard his squadron shouting...

"SUCK IT, RICKY, SUCK IT! SUCK IT, RICKY, SUCK IT!" The Blue Harem had the whole blasted pub chanting for him!

"Captain!" Alice gasped, smiling. "Can you do that? You know we're in..."

"I know exactly where we are, sweetcheeks! And you know what? It won't change a single thing! So SUCK IT, RICKY, SUCK IT!" And the mad laughter, drinking, and chanting continued.

* * *​

By this time, Ricky couldn't tell what was real and what was not. He didn't know his speed, altitude, heading, nothing at all - just that cold, fresh oxygen entering his mouth, traveling down his esophagus, and into his begging lungs. Ricky found himself thinking hazily... "Jez, what have you got left for me, baby?" And perhaps to his surprise, Jezebel answered!

"I am heavily-damaged in most areas and only barely airworthy. My starboard engine is on fire. The fire is spreading to my starboard arm, wing, and the GU-11 Gun Pod. If the Gun Pod ignites, the ammunition will destroy me. You must shut down the starboard engine. From there, you may transform into Guardian mode to keep me aloft, but you must not attempt to transform me into Battloid. Once transformed into Guardian mode, I will not be able to revert to Jet mode due to battle damage."

This slough of facts hit Ricky and something in him... relaxed. He found himself breathing easier. Seeing more clearly. Most noticeably, the scene of the pub and the Blue Harem began to slowly fade from his mind. They were going away, or perhaps Ricky was. Either way, they were separating.

* * *​

"Aww, he's gonna live after all!" Rupps cried in mock dismay. "Harry, that's 10 bucks you owe me, ya fuck!"

Harold laughed and punched Rupps's shoulder a good one. "Take it out of the hooker fund you still owe me from, you damned addict!"

They were all looking at Ricky from the table. Their eyes were soft somehow, pleased, relieved. Clearly happy to see Ricky had not yet joined them wherever they were. The empty seat sat with them, still empty. Alice winked at Ricky and suddenly bared her brassiere-covered breast for him. "See, Ricky-baby? I just knew you could last. Unlike these limp chimps..."

"Hey!" Lucy shrieked. "You'd better not be including me in that statement!" She gave Ricky a thumbs up. They all did.

Then Captain Reinfeld mercifully sat back down. "Squadron? It looks like the Cool Whip stays undefiled... for now." That brought pangs of laughter and sounds of disappointment. They smiled at Ricky. The captain continued. "Rolland... Make the most of the time you've got left. Live for the rest of us. That's an order."

And slowly, dreamily, the Blue Hares all faded away.

* * *​

Ricky had to find a way to stop his descent. Jez's altimeter showed him at 40,000 and dropping. Above him, the dogfight was still going on with the Milo which was also descending, but if Ricky couldn't stay airborne, would he have to ditch Jezebel just to stay alive?

What did Ricky do?
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Prioritize. Clearly more shook than he realized. But he reason oxygen could wait. He could hold it for a minute... but if he fell out if the cockpit, got his skull cracked open, then no oxygen...

But the altitude was getting to him, clearly. As the lives of his mates flashed before his eyes. Alice was there, it was as if she was there in front of him. If not for the chill that ran across his face from the wind, he might even believe he was here.

He wanted to speak, but in the back if his mind he knew better than to waste what oxygen he had. Click. Another buckle in place, but he wasnt done. His lungs burned already... ignore it. His training reminded him he had time. Just don't panic.

The ship was tipping, more to blue. He wasnt worried... this could be corrected. But the more blue made him want to think he was turning right side up... but no, he had already been right side up. That was water... no worries... so long as he was falling flat, the drag would help slow him down.

More visions.

Rupps. Lucy. Fucking Harold... as if a guy named Harry Peter's had any right to make fun of the name Dicky. Ricky must be loosing his mind at this point. It was as if they were talking to him again. And then the Captain... damn you Reinfeld.

His helmet was in his hand, and Ricky couldn't help but smile. If nothing else made him wanted to stay alive, that threat did. He put his helmet on. As he it sealed he breathed in deeply. I ain't dying... I didnt then, I ain't now.

"Jez, what have you got left for me, baby?"

Before he could even collect his thoughts, new voice entered his head. Jezebel! Apparently delirium gave her a voice too. It was certainly just the altitude, effecting him hard. That and the kick to his face. Though now wasn't the time for some psychiatric self diagnostic or whatever.

But... he did a feel a sort of easing to his mind. As if he had released a breath he didnt know he was holding. And once more his mind flashed back to his comrades, practically hearing their words of encouragement... of course he wouldnt die. There is no way he could face them if he did. Not after all they gave. Be it the words of encouragement, or Alice's breasts, his mind sharpened back into the zone. As if he never left his seat.

Barely airworthy is still airworthy, some of the junk he used to "fly" attested to that. "We ain't gonna die here, babe. We will both be getting back in what pieces we have left."

Richard cut power to the engines, ceasing further fuel to the fire. He was falling right now, so didnt need them anyway. High atmosphere should put them out... if not, water wasnt that far away.

During that time, he would take a glance at the radar, to see if he could spot the Logan and wherever it pissed off to. Had to track it down somehow, bogeys be damned.

But free fall wouldnt do. Time to regain some control, he would maneuver Jezebels flaps, to get the nose pointed down into a dive, and have the ailerons stable out any spin.

A jet in dive shouldnt have a high enough threat level to be of much concern to the enemies, especially one on fire. But he wouldnt count on it. Hopefully it would give him a few thousand feet to get a grasp of the surroundings and radar. And that damned Logan.

He then began to start adding some incline, readying Jezebel to pull up as need be. Not using the engine until he needed to. The state of the fire at this point would determine what he would do next.
"Alive" by Godsmack. I just find this song kind of fitting for this scene.

I'm alive, for you I'm awake. Because of you.
I'm alive. Told you I'm awake. Swallowing you.

There was an alert on Ricky's HUD that he was likely paying attention to - the bright red blinking one that displayed "ENG FIRE" which was short for engine fire. Now that his helmet was back on, the speakers inside greeted him with the sound of "Bitching Betty" (so called because the computerized voice responsible for providing auditory alerts in a woman's voice never had anything good to say).

"Engine fire - starboard engine," the voice mechanically repeated probably a little too often. As if the pilot were likely to forget.

Ricky had just shut down both engines moments before and was now filling his lungs with pure oxygen. With each breath, the strange world the Blue Harem was in got a little farther away while the world they had once belonged in and the one Ricky was in now felt a little bit closer. Farther and farther down and toward the great wide blueness the Jezebel dove, the HUD's altimeter changing numbers faster than was healthy. In moments, Ricky was breathing better again despite the whistling wind through holes in the Jezebel's canopy.

Then Ricky spotted something below him in the daylight he had not seen before - a coastline! And if he were reading his radar right, the Logan the VIP was on was headed straight for it!

In that moment, Ricky noticed his radar had more blips than just the Logan on it... and something heavy had hit the Milo...

The wounded and smoking Jezebel glided lazily through the air. Ricky, requiring visual confirmation of bogies looked up into the sky above him... and saw further madness.

The Milo was up there, smoking, turning, still struggling for life. But what had hit her? In moments, Ricky saw them. Only three Zentraedi Male Power Armor.

Except they weren't...

Ricky knew well what a Male Power Armor looked like and what it could do. But what he saw were a trio of bogies roughly shaped like the Nousjadel-Ger (the Zentraedi name for them), but bigger. Meaner-looking. Colored in blood red and covered with about a dozen strange-looking domes with an oversized cannon on its right shoulder. But that wasn't the disconcerting part.
Zentraedi DYRL Nousjadeul-Ger from Pinterest.jpg
(Image credit: lemondedufairepart.com )

There was a face sticking out of the machine. A Zentraedi face, smiling, roaring, yelling, unimpeded by the altitude and lack of oxygen. It looked like this merged with a big Male Power Armor. But...

... what was it? Realization struck Ricky like the brute's boot against his mouth - this was not a Zentraedi piloting a suit of armor - the Zentraedi and the blood-red armor were combined together into one single deadly unit!
(Image credit: gaming.youtube.com)

One of the freakish things fired its oversized cannon at the Milo. Ricky could see the shot was a sure hit from the trajectory and speed alone. But when it hit, it didn't explode. Even in the drifting Jezebel, Ricky could see that instead of another hit to the shuttle's main chassis, the thing that hit struck the hull and was now running on all fours straight toward the Milo's cockpit!

Once it reached there, there was a brief flurry of activity as, no doubt the pilots inside saw the thing pounding on their glass and reacted accordingly... right before the Milo's cockpit exploded into a shining, hellish ball of flame sealing the crew's fate forever. Huge pieces of spinning debris cascaded in dozens of directions and fell Earth-ward.

One of the other misshapen bogies peeled off and dove rapidly, but not for Ricky. It pulled from one of the domes on its body and stuffed its wriggling, eager contents into that massive cannon on its shoulder. The bogie looked almost straight down positioning the cannon just so and fired. The projectile soared out of the cannon... toward the Logan! In addition, Ricky saw now that the Logan was trailing black smoke - she had been hit!

The pilot in the Logan, most likely the British brute who had left his mark on Ricky, evaded swiftly and desperately. As Ricky turned the thrustless Jezebel toward the Logan, he saw the thing in the air adjust its course like a Reflex missile. Ricky saw the clouds of chaff shimmering in the daylight, the sunny orange flares dancing in the sky, but the thing ignored them all and struck the Logan's rear.

The Logan shuddered and attempted to transform and that was where it all went wrong - for the transformation stopped halfway through, freezing the doomed Flying Cat between its two forms. At this altitude, this was a veritech pilot's nightmare.

But Ricky found that he had no time to witness further, for a loud beeping alert that would have done Bitching Betty proud sounded in Ricky's helmet - missile alert! There was a missile in the air and it was coming after him! Ricky knew the only things in the air now able to fire anything belonged to the wrong side. Ricky looked up and saw something speeding very quickly through the air and after him from above. It was green, had four legs, and he could bet all of his bar money the thing had a mouthful of sharp-looking fangs. It was one of the things that had hit the Milo and the Logan!

And in his glide right now, he and the Jezebel were sitting ducks...

but it wasn't all bad news. "Starboard engine fire extinguished," proclaimed Betty. The starboard engine was no longer smoking. And that made Betty "happy." =)

But Lt. Rolland had options against the incoming projectile.
1. Fire chaff and flares to spoof it.
2. Eject and leave the Jezebel to her fate.
3. Transform to Guardian and hit it with the GU-11 Gun Pod.
4. Reignite the port-side engine and try to outrun it.
5. Anything else Ricky could think of.

What does Ricky do?
(I can't get a lengthy post out in a timely manner. I'll have to give you what's happening at the present so as not to stall things. A quick small post.)

His gut was sinking. First the Logan and now the Milo. What the hell were these things! But soon enough came even more missile warnings. As if he hadnt heard it enough...

There was little enough time to think, but at least the engine fire was out. Couldn't have better timing.

With a flicking of the switches, he reignited the engines. Just got to last a while longer yet. He didnt want to get out of fighter mode, but he didnt have any choice at this point.

He shifted Jezebel to guardian mode, knowing he couldn't change back, and turned to face the incoming missile. Raising his gunpod, he opened fire on the incoming dog rocket. He couldn't afford to let it hit him! And if he could knock it down on the first shot... he hoped to get out of range and see if the there were any survivors of the Logan.
"Blurry" by Puddle of Mudd. Nice, rockin' Ace Combat music to RP to! =)

Ricky set in the commands to reignite the engines. The left turbine lit up like a nuclear roman candle, eager and full of fire, but the right was utterly non-responsive; as useful as a blown, blacked-out firecracker. This left Ricky with a flight-crippled Jezebel, barely airworthy, definitely not combat worthy, and in need of no more damage of any kind. She could halfheartedly gain altitude if necessary and that might be enough to get him and his VIP home if he was able to recover her. If he wanted to dive, all he had to do was just ask gravity (who was eternally willing to provide - just ask all of the test pilots over the many years who died during their duties).

It was up to Ricky to recover the VIP. But that meant destroying the incoming "missile" that was headed straight for him.

He threw the lever to transform the shaky Valkyrie into Guardian mode and in doing so, he heard the most horrible scraping sound from outside. He could only imagine what it was. As he attempted to target the missile with his as-yet-unharmed GU-11 gun pod, Jezebel dipped wildly and badly to her right; without an engine there to support her, it was all she could do to stay aloft. After a sound like that, Ricky was certain that attempting to transform again into any other mode was a very bad idea. It was possible that the damage done to the Jezebel had become so great she might never fly right again. But that was a worry for another time.

In game, Ricky's O.C.C.. training gives him strong reason to believe that his combat abilities are very seriously hampered due to the condition of the Jezebel. Put plainly, Ricky knows he is -2 to Strike, -8 to Dodge and Parry, -4 to Initiative and Roll with Punch/Crash plus he is down two attacks per round. Furthermore, he is suffering a -25% penalty at piloting the Jezebel. And without repairs, it was only going to get worse. Just something to keep in mind.

Ricky being both a test pilot and a combat pilot aimed the GU-11 as squarely as he could as the veritech began to turn upside down, taking his perspective and sight of the horizon with it. Ricky's transformation and defiance in the face of certain doom seemed catch the beast-creature off guard. Ricky saw its gruesome eyes widen. It made a half-frozen, clumsy attempt to dodge, but Ricky felt sure he had a computer-assisted bead on the missile. "BRRRRRRRTT!!" the GU-11 roared off its burst of HEAP rounds at the grinning, toothy bomb-laden thing rocketing straight at him.

A blazing explosion tore through the sky as the rounds met with the beast. The shockwave from the nearness of the blast shook Ricky's ventilated cockpit and the sound of the combined death-cry of the creature followed by the deafening eruption was enough to rock even the hardiest pilot. But for the moment, it was gone and Ricky, the Last Blue Hare, was still alive and kicking.

With the bandits high above him, Ricky got a moment to check his radar. He had reason for his heart to sink - the Logan blip was no longer there! It was somewhere down below him, but in his current position, the computer could tell him no more. The only reasonable thing to do was turn the Jezebel about to see what he could see with his own eyes. So he did.

There was a distant smoke trail below him some 10,000 feet and the burning Milo along with the trio of aggressive bandits above him about 20,000 feet. Checking his altitude, he was now at 10,000 feet and slowly falling.

What now did Ricky decide to do?
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Whatever that thing was. It was dead. But it very well could be one of many. These things, they seemed very much in line with the "fire and forget" type of ordinance... should that be the case, he sure hoped they had forgotten. Or no longer considered hom a risk. Or! He was out of range.

Even if he wasnt, he was going to high tail it out of there and get to that Logan. Shot down... as much as his heart felt for the Milo, his priority was presently and had to still be the VIP. Yes. He had witnessed the Logan freeze when transformed, but unlike the Milo. There was still a chance the pilots had ejected. So unless the computer somehow picked up a signal from that, or he saw something that would indicate otherwise, he could only aim to fly towards the logans wreckage.

He took a downward angle, to ease what strain he could on Jezebel while still maintaining some degree of speed. With a focus on dropping out of enemy range. She was in rough shape, but they just needed to hold on a little while longer. We can make it through this.

Ricky would try the radio too, to see if any radio traffic was being picked up. Maybe a distress signal from the Logan, or better yet, a reinforcement wing of fighters.
"Blurry" by Puddle of Mudd

Ricky found descending through the explosion-fillled skies in the damaged Jezebel proved infinitely easy; just aim her nose down and keep her as steady as he could. However, finding any help over the radio appeared to be a lost cause. Every ASC channel he checked including the emergency channels were filled with one thing - silence. To add to matters, his Valkyrie's navigation system seemed to think RIcky was over Mexico of all places - right where the ASC had little presence, if any. Another look at navigation explained more - Jezebel told him he was on the eastern coast and all that water beneath him was the southwestern edge of the Gulf of Mexico.

There was little hope he was getting any kind of back-up out here - the Milo was his back-up.

As his descent continued, he had no other missile alerts, just the trio of bandits continuing to maul the broken remnants of the Milo, perhaps making certain no one ejected. It was the kind of cruelty the Zentreadi were known for.

Ricky's systems did pick up two different kinds of blips from where the Logan had fallen out of the sky - SOS beacons. This made sense to the education he was given; homing beacons were sometimes placed in later models of aircraft, for if you found the ejection seat, you often found the pilot near it if not still in it. But as his altitude over the brown and green earth reached 4,000 feet, one of the blips suddenly ceased. The chances of such a life-saving system failing were incredibly low. So that meant only two logical explanations - either the system was switched off or the system had been destroyed.

Then something else caught his eye. Down below, where the remaining blip was transmitting, came a single flash of green. It lasted only a split-second and Ricky had only seen it due to the angle of approach. It was the color of the "go" signal that traffic lights produced, but for him to see it from nearly a mile away in broad daylight meant it was, at least for the single span of a heartbeat, bright. Now it was gone.

This left Ricky with at least two paths. Either investigate the beacon that had ceased transmitting or check out the beacon that was still alive along with that green light.

What action does Ricky take?
This situation couldn't get much worse, especially now he realized he was still in an uncontrolled zone. It wasnt outside the realms of possibility given all the flying he had to have done. But it wasnt something cared to focus on all that much. Right now, the VIP had to come first. Could figure out how to get out later.

His heart went out for the Milo. The ferocity of this attack was horrifying. And as much as he wanted to help. He knew he couldn't. He was in no position to take on three enemy suits, and he had his own mission he had to place in priority. They were more lives who gave themselves to try and recover this chick.

And then bandits... they weren't like any Zentraedi he recognized. Nor were their weaponry like anything he had seen before. It was certainly a small relief that he was getting out of that battle. At the very least, he could report these developments....

The ejector seat beacons were not all that moralizing. With one down, he did not know if that was the VIP or the fat bastard. That was a fifty fifty chance that the VIP survived. And he hoped it certainly was her.

The surviving beacon would be his first priority. He headed there immediately.
As Ricky descended through the air above Mexico, his pilot-trained eyes began to see the makings of some kind of human development below him - a deserted town and maybe an automotive junkyard at its edge? The bright green light had come from the junkyard, but if Jezebel didn't get some repairs after this adventure, she would need a junkyard too. That would have to come later, though. As things were, the Jezebel seemed only too "happy" to descend on one engine.

As she did, Ricky saw no sign of the crashed Logan, but there were more cars, trucks, and vans down here than a guy could easily count. The beacon from the Logan's chair still pinged and that meant it was close. He was now only 4,000 feet up and falling at a safe rate of descent. The question now was - where was he going to park? The town? The junkyard? The surrounding forests that seemed to grow everywhere around them? Somewhere else?

What did Ricky do?
Ricky would carefully eye the ground below for movement and more lights. Coming in much closer to the ground to get a better look. The logan wasn't here, but one of the ejected seats was definitely around here somewhere.

The junkyard would be his first stop. The light meant someone was doing doing something. Maybe it was a signal for help. If nothing was there, he would then instead try and pinpoint the exact location of the beacon.

And hopefully it was the VIP, so he could scoop her up and they high tail it to the nearest military base.
Ricky's descent was a wobbly one. Jezebel was not happy to be in the air still and she was showing it with shaky controls and odd turn to her as Ricky decreased in altitude.

Below him had to be the largest mass of rust, junk, anddangerous-looking debris that Ricky perhaps had ever seen in his life. It was a small sea of sun-scorched vehicles with wide driving lanes between them and wild, great greenery growing from every corner. Indeed, trees reached up toward Ricky as he searched again and again for the light. But the light did not repeat itself.

Jezebel sensors were working as well as could be expected. The Logan's beacon was emitting down there somewhere. He could almost pinpoint it by sight. As he decreased in altitude, there was reason for his confidence to rise, for the details he was looking for would probably come to light soon, or so logic and education told him.

What he needed was a proper landing zone. The sunlit, desolate junkyard was in no way made for a Valkyrie in Guardian mode. Those wide wings and long tail would probably crash into something somewhere if Ricky were not careful.

Just a few thousand more feet and he should be able to see the chair the Logan had ejected. But then Jezebel's sensors revealed something. The light that he had seen and the ejection chair seemed to be in the same general location.

What did Ricky do?
Ricky was as eager to touch down as Jezebel was. "We can take it easy now, babe." He said as he eased back on the thrusters as they approached. Taking a more maintainable speed. "We can just cruise easily."

He would approach the junkyard, to hover just over the debris. Just high enough that he could see in between. And that if someone was there, they shouldn't be able to miss him. Essentially announcing his presence.

His eyes were looking for any signs of movement or human life, be fat brit or the chick, as he approached the ejection seat.

There was another reason, to get a layout of the junkyard in mind in case he needed to go in there on foot. Normally he wouldnt mind landing that Valkyrie in there, but with Jezebel in rough shape, he wanted to avoid tricky terrain if possible. And if he couldnt find a clearing in the junkyard to land, he'd have to land outside of it.
Pilots see the world differently than many of their counterparts, combat pilots especially. So is it truly remarkable or par for the course that thousands of feet above the Mexican junkyard where the green light had shone that Ricky spotted a tell-tale sign of movement from such a distance?

It was her! The VIP! Her hair he noticed first, blond against the dusty browns and dull rust of the vehicular shells all about her. She was at the side of an ancient van, its side door wide open. Using a stick or perhaps a cane, she seemed to be poking at something he could not quite see. Then she entered the van and appeared to vanish!

If Ricky were careful, he believed he could set wounded Jezebel down in that very zone, but it would take some tricky piloting on his part. Or he could choose the safer, but more time-consuming path of landing just outside the junkyard where there was nothing to snag the giant Valkyrie on.

What did Ricky do?
Would it be possible to fly close enough to the van to pick her up or get her attention? Or clear it out a little to make landing easier?
It was tricky flying that took great amounts of concentration and created many a dust and rust devil, but Lt. Rolland ended up clearing out enough cars and trucks to get the Jezebel into a landing position only 50 feet away from the van the VIP had entered. Setting down with one engine in Guardian mode proved to be difficult for the damaged Valkyrie kept drifting off to the right and threatening to crash into the many stacked piles of junked vehicles. With patience and skill, Lt. Rolland did land Jezebel safely, her right arm, leg, and wing resting against a large and stable pile of wrecked trucks. Jezebel seemed to let out a long groan as she finally touched down on the wind-blown earth.

Now was the part no pilot wanted to face - while Ricky's top priority was the VIP, the ASC combat pilot still had a responsibility to his aircraft - and that meant getting out and taking a good look with his own eyes to fully assess the damage she had taken. Normally after a combat run, a wingman would provide this assessment mid-flight, checking for smoke, holes, and any other battle damage that the pilot should know about.

Taking a look would not take long, but it was crucial as it would likely provide Ricky with the answer to one very important question - was it wise to take off again in the Jezebel?

The choice, as always, was his. The van the VIP had disappeared was definitely going nowhere. This left Ricky with a number of options.

What does Ricky do?
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Now. Ricky had the benefit of having a good idea of the sort of damage he expected to see. For one, staring down the barrel of the Zentraedi mounted cannon right before it blew through his cab was not something he was ever going to forget. Not to mention the volleys of AA and battlepod fire he had taken. And the crash into Milos hanger. And that he had a horrible engine fire. The explosion bit inside the Milo, however, he was a bit fuzzy on. But judging from the engine fire, it wasnt good.

Still. Ricky grabbed his side arm and hopped out of the cockpit and took stock of the situation.

He knew he had been flying on borrowed time, but he needed to see just how bad, in case they needed to make a quick getaway or he needed to hunker down and hide.

He put a hand on her wing. "You did good. How you feeling, baby?" He asked Jezebel. Though it was of course a rhetorical question as he looked her over. Battleoid and fighter mode he already knew would be a no go. But if she couldt fly, maybe she could at least limp her way to the nearest base or hangar.

When his inspection was done. He would turn his attention to the van. "Hey Lady! What's the holdup? Come on out. I'm here to save you. Again."

If there was no answer. He'd go in to investigate.

But. Good news. She was alive. And she was here.
It was a hot and pretty day under the high sun. The sunlight made the the automotive graveyard look like a work of art.

It was when Ricky placed his hand on Jezebel's wing that he saw the true extent of the damage. And what he saw was far from good.

Jezebel's one proud white-and-red main body was charred and blackened as if it had just returned from the gates of Hell. Some of her sensor array was pulverized. Most of the glass in her rear canopy appeared to be missing. The bottom starboard leg/engine was missing from the knee down. The starboard arm looked mangled. Even the wing Ricky was resting his hand upon was charcoal-black with four basketball-sized holes clean through it, very likely from enemy autocannon fire. Ricky could reach down and put his entire arm through each hideous hole if he so desired.

Her port side was blasted up, but there the armor had held and that single remaining engine had gotten him down to solid ground. Somehow, her GU-11 gun pod had escaped all damage and was fully operational.

The bottom line? He could probably make it a few hundred miles if he flew her low and slow. And... that voice in his mind was right on the money - it was virtually impossible to transform Jezebel in the condition she was in. Ricky would be a fool to even try it.

As Ricky was gathering his thoughts, and unusual glow caught his eye. He found himself turning towards the van the VIP had entered. Sidearm in hand, and taking a few steps to his right, Ricky saw the sliding door to the rusty old van was wide open and inside there shone a strange green radiance - the same color he had seen from the sky, just much less bright.

Of the VIP, there was no sign. Only silence reply to him as he called out. But this much was certain - she had gone in there - and he could bet his test pilot credentials that she had not come out.

What does Ricky do?
(Blue and purple was the team colors, if that matters)

Taking off his flight helmet, Ricky ran his hand through his hair as he inspected the damage. To be honest... it was a lot better than he was expecting.

He tried to rub off some of the carbon scoring with his jump suit. "Your a mess, baby. But your still as pretty as ever." He said to the machine as he considered his options. He couldnt wait to get her back home where he can get her repaired. He could imagine Jezebel right now. Wheezing and out of breath, bruised and bloodied, and giving the trademark blue hare cocky smile as if to say she was ready for more. Obviously she wasnt though. But it looked like she could manage an easy going hover. They'd be limping home together. Even if he had to pull her home with a tow truck.

But they couldnt leave until they had that women. Ricky was indeed a bit confused when he didnt find her in the van. Checking under the seat and van itself. Calling out for her a few more times.

Of course it would have something to do with the green light. He was hoping it wasnt but it was his final lead.

Strange Zentraedi. Missile dogs. Wierd alien stuff. So why not VIP swallowing green lights?

He wasnt one to shy away from danger. Jezebel braved the mission this far. Now it was his turn on foot. He would draw his sidearm, and touch it experimentally.

Should all seem well, and his hand wasnt disentigrated... he would go through fully. Ready for anything.
Touching the green field with his hand, Ricky found no resistance at all. He felt he could move through freely. As he entered the light, he found himself pulled to a sudden stop. Looking behind him, he saw that it was his LP-09 ASC laser pistol. He looked down and found that his body was also stuck by something he appeared to be carrying on his person. He quickly realized it was the laser pistol's spare E-clip in his pocket.

Neither object would enter through the field. Ricky could either enter through the field without them or stay outside with them.

But now that his head was through the green barrier, he saw a passageway before him which sloped downward into the unknown. There, not far from him but out of his reach if he held onto his pistol or spare E-clip, he could see a pair of metal golf clubs and what looked like a piece of wood put into a neat pile with other items he could not readily identify from his position.

WIthout warning, Ricky heard a sound that came from the passageway. CLANG!! The unmistakable sound of something striking metal - hard. It was not close nor was it far away.

What does Ricky do?
He was half worried he'd have to go through naked. But apparently portals were biased against guns. The bigots. Oh well... this was why they trained folk in hand to hand.

While it did almost make him jump. He was expecting the unexpected. Ricky snapped around towards the sounds. Prepared to defend himself. But when no immediate threat seemed present, he couldn't wait any longer. He went inside. She couldnt be far, and the sounds of activity could mean she was in danger.
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Ready for just about anything, Ricky was just about to make his way down the sloping hallway when a mechanical sound stole his attention. The door to the van was closing on its own as if some ghostly arms were pulling the sliding door shut. Then without warning, the green field of light flashed! Ricky's vision was momentarily filled with a lime-green haze accompanied by dark spots - he had been painfully blinded. As his sense of sight fought to restore itself, his sense of sound warned him of quickly-approaching steps from the direction of the golf clubs and ramping hallway.

Ricky did not have time to react. He felt a big hand grab his uniform. Then he felt another sensation - he was being lifted off of his feet one-handed! His vision cleared and he found himself face to face with a tall, dark-skinned woman with black dreadlocks and a grin like a lion about to feast. She wore a sharp brown business suit which could not conceal her large, muscular arms. Her voice was thick with challenge and confidence.

"Hey mista hero! I hope you fight like a man because you about to get beat by a girl!"

With that, she forcefully flung him down the ramp. The first thing Ricky had lost was his balance followed quickly by his helmet as he hit the slope and tumbled down it purely from the force of the woman's throw. But Lt. Rolland was more than a test pilot and combat veteran - he was a practicing martial artist and that training took over as he fell down the slope. He felt himself tucking his head and keeping his limbs close to his body until he slowed to a halt with a new handful of bruises (no S.D.C. damage).

Hearing her rapid approach, Ricky found himself flat on his back in a gray and gun-metal locker room with many rows. In the next row, he discovered two more women here, but they seemed to be facing off against one another. One woman was of average height and hispanic features with black hair and a beautiful face of someone likely in her 20s. But the other was taller with a headful of blonde hair with blue eyes full of will. Both were dressed in business-casual clothing that allowed for free movement. This latter woman was impossible for Ricky not to recognize - it was the VIP! She had just taken down her her hispanic opponent with an excellent trip that left the smaller woman flat on her back just like Ricky.

After what might have felt like ages, Ricky had caught up again with the VIP - and it looked like she could handle herself!

(This concludes Ricky Rolland's Prologue - stay tuned for the new Prologue including both RIcky and Ylva! I will provide a link to it here when it is ready. Hope you enjoyed this solo Prologue, D.!)
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