- 1 -

Rapid Response Unit

October 20th, 2100
Camp Narashino Barracks Building
Narashino, Chiba Prefecture, Japan
00:17 (Local Time)

"Teams One and Three, report to Briefing Room One immediately!"

Alarm klaxons accompanied the announcement, piercing the ears of those who heard them. Tired men and women, just an hour ago having fallen asleep, shot up and threw their jumpsuits on. Combat boots were slipped on and laced up. Locker doors were torn open and bodysuits and tactical vests were strapped and wrapped to the body. The announcement and alarm klaxons had woken them up; training and adrenaline did the rest.

"I repeat, Teams One and Three, report to Briefing Room One immediately!"

A wave of camouflaged men and women spilled into the command center's briefing room and cascaded onto the rows of seats. The seats faced a large display that took up the majority of the wall; it was blank at the moment. Most of the troops – Responders, actually, given that they were from Japan's elite Rapid Response Unit - were silent. Some commented on and debated the situation at hand.

"Best case scenario? The navy takes care of the Chinese and we won't have to be called up."

"Then how do you explain this?"

"Easy. Not the best case scenario."

"Maybe this is Island Fury?"

"This early? Not likely."

One of the men from Team 1 leaned forward.

"Captain, what do you think?"

The captain turned around and looked at the young sergeant.

Captain Shingo Yamashita. Japan Ground Self Defense Force Rapid Response Unit, Special Mechanized Team, 1st MST Platoon AKA Team One. Callsign: Indigo Actual.

Shingo shook his head. "Best case scenario was lost days ago."

The men and women from both teams looked to him.

"What do you mean?" Sergeant Kensuke Ebata asked. He rubbed his eyes and tried to pat his wild hair down.

"Best case scenario was that this issue would've been settled and there would be no war. But we all saw what happened. Withdrawal of forces from the India-Pakistan border. Naval forces to the EEZ. Those wouldn't have happened if the best case scenario was still available."

"How observant, captain," A voice beside him piped.

Shingo looked to his left to where Team Three sat. Their platoon leader greeted him with a smile, sitting across the pathway that divided the sets of seats. It was Captain Yosuke Shigeyoshi, platoon leader for Team Three and Shingo's best friend since elementary school. Both men grew up together, played baseball together, and went through every stage of training in the GSDF together from basic training to the hardships of RRU qualification. Now they sat awaiting their first mission together.

Shingo shrugged. "Whether we get called into action or not is irrelevant. If there's a war, we fight. If nothing, we stand down. And we're doing our jobs in either case."

The men and women from both teams – referred to as Foxes - sat in two rows of four. The eight PAR (Powered Armor) Operators – referred to as Wolves - attached to each team sat behind them. Some, such as Shingo, sat straight and with their hands on their laps. Others sat in any comfortable position they could, holding on to any last moments of relaxation. It was the day everyone had been training for. And the day nobody wanted to come.

Yosuke leaned over. "Good thing you called Christie before you went to bed."

Shingo smiled. "Yeah. And you called Reiko, right?"

Yosuke nodded. "Yeah." He nodded towards Shingo's chest. "You have it?"

Shingo patted his tactical vest's chest pocket. "Of course. You?"

Yosuke did the same.

Shingo surveyed his team. Warrant Officer Eiji Tamashiro sat beside him, Team One's 2nd Squad's commander and Shingo's second-in-command, or 2IC. He sat calmly and relaxed, much more so than the others, a calm expression on his face. Beside Eiji sat the tall and imposing Sergeant First Class Jungo Yamase, blank, silent, and unmoving. At the edge was Sergeant Shiro Sakazaki, leaning forward with his rough face focused. In the row behind sat the rest of the pilots; the young Sergeant Kensuke Ebata. Sergeant Kisara Sato, the only woman serving in Shingo's platoon, elbowed Kensuke and tried to keep him awake. More women served in the RRU as females tended to handle high acceleration better. And Kisara handled acceleration and combat equally well. Sergeant Sho Kisaragi sat beside her, his arms crossed, his chin up, and his brows furrowed upwards. On the end sat Master Sergeant Saisyu Nakajima with his arms crossed, his eyes closed, and his trademark frown. None of them showed any signs of stress. Or overzealousness for that matter. Just calm professionalism.

The door slid open and an officer walked in. All of the Responders stood, backs straight and chins up. The officer took the room's front and center.

"As you were," Colonel Ryuji Kojima said. The Responders sat back down. The colonel commanded the entire RRU; affectionately referred to as 'Father' by the Responders. He wore the standard combat fatigues of the JGSDF: a digital pattern of greens, brown, and black that matched the jumpsuits worn by the Responders. A soft combat hat in the same pattern covered his head.

The colonel pulled out a remote and hit a button. The wall display flickered on, showing a light blue-outlined map of Japan on a darker blue background. The map scrolled south to show the Okinawan islands. The positions of the Japanese and Chinese fleets were displayed with light blue and red triangles, respectively.

"At midnight today, we received a declaration of war from the People's Republic of China," Kojima explained. "Upon the announcement of hostilities, both naval forces engaged each other. The battle is still going on as we speak."

Kojima scrolled the map towards Kyushu with his remote. Several bright red X's were displayed around the southern part of the large island.

"The Chinese destroyed these early warning stations in a missile attack," Kojima said. "While the fleet was able to intercept some of the missiles, enough of them got through to take out these sites. The air force uses these sites to detect incoming hostiles and the data is used by the regional units to coordinate defense."

Kojima continued. "Friendly AEW&C craft to the northwest of Okinawa managed to detect an incoming number of hostile contacts. After alerting SAC the Misteyes were shot down. Due to the size of the enemy contact formation, we suspect that the Chinese are launching an airborne attack on Kyushu." SAC was Strategic Air Command, the centralized command and control base for the air force's early warning sites, akin to the now-defunct NORAD in North America.

"We're proceeding on the assumption that these are indeed enemy airborne forces," Kojima explained. "Since they're coming in on transports with faint signatures, we're guessing they're members of the People's Liberation Army Air Force 7th Mechanized Airborne Battalion."

"The White Tigers," Yosuke said.

"Worthy opponents," Shingo added. The White Tigers represented China's elite airborne forces; the heavier-armed equivalent to Japan's 1st Airborne Brigade.

Kojima nodded. "Indeed." The display scrolled to present Kyushu with several glowing dots. "Their likely targets are bases in Kyushu. Suspected targets in the central and northwest areas include Camp Kengun in Kumamoto and Camp Fukuoka and Kasuga airbase in Kasuga. To the south, we suspect the Chinese may hit Nyutabaru airbase in Shintomi. Teams One and Three will be sent to Kyushu. Each team's transports will be escorted by F-6 fighters and Misteye craft from Shimofusa airbase. Both formations will be on holding pattern and the Misteyes will scan for the enemy; Team One's AOR (Area Of Responsibility) will be the central and northwest regions while Team Three will be responsible for the south or if one of the enemy forces moves north. Upon detection of the enemy forces the team in the assigned AOR will deploy and advance to contact. Your objective is to eliminate the enemy or at least delay them long enough that local forces can be mobilized to intercept them."

"Can the air force not intercept the transports?" Yosuke asked.

"Without the early warning stations our air defences lack full capability," Kojima explained. "We got word that a Chinese sub with anti-air missiles managed to slip past our lines and shoot down several air patrols over Kyushu. Air patrols are still being conducted over Kyushu's airspace and the units from other regions are sending any AEW&C craft they can spare, but as it stands, the capability of our air defenses has been weakened enough for the Chinese to have a small window of opportunity."

One of the Operators from Team Three raised his hand. "Are the local forces not capable of taking the enemy on?"

Again Kojima shook his head. "Most of the regular forces have been deployed at suspected landing zones for an anticipated amphibious assault. Reserve units are being held back to act as mobile reinforcement for the beaches. Some forces were also sent to Okinawa in case the Chinese decide to land there. The bases have some forces for defense, but not enough to handle elite airborne troops. Even though the Western Army has deployed its anti-air assets, we will be on standby in case the Chinese slip through. They will be coming in on stealthy transports." Kojima paused. "I remind you that Western Army headquarters is in Kumamoto. It is vital it is not destroyed."

Shingo raised his hand. "What about the 25th Brigade?" The 25th Brigade was one of Japan's three designated Combat Landing Forces, an autonomous unit of infantry, armor, and artillery specifically trained for amphibious landings; they were Japan's marines.

Kojima's expression darkened. "Sasebo base was attacked at the onset of hostilities by an unknown force. I don't have all the details, but the base's repair and supply facilities were heavily damaged. The 2nd Air Fleet cannot use it for repairs and the main brigade elements at the base took heavy losses. As it stands, the only brigade elements that are functional are those deployed in Okinawa. It also means that if the fleet is damaged, it must go to Kure instead if no facilities on Okinawa are available given the Chinese attack."

Everyone went silent from that. CLF troops, or Landers, were highly-trained men and women, trained to a level above the already sky-high standards ground force troops were held to.

"However," Kojima said. "Due to the unfavorable terrain, Sasebo Base will likely not be subject to another attack. The same cannot be said for the aforementioned targets."

Both teams wrote down the relevant information. Their MST and PAR computers had been uploaded with the necessary information but hard copies were still taken.

"Code word for detection of the enemy for Team One is 'Tiger,'" Kojima explained. "For Team Three, 'Bear.' Code word for success for Team One is 'Falcon.' For Team Three, 'Eagle.'"

Kojima brought up a smaller window on the display. It showed the eight MSTs and eight PARs for each team. Several small text boxes displayed more information.

"Recommended combat loadout is standard given the enemy composition and terrain," Kojima said. "But I'll leave it up to you to decide. Multis are not recommended given the operating environment; it is recommended you load TAMS only for secondaries." Multis were Multi-Purpose Submunition (MPSM) warheads for rockets, which scattered high explosive bomblets over an area to take out enemy armor. TAMs were Top-Attack Munitions, precision-guided explosives that tracked targets and exploded through their thin roof/upper armor. In urban environments, MPSMs were too much of a liability.

"Team One will take a standard loadout." Shingo said. He turned to Eiji. "2IC?"

Eiji nodded in agreement. "I agree with the captain."

"Team Three will do the same," Yosuke said. His 2IC confirmed. The PAR team leaders voiced they would take their standard loadouts as well.

Kojima nodded. "Excellent." He pressed a button on the screen's console and the diagrams disappeared. "I've relayed your loadout orders to the techs. Any final questions or comments?"

Nobody spoke.

Kojima looked to Eiji and smiled. "Anything, professor?"

Eiji thought for a second then spoke. "Never by failing in moral principle fall into disgrace and bring dishonor upon your name."

Kojima nodded. "Indeed. Remember that this is the RRU's first combat mission. While the nature of our unit means we're out of the public eye, the world will be watching our country at war." He surveyed the room. All the Responders were fully awake and ready.

"Teams One and Three, if there is nothing else, you are dismissed!"

The Responders stood and saluted. Kojima returned it.

Kojima looked into the eyes of every man and woman in the room. "All right. Get out there, finish your mission, and come back home…alive."

The mass of Responders hurried out the door and secured their helmets to their heads. In the hallway the teams broke off in different directions. Yosuke paused and turned to Shingo.

"Don't die out there," he said.

Shingo nodded. "You too."

Both men high-fived and closed hands.

"Remember, they're waiting for us!" Yosuke said, patting his chest pocket. He ran off.

Team One rushed down the hall and lined up at the armory. The armorers handed each pilot a few magazines, spare batteries, and a PDW variant of the Type 90 rifle, the standard-issue rifle used by the infantry, albeit with a (much) shorter barrel, firing 6.8mm caseless rounds from an electric firing mechanism. Shingo and the others checked their weapons and batteries, stuffed their equipment into their appropriate vest pockets, and continued on.

"Is this why we're called the Rapid Response Unit?" Kensuke huffed as they ran. "Because we run everywhere?"

"Focus!" Kisara Sato said as she shoved Kensuke from behind. Shingo and the rest of the team laughed. They had to.

The eight pilots continued to their next destination. Narashino was a large base but the buildings had been well-placed to allow for rapid armament and deployment. It certainly was larger than it had been in previous decades. Redevelopment of the city had left patches of clear land as older houses were consolidated into more efficient apartment and condo complexes. The redevelopment allowed for the old Camp Narashino and exercise area, once separated by residential buildings, to be joined and expanded. The new Camp Narashino was much larger than it had been almost a century ago, with the addition of an airfield for the Airborne and RRU's transports.

The team entered Hangar One, the cavernous armored structure that held Team One's eight MSTs. The whirr of working machinery and tools filled the air. Even among the mass of machinery, the hangar didn't have the oily smell of a regular vehicle hangar since MSTs didn't use the same lubricant and machinery as traditional vehicles. The techs scrambled around in their camouflage coveralls, easily visible with their bright orange helmets and reflective vests. Some pushed carts of ammunition or spare parts. Others crouched or stood from catwalks, performing last-minute checks and modifications to the humanoid machines. The eight MSTs for Team One stood silently under the glow of the work lights in their respective bays, with four MSTs on each of the side walls, seeming to stand at attention as the two rows faced each other. The team split up to climb into their respective MSTs.

"Captain Yamashita!" It was Warrant Officer Yuji Kamura, the head technician. He wore the same outfit as the rest of the techs. A pair of aviator sunglasses hung from his collar and a toothpick poked out the side of his mouth.

"Kamura," Shingo said as he nodded towards the man. "What's the situation on the MSTs?"

"We're just finishing loading the secondaries," Kamura explained, referring to the backpack-mounted weapons on the MSTs. "This is their current status." He handed Shingo an electronic tablet. Shingo skimmed over it. All eight of the MSTs had their primary weapons loaded. Readying the secondaries would barely take a minute more.

Shingo handed the tablet back. "All right. I'm mounting up."

"And sir," Kamura said before Shingo turned away. "The men wanted me to give you this." He presented a small scroll, still rolled up and held closed by its thin red string.

Shingo took it from the man and unraveled it. It read 'Honor'.

"The men thought it would bring you good luck and remind you what you fight for."

Shingo smiled and saluted. "Tell the men I say thank you."

Kamura returned the salute. "Good luck, Captain. With honor."

"With honor."

Kamura bellowed as he walked away. "Come on! Let's get these MSTs ready! Hurry! Hurry!"

Shingo went to his MST. Under the warm glow of the work lights, his MST stood tall and proud. It was a Type 0 Masamune, Japan's newest-generation MST and exclusively in service with the RRU. Five-and-a-half meters tall. Thirty-five tonnes combat-loaded. Its head was thinner and longer than a human's, with two small radomes like cheeks and a knife-shaped communications antenna protruding out the back. Aggressively-sloped body armor and wide 'daimyo'-style shoulders gave it the characteristic look of other Japanese MSTs in service. Its armor was a highly advanced composite that could stop the most powerful rounds at critical areas, coated with radar-absorbing materials that also shielded it from thermal detection, and embedded with optical camouflage (OC) circuitry to make the unit invisible to the naked eye. Its feet were y-shaped, with each one having a large central foot and the two housings for the roller dash wheels attached to the sides and protruding back. In its right hand it was clutching its long-barrelled 35mm assault rifle. Attached to its backpack was the rocket launcher on the right mount. The left mount was empty.

Shingo scrambled up a rope dangling down the side of the MST towards the cockpit. He unlocked the cockpit hatch underneath the Masamune's head and pulled the hefty cockpit roof and head upwards and forwards. Inside, the cockpit interior was pitch-black and Shingo dropped into the padded pilot's seat, pulling the cockpit roof back down and locking it; the interior lights greeted him when the cockpit was sealed. He strapped himself in, plugged his bodysuit into the life support interface, and pressed a button to power up his machine. A faint hum brought the Masmaune's reactor to life. The tactical computer display lit up with the machine's status.


"Good morning, Captain," a soft female voice said.

"Good morning, Com," Shingo replied. Com was the name he had given to the Masamune's on-board AI. It was much easier to say 'Com' under fire than the entire word.

"I'm assuming that given the data that has been uploaded to my databanks that this is a combat operation?"

"That's right, Com," Shingo replied as he went through the rest of his start-up procedures. "We're going into combat."

"How sudden! And it looks like we're not going to Okinawa." The RRU had constantly trained for an operation to retake Okinawa for the past week, code-named 'Island Fury.' It was the scenario Com was expecting to mobilize for rather than a last-minute emergency deployment. But that's why they were called the Rapid Response Unit.

"Right, Com. This is different." Shingo wasn't really paying attention, although it was still nice to have a reassuring voice keeping him company. "Just let me finish start-up procedures and we'll talk."

"As you wish."

Shingo plugged his helmet into the ceiling mounting and fixed his Head-Mounted Display (HMD) goggles over his eyes. He could see the interior of the hangar, the Masamune's optics feeding directly into his HMD. Everything the Masamune saw and heard, Shingo saw and heard. He cut the link to finish off other tasks. The scroll Kamura gave him came with an adhesive backing; it stuck perfectly to the right wall of the cockpit. Com indicated that the missile launcher had attached to the left backpack mount but still needed to pass last-minute checks. Shingo had one more thing to do in the meantime.

Shingo reached into his tactical vest's chest pocket and pulled out a photograph. He ran his fingers across it, the glossy feeling going through his gloves. It was a picture of him on his wedding day, wearing his dark green dress uniform and his wide-brimmed officer's hat. His medals and ribbons were displayed proudly on his chest and his smile was equally proud. But it wasn't him or his uniform that deserved attention. Embracing him was a green-eyed brunette, slightly shorter than Shingo, smiling gently and her brown hair in a feathered bob cut. A strapless white wedding dress hugged her body. He still remembered how soft and silky it felt that day when they embraced each other for the picture.


"I'll come back alive," Shingo whispered as he gazed into her eyes. "I promise."

"Did you say something, Captain?" Com said.

Shingo returned the picture to his pocket. "Nothing, Com."

"Captain, I'm detecting an increase in your heart rate. Is everything all right?" Com had read Shingo's vitals through his bodysuit interface.

"I'm fine, Com."

"If you say so, Captain."

Shingo glanced down at his tactical computer display. It confirmed that the missile launcher had passed all checks and was ready. He patched his HMD back into the Masamune's optics. The techs started to clear out from the MST bays.

"Unit six ready," Jungo Yamase reported in his deep, powerful voice. The rest of the team voiced their confirmations as well. With all checks and procedures finished, Team One was ready to go.

"Team One, move out," Shingo ordered.

Shingo slowly pressed his foot into the accelerator pedal. The Masamune's reactor sent power coursing through the machine's limbs, powering this electric motor and flexing that bundle of artificial muscles. Com managed the flow of data and power and sent it to where it was needed; the gyrostabilizer was thankful it had a partner. The Masamune took its first step with its right leg, the machine giving a faint whirr as the leg came up and its foot settled down on the concrete with a soft thud. Another step and Shingo cleared his MST bay. Shingo tilted his right-hand control stick, turning the MST to the right and facing towards the hangar doors. He pressed his foot harder into the accelerator; the Masamune picked up speed and entered a steady trot. Down below, one of the techs quickly waved the team forward with his glowing yellow light rods. The ground shook from the force of eight multi-tonne MSTs running out the hangar.

The team burst out of the hangar and onto the pavement that led them towards the base's runways. The transport planes were just off the runways, their bay doors open and ready to accept their cargo. They were brand-new Type 0 Shrike transports, dubbed dropships given their ability to hover over a landing zone and deploy the MSTs and PARs. They were stealth transports, with aggressively-angled delta wings and smooth surfaces on their radar-absorbing bodies. Optical camo circuitry coursed through their fuselages to further protect them when deploying their payloads.

Shingo and the other three pilots from 1st Squad headed to Angel 1, their designated transport. Eiji led 2nd Squad's MSTs off to Angel 2. The PARs had already loaded into their bays. Shingo and the rest of the squad ducked their MSTs under the transport's wings and backed up to the open side bay doors, with each MST having an individual bay at a corner of the dropship. Thick cables, guided by the dropship crew, found a mounting on the MSTs' bodies and pulled as the pilots backed their MSTs in. The bay doors slid closed on each bay and braces and mounts latched onto each MST, briefly shaking the machines as they grabbed on and locked.

"Are we all ready?" 1st Lieutenant Raizo Mafune called. He piloted Angel 1.

Shingo checked his team's status. "We're set!"

"All right! We're off!"

"Power down systems to maintain vitals only," Shingo ordered his team. Their MSTs would keep their locks and safeties on and only use the minimal amount of power required to maintain readiness.

"Angel 1, you are clear for takeoff," a control tower operator said.

"Copy, control. We're taking off!" Mafune replied.

Engines roared as the dropship picked up speed. Inside, the locks and braces kept the MSTs firmly in place. They were quickly airborne, followed by Angel 2 and the dropships carrying Team Three. The formation turned southwest towards Kyushu. The fighter jets and AEW&C planes from Shimofusa joined them. Acceleration hammered the Responders' bodies as the dropships picked up speed; their bodysuits kept their blood flowing and prevented them from blacking out. Soon Narashino was a faint mass of lights in the distance.

Situation Room, Ministry of Defense Headquarters
Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo Prefecture, Japan
00:25 (Local Time)

Prime Minister Takuma Murayama had not expected to be jostled out of bed for this. Although political tensions had been increasing every day, the foreign ministry had not provided any indication that the Chinese would be declaring war. No ultimatums or deadlines had been given. Maybe Murayama's government was paying for the sins committed by Japan in the last world war when they had attacked the Americans before a war declaration was received. Either way, Murayama and his government had a war on their hands.

Murayama sat in the Situation Room in a reinforced basement underneath the Ministry of Defense building in Tokyo. The room was dimly lit with much of the light coming from the massive display and smaller secondary screens on the far wall. A large horseshoe-shaped oak table sat in the center of the room; Murayama sat in the middle of the table's curve. The rest of the seats were taken up by the rest of the National Security Council and select members from the branches of the Self Defense Forces and the intelligence community. A few alcoves to the side and back held personnel and desktop computers.

"Mr. Prime Minister, at midnight this morning Sasebo base was attacked," Admiral Shohachi Arima, chief of staff for the Maritime Self Defense Force (MSDF), explained. He stood at the far end of the room in front of the display screen. The screen showed a satellite image of Sasebo. The base was burning, as evident by the intense heat readings.

"The Chinese slipped a force into Nagasaki prefecture?" Home Affairs Minister Tadao Ikeda asked.

Arima shook his head. "We don't have all the details yet."

Usually Murayama would have been given a single report from the intelligence community representing the three branches of the SDF. But he didn't have time to wait for a single report from the intelligence agencies; he needed the branches' assessments immediately.

"Any assessments of the damage?" Murayama asked.

Arima checked the electronic tablet he held. "Yes sir. One Shinano destroyer fitted with ASAT missiles was heavily damaged, as well as two supply ships and three LSTs. Several buildings, including MST and vehicle hangars and barracks, were also destroyed or heavily damaged. Estimated casualties are over one hundred, combat and support personnel."

"That type of damage would require a fully-supported unit," Ground Self Defense Force (GSDF) chief of staff Shinji Mikamura observed. "Or a quick strike by a specially-trained one."

"Which means they could have been an enemy airborne unit," Arima said.

"SAC did not detect any hostile contacts coming in," General Yoko Higashi, chief of staff for the Air Self Defense Force (ASDF), said. Higashi, like the other chief of staffs, was the highest-ranked member of her branch, and the highest-ranked woman in the entire SDF for that matter.

"Then how could an enemy unit insert into Sasebo?" Foreign Affairs Minister Kazuhiro Sasaki asked.

"SAC has been scanning our airspace ever since the bombing," Higashi explained. "Patrols were increased ever since those Chinese were found in Okinawa, but absolutely no hostile contacts were detected."

"We cannot ignore the possibility they came in through the sea," Mikamura pointed out.

"Our patrols have been tight," Arima said. "And the Coast Guard never reported anything."

"Well somebody in the self defense forces has not been keeping an eye out!" Ikeda shouted. "The only way the Chinese could have inserted into Japan would be through air or sea! Remember we captured those five Chinese in Okinawa; why did the navy and air force not manage to detect their insertion?"

"Right now isn't the time to debate this," Murayama interjected. "Regardless of what happened at Sasebo we need to focus on our situation. Admiral, do you have any assessments of the battle at Okinawa?"

Arima panned the screen to Okinawa. It showed the known positions of the Japanese and Chinese fleets. "The battle is still going on, sir. We estimate that we've lost twenty percent of the 2nd Air Fleet while China has lost eight percent of their forces. Among our losses was the Zuikaku." Those percentages were understandable; China had deployed almost its entire navy to the region, with six carriers and support ships compared to Japan's four and supporting ships. If only the American fleet had not been moved towards Japan…

Murayama turned to Higashi. "What's the situation with our space network?"

General Higashi also read off an electronic tablet. "Sir, most of our network is intact. The Chinese deployed dazzlers and ASAT missiles against some of our satellites but after the initial exchange, we estimate that our capability stands at 70%." As air force chief of staff, Higashi also held responsibility for overseeing Japan's space defenses.

Murayama nodded. "And the Chinese?"

Higashi checked her tablet. "55%, sir. Our ground and space-based ASATs were more successful than the Chinese." ASAT, or anti-satellite, weapons were used to cripple the enemy's space-based intelligence systems.

Murayama leaned forward in his chair. "Good." He rested his elbows on the armrests and folded his hands. At least something had gone well.

Josho Minato, the representative from the Defense Ministry Intelligence Service (DMIS), raised his hand from his seat. Murayama acknowledged him.

"Sir," Minato said as he put his glasses on. "We will review all available intelligence regarding the attack at Sasebo. I'll have a report available within seventy-two hours."

Murayama nodded. "Good. Please do."

"Sir, if I may," Sasaki said. "Our best option right now would be for the 1st Air Fleet to attack the Americans." The US Pacific Fleet had been moved just outside of Japan's EEZ to the east. The 1st Air Fleet was opposite the Americans in Japanese territorial waters in case the Americans decided to attack. No declaration of war had been given by the Americans, although UTO and Alliance countries were permitted to uphold commitments to collective defense. But that begged the question: was Japan at war with the United States as a consequence of being at war with China?

"I agree," Defense Minister Daisuke Sukakibara said. "In order to handle the Chinese we will need to attack the Americans. As long as half of our fleet is staring down the Americans the Chinese will surely take our fleet out."

Murayama didn't like that. While Japan had been able to acquire carriers, long-range hypersonic missiles, and other long-range weapons usually associated with offense, it was still constitutionally bound to only use force in self defense. It had been a political compromise between a peace-loving, progressive electorate and the new realities of the 22nd century geopolitical landscape.

"Mr. Prime Minister," Sasaki said. "Need I remind you that we must use pre-emptive force if a threat is 'instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment of deliberation.'"

Murayama shook his head. "That is customary law. It's still technically illegal for us."

"But if we don't do something the Chinese will defeat us at Okinawa!" Sukakibara said. "The situation requires us to act now."

Sasaki nodded. "And we cannot rely on the Canadians and Europeans to keep the Americans at bay. The American Atlantic Fleet has moved to block our European allies from moving to Canada if hostilities break out there. Sources indicate the Americans may decide to invade Canada."

"What about Korea?" Murayama asked Sasaki.

Sasaki shook his head. "Their position hasn't changed. They're preparing for a ground attack by China. We're alone on this." The Chinese had threatened the Republic of Korea with an attack if they sent their fleet to assist Japan.

Murayama sighed.

"To ask for assistance would be a disgrace," Ikeda said. "Prime Minister, we must attack the Americans! That fleet is a knife levelled at Japan's throat!"

"We can't disregard the possibility of the Americans retaliating with strategic weapons," Murayama pointed out.

"The Chinese goal is occupation," Sukakibara said. "It's unlikely that the Americans would use nuclear weapons on us if it is contrary to their ally's goal. Remember that our missile defenses are the best and that our space network is still at a strong operational capacity."

"Mr. Prime Minister…" Sasaki beckoned.

Murayama thought for a moment. The room was silent as he sat in his chair. All of the members of the council and the various representatives looked to him. Long seconds passed. He thought about everything his government and his predecessors had done to increase relations between Japan and the People's Republic of China: the Space and Missile Arms Reduction Treaty (SMART), which had seen a reduction of Chinese nuclear missiles and Japanese space-based interceptors by a third each; the India-Pakistan Joint Peacekeeping Mission (JPM), which had brought peace to the India-Pakistan border by both Chinese and Japanese forces; numerous cultural exchanges and cross-border economic development. Over a decade of peaceful relations ruined by one bombing and one MST attack. Finally he stood up.

"This government," Murayama said. "Has taken a policy of détente with the nations of the UTO, as previous governments under our party have. Unfortunately the situation has called for a change of action; I accept that Japan is at war and that this situation warrants action. If there are no dissenting opinions among this council," Murayama looked around the room. Nobody spoke. "Then I believe we have no choice but to attack the American fleet to secure our nation's safety."

Sasaki and Ikeda nodded in approval.

Murayama turned to Higashi. "We need to ensure that our missile defenses are on the highest alert."

Higashi nodded. "Yes sir. SAC will be alerted accordingly."

"Ladies and gentlemen," Murayama said as he settled back into his seat. "Let us hope fate is on our side."

A statement of the government's position was sent to the United States. The orders to attack the American fleet were relayed to Fleet Command. Missile defenses around Japan, already on the highest alert due to the hostilities with China, were notified of the possibility of an American attack. The 1st Air Fleet moved into position when their orders were received. They fired off their weapons when in range and the Americans returned fire in kind.

Both sides of the Pacific had lit up with the fires of war.

32km North of Kumamoto
Kumamoto Prefecture, Japan
01:18 (Local Time)

The hum of the dropship's engines told Shingo they were still in holding pattern; they no longer gave the ear-blasting scream of supersonic flight. The formation flew slow, lazy circles in the air as the Misteyes sought out the Chinese units. Team Three's formation had broken off to their designated AOR before coming into Kyushu airspace. For the past several minutes nothing had come up, evident by the lack of radio chatter between planes. Shingo had reviewed the mission with his team. Primary and secondary LZs (Landing Zones) were memorized and waypoints were plotted for the possible mission areas. Preparations were always welcome, but they could only do so much in the time given to them.

Shingo studied the map displayed on his tactical computer. If the enemy went for Camp Kengun, they would have to land in one of the fields south or east of the city. The fields were large enough that they could deploy with little attention from the civilians, save for the noise of their transports' engines. A field three kilometers east of Camp Kengun served as Team One's primary LZ. The field had civilian settlements closer to it but they could afford to be seen by their own people. Kumamoto was another city that had faced redevelopment; urban consolidation meant the old farmers' fields around the city were expanded in some areas, reduced in others due to the increase in greenhouses, or newly-planted forests replaced old civilian areas. The forests would give the enemy good cover as they advanced to Camp Kumamoto.

"Captain," Sergeant Shiro Sakazaki said. "Any ideas of where you think the Chinese will attack?"

Shingo thought for a second. "If I were the Chinese I would hit Kumamoto."

"What about Kasuga?" Shiro asked. "They would be able to hit two bases there."

"True," Shingo agreed. "But the avenues for approach are much better for Kumamoto. Bring up your tactical display for Kasuga. See how the best LZs are several kilometers away from the base? They would have to travel farther to attack the bases compared to if they attacked Kumamoto." Elite forces like the RRU, Airborne, or the White Tigers relied on stealthy approaches and fast, aggressive strikes to achieve their objectives. Because they were operating in enemy territory, the White Tigers would be taking a major risk by having to travel longer distances since it would reduce the effectiveness of both stealth and shock. The risk was even greater since such units could not operate with heavy support under these circumstances.

"What about a landing in Kasuga Park?" Shiro said. "If they were really daring they could hit the air force base with air-to-ground missiles and use that as cover to land."

Shingo considered that. It was a valid point, but he still saw Kumamoto as a more attractive target. Kasuga Park was adjacent to the air force base but it was surrounded by dense civilian settlements.

"I still think the potential LZs in Kumamoto are better options," Shingo said. "The enemy could take Prefectural Route 36 and go straight to the base from the eastern fields. They would have to go through many smaller roads in Kasuga and the chances for detection would be higher."

Kensuke spoke up. "Hey Shiro, if you really want you can always place a bet with the captain."

"The odds aren't in my favor," Shiro replied. "Speaking of bets, you owe me from the last time we played Chō-Han."

"Hey," Kensuke huffed. "Don't change the subject."

Everyone shared a laugh. At least their morale was high.

More minutes passed by. Team One reviewed the mission plans. And reviewed them again. The Misteye in their formation continued to search for contacts with its powerful air and ground radars. Nothing. Another sweep from both radars. Nothing again. Then…

"We have contacts from the Misteye!" Mafune called.

Shingo looked up from his tactical computer. "Where?!"

"Moving towards Kumamoto!" Mafune said. "Eight total; estimate six transport-sized contacts and two fighter-type! They're faint, but they're definitely hostile!"

"Roger!" Shingo replied. Only two fighters as escorts? It must have meant the air patrols in Kyushu had engaged some enemy fighters. The transports were speeding to deploy their cargo. He keyed his radio to headquarters. "Indigo Actual to Sight Hawk, do you read? Over."

"This is Sight Hawk," a female operator replied. Sight Hawk was the callsign for Narashino. "Go ahead, Actual. Over."

"Tiger. I say again, Tiger. Indigo is moving to intercept. Over."

"Sight Hawk copies, Indigo. Good luck. Over."

"Thanks, Sight Hawk. Over and out."

Not a second later, the radio lit up with traffic again.

"Red Actual to Indigo Actual," Yosuke's voice crackled through the radio. "We have positive ID on enemy contacts and are breaking off. Do you read? Over."

"I read, Red," Shingo replied. "We have contacts as well. We're intercepting. Over."

"Roger, Indigo," Yosuke said. "Good luck. And come back alive. Over."

"You too. Over and out."

Mafune turned the transport towards Kumamoto. Angel 2 and the fighter escorts followed. The dropships and fighters had their OC systems engaged, rendering them invisible to any observers. It didn't cover up the engine noises, unfortunately. The last reading of the enemy contacts made their likely LZ a field west of the team's primary LZ; it was farther away than expected but it still gave the enemy a good route to travel on thanks to the trees and direct roads. As a last-ditch effort, a few of the fighter escorts broke off to engage the enemy formation, hoping to prevent or weaken their deployment.

The dropship sped towards the primary LZ. A red light in the interior of each MST bay and the PAR bay lit up. It told the team they had one minute until landing. Shingo focused on his breathing. Inhale for a five-count. Hold for the same. Exhale for a five-count. The process was repeated several more times. Shingo knew the rest of the team was doing the same.

"This is it, isn't it captain?" Com asked.

"Indeed, Com," Shingo replied.

"All systems green," Com said after taking a split second to run last-minute diagnostics. "Awaiting your command to fully engage all systems and enter combat mode."

"Excellent," Shingo said. "I'm counting on you, Com."

"I won't let you down, sir."

"Disengage movement safeties when we reach the LZ."

"As you wish."

The dropship halted. The red lights in the bays turned green. As one, the bay doors slid open, exposing the Responders to the cool night air. Shingo and Saisyu, both of them at opposite diagonal corners of the dropship, were the first to deploy. Mafune had the dropship hovering eight meters above the LZ; Shingo leapt his Masamune out of the bay and the attached cable pulled back to slow his descent. His MST's feet softly hit the ground and he engaged the machine's combat mode as the cable detached and returned to its winch. The Masamune bent its knees slightly and shouldered its assault rifle. Shingo sprinted out and knelt his Masamune down fifty meters from the dropship. Saisyu did the same but in the opposite direction. The PARs and the rest of the squad followed and Mafune deployed a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) from the dropship's top bay. When they were clear, Angel 2 took up the same position and 2nd Squad deployed. Within a minute, all eight MSTs and PARs were on the ground, spread out in a wide circle, and two UAVs were circling the air above at three hundred meters.

"Angel 1 here, we're moving to holding pattern," Mafune said. Angel 2 did the same.

"Copy, Angel 1 and 2," Shingo replied. The dropship pilots wished them luck.

The Foxes and Wolves were on the ground.

Let the hunt begin.