Chapter Two: Test
The Su-33 jostled like it had a will of its own as Voychek jockeyed it into a tighter, more aggressive turn. His "red team" followed with him doggedly, positioning themselves as much into formation as they could as they followed the Lieutenant. We're evenly matched, Voychek thought as his mind processed everything that was happening around him. Any turn I can make, they can make. His brain began rapidly thinking of ways to out-maneuver Yridesh's squadron as his body continued the same path, the thirteen fighters circling each other as their leaders thought of what to do. Before Victor could think of anything, suddenly blue team split off into every direction. "Get them, reds!" Voychek shouted into comms as he pulled his Flanker out of the turn and up to follow Yridesh's fighter. The dogfight had truly begun.
Yridesh flew his plane like what anyone would expect of a veteran pilot. He was years Victor's senior, and commanded the jet with cool confidence. Every jinking turn had been practiced half a thousand times, and it was more than difficult for Voychek to stay on his commander's tail as his foe bounced the fighter around in ways Victor wasn't quite sure was safe, or possible. Suddenly, Yridesh flipped his plane on its back and dived for the earth. Doggedly, Victor followed, tailing behind safely to avoid being damaged by his quarry's engine wash. It would have been a beginner's mistake to be forced from the fight because he followed too closely, and as such he ducked behind, trying to line the fighter up with the HMD's gun pip. The solid tone of missile lock resounded in Voychek's ears, but he didn't trust it to fire one of the dummy rockets. Ammo was a unique concern in a training exercise: while normally the 3D printers attached to the missile mounts could create a supply of missiles, limited only by the amount of warheads, avionics, and propulsion systems capable of being dropped into the "clones", they did not function too well in creating training missiles that were coloured in a certain pattern to ensure that no one mistook them for a real one. As such, Voychek only had two dummy heat-seekers and four dummy QAAMs and only those six missiles. A miss was not something Voychek could afford.
The two Su-33s raced above the earth, only one hundred meters above the yellow plains of Estovakia. The meteorite scars that crossed the land only looked like little brown blurs as the fighters blew past them at fifteen hundred kilometers per hour. Suddenly, Victor realized the mistake Yridesh had made. In dropping altitude so low, the Major had lost a great majority of his maneuverability; he was now a sitting duck, or at least a duck moving at fifteen hundred kmph. Lining his fighter up carefully, Victor waited until a green "shoot" marker appeared in the center of his vision. But before could fire, flashes of light appeared before him, flashes that belonged to one thing only: tracers. Another jet was streaking behind him, trying to get a "kill" while Victor was so absorbed in his. Firing off the missile, Voychek cut the throttle and let the third Su-33 blow past him. Ignoring the missile, the Lieutenant turned his attention to this new fighter. In the corner of his eye, a kill marker appeared, showing that he had shot down the Major. Gotcha, you bastard. "I got the Major!" He shouted into his team's comms. The others gave whoops and cheers, and at that moment Victor knew the other team was almost beaten. "Let's finish the lot!" The other blue team Su-33 pulled away from his team leader, and Voychek gave chase.
The pilot of Voychek's quarry seemed to be capable enough, but much more timid than his commander. The turns were tight, but never long for fear of stalling out his jet. Keeping with him was tricky, but not terribly difficult as the other leveled out and kicked in full 'burner every five to seven seconds of a turn. Victor pulled, trying to out-turn the younger pilot, but an idea struck him. So, they want me to show off, huh? He thought, grinning under his heavy helmet. Pulling the jet up, he flipped it upside-down and watched his foe slowly realize that he was not being tailed from behind, then leveled out. Pulling the stick towards him, the Su-33 screamed downwards. A single burst of his cannon's dummy rounds were enough for the kill to be tallied, and Voychek passed safely beneath and behind his opponent. I've still got five missiles left, he thought, swelling with confidence and adrenaline. "Give me a report, reds."
"Yastreb Seven reports no kills." Came a flat reply.
"Yastreb Eight, one kill!" The voice reported, eagerly.
"Yastreb Nine, no kills." The pilot muttered, sorely. "Dammit, they got me."
"Yastreb Ten, one kill." Unlike Eight, Ten said it with no enthusiasm in his voice. "Idiot was flying straight and level. Did all of our crap pilots go blue?"
"Yastreb Eleven, no luck on my end." Again, poor luck befell another pilot. At least he didn't get shot down, Voychek thought.
"Yastreb Twelve, I've got nothing." Came a somewhat disappointed reply.
"Yastreb Thirteen, I got one!" Another eager voice. The comms fell silent as they waited to hear what their commander had tallied.
"Yastreb Six, I got two of them!" He said through the mike. "Including the good Major himself!" The sudden massive burst of chatter on the other ends made Voychek cringe and try vainly to pull the helmet away from him. He banged the side of his head, and winced. There goes some of my hearing, he thought with a sigh. "All Yastreb pilots, that's the lot of them. Let's go home." Pulling his Su-33 into a lazy turn, he began to bank towards the approach to Pusta AFB.
An hour later, Voychek found himself in the Major's office, an energy high still flush in his veins. I must be smiling like a goddamn idiot right now, he thought. A quick check at a mirror told him that he was, but for some reason he didn't care. The room was empty, but he had been told to wait inside while the Major talked to the visiting General. A sudden angry shout came from the other side of the door, and with a whoosh it opened to reveal Major Yridesh, his face red, and General Dvornik. Whether or not Yridesh was embarrassed or angry, Victor could not say. The Major moved to take his seat, but the General cut him off and sat in his place. Victor tried his best not to keep smiling at that. "Well, Lieutenant Voychek, you certainly are an impressive one." General Dvornik said after a silent moment. Dvornik was tall, with blonde hair and deep blue eyes that were fixated on Victor's young face. "You were the one who shot down the Major himself and his would-be rescuer, no?"
"Yes sir, that was me." Voychek replied, trying his best to sound humble. Dvornik nodded, before a grin spill across his face.
"I saw the whole thing from the control tower." The General continued, his voice light. "I can't imagine what you were thinking, Major; you barely even tried to avoid the Lieutenant here." Yridesh went red.
"I had hoped that Lieutenant Voychek-" the name came out as a spat, "-would have been so fixated on me he would have missed my wingman coming in to strafe him."
"Well, we saw how that ended, didn't we?" The General replied, chuckling. "Instead of just you being shot down, or the Lieutenant, you got you and your wingman downed instead. You should teach your pilots to shoot better." The Major knew better than to form a defense, and he bowed his head. Told you, Voychek thought. The General nodded at Victor. "You have impressed me, Lieutenant Voychek. Pack your bags, and be ready to leave by tomorrow evening; I have a job for you that I think you will appreciate." Suddenly the mood darkened. "Unfortunately, I am afraid that this is to be the last time in a long while that we shall have such a brevity to events."
"Sir?" Voychek asked, confused. Some part of him already knew what the General was going to say, though.
"It seems that our Federal Republic is doomed to fragmentation, gentlemen." Dvornik said, darkly. "I have already spoken to several other military leaders in this region, and they agree: The Estovakian military is going to break into several states, and soon there will be a civil war. The winner leads the new government." Voychek didn't want to ask who the losers were. You win or you die. "I am going to need the best from everyone in this coming crisis, and that means I need the best from you, Captain Voychek." Victor's eyes widened.
"Captain?" He repeated, a cold ripple working its way down his spine.
"Yes, you need to be at least that in order to lead a squadron, or so I have been led to believe." General Dvornik said. "I will have a car here for you tomorrow to take you to your new home. You will have at least a day in order to get acquainted to your new position."
"A day?" Voychek said, his mind spinning. First a promotion, then squadron command?
"Yes, a day." Dvornik replied, his voice dark. "On April Third, it all begins. On April Third, our eastern faction shall go to war for the fate of our nation."