Operation Lighthouse: Nexus
Chapter 26 - For the Strength of the Pack
Lucine’s F-15 flew over the plume of smoke that was billowing from what was left of Aile’s fighter. Flying in a sideways position, Lucine looked out the side of her canopy down at the wreckage. All that remained of the Eagle was scattered flaming debris surrounding a sizable crater in the tarmac. Unable to comprehend what had just happened, Lucine was totally speechless.
In the facility, Yuki was also speechless. Staring into the space beyond the wall of the cell, she stood wide eyed and silent. Elise was on the verge of panic following Yuki’s outburst. She had no idea what was going on, but was too afraid to ask.
“Yuki, what’s…” Elise tentatively began. Yuki was completely overtaken by shock and didn’t respond. After several moments passed she suddenly closed her eyes and sighed heavily in relief.
“I’m… I’m okay,” a voice said over Lucine’s radio. Lucine suddenly perked up in her seat. She pulled her F-15 into a sharp turn while flying in knife edge. It was then that she spotted the parachute.
“Aile?!” she asked excitedly.
“That was too close,” Aile said. About a hundred meters from the wreckage of his F-15, Aile stumbled over a concrete barrier on the edge of the taxiway. Cutting his parachute loose, the young pilot slumped down onto his rear behind the cover of the barrier.
“Oh thank God…” Lucine sighed and slumped forward, held back by her harness. “But, how did you…?”
“I barely managed to get out in time,” Aile said as he pulled off his helmet. The visor was smashed and the side dented, but thankfully the parts inside, most importantly his head, were still in one piece. “I… ah,” Aile rubbed the dizziness from his eyes, “…saw the missile coming at the last second. Pulled the eject handle and went flying. Good thing for this suit… it protected me from the blast. Speaking of which, what the hell shot me?”
“I’m not sure,” Lucine said as she raised her visor. She carefully wiped away some tears that had formed in her eyes. “I’m checking now…”
Using the control on the throttle quadrant, Lucine oriented the sensors in the direction from where the shot had come from. It only took a moment for Moondance to get a fix on what had fired the high-speed missile. Lucine cringed.
“I don’t believe it,” she gravely said.
“What is it?” Aile asked with a serious voice as he watched Lucine’s fighter.
Lucine raised her head and looked toward where her sensors were pointed. She could see the three dots in the distance over the horizon.
“Fighter frames… FF-24s. Three of them” Lucine replied.
“What? How?” Aile asked, looking out ahead of where Lucine was flying.
“I don’t know,” Lucine shook her head. “There should be no way… I don’t get it.”
The FF-24 frames on her display disengaged large tubes from their legs which tumbled haphazardly toward the ground.
“They had expansion rockets.”
“Even so, there’s no way they could have made it all the way from Key West that quickly. They must have come from Cuba,” Aile realized. “That’s the only explanation. They had assets in Cuba we didn’t know about. Damn it.”
“So much for our intelligence…” Lucine lamented.
“Lucine… you have to go. You’re in no shape to fight those guys.”
“What? No!” Lucine was appalled at the suggestion…
“You don’t stand a chance against three air-to-air spec frames,” Aile shook his head. “Get the hell outta here. I’ll meet up with Lance and Annabelle. You get back to K27 and start planning our rescue.”
“Aile, there’s no way I’m leaving you down there,” Lucine replied as she circled overhead.
“Damn it, Lucine, would you listen…” Aile trailed off when he saw one of the closing frames launch a missile. “Lucine, watch out, missile your nine o’clock high!”
“Whoa!” Lucine exclaimed as she moved to avoid the missile. Thanks to her stealth system, the missile couldn’t track accurately and streaked right by. Having lost its lock, the infrared guided missile instead zeroed in on the flaming wreckage of Aile’s F-15.
“Oh geez…” Aile said as he sprung to his feet and broke into a run. Just as the missile hit the ground behind him, Aile took a dive. The blast tossed a plume of soil and tarmac into the air. Aile covered his head as remains Earth and taxiway rained down on him.
“Aile, are you alright?” Lucine asked worriedly.
Aile shook the dirt from his hair as he turned around on the ground and looked upward. He could see the three frames approaching from above. They broke formation and arced outward in different directions to surround Lucine’s fighter, each one drawing sharp contrails in the cool morning sky.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he coughed as he got to his feet.
“Fox two!” Lucine called over the radio. Dusting himself off, Aile looked up in time to see the flash of light as one of Lucine’s Sidewinders ignited its rocket motor. The missile accelerated forward and turned immediately after leaving the rail. For a second it looked like the missile would score a hit, but at the last possible moment the frame kicked out its legs and changed direction. The missile turned toward it, but flew harmlessly by. The target detector detonated, but it was too far away for the annular blast-fragmentation warhead to harm the armored frame.
“Lucine, it’s no use, get out of here while you can,” Aile pleaded with her.
“No,” Lucine replied, her voice strained under the G forces as she turned. “I can still fight!”
Aile watched as Lucine fired her cannon at the second frame, which immediately tried to avoid. Lucine’s aim was much better than the frame pilot had expected, and a few of the rounds connected despite his attempt to dodge. The twenty-millimeter rounds exploded on the frame’s armor, creating an impressive display of sparks, but it wasn’t enough to do significant damage. Aside from scratched paint and unseemly dents the frame was unharmed.
Aile heard another sound besides the concert of jet engines above. Looking to his left he could see the three land frames stomping along the far side of the runway. The crashed C-130 was there as well. Aile looked back up to where Lucine was desperately fighting.
“I’m winchester all air-to-air armaments,” Lucine said dejectedly, looking at her armament panel. “All I have now is air-to-surface munitions. Think I can hit him with a Maverick?”
“Lucine, it’s time to go,” Aile said. Lucine paused a moment.
“Aile, I… can’t leave you.”
“Go on, Lucine,” Aile said with a sigh. “There’s no point in getting shot down. I…” Aile paused when he noticed one of the frames making an aggressive turn. “Lucine, watch out! Frame coming at you from your eight!”
Lucine snapped her head to the left. The frame had abandoned all caution and was already extremely close to her, it’s dual arm-mounted cannons raised. At such a close range it was impossible to avoid.
Lucine tucked her head into her right shoulder, closed her eyes, and waited for the impact.
A second passed. Then two. No impact came.
Opening one eye at a time, Lucine searched left and right for the enemy frame. She spotted it a moment later, rolling away from her in a defensive maneuver. Then she noticed the smoke trail.
“What?” Aile said over the radio. The other two frames were also taking evasive action. Someone had fired at them from a long way away.
Lucine reoriented her sensors, searching the horizon. A moment later Moondance identified three approaching fighters. The lead fighter was recognized and identified on the main screen. Lucine’s eyes widened in surprise.
MiG-29UB Custom “Wraith”
“Wraith?!” Lucine said in disbelief.
“Wraith?” Aile echoed in surprise.
A voice crackled over their open channel.
“Looks like we made it in time,” it said. Lucine didn’t recognize the voice, but Aile certainly did.
“Lang!?” Aile asked in disbelief.
“I’m disappointed in you, Aile,” Lang replied. “Going out on a half-baked, harebrained mission like this and you didn’t even invite us. And on top of that, you even managed to get yourself shot down.”
Several miles out, Aile’s MiG-29UB/AP Fulcrum, nicknamed Wraith, approached with two other fighters.
One of them was a Su-34 heavy strike fighter, painted in a light gray camo pattern.
“You know all you had to do was ask,” Skylar Bennet added.
The other fighter, a blue-gray two-seat F/A-18 Hornet, rocked its wings.
“We would have been here a lot sooner,” Diego de la Destiny agreed.
“You guys… I owe you,” Aile said.
“That’s two times in a row. You’re getting sloppy, Aile,” Skylar chided.
“Aile, we’ll handle things up here,” Lang said. “You just concentrate on getting to Elise and getting her out to the runway.”
“Lang, our transport was shot down. We don’t have any way out of here,” Aile said.
“Don’t worry about that, we brought our one of our own,” Lang replied.
Upon hearing that, Lucine searched for other aircraft. She detected a transport plane approaching the coast, flying low over the sea. It was a Russian made IL-76 jet transport.
“We’ll take care of these guys and secure the runway prior to landing the transport. What’s the status of the crew of that C-130?” Lang asked.
“They’re still alive, but one is pretty badly injured,” Lucine said.
“Copy that. We brought rescue equipment with us,” Lang assured her. “Aile, get to work. Don’t worry, we aren’t leaving anyone behind.”
“You got it, boss!” Aile replied excitedly. After checking his weapon and ammo, Aile broke into a run toward the facility’s closest entrance.
Lucine watched the three frames as they adopted a more defensive formation. She turned her gaze back toward the approaching allied fighters.
“How did you know?” Lucine asked.
“I received a tip from an old friend of mine. Actually, he had a message for you. Ahem…” Lang cleared his throat. “Sorry for butting in, Little One, but you know how I worry.”
Tears suddenly formed in Lucines eyes. “Damn it, Scott,” she said as she wiped them away.
“Fall back behind us, Moondance. We’ll take care of things from here,” Lang said.
“Copy that,” Lucine replied as she changed her heading.
“Now then, guess it’s time for the speech,” Lang said.
“I hope they’re listening,” Skylar remarked.
“It’s the international emergency channel. They’ll be listening,” Lang replied. He keyed the second PTT switch on the the throttle.
“Attention, Coalition frames. This is Knight One Zero One, representing the Republic of Via Independent Air Guard. The facility you are guarding is participating in unlawful, immoral human experimentation. It is our intent to liberate the test subjects and then put that facility permanently out of commission. If you choose to stand against us we will shoot you down.”
In the control room, Kolman also heard the broadcast. The support staff all exchanged looks of disbelief and worry. Several of them looked to Kolman for an answer.
Kolman just narrowed his eyes and muttered a name.
“Charles Lang…” he said with contempt.
Lang waited several seconds for a reply.
“Doesn’t look like they have anything to say,” Diego said.
“Three frames against three fighters, huh?” Skylar thought out loud. “You know, they say that a frame is roughly six times more effective than a fighter in a close range dogfight. Even though our numbers are matched, statistically speaking it’s more like three versus eighteen.”
“So, it’s almost even,” Diego replied. Skylar smirked.
“Well, it doesn’t look like they intend to back down,” Lang said with a sigh. He was quiet a moment, and then said boldly, “alright, Wolfpack, on me.”
“Two,” Diego said.
“Three,” Skylar replied.
“Combat spread and weapons free. How and what you engage is up to you, but the leader is mine.”
“Roger that,” Skylar said.
“Understood, boss,” Diego said with a nod.
They were entering close in weapons range. The frames were approaching in a standard ‘V’ formation. Lang took a deep breath and switched the master-mode switch on the stick to ‘dogfight.’
“Break!” he called. Skylar and Diego both broke off as Lang shoved the throttles all the way forward.
Wraith accelerated ahead of the pack. The three frames broke formation as well in a similar fashion. Just as Lang had done, the leader of the enemy formation also chose to accelerate directly forward. Wraith and the lead FF-24 approached each other head on.
The frame fired first, but Lang had already reacted an instant earlier. Rolling over, Lang pulled Wraith into an extremely high-alpha split-s a moment before the two aircraft crossed. Performing what looked like an inverted Cobra, Lang’s airspeed dropped dramatically as the cold morning air condensed on Wraith’s wings and root extensions, creating an aura of white mist. At the same moment, he opened fire.
The frame pilot was unable to react in time and took several hits from the twenty-five millimeter as Wraith slid by. Wraith was already way below stall-speed, but using the axisymmetrical thrust-vectoring nozzles, Lang kept the nose on target, even as he fell away toward Earth, effectively flying backwards. The hapless frame faltered as Lang continued to shoot short controlled bursts into it as he fell away.
Having lost the right arm and a significant portion of its upper-rear armor, the frame pilot spun around and attempted to get a close range missile lock. However, Lang had already pointed the nose away and was accelerating toward the ground, reclaiming his airspeed. The frame pilot fired anyway, but thanks to the plasma stealth system the missile couldn’t track, and instead locked onto the rising sun and flew into the distance.
“If that’s all you have,” Lang addressed the frame’s pilot over the open channel, “I’m afraid this is going to be a short fight.”
Pulling a high-G turn, Lang headed back toward the enemy frame.
At the same time, Skylar and Diego entered the fight.
“Tally two bandits, Fireflies. One going high and one level at angels eight,” Skylar reported. One frame was climbing while the other approached them at an altitude of eight thousand feet.
“I’ll take the high one, you get the other guy,” Diego replied.
“Wilco,” Skylar responded.
Diego immediately pulled his Hornet into a climb. Two white-hot cones of exhaust erupted from the twin nozzles as he went into afterburner. At the same time, Skylar pulled his throttles back. He waited for the speed to drop into optimal corner velocity before bringing the power up to maintain it. As the frame approached head on Skylar boresighted it and acquired a lock. He fired without hesitation.
“Fox two!” Skylar called as he released a duo of R-74M dogfight missiles. The two missiles blasted off the underwing rails and streaked toward the approaching Firefly. As they accelerated toward their target, the enemy frame fired its high speed machine gun, filling the air with a stream of tracers. The two missiles were stuck one after the other and bursted mid-air.
Skylar clicked his tongue as he passed over the frame. He began a tight turn to reengage. However, utilizing its chief advantage, the Firefly kicked out its legs and rapidly slowed to a halt. Turning mid-air, the frame ignited its afterburner and headed directly toward Skylar as he turned.
Skylar glanced back and did a double take when he realized the frame was already hot on his tale.
“Oh, right…” he muttered. The frame fired, and at the same moment Skylar rolled. The tracers only narrowly missed the large Su-34 as Skylar executed a series of defensive maneuvers.
Dropping the throttles back a notch, Skylar carefully watched the enemy frame as it drew closer. When the frame was nearly on top of him, he rolled and pulled the stick back past its soft limits. The Su-34 pitched up rapidly, creating a cloud of condensation on its wings. Executing an impromptu hook maneuver, Skylar braced himself against the negative g-forces as the frame passed by. Wasting no time, he slammed the throttles forward and went into afterburner, rolling toward Earth and clawing for every ounce of speed he could get. As he righted his attitude, Skylar noticed Diego’s F/A-18, which was in a similar predicament.
Glancing back over his shoulder, he could see the frame already approaching. Feeling his options waning, Skylar came up with the best idea he could.
“Diego, come left seventy degrees. I’ll cross you nose on,” Skylar radioed.
Diego, straining under g-forces, forced his gaze up and to the left. He could see Skylar’s plane coming in from above. Noticing Skylar’s attitude and vector, Diego immediately understood.
“Roger that, hermano!” he replied excitedly as he immediately began his turn.
Skylar glanced back and saw the enemy frame catching up again. Looking forward right, he could see Diego was nearly in position.
“I’m starting my turn. Airspeed five hundred, we’ll cross in five,” Skylar radioed as he banked left.
“We’ll pass at one thousand… ninety degree starboard roll as we pass… just like the Angels.”
Skylar glanced in his rear-view mirror as he turned. The frame was still hot on his tail.
Diego’s hornet completed a sharp turn and rolled wings level.
Skylar focused on Diego’s plane, which was headed straight toward him. He resisted the urge to break away as the two planes closed at alarming speed.
“Roll!” Diego called. Both fighters rolled to the right just in time to cross belly to belly, mere feet apart.
Immediately after passing each other, Skylar launched two missiles at the frame that had been chasing Diego. Both missiles hit in the chest of the area of the frame, which sent it into a multi-axis tumble. Skylar banked away to avoid one of the arms as it tumbled haphazardly through the air.
At the same moment, Diego also fired. Using all three canons, the stock M61A1 mounted in the hornet’s nose, along with the dual twenty-five millimeter Bushmaster cannons, Diego send several pounds of steel into the frame that had been chasing Skylar. The armor-piercing ammunition tore into the lightly armored Firefly, which erupted into a fireball a moment later.
Pitching up from their respective kills, both fighters drew sharp contrails in the cool morning air.
The lead frame was flying near the ground, checking right and left. From above and behind, right in the frame’s blind spot, Wraith dropped down. Pulling out of a dive, Lang fired a missile. The frame turned just in time to catch the missile in the center of the chest. The warhead detonated, knocking the frame off balance. Its foot caught the terrain, and it flipped end over end, kicking up a mass of dirt from the ground. When the dust cleared, the broken frame was sprawled out on the ground, unmoving.
“Knight one oh one, splash a bandit,” Lang said as he took off his oxygen mask. He took in a couple deep breaths. “Looks like you guys are done too.”
“Two down, boss. One each,” Diego said. “Orders?”
“Well done, Wolfpack. Diego, I want you to put that phased array radar of yours topside and check for anybody else trying to crash Aile’s party. Skylar, you and me are gonna clear the runway, capiche?”
“Understood, going high!” Diego said as he pulled into a steep climb and went into afterburner.
“Copy that, boss,” Skylar replied, pulling into a turn to rendezvous with Lang.
Lucine watched Diego’s Hornet pass her as he climbed to a higher altitude. She glanced down toward Lang and Skylar as they made a gun run at the land frames far below.
“Damn, that was impressive,” Lucine said. “But how are you going to get rid of those guys?”
“We don’t have to,” Lang said, his voice straining against g-forces as he climbed away after his gun run. Lucine could see the dust settling around the land frames from the shower of tracers Lang had peppered them with. “We just have to distract them.”
“Huh?” Lucine said at the same time Moondance’s sensors chirped. She looked down at one of the screens to see the transport approaching at low altitude.
Before Lucine could ask, a voice came over the radio.
“Knight One Zero One, Candid Four Seven, we are setting up for initial run,” the calm and cool voice of a career pilot sounded.
“Candid Four Seven, we roger that. We’ll keep these guys off you best we can while you deliver the Kharkov. Remember, go easy on the controls. I got that transport for a steal.”
“Roger that. Commencing drop in two-five seconds,” the voice of the IL-76’s pilot said. The large transport completed a turn and brought its wings level as it approached the runway. Lucine noticed that it wasn’t aimed right at the runway, but was rather going to fly parallel to it. As it grew closer the rear cargo ramp opened as the IL-76 leveled off about a hundred feet off the ground.
“Three… two… one… dropping,” the pilot calmly radioed. Something dropped out of the back of the transport. It looked angular and narrow, but as it dropped appendages unfolded from its sides. Locking into place, the arms completed an angular, yet humanoid silhouette. It was a lightweight land assault frame.
The frame, a Russian K-64 ‘Kharkov’, kicked up a massive amount of dust as it skidded across the ground next to the runway. As the IL-76 banked away, the Kharkov came to a halt and brought to bear two almost oversized recoilless rifles.
“Knight One Zero One, this is K-64, Alina Vikhrov. Landing successful, continuing with mission.”
“Understood, Lina. We’ll leave clearing the runway to you.”
“Understood,” Lina replied as she spotted the three enemy frames. “Targets in sight, entering combat.”
The Kharkov aimed the recoilless rifle attached to its right arm and fired.
Lang checked the time, which was displayed on the top of Wraith’s central MFD.
“Clock’s ticking. It’s all you, Aile,” he said without keying the radio.
“Ah!” Aile winced as he caught his foot at a strange angle. His injured ankle forced him to limp slightly, but he ignored it as he proceeded down a long hallway.
Carefully checking every corner, Aile made his way through the lower levels of the facility. So far he hadn’t encountered anybody, but that luck suddenly ran out as he neared an emergency stairwell.
The security guards were just as surprised to see him as he was to see them.
“Gah!” Aile exclaimed as the guards raised their pistols and opened fire without any hesitation. Leaping to the left, Aile hid behind a thick support pillar as the guards poured on the fire.
The guards were slowly circling toward him while keeping on the fire. Aile took a deep breath to calm his nerves as he checked to make sure his MP7 was ready to fire.
One of the guards stopped to reload. Aile took advantage of the opportunity and immediately sprung out, pulling the trigger of the MP7 with abandon. The two guards, caught off guard with no cover, fell immediately as Aile hosed them down with a hail of 4.6 millimeter bullets.
The submachine gun clicked empty and Aile paused. The tinkling of brass shells was the only sound that was left. The two guards lay motionless on the cold concrete floor.
Taking a moment to collect himself, Aile took several deep breaths as he reloaded his MP7. After kicking the guards’ pistols away from their bodies for good measure, he continued on.
After his run in with the security guards, Aile was extra careful as he climbed the stairs. Checking left and right, he kept his head low as he proceeded down the hallway on the second floor.
So far, there weren’t any additional guards on the second floor. Rounding a corner, Aile spotted the door he had been looking for. Checking down the hallway one more time, he carefully crossed into the open and stepped up to the door. Allowing his MP7 to hang from its sling, Aile examined the door. It was plain but very heavy looking. There was a placard that read “Subject 152”. It was just the door he was hoping to see.
Succumbing to his excitement, Aile immediately began banging on the door.
“Elise!” he called hopefully.
“Aile!” he could hear from behind the door.
“Oh thank God!” Aile said as he breathed a heavy sigh of relief. He caught his breath and yelled “hang on, I’m gonna get you out of there!”
Aile examined the door for access. There was an electronic locking mechanism. He touched it, but seeing that it required a card to access, immediately gave up on the lock. He tested the door’s strength – it felt sturdy.
“Ah, dammit,” Aile cursed. Knowing he didn’t have time to fight with the door, Aile gripped his MP7.
“Elise, get away from the door! Do you hear me? Back away from the door and get behind something! Something solid, okay!”
“Ah… okay!” Elise said. Aile waited as patiently as he could, taking several deep breaths.
“Okay!” Elise called. Her voice was much fainter than before – she had obviously taken cover.
“You sound like you’re to my left… to the right of the door on your side, is that right?” Aile asked. He wanted to be sure.
“Yeah, we’re in the bathroom! It’s a concrete wall!” Elise called.
“Okay, here goes…” Aile raised his weapon but paused, “wait a sec, we?”
Aile shook it off and focused on what he was doing. Checking right and left to make sure no one was creeping up on him, he took a step back and took aim at the door. He angled himself forty-five degrees so he was pointing away from where Elise had taken cover and pointed the muzzle of his gun where he figured the lock was.
It only took a short burst. The armor-piercing rounds tore through the lock and blew it into several pieces. The once obstinate door swung open without protest. Aile carefully stepped in.
“Elise?” he asked. From around a corner, Elise poked her head out and look around with wide eyes.
“Aile!” she cried, immediately rushing to him. Aile let his MP7 dangle from its sling as he caught Elise in his arms. It was all he could to to keep from crying.
Elise didn’t even try to hold back.
“Elise!” Aile said. He breathed an extremely heavy sigh of relief as Elise sobbed in his arms. “It’s so good to see you.”
Elise couldn’t reply, but instead just wailed into Aile’s chest. Aile smiled despite the situation and just hugged.
“It’s alright… I’m here,” Aile said soothingly.
“What… took you,” Elise managed. Aile smiled. He was about to reply when he noticed they weren’t alone.
“Uh… hi?” Aile said.
The small raven haired girl didn’t reply. She kept her head low and cautiously looked Aile up and down the same way a cat would size up a stranger.
“Yuki,” Elise sniffled. She pushed away from Aile and dabbed at her eyes. After taking a deep breath, Elise introduced them. “Aile, this is Yuki.”
“Oh, hi…. uh, Yuki,” Aile replied, then looked at Elise for any kind of elaboration.
“She was here before me… she’s a test subject, like, uh… like I am.”
“Right, of course,” Aile nodded while rubbing his chin, “we didn’t expect there would be others.”
“It’s just me and Yuki,” Elise replied. “I didn’t see any more.”
“Well, good thing you’re both here. Makes things easier. C’mon, we’re getting out of here!” Aile said.
“Like hell you are,” sounded the cold voice of a woman. Aile gripped his weapon as he spun around to see a tall, dark haired woman step into the doorway. She was wearing a lab coat and glasses, and held a small pistol in her hand. She was flanked by two large security guards, both armed with submachine guns.
“Just hold it right there,” the woman added. Rather than sounding alarmed or excited, the lady seemed more like she was dealing with an annoyance. Aile narrowed his eyes, but didn’t loosen the grip on his MP7. It was a standoff.
“And just who the hell are you supposed to be?” Aile asked.
The woman wore a smug look.
“Doctor Alcena Shealy. And you’re Aileron Phoenix,” Doctor Shealy said.
“What?” Aile replied dubiously.
“Rumor has it you’re also one of the third generation optimums. I’m looking forward to finding out first hand. You certainly are a fine specimen.”
Aile glanced over for a second. He could feel Elise’s hand touching his back. She was shaking, and Aile could sense that she was afraid of this woman. He felt a fire building in his chest.
“Like hell,” he said through clenched teeth, tightening his grip on his weapon.
“Don’t even think about it,” Doctor Shealy advised with a bored sigh. “I would hate to see something bad happen to your girlfriend.”
She was right. If shooting started, Elise and Yuki would be right in the line of fire.
For a long moment Aile just stared at her. The guards seemed to be getting antsy as well. They didn’t appear to be well trained, and Aile worried one of them could pop off at any moment. Even so, they were completely silent, and the only sounds that could be heard were of the explosions from the battle in the distance.
“Aile…” Elise whispered. Her voice was desperate.
Aile took a moment and analyzed the situation. He knew that whatever he did, he couldn’t put Elise in danger. That was his single most important priority. He let out a sigh.
“If I hand myself over, will you guarantee their safety,” Aile said.
Doctor Shealy smiled. She opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by one of the guards.
“Guwah!” the guard exclaimed as his blood suddenly spattered against the frame of the door. It was a heavy caliber bullet that had hit him in the arm, near his shoulder. The extremely loud shot echoed through the hallways. The guard immediately dropped his weapon, only to be struck again a moment later, but this time in the head.
Suddenly the other guard’s attention was diverted. Aile seized the moment.
“Nevermind!” Aile shouted. Firing on full auto, Aile mowed down both the doctor and the second guard. In the heat of the moment, Aile used the remainder of the bullets in the forty-round magazine.
Silence returned. Aile turned to the girls, who were cowering behind him covering their ears.
“Are you both okay?” he asked. They both nodded. After making sure that, other than being shocked, they were both okay, Aile stepped forward to check the guards and doctor. All three of them were very obviously dead. Aile took one last look at the doctor, who wore a permanent look of surprise on her face.
“I may have overdone it,” Aile said, looking at his weapon.
“Not really….” Elise muttered.
Yuki just averted her eyes and was silent. Since Aile didn’t know her, he didn’t notice how shaken up she was. Elise, overwhelmed by the situation, only vaguely registered that Yuki was even more pale than usual, if that were possible.
Aile quickly reloaded while kicking away the weapons on the floor.
“K27 squadron, I’m coming out,” a voice shouted.
“Go ahead,” Aile confirmed. A young man Aile had never seen before emerged from behind a pillar and headed toward the room. He was holding a bolt-action scout rifle and wearing a tactical vest over regular clothes. Even though Aile had never met him, for a moment he seemed to recognize the other man.
“Well, she’s dead,” the new arrival said.
“You’re the inside guy?” Aile asked.
“Yeah. Kaden Dirk, nice to meet you,” he replied as casually as if they had met in the post office.
“Aile Phoenix,” Aile replied, “Have we met before… I feel like I know you.”
“Not exactly, but you were acquainted with my reflection,” Kaden replied.
“Okay, I have no idea what that means,” Aile replied.
“I’ll explain later,” Kaden said. He turned to the girls. “Are you both okay, Yuki, Elise?”
“Uh, yeah,” Elise nodded.
“I’m okay,” the smaller girl squeaked.
Kaden seemed a little dubious as he looked at Yuki, but a moment later nodded.
“Good,” he said.
“We lost contact with you,” Aile said.
“Yeah, my secondary long range transmitter took a bullet,” Kaden replied. “And there was too much interference at the center of the facility for my short range backup to work.”
“Secondary?” Aile asked.
“Yeah, my primary was damaged a few days ago. Your fault.”
“I… what?” Aile asked.
“Like I said, I’ll explain later.”
“I see,” Aile replied. Elise suddenly remembered something.
“Oh…” she said, walking back to the nearby bed. She retrieved a jacket that was neatly folded. “This is yours. I never got a chance to thank you before.”
“Not at all, Miss Elise. Thanks for taking such good care of it.”
Aile eyed Kaden a little suspiciously, but a moment later shook it off.
“Kaden Dirk… thanks for the assist,” Aile said. “We have a transport… they should be landing any minute. We should get out there.”
“Right, about that,” Kaden replied as he draped his jacket over Yuki’s shoulders. The younger girl just froze up and looked very nervous as Kaden zipped the jacket up over her. “There are reinforcements coming from Guantanamo. Squadron strength. There’s no way they’re letting that transport get away without a fight.”
“Guantanamo? That doesn’t bode well,” Aile replied.
“This base has a pair of frames that are used for ‘optimum integration testing’… basically to see how well an advanced human can integrate with a combat frame. They are prototypes, but they have been fully weaponized for testing purposes. Here,” Kaden handed Aile what looked like a USB flash drive.
“An activation key?” Aile said as he took the device.
“Yeah, you’re a frame pilot, right?” Kaden asked.
“Yeah, Fireflies, Fastbacks, what have you,” Aile said.
“Good. Head to the West hangar. Take the frame there and get these two girls to safety. It should have enough air-to-air firepower to get you out of here safely.”
“What about you,” Aile asked as he put the key into one of the pockets on his frame suit.
“I still have work to do. Move quickly, we don’t have an abundance of time,” Kaden said.
“Understood,” Aile said with a quick nod.
“Mister Kaden, I….” Yuki spoke up.
“Don’t worry, Yuki, I’ll see you again soon, I promise,” Kaden said with a smile. “For now, go with this guy. You can trust him… but I think you know that already.”
“Ye…yeah,” Yuki replied. “I’ll take care of your jacket.”
“I know you will,” Kaden replied then turned to Aile. “Okay, be careful. I’ll see you on the flipside.”
“Ah… right,” Aile said. With one last smile, Kaden left. Aile turned to the two girls with a slightly confused look. “Well, we’d better do as he says.”
“Okay… just tell me what to do,” she replied bravely.
“Just stay behind me,” Aile checked his MP7. “Both of you.”
Yuki smiled and seemed be be relieved.
“Alright, let’s move!”