As far as Leon was concerned, the VF-0 Phoenix might have been state-of-the-art 50 years ago, but to him it was slow and flew like a boat. Still it was all he had at the moment so he wouldn’t complain… too much.
He was just about to pick up the last crate of supplies that Aisha had sent him to pick up. It was slow, boring work. He could to the site quick enough in fighter mode but in order to get the crates back he had to fly in the less aerodynamic GERWALK mode. Still, he was on the last container and then Aisha had said they would go to the nearby town of Daoren and get him a Hunter License, which he apparently needed.
Just as he transformed the Valkyrie, his alarms blared. His radar screen showed that he had two VF-1 Valkyries flying towards him.
“Aisha, I have two contacts inbound, broadcasting unknown IFFs.”
“Be on guard Leon. They’re likely some of the bandits that stole this stuff in the first place.”
“Well then, I’ll have to greet them properly,” Leon grinned.
The two Valkyries, which looked fairly shabby and beat up, unlike Leon’s practically spotless Phoenix, hovered to a stop in front and above Leon in GERWALK, while Leon stood in front of the crate in battroid mode.
“Oy, what the hell’re you doing here? You another of those Hunter Guild slags stealin’ our stuff?!” demanded one of the bandits.
“Uh, he’s not Hunter Guild, Jake. He reads as SMS,” returned his more nervous sounding partner.
“Same difference! Now Mr. SMS, are you gonna hand over our stuff, or do we have to blow you into bloody chunks?!”
“Sure,” Leon retorted, still grinning, “come and get it.”
The fools actually believed him and began descending, which was when Leon fired off four of his anti-air missiles. The missiles, not actually locked on, streaked up into the sky. An expensive gambit, but it paid off as the bandits immediately panicked and split off. Still grinning, Leon lined up his Phoenix’s GPU-9 35mm gunpod on one of the bandits and opened fire. The poor VF-1 was shredded and crashed to the ground in flames. Leon quickly turned to line up on his second target but found that that one was fleeing on afterburners.
“SMS scum! Ganeth will hear about this!!” the bandit yelled and then cut off communications.
“Ganeth? Who’s Ganeth?” asked Leon.
“Ganeth? Don’t worry about him. He’s just an idiot,” responded Aisha, her image on his monitor taut and frowning.
“Is he like the local leader of the bandits or something?” pressed Leon as his Phoenix lifted the final crate.
“Something like that, yes. Now bring the last crate back and we can take it over to the Hunter Guild and get you your license.”
After Leon had landed back aboard the Gefion, and Gerrol was busy inspecting every angle of the fighter and… cooing to it… Leon was about to head up to the bridge when he met Aisha coming into the hangar.
“Welcome back Leon! I see you didn’t have any trouble.”
“Not much. The VF-0 isn’t too bad but it’s a lot slower than what I’m used to. But now that that’s all done with, is there something space-worthy that I can use to get back to Sepheela?” Leon began to grow uneasy as Aisha smiled nervously at him.
“Well, about that. You see Leon, you’ve arrived on Ouroboros at a very interesting time. This planet, as you might have noticed is very unusual. Take the moons for example. Moons as close to Ouroboros as the ones we have should be causing all sorts of havoc… but they don’t. And I’m sure you’ve noticed our floating islands.”
“Yeah, kinda hard to miss,” replied Leon neutrally, wondering where Aisha was going with this.
“Well it’s all part of the strange phenomenon that make this planet unique and every so often, those strange Fold disturbances coalesce and form what we call the Ouroboros Aura… which completely cuts us off from the rest of the galaxy. In other words, you’re totally stuck here!” she said the last part as a kind of cheer, trying to soften the blow. There was a pause. It wasn’t a long pause, about one second and then Leon blurted out, “What?!”
“Yup, it’s true. Though I guess we’re not completely cut off, but it takes something the size and power of a Macross-type ship to get through the aura surrounding the planet. And that’s definitely NOT the Gefion.”
“So how long will I be stuck here then?” asked Leon, a little bit of hysteria creeping into his voice.
“Who knows?” said Aisha, shrugging, “The Ouroboros Aura can some last from a few weeks up to a year.”
“A year!” cried Leon.
“Don’t worry, there’s plenty of work here to keep you busy,” said Aisha, making a calming gesture with her hands, “I can transfer you into SMS Ouroboros officially and then once we get the license from Leilong, you’ll be good to go.”
“Doesn’t sound like I have much of a choice. Alright, well let’s get this license thing taken care off.”
“Great! I’ll put my pilot suit on and we’ll head over to Daoren!” said Aisha enthusiastically and ran off towards the pilot’s ready room and lockers.
“You can fly too?” Leon called after her.
“Of course! I’m not just the pretty face behind the desk!”
Leon was further impressed when they were on the Gefion’s launch ramps, ready to take off.
“That’s… a VF-19 Excalibur!” he exclaimed.
Aisha was indeed piloting the famous mass-production model of the YF-19 variable fighter prototype that had been involved in the Sharon Apple incident.
“Yup. If your VF-0D is Gerrol’s baby, then this one’s mine. Well, one of them,” replied Aisha.
“One of them? What do you mean?” asked Leon.
“Uh-uh,” said Aisha, waggling a finger at him, “that would be telling. Now, are you ready to go check out the islands?”
The flight to Daoren was uneventful thankfully and it gave Leon a chance to take in the sights of the Julia Islands. Apparently they had been named after one of the very first colonists when they had arrived here about 20 years ago. They not only had the natural beauty of a tropical island chain but many of them were floated gently in the sky. Combined with the moons, which hung low and large in the sky and it was breathtaking landscape.
As they approached Daoren, Leon was initially somewhat confused. Aisha has said there was a town here but all Leon could see was a sort of hangar complex. There wasn’t even a proper runway, so they had to land in GERWALK mode. Aisha explained that it was because all the towns and cities on Ouroboros were built underground, mostly to preserve the planet’s incredible natural beauty.
After a short trip down an elevator, and a walk through a bustling shopping district, they arrived at an office which a stylized logo mounted above it proudly proclaiming HUNTER GUILD. Entering through the sliding door, they found a suite of offices but no one in sight.
“There has to be someone that can help us…” began Aisha but then a door opened in the back and a violet-haired woman stepped through. Leon recognized her as the woman that Aisha was talking to earlier but now that he got a good look at her, he imagined that she might be even younger than Aisha and himself.
“Hello there! Ah, Aisha! What brings you here?” she said. She had a pronounced accent that Leon couldn’t place.
“Leilong! What are you doing out of the guild headquarters in Britai City?” asked Aisha, clearly surprised.
“Oh, just checking up on things out here after that bandit raid.”
“I see. Well in that case, could you get ahold of a Hunter License?”
“A license? But you already have one, or is it for your new friend here?”
“Yes, it is.”
“I see! Let me introduce myself,” she said, bowing formally to Leon, “I am Mei Leilong, master of the Hunter’s Guild based out of Britai City, capital of Ouroboros, at your service.”
“I’m Lt. Leon Sakaki of SMS, pleased to meet you as well,” replied Leon, returning her bow.
“Now about the license,” began Leilong as she sat down at the front desk and behgan typing at a keyboard, which activated a holographic screen, “We usually give SMS pilots a Class-B or A License, if they can provide the credentials?”
Both Aisha and Leon shook their heads.
“Leon’s from off-world, so we can contact Sepheela thanks to the Aura. But I can vouch for him!”
Well… normally I couldn’t take just your word… but since we’re best friends I’ll compromise and give him a Class-C . How’s that?”
“What’s the difference?” asked Leon.
“We group the job assignments we have available here at the Guild into different ranks, designated by a letter,” Leilong explained, “It goes from D to S. D through B jobs are usually not too complicated but anything marked A or S is guaranteed to be lots of trouble. As a Class-C, you can take any jobs from our boards marked D or C but nothing else. The more jobs you complete, the higher a license we can give you. There are even SS-class and SSS-class jobs but only an experienced group of S-class license holders are even considered for those jobs.”
As she finished up her explanation, the computer chimed. Leilong reached under the desk and pulled out a glossy white card and handed it to Leon.
“There you go! Got everything clear so far?”
“I assume that since these are basically bounties, there will be a reward?” asked Leon.
“Just so. The rewards vary according to the rank of the job. Well, you’re all set! Good luck Leon-chan!”
There was another one of those pauses.
“Leon-chan? I… when did I become Leon-chan?”
“Oh don’t mind her,” said Aisha, grinning wickedly, “Leilong is very clever about it, but she’s actually far, far older than just about everyone on the planet. Isn’t that right o-ba-sa-n?”
Leilong looked like Aisha had just punched her in the gut.
“Wha-? You… how dare you…” she spluttered. Her expression hardened and she glared back at Aisha, who was giggling silently.
“Leon-chan, I hope you do well on your jobs. You’ll need the money so Aisha-chan can finally fix all those old wrecks on the Gefion.”
That snapped Aisha out of her giggling and she looked at Leilong in outrage.
“Wrecks?! Those aren’t wrecks, they’re just… not finished yet! I can’t believe you’d question the Bautiful Genius of SMS!”
“Beautiful Genius?” shot back Leilong, “What kind of Beautiful Genius has a ship full of Valkyries that can’t fly?”
“Leon, pay no attention to Leilong, her age has caused her to go senile,” Aisha ground out.
“Um, I’m just going to go check on the Valkyries…” said Leon, feeling the tension in the air thickening by the second.
“Oh ho ho ho, insults eh? Two can play at that game Aisha!”
“Ha ha! Bring it on, Leilong!”
“Yeah… I’m just gonna go check on those planes,” murmered leon as he hastily made his getaway.