Op. Lighthouse - Nexus 21 - 22 repost

Hey guys. Sorry for my long absence. I’ll have my excuses ready when I post 23.

I’m reposting these chapters on the forum because I discovered that google docs keeps track of opened documents. So, if you have a gmail account (or are signed onto one) it will keep track of documents that have been shared. It won’t really stand out if you don’t know what to look for, but nevertheless it’s a thread… and we closet DLs don’t like threads. So, in the interest of security I’m going to repost the chapters on the board(s) and then unshare them. Once they are no longer shared, they no longer show up on that list of previously opened documents.

So, don’t mind me, I’ll just be posting in this thread for a while. 23 is coming soon too, so stay tuned.

Nexus - 21

Nexus - 21
Showdown
By RT

“Nemo’s hit! Nemo’s hit!” Shay called over the net. Lucine looked over in time to see Lynette’s Rafale, missing its left wing, plunge into the ocean. She felt a terrible pang in the depths of her stomach.

“I got a chute! Alert SAR!” Soun returned. It seemed Lynette had made it out in time. Lucine was of course relieved, but it was still a bad situation. Not even two minutes into the fight and one of their most advanced planes had been taken out. They hadn’t even managed to scratch the paint on any of the attackers. Lucine clicked her tongue.

“Looks like frames really are different.”

Aile slowly recovered from the ear shattering crescendo. Walking dizzily through the hanger, he began to regain his bearings. There was a battle raging outside. His temporary home, K27 base, was under attack. He wasn’t sure of the details, but he was positive that Tyrek guy had something to do with it. In all likelihood this was the enemy’s plan B.

Aile wasn’t so conceited that he thought the entire attack was just to kill him. No, he realized that when Tyrek had snuck onto the base he would’ve seen many things. The fortifications, the fighter jets, any number of reasons that the enemy organization would want them off the map. However, Aile knew that he was the catalyst. If he hadn’t been there, the base wouldn’t be under attack at all.

As the sound of various weapons detonating on the surface of the island continued to pound through to the lower levels, Aile shook off the unpleasant ringing in his ears. The fighters had all taken off. Missiles on carts of various sizes were strewn about, and several technicians were quickly moving them off the floor. Not knowing what else to do with himself, Aile started helping them out.

As his hearing started to finally clear, Aile overheard a nearby conversation.

“C’mon, we’re not done yet!” one young man said. Aile glanced over and noticed a technician motioning to a few of his peers.

“What? What’s not done?” another asked.

“We still gotta finish up the MiG!”

MiG? That word really caught Aile’s attention. As far as he had seen, all the fighters on K27 were of Western design. And considering the seriousness of the situation, all of them should have been airborne and defending the base from the attack.

“What? Why?” the second technician asked.

“As a backup. Come on!”

Though reluctant, the other technicians nevertheless dropped what they were doing and followed him toward the corner. Curious, Aile followed as well. He then noticed that beneath the catwalk he had been on, and recessed into the wall, were a number of parking spaces for the fighters. Each was large enough to house a fighter, several weapons racks and test equipment. Naturally, they were all empty. All except for one.

Aile had never been much of a believer in fate, but at that moment it was hard to deny. There before him, sitting patiently in the last space, was his Wraith.

Actually, it wasn’t Wraith. Upon closer inspection, it wasn’t even a MiG-29 at all, but instead the more advanced MiG-35. However, it looked like Wraith. Even the paint was the same, except the tips of the tails were a deep blue instead of Aile’s crimson. Aile was only momentarily taken aback, and quickly regained his bearings. This was his chance.

“I’m taking this!” he declared suddenly, much to the surprise of everybody around him. He started toward the open cockpit, feeling an excitement that went all the way down to his bones.

“The hell you are!” a voice called. Aile looked over to see an angry looking Dr. Range approaching from some test equipment and shaking her head. “You haven’t been cleared to use a single piece of our equipment, let alone our most valuable assets. Just because you’re supposed to be hot stuff at your home squadron doesn’t mean you can just do whatever you want here.”

“Give me a break, lady,” Aile replied curtly, “the base is under attack and you have this magnificent looking fighter just sitting on the ground? If you don’t commit every resource you have, this place is gonna fall in no time!”

Aile’s point was punctuated by a large piece of debris landing several feet away.

Dr. Range looked like she was about to say something, but was cut off.

“The kid’s right, Judith.” Scott appeared from around the back of the MiG. “We don’t have a pilot for this thing right now, and he’s about the most qualified person on base.”

“Sylmar, why doesn’t it surprise me that you’d take his side,” Dr. Range replied sarcastically.

“Listen, we don’t have a choice. Like he said, this place isn’t gonna make it under a concentrated attack. We have to deploy every asset we have. Also… this kid is a frame pilot.”

“What?” Dr. Range, along with nearly everyone else present, looked incredulously over at Aile. The young pilot was already pulling himself up into the cockpit.

“He brings valuable experience,” Scott said, “and besides, at this point, what do we have to lose?”

Dr. Range contemplated Scott’s words for a moment. Aile was studying the cockpit interior and quickly working out how to get the plane started.

“Fine. Whatever,” Dr. Range reluctantly agreed. “Finish loading the flares and R74s. We might as well give them everything we have.”

“That’s more like it,” Aile said to himself as he found the activation switch for the MiG’s electrical system.

Many miles South, Diego and Skylar were quickly flying toward K27. Both fighters had the capability to fly faster than the speed of sound without the use of fuel-hungry afterburners. This capability, called ‘super-cruise’, was previously only available to 5th generation and above fighters. Only though the remarkable ingenuity of Charles Lang was this possible for the 4th generation airframes, both with a full load of weapons.

Skylar had noticed from the moment he boarded his plane that Katrina seemed nervous. The unconventional layout of the Su-34’s cockpit was similar to that of a car - the pilot and co-pilot sat side-by-side. As such, Skylar was able to keep an eye on Katrina as he flew.

“You doin okay?” Skylar asked. Katrina had finally began to calm down. During take-off she looked like she was going to have a panic attack.

“Yeah…” Kat replied between deep, deliberate breaths. “Where are we?”

“About two-hundred miles South of our destination. At this speed we should be there soon.”

“And what’s the plan again?”

“Well, I’m not sure.”

“What do you mean you’re not sure?” Kat asked, her face a mixture of concern and anger.

“Essentially, we’re just going to see what’s what,” Skylar shrugged, “Lang can’t raise Aile, so we’re going to go and make sure he’s staying out of trouble. If he’s not, well, then we get creative.”

“He’d better be okay,” Kat said.

“He’s a tough kid,” Skylar said resolutely, “one of those guys who’s ‘tough to kill’. That alone unfortunately makes him a target.”

“I know,” Kat replied, “it’s a shame, really. He’s such a nice guy it breaks my heart that so many people have tried to kill him.”

“Interesting sentiment,” Skylar said, “you sound like you really like him.”

“I… what?” Kat said, somewhat surprised. Skylar glanced over, a smirk on his face and a wry look in his eyes.

Just then, Diego called over the radio. The signal was somewhat laden with static.

“Can’t seem to get 'em on the comm,” Diego said. Skylar watched Diego’s F/A-18 floating slightly ahead and above, “lots of static though. This doesn’t smell right, hermano.”

“EM jamming?” Skylar asked.

“Afraid so,” Diego confirmed.

“What does that mean?” Kat asked.

“It means that someone is deliberately keeping us from contacting Aile. Or worse.”

“What could be worse than that?”

“It could mean that K27 place is already under attack.”

“Whoa!” Diego suddenly said. Skylar instinctively checked all his instruments and the space around him.

“What? What?” Skylar replied excitedly. Kat suddenly tensed up.

“A sudden EM burst,” Diego replied.

“Wait, an EMP?” Skylar asked.

“Yeah, sort of,” Diego said as he checked his instruments. “A small one… seems like it happened… bearing 027 degrees low. Hold up, 'mano. I’ve seen this before.”

“What is it?”

“This signature and output… that’s the discharge of a heavy rail-cannon.”

The ground crew connected an external power supply to expedite take off. As the system started up a series of self-tests began to run. Aile watched the system patiently, noting that it had an entirely custom operating system, much like Lucine’s Eagle. Everything was checking out green, and the test was nearing completion. Suddenly, everyone was startled when the base was rocked by a massive impact.

KABOOM!

The sound was immense, even as far down as they were. Debris fell from the ceiling and all the lights flickered on and off several times.

“What the hell was that?” Aile shouted. Scott rushed forward and kicked aside a large piece of debris that had fallen infront of the MiG’s parking spot.

“That was big! Much bigger than anything strike aircraft would be carrying!” Scott said.

“Heavy artillery,” a surprisingly calm Dr. Range said. “They’re pulling out all the stops this time.”

“A ship,” Aile said. He had a bad feeling that was growing worse by the second. He couldn’t afford to wait any longer. "Scott, are we ready to go? Let’s freakin’ go! "

“One second, kid,” Scott replied. He finished attaching the umbilical on the last missile, then removed all the safety pins. “Okay, that’s it!”

“Finally,” Aile said. He quickly selected the automated startup. The MiG’s engines spooled up uncharacteristically fast for a jet fighter. The techs all quickly sought cover. Scott removed the chocks from the MiG’s landing gear, then hurriedly pulled back the ladder. No sooner than he was clear, Aile started to taxi. He actuated the canopy control switch, and the clear canopy smoothly began to lower into place. As the outside noise was muffled, Aile heard Dr. Range yelling at him.

“You’d better not scratch the paint!”

The canopy locked into place, and Aile turned toward the door in the side of the hangar.

“No promises, lady.”

Kaden Dirk was relaxing in his room at the Juventud facility. He didn’t have anything to do that day, and the staff had become more suspicious of him in recent days, so he was taking a break from poking his nose where it didn’t belong. Laying in bed with his head on his hands in the sparsely decorated room, Kaden stared at the ceiling above him, deep in thought.

After remaining still and quiet for some time, he suddenly looked to his right as if someone had called his name. There was no one there, but Kaden looked intently, almost as if staring right through the walls and into the distance.

“Dreamer?” he muttered. After a moment his inquisitive look turned into a wry smirk. “Heh. Good luck, kid.”

The people handling K27’s control room were surprised to see the MiG-35 launch. Darrington, the same operator who had given Lucine the phone when Lang called, noticed the MiG’s transponder become active on his grid.

“Sky Dreamer is airborne,” he said, somewhat confused.

“What? When did he get back?” the radar operator asked.

“He hasn’t,” Darrington replied.

“Then… who’s…?”

Aile blasted out of the tunnel at full throttle. The MiG buffeted a bit when it hit the outside air, but the small amount of turbulence was completely unnoticed by Aile. The high speed, visceral take off from the emergency launch tunnel had put him in the zone. Not only that, but he was pumped for other reasons. Tyrek was out there. The same people who had taken Elise from him were now attacking that base. This was Aile’s first chance to take the fight back to them.

The first thing on Aile’s to-do list was to take out that annoying jamming. He was familiar with the capabilities of aerial frames. He also could guess where the most likely spots for the Electronic Warfare variants would be. They didn’t have a long loiter time, so it would be prudent for them to find a spot to land and broadcast their jamming signals from there. Frames had the capability to operate from anywhere. Air or land, and sometimes even under the sea - they were very versatile. But they had their limitations, and fuel supply just happened to be one of them. Aile was sure the jammers were staked out somewhere nearby.

As he thundered over the calm littoral waters in the bright sunlight Aile caught notice of a small island. It was relatively tiny, but had a good amount of trees growing on it - the perfect cover. Aile had a gut feeling that was where he would find one of the jammers.

His gut served him well. As Aile approached, he noticed the MiG’s early warning system perk up. There was a frame on that small island, hiding amongst the trees, and it had spotted him. Suddenly a flock of birds took off from within the small canopy of trees - the frame had started its engine. Aile noticed the trees shake, and suddenly a frame appeared from within. As he suspected, it was the electronic warfare version of the FF-24. It had been waiting there, silently jamming the airspace around it with powerful electromagnetic interference.

“Gotcha,” Aile muttered as he stepped on the left rudder, lining up. The frame was taking off, but it wouldn’t be able to get away quickly enough. Knowing this, the pilot launched a missile.

Aile saw the missile coming at him like an arrow. His early warning system advised him to take evasive measures. However, he just didn’t care. His focus was unwavering, his calm almost eerie. The missile was but a minor obstacle. He was much more interested in his prey.

Working all the controls at once, Aile performed a barrel roll at precisely the right moment. The missile narrowly missed, detonating behind him. Flawlessly completing his roll, Aile lined the gunsight with the FF-24’s torso, and squeezed the trigger. The plane shuddered and the cannon roared, sending a slew of API rounds at the enemy frame.

The Firefly didn’t have time to evade, and was hit directly. The powerful rounds shredded the frontal armor and tore off both arms. The engine lost power and the frame fell back onto the island, crumpling like a marionette. Aile passed over, only glancing over his shoulder to confirm his kill. The frame was motionless, gushing black smoke. If the crew was still alive, they were no longer an issue. Aile turned his focus forward. The jamming was still present - there was another one out there, probably on the other side of island that K27 was built into. However, just one jammer wasn’t enough, and the radar and radio were now working at short range. According to the sensors, the real battle was happening South-East of the base. Aile looked over and noticed several small clouds of black smoke in the distance. Checking his armament once again, he banked the MiG toward the fight.

Chasing something that could reverse its direction in the blink of an eye was a new challenge for Lucine. She was quickly discovering why everyone said frames were several times more effective than fighters in a dogfight.

“Lucine! This one’s yours!” Soun called over the net. Lucine looked up and to her right and immediately spotted Soun’s F-4. He was diving down out of the sun, cannon ablaze. The frame that was his target easily evaded, and the F-4 passed over. Lucine immediately saw her chance. As the frame turned to chase the F-4, it put itself in a perfect position for her missile shot. Feeling a surge of adrenaline, Lucine cued her sight onto the speeding frame, and launched the missile.

“Fox two!” she declared as the missile blasted off of the rail and turned sharply to engage the frame. It looked good, but at the last instant, the frame changed its posture, spun around, and fired its head-mounted machinegun, blowing the missile out of the air.

Feeling her chest tighten in frustration, Lucine growled.

“Dammit! How the hell do you fight these things?” she shouted in anger.

A static laden voice answered her.

“There is one way.”

Lucine looked right and left, then spotted the MiG diving down from above.

“A…Aile??”

Diving brazenly into the fight, Aile wasted no time in engaging his next target. The frame Lucine had shot at was turning to engage him. Aile licked his lips as he waited for the precise moment. As the frame completed its turn and prepared to engage, Aile let his first missile off the leash. The R-74 left the rail and turned toward the frame, which immediately engaged in defensive maneuvers just as it had when Lucine had shot at it. However, Aile had been expecting that. In the next moment, Aile kicked the fighter over, pulled a high G turn, rolled around and fired a second missile. The timing was expert - almost miraculous. Just as the frame engaged and destroyed the first missile, the second missile traced an arc toward its vulnerable backside. Noticing the missile at the last second, the frame pilot attempted to engage it, but it was too late. The missile careened into the frame’s left left, blowing it off completely. Equilibrium suddenly lost, the frame rolled over dramatically. As the pilot fought to regain control, Aile closed the gap and fired a third missile. The frame couldn’t avoid it, and the missile plowed into the back-mounted engine, causing an explosion that sent all its remaining limbs flying in different directions.

Aile passed by Lucine and pulled up back toward the heavens.

“Ah… you…” Lucine was speechless. She never expected Aile to suddenly appear in the MiG-35 on the battlefield, but that wasn’t all that had surprised her. His flying was crisp and absolutely without hesitation. It was like nothing she had ever seen, and was completely different than his performance before. Lucine felt a strange sensation in her chest. It was exciting, and a little frightening.

He must be serious this time, she thought.

“Listen up, K27 squadron,” Aile said over the radio. “Fighting frames is possible with fighters, but you can’t be shy. It may be expensive, but the only chance you have is to overwhelm them from every direction with everything you’ve got!”

“Oh…overwhelm?” Dayne replied dubiously.

“You heard the man,” Soun replied a moment later. He was probably impressed that Aile managed to down a frame when no one else in his squadron could. The display of skill certainly gave credit to what Aile was suggesting. “Con-man, Dayne, on me! Iris, Lucine, form up on the kid. Like he said, don’t be shy.”

Various replies filled the radio. Aile noticed a Mirage 2000 and Lucine’s F-15 coming up to join him. The enemy frames were regrouping, and would be on top of them in ten seconds tops. Aile’s hands tightened on the controls.

Several thousand feet above, Tyrek was calmly watching the battle unfold. As expected, it was only a matter of time before the enemy squadron fell. However…

“You, Mirage lady, go left and engage Firefly number 3! Lucine, on my right!”

Tyrek knew that voice well. Aile Phoenix. Coming out of nowhere and ruining Tyrek’s plans seemed to be that kid’s specialty.

“I swear,” Tyrek said as he watched the zoomed image on the central display. Aile’s borrowed fighter, along with two others, cornered a single Firefly and mercilessly mowed it down with a barrage of fire. “That kid is fixin’ be the death of me…”

Tyrek’s lips twisted into a sinister grin. It was time for him to make his appearance.

Aile watched as a second frame fell victim to their coordinated attack. Even though Aile had only been at K27 for a short time, and had next to zero clout, the rest of the squadron was following his orders. Apparently, shooting down an apparently invincible threat went a long way for establishing credibility.

As the enemy frame, now ablaze, tumbled out of sight, Aile searched around for his next target. Soun’s section was doing just as well, and had already brought down one of the enemy frames. From what Aile could determine, there were four frames remaining in the fight. One of them seemed to be loaded with air-to-air missiles, but the rest were tasked with ground attack. The single anti-air frame would be a problem, but with their current tactics, the other three would quickly fall.

“This is going well,” Aile said to himself. Although on paper they couldn’t possibly win, Aile was one of the few in the world who had seen this kind of battle unfold before. He knew the capabilities of the enemy squadron, and had a good idea of what his allies were capable of as well. Normally they wouldn’t stand a chance, but luckily for them, he was there. He was a wild-card, the X-factor, and could change the outcome of that supposedly unwinable engagement. Of course, Aile wasn’t so cocky as to believe he was some unstoppable force. He could simply see the facts.

Still, something wasn’t right. Aile could feel it, somewhere at the back of his mind. The battle was going too well, something was missing.

As if to answer his question, Aile got a hit on the early warning. Above and behind, coming down at high speed…

He reacted in time to avoid the shot. Several red tracers lanced by Aile’s borrowed MiG as he made a sharp right turn. A single frame, one that so far hadn’t been seen, passed by him. Aile clicked his tongue - the attack had been perfectly excecuted. He avoided it, but had been separated from the rest of the squadron.

“About time you showed up,” Aile said as he watched the frame coming back up to meet him.

“Aile!” Lucine called as she attempted to engage the new frame. However, she was cut-off by the single anti-air frame, and was forced to break off.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Tyrek radioed Aile on the same frequency he had been using. “But I don’t take you for the kind of man who would be happy hiding behind a woman’s skirt.”

Aile’s eyes narrowed. Tyrek had indeed managed to cut him off from any help. It looked like it was one-on-one. Last time he had faced off with Tyrek in single combat, things hadn’t turned out well, and Lucine had had to save him. However, this time things were different. This time, they were on a level playing field.

“You’re gonna talk to me about chivalry?” Aile replied as he pulled up to maintain his altitude advantage. “You who would kidnap a defenseless girl, and nearly kill an innocent boy who is brave enough to try to protect her!”

“I really don’t mind if you want to make this little squabble personal,” Tyrek replied, “but for the record, I was just followin’ me orders. Word is that little girl is quite special.”

“More than you know,” Aile growled. Tyrek was drawing close - it was time to settle things. As before, Aile used his experience to set up a shot that no normal pilot could avoid. However, Tyrek was anything but normal.

Aile let fly three missiles, all at different angles. His timing was nearly perfect, but somehow Tyrek had anticipated it.

“That old trick!” Tyrek yelled, his voice somewhat strained under heavy G load. In an expert display, he kicked the frame’s legs forward while firing both portable 40mm cannons. The fuzes were set to air-burst, and the rounds automatically detonated mid-air. The first two missiles fell prey to the attack, but the third was tracing in on him from a perpendicular angle. Tyrek’s frame slowed to zero, then quickly accelerated in the opposite direction. The maneuver bought him just enough time, and he managed to shoot down the third missile at point blank range.

Aile clicked his tongue. It seemed that Tyrek knew what he was doing. He glanced at his armament panel - there was only one missile left. It wasn’t enough to perform any trickery with, and Aile would have to take a more direct approach. By that time he was a considerable distance fromt he rest of the squadron. It was a one on one showdown between himself and Tyrek. Aile felt an eerie sensation, a kind of excitement building inside of him.

“Wouldn’t have it any other way!” Aile shouted to himself and his borrowed fighter as he lit the burners and turned to engage Tyrek directly.

Yuki was still sleeping as Elise sat awake and looking out the window at the changing hue of the morning. She didn’t know what time it was, only that the sun had already risen and the day was overcast. She had been sitting there next to the sleeping Yuki since it was still dark. Elise was nervouse in the dark, but since Yuki was right beside her it wasn’t so bad.

Elise was fond of the sunrise. Her room back at her father’s mansion afforded her a lovely view, and she would often wake up early to see it. On weekends, sometimes she would stay up all night and dream while looking at the moon. She had tried some creative writing back then, mostly as an escape from her lonliness. She kept all her creative works, as well as her journals, in a collection of hardback notebooks that were on her bookshelf. She wondered if she would ever be able to see them again.

Elise sighed. She was beginning to wonder if she would ever see anything outside of that facility again. It had only been a few days, but it felt like an entire lifetime. That place was a prison for more than just her physical body. In that dreary place, she found it difficult to even dream.

Next to her, Yuki began to stir. Elise looked down at the younger girl. Yuki rolled over and groaned, prompting a smile from Elise. The older girl reached down and brushed some disheveled raven hair away from the younger’s eyes.

“Good morning,” Elise said with a smile.

“Mmmrg brrrgnff,” Yuki said into her pillow. Elise giggled a little.

“Sleep well?”

“Mm hmm,” Yuki said drowsily. She snuggled up to Elise and sighed. Elise smiled. It was nice to have someone else so close, but she would be much happier it it were Aile clinging to her so early in the morning.

Elise shifted her gaze from Yuki to the tiny window. It looked like a beautiful morning. Elise sighed once again.

“I wonder what you’re doing today, Aile…”

Aile snapped the stick to the left just in time to avoid a hail of tracers. The offending cannon rounds lanced passed and exploded when they hit the surface of the ocean.

Tyrek didn’t give Aile a chance to recover, and continued dishing out the blows. Aile was managing to keep pace, but only just barely. He was becoming increasingly concerned. While they were similarly matched in the air, Tyrek still had the advantage. He was piloting a frame, whereas Aile was in a fighter. Both of them seemed to have expert control of their mounts, but Aile was more worried about something else. Tyrek had a different kind of strength, something Aile handn’t anticipated of his burly attacker. The man was a strategic genius.

No matter what Aile tried, Tyrek was a step ahead of him. He employed his frame and the weapons at his disposal flawlessly, and kept Aile constantly on the defensive. Aile started to feel like Tyrek was playing with him again. And, there was another problem. Even if they managed to route Tyrek and the rest of the offending squadron, there was still a battleship bearing down on the island from far, far away.

“That thing’s big,” Skylar said as he laid eyes on the Tarawa. They had managed to sneak to within visual range by using their stealth systems.

“That’s what she said,” Katrina said, unable to resist. Skylar raised an eyebrow.

“Well, you’re she, so I guess I’ll have to take your word for it.”

“Uhm…”

“We’re gonna be spotted soon,” Diego interrupted them, “what’re we doin?”

“We know for sure this ship is shooting at Aile?” Skylar asked.

“If he’s on that little island, si, hermano, no question,” Diego responded.

“If that’s the case, then we…” Skylar stopped when he noticed static filling his comm. He looked up at the ship that was still a few miles out.

“We’re spotted,” Skylar told Katrina. As if on cue, the early warning system started to emit tones.

“Ah great. Hang on!” Skylar shouted as he worked the stick and throttle.

“Whaaaahh!” Katrina cried in alarm as Skylar suddenly rolled the large fighter-bomber over and entered evasive maneuvers. The ship suddenly became like a porcupine, but
instead of quills it surrounded itself with powerful cannon rounds. Skylar and Diego instinctively broke away to avoid the incoming fire. Skylar went right, Diego went left. This forced the ship to focus on two separate targets, but since it was also emitting a high powered jamming signal, it also meant the two pilots had no way to communicate with one another. Skylar dove low and to the right, a succession of tracers following his every movement. The missile warning was also going off.

Katrina wanted to close her eyes and go to her happy place, but her instincts as a soldier just wouldn’t allow it. Instead, she watched helplessly as Skylar took their lives into his hands. However, something surprised Kat. Skylar was like Aile in a lot of ways. They were both kind, and pretty good looking. Skylar was a bit older, probably in his early twenties, and had a more mature all around look than Aile did, although they had a similar gaze. As such, Katrina had expected flying with Skylar to be like flying with Aile. Only, it wasn’t.

As amazing a pilot as Aile was, he wasn’t the calmest person under pressure. When she had ridden with Aile during the raid of Icarus, he had demonstrated his skill, but at the same time, he seemed pretty on edge. Skylar, on the other hand, was completely focused. His gaze was intense, his actions fluid. While she could feel the seriousness of the situation, and knew very well that Skylar understood it, he seemed very calm, like he did that sort of thing all the time.

Skylar did have a fair bit of experience in those kinds of situations. He hand’t been flying for as much of his life as Aile had for his own, but Skylar had seen more combat. Also, Skylar was notoriously unlucky. As such, the only way he could survive was to out-skill the situation. And since Skylar was constantly finding himself in danger over the years his skill had risen to legendary levels.

As soon as he broke away from Diego, Skylar switched his fighter to combat mode. Using the presets, he selected the mode designed for dogfighting. Engine power was increased at the cost of fuel econmy, and the weapons systems all came to life at once. Also, the plasma stealth system went into its omni-directional mode. Approaching the ship, they had used directional mode, which concentrated the majority of the power in one direction to create a sort of shield to hide behind. It was for that reason they were able to sneak in so close to the Tarawa. In omni-directional mode the system spread the shield around the entire fighter, with emphasis on problem spots for the airframe. It wasn’t as good as focusing the system in one direction, but in the situation they were in it allowed them to maneuver freely while still being able to dupe most incoming missiles and fire-control radars. Unfortunately, the ship was using optical targeting systems to track them. Skylar anticipated that, and deployed infrared countermeasures while simultaneously activating the electro-optical jammer.

The maneuvers Skylar was puling were punishing, especially to Kat who wasn’t accustomed to that sort of flying.

“Hold tight, Kat,” Skylar said, his voice strained under he intense load as he fought to gain some breathing room. “We’ll be out of range of the guns soon.”

“Ye… yeah, okay,” Katrina said. She held onto the harness that kept her in place. She had tears in her eyes, and was shaking all over, but it was impossible to tell as they blitzed through the sky while pulling seven G turns.

A few turns later Skylar eased up on the stick, setting them up on a relatively straight and level path parallel to the ship. He checked all his instruments, and the space around him. They were out of range of the guns and short range missiles. The longer range missiles used active-radar homing, so the plasma stealth system kept them relatively safe. Skylar looked up and noticed Diego’s Hornet flying above them. It slowly descended to just above and affront Skylar’s Su-34. Skylar was about to key the radio, but remembered the jamming. It was still prohibiting them from talking. However, they did have their trump card. Skylar activated the LOSCOMM system, which used a laser to communicate with another similarly equipped machine. It was the same system that Aile had used to privately discuss the attack plan with Lang when they had to abandon Icarus airfield.
Diego had the same idea. The link-up was handled automatically by the flight computer.

“You up?” Diego asked.

“Yeah man,” Skylar replied. “You alright?”

“Yeah, you?” Diego inquired. Skylar looked over at Kat. For the first time he noticed how scared she was. She looked utterly terrified.

“Yeah,” Skylar replied, trying not to sound like he doubted his own words. “What’s the gameplan?”

“They won’t break off their attack just to deal with us, we’re gonna have…. whoa, watch out, 'mano!”
Skylar sensed it at the same moment. The early warning picked up a series of contacts heading for them at high speed.

“Oh geez!” Skylar said, and suddenly slapped the stick over again. He inverted and broke low, then rolled and pulled up again. Several small objects were tracking in on him. He knew what they were.

“The new random maneuver missiles,” he growled as he continued evading. Designed as an anti-frame measure, the missiles were autonomous attack vehicles that maneuvered unpredictably. The idea was that they would overwhelm a frame’s defenses by swarming in from different directions all at once. They were probably fired in their general direction, and then once they got close enough the little monsters switched to optical guidance and indiscriminately attacked the two fighters. Officially, the Coalition forces hadn’t put them into service yet. Unofficially, they were chasing Skylar and Katrina through a series of dizzying maneuvers.

However, Skylar was confident he could avoid them. At least for a while. The electro-optical jammer could still blind them, but it was difficult to keep up. Essentially, it was a question of how good Skylar’s skills and instincts were.

After several gut wrenching turns, Skylar managed to shake off the missiles. Thankfully, the missiles’ fuel supply only let them fly effectively for several seconds once they engaged a target. Once they ran out of fuel and kinetic energy, they were harmless to a maneuvering fighter.

As the last one of the RMMs dropped off the display, Skylar again searched for Diego. The dark gray Hornet was coming from below this time. Apparently, Diego had managed to shake them off as well.

“As expected,” Skylar smirked. He looked over at Katrina, who was breathing deeply from her oxygen mask. She had gone pale.

“Are you okay? Do you feel sick?” Skylar asked. Katrina shook her head, but she didn’t seem okay. Skylar felt bad for her, but for the time being she would just have to endure it. If they wanted to survive, anyway.

“Sky!” Diego called. The computer had reestablished their session. There was no telling how long they would have before they came under fire again. While maneuvering like that it was impossible for the LOSCOMM to maintain a link. The laser had to have a clear path from the transmitter to the receiver.

“Diego! Make it fast, buddy,” Skylar urged. They didn’t have time for idle chat. The early warning already picked up additional warheads.

“Remember Peru?” Diego asked. Skylar’s eyes widened at what Diego was suggesting. The missiles were closing in. They had to evade.

“Peru it is!” Skylar replied, then broke away. Diego did likewise, and the warheads divided up to engage them. Skylar popped off more countermeasures, but instead of trying to distance himself from the ship, he turned toward it.

“What? What does that mean?” Katrina asked frantically. Skylar snap rolled the fighter to dodge an incoming missile.

“Similar situation happened a while back,” Skylar said, then grunted under the high G. “I’ll tell you about it sometime.”

“You mean you’ve done this before!?” Katrina shouted. Despite Skylar’s concentration and focus, he still smirked his trademark smirk. Katrina felt a chill.

“This…” Skylar snap rolled the opposite direction, “is what Wolfpack does!”

Katrina seriously regretted her decision to come along.

As they broke through a small formation of clouds, they caught sight of Diego’s F/A-18. It was barreling straight toward the ship.

“Despite his appearance, Diego is an expert in both electronic warfare and strike missions,” Skylar said as he searched for additional threats. They were keeping just out of gun range, and for the moment, no missiles were tracking them.

“He’s what?” Kat asked.

“Believe it or not, there’s no one I’d rather be flying with in this situation,” Skylar said with a hint of admiration. “But, we have to do our part, too.”

“I don’t like the sound of that…”

“Kat, are you cinched in?” Skylar asked. Kat nodded.

“Yeah, since we took off. The harness is so tight I can barely feel my arms.”

“Good.”

Diego’s Hornet made a sharp turn. He was just about in gun range. The young pilot had been through a lot of strange situations in his life. Fighting adversity since he was a teenager on the streets of Colombia, to working as a mercenary during the Peruvian civil war, he had gone from one fight to another. As such, he was hardened - tempered like a fine sword. Though he had a generally affable and carefree attitude, Diego was nonetheless a fierce warrior.

His Hornet had been built to specification by a team led by Chuck Lang himself. It possessed as much fighting prowess as an individual machine could, and Diego wielded it well. After all, no matter how good the blade, it was only as good as the one using it.

The ship was filling the windscreen. Diego worked alongside Cynthia, the name he had given to the combat AI, to generate a plan of attack.

“First, those guns…” Diego said. Then Cynthia drew an attack plan on Diego’s helmet-mounted-display.

Diego broke into gun range, and the Tarawa’s cannons lit up, filling the sky with lead. With the help of his combat AI, Diego managed to avoid it while simultaneously launching an attack from point blank range. The Hornet pulled a high G turn while discharging all of its missiles and firing all three cannons. The missiles all engaged separate targets, while Diego flew through a predetermined flight path that would both maximize his guns effectiveness and minimize his chances of being hit. It was a feat completely impossible for a regular fighter. The missiles would normally have been shot down by the cannons of the ship, but at that close a range it was impossible for them to adjust their fire quickly enough. Although the Tarawa’s automatic defense system did try to prioritize the missiles as targets, all it managed to do was take the pressure off of Diego’s fighter in a futile attempt. Diego made his strafing run while Cynthia simultaneously controlled the missiles. In all, three launchers and two cannon emplacements were destroyed by the missile attack. Diego’s strafing run took out the other two cannons on the starboard side of the ship. As he completed his attack, he pulled away from the hull of the ship, and flew directly away. As he made his escape, he flashed his formation lights. The rest was up to Skylar.

Skylar and Katrina were soaring above, set up for their attack run. Skylar watched with admiration as Diego did his work. There really was no better strike pilot than that crazy Latino. As Diego flashed his lights, Skylar prepared to do his part.

“Hang on tight, Kat,” he said. Katrina looked over at him, feeling extremely worried. As she saw the look in his eye, she became even more worried. Skylar’s look had suddenly changed. Instead of a calm and calculating warrior, he looked more like a mythical berserker who was about to dive headlong into combat. Then, he suddenly rolled them inverted.

Skylar put the Su-34 into a steep dive toward the ship, which was trying desperately to turn to the right. Diego’s fierce attack hadn’t done much damage, but what it had done was cripple the air-defenses on one side of the ship. In effect, it created a chink in their armor, and Skylar was zeroing in right on it. Normally, they could use missiles fired from the port side launchers, but with the stealth system Skylar was using, it made that difficult. Also, it seemed as though they had expended the RMMs.

Katrina felt herself panicking as they picked up a ton of speed. Skylar was focused on his prey, completely unwavering in his resolve. Katrina looked from Skylar’s face to the ship, and then back at Skylar. The ship had one more cannon on its tail, and it had turned just enough to engage them. But it was entirely too late.

Katrina’s gaze fixated on the ship ahead of them. They were getting so close it was almost filling the windscreen. As her nerves went beyond her control, Katrina screamed.

Just as it looked like they were going to plow into the ship, Skylar pulled up while simultaneously releasing all of his unguided bombs. The Su-34 pitched straight up and climbed into the heavens at full power. The bombs Skylar had let fly all smashed into the side of the Tarawa. The ensuing explosions sent shockwaves that both pilots could feel.

The attack was devastating. Several thousand pounds of explosives tore massive holes in the side of the ship, and it listed heavily to one side. Due to its sheer size, it wasn’t enough of an attack to completely destroy it, but the crew would have to shift their entire focus to recovery if they wanted to survive the emergency landing they would soon be making. In effect, the ship was no longer a factor. The jamming signal even cut out.

Skylar leveled off at thirty thousand feet and turned back toward their original destination. He set the engines back into their cruising mode, and checked all the systems for any problems. He had expended a lot of fuel, but there was still plenty, and the capacitors were also charged to eighty-five percent.

Diego rendezvoused with them.

“Great job, hermano!” he said. “They picked the wrong squadron to mess with today!”

“It was a bit close, man, but we managed to pull it off,” Skylar said. He had lost his mad look, and now just seemed relieved and exhausted. “Good work, buddy.”

Diego dipped his wings.

“Aile’s gonna owe us some drinks when we get there,” Diego said with a chuckle.

“Are you kidding? This is just one less I owe him!” Skylar said with a laugh. He sighed, then looked over at Katrina. The poor girl looked as though she had seen her life flash before her eyes.

“Oh… uhm… sorry, Kat. I know that was a bit… rough. Are you okay?”

Kat took a few deep, deliberate breaths as she tried to calm her nerves. After a moment, she replied while keeping her focus forward.

“Skylar… there is soooo something you’re doing for me when we get back on the ground.”

“Ah… okay, sure, Kat.”

Despite the crazy events they had just been through, Skylar had no idea what he was in for.

There was a brief pause in the fight as Tyrek received the news about the Tarawa. An unknown fighter squadron had attacked and disabled the ship, and they had lost their greatest asset. Also, the frames lost a place to return to, and would have to divert to an alternate location when their mission was complete. Tyrek clicked his tongue. Things had turned out bad once again.

Aile didn’t let the brief lull go to waste. In that moment, he turned in on Tyrek and attacked with his cannon at close range. If Tyrek had been a moment slower, he would’ve been killed. But, unfortunately for Aile, he managed to avoid at the last possible second.

“Looks like you had some luck left,” Tyrek said.

Aile didn’t know what Tyrek meant, but he could hear something new in the man’s voice. He sounded much more angry than before.

“But now you’re all out!” Tyrek bellowed as he opened fire again. The attack was less elegant - Tyrek was done playing. One of the rounds detonated close enough to create a crack in the canopy transparency. Aile started, then shifted his focus back to flying defensively. Tyrek was gunning for blood now.

Aile tried to turn in and engage, but Tyrek fired a shot in his path. He couldn’t use the rudder to avoid it because of his hurt foot, and instead did a snap roll.

“What’s wrong, that right ankle still botherin’ ya?” Tyrek asked over the radio. Aile was surprised that Tyrek had noticed. Indeed, he had to adjust just flying technique around his injury. Aile clenched his teeth and growled. Tyrek was just too good. He had Aile beat at every corner. His strategy, his tactics, his senses and instincts, they were all top notch.

“Wait, that’s it…” Aile said to himself. Tyrek had him beat in all those areas, but what about skill?

Aile snapped his attention to Tyrek’s frame, which was moving to intercept him once again. A great malice for the man boiled up from within the depths of Aile’s very soul. His hands tightened around the controls. Tyrek was indeed good, there was no denying that. However, at that moment, Aile decided that he himself was better.

Aile turned toward Tyrek, and applied all the power the fighter would give him. The afterburners lit with a boom, and the MiG-35 accelerated rapidly. Tyrek took aim and fired, but Aile instinctively avoided the fire. It wasn’t a pretty maneuver, and was mostly afterthought, but Aile used his superior reflexes and coordination to scoot his fighter just out of the way. Tyrek attempted to correct, but Aile passed by too quickly. Tyrek turned around, but the MiG was already out of cannon range. Tyrek unleashed a volley of missiles.

“No escape for you this time!” Tyrek said. It seemed that he had finally had enough of Aile’s impudence. However, Aile was far from done.

One at a time, Aile avoided the missiles. He used every countermeasure and every trick he had learned, but even though it shoudl’ve been impossible, he narrowly weaved his jet between the missiles. The proximity fuses detonated them close by, but it wasn’t enough to stop Aile. Unfortunately, it did manage to scratch up the paint.

Tyrek hadn’t expected Aile to survive, and slipped up just enough. As Aile barreled toward him he fired the cannon. Tyrek managed to avoid a direct hit, but the rounds struck his portable firearms. The two 40mm cannons held in the Firefly’s mechanical hands disintegrated in a hail of sparks.

“What the…!” Tyrek was surprised when he lost his weapons. “You son of a…!”

Before Aile could hear the rest of that sentence, his early warning perked up. Tyrek had unleashed the rest of his missiles. Aile, flying completely by the seat of his pants, proceeded to avoid them all. The maneuvers were intense, and he had to exceed the limits imposed by the soft-limiters built into the MiG. He wasn’t even wearing a G suit, and the effects of the maneuvers were taking a toll on his body. But, Aile avoided the missiles.

“That all you got!” he shouted. As soon as he let go of the microphone push to talk key, Aile coughed violently. His blood speckled the central screen.

Tyrek only had the head-mounted machinegun left. It was a defensive weapon, but had enough power to shoot down a fighter at close range.

“Come here, you little git!” Tyrek replied. Aile obliged, and headed straight for him again. Tyrek opened up with the cannon, which Aile barely managed to avoid. “I’m gonna rip ye to shreds! I can’t wait to show the footage to that little girl of yours!”

“Bastard!” Aile called. Tyrek was still intent on showing Elise the gun camera footage. Aile felt his anger going beyond his ablity to control.

As he turned once again toward Tyrek, Aile could see an opening. However, he would have to sacrifice himself to utilize it. As much as he hated Tyrek, he wasn’t prepared to die just to kill him. However, he was willing to gamble that he was just good enough to pull it off. So, lighting the burners once again, Aile charged forward at Tyrek. He could picture the man grinning at him as he put himself right in the gunsight. However, if Tyrek wanted to shoot him, he would have to leave himself open for attack. It was a game of chicken, and the loser would be left wide open.

As they closed in, both pilots fired. Aile, using pure instinct and skill managed to avoid fetting a face full of lead. However, two rounds struck the MiG’s left wing, and the plane shuddered undesirably. Tyrek hadn’t escaped, either, and took several rounds himself. It wasn’t enough for a killing blow, but one of the rounds struck the head of the Firefly. Tyrek lost his last weapon.

Aile pulled up and climbed away from Tyrek while checking his borrowed plane. The status panel showed the damage. One of the missile detection indicators had been destroyed, as well as the primary actuator for the left aileron. Also, the left engine seemed to have taken a hit, and wasn’t functioning at full power. The MiG’s movements were a bit sluggish, but Aile could still fly.

Tyrek was recovering from the jousting match as well. He had taken the harder blow, and was now out of weapons - or so Aile thought. However, much to his surprise, Tyrek’s frame now clutched an anti-armor dagger. The only other person Aile had seen use such a weapon on an aerial frame was his mentor, Chuck Lang.

Tyrek’s frame lit the afterburner and suddenly accelerated toward Aile, blade at the ready. Aile tried to turn in on him for a cannon shot, but Tyrek was too fast. The huge human-like fighter took a swing as he passed, and Aile only barely managed to avoid it. The sluggishness was worse than Aile initially expected, and would perhaps get worst if he pushed the plane too hard. Tyrek seemed to notice this as well.

Unfortunately, the FF-24 that Tyrek piloted was very tough, and even though it had taken some hits, it was still fully mobile. Given Aile’s fighter’s condition, it was more than enough. Aile was practically a sitting duck.

“You put up a good effort,” Tyrek said, “but now I’m gonna cut you up like a turkey!”

Aile clicked his tounge. Tyrek had the high ground, and he didn’t have the energy to escape. The FF-24 did a half somersault, seemed to stop in midair as it rolled level, then stuck the blade out like a rapier.

“Hold still!” Tyrek said, then suddenly charged forth. Aile could see the silhouette of the frame coming down at high speed. From that angle, and at that posture, he couldn’t avoid it. Tyrek would smash the dagger into the cockpit, and he would be killed instantly. Elise would be forced to watch the footage of him dying, and would lose all hope of ever seeing him again.

“Elise…” Aile said. When he thought of that outcome, he just couldn’t accept it.

“You’re mine!” Tyrek shouted excitedly as he drew near, ready to strike. To Aile, the whole world slowed to a crawl. He thought of Elise and of his friend Arnold. Then, his thoughts focused on Tyrek, the man who had tried to take it all away from him.

At the very last possible moment, Aile yanked back the throttle and deployed the speedbrake. The MiG suddenly slowed. Tyrek couldn’t adjust in time, and passed in front of the MiG, only scant feet from the tip of the radome, and the dagger only met thin air. Tyrek didn’t even have time to evaulate the scope of his failure, because as Aile was deploying the speedbrake, he had already pulled the trigger.

The Firefly flew through the stream of tracers at point blank range. The armor piercing rounds fired at a high rate riddled the frame with holes. A few rounds hit the engine, and started a raging fire. Also, the left side of the cockpit interior was breached, and Tyrek was hit with hot shrapnel in the side of his face.

“Auugh!” Tyrek shouted as the inside of the cockpit filled with smoke and sparks. He pulled up and attempted to right his attitude, but the frame was barely responding to his commands. Checking the instruments, Tyrek noticed that he couldn’t see out of his left eye. His whole face was covered in blood, and his left arm felt numb. Still, the frame was still flying, and so he turned his attention to escaping. He righted the attitude little by little, and resumed flying level, albeit in a direction away from the battlefield. It looked like he could keep flying, and perhaps even make it to the alternate base. However, the early warning suddenly beeped. Knowing what it was without even looking, Tyrek instead raised his gaze upwards. A dark shadow was diving down on him from above.

Aile armed his last weapon, a single R-27 medium range air-to-air missile. Tyrek’s frame was limping away, drawing flame and smoke. It had completely lost the ability to fight, but Aile wasn’t about to be chivalrous. Tyrek was an evil person who only brought suffering. Aile wasn’t prepared to take responsibility for allowing him to live to kill another day. So, very methodically, Aile armed the missile and waited for a positive lock. However, as the small boxes on the HUD lined up over Tyrek’s frame, he felt his rage growing. It was a fury that Aile hadn’t ever known, and he found himself screaming as he clicked the pickle button on the stick with his thumb.

The missile’s rocket motor ignited, and it blasted off toward the struggling frame below like a flaming arrow.

Tyrek watched the missile approaching from above as his early warning system advised him to take evasive action. His frame was barely flying - there was no way could avoid it, and he knew it. All he could do is watch as certain death descended upon him from above.

“Bugger,” Tyrek muttered an instant before the missile smashed into him.

Aile watched the missile make a direct hit with the top of the frame. The fuselage exploded brilliantly, and scattered its remains over several hundred yards of the ocean surface. As the flaming wreckage tumbled out of sight, Aile leveled his borrowed MiG. He felt a great relief, like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He sighed heavily, and looked back at where the pieces of the frame had hit the ocean.

“That was for Arnold,” Aile said. He turned his attention back to his flying. The radar showed that the sky was clear of enemy contacts, and the K27 squadron was regrouping and heading back to the island. Lucine was coming to join him - it seemed like they had managed to take care of the rest of the enemy forces, and the bombardment had even ceased. Aile was relieved that the battle had finally ended. As he turned to join his comrades, he took one last look at where Tyrek had went in.

“Next, I’ll be going for Elise. And no one is gonna stand in my way,” he said. It was a contract he made with himself. No matter how hard it would be, Aile wouldn’t rest until Elise was at his side once again.

Nexus - 22

Nexus - 22
By RT

“This is Wolf One oh Seven,” Aile released the push-to-talk button as he coughed. “I’ve taken damage… declaring emergency status.”

“Aile? Are you okay?” Lucine’s Eagle pulled alongside him.

“I’m okay,” Aile flashed an a-okay sign with his left hand, “just need to land.”

“Let him land first,” Lucine advised.

The tower, or rather the backup control room, replied immediately. Aile would be first to land.

Unfortunately the runway had been ripped to shreds and landing there was impossible. All that remained was a narrow taxiway, just long enough to recover their fighters. It would take an expert hand, however, to land just right. Land too late and it was possible to careen into the woods at the other end of the taxiway. Fortunately Aile was a pro, and he was no stranger to such strange situations. His entire life was practically one strange and intense situation after another.

Gliding down a perfect approach vector, Aile carefully worked all the controls while being wary that any of them might fail at a moment’s notice. Thankfully, the robust Mikoyan fighter held together, and Aile soon touched down. He deployed the speed-parachute and eased onto the brakes. After a few seconds, the MiG slowed to a crawl and Aile turned onto a large, flat parking area. No sooner than he had come to a complete stop the MiGs damaged engine burst into flames.

A firefighting crew was standing by and immediately doused the blaze in retardant foam. Aile stumbled out of the fighter and dropped onto the ground.

Apparently his ordeal wasn’t yet over, because immediately thereafter he found himself being chewed out by Dr. Range.

“What did you do to Sky Dreamer?” Range demanded. Aile looked up at her wearily. Dr. Range didn’t wait for him to reply.

“I told you this fighter is more important than…”

“What?” Aile rasped, cutting her off. “More important than your life?”

Range paused a moment. Aile suddenly collapsed into a fit of violent coughing. He fell to his knees, and Range only then noticed the blood. After a few seconds Aile managed to get his cough under control, and he wiped the blood from his mouth.

“Or just more important than mine?” he asked.

Dr. Range sighed as she adjusted her glasses. In a much more calm tone, she continued.

“That’s right,” she said, “you shouldn’t have bothered coming back.”

Aile chuckled despite himself.

“You’re a tough lady.”

“Dr. Range!” Lucine came running up and immediately went to Aile’s side. “Can’t you see he’s injured! Get a medic!”

“It’s okay, Lucine, I can…” Aile said as he tried to get up, but immediately fell on his face.

“Aile!” Lucine cried in alarm. Aile lay face down, unmoving. “Get a medic!” Lucine cried.

As the emergency medical technicians helped a barely lucid Aile into a stretcher everyone noticed the arrival of two additional fighters. No one recognized them except for Aile.

“Who are those?” Lucine asked.

“Pals,” Aile managed.

The duo of fighters wasted no time in landing and getting settled. Lucine was escorting the medics that were carrying Aile away from the charred but salvageable MiG when an exceedingly loud voice caught everyone’s attention. It was the voice of a girl, and it was directed squarely at Lucine.

“WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY AILE?!” the newcomer demanded. Everyone was taken aback except Aile, who only sighed heavily and directed his gaze straight upwards.

“Why me?” Aile asked the heavens above.

Meanwhile at Juventud, Kolman had just received news from the captain of the Tarawa. He calmly set down the phone on it’s base. Tyrek had failed and had been killed in battle. The Tarawa, one of their greatest assets, had been crippled in a surprise ambush by unknown enemies. And, worst of all, Aile Phoenix was still alive. Kolman knew that there was no way Phoenix could touch them in the middle of their stronghold, but even so, he had an unsettling feeling.

Kolman was feeling quite agitated, and decided to check up on the research. Maybe if they had found the data they were looking for they could rid themselves of the troublesome test subjects. That would make him feel a lot better about their current situation.

As he left his office, he nearly ran into one of his subordinates. Kaden Dirk seemed to be passing by his office.

“Everything okay there, Mister Kolman?” Kaden asked when he noticed his boss’s agitated mood. Kolman thought he noticed a bit of sarcasm in Dirk’s voice, but he quickly dismissed that as his own bad mood. Without acknowledging Kaden at all, Kolman brushed passed him and continued down the hall.

Kaden Dirk already knew about the outcome of the battle, and of Tyrek’s fate. As soon as Kolman’s back was turned, he smiled wryly. Things were starting to move in an interesting direction, and one that he handn’t expected… After pondering a moment, Kaden turned on his heel and headed down the same hallway Kolman had disappeared into. He had just had an idea.

Elise had just come from the small shower in their room, and after drying off was in the process of getting dressed. It wasn’t a difficult task as what she was to wear had already been decided. She quietly wondered how much longer her wardrobe would consist of only hospital gowns and diapers.

Yuki seemed to be a heavier sleeper, and awoke later. As Yuki was in the shower, Elise sat on the bed and admired the bracelet Aile had given her in the morning light. It was quite lovely, but she would quickly give it up if it meant being able to actually see him again. It felt like ages since they had been together, even if in reality it had only been a few days.

After a few minutes, breakfast arrived as usual. It was pushed through the small slot, along with extra diapers and other small supplies that they usually got. Elise took the tray and handed Yuki one of the meals. When she had sat back down she noticed a small slip of paper peeking out from beneath her own plate. Curiously, she pulled it out. It was a small note, with a simple phrase written on it.

“Stay strong. He’s still fighting.”

That’s all it said. Still, even though it was cryptic, Elise knew exactly what it meant. She clutched the note to her chest.

“What is it?” Yuki asked. Elise wiped away some tears that had formed.

“A note,” Elise said, “I’m not sure from who, but I have a good idea.”

“Kaden?” Yuki perked up. “What does it say?”

Elise handed the slip of paper to Yuki. She studied it for a few moments.

“He’s talking about your knight?” Yuki asked. Elise nodded.

“He’s still fighting somewhere out there,” Elise said wistfully.

“Do you think he’ll really come?”

“Yeah, I think so. I can’t wait… for him to come and get me.”

“What happened to you?” Diego asked Aile. The infirmary was very busy, and after the doctor took a quick look at Aile he had sent him to lie down in his room. Skylar and Diego had escorted him.

“G forces happened,” Aile said with a cough.

“That’s why some brilliant people invented G suits,” Diego pointed out. Aile smirked.

“Heard of those,” Aile replied, “unfortunately mine’s at Via with my plane and I didn’t have time to appropriate one.”

G-suits were specially designed to help a pilot manage the effects of high acceleration forces encountered during air combat. There were many designs, but they were all essentially designed to keep blood from leaving the pilot’s upper body. Aile missed having one handy, but even if he had it would’ve done little to protect him against the instantaneous turns he had had to make in order to keep pace with Tyrek.

“Well, the base is pretty torn up,” Skylar said, then added, “… as is your room.”

“Long story that.”

“Anyway, what were you up against? Aside from the ship, that is.”

“Frames,” Aile replied. Skylar and Diego exchanged glances.

“Well, that’s explains the G forces,” Skylar replied. Both he and Diego knew all too well what dogfighting against the humanoid fighters meant. Unlike fighter planes, which were rigid and flew somewhat like rockets, frames were different. They were more organic, with moving limbs that allowed thrust vectoring in virtually any direction. A skilled operator of a frame could lure even the most advanced fighter into a low-speed confrontation and overwhelm it with mobility alone. The fact that Aile was talking to them after such an engagement could almost be called miraculous.

“You know how it is,” Aile shrugged, which caused him to wince. Every joint in his body hurt.

“Yeah,” Skylar replied with a smirk. Like Aile, Skylar had faced a challenging and exciting life.

“So,” Diego changed the subject, “how much do you know about the current situation?”

“Enough to be pissed,” Aile said with a scowl, “my girl’s been stolen and a big organization is trying to kill me.”

“Yup, that about sums it up,” Diego said. Skylar looked alarmed.

“Wait, what?” he asked with a shake of his head. Diego and Aile gave him a look. “No, the part about big organizations wanting to kill you doesn’t surprise me. But this is the first time I’ve heard about Elise.”

“Yeah,” Aile sighed. “They kidnapped her from school and nearly killed a very good friend of mine…”

“Why the hell would…” Skylar cut himself off when he remembered the Lighthouse Operation. “Oh, right. So, they finally got to her, huh?”

“Yeah,” Aile closed his eyes. “Because I wasn’t there.”

“You couldn’t have known, hermano,” Diego assured him. Aile looked Diego straight in the eye.

“If you were in my shoes, Diego, you know that wouldn’t be enough,” he said. Diego sighed.

“Fair enough,” replied the Latino. “So, what do you plan to do?”

“Get her back, of course,” Aile said.

“You know where she is?” Skylar asked.

“Cuba,” Diego replied. Skylar looked at him with a somewhat annoyed expression.

“Why am I always the last to know everything?” Skylar asked.

“Actually, Juventud,” Aile corrected. “It’s just South of there. A big organization called the Dodekatheon has a facility there doing God knows what.”

“Special research is what,” Diego replied. Skylar and Aile gave him an incredulous look. Diego waved his hands in front of him, “No no, I’m not claiming to be God or anything. I just heard from some sources a little about it is all.”

“How much do you know?” Aile asked.

“Little more than that, I’m afraid,” he sighed.

“Well, let’s compare notes,” Aile said. He proceeded to tell them everything he had learned from Lucine, and everything else that had happened since Skylar and Aile parted ways back in Oregon.

“And that’s how I got here,” Aile finished.

“So, you met that Tyrek guy, huh?” Diego said. “I’ve heard of him. They say he’s ruthless and a pro.”

“Was, maybe. Now he’s in pieces,” Aile said, his voice full of malice. “I literally put an R-27 in the top of his head.”

“Nice,” Skylar nodded approvingly. “How’s the saying go? The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to run out of missiles?”

“Something like that,” Aile grinned.

“So, let’s here the details of that plan of yours’” said Diego. Aile hesitated a moment.

“I’m not sure of the details yet,” he said. “Lang said my plane’s broke, so I’m waiting for that to be fixed. Until then, I’m gonna keep gathering intel.”

“I see,” Diego replied. Just then, the door of Aile’s room opened. Kat and Lucine came in carrying a couple of trays with boxes on them. For some reason, they didn’t seem too happy.

“Hey, lovely ladies,” Diego greeted. His Latino charm was completely lost on both of them, who instead went straight for Aile.

“Hey, Aile, I brought you some lunch from the commisary,” Lucine offered. She opened one of the small boxes, revealing some grilled chicken, vegetables and white rice.

“Pfft, shows what you know!” Kat said as she shoved Lucine out of the way, “Aile doesn’t even like rice.”

“Hey, I’ve known Aile a lot longer than you have,” Lucine said in defense.

“Hah, apparently not long enough to know he doesn’t like rice!”

“Oh please, like that even matters… Aile and I go way back. Way, way back. Once, we even shared a deeply intimate moment in…”

“Excuse me, a what!?” Kat nearly shouted. Lucine looked smug.

Skylar and Diego watched with eyes narrowed. They looked down at Aile with the kind of expression a thirsty person looks at someone who’s carelessly wasting precious water. Aile merely sighed.

“I swear, who needs enemies when you have friends like these?”

After eating lunch in Aile’s room, Skylar, Diego and Katrina decided it was probably best to leave Aile to rest. Katrina argued with Lucine the entire time, and in the end wouldn’t leave unless Lucine left.

“I’ll check back in on you later,” Lucine said after she had finally been persuaded to leave.

“I’ll be okay,” Aile assured her. “The doo dad the doc put on me’ll raise hell if anything bad happens.”

“That’s not that comforting for me, you know…”

“I’ll be fine,” Aile assured her. Reluctantly, Lucine left with everyone else.

As it had been a harrowing day, Skylar and Diego thought it best to rest up and leave early in the morning before the sun came up. Their planes had been stored in the underground hangar, and they had been assigned two temporary rooms in the same wing that Aile was staying in. The idea was that Skylar and Diego would share a room, and Katrina would have a room to herself. On paper, it made sense. However…

“Hey, Diego,” Katrina stopped Diego in the hallway. Skylar was walking a little ahead, apparently deep in thought.

“Yes, beautiful?” Diego replied with his trademark smile.

“Today is your lucky day,” Katrina said.

“Oh, yeah?” Diego said with an expectant smile, “and why is that?”

Katrina thrust an object at him. It was her room key.

“You get your own room. All to yourself!” she said. Diego reluctant took the key. Stifling a sigh, he replied.

“Lucky me.”

Katrina gave him a smile, then scampered off toward Skylar who had wandered ahead.

Diego watched her go, and then let out the sigh he had kept in earlier.

“This isn’t going at all as I planned…”

After a moment of lamentation he smiled and looked up toward where Skylar and Katrina had disappeared around a corner.

“Good luck, hermano…”

For the first time in a while Aile was left to his own thoughts. As there had been neither time nor spare manpower, Aile’s borrowed room was still in a pretty bad state from Tyrek’s infiltration. Still, Aile felt like he could finally relax a little. His desire to run headlong into danger for the sake of Elise was still strong, but he knew that in his current condition he couldn’t do anything. Part of preparing a rescue was resting up, and he was fine with getting some sleep.

However, the dogfight was still fresh in his memory. Aile went over it from start to finish over and over. If any professional aviator were to see it, they would call Aile’s performance ‘amazing’ - maybe even ‘miraculous.’ Still, he somehow felt like he had done something wrong. It was the guilt. He knew that he had brought the attack down upon K27 to begin with, and that wasn’t something he was going to easily live down.

As he was drifting off to sleep, Aile decided that once he felt up to it he would talk to whomever was in charge of the base. He had to apologize for the trouble he had caused, and more importantly, he had to ask for help. K27 and Aile had a common enemy. If he played that up, then maybe he could convince them to offer their assistance in rescuing Elise.

Skylar was walking down an empty hallway and counting the numbers on the walls as he passed them. His was room B011, which was supposedly a room similar to Aile’s. Skylar’s day hadn’t been terribly long, but after the stressful events he was looking forward to some rest.

Finding his room, Skylar went to open it with the key he had been given. As he did so, he heard someone else approaching.

“Found the room Dieg….” he paused when he saw not Diego, but instead Katrina coming to meet him.

“…Oh. You’re not Diego at all, are you?”

“Can’t say that I am,” Katrina replied with an overly confident smile.

“Well, what can I do for you, Miss Malia?” Skylar asked.

“Well,” Katrina paused, “you can start by opening the door to our room.”

“Ah, you got…” Skylar stopped, “wait, what?”

“Just open the door,” Katrina pressed.

“Aight,” Skylar shrugged. He inserted and turned the key and the door unlocked with a click. As he stepped in, Skylar took a moment to take stock of the room. It was indeed like Aile’s room, with a similar setup. The only main difference was that there were two beds, like a mid-range hotel room. Skylar nodded his head in approval as Katrina followed him in and shut the door behind her.

“So,” Skylar said as he turned to face Katrina, “I’m guessing Diego isn’t coming.”

“Nope,” Katrina shook her head, “I traded with him.”

“So you could instead stay with me?” Skylar’s question was more of a statement.

“That’s right,” Katrina replied.

Skylar nodded slowly as he pondered a moment.

“You see, I don’t usually have very good luck with… well, anything,” Skylar shrugged. “But least of all, with girls. So, you’re gonna have to be pretty clear on your intentions here for me to comprehend, Kat.”

“You’re more forward than I expected,” Katrina mused.

“Only when I’m perplexed.”

“Well, it’s like this…” Katrina paused. “Remember after the fight with that ship how I made you promise to help me with something?”

“How could I forget,” Skylar turned his hands upwards and shrugged, “you made me say ‘yes’ in advance three times before we even landed, even though you haven’t told me what I’ve been saying ‘yes’ to.”

“Well, that’s…” Katrina suddenly faltered. She had been confident before, but this moment of truth had come upon her faster than she was really ready for.

“So, what is it you would like me to do for you?”

Katrina hesitated as she seemed to be contemplating something.

“Well…” she said again, “I… um.”

Skylar’s brow raised as he smiled.

“Must be pretty bad if it’s got you of all people choked up,” Skylar mused as he took a seat on the closest bed. “I would say you don’t have to tell me, but it seems like if anyone should be uncomfortable it should be me. What’s goin’ on, Kat?”

“Okay, I’ll tell you. If you promise you won’t make fun of me.”

“I would never,” Skylar said sincerely.

“And you won’t say no?”

“I promise to keep an open mind,” Skylar said, “but that’s the best I can do without knowing what you’re gonna ask.”

“That’s… fair,” Katrina replied with a sigh. “Okay, well…”

Katrina dropped the small back pack she had been carrying to the floor. Skylar’s eyes widened slightly as she next reached for the zipper of the one-piece jumpsuit she was wearing.

“Uh…” he muttered. Katrina took a deep breath, then pulled the zipper down from its place near her neck, all the way down to her waist. She pulled her arms out of the sleeves and let the top portion fall, revealing a tee shirt underneath. She hesitated another moment, and then pulled the slightly baggy jumpsuit down her legs, and finally off of her completely.

“Ah…” Skylar was at a loss. Katrina was standing before him in nothing but a tee shirt and a noticeably used diaper. Skylar knew that women fighter pilots used absorbent garments for long flights, but he had never actually seen it. Katrina looked nervous and anxious, so Skylar decided to break the silence.

“So…” Skylar said, “what did you wanna ask?”

“I want you to change me,” Katrina blurted out somewhat awkwardly. Skylar’s eyebrows climbed once again.

“I see,” he said, not quite comprehending. Katrina felt herself blushing and looked away.

“It’s your fault I’m wet…” she said in an uncharacteristically quiet voice. “Your crazy flying scared me.”

“Oh,” Skylar said, still not really understanding. “I’m sorry.”

“So, will you say yes?” Katrina asked. Skylar sighed.

“It’s a strange request Kat,” Skylar admitted. “I’m not sure I’m comfortable here.”

“But…”

“I mean,” Skylar paused, “we’re friends, you know? I don’t want to do something that would ruin that… this is a pretty intimate request, and it’s pretty sudden.”

“So, it’s not me, it’s you?” Katrina asked. Skylar tilted his head.

“Uhm… what?”

Katrina had closed her eyes. Skylar had never seen her look so uncertain, not even when she was trying to decide whether or not to accompany him on the mission. Not even when they had been in harms way in the sky.

“Am I….” Katrina swallowed back something, “am I really that undesirable?”

More than anything it was a question to herself.

“What?”

“I…” Katrina couldn’t speak anymore. Skylar was most surprised to see a tear rolling down her cheek.

“Kat…”

“I’ll…” Kat turned to leave, but then realized her state. She reached for her jumpsuit, but due to her blurred vision, she couldn’t grab it on the first try. Skylar could see that she was precariously close to losing complete control over her emotions. In that instant, he nodded to himself and made a silent decision.

As Katrina picked up her jumpsuit, Skylar got up and stopped her by placing a hand on her shoulder. Katrina started and tried to jerk her shoulder away, but Skylar grabbed her with both hands and turned her around to face him. She tried to avert her gaze, but Skylar unexpectedly pulled her into a hug.

“Ah…”

“I’m sorry, Kat,” Skylar said, “I didn’t mean to make you cry.”

“I’m not…” Katrina hiccuped, “…crying.”

“It’s okay,” Skylar rubbed her back. She was extremely tense. “You don’t have to be like that.”

Skylar could feel her sobbing.

“I didn’t know it meant that much to you,” Skylar continued. “It was kind of inconsiderate of me to react like that, wasn’t it?”

Katrina hesitated a moment.

“No,” she said, “not really. I shouldn’t have asked so suddenly.”

“It must’ve been a hard thing for you to bring up.”

Katrina nodded. Skylar pushed her away just enough so he could look down at her face.

“So tell me, why do you want me do change you?” he asked. Katrina sniffled and looked away.

“I… I just want to know what it’s like,” she said in a quiet, shy voice, “to feel what it’s like to be taken care of by someone. To experience that kind of trust.”

“This isn’t your first time asking somebody, is it?” Skylar said. Katrina shook her head.

“Not exactly,” she admitted.

“But, I have to know,” Skylar took a breath, “why are you asking me?”

“Because I trust you,” Katrina replied.

“Is that the only reason.”

Katrina hesitated.

“No…” she said. “And because… I… like you.”

Skylar smiled.

“You should’ve really said that part first,” he said with a small chuckle.

“Don’t laugh at me,” Katrina pouted.

“I’m not,” Skylar smiled. With one hand he gently wiped away some of Katrina’s tears. “You know, I think I’m a lot older than you are.”

“Not that much….”

“And exactly how old are you, anyway?” Skylar asked.

“Old enough,” Katrina replied, feeling extremely small and vulnerable.

“Right…” Skylar trailed off. He took a deep breath. “I suppose that’s fair enough.”

“Hmm?” Katrina inquired. Without replying, Skylar bent down and swiftly scooped Katrina up into his arms.

“Ahh!” Katrina uttered in surprise. Skylar wasn’t only bolder than she had expected - he was also stronger.

“You know, I’ve never really changed a diaper,” Skylar said with a wry smile.

“I… uhm…”

“But,” he added calmly, “I promise to try my very best.”

Katrina’s heart leaped in her chest.

Skylar carried Katrina to the bed where he gently set her down.

“So,” Skylar said as he looked down at Katrina, “you want me to change you? Into what?”.

“In my bag,” Katrina replied. Skylar picked up Katrina’s backpack and opened it. Inside, he found a small container of wipes, some baby powder, and some extra diapers.

“I see you came prepared,” Skylar grinned.

“Well, with the way you fly…” Katrina looked away.

“You’re not gonna let me forget that, are ya?” Skylar chuckled. “I said I’m sorry.”

“I know. You’re forgiven,” Katrina replied. Skylar’s smile faded as he thought about it.

“I didn’t know you were that scared,” Skylar said. When he thought about how Katrina was so afraid that she had actually wet herself, he felt a wave of sympathy wash over him.
Normally, when he looked at Katrina Malia he had only seen the ostensibly tough girl who was very confident and outgoing. Looking at her before him as she was he had to see her differently. Up until that point he had only seen her as a soldier, a coworker, and perhaps even a friend. However, for the first time, he saw her as just a girl. She was cute, and vulnerable, and no matter how tough she came off as to other people, she desperately wanted someone to look after her. Skylar remembered his conversation with Aile while they
had made the flight back to the US.

“Guess my luck is changing,” Skylar said.

“Hmm?” Katrina inquired. Skylar smiled as he sat down on the edge of the bed. For a moment, he just put down the supplies and looked at Katrina’s eyes.

“What?” Katrina asked. Skylar could see she was beginning to blush.

“You know, I’ve never told you this, but you’re beautiful.”

Katrina was speechless. Skylar ran his fingers over her forehead and through her dark hair. A sigh escaped Katrina’s lips.

“Don’t worry about anything,” Skylar assured her, “you can trust me. I’ll take good care of you.”

“You really mean that?”

“I’m not the kind of person who takes some one’s trust for granted.”

Katrina was surprised. She remembered when she had asked Aile to take care of her, and how he had reacted. Skylar was different. He wasn’t nervous, he wasn’t shy. She was beginning to realize that he was an entirely different person than she had initially thought. It was true that she had taken a liking to him, mostly due to his ruggedly handsome features, but until that day she had never actually admitted to it, even to herself. However, seeing Skylar in action, and now seeing his gentle side, Katrina was in awe. Skylar was far more special than she had realized.

After a few moments, Skylar set about his task. He looked through Katrina’s backpack and took inventory. He looked down at the diaper she was already wearing. It was relatively thin, and just plain white. Or at least, it had originally been white. It was impossible not to notice that she had rather heavily used her diaper for its intended purpose.

Noticing Skylar’s prolonged gaze, Katrina reflexively covered her diaper with her hands. Skylar looked at her face.

“I didn’t think you were this shy,” Skylar said.

“I didn’t expect you to stare,” Katrina replied quietly.

“I didn’t expect you to have such a cute side.”

"Ah… I… "

“Or that you could get choked up this easily. You’re not used to getting compliments, are you?”

“Well, not… like this,” Katrina said. She was more used to getting praise for doing well at her job, but nothing else.

“I see.”

Skylar turned his attention back to Katrina’s backpack. Inside, she had a couple different types of diapers. There were a couple more of the same kind she was wearing, but there was also another kind. They were noticeably thicker, and instead of the innocuous white color, these were colored purple.

“These are cute,” Skylar said as he removed one of the thick, purple diapers. Katrina blushed all the more.

“They’re for night,” Katrina squeaked. Skylar tilted his head.

“You wear them at night?” he asked. Katrina’s eyes widened a little. She had made a mistake. It wasn’t terribly unusual that she wore protection during the flight, but Skylar didn’t know that she wore diapers at other times, too. That admission was a potential deal breaker.

“I… uhm…” Katrina started to panic a little bit. “Well, you see….”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Skylar assured her. “You can tell me.”

“Sometimes, I have bad dreams…” Katrina admitted. “And… I have accidents.”

“Ah, I’m sorry, I had no idea,” Skylar said with genuine sympathy. “So, then…” he hesitated a bit, “you wear these pretty regularly.”

“I… yeah,” Katrina sighed. “Sometimes I need them, but…”

“But?”

“But… I also like them,” Katrina’s voice grew more and more quiet as she spoke.

“I can see why,” he said. Katrina looked surprised.

“You can?”

“Well, I think they suit you,” he replied, “your cute side, anyway.”

“My…”

“I never saw it until now,” Skylar said, “but you’re really adorable, Kat. I hope you don’t mind me saying.”

“Not… at all.”

“I guess I’d better take notes while I do this,” Skylar said as he unfolded the thick, purple diaper. “Since it seems like I’ll be doing it again.”

Katrina’s eyes reflected her surprise, then her relief. And a moment later, she teared up again, only this time for a different reason.

“Skylar…” she managed.

“It’s okay, Kat,” he said soothingly. “I’ll take care of you.”

Aile slept for the remainder of the day. When he awoke, he was greeted by terrible pain throughout his entire body.

“I guess this means I’m still alive,” he groaned as he forced himself to sit up.

“You’d better be,” Lucine’s characteristically stern voice replied. Aile looked over and noticed she was sitting in a chair and reading a book in the dim light.

“Oh, hey,” Aile said as he yawned. He stretched, but then immediately regretted it.

“Sleep well?”

“I think I did,” Aile replied. “What time is it?”

“Just past nine PM,” Lucine replied as she closed her book. “You were out like a baby.”

“Yeah,” Aile replied with another yawn. He gently shook the last of the weariness from his head. “But I’m awake now.”

“Figures,” Lucine shrugged, “you never were one to keep normal hours.”

“Hey, I’ve been pretty good at school,” Aile said. He paused a moment before adding, “since there’s literally nothing to do there after dark.”

“Yeah, don’t I know it,” Lucine replied. “By the way, why are you going to school anyway? It’s not like you need it.”

Aile thought a moment.

“For Elise,” Aile shrugged.

“The Beethoven song?” Lucine raised an eyebrow. Aile chuckled.

“Never thought about that,” Aile replied. “Doesn’t sound like a half bad name for my new jet.”

“I was wondering about that,” Lucine replied. “You could easily go back to your own place with your friends.”

“I could,” Aile replied, “but, to be honest, I don’t really have a home anymore. Icarus was the closest thing I had for a while, and now that’s gone.”

“Right…” Lucine replied, “I know how it feels. I’ve bounced around a lot over the last few years myself.”

“Someday I’d like to call someplace home,” Aile nodded, “but right now there’s too many places I need to be.”

“So, are you still planning on charging in like a maniac?”

“Essentially,” Aile shrugged again, prompting a wince. His shoulders and back hurt a lot. “But, not without a good plan.”

Showering was a long and painful ordeal for Aile. He felt as though he had managed to pull every muscle in his body.
Once he was finished he and Lucine met up with Skylar, Katrina and Diego for a late dinner in the commissary. The base was still a mess, and as such the commissary wasn’t crowded.

“So, when’re you guys headin’ out?” Aile asked.

“In a couple hours,” Diego replied. “Gonna do a good preflight to make sure nothing got busted in the battle.”

“Speaking of which,” Aile smirked, “I wouldn’t mind hearing the details on how you guys managed to stop that bombardment.”

“Okay,” Diego replied, “but only if you tell us how you managed to hold your own in a fighter against a bunch of frames.”

“Sounds fair,” Aile agreed.

Diego then turned to Skylar. “So, you wanna get the ball rolling?”

“Huh?” Skylar looked up. “I’m sorry, what’s going on?”

“We’re swapping war stories,” Diego said.

“Oh, you go ahead,” Skylar replied. Diego and Aile exchanged glances, but both decided to just drop it. Diego went ahead and started telling the story. Aile and Lucine listened intently, and were both very impressed. As Lucine didn’t know Kat or Skylar, she didn’t notice how quiet the two of them were being during Diego’s rendition. Aile noticed, but decided not to say anything.

Once Diego had finished telling the story, Aile made good on his promise to fill them in on his own account. Lucine chimed in now and again to supply details and her observations. All in all, it was a good and relaxing time. And one that Aile had desperately needed.

After a couple hours of preparations Skylar, Katrina and Diego were ready to head out. It was quite dark, and the repairs on the runway hadn’t been completed yet, but a series of floodlights lit the taxiway they had landed on. With their powerful fighters and lightweight loadouts, the taxiway would be plenty long enough for them to get up to speed. As they were saying their goodbyes, Katrina pulled Aile to the side.

“Listen, Aile, I don’t trust this Lucine girl…” Katrina paused as she looked around Aile at Lucine, who was busy being hit on by Diego. “There’s just something about her I don’t like.”

“Relax, Kat, she’s okay,” Aile assured her. “I have known her for a long time - she’s trustworthy.”

Katrina’s eyes narrowed.

“Mm, that’s right, I heard about that,” she replied suspiciously. “Just don’t forget you have a wonderful girl already waiting for you.”

“I could never forget that, Kat,” Aile assured her in a serious voice. He then smiled, “I mean, I even refused you, didn’t I?”

Katrina was taken off guard, and it showed on her face. A moment later she returned Aile’s warm smile.

“Yeah,” she agreed, “you’re loss.”

“I know,” Aile replied.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come back with us?” Katrina asked after a moment, her face showing her concern.

“Yeah,” Aile replied as he absently looked over at Skylar’s nearby Su-34. “I still have a few things to do here.”

“Well, you be careful.”

“I will,” Aile looked into Kat’s eyes, “I promise.”

Aile and Lucine stood side by side as they watched the duo of fighters take off one after the other. As the roar of their engines faded into the dark night sky, Lucine turned to
Aile.

“How come you didn’t ask them for help?” she asked. Aile was silent for a moment.

“They’re good friends,” Aile replied, “they would follow me into any kind of hell, I’m sure of it.”

“Then…?” Lucine tilted her head a little. Aile sighed.

“I couldn’t ask them to, Lucine. I’ve already involved too many people in my problems. Even your base - your home - was pulled into this mess.”

“That’s not your fault,” Lucine shook her head, “you couldn’t have known that was going to happen.”

“Be that as it may,” Aile took a deep breath and let it out into the cool night air, “it’s my fault this happened.”

“But…”

“I wanna talk to whoever’s in charge of this place,” Aile cut Lucine off, “so I can apologize formally.”

“Okay,” Lucine said. She was a little dubious, “if that’ll make you feel better.”

“It will,” Aile nodded once, “but that’s not the only reason.”

“Oh?”

“This place was attacked by the same people who kidnapped Elise. If I were in charge, I would be pretty pissed.”

“Well, yeah…”

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” Aile quoted. “Maybe I can use that to my advantage.”

“Wait,” Lucine’s eyes narrowed, “let me get this straight. You’re gonna play them against each other?”

“I’m gonna try,” Aile replied, “I mean, it makes sense, right? You already said they want that research facility wiped out. Now, they can get revenge at the same time.”

“I thought you didn’t want to involve other people?”

“I don’t,” Aile shook his head, “but this wouldn’t be for me, would it? They’re already at war with one another. The timing just works in my favor is all.”

“You’re nuts,” Lucine replied, “that much I’m sure of.”

“I can’t deny that . So, will you talk me to your boss or what?”

“Yeah, yeah… sure. Tomorrow, okay?”

“Alright, tomorrow,” Aile nodded. “In the meantime, I’ve got work to do.”

The next morning Lucine honored her promise and took Aile to meet with the general manager of K27 base. Aile swallowed back his apprehension as he looked at the plaque on the door he was standing in front of. It simply read Hugh Folland - Head of Operations.

“I’m not as sure about this as I was a few hours ago,” Aile admitted.

“Come on,” Lucine urged him, “setting up this meeting was a pain, so the least you can do is go through with it.”

“Right…”

After they knocked and were permitted to enter, Aile got his first look at the man who ran K27’s day to day operations. He had expected an older man, like the CEO of a company or even a military General. However, instead Hugh Folland could barely even be called middle-aged. He was probably in his mid to late thirties. He wasn’t tall or short, and had a very common look to him. His simple short brown hair and neatly trimmed goatee would blend in almost anywhere in the first world.

“So, you’re Lang’s kid,” were the first words out the the man’s mouth. Aile was immediately taken aback.

“You… you know Lang?” Aile was shocked.

“Let’s just say we worked together in the past,” Folland replied. “Good man. Keeps good company.”

“Ah, yeah,” Aile rubbed the back of his head unconsciously. “I guess that means you’re a good man, too.”

“I’d like to think so,” Folland replied while gesturing to the chair in front of his desk. “Have a seat. Miss Arlette, you may go.”

“But, I…” Lucine faltered.

“I want to have a one on one with Mister Phoenix here.”

“Ah, right, okay…” Lucine relented. “See you later, Aile.”

“Thanks again, Lucine,” Aile said. Lucine hesitated a moment, and then reluctantly left, closing the door as she went. Aile sat down on the comfortable leather chair.

“So, uhh,” Aile was nervous. “Sorry about your base…”

“Why’re you apologizing?” Folland asked.

“Well…”

“I approved your coming here, so if you’ve got the idea in your head that you’re somehow responsible for the attack on my facility, then you’re mistaken. It’s not like I didn’t know who you were, or what kind of trouble you could be.”

“Ah…” Aile didn’t know what to say.

“Unfortunately, we are in a tough spot. The man who infiltrated the base and attempted to kill you - he undoubtedly reported back on what we were doing here.”

“Yeah, probably,” Aile replied with a sigh. “Hence the major attack by a GC squadron.”

“Task Force 33,” Folland said the words as if he were referring to some pesky disease. “We’ve have dealings with them in the past.”

“Right… I gotta ask,” Aile said, “what exactly is this place, anyway? I mean, what purpose does it serve?”

“Well, ostensibly, this is an independently operated, privately funded test facility for a little aviation firm based in Iceland.”

“Sounds familiar,” Aile said.

“Yeah, same ol’ story, really.”

“So, what’s the extra curricular?”

“Well, you could say we deal in balance and fair play,” Folland replied.

“I don’t follow,” Aile shook his head.

“Think of your Aegis organization, only on a grander scale.”

“Aegis, huh?” Aile reminisced. Back when he first started working for Lang, Aile had been involved with the Aegis Security organization. For a considerable fee, Aegis could provide security services that were a cut above what a regular security firm would offer. Undercover assignments, the use of deadly force - these were things that Aegis could do. It was more like a private military than a security company.

“However, instead of providing small scale security forces, we are more indirect with how we operate.”

“Indirect, you say? I’m still not following.”

“Well, for example, think of the Global Coalition,” said Folland.

“Okay, what about 'em?”

“As I’m sure you’re aware, not every country is getting an equal share of the profits that come with a world government, and as such many smaller nations are resisting.”

“Don’t I know it,” Aile shrugged, “I’ve been caught in the middle of those conflicts more than a few times.”

“Well, the GC of course has the support of most of the first world. As such, their technology is second to none. Well, almost, anyway. As you’ve seen, the technology that we operate is a few years ahead of everyone else.”

“Yeah, I did notice that,” Aile nodded, “what’s the deal with that, anyway?”

“Well, I won’t go into specifics, but military technology is developed and supplied by civilian firms. With the sweeping changes that the GC has made, they have lost the support of a lot of those people who are responsible for the leaps in technology we have seen in the past few years. Some of those people, unsatisfied with where they feel the world is heading, have contributed to the underground resistance movement. It’s all very cloak and dagger, but you get the point.”

“Yeah, I think so,” said Aile, “basically, smart people can see the problems that lie ahead and have done what they can to bring about balance.”

“Essentially,” Folland leaned back in his chair. “And, people such as myself have been charged with making sure that their contribution isn’t mishandled.”

“That’s a pretty big responsibility,” Aile replied, “so, what about the other side of the coin?”

“The other side?” Folland asked.

“The so called ‘optimums.’”

“Ah, of course,” Folland leaned forward and placed his arms on his desk, “the optimums are beings that represent a leap forward in human capability brought about by illegal research and experimentation. Of course you know, you’re Elise Laraway is one of them.”

“Right,” Aile nodded.

“Other organizations like this one exist, only with a slightly different intent. Just like concepts such as communism can be ruined by the greed of the individual, the vision for a brighter future under a world government is similarly destroyed by people taking power for themselves. Rather than balance, they wish to offset the world in their favor… using whatever means they have at their disposal. The optimization technology is one piece of the puzzle, and just happens to be what those people, the Dodekatheon, have gotten their hands on. However, while the technology is itself very valuable, it’s distribution is nothing special, so to speak. It could have just as easily been they who had the particle field stealth, and us who ended up with the optimums.”

“I don’t know,” Aile shrugged, “it seems to me that the research involved with the optimums is far more sinister. I’ve been told that many children were sacrificed towards that end. Unless the P-FADS is powered by children’s tears or something…”

“You are essentially correct in your insinuation,” Folland agreed, “many different governmental organizations have tried over the years to enhance the basic human. Genetic engineering is just the next logical step to achieving that goal. However, that only comes after special physical conditioning and mental training, which have produced some incredible specimens as well…” Folland looked as though he wanted to say more on that subject, but stopped himself.

“But, I digress.”

“Huh?”

“And then we have you,” Folland said, changing the subject.

“What about me?”

“People such as yourself who have a mysterious background, but for some reason or another are a cut above everyone else.”

“Well, I started pretty early,” Aile shrugged, feeling a little awkward. He quickly regained his composure, “but that’s not what I came to talk to you about.”

“So, what did you come to discuss, Mr. Phoenix?”

“The truth is, I want to go in and get Elise back,” Aile stated.

“That’s rather forward of you,” Folland observed.

“It’s only fair I come clean,” Aile shrugged, “since you’ve been so straight with me.”

“Fair enough,” Folland tipped his head. “Continue.”

“Near as I can tell there’s some bad blood between you folks and the guys who run the Dodekathon. I mean, even before they ransacked your facility.”

“Indeed.”

“Lucine told me that you even plan on taking down that facility on Juventud.”

“That facility does embody a lot of what we are out to destroy,” Folland agreed, “however, since the attack on this base has severely diminished our warfighting potential, that plan is off the back burner and in the fridge.”

“I say strike while the iron’s hot,” Aile countered. “It’s not like they’re just going to give up, right? Wouldn’t now be the time to strike back, while you have a window?”

“I think I see where you’re going with this,” Folland said. “You want to use our resources and capability to mount a rescue for your girlfriend.”

“Actually,” Aile sat back in his chair, “yeah, that pretty much sums it up.”

“You’re pretty bold,” Folland had to chuckle a little. “Didn’t you come here to apologize?”

“Ostensibly,” Aile shrugged one shoulder, “but truth be told, I want to get Elise out of there, and you want that facility off the map. To me it seems like a win win scenario.”

“Sure, but only if we win.”

“I don’t follow,” Aile’s eyes narrowed, “you have the magic stealth and quantum whats its. What more could you possibly need?”

“Yeah, our stealth and communications equipment is state of the art, but the same thing can be said about the detection systems at Juventud. They have the very latest in laser detection sensors that render any stealth system pointless. Until someone comes out with a system that can hide an aircraft from the visible light spectrum there’s no way to slip past that unnoticed.”

“But,” Aile took a deep breath, “you already have a plan for that.”

“Excuse me?” Folland replied.

“You knew those systems were in place already, yet you were working on a plan to defeat that instillation. You must have a trump card,something that gives you a window.”

“Is there anything else to substantiate your theory aside from a guess?”

“No, not really,” Aile replied, “but it does make sense.”

“You’re right, it does,” Folland replied. “Truthfully, we do have a trump card… the one thing they can’t take measures against.”

“And what’s that?”

“A man on the inside,” Folland replied.

“I knew it,” Aile snapped his fingers. Folland raised one eyebrow. “Well, I didn’t know that exactly. But I knew there was something.”

“We do have an asset under deep cover. He makes periodic reports back here through use of the Q-Net that our planes have been tied into.”

“I heard from Lucine that only a few transceivers exists, and that they are difficult to implement.”

“Yes, that is true,” Folland replied, “but, the advantage is that communication is possible from anywhere in the world, in real time, without possibility of interception or interference. Right now the Dodekatheon doesn’t even know we have this technology, so don’t tell anyone.”

“Right,” Aile smirked.

“It’s true that we planned to coordinate a strike with our man on the inside. His job is to place explosive devices on the power generators that run the LADAR arrays. Timed right, he could take them out just as our strike force entered the area of operations, and we could lay waste to that place before they could get their pants back up.”

“Sounds like a good plan to me,” Aile agreed.

“However, we hadn’t planned on a rescue operation. That throws a monkey wrench into the whole thing.”

“Well, how much time are we talking about? Can they really get their systems back up that quickly?”

“Well, as near as we can tell, no. It would take days. The problem is Key West.”

“Oh, right,” Aile’s face took on a difficult expression, “the GC base there.”

“They could have frames there in minutes,” Folland replied.

“But, your guy on the inside… wouldn’t it be possible for him to extract Elise, and make a rendezvous with an escape aircraft?”

“Well, we did consider that,” Folland replied. “And, our asset has even taken the liberty of making contact with Elise Laraway personally.”

“What? Really?” Aile sounded hopeful to hear about Elise. “Wait, can we trust this guy?”

“Yes, completely,” Folland replied.

“Okay…” Aile took a breath to calm his nerves, “so, how is Elise?”

“We don’t have anything detailed, but he says that she is alive and healthy, but she’s undergoing a lot of strange tests.”

“That doesn’t sound good.”

“No. In fact, he’s worried that the tests are becoming more and more severe, and that eventually they will cause irreparable harm.”

“Geez, are you telling me this to stress me out?” Aile put his hand on his head, “I’m this close to going full afterburner right over to that place as it is…”

“No, I’m telling you this because I think it’s time to get her out of there.”

“I… wait, what?” Aile was taken off guard.

“I didn’t get into this business for the money,” Folland replied. “I got into it because I wanted to protect people from oppression and tyranny. I’m pretty sure experimenting on innocent children falls into that category.”

“Hell yeah it does!” Aile agreed. “So, you’re gonna help?”

“Easy, kid,” Folland put a hand up, “it’s not like I can just commit this base to such an operation. We have enough problems to deal with here.”

“Yeah, I understand that…” Aile said, “but, you have to have something in mind.”

“I do,” Folland replied. “We have a small staging area on the Yucatan peninsula, in the Tizimin region. A small staff, a couple of transport birds posing as local couriers, nothing else.”

“Okay,” Aile nodded, and waited for him to continue.

“They have enough weaponry and support equipment already present to mount a strike. They are within range of Juventud, and are just waiting for an excuse to go rolling in. However, they are lacking one crucial factor…”

“Strike aircraft.”

“Bingo. We were planning on flying in our own assets once the staging area was ready, and then mounting our strike mission from there. As it stands, they already have present enough fuel and ammunition for two or three planes. We had planned on slowly supplying them so as not to raise suspicion, but now that this has turned into a rescue mission, two planes should be plenty to provide escort.”

“So, let me get this straight,” Aile looked Folland right in the eyes, “you send me and another plane to the Yucatan and from there we fly to Juventud with the transport and extract your man and my girl?”

“Sounds like a good enough plan,” Folland replied, “I don’t have to tell you that there will be risks.”

“Of course. It’s not exactly my first barbecue,” Aile replied, “what about exit strategy?”

“Both transports are equipped with the same stealth system as our fighters,” Folland said, “but we have to assume they will have satellite images of our escaping planes. As such, we will simply have to destroy a couple satellites.”

There was a profound quiet in the room for three seconds.

“Excuse me?” Aile said with an emphatic blink of his eyes and shake of his head. He wasn’t sure he had just heard that.

“If we target the correct satellites we should buy enough time to escape during the confusion.”

“And how are you planning to pull off this miracle?”

“Ever hear of the ASM-135?”

“The ASAT missile from back in the day?” Aile replied.

“Correct.”

“Wait, you have anti-satellite weaponry?” Aile asked, his eyes widening.

“Well, we have the original plans, but we’ve had to make a few adjustments using more modern technology to employ them with our infrastructure.”

“Right, of course, of course” Aile sat back and nodded with an amazed look.

“So, the squadron takes aim and blows a couple satellites out of the sky, thus blinding the GC just long enough for you to make your daring rescue. How does that sound?”

“Like a damn fine plan,” Aile agreed. “You really think it’ll work?”

“It’ll take more than a little luck,” Folland admitted, “but I’d like to think lady luck sides with those who have right on their side.”

“You and me both,” Aile agreed.

Lucine was waiting impatiently outside of Folland’s office. When Aile finally came out, she practically jumped on him.

“So, what happened? How’d it go?” Lucine asked energetically as soon as the door to Folland’s office was closed. “Did he give you a bill?”

“A bill? No, Lucine, geez,” Aile shook his head, “in fact, it went… good.”

“Good?” Lucine fell into step beside Aile as he headed down the hall.

“Yeah. Mr. Folland’s gonna support me. I’m going after Elise.”

“Hang on, what?” Lucine asked. “You’re kidding me.”

“Nope,” Aile smirked, “Folland and I agree that it’s time to get Elise out of that place while simultaneously dealing a strong blow to the opposition. We’re making a stand for what’s right, Lucine.”

“I don’t believe it,” Lucine shook her head emphatically, “I swear, boys…”

“It’s gonna be a section of two fighters working alongside local assets. Folland said he’d pick another fighter to come with me.”

“Alright, I’m in,” Lucine replied. “No way I’m letting you go on this hair brained mission alone.”

“I thought you’d say that. Don’t worry, we have a good plan. I’ll explain the details, c’mon!” Aile broke into a jog.

“Hey, where are you going?” Lucine asked as she followed after Aile. He looked back over his shoulder at her, and she could see that he was still in pain. However, his excited expression belied any discomfort he was feeling.

“Where else? To get that plane fixed!”

Re: Op. Lighthouse - Nexus 21 - 22 repost

Sorry to nitpick, but

Skylar did have a fair bit of experience in those kinds of situations. He hand’t been flying for as much of his life as Aile had for his own, but Skylar had seen more combat.

should be “hadn’t”

Katrina was taken off guard, and it showed on her face. A moment later she returned Aile’s warm smile.

“Yeah,” she agreed, “you’re loss.”

“I know,” Aile replied.

should be “your”

Re: Op. Lighthouse - Nexus 21 - 22 repost

Why thank you :slight_smile:

I’ll fix those later on, thanks for reminding me.

Re: Op. Lighthouse - Nexus 21 - 22 repost

Good to here there’s a new chapter coming soon as always you have my support.