June 1st, 1995
Sudentor Air Base
Alexander Finn stormed into the ready room, report in his hand, grimace on his face. The grizzled flight lead had just received orders from Central Command regarding the deployment and objectives for his flight for the next (and, though nobody wanted to admit it, probably final) offensive of the glorious Belkan expansion. Nobody really liked the war, not even its most “fervent” supporters. At best, public opinion regarding the conflict was a grim distaste. At worst… well, public opinion at its worst didn’t bode well for general peace or the good health of the brass at Central Command. Things had been bad in Belka for a long time now, almost as long as the twenty-six year old Major could remember. There had always been a lot of pressure on him, even since childhood. The political and economic unrest had influenced him for most of his life, as his father had been killed during a riot (Hoffnung police forces had never been known for their diplomatic prowess or gentle threat handling) and he had been forced, at the age of 12, to become the secondary breadwinner and caretaker of his household. Child labor was, of course, illegal, so his mother had resorted to applying for a job at one of the many industrial sites in the city while Alexander worked odd jobs: repairing houses, fixing appliances, painting houses, and even facilitating the occasional illicit trade deal or message delivery. On top of all that, he cared for his two younger sisters. As soon as he turned 17, and was confident that the next eldest child, Elisa, was ready to care of her sister and mother, he applied for early enlistment in the Belkan Air Force and started as a flight mechanic. His potential as a pilot, however, was realized after an Air Force Colonel responsible for a surprise inspection found Alexander in his room behind the controls of a cardboard MiG-29A, memorizing the cockpit layout and dreaming of the day when he would be shattering the skies with the might of the powerful Belkan Air Force. After acing a test designed to strain a MiG trainee’s knowledge of his own aircraft, he was rushed into flight school and eventually awarded his wings and an aircraft, an older-model MiG-29A assigned to Regent Flight of the 6th Tactical Air Squadron. Life was looking up for the Finn family, despite the increasing sense of general unrest. The world was on the brink of chaos, and everyone knew it. Nobody knew who would make the first move or who would be the first to give in under the immense international pressures, but for now, there was no time to worry. For Alexander, it was the time to enjoy what he could, despite the demands of Air Force life, and to know that for the first time in several years, his family would not worry about its next meal or dread the next housing check.
Of course, there were minor international tussles. One incident regarding Alexander’s flight of MiG’s and two Ustian F-16’s almost erupted into something much larger, but thankfully, nothing followed and everything was covered up. The Ustians had been the ones to open fire, and they were thankful for Belka’s willingness to move past the incident and consider it the accident it actually was. In reality, the MiG’s had never left Belkan airspace, but the rookie Ustian pilots had been testy and nervous that day, given the recent increase in Belkan border air patrols.
And, of course, the domestic situation was never really resolved. In fact, Belka was even forced to sell some of its lands to the neighboring countries of Fato and Sapin, but the effort was in vain. The world watched Belka’s every move with nervous anticipation, waiting for the day when Belka would reveal its cards and make its intensions clear. Economic unrest plagued the faltering country’s citizens, and Belkan stock crashes and scares dominated the world’s headlines almost daily. Everyone knew, but refused to realize, what was to follow. It simply could not happen.
That was before the war.
Now? Glatisant, the Schayne Plains, Tauburg. Hoffnung.
That night was the fuel for whatever fire remained burning in the souls of Belkan warfighters on every front. That night was the embodiment of their humiliation, of the shocking gall of the Allied forces in their bold intrusion onto Belkan soil. That was the night when a city burned in the flames of the instruments by which it had been made great, the night when mothers and children became victims of war, not just their fathers and husbands.
For Alexander, it was a night of sorrow. How else could he cope with what he had seen? Bombs bursting in crowded streets, a skyscraper falling as he banked sharply around the city, trailing an Ustian aggressor? What about the missiles falling among neighborhoods, neighborhoods that he knew well, where he had lived? What about his street, well lit by fires and explosions, just visible from where he was flying? What about it, crowded with panicking families hurrying to escape the city, all those barely visible faces wiped from the streets before his very eyes by two Ustian F-4 Phantom jets?
The Belkan defenders had fought with distinction, and Regent Flight claimed seven kills as recompense for its one loss. Four of those kills were Alexander’s, his ferocity born from the desperation of anger and his thirst for revenge. Of course, that night, he became an ace, but that distinction was bitter to him and the pin that he wore weighted him down with the memories of the deaths he had witnessed and the grief that accompanied his thoughts.
His thoughts, at the moment, were focused on his upcoming mission. Regent Flight would be redeploying to Anfang (near the Belkan coast) to participate in a classified regrouping and counterattack. Before that, however, they were to serve one last time on the Belkan front in a final effort to delay the Ustian advance. For some reason, he was privy to a vital piece of information, perhaps offered in explanation for the hurried orders to redeploy – Central Command was planning a single bombing sortie destined for the Ustian capital, Directus. Alexander could only guess as to the payload of the mission, but the intentions behind it were clear: to destroy as much as was possible beyond Belkan borders before the last offensive. Regent’s final mission on this front was to escort those bombers – with an impressive record of 27 kills, his flight was one of the most effective in the Belkan Air Force. Those were the orders he carried down the dim halls of Sudentor Air Force Base.
June 4th, 1995
15 Miles Southwest of Sudentor Air Base
“Regent Lead, this is Sudentor ATC, reading three possible bogies bearing zero-eight-one relative to zone seven. Advise you break off and pursue.”
“Sudentor ATC, this is Regent Lead,” Alexander replied, “we are currently RTB and are nearing bingo level fuel. Could you possibly direct Titan flight to intercept?”
A short break in radio contact.
“We have already vectored Titan Flight, but they are still 10 minutes out. You are the closest intercept option we have, Regent. Central Command orders you to proceed to intercept. Titan Flight will be there to support you, ETA upon intercept commencement will be five minutes, over.”
“Roger, Sudentor. Will contact. Out.” Alexander sighed as he shared the bogey information with the rest of his flight and banked towards the source of the signal to intercept.
“Say, Lead,” Regent 2 started, “you don’t suppose this contact has anything to do with that Galm team, does it?”
“Negative, Burke,” Alexander replied. “Galm doesn’t usually show its face unless there’s some sort of major offensive happening. This is just a flight of three we’re dealing with… probably just a reconnaissance flight or something. Can’t be a bomber flight, they don’t even have escorts. Don’t worry about it. You’ll be fine.”
Another period of silence.
“Flight, are you seeing anything on the long range scans?” Regent 4 asked. She came from a wealthy family, not that it mattered here. But it showed in her voice – she was obviously somebody accustomed to getting what she wanted.
A chorus of “no’s” and “negative’s” answered her question, until Regent 6 spoke up.
“Lead, I’ve got a single contact here. It’s a bit fuzzy, looks like there’s some jamming going on here. It’s almost like they’ve got an electronic warfare plane up there. Toggling XMAA, lock solidifying. I’ve almost got tone.”
Realization hit Alexander like a brick wall. “Flight, the three bogies are decoys! All planes, evasive maneuvers! 6, disengage, disengage!”
Tracers tore down from above, whizzing past Regent Formation. Alexander heard the *thock, thock* of bullets hitting his fuselage as he rolled and pulled downward. Regent 6 looked mildly confused for a moment before a burst of tracers holed his plane and sliced the tail end off his wingman’s MiG, turning his aircraft into a fireball and sending his companion into a reckless tailspin. The rest of the flight scattered in all directions, calling for information and announcing engagements. Alexander leveled out in time to see a formation of four jets punch through the remainder of his flight, guns spitting. They flashed past him, and the roar of their engines almost deafened Alexander even through his helmet. “Regent Lead, engaging,” he reported, and rolled after the formation to pursue.
“Roger, Regent Lead,” Sudentor ATC replied, “go trail and follow, clear to open fire. Titan Flight is 4 minutes out, scrambling base flights.”
Alexander punched the acknowledge button on his console as he curved upward into a high-g turn and rolled to the right to stay on the enemy formation’s tail. He could make out the fuselages of the enemy planes – they were Ustian F-15’s. One broke off, rolling down and left to pursue Regent 2, who was busy pursuing the fourth bogie, tracers spitting out of his nose in an effort to score a shot on the enemy. Alexander followed, cycling through his weapons, and placed the Ustian right in his crosshairs. Twin triangles spun out of the corners of his HUD, superimposed right on top of the enemy fighter, rotated, and finally stopped and matched. They turned red as a high-pitched whine emitted from Alexander’s helmet speakers.
“Regent 2, get out of there! I’ve got tone on your tail!”
Burke pulled up violently, jets thundering, as Alexander thumbed the missile release button and unleashed a heat-seeking missile. Its engine flared, and smoke erupted behind it as it raced towards the enemy F-15. Its pilot rolled and snapped down, and the missile curved sharply after it as Alexander followed suit. The missile, however, couldn’t quite make the curve and shot off into the azure. Alexander, tight on the aggressor’s tail, gradually nosed up until, a couple seconds later, his gun sights were ahead of his target. Still recovering from the dive, the two planes pulled up as one, and Alexander unleashed a flurry of 30mm bullets into the sky where his opponent would be a second later. Still pulling up, he kept his thumb on the trigger until he scored hits on the Eagle. It trailed smoke, and Alexander leveled out as the enemy pilot ejected and deployed his chute.
Suddenly, the radar image cleared. Regent 4’s voice crackled to life in Alexander’s ear, laced with panic. It was unlike anything Alexander had heard before, coming from her.
“Regent Lead, I’ve eliminated the enemy electronic warfare plane, but now I have two tangos riding my tail. Requesting assistance!”
Alexander looked up and saw the remains of the Ustian EW plane streaming downwards, cloaked in flame and smoke. Below it, Regent 4 sped away from the wreckage, pursued by two of the Ustian interceptors. Tracers bracketed her jet, closing, and suddenly a bullet shattered her canopy. Four ejected – right into a stream of tracers. Her lifeless jet tumbled past Alexander’s jet, followed closely by her limp body. He couldn’t do anything but watch both objects as they plummeted towards the earth below. The two Ustian fighters split, one heading back towards the main fray (where the rest of Regent Flight was busy engaging the remaining Ustian) while the other fighter continued its dive towards Alexander’s jet. Its gun flashed. Alexander pulled into a sharp climb, turning as he did so, putting the Ustian F-15 right in the center of his gun sights. He hit the afterburners, accelerating until he was plastered into his seat, and held his fire as the distance between the two fighters closed rapidly. He couldn’t miss this shot. The instant before the two fighters flashed past each other, both pilots triggered their machine guns. They shot past each other, one trailing smoke, the other triumphant.
Alexander leveled out, now about 5000 feet above the main engagement zone, and took stock of the situation. Three of his fighters were down, two of his pilots dead. Alexander could see Regent 7’s chute descending floating serenely back down to earth as he banked right and started a graceful descent towards the rest of Regent Flight. It had finished off one of the remaining Ustian jets, and while the last enemy pilot fled the engagement zone, Regent 2 dropped altitude and started flying back to base. His MiG was trailing smoke, and it was obvious that it was badly damaged. Alexander ordered the two remaining pilots in his flight to form up on his location, and they held position in formation until Titan Flight arrived to relieve them.
June 4th, 1995
Sudentor Force Base, Pilot Rec Room
In the end, Regent Flight barely made it back to Sudentor Air Base. Regent 2, Burke, landed just three minutes before flames from his plane reached the fuel tanks and exploded his MiG (unfortunately injuring two firefighters who, unaware of the severity of the jet’s damage, were standing a little too close), and the remaining three elements of Regent Flight were flying on fumes by the time they landed. Alexander, guiltily, felt nothing more towards his fallen pilots than vague sense of sorrow. To be fair, though, he refused to think about Rita, pilot of Regent 4. He wouldn’t allow himself to.
Of course, there was never actually a romantic connection between them, although Alexander often wished that there had been. They were the only two pilots of Regent Flight who had made it through the whole war together; most of the pilots who came in were quickly transferred to different units to help fill the gaps made by the almost constant aerial sparring between Belkan and Ustian forces. They had been best friends, however, and had shared almost every combat mission together (before his promotion, Alexander had been her wingman). Now… now she was gone, and Alexander could not allow her to dominate his thoughts. Thinking about her would only drown him in grief, and that was not something he could allow to happen at this point in the conflict. Every mission was critical, and even one emotionally compromised major could lead to the defeat of an entire squadron, and that, in turn, would place even more stress on the stretched frame of the Belkan military.
This particular patrol mission had been the first that Alexander had led, and the first time he had flown with the pilots of Regents 6, 7, and 3. Really, the major had almost no connection with the other pilots who had actually died, and while the thought of losing his squad members plagued him, he couldn’t allow himself to slip into the same kind of grief that had plagued him after the bombing of Hoffnung.
As for the remaining flight members, Burke had been with the squad for almost 5 combat missions, and that was as impressive a record as any in a war where great pilots were in even greater demand in an increasingly greater number of locations. Regent 5, Lukas, had only been with the flight for two missions. Though he was a quiet man, he fit in well and was quickly becoming an integral part of the flight. Like many servicemen and women, he had relatives who had been victims of the disaster at Hoffnung, and he was prepared to do whatever it took to make the Ustians pay for every innocent life that they had taken that night. Now, with three pilots missing and their replacements arriving fresh from flight school the next day, Regent flight would once again be a flight of almost complete strangers, only all the colder for Alexander.
This time, he wouldn’t have Rita.
Edited by Kingstone, 29 July 2013 - 10:19 PM.