It was well before dawn when he awoke. He grabbed a quick shower and dressed. The ship was quiet. Everyone he passed by gave him a warm look. It reminded him of why he was glad to be back. The mess hall wasn’t serving breakfast yet, but they had coffee. He grabbed a cup and sat down. There was a paper on the table, which he took and started reading. He hadn’t read the language of Delenheim in a long time, but he knew the syntax immediately. The biggest story on the front page was the declaration of war. The people were scared and the politicians were being wishy-washy. That concerned him a bit. But there was no time to worry about that now. They had a mission, and the perk of this job was that they were outside of military jurisdiction, so it didn’t matter if they approved or not. He finished his coffee, noticing the clock on the wall. It was time to go.
He arrived on the flight deck just as the sun was starting to come up. There were several things that caught his eye. The first was Koraline, working on his plane. He walked over, grinning.
“Have you been at this all night?”
She nodded, wiping some grease from her forehead. “Yeah. You’re going out today, so I wanted to make sure that your bird was in working order. It looks good, but there were a couple of things that needed tweaking. You’ll be able to tell when you fly her. She’s ready for action!”
Booker chuckled, leaning on the wing. “You really do know your stuff. Nice to see that you’ve gotten a little more confident too.”
She blushed a bit. “Well, it’s hard to just walk up to a legend and shoot the shit, ya know?”
“Fair enough.” The radio was playing a soft tune that was written many years ago for an orchestra. “I like your taste in music.”
The girl smiled a bit, turning it up a notch. “Thanks. I like to think that if you really have something worth saying, you don’t need words, you know? Words just muddle things. Besides, it lets me zen for this work.”
As they stood there, he couldn’t help but admire the girl. But he had bigger concerns. The other thing he noticed was that Aurealia was down here too.
“When did the LC get here?”
Koraline frowned. “Not long before you did. She brought some of the squadron she has with her. Which reminds me, they asked me to remove all the live ammo from your guns and replace them with paint rounds.”
That got a smile from him. “Ah, so that’s her game. This is going to be a fun sortie.”
“You know what she’s got planned?”
“I think so. Now, where is that squadron I was-” He was cut off as he saw ten pilots arriving off the elevator. They caught sight of him and started walking over. It was seven women and five men. They were young, but looked capable. There was one among them who seemed to have sway over the others. He was a young man with ice-blue eyes and jet-black hair. He was deathly pale, but didn’t look frail.
The pilots walked over and stood at attention, saluting.
Booker stood up, walking in front of them. “At ease, pilots. Now, I’m going to be put in charge of your squadron. You all know who I am and my reputation. I lead the most efficient mercenary outfit there is. You all have some pretty big shoes to fill to be under my command. I expect the best from you. I was trained under Lieutenant Commader Aurealia, and I assure you, I will not go any easier on you than her. You get me?”
“We get you, sir!”
“That’s what I like to hear. Now, we’re going out today on a practice run. It’s a test of our ability to work together. I’m told that we should expect anything. Get to your birds and be on the runway in 20!”
“Yes sir!” They all took off, eager to prove themselves to the new commander.
Koraline leaned over. “All of their weapons have been changed to paint rounds too. Think we should tell them that?”
Booker smiled to himself. “No reason to make this too easy for them. A good scare will do them good.” The two chuckled as he got onto his plane. Koraline ran to get the starter for his engines.
Twenty minutes later, their planes were lined up on the runway. Everyone was stoked.
Booker got on his radio. “Launch control, this is Devil One and squadron. Requesting permission to launch.”
“Permission granted, Devil One! Opening launch bay doors.” The front of the ship opened up.
“Copy that, control. All fighters, move out!” They took off, heading away from the fleet. “Form up on me!” They moved to obey, with three on either side of his wing in a V-shape and three in the center behind them. They moved further and further out.
“Alright, everybody, keep you eyes peeled. They have something waiting for us!”
It was a relatively dull trip for about ten minutes. They got 60 kilometers out.
Booker looked to his right. “Right wing, tighten up! You’re getting too spread out!” They obeyed, getting in closer. He could hear people breathing over the radio. They were nervous.
It was then that a voice came onto the radio. “Sir, we’ve got unknown fighters coming up, eleven o’clock, same height. They’re making a b-line right for us!”
He knew. “Alright, people, get ready for combat!”
Everyone turned on their sights, getting ready. The other planes all had white markings, so they would know which ones they were.
“Alright, people, it’s time to dance! There’s six of them! Pair off and deal with them, one-by-one! I got the leader!” They split in perfect formation, with Booker heading right for the center plane. It turned sideways as he did, moving right past him. He recognized this tactic. So, the LC came to do this herself. Alright. The two were all over each other, each moving to get in behind the other.
Meanwhile, it was an ugly battle with the rest. One of Aurealia’s fighters got behind a member of the squadron.
“Oh shit! I’m in trouble!”
The jet-black haired pilot came in behind him.
“I got you, Garruth!” He let-fly, painting the engine of the enemy fighter with blood-red paint. It knew it was hit, heading off to base. Two of their fighters were hit.
A female voice could be heard on the radio. “What the fuck are you idiots doing out there?! Stay with your partner! They should not be getting behind you like this!”
Booker heard and smiled. He liked these two voices. However, he was occupied. Aurealia was every bit the devious enemy he remembered. She was keeping pace with him. It was a joy to have a dog-fight this intense. He sent off some rounds, when he thought he had a shot, but she was good.
As the last of her fighters were deal with, the squadron saw the two of them.
“Is that the LC’s plane?” one asked.
“Cut the chatter!” the girl from before yelled. “Harris, form with me. We’ll go back the Lieutenant!”
“Don’t you mean Devil?”
“Just form up, smartass!”
The two did, moving in on the fight.
“Sir, we’ve come to back you up!”
Booker smiled beneath the mask. “Roger that! Glad to have the help!”
The two came in from the other side, making it so that she couldn’t move too much without being in their line of fire. She was good, but a three-on-one fight was something she couldn’t deal with. It gave Booker just enough time to get in behind here and let-fly. He splattered he engine with all kinds of hits. She knew that she was done, heading back to the flagship. The group cheered as she left.
“Cut the chatter, pilots!” Booker shouted. “In a real battle, the enemy could still be in the area!”
They all piped down, but were still proud.
“Good work, everyone. We’re headed back to base.”
As they landed, the female pilot from before hopped out of her cockpit, ripping off her helmet and goggles, letting her fiery-red hair fall. Her face was brimming with excitement. She ran over to where the jet-black haired pilot was, wrapping an arm around his shoulder.
“Man, we owned the LC and her squadron!”
“Fuck yeah, we did! I swear, I could almost see her getting pissed when we came to back the Lieutenant! That shit was awesome!”
Booker got out of his plane, with the rest of the squadron running over. He gave them enough of a smile to let them know they did well, but still retaining his look of cold command.
“You all did well today. Of course, two of you got ‘shot down,’ but with one of them, the damage was arguably not that bad. We’ll work on that. However, there are two who I wish to recognize.”
He pointed at the jet-black haired pilot, along with the red-haired one.
“What are your names?”
The young man stepped forward. “Harris, sir. Delta Harris.”
“Seera, sir! Seera Taro.”
“You two seem to have a pretty firm command of running a squadron and how to use them well. That’s good. What’s more, people follow you. Those are two qualities I need in my new Squadron Leaders.”
The two were enthralled. The others were nodding in approval.
“I did this test to see which of you would step up, when needed. I have my own squadron to run, so I need two people who I can depend on, able to lead parts of this group when I am occupied, while following my commands. You two seem to be right for the job. So you’re it until you’re dead, or I find someone better.”
The two saluted. “Thank you, sir!”
They all took off, eager to rag on the two pilots and to celebrate their victory.
Koraline was standing by his plane, smiling. “I’m glad we called you in, sir.”
“Thanks, Kora. That means a lot.”
Until next time, a quote,
“Great warrior? War not make one great.” -Yoda, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back