Crossing over sixty thousand feet, Michael Soun looked out the side of his plane’s cockpit. At that altitude, the sky appeared to fade from blue into black, and the curvature of the Earth was clearly visible.
“Phantom, IP,” Soun radioed. He had a few more seconds until launch.
“Siren, IP,” Iris Villinia echoed. She was fifty miles South of Soun, in a similar forty-five degree climb. Both planes had reached the initial point.
“Phantom, K27 control,” Darrington, the controller back on the base, called.
“Go ahead control,” Soun replied.
“You’re right on target, seventeen seconds until launch,” Darrington informed him.
“Copy that, control,” Soun replied. Taking a deep breath of cool oxygen from his mask, Soun flexed his stiff fingers. The vibrations coming through the controls were getting tiresome, but other than that the fighter was performing at that altitude much better than he had expected.
Despite looking like the 1960’s era fighter, Soun’s Phantom was completely remade with modern materials and technique. The low winged fighter still looked as imposing as it had over the skies of Vietnam, but since then all the weaknesses had been eliminated from the design. As for why it had been made, that was another story entirely.
“Ten seconds, Phantom,” Darrington called.
“Siren, you’re on the correct vector. Hold your course for twenty-three seconds,” Jamie, the information specialist, advised.
“Roger that,” Iris replied. Her voice was a little strained.
In order to ensure the success of their mission, they had to fly a tight profile. The satellites they were targeting were a long way away. As a result the two pilots had to fly at a much higher altitude than normal. Had the satellites been directly overhead they could have launched from a more reasonable height.
“Five, four, three…” Darrington began the final countdown. Soun took a deep breath.
Soun clicked and held the ‘pickle’ button on the stick with his thumb. He felt his fighter shudder as the missile separated itself by the power of explosive cartridges. An instant later the missile’s motor ignited and it blasted ahead of the still climbing F-4.
“Missile away!” Soun called.
“Get ready, Siren,” Jamie advised. Even though she was sitting comfortably back at K27, Jamie’s voice was tense.
“Ready,” Iris replied.
“Here we go, in five, four, three…” Jamie radioed. “…two, one, fire!”
“Launching,” Iris said as she firmly clicked the pickle button. An instant later her missile was on its way as well. Iris let out the breath of air she had been holding.
“We have the missiles on datalink,” Darrington said, “we’ll keep you posted. Wrap it up and RTB.”
“Understood,” Soun said. Flying level at seventy thousand feet he turned his gaze upward. The missile’s motor was still faintly visible as it ascended upwards into the black sky.
“It’s up to you now, Lucine,” Soun said.
Kaden Dirk sat alone in his room. Across from his chair was a small coffee table with a rudimentary looking laptop. On the screen was displayed a series of numbers. Each number was the identification of a satellite in orbit. Kaden had isolated the ones that were part of the military intelligence network and was watching them closely. The data was privileged, and it had taken some doing to get. Thankfully, K27 had a respectable collection of information specialists.
Just as the clock rolled over to 7:00 AM, one of the numbers on the screen changed from green to red. A few seconds later and a second one also changed. It was an entirely anticlimactic display of the lightshow that was happening hundreds of miles above the surface, where two state-of-the-art satellites were torn to shreds by extremely high-speed warheads. Kaden smirked.
Another piece of equipment was sitting next to the laptop. It was an olive colored box, about the size of a bar of soap. It was ruggedly constructed and had a thick rubber antenna on top. Kaden took the device and held it in his hand.
For a moment, he reflected on his time at Juventud. By nature, Kaden was an honest guy, and never liked lying to anyone. Contrary to his nature, his assignment at Juventud had forced him to lie to others constantly. It was a completely unfitting mission for someone like him, but he was glad to have taken it. Even if he had to sacrifice his honesty, Kaden knew he was doing it for a good reason. The people running the facility, the doctors and security personnel working there were all guilty of a heinous crime: disrespecting human life. Elise and Yuki were currently the only test subjects, but Kaden knew that there had been more before them. He lamented that he couldn’t save those children, and he wasn’t about to let any more be sacrificed. So, without any remorse, Kaden flipped the toggle switch on the detonator, arming it. Taking it tightly in his right hand, Kaden sighed, smiled, and clicked the trigger three times.
Not wanting to take any chances, Kaden had set up every last one of his explosives. It was more than enough to destroy the search and track LADARs. In fact, it was much more.
The resultant explosions destroyed not only the LADAR system, but also the nearby power station. Even though the targeted systems weren’t actually a part of the main building, the shockwave produced shook its very foundation. For a moment, Kaden wondered if daisy-chaining his explosives to a couple of well-placed Mk-84 2,000 pound bombs was overkill. It had been a tremendous pain sneaking the warheads from the hangar to the LADAR array, but the results were well worth it.
As the base’s defenses went up in a cloud of smoke and debris a surge of electricity from the stricken power station blew through the main facility. Lights and equipment were blown out, creating a panic. A moment later, all power shut off.
Elise and Yuki were shaken awake by the violent cacophony.
“Ahh! What!” Elise cried in alarm. At the same moment, Yuki suddenly grabbed her head and screamed. Gripped by a terrible pain, Yuki rolled out of bed and fell onto the concrete floor, screaming and writhing in the blanket. Elise sat up and immediately rushed to Yuki’s side.
“Yuki? What’s the matter? Are you okay?” Elise was beginning to panic. Yuki gripped her head and cried out, but soon thereafter the pain subsided. Elise heard a strange humming sound from above. Looking up, she saw the device in the ceiling - the one that suppressed Yuki’s mental capabilities - as it flickered several times and then faded. The sudden power surge had overloaded it, and in its throes of death it had emitted one final high powered pulse. However, now that it was dead, Yuki immediately felt better. In fact, she felt better than she had in a very long time.
Elise was still on the verge of panic. The sun was already rising, but it was still quite dark. The loud noises, the shaking, the sounds of panic outside and Yuki’s outburst - it was all just about more than Elise could handle. In her desperation she gripped Yuki tightly, unsure of what else to do.
“It’s… it’s okay,” Yuki finally said. Her voice was clear and calm.
“Yuki?” Elise asked, tears in her eyes.
“It’s okay, everything’s okay,” Yuki said. She sounded almost like a different person.
“Yuki, what’s happening?” Elise asked with a shaky voice.
“Right now, he’s on his way,” Yuki said calmly.
“Who is?” Elise asked. Yuki looked up into Elise’s eyes.
Elise’s eyes widened and her heart skipped a beat. She looked over at the tiny window where the morning sun was just beginning to seep through.
“Aile,” Elise said, her voice a mixture of hope and desperation.
“Just a little longer, Elise,” Aile said quietly. Flying high above the ocean, Aile closely followed Lucine’s F-15E. Though Aile’s own F-15C had no special stealth system, he was borrowing Lucine’s. Flying just behind and above, Aile’s F-15 was masked from the coastal search and track radar by Lucine’s particle bubble, which had been expanded to maximum range. It wasn’t something they could use once the fight started because they had to maintain a close distance, effectively using Lucine’s F-15 as a shield. They also had to slow to only two hundred fifty miles per hour, but it was enough to get them close. Lance’s C-130 was flying a wide arc around the island’s South side. Properly timed, he would rendezvous with Lucine and Aile over the facility five minutes after the start of the operation.
“Operation: Nexus,” Aile recited to himself. That was the name he had chosen. The illegal experimentation, the people behind everything that had happened over the past few months, and the mystery of Elise and others like her: that facility was the nexus where it all came together.
Lucine received word from K27 that the second phase, the destruction of the SAM system by their agent, had been completed. It was time to commence the third phase.
“I just received word from Ruby 2-6,” Lance radioed. “They just commenced their run at Key Worst. The place is in a panic.”
The other C-130 was running diversion two hundred miles north of their position. Rushing headlong at Naval Air Station Key West, the C-130’s towed decoys made it look like a full squadron on radar. They had disengaged their stealth system and deployed the decoys after already closing to within a hundred miles of the base - effectively at their front door. As a result, the Coalition squadrons were scrambled to intercept the threat. The C-130 would then drag the enemy alert fighters North toward Florida and then reactivate their stealth system before the alert fighters closed to within visual range. Essentially, it was like ringing a doorbell and running away. The backyard would be left temporarily clear.
However, Juventud had an airstrip, and reserve aircraft of its own. The latest intelligence listed the force as consisting of four F-35C Lightning IIs and two FF-24E Fireflys. They weren’t sure if the fighters belonged to the Global Coalition military or if they were being operated by hired help.
“Looks like our turn’s comin up,” Lucine radioed to Aile. “You ready?”
“Anytime,” Aile replied. He released the push-to-talk switch and looked out over the large island. Aile took in a deep breath and for a moment the world quieted and everything seemed to slow down. He resolved himself to the mission, and made a conscious decision not to hold anything back. It was time to put it all on the line and show the enemy what they were dealing with.
“Alright, combat spread,” Lucine radioed. “We’re going loud.”
“Roger that,” Aile said as he broke away to the right. Lucine rolled her Strike Eagle into a dive and Aile followed suit. Both birds of prey descended out of the clouds like hawks going in for the kill.
“I have them on OLS,” Lucine said as they penetrated the lower layer of clouds. “They’re already scrambling their fighters. Looks like they had two of them on alert.”
“Almost like they were expecting us,” Aile replied with a click of his tongue.
“They’re already on the roll,” Lucine said, a little bit of annoyance in her voice. Several thousand feet below two F-35s thundered down the short runway. Whoever was running the show was certainly shrewd.
“Guess we’ll have to fight them,” Aile responded. Even though the enemy was more prepared than they had expected, Aile was kind of glad. He had reservations about shooting planes while they were still on the ground - somehow it didn’t seem right. Now, however, they would face them head on. Aile probably should have felt anxious, but instead all he could feel was a growing sensation of excitement. A smile crept over his lips.
“Watch this, Elise,” Aile mentally projected.
“They’re climbing toward us, tally two F-35s.”
On paper an old F-15 had no chance against the fifth generation F-35 Lightning IIs. Lucine’s fighter was special, but Aile’s was mostly stock. True, it had myriad new parts and had been tuned to design limits. It was as good as a basic F-15 could possibly be. However, it was still a whole generation behind the approaching fighters. In fact, Aile couldn’t even see them on his radar. If not for his data-link to Lucine’s various sensors he wouldn’t even know those fighters were out there.
However, Aile did have a trick up his sleeve. Something Scott had given him at the last minute
before they left K27.
Aile flicked a caged toggle switch that had a piece of tape above it that read ‘active jamming’ in permanent marker ink.
“Music on,” Aile called to Lucine.
“Well, if they didn’t know we were coming they certainly do now,” Lucine remarked. Indeed, the active jamming pod was the complete opposite of a stealth system. It was more like shining a bright light in the enemy’s face.
Aile knew that it was tantamount to suicide to use such technology in the face of the enemy… for a regular pilot. However, he was confident that he could turn it into an advantage.
An alarm chirped inside of Aile’s crash helmet. The enemy fighters were already establishing a lock on his Eagle.
“Fight’s on!” Aile said excitedly. A moment later the two F-35s fired.
“Break!” Lucine called. Aile rolled and yanked on the Eagle’s old fashioned center stick. The F-15 responded crisply as an enemy missile turned to chase its belly. Leveling off, Aile spotted the red light of the missile’s motor coming right at him.
“Hah!” he exclaimed as he pulled the stick back and to the left. The F-15 pitched and rolled into a tight barrel. The missile flashed by the canopy, and an instant later its influence fuse detonated. However, Aile was already too far for it to matter.
“Scott, I owe you,” Aile said with a grin. The active jamming pod effectively made his plane look much larger to the enemy sensors. While it was very easy to see him coming, it was much harder for missiles to track him accurately. Without pin-point accuracy, the missiles would be largely ineffective.
“Engaging,” Lucine called as she went toe to toe with the lead F-35.
“I got the second guy!” Aile said, his voice strained from the g forces as he turned to meet the enemy fighter head on.
Passing through a small cloud, Aile leveled off when he spotted the F-35 turning toward him. A moment later its ventral weapon bay snapped open. Aile reacted the instant the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile blasted off toward him. Pulling into a wide barrel roll, Aile avoided the missile as it attempted to turn in on him. At the same moment, he squeezed the trigger. The enemy plane couldn’t turn fast enough, and as the duo of fighters crossed each other the F-35 ran into a hail of 20mm bullets. Aile checked over his left shoulder as the stricken F-35 spun into the ground, where it exploded brilliantly.
“One down!” Aile called.
“Yeah, me too,” Lucine calmly responded. Aile looked over in time to see the lead F-35, missing both its wings, tumble into a mountain.
A few minutes prior the control room situated on the top floor of the Juventud Research Facility had been calm. Now it was practically in chaos.
Running on backup generator power, the control room was abuzz with activity. The entire senior staff was there, and as such it was somewhat crowded. Dyson Kolman had also recently arrived, and though he was as surprised as anyone at the sudden assault, he didn’t show it.
“What about the aerial frames?” Kolman asked a young woman who was sitting in front of several large computer monitors.
“Black squadron has been called to the hangar and the Fireflys are being started as we speak, sir. But Flight Officer Kaden Dirk has yet to respond to the call. Do you think he was caught in the explosion?”
Kolman thought for several seconds. Dirk was a mercenary, so Kolman naturally didn’t trust him. He had been hired on as general security and as a frame pilot. However, Kolman had been suspicious of Dirk ever since the report that he was interacting with the test subjects. Kolman didn’t have any reason to suspect Dirk of being a part of what was happening, but his sudden disappearance was odd. Kolman was a calculating man, but he had also lived long enough to know to trust his own instincts.
“Notify the security personnel,” Kolman told the woman.
“Yes sir, what should I tell them?”
“If they find Dirk, shoot him on sight.”
The young woman looked away from the displays, visibly surprised at what Kolman had just said. Seeing the look in his eyes, she could tell he was serious. After a brief moment of hesitation, she returned her gaze to the screens.
“Yes, sir,” she said. Kolman then turned to a young man who was seated at another array of monitors.
“How are the defenses?” Kolman asked.
“Everything’s shot, sir,” the young man shook his head. “The initial explosion took out the LADAR and long range SAMs. Even some of the backup generators were hit. We are lucky to have power at all.”
“The reserve mobile SAMs?” Kolman asked. The young man nodded his head.
“Yes sir, they are still intact. Should I deploy them?”
“Do it,” Kolman said. “Tell them to fire at will.”
“Yes sir,” the young man replied.
“And the fighters?”
“Launching now, sir!”
Kolman looked out the window in time to see the second pair of F-35s accelerate down the runway. He had a feeling they would be insufficient.
“Get me Havana,” he told one of the communications operators. As the channel was connected, Kolman smirked.
“Second section incoming,” Lucine said as Aile rejoined on her wing.
“That was fast,” Aile said.
“Two more F-35s…. wait,” Lucine paused. “Something else as well…. frame!”
“FF-24, E model I think,” Lucine said, “it’s taking off now. What should we do?”
“Leave the frame to me,” Aile said. “You can handle the fighters, right?”
“Uhh, sure,” Lucine said a little uneasily. “No probs.”
“Sounds good,” Aile concluded as he banked away. Checking his remaining fuel, Aile dropped down to just over the terrain. Watching trees and shrubs flash by Aile selected his close range missiles, AIM-9M Sidewinders.
“Here they come,” Lucine said. Aile checked the datalink and noticed the frame was trailing behind the two fighters.
“Tally ho!” Aile declared when he saw the three aircraft soaring overhead. He pulled up toward them just as Lucine let loose a pair of missiles at the F-35s. The enemy fighters went on the defensive, while the lone frame was left to pursue Aile’s F-15. The FF-24 Firefly suddenly changed its posture, the cold morning air condensing on the frame’s limbs as it spread them out and rapidly slowed. Tucking in its arms and legs like a skydiver, the frame dropped into a steep dive toward Aile’s F-15 as he climbed to meet it.
“Engaging,” Aile said, licking his lips.
The E-Model Firefly immediately fired off two missiles. The two streaks of fire closed in from different directions, but even so Aile had no trouble avoiding them.
The two machines crossed at two-thousand feet altitude. His airspeed just above a hundred and fifty knots, Aile used the last of his momentum to reverse his direction, using primarily the rudders to avoid departure. By the time he had the nose facing down again the frame had already turned around mid air and was falling backwards while firing it’s thirty-five millimeter carbine. With his airspeed back up, Aile rolled out of the line of fire, narrowly avoiding the tracers as they slashed by.
As he continued to accelerate, Aile snapped the stick over and pulled the trigger simultaneously. The M61 howled as it fired a stream of red tracers that arced through the sky like a ribbon. The frame brought up its arms to shield itself, and even though it took over a dozen hits, little damage was done.
Aile clicked his tongue as he selected his close range missiles, but stopped just short of firing. He was already too close for missiles, and the twenty millimeter was insufficient. He had to gain some distance.
“Going for knots and separation!” Aile called as he dodged myriad tracers from the enemy frame.
The frame kept firing as Aile passed it for a second time, this time heading downwards. Using his speed advantage, Aile kept the dive until he was only a few hundred feet from the ground. Wanting to keep as much of his kinetic energy as possible, he pulled up at the last possible moment. The F-15 bottomed out low enough over the terrain that the thrust from the two afterburning engines blew a pile of dirt and debris into the air.
The frame attempted to get a missile lock as Aile hauled the 63 foot fighter around a hundred and eighty degrees in an incredibly high g turn. By the time the frame fired, Aile was also doing likewise.
“Too slow!” Aile called as he kicked the F-15 around the oncoming missiles. Not expecting this outcome, the frame pilot faltered and took all three missiles to the face. Watching what was left of the frame crash into the ground, Aile passed by at over five hundred mph and headed straight toward the facility.
Aile was in the process of contacting Lucine when he passed over a tall hill. Beyond it was the facility - the place where Elise had been taken and was currently being held. Aile felt his excitement growing. However, the moment he was within line of sight, the early warning system lit up like a Christmas tree. Several warnings sounded in his helmet - Aile had been locked onto.
“Oh…” Aile uttered as he saw the smoke trails coming at him. At least a dozen surface to air missiles had simultaneously been fired from mobile launchers at the facility. Even with all his tricks, there was no way to avoid so many. Aile’s hands tightened on the controls as he prepared to take desperate action… but before he could, a voice came over the radio.
“Straight and level!”
Aile’s hand twitched.
“What?” he yelled.
“Straight and level, straight and level!” Lucine called again, her voice desperate. Every instinct in Aile’s body was telling him to avoid, but he didn’t. All his feelings were overridden by his trust in his friend.
As the missiles closed in, Lucine’s F-15 dropped in from above. Deploying the speedbrake, the landing gear, and full flaps as one gigantic airbrake, Lucine’s Strike Eagle decelerated from high speed and dropped right above and in front of Aile. As disengaged everything back to a clean configuration, Lucine simultaneously pushed her stealth system to its maximum output.
“Stick with me!” she called as she began to climb. Aile followed as if their planes were attached to one another, emulating her movements perfectly. The particle field stealth system emitted a bright burst of ionized particles which surrounded both planes. The missiles immediately lost their lock, continuing on in haphazard directions.
In the control room, Kolman watched the events unfold before him. The two fighters had stormed in and in less than five minutes destroyed all four fighters and one of the frames. The last line of defense, a half-dozen Roland SAM systems mounted on trailers, had engaged one of the fighters in a surprise attack. However…
“The lead plane’s stealth system has affected the missiles… they’ve lost their lock!” a controller called frantically. Kolman growled under his breath. He only had a second to act.
“Detonate the missiles, all of them,” he said with a sweeping motion of his hand. “Now, while they’re still close!”
“Roger!” the controller replied as he typed a series of keys into his terminal.
“Uh oh,” Lucine said. Aile was about to inquire on what she meant when the first missile exploded. The resultant shockwaves of the various missiles exploding in close proximity rocked his Eagle to and fro as the sky around him erupted in flames and smoke.
The view of the planes was obscured by the various explosions. The control room watched in silence, wondering if their attack had been successful. Several seconds passed as the black cloud of destruction spread out over the hills.
“Did we…” one of the controllers started.
He was cut off by the sight of two unharmed F-15s barreling out of the smoke.
Aile rolled away from Lucine’s Eagle and pulled into a high g turn. Quickly turning toward the row of launch vehicles, Aile selected his cannon. The missile launchers were undoubtedly setting up for another salvo. He only had time for one pass.
Aile fired. Several hundred rounds arced through the air and into the lightly armored vehicles. With one impromptu pass it was impossible to be very accurate, but Aile managed to knock out over half of the vehicles in his pass. Lucine followed up several seconds later from the opposite direction and finished off the last of the launchers.
“I hope that’s the last surprise they have for us,” Aile radioed. He shook off the adrenaline rush he had gotten from nearly being blown up. “By the way, thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” Lucine said, then sighed in relief. “I’m just glad it worked.”
“Alright, kids, what’s the status?” Lance radioed in.
“Defenses are clear, proceed with operation,” Lucine said as she scanned the horizon. “I’ll contact our operative.”
“Copy that, on the way,” Lance replied.
As Lucine sent a message over the Q-Net, Aile looked over the now defenseless facility.
“So far, so good,” he said.
Kaden received the message. The attack had gone according to plan and all that was left was to make the rendezvous.
He was geared up and ready to do his second part. He holstered his .44 magnum Taurus Raging Bull revolver, then stuck a full magazine into his Steyr Elite scout rifle. His tactical vest was laden with extra ammunition and grenades. Though he still wore blue jeans and a black tee-shirt underneath, Kaden was fully prepared for battle.
However, if everything went right, he wouldn’t have to fight. His cover was still intact. It would be a little hard to explain why he wasn’t at his post - flying his frame and repelling the threat to the base - but at least he wouldn’t be stopped. By the time the base personnel realized he was working for their enemy, he would be long gone - with both test subjects.
Kaden left his room and proceeded down the hallway. Though it was against everything he had learned about covert operations, Kaden headed directly for his objective. There was no time to be discreet.
The power was still out, and various people were running about in red emergency lighting. If anything, Kaden stuck out in the chaotic situation because he was so calm. No one questioned him though - there was too much going on for anyone to care what he was doing. Kaden proceeded through the chaos unchallenged.
He was nearing the room where the two girls, Elise and Yuki, were being held. It was then when he ran into a group of base security.
“Kaden Dirk,” one of the men said. Kaden immediately recognized him as the man who he had confronted before, when Yuki had stolen the bracelet from the doctor lady.
“What are you doing in this wing of the facility?” the man asked. Though he seemed smug, the other men looked as if they were on edge. Kaden felt himself getting a little nervous.
“That doesn’t concern you,” Kaden said. He sounded confident, but in truth he just didn’t have an excuse.
“Oh really?” the smug security guard said, “well, my orders are to shoot you on sight. Is it my concern now?”
Kaden wasn’t sure if the man was serious, mostly because he wasn’t carrying out his threat. However, he could read the other men. They were certainly preparing to draw blood.
“Is that so?” Kaden asked with a confident, dubious smile. For a moment they just stared at each other. Kaden was trying to figure out if the man was bluffing. Time was against him, and he had to make a decision.
The moment Kaden went for his revolver the men all opened fire. Kaden managed to dive out of the way and shoulder rolled into an adjacent hallway. He pulled out his revolver and prepared to do combat as a hail of bullets tore the wall next to him to shreds.
“We’re taking fire!”
The radio call chilled Aile to his very bones. Snapping his head to the right, Aile watched in horror as Lance’s C-130 was consumed with fire from the ground.
As he had been preparing to touch down, surprise gunfire had erupted from somewhere to the left of the runway. Neither Aile nor Lucine could see where it was coming from, but it was certainly high caliber.
“Lance, get out of there!” Lucine called frantically. It was too late.
Both left side engines burst into flames as Lance tried to climb away. The left wing buckled, then snapped in two as the Hercules rolled to the left, and into the runway.
“Oh, God…” Aile pleaded as the flaming body spun around on the runway, drawing sparks and smoke, finally coming to a rest in the grass on the runway’s left side.
It wasn’t a long crash, but it was a violent one.
“Lance? Lance, do you copy?” Lucine said frantically as she made a low pass. Aile watched with bated breath. That’s when he saw them.
“Lucine, break high!” Aile shouted. Lucine pulled into the vertical just in time, barely avoiding the tracers that arced over the runway.
“What the…?” Lucine said as she rolled around level several hundred feet in the air.
“M-115s, three of them bearing two-two-zero, on the deck!” Aile called. The three Caldwells stomped over a low hill, raising a cloud of dust in the dim morning light.
“Land frames? No one said anything about land frames!”
“Not good,” Aile rolled into knife-edge flight to get a better look at the crashed C-130. “This went sideways real fast.”
“I can’t get ahold of Lance,” Lucine said, her voice shaky. “I think he’s…”
A static laden transmission interrupted her.
“Moondance, do you copy?” It was Lance’s co-pilot, Annabelle Pilato.
“Yeah. Yeah I’m here… are you okay down there?”
“Lance is pretty banged up,” Annabelle paused to cough. “A piece of metal is stuck in his side and I can’t move him. He’s conscious but he’s losing a lot of blood… what the hell hit us?”
“Three land frames… jumped you from the West ridge,” Lucine replied. “What… what are we supposed to do now?”
Lucine’s voice conveyed her upset feelings. She had no experience making command decisions.
“Run… like hell,” a raspy voice came over the comm. It was Lance.
“Lance?” Aile asked. Though his own voice was relatively calm, Aile’s eyes told the true story. The plan had totally failed and both Lance and Annabelle were stranded with little hope of rescue.
“There’s nothing we can do… the reinforcements from Key West will be here in ten minutes tops. You have to leave us,” Annabelle said.
“But… no…. I don’t want to,” Lucine replied, on the verge of crying. However, she knew there was nothing they could do.
“We’ll be okay… you can rescue us later, with the girl. Today wasn’t our day.”
Lucine was having a lot of trouble keeping her feelings in check. She removed her visor and took several deep breaths. Looking out to her right she could see Aile’s F-15 soaring over the base.
“Lucine…” Aile said over their personal channel. “I can’t go… not without Elise.”
“We don’t have a choice,” Lucine said in defeat. “We’ll just have to try again.”
“Try again? You and I both know this is our only chance! We will never get an opportunity like this again…. no. No way.”
“Lucine, cover me. Keep those frames tied up. I can still make the rendezvous.”
“I… what? Hang on, Aile, what are you talking about,” Lucine said as she watched him make a sharp turn. She could tell by his position that he intended to make an approach.
“You are not seriously landing,” Lucine said in disbelief.
“I’ll just need a couple of minutes,” Aile said, “keep them busy until then.”
“Aile, this is insane…” Lucine tried to reason with him.
“Lucine, contact your operative. I don’t want to be in there any longer than I have to. Have him make sure to have Elise ready to get the hell out of this place.”
Lucine wanted to protest further, but she knew that Aile had made up his mind. She went ahead and keyed the Q-Net, but for some reason the operative wasn’t responding.
Elise thought that if Aile was coming for her, then she would be ready. At least, as ready as possible. She had no clothes, only the hospital style gowns she had been given to wear, as well as very nondescript looking diapers. Still, she tried. She washed her face and did her hair as best she could. Even though she had no makeup or any other beauty supplies to speak of, the radiant look of anticipation on her face made her look lovely.
“There’s trouble,” Yuki said. Elise sucked in her breath and looked to the younger girl for elaboration.
“What… what kind of trouble?”
“I don’t know… something is wrong,” Yuki shook her head. “His feelings are erratic.”
Elise could only guess what that meant. Yuki seemed worried for a moment, but then looked somewhat relieved.
“He’s coming now.”
Elise’s smile returned. She thought a moment and then pulled her hair up into a ponytail. She used a piece of string she had taken from a spare gown to tie it back.
“Might have to run,” she thought out loud.
Yuki watched her get ready, and as she did her expression changed to one of concern. Yuki seemed to want to ask something, but for whatever reason she couldn’t bring herself to do so.
“Aile, I can’t reach him,” Lucine said after trying to reach the operative several times. “Something must be wrong…”
Aile hesitated a moment.
“Either way, I’m going in. Keep trying.”
“Okay,” Lucine said, her voice a mixture of concentration and worry. She noticed that the frames were moving across the runway. A glance in the opposite direction confirmed that Aile was aiming for a small taxiway near the north end of the facility. The frames weren’t in direct line of sight, but they soon would be.
“Oh, no you don’t…” Lucine said as she targeted the lead frame with one of her AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles. Waiting for a solid lock, Lucine clicked the pickle button and let the Maverick off its leash. The heavy missile took off toward the enemy frame, arced high, then pitched into a dive for the kill. However, the frame blew it out of the air before it could do any harm.
“Dammit!” Lucine swore. There just wasn’t a whole lot she could do to the land frames with her strike fighter, but at least she had their attention.
The operative still wasn’t responding. Lucine turned around for another pass at the land frames, and at that moment she caught sight of something in the distance.
Elise fastened her bracelet firmly onto her wrist. Making sure it wouldn’t come loose, she took a look around the room for anything else she would need. Since she had no belongings save for the bracelet, there wasn’t anything else… but if she didn’t calm her excitement she would soon need another new diaper. She took a deep breath and tried to relax. The anticipation she felt in her stomach was driving her crazy.
Yuki opened her mouth to say something, but she stopped.
“Hmm?” she muttered as she turned her gaze. It seemed as though she was looking at one of the walls, but she was actually looking at something far beyond it. Elise took notice and was about to inquire, when Yuki suddenly sucked in her breath, her eyes widening in a look of utter terror. An instant later she closed her eyes and brought her fists up to her chest before suddenly screaming at the top of her lungs…
“Wha…?” Aile said a moment after he had touched down. As the F-15C slowed, Aile turned his gaze to the left.
“Aile… Aile, watch out!” Lucine suddenly warned, her voice alarmed.
But it was too late. Lucine watched in horror as the missile arced down from above and smashed into Aile’s fighter. The resulting explosion covered the whole area in a cloud of smoke, dirt and conflagration.
“Aile?” Lucine asked. A moment passed. Then two.
“AILE!” she cried.
But all that replied was static.