"Do you see that?" Pierre said, his head down at his instruments.
Mathew looked back behind his shoulder, watching Pierre through the canopy. "See what?"
"There was weapons discharge, there it is again."
Mathew looked at his scopes and saw it. "It's near the Scipio."
"Well, McKeen did tell us to go to the Scipio." Jon said, smiling at Mathew across the tight formation.
"Yeah, I suppose he did, let's go take a look. We can re-arm while we're there."
The formation banked, Jon and Pierre's hornets jostling slightly to stay tight to the lead.
On the other side of Terra, McKeen watched two M50's light up on his radar. “Couriers inbound.” He said over comms.
“Good day my friend.” came a voice over Squadron comms.
McKeen recognized it immediately. “Flash, long time. Are you working out of Terra?”
“Not a chance I'd get a rock posting Crossbow, I'm with you on the Scipio.”
McKeen cocked his head, “Really? I figured you'd be grounded by now, not promoted.”
“Well, stranger things have happened, like you getting Lieutenant Colonel.”
“You get what you deserve on the Scipio, so don't expect much for yourself.”
Flash laughed. “Oh come on old friend.”
Logan keyed his mic. “I see you brought another shitpump with you. How's Cardboard doing?”
“Hello Hotrod, you still alive?”
“Very. Let's cut the chatter, what do you have for us?”
Flash hit a few keys and submitted a command. “Files are transferring now.”
McKeen watched the mission information load into his Hornet. “Will that be it?”
“Well, I suppose I should also tell you that your little welcoming party went off to shoot down Bubba and Rogue. I saw weapons fire on my scope before cresting the planet, so I'm assuming they made contact.”
“That's not a bad thing, not at all. If the Hounds don't know what targets to hit on the planet's surface then we can win this without even having to engage them head on.”
“Well, good luck with that.” Flash said, “Cardboard, let's go home, we're done here.”
McKeen cleared his throat over the mic. “Not so fast.”
The M50's slowed. “What is it?”
“Under standard operating procedures, in a blackout, the squadron leader gets full authorization for the use of courier craft. You're under my command now. I'm going to need your help.”
Cardboard shook his head. “Why do I not like where this is going?”
“You know where the Hounds staging area is don't you.” McKeen continued.
Cardboard sighed, “I may have seen a map while we were getting briefed with our sister callsign.”
“I'm thinking Shawshank maneuver.” McKeen said firmly.
There was a tenseness as the comms went silent for a little longer than expected.
Flash finally keyed his mic again. “Really?”
“This will be fun.” said Hotrod.
Subtext was smiling, the concept of the drift alone was enticing to his adventurous side.
McKeen's rookie wingman 2nd Lieutenant Jeremy “Iron” Staffer keyed his mic. “I hate to be the one to do this but, what's the Shawshank maneuver?”
“Are you serious?” Sophine said. “Were you asleep at the academy? Lieutenant Colonel Richard Shawshank, took two squadrons of hornets and drifted over sixty thousand kilometers with all systems offline. It was the perfect ambush.”
“So you want us to be vanguard?” Cardboard asked.
McKeen keyed in. “Yes, your passive sensors can pick up signals at much greater range than ours, but you're a small blip on the radar, you'll be able to see them before they see you and we'll watch for you to go dark, at which point we'll follow suit.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Flash said.
“Sounds like a suicide mission.” Hotrod interjected. “With all systems offline, navigation shields won't even be on, if we get hit by high radiation or micro meteorites we're screwed … I like it.”
McKeen laughed. “Alright, here's the deal. Mastiff Charlie and Delta, you're on your own, I'm taking Shepherd Delta from you to bolster our force when we take the fight to the Hounds.”
“Interesting plan.” Clockwork said with disdain, having just recently mentioned how he felt about the Shepherd callsign being on their wing.
“They're still waiting for their orders if Wolf Bravo took them out, if not, you'll be in atmo anyway, you'll have the upper hand.”
Minx nodded “He's right, in atmo flight the Hornet will be much easier to take out with the turret.”
The two bombers from Charlie flight were ominously quiet, though Squadron eighteen's second in command, Major Joseph "Mercy" Dundast, was often known to be a man of few words when in the cockpit.
“Four Gladiators against a flight of Hornets …” Clockwork thought a moment, “Alright, I'll trust you this once but if shit hits the fan-”
“It won't.” McKeen said, “This is going to work. Now let's get underway, we don't have much time. Your targets are loaded, happy hunting, we'll see you on the Scipio to celebrate our victory.”
The bombers broke formation and began their descent planetside. Minx keyed in one last time. “Good luck.” She said as the four Gladiators rolled over and prepared for re-entry.
Meanwhile the formation of Hornets, now a full Squadron strong with Shepherd Delta, burned onward.