Operation Lighthouse: Nexus
“Electrical looks okay,” Aile said loudly. He was sitting in the cockpit of his new F-15C Eagle. The weather that day had been sunny but also chilly. Being that far North the air had a distinct crispness, even if they were on a green island.
“You wanna test the JFS? Make sure its in good shape?” Lucine who was standing on the ladder next to the cockpit asked.
“Yeah, it should have enough pressure built up. I wish I had time to replace it with an electrical starter though. These hydraulic ones are pretty outdated.”
“Really?” Lucine tilted her head, her long blond hair falling to one side, “what does your MiG use, then?”
“Fuel cells and capacitors, actually,” Aile said, “Lang’s hybrid engines run on both electrical and turbine power. Starting the engines takes a fraction of the time when you have that kind of voltage at your disposal.”
“We’re ready down here, kid!” Scott called up to them. “Little one, come on down so we can light the fires!”
“I swear, he’s never gonna give up that nickname,” Lucine said, making a face ,“I’m not eight anymore, geez.”
“C’mon, its cute.”
“You gave up the right to tell me things like that,” Lucine said with a sigh. “I’m gettin’ down, so it’s all you. Good luck.”
“Thanks,” Aile replied with a nod.
Once the ground crew had cleared the area around the intakes and nozzles, Aile proceeded with starting the engines.
“Right engine first,” Aile said to himself. He was about to engage the Jet Fuel Starter master switch when he remembered an important step. He snapped his fingers.
“Canopy…” he muttered as he closed the canopy cover. It was standard procedure to have the canopy closed when starting the engines because it was possible for stray objects to be sucked out of the cockpit and into the engines. Once he had the canopy down and locked he proceeded with his start up.
Aile looked to the right console and flipped the JFS starter switch. With his left hand he selected the right engine. He had to stretch a little to reach the finger lift positioned in front of the throttle. Indeed, the F-15’s throttles were quite large, and Aile’s hands, being about medium sized, had to move a lot to reach every button and switch.
The finger lift pulled, Aile then pulled the JFS control handle. A low whirring sound was emitted as the hydraulic accumulator discharged, and the engine began spinning. Watching the Engine Monitoring Display, Aile waited until the JFS had spun the right engine up to about twenty percent of maximum RPM. The RPMs steadily increased, as did the pitch of hum. He then moved the right engine throttle out of NULL and into IDLE. The engine coughed a little, but soon ignited and started producing its own power. As the RPMs increased up to around sixty percent, the right side intake slammed down into the full-down position. Aile smiled.
“So far, so good,” he said over the radio. He waited to see if any problems or strange situations arose, but so far everything was working. Aile informed the ground crew he was going to start the second engine, to which he received clearance.
Selecting the left engine, Aile flipped the JFS control handle counter-clockwise and pulled on it, discharging the second accumulator. The second engine started up even more smoothly than the first had and soon, Aile had the F-15 idling, its twin Pratt & Whitney engines filling the area with their high pitched whine.
“How’s it lookin’, kid?” Scott radioed. Aile was checking over all the instruments.
“Damn sexy,” Aile replied. Taking hold of the stick, Aile worked the controls. Slowly at first he wiggled the stick back and forth, side to side, and actuated the pedals. Scott told him the control surfaces were moving. Aile repeated the procedure with full input, and was pleased that the control surfaces were deflecting as designed. From there he actuated the brakes, and Scott again told him everything was working right.
“Well,” Scott shrugged, looking the plane over, “what do you think?”
“Now’s as good a time as ever,” Aile replied. Lucine’s ears perked up. She looked at Scott, a hint of concern in her eyes.
“Sounds good to me,” Scott said.
“Ah…” Lucine uttered in surprise. She looked back toward Aile, who was strapping himself in.
“If you don’t mind, can you get the chocks?” Aile asked. Lucine’s eyes widened as Scott motioned to one of the ground crew to remove the wheel chocks on Aile’s main landing gear.
“Wait a sec…” Lucine said.
“All clear kid,” Scott offered a thumbs up. Lucine opened her mouth to protest, but no words came.
“Running up!” Aile said as he returned the thumbs up. He turned his gaze forward and took hold of the throttles.
“Godspeed, Phoenix,” Scott said with a nod.
“You’ve got to be kidding…” Lucine was cut off by Aile increasing the throttle. The F-15 lurched forward, then began a steady roll toward the now repaired runway.
“Scott!” Lucine shouted once the F-15 was far enough away, “no one said anything about a flight today!”
“Come on, little one, we have to have a shake down flight eventually,” Scott said, “why not now?”
Lucine was momentarily speechless.
“I swear,” she finally said, “the impulsiveness of boys pisses me off to no end!”
Scott closed his eyes and winced. Somehow, Lucine’s tirades hurt Scott’s ears more than any jet engines ever had. Before he could even reply Lucine had already dashed off toward the hanger. Scott watched her disappear inside and then sighed.
“You shouldn’t say things like that if you’re just gonna do the same exact thing…” he mused.
“K27 Tower, Wolf 107, how copy, over?” Aile said as he lined up with the runway.
The tower had been blown up during the raid, and as such all traffic was being handled by the underground control bunker. Darrington answered Aile’s call.
“Wolf, 27 tower. We read you five by,” Darrington replied, “what can we do for you this fine afternoon?”
“I’m taking Hunter 2-7 out for a joyride. Mind if I use your runway?” Aile asked casually. Darrington sat up in his chair, motioning for someone to turn the camera feed to the runway. Jamie, one of the control bunker’s information specialists, got up from her chair and switched the monitor from BBC news onto the local feed. On the 52 inch high resolution display the control room personnel could see Aile’s F-15, callsign Hunter 2-7, sitting on the runway.
“He didn’t even ask for taxi permission,” Darrington mused. Jamie shrugged.
“You know how that guy is,” she replied. Even though they barely knew Aile at all, his reckless dive into the fight during the raid had made him famous. His subsequent success had made him something of a hero.
“Wolf 107, tower, the runway’s all yours. No traffic, light winds gusting East at five MPH.”
“Roger tower,” Aile replied. He checked over his instruments. Engine RPM and temperature looked fine and there were no warnings. The diagnostic software they had installed showed okay, but Aile didn’t trust it 100 percent because they didn’t have time to install all the additional sensors and relays that the K27 planes were normally equipped with. However, Aile had worked on that plane with his own two hands, and as such he had a feel for it. He could tell instinctually that it was ready to fly and he trusted those senses more than any sensor or other high tech wizardry. So, committing himself, he gripped the dual throttles and slowly eased them forward.
“Wolf 107, on the roll,” Aile called as he released the wheel brakes. The F-15 shuddered a little as the engines pushed it forward. The twin Pratts were running smoothly even as they reached maximum military thrust. Aile paid close attention to the feel of the vibrations, searching for any sign of trouble.
A moment later he ignited the afterburners while easing the stick back, feeling the surge of power as fuel was injected into the exhaust and combusted. The Eagle produced two impressive flames as it practically jumped off the runway and began to ascend into the dimming evening sky.
“Airborne and feet wet,” Aile called, indicating he was off the ground and flying over the sea. “I’m turning South, two one zero, and heading out to sea. I’ll be putting her through her paces above angels ten, so do me a favor and let me know if I have any company up there.”
“Roger that,” Darrington replied, “for the moment the sky is yours. No civil or military aviation in the area, over.”
“Copy that,” Aile replied. He relaxed a little as he gradually climbed. It had actually been a while since Aile had had a nice relaxing flight. Everything he had done in recent times had been life or death. It felt like ages since he was up flying just for the sake of flying.
Of course he had to be vigilant. He didn’t have very much experience with F-15s, or any Western planes for that matter, but for someone as experienced at flying as Aile was, hopping into another plane was about as difficult as driving an unfamiliar car. Sure, one might have to adjust the seat and move the mirrors, and the radio station presets were all wrong, but those were all inconveniences that were easily overcome. Having flown planes and frames in some capacity for the last eleven years of his life, indeed most of his life, Aile was second to none.
“Wolf, Kilo two seven,” Darrington called.
“Go ahead, Kilo,” Aile casually replied.
“You’re getting some company up there. Hunter Zero-Nine, Moondance, just took off.”
“Understood tower. I’ll keep a look out for her,” Aile replied. He released the microphone switch and sighed a little, but also had to smirk. Lucine just wouldn’t leave him alone.
It didn’t take Lucine long to catch up. Aile was just reaching fifteen thousand feet when she came alongside him.
“Aile, I’m at your five o’clock low position,” Lucine calmly radioed, “advise you push button three.”
Aile knew what she was talking about. He had a chart with their radio frequencies on his knee board.
“Yep, button three,” Aile replied as he changed frequencies on his main radio. The second radio was monitoring the international emergency channel, which was normal.
“Are you insane?” Lucine scolded him on the new frequency. Aile briefly considered switching back to the more public frequency they had been on previously.
“No, at least I don’t think so,” Aile replied. “Just taking her out for a shake down.”
“With no escort, no flight plan filed, no… flight suit!” Lucine practically shouted that last bit. Indeed, Aile wasn’t even wearing a crash helmet - just a skimpy headset that he had connected to the radio. It was true that fighter pilots usually didn’t go up in jeans and a tee shirt.
“Nope, just me and the bird,” Aile rocked his wings, “she flies like a dream, thanks for asking.”
“I swear,” Lucine rolled her eyes, “I have no idea how that girl puts up with you.”
“Do I detect a hint of jealousy?” Aile said with mock smugness.
“Peh, not this time,” Lucine turned her head away. Aile grinned.
“Well, if you aren’t chasing me anymore,” his hand curled around the two throttles, “then I guess you wouldn’t mind if I did something like…”
Lucine heard the warning alarm in her head, but it was already too late.
“This!” Aile finished his statement while simultaneously slamming the throttles into their stops. Igniting the afterburner, Aile was pressed into his seat as the F-15 leaped forward like a pouncing tiger. He immediately rolled inverted and pulled back on the stick, sending the Eagle into an upside down dive toward the ocean below.
“Ah…” Lucine uttered in surprise. “You jerk!” she shouted as she followed suit, pursuing him a moment thereafter.
For the first time in as long as he could remember Aile felt elation. It\ was a beautiful day, his plane had no stores or cargo and only half a load of fuel, and everything was working perfectly. Aile was truly in his element - flying freely like an eagle in the sky. It wasn’t often he could just let his heart guide him. Aviation, especially military aviation, was very strict. However, at that moment, sitting in his rebuilt plane without so much as a helmet, it was the very definition of the term ‘joyride.’
Lucine was less thrilled. In her opinion, Aile was demonstrating everything wrong with boys. Impulsive, inconsiderate, hot-headed - these were all traits that Lucine associated with the opposite gender. However, she failed to realize that it was those very characteristics that had caused her to fall for Aile in the first place. The mixture of such strong emotions, with doubt and jealousy as a catalyst, didn’t have Lucine in the most amiable mood. She even caught herself thinking that she should have brought some missiles along.
“Aile, get back up here! You’re below minimum safe altitude!”
“Safe altitude is anything above the ground,” Aile replied with a grin.
“And what if something breaks?” Lucine countered. If some component on Aile’s piecemeal fighter failed he wouldn’t have any altitude to recover.
“I’ll be trusting my life to this plane,” Aile replied, “so now is as good a time to start as any.”
“I swear you must be crazy,” Lucine said whilst shaking her head. However, she knew that in truth that wasn’t really the case. Fact was that Aile’s sense for flight was second to none. He had spent most of his life flying fighters and frames, many of which were designated as experimental. His instincts were top notch, and rivaled those of any test pilot.
Aile leveled his plane a few dozen feet above the ocean. Lucine watched from above as the Eagle soared over the water, its incredible downforce creating an impressive wake.
“Bet you can’t lock me up,” Aile said. Lucine raised an eyebrow.
“Are you serious?” Lucine was incredulous. “That’s a stock Eagle…”
“Mostly stock,” Aile cut her off. Indeed, he and Scott had put on as many aftermarket parts as they could get their hands on.
“Either way, its no match for a superfighter,” Lucine replied.
“Did you just coin that term?” Aile asked.
“No, but I’m not surprised the likes of you hasn’t heard it.”
“Oh, them’s fightin’ words,” Aile said. “So, are you gonna lock me up or what? I’m watching the RWR and I see nothing.”
“Fine,” Lucine replied, toggling her radar on.
“Bore only,” Aile said, “no HOBS.”
“Don’t worry, I brought the wrong helmet,” Lucine replied dryly. Her borrowed helmet didn’t have the High Off Bore-Sight capability. She would actually have to point the nose of her plane at her intended target. In a pinch, her Strike Eagle could make use of a head-tracking camera, but in the interest of fairness she opted not to use it.
“Any time,” AIle said, egging her on. “I’ve only got so much fuel, you know.”
“Fine, geez,” Lucine rolled her eyes. She tightened her hands on the controls. Aile’s position was in front and to the right of her, skimming the ocean about a hundred feet below. It would only take a minor course correction, and Aile would be right in front of her Strike Eagle’s powerful radar. Really, she couldn’t see any possible escape for Aile. He was right in the killbox.
The moment she moved the stick, Aile acted. It was almost like he was looking over her shoulder.
“Wha…!” Lucine uttered in surprise. Aile pitched up violently, coming very close to departing controlled flight. The Eagle stood on its tail and suddenly rushed past Lucine’s cockpit. By the time she turned her head, he was heading in the other direction, accelerating in a lazy left turn.
“You crazy son of a…!” Lucine said as she banked to give chase.
“Okay, okay,” Aile’s voice sounded strained, “I’ll admit that hurt.”
“Serves you right! If you don’t lose control you’re gonna tear that plane apart!”
“Or my body,” Aile replied. Actually, it was a risky maneuver to undertake in an unfamiliar, untested plane. Aile was putting a lot of trust in Scott’s craftsmanship, but that trust couldn’t be more well placed.
“But you know I don’t give up that easily! Come on!” Aile continued.
Lucine didn’t like it, but she wasn’t about to back down for the challenge, either. Aile was completing a turn to face her, and Lucine was at a bit of a disadvantage due to her hesitation. However, she began a climbing turn, using her plane’s superior power to forcibly gain the upper hand. She expected Aile to try to match her altitude, but he didn’t. Instead, he leveled off and slowed his fighter. Lucine though it a little odd, but with her superior power and altitude, there wasn’t much Aile could do in order to keep her from getting a shot. She, continued turning until she was pointing in the same direction as Aile, and then pitched down to attack his defenseless tail. Aile continued on, but right before Lucine had a solution, he suddenly pitched up in a violent turn. Lucine attempted to correct, to keep her nose on him, but by the time she put him in the sight, he was already heading right at her. He passed by her, their closure rate nearly a thousand miles an hour.
“Nice try,” Aile said over the radio. Lucine had to keep herself from swearing out of frustration. She took a deep breath, and began another turn toward Aile. This time, she was going to attempt to catch him head on. It was kind of like playing chicken. Whoever broke away first would leave themselves open for chase. However, Aile would have to break away first to avoid being caught in Lucine’s radar.
“I just have to lock you up, right?” Lucine asked, watching Aile’s F-15 levelling off in front of her.
“Yep, boresight only,” Aile replied.
“Fine,” Lucine licked her lips, “get out of this one.”
Lucine had Aile where she wanted him. He was heading right toward her, and she toward him. She adjusted her course - Aile stayed off of her nose. Lucine felt her chest tighten. She aggressively pulled the stick, and for an instant she had Aile in her sights. However, it wasn’t long enough. Aile immediately rolled away, and into a wide barrel. Lucine couldn’t keep him in her sights, and he again passed right by her.
“Bastard!” Lucine spit.
“Whoa, language,” Aile said. “Getting frustrated? It’s your fault for underestimating this plane.”
“You think this is an old junker that can’t hold its own,” Aile said as he climbed into the dimming sky, “truth be told, this plane is fantastic.”
Lucine looked over her shoulder and saw Aile rolling whilst climbing upward. She gritted her teeth.
“Yeah, we’ll see about that!”
“What? Whoa!” Aile said in surprise when he saw Lucine going full burner and heading right toward him. He knew that her souped up Strike Eagle was powerful, but the rate of acceleration she was now demonstrating was extremely impressive.
“Come here, you!” Lucine said in a fury. “Always think you can just dance your way out of everything, I’ll show you a thing or two about how a real aviator flies!”
Aile pulled back through a loop and tried to head toward Lucine’s nose. However, she was ready for him. Before they passed, she broke off, pulling into an extremely tight turn. Aile passed by her, but she was already completing her turn, and in an instant she was on his tail.
“Crap, nice move…” Aile muttered. He tried to break away, but Lucine was right on him. She was only milliseconds away from a lock. Aile popped his speedbrake and barrel rolled to lose speed. Lucine growled, hit the afterburner, and pulled up sharply. It almost looked as though she intended to give up her chase, but as Aile rapidly decelerated, she hit the brakes while simultaneously pushing the stick beyond the soft limits…
Lucine’s Strike Eagle departed from controlled flight. Under normal circumstances, it was a very bad idea. But her Eagle was special, and Lucine maintained complete control as the plane performed a rapid somersault. Nearing the end of her crazy maneuver, the nose settled right on Aile’s fighter. Aile was so surprised by what had just happened that he couldn’t get away. A tone sounded - Lucine had a hard lock.
“Hah! Weasel your way out of that!”
“Geez, spiteful much?” Aile said, failing to hide his disappointment. “I didn’t know you had that kind of post-stall control in an F-15.”
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me, flyboy.”
“Heh,” Aile chuckled, “well, nice moves. I guess you win.”
“I…” Lucine faltered, “yeah, guess so.”
“What’s wrong?” Aile asked. He joined up on her wing.
“I, uh… got a little carried away then,” Lucine admitted a little sheepishly.
“Real aviator, huh?” Aile said. Lucine looked over as his Eagle floated alongside her.
“I… didn’t really mean that,” Lucine said.
“Yeah you did,” Aile replied, “you’ve always sort of felt that way.”
“No, I haven’t, I…”
“Yeah you did,” Aile said.
“Maybe a little.”
“It’s true, I’ve sort of fallen into this lifestyle. For a long time, I’ve just gone with it because it’s all I can really do. But you have to admit, I’m pretty good for a bastard.”
Lucine looked over at him. She could see him smiling his trademark wry grin at her in the cockpit of his cobbled together fighter. It was an odd site to see the cockpit of an airborne fighter occupied by someone wearing a tee shirt and no helmet, but somehow it suited him. Aile looked right at home in that cockpit. It was like he just fit there naturally. Aile wasn’t a professional aviator. He didn’t have formal training, or any certifications. However, he was a natural. He took to flying like a bird, it was impossible for him not to do it.
Ever since she had met with him at Lighthouse, Lucine had been frustrated at Aile’s apparent lack of responsibility. His crazy plan to rescue his girlfriend had been gnawing away at her, too. However, she then realized that it wasn’t his lack of responsibility that had been annoying her. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, it was Aile’s responsibility, his dedication. He was totally devoted to Elise, and intended on risking it all to save her. Lucine was only frustrated because Aile wasn’t so fervently pursuing her.
“I’m sorry,” Lucine said. “You are good. And you’re not a bastard.”
“I’ll take that to heart, Lucine,” Aile said softly, “thanks.”
Lucine felt like a burden had been lifted from her shoulders. Sighing, she maintained perfect formation with him as they soared through the sky toward the setting sun.
Many miles away, Elise was also watching the same setting sun. Sitting alone in the cold cell-like room, Elise hugged her legs close to her chest as she sat against the wall and stared out the tiny window.
Things had been steadily getting worse for her, and she didn’t know how much longer she could hold out. The tests were getting more painful and uncomfortable, and she felt like any pretenses at mercy that her captors had previously had were slipping away. She had recently been returned to her room from a prolonged procedure that involved being put into a large cylindrical device and told to lie still while her body was scanned. It had taken a lot longer than expected, and she had had another terrible accident. She had tried to hold it, but her stomach had been upset since the previous evening. To make matters worse, when she lost control she had apparently moved too much, because they had to start the scan over, and she was forced to lie still in her messy diaper.
Elise had never been so miserable in her life, and thus far her life hadn’t exactly been comfortable. It seemed as though she just went from one bad situation to another, but her life at Lighthouse had certainly been much better than her life at the facility. For the first time in her life, though, she recognized that everything was relative.
However, she had one ray of hope, and that was Aile. She knew he wouldn’t just leave her in that facility. He was out there, planning her rescue. She clung to that hope more closely than any other in her heart. At the same time Elise also knew how unlikely it was. It didn’t take an expert to see that the facility was heavily fortified. There were many hard looking men around, and also a host of military weapons and equipment. To take such a place it would probably require an army.
Still, Elise held onto hope. It was all that she could do, and so any doubts she pushed away. Even so, her hope was steadily failing. Fading away just like the day’s last light.
The sun had set and darkness bathed the island. The working lights that had been set up were still the main source of illumination, and they cast an eerie glow on the tattered base. Aile crossed over the island above the shoreline with Lucine on his wing.
“Guess we’d better get back,” Aile said over the radio on their private channel. “I’m getting low on fuel.”
“You only brought half,” Lucine reminded him.
“Yeah, but it did better than expected. Fuel economy is much improved from the stock Eagle.”
“Hey, Aile,” Lucine asked as Aile began a lazy turn away from the island. He was just about to inform the tower that he was setting up an approach.
“Yeah?” Aile replied.
“I wanted to ask you something.”
“Let’s say this plan works, and you’re able to rescue Elise,” Lucine paused, “what then?”
Aile was silent a moment.
“That depends,” he replied. “If we manage to kill off whoever it is that is trying to capture people like Elise, then I want to take her back to Lighthouse to finish school.”
“And if we can’t confirm that?”
“Well, then I guess we go into hiding,” Aile sighed. “I’m sure we could find a home in Via, or some other out of the way place. It’s not ideal, but at least I could keep her safe.”
“You know you would be welcomed at K27, too,” Lucine said. “Your skills and talents would be put to good use here.”
“I know, and thanks for saying that,” Aile replied. “But I don’t think Elise could have a life in a place like this.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Lucine replied.
“C’mon, let’s get these birds on the ground,” Aile said. “Tomorrow’s gonna be a busy day.”
“Yeah,” Lucine replied. The two fighters maintained perfect formation as they turned toward the island.