All he could hear was the weapons lock alarm blaring only slightly louder than the sound of his heart thumping in his chest. He clenched his teeth, along with every muscle in his torso. Pulling up, and translating with ventral thrusters at the same time, he tried desparately to cut the curvature of his vector as sharply as he could without falling into unconsciousness. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the ship behind him just as it slid quickly into his blind spot. He spun his head to the other side, watching the enemy briefly appear as the two of them carved through the void in S turns, Immelman turns and loops. He heard the screams of his wingmen as they too desperately tried to evade.
The lock alarm once again ripped at his ear drums and he tired once more to push his body to its limits. He threw the stick sideways, rolling ninety before transferring thrust to dorsal and nearly pushing himself to redout as the ship violently shifted. The lock was still on, and had just changed to the staccato rhythm of a missile warning when he looked straight. The white trail of smoke snaked its way toward him at incredible speed.
For a very brief moment, he could make out the warhead before it exploded. His vision went a dull gray, the cockpit flickered red and yellow with the speakers screeching muffled tones overpowered by a high tinnitus squeal in his ears. Disoriented, his head bobbed around the cockpit as the ship spun violently, parts falling off of it to trail behind in the black smoke. “Punch out!” He heard over his headset, the words broken and meaningless in his delirium. His mind finally began to recognize reality, just as the Hornet made a final pass, littering the cockpit with a volley of energy blasts that cut through the canopy of his Buccaneer.
“Good shooting Drenix,” said Almitt as he watched his wingman finishing off his target. “Now would you get over here and take this Cutlass off my ass?” He was looking over his shoulder, banking left and then right to get small glimpses of the craft that continued to fire harassing volleys while still out of effective range. “I can't outrun him Drenix get over here!” A volley of laser light flickered just in front of the Cutlass and Almitt watched the ship break pursuit. He spun his head quickly the other way and got a brief glimpse of Ismaly's Hornet as she whipped past him, coming in close on the Cutlass. He rolled over, pitched down and transferred power to the main engines, burning toward the two as they dipped deep to the south. “I'm right behind you Princess.”
“I've got this,” she said.
“Let me lock and rock one, he'll evade and you can hit him with everything on his way out of the burn.”
“Do it quick, he's peeling out now!”
Almitt pushed the Hornet harder, slipping past Ismaly, his shields and weapons at minimal power. “Almost there,” he said, the circles of his tracking computer flickering as it danced around the square painted on the Cutlass. Suddenly it locked in and a tone rang over his headset. “Wait for it.”
The Cutlass rolled, dipped down and spun one hundred and eighty degrees, firing a volley in their direction.
Almitt fired a missile. “Wait for it!”
They watched the Cutlass drop countermeasures and return to retrograde burn, pushing as quickly as it could to make distance between it and the chaff.
Almitt's missile exploded prematurely, defeated by the countermeasures. “Do you have him?” He asked.
Ismaly responded by firing three missiles in succession.
The white smoke spiraling behind them trailed through the stars, closing distance with amazing speed. The Cutlass, out of chaff and low on energy, made a last ditch effort by spinning one eighty once again and unloading every weapon at its disposal, destroying a missile in the process.
The remaining two collided with the Cutlass mercilessly. Panels of metal trailed by blue flamed plasma flew out of the ensuing cloud.
“Light it up.” Almitt said, just as Drenix and Mag formed on their wing. All four Hornets fired a stream of laser fire as long as they could before reaching critical proximity. Each of them peeled away from the engagement in series; their laser fire raining into the cloud of smoke, causing it to strobe red and green as the beams cut through the haze and whatever was left of the Cutlass.
There was an eerie silence. Almitt keyed the mic. “Check your scopes.”
The four Hornets spread out into a battle formation, waiting for another ship to ambush them from the rubble of the derelict station they'd been investigating.
“I've got nothing,” said Mag; Ismaly's wingman.
Ismaly looked out of her canopy as Mag banked into formation. “You've got a scorch mark on your starboard wing though.”
“Yeah that Cutlass got a few pot shots on me. I think he was a bit pissed that I blew his buddy's ass through his face with my first missile.”
The four laughed.
“Wait, I've got something.” Drenix said, tapping through filters on the radar's options. “It's our guys.”
Almitt nodded, “Alright, suck back, let's go meet them. I need an AMCAS from all of you.”
Drenix keyed his mic, “Hound Alpha two, five missiles, all okay.”
Ismaly went next. “Hound Delta lead, All eight and all okay.”
“Hound Delta three, four missiles and some scratched paint.”
Almitt took his turn, only for their situational awareness. “Alright, Hound Alpha lead, six and I'm fine. Let's T-up with these boys and get the hell out of here.”
The formation banked together, facing the direction they'd come. “Good shooting everybody, I know for some of you this was your first real fight. I'm glad you were all able to perform as well as you did. If you need to talk to me about anything when we get back home, my door is always open.”
The comms remained silent. Almitt smiled.
“Hound Alpha lead, this is Wolf Delta lead, I hear you're keeping all the fun to yourself these days, is this true? Over.”
Almitt laughed, happy to hear Major Lance “Da Vinci” Rogan's voice over the means. “Wolf Delta lead that's right. Get on squad comms. Over.”
“Hound Delta lead, roger that. Over and out.” Da Vinci switched to their frequency. “So? What'd I miss?”
“A few Buccaneers and a Cutlass crept up on us when we were investigating that wreck. The debris field from the destroyed platform is perfect camouflage. I bet there's a few more in there right now.”
“Speak of the devil and he shall appear Mittens, turn around.”
They looked down at their scopes and saw four new contacts populate behind them, then a few more.
Ismaly sighed. “I'm out of missiles.”
Almitt could hear a hint of anxiety in her voice. “It's alright. Just stay on my wing, lock them up for me, get them uneasy and we'll finish them off together.”
“Mag,” Drenix said, “That means we're the bait, get ready to duck dive and dodge.”
Mathew keyed in, “Da Vinci, we'll stay in close cover to Mittens and his boys since they're low. I know you want the free range anyway.”
“Damn straight.” Da Vinci replied, “If I need help, you break off and find me.”
A total of ten Hornets and two M50's now turned to face an approaching enemy. Four more Cutlasses, six Buccaneers, two Marauders and two Freelancer emerged from the wrecked station and its surrounding debris.
Ismaly's heart was in her throat. She watched the shapes slinking in the shadows and saw them for what they truly were, sharp knives waiting to plunge through her flesh. She was afraid, rightfully so, this was her first blood. There was no turning back now.