Episode Three
Hajimete no Tokimeki Hajimete no Shutsugeki
(First Love
First Sortie)
Finally underway aboard the Exelion and in warp, the RX-7 squadrons are locked down in their berthing areas. Stories
are being told, and Jung is using the free time they have to tell some pretty scary ones. Noriko is mentally writing a letter
to Kimiko, hoping her friend can hear her over the vastness of space. Noriko comments how she likes scary stories, but
also how they scare her. She then tells Kimiko of her drawing the short straw on having to do a dare. Realizing her
reputation as a member of
Top Squadron is at stake, she accepts the challenge of kimo dameshi, the test of will.

Walking down the darkened halls with nothing more than a flashlight, Noriko is feeling rather small and insignificant in the
huge ship. The strange noises made while under warp speed are unnerving and it puts something of an edge to Noriko's
demeanor. She finally enters the
Machine Weapon bay and finds the ladder leading up to the control deck. She is about
to go topside, but an apparition suddenly appears. Frightened, Noriko feels as if a ghost is stalking her. The shape
materializes and Noriko realizes it is a man. A flashlight comes up and suddenly a face shoots out of the dark with a
menacing grimace. Noriko falls backwards onto her backside.

Realizing his mistake, Smith Toren apologizes to Noriko and states that the female pilots must pull the same pranks the
males do. He then volunteers to place Noriko's banner up on the ladder, but in the process of doing so, he is caught by
Coach Ota. Noriko realizes she is caught also. For punishment, Noriko and her compatriot are ordered to clean the
focusing lenses on the ship's many laser cannon.

At that very moment, Captain Tashiro is enjoying lunch with his command staff, fondly remembering the time he visited the
Leif 64. The star was the ship's destination. However, the moment is broken when a report comes of an object
heading towards the ship at light speed.

Outside the ship, Noriko and Smith see the object coming in really fast. Realizing what it is, Smith grabs onto Noriko and
pulls her to the deck. Due to its close proximity to the ship, the
Exelion's shields flare up. On the bridge, Tashiro orders
general quarters and preparations are made to engage the enemy.

Noriko's first battle is coming up, and she is understandably nervous. She is constantly reading her flight manuals, trying
to make sure she forgets nothing when the time comes for combat. Smith Toren runs in to her on one of the ship's turbo
cars and teases her, but Noriko comes back with a retort on how he's only a single pilot, while she's paired with Kazumi.
Later on while she's in the cockpit of her
RX-7, she overhears a heated conversation between Kazumi and Coach Ota.
Kazumi states that she cannot work with Noriko due to her inexperience as a pilot. Shocked, Noriko bumps the release to
the cockpit and Kazumi sees that she had been listening. Kazumi tells Noriko that it's for her own good.

Exelion reaches the point in space where the alien fleet is hiding, Leif 64. Tashiro is shocked to see that what was
once a G-class star is now a bloated red giant. He begins to formulate a hypothesis. Meanwhile, Noriko finds Smith sitting
in a hallway next to some refreshment machines, sipping a drink. She tells him that Kazumi had requested their team be
disbanded, that she is now a single. Handing his drink to her, Smith volunteers to be Noriko's partner. She agrees, later
blushing afterwards realizing that she had just sipped through the same straw Smith had used. It occurs to her that it is
just like a second hand kiss.

0430 has finally come. The flight crews are now up on the catapult decks and are ready for launch. While flight orders are
given over the tactical net to the pilots,
RX-7 Machine Weapons line up for launch. The Exelion then opens fire with the
rest of the armada on the alien fleet with its lasers and photon torpedoes. Soon afterwards, the first
RX-7's are launched
and begin to take up defensive positions.

Once out into space, Noriko looks for Smith, but she cannot find him. He answers her over the net, stating that he sees
her. He lets Noriko know that he's right below her. Noriko's monitor then flashes. Startled she asks what has happened.
Smith states that the
Tarzion has been crippled, or even worse, destroyed. He informs Noriko to prepare for the shock
wave. Fear building up in her stomach, Noriko screams as the shock wave hits. Smith assures her that everything will be
all right.

With that out of the way, Noriko is brought back to reality as her detection alarms go off. The enemy is on the offensive.
Smith orders her to cover him while he moves in for the kill. Switching to the defensive, Noriko moves in to cover Smith as
two alien drones come in at unbelievable speeds. Noriko spins as another wave comes in, but she freezes. She has her
hands on the controls, but fear has gripped her so hard she can't move. With the attack over, she calls out for Smith, but
does not receive an answer.

On the bridge of the
Exelion, Captain Tashiro is informed that the main alien fleet is grouped at the star Leif 64 itself, and
not at the planetary fringe where the attack took place. Tashiro takes the decision to recall all troops and warp out.
Surveying the massive amounts of damaged craft outside, Noriko hunts for any sign of Smith. She soon lands on the
recovery platform, and stays behind, waiting for him. Smith never shows. The humiliation she is beginning to feel starts to
build up. She couldn't even get off a shot, and now Smith was gone.

Once under warp, Noriko goes to the male pilots' berthing area to see if Smith had come back, only to see the loss in the
eyes of his friends. Noriko then passes the place where she had last seen him, the drink container he shared with her still
there. She then returns to the docking bay, noticing the bandana still tied to the ladder which Smith had placed there.
Tears well up in her eyes. Hearing a noise, Noriko finds Coach Ota supervising the building of the
Gunbuster. Noriko
breaks down stating how sorry she is for Smith's death, how she wants to be a pilot worthy of Kazumi's respect. Ota tries
to comfort her as Noriko states she will work hard to gain the trust of everyone aboard the ship.

At that moment, a monstrous shape is emerging from the red star,
Leif 64. It is an alien ship, nothing which humanity has
encountered yet. In all its beauty, it can only spell doom for the entire human race.
To be continued...
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