The year is 2033. Ustio is, once again, at war. The Sapinish Air Force has launched an invasion, in the hopes of taking over the country and annexing it. The Ustian Air Force turns to mercenary pilots again.
The protagonist's aircraft is based of what little experience I have with an F-18.
Mission 1: January 18, 2033 17:04:57 hrs
"Argos 4, cleared to detach." The tanker pilot says to the number four plane. We're all done refueling. The number four plane detaches and rejoins the formation.
We are the 27th Fighter Bomber squadron, Argos. We are comprised of four aircraft, two fighters and two bombers. I fly a fighter, in the lead position. My number two is also a fighter, and the rest are bombers. We have a diverse squadron. Then again, the Ustian Air Force has always been. I'm not sure whether it was worse in '95 or now, but I'm sure now. The generals just decided to hire anyone who had a plane and let them form their own squadrons. I don't know how well it works, but it must work.
I've been sitting in this cockpit for four hours, on patrol.
"Mailman, how much longer is the patrol?" the number three bomber, Malcolm, asks. I bring the rubber oxygen mask from hanging on my helmet to my face.
"Don't really recall." I say.
"Great. We'll be stuck up in these mountains forever," The other fighter complains. "I wouldn't mind sitting up here for so long if we could just run in to someone. All we've seen is the tanker!"
"I know! I wanna shoot something!" The third plane says.
"All right. Let's just fly to the northern boundary, then we'll turn back." I say. The squadron approves.
Since the Ustian Air Force recruited mercs, they recruited planes as well. It's sort of cool, in that it's almost as if no two planes are exactly alike. The downside is that we are our own mechanics as well.
Our squadron is comprised of four different planes altogether. I fly an older fighter, developed in 2019. It doesn't have an AI that I have to be talking to like a copilot, and it's not one of the more modern planes that come equipped with a COFFIN system. Just good old LCDs. The outside resembles one of those Su-47's they used in the Belkan War, but with sharper features and a white paint scheme. Below the canopy is a marking of a small plane and a large one. My kill tally.
The number two pilot, Mayhem, flies a white YR-99, built during the Aurelian war. Malcolm flies a YR-302, and Leo, the fourth, flies an FZ-23.
I put the mask to my face again. "AWACS, Argos lead. We've been up here 4 hours and still no joy. Requesting return to base."
"Argos flight, stand by." The voice says.
"Standing by." I say. The AWACS is probably calling the base, asking if we can come home.
"Argos flight, cleared to return to base."
"Argos flight, returning to base." I pause. "Ok fellas," I say, directing my attention towards my squadron, "You all heard him." I end with that, and then I turn my plane to the south. The thing about my plane is that the joystick is different. While most other planes have the joystick as just a stick protruding from the ground, my joystick is side mounted, and actually is turned 90 degrees to the left in the same manner as the throttle. Only for right-handed pilots, of course.
We are heading home now, at an altitude of 4000 ft, bearing 160, and are 25 miles from base.
"Argos lead, AWACS. We have tally ho on a bogey thirty miles to the East at 27 angels. Turn to a vector of 090, cleared to intercept. Do not engage until ordered or unless there are friendly lives in danger."
"Argos flight copies all. Thanks." I am excited, but then remember one thing. "Uh, AWACS! Argos lead! Tell base to cancel our landing!"
"On it. Thanks." They say.
"Tally ho, you all heard him! Let's go!" I say to my squadron.
"Finally!" Mayhem says. "Gonna get some kills, gonna get some kills."
I lock my mask to my helmet, pull back on the joystick, and ram the throttle. The engines have been slowly working, but now they roar to life as the afterburners light up.
We climb to the target altitude of 27000 ft and are at the intercept area in four minutes.
I look around, but I can't see any planes. Checking my radar in my bottom center panel, I can't see anything either. Weird.
"Mailman here. No joy." I say.
"Mayhem. I'm no joy, too," I hear.
"Leo here. I have radar contact...they're small...there are at least five of them." The bomber says.
"Five? Wow!" Mayhem says. He is interrupted by Leo's voice again.
"Tally ho. Ten o'clock low. There's a lot of them. They look like drones!"
"Argos lead to AWACS," I say, "we have visual on the enemy. They are drones. Request permission to engage."
"Argos squadron, weapons free." I hear through my headset.
"Roger." I pause. "Argos flight, cleared to engage. Weapons free."
"Roger. Mayhem, checking left...engaging." I hear. Mayhem's going in first. The guy has no kills.
The rest of the squadron turns left to engage. I stay for just a bit, to check my plane. The radios are ok, surfaces, lights, and information panels are ok. I need to change my transponder code, which I do. I also access my left information panel and arm up the missile on my left wing. I'm ready.
"Mailman, engaging!" I say. I bank the plane left and pull back on the joystick. I'm lying on the side of my cockpit, and am pushed into the ejection seat. The rest of my squadron hasn't started firing yet.
A single missile flies from one of the combined eleven planes, and hits another. A brilliant explosion follows.
"Malcolm here. That's a kill!"
I would congratulate him, but I am in targeting range. I line up the HUD with the general furball, and I see seven computerized diamonds on the HUD. Payday. I hear a beeping, which is a sign that the missile is looking for a target. A red light just below the HUD is blinking. Suddenly, the light is steady and the tone in my headset is screaming. A diamond on the HUD turns red. I press the black button on the joystick with my thumb.
The missile releases from my left wing with a thud, and streaks toward the unfortunate drone. An explosion sounds as the drone dies.
"Mailman," I say, "splash one."
"Leo here, guns going hot." I hear. Looking to the left of my HUD, I see a stream of tracers flying at the drones. Two explosions follow. "Leo, splash two!"
"This is easy for you guys," Mayhem says. "How about letting me shoot some?"
"Just shoot; don't ask." I say.
We clean up, and pull back home.
"Argos flight, remain in the area, another target's coming." The AWACS says.
"What?" I ask. "Where?"
"Same place. Argos flight, cleared to engage. Vulcan flight," he says, addressing another squadron, "target is two Bm-335s north of you. Scepter flight, move to intercept..."
His voice trails off. Sounds like some fight's coming. I check my squadron.
"Argos flight, check in. Give fuel and ammo status."
"Mayhem checking in. Two missiles and half an hour of fuel left."
"Malcolm checking in, one missile and half an hour."
"Leo checking in. Two missiles, half an hour, and eight hundred rounds left."
"Ok. Mailman has half an hour and one missile. Argos flight, return to combat area and engage at will." I say. I push the throttle forward, and turn the plane to an eastward heading again. I also pull back on the joystick to climb. A thought hits me, and I push the button on my left panel to arm the long range missile on my right wing.
Looking at my radar, I actually see two contacts ten miles in front of me. They look like bombers.
"Argos flight, tally-ho on the radar. Ten miles, looks like two bombers." I say.
"I see the same." Mayhem says, but after a short pause, he surprises me with "Fox three."
A long-range missile flies from his wing. It turns, and looking at my radar, I can see it contact a target. It disappears.
"MAYHEM, SPLASH ONE!" The yelling comes in through my helmet followed by praise from the others.
Suddenly, my missile starts tracking. I separate from the squadron and fly ahead a bit. The missile tone goes steady.
"Mailman, fox three." I say while pushing the launch button. The missile screams ahead, and I follow it on my radar. It flies past the target without effect. "Miss."
As I hit 27000 ft, I see three targets. One large bomber and two escorts. Two escorts that have broken off and are headed for me.
"All Ustian aircraft in the vicinity of Rock Hollow AFB, the Sapinish Air Force has launched an airstrike." The AWACS says. "Aircrafts are being scrambled. Any aircraft running low on fuel or ammo can return to resupply. You are all cleared to engage."
"Cleared to engage!" I say. I don't give any commands; I am in fight mode. I push the throttle forward and meet the bomber. It's also a Bm-335. Perfect.
Unfortunately, I also meet their escorts: two naval launched, high performance, stealth multiroles. Crap. They are rushing towards me when I hear Mayhem.
"Mayhem, I see two targets closing at high speed behind the bombers. Splitting to engage. Leo, follow me."
I turn in the opposite direction of the enemy bomber to try to swing around and shoot it. The enemy fighters have followed me. I slam the throttle and do a couple of rolls to try to shake them. After the fourth roll, I pull up and change strategies to diving on the bomber from behind.
Tracers whizz past my plane.
Without even waiting anymore, I turn the plane left to face the bomber. I pull the trigger on the joystick, and the mounted cannon on my nose opens fire. I step on the rudder with my right foot a little, so the rounds can impact the engines.
They do. The enemy bomber's two right engines explode and the plane immediately rolls to the right. I pull up at 650 miles per hour and climb to escape my attackers. I strain against the turn force.
"Mailman, I confirm your kill." Malcolm says.
"Malcolm! How many missiles do you have left? Kill one of these guys for me!" I say.
"Got it." He replies. I pull the joystick back, and pitch so that I point myself at the ground. The enemies are still on me. I roll around as I dive, and I am thrown around in the cockpit.
"Malcolm, fox three." He sounds so relaxed. He's not the one being chased though. "Miss, no effect."
"Ok, regroup on me, we'll shake these guys." I say. He follows. The enemies do as well.
Malcolm forms on my right and I tell him to follow me. With that, I turn towards the base. The fighters seem like they are about to catch up to us. A missile warning lights up the lights next to my missile arm light.
The SAM defense system at Rock Hollow AFB is activated, and the fighters are shot down.
"That takes care of that. Malcolm, after you for the landing." I say, and actually gesture to his plane with my hand. I doubt anyone but me saw that.
"Yeah. AWACS, Argos 3, RTB." He says. I circle the base at three angels until he lands and exits the runway. Then it's my turn.
I put the flaps down, then the gear. I throw the throttle all the way back, because this plane does not take landings at my speed. I line up with the runway. At the last minute, I pull the nose back up and point skyward.
At 129 mph, the rear wheels hit the ground, and the nose wheel hits the ground with moderate force. Definitely not one of my best landings. I exit the runway as quick as possible, then taxi to my squadron's hangar. I leave the engines running.
I pull the canopy handle, and leave with the ladder that was pushed to the cockpit by the ground crew.
"Ok guys, I'll need four air to air missiles." I quickly say to them. I need to get back up as quick as possible.
"Yeah, we'll get that." The chief engineer says. His helper drives the truck to the ammo hangar, and in seven minutes he is back with eight missiles, four for me and four for Malcolm. The chief helps Malcolm load his missiles, while the helper and I load mine. We lift the heavy missiles to the hardpoints, then close them. I now regret having an older plane that does not "grab" the missiles. I climb the ladder and make the cockpit checks quick.
In a minute, I am airborne, and Malcolm follows.
"AWACS, Argos one and three are back in the fight." I say to the AWACS. Then I radio Mayhem. "Mayhem, where are you?"
"Southeast of Rock Hollow." he replies.
"Roger. Be there in a few." I say. Malcolm and I rush to his aid. We arrive and join him at 24,000 ft.
"Mailman, you missed the AWACS sitrep. Their bomber contingent has mostly been downed, and we need to sanitize the place. Party's almost over."
"Ok, what are you doing?" Malcolm asks.
"Leo and I have been tailing these guys for five minutes. It's two fighters following an ECM plane."
"Leave the fighters to me," I say. "I've got a score to settle."
"I've got the other one." Malcolm says.
"I'll get the ECM. Mayhem, cover us." Leo says.
"Let me do it." he says, "I'm feeling good today."
"Ok." Leo says. After a brief pause, he asks, "Gentlemen, shall we?"
"Let's." I say. "Mailman, going down." I roll the plane 75 degrees to the left, then pitch down and level out. I look up, but at my angle, that's just looking level to the horizon. I can see the enemies in level flight, with the ECM plane between the fighter. Perfect. They don't know we're here. This'll be a silent kill.
I can also see the same fighter type that engaged me earlier. The one on the left wing of the ECM will be mine. I will steal his wings.
I pull the trigger a bit, just to warm up the guns. Four seconds later, I pull the trigger to fire while announcing my fire to my squadron. They, too, have begun to let loose.
My bullets fill the fighter with bullets. The enemy doesn't crumple and fall, but actually just explodes. That's my third kill today. Plus the two I already have...
I am overcome with pride and am reaching for my radio when the other enemies die. "Argos squadron, Mailman here. That's my fifth kill!"
They congratulate me. I've done it. I am now not just a fighter pilot, but a deadly one.
"AWACS here. Rock Hollow airspace is secure. Good shooting guys. RTB, closest to base will land first."
It's all over. We've won. I've won.
Mission 2: January 29, 2033 15:28:27 hrs
There's activity around the halls of Rock Hollow AFB today. I've noticed a lot more people in the hallways, congregations in the barracks, break rooms, and the mechanics (ones that were stationed here to begin with, since pilots service their planes a lot) are all over the place. Guess a fight's coming up.
I, from departing breakfast in the mess hall, start around the halls in search of my flight. After touring the facility, I decide that they're not here. I suppose I should mention that Rock Hollow is unofficially divided into two parts: the airfield and aviation services, and the residence, offices, and training courses, etc. I haven't checked the field, so I go there.
After walking to my hangar for twenty minutes, our chief engineer drives up in a jeep.
"Mailman, want a ride?" he asks.
"Sure," I reply, and jump (literally) onto the back of his jeep. After a short ride, we reach the hangar. I climb out of the car and find my flight, standing in a circle with the engineers and in a conversation. Let's find out what's going on.
"Gentlemen," I begin, "what's up with the hubbub?"
Mayhem fills me in. "Mailman. All right, here's what's going on. As you'll see on the bulletin board, they've posted some new information, that we're going to cripple their navy at Gran Rugido."
"Wow!" I say. "Hitting the enemy's heart! This'll be the strike of a lifetime!"
"Yeah, I know. They haven't told us anything else, only that there'll be four flight briefings. It's on the board. The rest of us are going to be in briefing C, but you're in briefing C and D," he finishes.
I walk to our bulletin board. Everything he said is up there. I am stationed in briefing C and D.
Briefing C, 16:00:00 hrs
I take a seat with my wingmen near the front of the briefing room. It's not exactly a clean room, or a well-ventilated one either. Must be because so many people have been in here today. There's about forty pilots in here now, waiting for the show to get started.
The General takes the podium. We stand to salute, and he puts us at ease.
"Good afternoon, pilots. I'm sure after the other day's encounter, you all are raring for the chance at revenge, right?"
Shouts and whoops erupt from the pilots.
"Calm down...you'll get your chance." The General continues. "At 22:00 hours tonight, we are going to strike Gran Rugido. The main objective is to cripple their navy, and deal major damage to their air force wherever possible. To do this, we're using air power from three bases. One airbase will attack an enemy airbase, and the other will cover allied invasion of Gran Rugido. We're going to attack their port."
He pauses, to make sure that we have that in our notes.
"We're putting a lot on the line here. This next battle will be a highly strategic victory, and the end will not be far off. Now, to attack the port, we have four separate flights, which are named Alpha through Delta. Alpha's objective will be to sink any enemy naval vessels. Bravo's objective will be to destroy port facilities. Charlie flight, which is all of you, will be to maintain air superiority. In all three flights, pilots are ordered to exercise discretion. We don't want any war crimes."
He pauses again. Wow. Seems like we're going to destroy Sapin. I almost feel sorry for them.
"Delta flight will attack first. Their objective is to maintain silence and sink the Salvacion aircraft carrier."
So I'm going to hit them first, and stay behind to shoot stuff down. This is wonderful. I'm gonna make a name for myself.
Briefing D, 16:45:00 hrs
I didn't leave the last briefing. Just sat. Five other pilots enter the room. I recognize two of them, Mack and Nord. They came from my hometown, so we roll together.
The General hasn't left either. We are briefed, and I learn the location of the carrier in the port, our attack angle, enemy defenses, everything. The carrier needs to be sunk by three torpedoes, for ensured effect. Within our flight, we've decided the three that will sink it, based on our other flight assignment.
After I've noted down the loads of info, we are dismissed. I meet up with my squadron.
"Mailman, you're on flight D?" Leo asks me.
"Yeah," I say, "but I'm not sinking the carrier. That's...you guys know Mack?" I ask.
"I think, yeah," Mayhem says.
"Him and two other guys are doing it. I'm just...ha, it's like I'm a C flight in D flight."
"Wow. I wonder why they put you there," Leo says. "Malcolm, why we in C flight if we're attackers?"
"Cuz we're a killer squadron, that's why." He says.
"Mailman!" The mechanic shouts.
"What?" I answer?
"We identified your plane! It's an ADFX-01 Morgan. Very rare."
"Good to know. I just called it an Su-47." So I'm flying a rare plane. Nice.
For the next fifteen minutes, I talk to the mechanic about arming the aircraft. I will carry an auxiliary torpedo between my intakes, just in case something goes wrong. I load two air-to-air missiles on my wings plus two outside my intakes. I also have a machine gun pod in front of the torpedo. With all this extra weight, I'll have to be careful.
I part with my squadron, since flight D takes off a full hour before anyone else. My fighter has been refueled. I'm ready. I climb into the cockpit.
Delta Flight, 19:15:02 hrs
Closing the canopy, I run through the checklists. My battery and avionics go on. Then my lights, instruments, and weapons are ready. Radios are ready, and control surfaces look good.
Turning the engines on, I taxi to the runway. The others from Flight D are already there, and are queuing for takeoff. After the five others take off, I call the tower.
"Rock Hollow Tower, Argos One request takeoff with Delta priority."
A short pause, then the tower replies: "Argos One cleared for takeoff and Delta priority. AWACS is 'Nestor', on 118.75. Good luck."
"Cleared for takeoff, AWACS 'Nestor', Argos One."
I turn onto the runway and advance the throttles up to just below afterburner. I am pushed back into my seat at the acceleration and when I pull back on my sidestick, I am again squished. Throttling back a bit after takeoff, I meet up with the rest of Delta Flight. They're just swarming around, almost unorganized.
"Argos One, joining Delta Flight," I say to the AWACS.
"Argos One, I see you. Proceed with mission." After a short pause, the squadron contacts me.
"Argos One, who's flight lead?" I am asked. I level out at three thousand feet and head east, just until we can get organized.
"I don't know, who wants to be?" I ask. We really don't have a lead?
"This is Jotunheim One, I'd like to. You guys ok with that?" Mack asks. He would; he's a bit of a showoff.
After the squadron votes him as leader, he decides on a wedge formation. I prepare my aircraft for the mission (lights, radios, radar, etc). After preparation, I turn to a south heading. Looking around, I can see the others also turning.
"We should climb before the formation, shouldn't we?" Someone asks.
"What, you can't climb in formation?" Someone else replies. Oh boy, this sounds reassuring.
"Delta One to all Deltas. Climb to 34,000 ft. We'll group up there."
Ugh, Mack's trying to make up callsigns now. I pull back on my stick and give my plane some power, so I can make it to that altitude.
"Mack, that callsign," I start, but pause for effect. "it sucks." The squadron backs me up.
As we level off at 34,000 ft, I find my place in the formation, and match speed with Mack. I'm on his port wing. I settle there at 475 knots. The rest of the squadron has made it in place too. Looking around, I see five planes that are armed to the teeth and ready to kill.
After flicking some final switches (autopilot being one of them), I relax. The sun is setting, and we are over a mountain range that separates North Ustio from South.
"And now we wait," I say to no one in particular.
"Two hours to the border, Delta flight." Mack says. It sounds a bit far off. I'm feeling really tired and out of breath right now. I am just about to voice my concern when I notice that my mask is not on. Oops. I fix that to my helmet and recover quickly.
After sitting and making an occasional joke for half an hour, the AWACS tells us that the three other flights have taken off and should arrive six minutes after we sink the carrier.
The sun sets after an hour, and weather reports from Gran Rugido do not look promising.
After and hour and a half, he calls us again and advises that we should go silent and sneak into Sapin.
"Delta flight, check in." Mack says, followed by "Jotunheim One, checking in."
"Grendel One, checking in."
"Hex One, checking in."
"Ursus One, checking in."
My turn. "Argos One, checking in."
"Felis One, checking in."
"Ok." Mack says. "All aircraft, go silent. stay in formation, just stick to the plan, and we'll be ok."
I say nothing, and turn off all of the aircraft's lights, radios, and IFF. Hopefully, the only thing that gives me away is my engine noise.
Mack banks full right. I follow by banking full right and applying left rudder to counteract. After a turn to the right (which I perfectly execute despite being on the side of the cockpit), we level out. The aircraft behind me, Felis One, I think, doesn't look so good. He was the one who couldn't climb in formation. I guess I'll watch his back. He's in A flight.
Mack rolls left and inverts. The squadron follows. After staying in the invert for a few seconds, our noses point down. We are now in a descent. I feel confident in our abilities...save for the guy behind me. But that's ok, it's literally my orders to protect people.
Up to this point, I have not realized how beautiful the outside looks. The full moon is brightly illuminating my cockpit as well as the terrain below. Whatever clouds that were supposedly in the area have burned off, leaving only white patches in the sky.
We've picked up speed in the descent. The plan calls for us to weave through the mountains at a low enough altitude and slow enough speed so as to avoid radar. Obviously, we can't do it in formation.
Mack breaks cleanly, and the rest follow single file. I slow the plane down. It's a good thing we have moonlight, since mountains are not exactly visible at night.
The AWACS uplinks radar information to our HUDs, and I see the radar net. I descend to avoid one, climb to miss mountain, speed up to dodge a shifting coverage net, slow to avoid cliffs, etc. After fifteen minutes of the most intense flying of my career, we make it out of the mountains.
We have to stay below three thousand feet to avoid detection, and we have to shoot before 10:26 PM. We have three minutes, and we're a bit behind.
I push a button that selects my right wing missile, and push the master arm button. The red target search light below my HUD does not light up. Perfect, no one's expecting us.
Most of the squadron is flying within visual distance on my right side. I find Felis One, still on my left. I slow a bit, in hopes that he passes me. He does, and I take up a position on his starboard stern.
Ahead of him, I can see city lights. The target is here. The strike group within the squadron has now made a final attack formation, as per plan. They've picked up speed, and they fly out of my visual range. Not good.
I push my throttle a bit forward, to cover them. I don't know if Felis is following me, but I don't care. I arrive directly behind the attack formation just in time to see three torpedoes falling and a major explosion seconds later. They, as per plan, now have enough speed to climb out of the port airspace, head south, and await reinforcements.
I follow. Flying over the port at low altitude, I see flames below me as well as a pillar of smoke. I also see a about seven ships to my right and six to my left.
I climb, and regroup with the other Deltas. Switching on radios, I hear them commending each other.
"AWACS Nestor to Delta flight, expect reinforcements in three minutes." I immediately relax a bit, and notice a large number of aircraft to the north. They're here.
"Mack," I ask, as the rest of Delta regroups, "what do I do with this extra torpedo?" Three people reply with the same message: Pick a ship, any ship.
I descend, and turn north back to port. By the time I reach it, the others will probably arrive too. I pick up speed and arm my torpedo. As I arrive at the port, I look for the ship with the most guns. I find a battleship, but I can't reach it at this angle. I settle for the nearest ship, a smaller destroyer. Pointing my nose at it, I press the button on my thumb. A noise follows, and the plane is lighter. I seize the opportunity and climb almost vertical. An explosion from below satisfies me.
As I climb, I hear other aircraft. At this angle, I look back, and observe the first bombs from A flight. I level out, then dive softly to look for my squadron.
At this point in mission, radios and IFF should be on. I turn on the IFF.
"Argos One to Argos flight. Come back to me."
"Argos Two here. Mailman, where are you?" Mayhem asks me. I check my surroundings.
"Twelve angels above the port." I answer.
"Argos flight, regroup on squadron leader." Mayhem says. He sounds like he's had fun commanding the others for the last three hours.
Charlie Flight, 10:46:27 hrs
After they regroup, I give them orders. Our patrol area is primarily the port, then the ingress point, and then a twelve mile radius from that. Given that the first two points are clear, I order them to head to our third waypoint.
Once we arrive, we split into four components. I will take the waypoint at 40,000 ft, and the remaining three will cover 30,000 ft, 20,000, and 10,000.
Climbing, I make sure my aircraft has enough energy, and that my mask is on. We patrol for five minutes.
"AWACS Nestor, Argos Four requesting sitrep." Leo asks.
"Argos Four, enemy naval contingent is almost eliminated, port facilities are damaged, and airspace is hot south of the port."
"How hot?" I ask.
"Not too much to worry." He says. I am just about to thank him when he calls back. "Argos Flight, Panther Flight, tally ho. Seven targets, at five miles north and at 25 angels."
"Argos flight, roger." I say. "Let's go, guys!"
The squadron chatters a bit, to warm up (as our tradition is). The others arm, and To my left, I see Panther flight. They look ready. I also see the contacts on my HUD, right where they are supposed to be.
My missile track light blinks. Forget a warning; this is our airspace now. A square on my HUD turns into a red diamond, and the track light goes steady.
"Mailman, Fox Two!" I shout, then press the button that sends a missile flying from my wing. An explosion follows, just as the rest of the squadron's missiles launch. Half hit their target, and we are left with three planes to clean up. They break formation, and I turn to chase one of them. I don't arm a missile, and opt to use my machine gun. The reflex sight on my HUD has been on this whole time.
As I get closer to my target, I see that it's an XFA-27. It's ugly, which makes me want to shoot it down even more. He banks right, turns, and picks up speed. This slippery weasel. I pull the trigger on my joystick and the machine guns on my nose light up.
"Mayhem, splash one!" Mayhem yells. I hear him, and I kinda feel good for him. but I also want to shoot down this bogey. He makes a mistake, and several bullets from my plane hit him. Just a bit more. He turns left now, and dives into the mountains. I don't feel like chasing him, so I arm the missile on my left back intake. The red light starts to blink, but only locks on at close range.
I give chase. The arrow on the left of my HUD indicates the distance to lock-on. I look at the arrow while trying to match his moves. He's really good, weaving through the same mountains I was in earlier.
"Mayhem," I say, with intent for backup, "Back me up. He's at my twelve."
"On my way." is the reply. I could take care of it myself, but I want to be sure.
My missile tone goes steady.
"Argos One, Fox One." I announce. I push the button. The missile is dodged as the enemy pilot pulls up. This guy is good. And he's heading for the port.
"Argos Two, Fox Two!" I hear. But where is he? Looking around, I cannot see Mayhem. What is he talking about?
A missile streaks from somewhere off to my back right, and heads in my direction. I dive, just out of instinct. The missile heads for the enemy XFA-27 and detonates. An explosion is followed by a parachute. The enemy has bailed out.
"Mayhem, I confirm your kill. You're a long range god!" I say. I'm actually glad the enemy bailed out. He was good.
"Malcolm here, I'm getting spiked hard. Leo, can you cover me?" I hear. I turn away from the direction of the port and back to the main engagement area.
"Yeah, I can. I see your attacker. If you can, break."
"Break where?!" He sounds frantic. I push my throttle to afterburners and rush to the engagement area. I see a rain of tracers in the darkness. Not good at all.
"Argos Four, Fox One." I hear. I see a missile emerge from behind the tracers, but it just flies straight and crashes in mountains. I can now make out Malcolm's Fregata, rolling full over and pointing at the mountains. I also see the enemy, as well as Leo.
The enemy launches his missile as Malcolm is leveling out. I have not armed a missile, so I pull the machine gun trigger. I try to aim for the enemy.
Malcolm is hit.
"AAH!" I hear.
"Malcolm, stay with me, man! You ok?" Leo asks. The enemy pulls up, and I follow. This is my target now. I arm a missile at random and pick up tone almost immediately.
"Mailman, Fox One!" I yell. and shoot. The target wasn't expecting me, and his destroyed by my fire.
"Malcolm!" I hear. It's Mayhem's voice now. I pull out of my climb and join Malcolm.
"I'm ok. It hit my right wing. There's a lot of fuel, a lot of smoke-"
"Bail out." Mayhem says.
"No, I can save it." He's always said that he doesn't believe in leaving an aircraft. The dummy.
"BAIL OUT!" Leo says.
Silence follows. I see a small explosion in Malcolm's direction. I fear the worst, but in a second I am reassured.
"I'm out." He says. He sounds defeated. I see his parachute.
"Mailman here, I see your parachute. I'll notify AWACS." I try to figure out what to say next. "You did a good job. We'll...call SAR, you'll be home by tomorrow morning. Just...please, try to hang in there."
"AWACS, Argos flight. We have a downed airman in our area." Leo says.
A pause allows enough time for the remaining wingmen to form up in formation.
"All aircraft, mission complete. Disengage and RTB. C flight, cover our escape." A brief pause, then another voice comes on. "Argos flight, roger. SAR is on the way. Thanks."
"Well, Argos flight," I say, "You've got your orders. Cover the escape, stick to the plan."
"Yeah," says Mayhem. We are in silence all the way through the climb to 34,000 ft.
Once we reach that altitude, I reach for my radio.
"Argos Leader to Felis leader. Where are you?" I ask. I'm gonna cover him.
"Argos Leader, Felis Leader. We're at waypoint three, north of the port." comes the reply.
"Argos Flight, head for waypoint three. We'll cover Felis's escape." I say, and turn to the waypoint.
""Mailman...I'm near bingo fuel. I can't screw around." says Leo.
"Wait, you're near bingo already?" Mayhem asks.
We form up on Felis's two-plane flight and turn to a northerly heading.
"Oh, sorry, not bingo. By the time we reach home--"
"You'll be dry. I feel you." Mayhem says.
After half an hour of almost silence, Felis thanks me.
I look around, and observe no other allied squadrons. Maybe we're not as organized as we thought. Down below, I see the mountain range that separates Sapin from Ustio. We're home.
No we're not. A part of us is still out there. I have failed to protect my men. I am overcome by guilt, but try to focus on the fact that Leo is alive and will be rescued.
An hour passes, and the calm below contrasts with the war, the battle, and the downed airman. It's very confusing.
At the two hour mark, we start to maneuver toward Rock Hollow. We follow a basic approach, which I lead our two squadrons rhrough.
"Argos Flight, Felis Flight," the tower asks us, "who's landing first?"
"Argos," I say, "we have a pilot low on fuel."
"Roger, Argos Flight. Low fuel pilot lands first, all other pilots hold at the West Gate."
Leo's first in line. After him, it'll be my turn, then Mayhem's turn.
We are sent to an area west of the base so we can wait our turn. Leo begins his approach, and after three minutes, I follow.
I descend to three thousand feet and lower the landing gear and flaps (whose levers are on the left side of the cockpit). I also check my lights and radios, and both are ok. Finally, I seriously lower my throttle. The plane only lands at one speed, which is brick.
I hear the tower congratulating Leo's landing, and then it's my turn.
I gently yaw the plane to line up with the runway.
"Argos One, cleared to land," says the tower.
"Cleared to land, Argos One." I slow even further, afraid that I'll touch down too hard.
The lights from the airfield come into full view. I see the runway. I'm too high.
I cut the throttle and dive. The computer system on board signifies my altitude. After I intercept the correct altitude, I level out. I pull up a bit, and float over the airport perimeter fence. The aircraft stalls a bit just as I am over the runway. The rear wheels touch down a bit strong, and I push the nose down. I open the speedbrakes next to the flaps, and the plane slows intensely down to zero.
I taxi to the hangar, and shut the plane off. I join Leo, and Mayhem joins us. We discuss kills, flight happenings, so on. But we don't mention Malcolm.
Mission 3: January 30, 2033 09:27:41 hrs
After waking, I shower, get into my flight suit, and eat breakfast. I'm so tired from yesterday's sortie.
I leave the mess hall when I am finished. I make sure to walk slowly to the hangar in hopes that I can spend some extra time with my eyes closed.
"Mailman," someone says.
I wake up. I find myself halfway to my barracks. Wow. Leo and Mayhem stand in front of me.
"What's up?" I ask them.
"They got Malcolm back, last night at about three. He's recovering in the infirmary, room 103." Leo says.
Malcolm's still alive, that tough salt. My boy.
Feeling fully awake now, I tell the squadron to come visit him with me. We walk to the infirmary (while still talking about yesterday's flight), and we find him in room 103.
He's sleeping, with the covers up to his chest. He looks fine.
We take a seat and wait for him to wake up. He stirs after fifteen minutes and slowly sits up.
"What's up, stupid?" Mayhem says.
"Guys?" He asks.
"Yeah, Malcolm, we're here." I say. "You're safe and ok now." I say to reassure him.
He closes his eyes tightly for a second, then asks if I could hand him the water beside his bed. He takes it and drinks.
"What happened?" Leo asks. "Do you want talk about it?"
"Here's how it went down. I was chasing an XFA-27, same as you guys. This guy was good. He seemed to know exactly where I was shooting, where to dodge. He dived, in hopes that I would follow. I disengaged, pulled up, and tried to regroup on Mayhem.
"The enemy pilot came up out of nowhere and shot my intake. I was still doing ok; if I could get my missiles up and running, I could end him. That's when all of my annunciator lights decided to come on at once.
"He got behind me, and I asked Leo for help. That's when I was shot the second time. He got my right engines. I was going to ditch it in the port or land at any nearby airstrip, but you guys forced me to leave.
"I picked up my machine pistol, ejected, and pulled the parachute. I got pushed by wind and landed pretty hard on a mountainside, which twisted my right ankle and banged up my legs real good. I kinda lied there for a few minutes, trying to make sure I was ok. I saw the battle from down here.
"I tried to maximize my chances for survival, so I headed South. I was moving for four hours in the cold windy night with nothing to eat. I heard a helicopter after about two or three eternities, and I deployed every flare I could find. They picked me up and got me back home. They're treating me for hypothermia, my legs especially."
He finishes. We sit in silence for a minute, and he adds that he will still walk, but with a cane. We congratulate him for survival, and for keeping pressure on the enemy.
Argos squadron is paged to the briefing room.
"Wait," Malcolm says, "hand me the remote before you leave."
I hand him the TV remote, and he thanks us. Knowing him, he'll probably hit on a nurse while we're away. We head to the briefing room.
We arrive. The major there tells us that it's an emergency, that we'll be briefed in-air, and to load an air-to-air payload.
Must be serious.
We hurry to our hangar, and I load missiles to replace those that I fired yesterday. The unfired ones remain. The machine cannon is refilled, and we start-up and takeoff in another fifteen minutes.
"Argos squad, form up on me." I say a minute after takeoff.
"Argos squadron, Hex squadron, AWACS Nestor here. This is an emergency intercept mission. Climb to 40 angels and head to engagement zone charlie from yesterday. You'll be briefed enroute."
"Argos flight, copy." I say.
"Hex Flight, copy all." Nord says. Nord is Hex leader, so this one ought to be fun.
We climb to the altitude and engage our afterburners. We are fully armed, fully accelerated, and fully ready. We're over yesterday's mountains at 40,000 ft now.
"Argos flight, Hex flight, here's the sitrep." The AWACS pauses for effect. "At 0915 hrs, Air Ixiom flight 53, a Boeing 747 from Apito to Dinsmark, entered over Sapinish airspace. They were registered as friendly on their Southern IFF, but not on their Northern IFF. As a result, they were fired upon by Sapinish fighters. They're limping towards our border now, and you guys will assess their damage, and if necessary, land them at Rock Hollow."
"They're at FL390 and losing altitude gradually, with several injured passengers and several angry Sapinish pilots after them. No matter what happens, Flight 53 does NOT go down. Is this clear?"
"Yes, sir," I reply. Shortly after, I address the squad.
"You got that, guys?" I ask.
"Argos two, roger."
Argos four, roger."
"Flight 53 is thirty-five miles at your twelve o'clock at FL385. Report visual and any possible tally-ho. Tell them to contact me."
After talking to my squadron, I disengage my afterburner and slow to three hundred miles per hour.
"Hex four, I have a visual." I hear. "Twelve o'clock low."
Just above my nose, I see a dot.
A dot with smoke.
"Mailman," Nord asks, "Front door or back?" He asks.
"Let's let them know we're here. Fly by them, then form up?" I say.
"Sounds good. Hex flight, follow Argos flight." He says.
My plan is to have seven high speed fighters fly by this plane so they know something's up. Then we'll protect their rear for as long as possible.
The dot grows as Hex flight picks up some speed. I don't want to be left behind, but I also don't want to ram this thing. I maintain my speed.
I can see the Air Ixiom livery now. I slow down and order my squadron to form up on his wings. I advise Nord that I'll be on the plane's port bow, and he orders his squadron to cover the rear while he takes the starboard bow. We've got this guy boxed in.
He's actually losing altitude a bit quicker than I expected. I am about to attempt to contact him when Nestor contacts us about bogeys on our tails. Hex three and four break off to engage first, but then Hex two follows them.
Nord is first to talk to the airliner.
"Air Ixiom Flight 53, this is Nestor One. You are entering Ustian Airspace. I need you to contact controllers on frequency 118.75. Please comply."
"Air Ixiom Flight 53, roger. Please don't shoot." The pilot says.
After a short pause, he contacts the AWACS.
"Air Ixiom Flight 53, to, ah, controller?"
Nestor interrogates him.
"Air Ixiom Flight 53, this is AWACS Nestor. First things first, is there a medical emergency on board?"
"Yeah, we've got a few hurt passengers in the back. They're being treated by a doctor."
"Do you need an emergency landing?"
"We're losing altitude due to two engines out, so we'll need one."
"Air Ixiom 53, squawk 5376 for friendly IFF, and we'll try to land you at our airbase. Airbase is 110 miles north."
"Air Ixiom 53 copies."
"Kingfish, how we doing?" Nord asks his wingmen.
"These guys are tricky. We need some support."
I spring into action.
"Mayhem, Leo, help them out," I say. After they leave, I talk to the airliner.
"Air Ixiom 53, we're clearing your six o'clock for you. However, it's advisable that you descend as low as possible."
"Air Ixiom 53," Nestor says, "Descend and maintain 11,000 ft."
"Negative, I'm afraid that we won't be able to climb again."
"Ok. Argos Lead, Hex Lead, you have your orders." Says the AWACS.
I arm the missile on my left wing. I'm ready to kill anything that comes near here. I have matched speed with this guy, and he's descending at an unprecedented rate. We've dropped to 36,000 ft now. I look to my right, and I can see the pilot focused on the controls. Looking in the passenger windows, I see nothing, except for flight attendants walking around. Maybe the passengers are braced.
"Leo, how's business?" I ask.
"We're holding our own." Comes the short reply.
"Keep them at bay, we're going to land them at Rock Hollow." I say.
"Roger," Mayhem says.
Malcolm would have been good at this, since he is really elemental in emergencies.
The flight proceeds in silence. Reinforcements arrive to help with the fighters, and our wingmen rejoin the 747. We descend ant turn with the plane, forming a sort of envelope around it. Periodically, we receive a sitrep from the pilot. I remind him that there's nothing wrong with declaring an emergency if needed; he disregards me.
Finally, after careful descent and gentle turns, we reach a 35 mile radius of Rock Hollow. The 747 and the rest of us contact the approach controllers.
Now would be a good time for Malcolm to look out his window and see a 747 about to land...with us as escort.
"Hollow Rock AFB, Air Ixiom--aw, no. Air Ixiom 53 is declaring an emergency, we have two engines out now. Requesting immediate landing."
Nice. He didn't fall apart.
"Air Ixiom 53, you're cleared to land on either runway at your discretion. All other aircraft are to protect you, and emergency vehicles are rolling."
"Air Ixiom 53, thanks."
I look to my right and see the aircraft still looking flight worthy, but I know that it's having a really hard time. I take my hands off the stick and throttle, look up, and take a breath. As I return my attention to my plane, I decide to follow the aircraft all the way down. It's my job.
"Hex, I'm gonna follow it all the way down." I say.
Instead of acknowledging me, he surprises me with "Wilco".
I smile (though it's hidden by my flight mask) and check my plane quickly. Then I check the other plane, and wonder what could be going through his mind.
The 747's wheels go down, followed by flaps.
The airport is six miles ahead of us. I'll thank the controllers later for their superb vectoring.
The 747's engines sound really mute now. Must be cause they're all failing.
He pitches up.
Two miles. Our altitude is 800 feet from the ground. I'll have to level out soon.
Airport fence is cleared. Looking good.
Air Ixiom Flight 53 touches down on the runway with a thump.
I level out.
He puts his nose down and I see his speedbrakes go up.
As Nord and I overshoot him, we see his reverse thrust activate and slow the plane to a stop.
"Air Ixiom 53, welcome to Rock Hollow. Taxi left when able. You're safe." Says the controller.
"Yes!" I shout into my mask. Nord is screaming too, and we both howl as we pull up.
The controller did not release his mic button, and I hear the whole tower erupt in victory. The other airborne aircraft have joined the celebration too.
Nord and I level out at a higher altitude, and I form up on his port starboard. Our squadrons rejoin us. From the radio chatter, we've formed a deformed wedge. But I don't care.
We circle the airbase in formation until the 747 is cleared by ground forces. Then we are given permission to land by squadron.
I land first, then I am followed by my wingmen. Then Hex squadron lands, and then Jotunheim, and finally Felis. Who knew?
I taxi to the hangar and shut down the aircraft. As I climb out of the stuffy cockpit, I am joined by my wingmen. We talk about a debriefing for a moment, but we decide that we have to go visit Malcolm first.
The 747 was boarded by MPs, who later deemed the aircraft to be safe. The passengers eventually made it to Belka after the airline was informed that the Ustian Air Force would fly the last segment.
The incident of Air Ixiom Flight 53 shocked people in both Sapin and Ustio. However, both sides were relieved that the aircraft landed safely, and this incident helped to later end the war.
As for Argos Squadron, they all disbanded after the war. "Mailman" now runs a restaurant in Dinsmark, "Mayhem" is a sports commentator, "Leo" is a musician, and "Malcolm" is a schoolteacher with a cane.