6/6/1995 1501 (1301 Zulu)
"Captain? Captain, you there?"
"Shit!" William Bishop shouted, peeking out from between his fingers. The sky was set aflame with mushroom clouds across the Waldreichs, steadily edging their way through the stratus overcast.
"Holy fuck, did the krauts lose their shit?" a garbled transmission asked through airwaves drenched with radiation; the RWR let out hectic blares as gamma waves battered its antenna.
"It's gotta be the reds," another pilot interjected.
Will grabbed his throttle to key his mic. "I don't know!" he replied. "Magic, you still with us? Magic!"
Silence followed, until his wingman replied, "They've gotta be dead, lead; the whole AO got lit the fuck up!"
"Damn," Will said as he glanced over inoperative displays. "Warwolf, we have to RTB, figure out what's going on."
"You think there's a home to go back to?"
"I don't know," he said in a flat tone. He gazed out at the pillars of fire as three Eagles formed up on his wing. Without warning, a single plane shot past them from ahead and left a thunderous sonic boom in its wake.
"Flanker!" Warwolf four announced.
Will frantically searched for it. "What?"
"Two-tone blue, lead; that's Yuke," the pilot answered.
"What's he doing?" Will wondered aloud, stretching to look behind his seat Yuktobanian. He froze up as smoke trails came into view, and flinched as two Eagles exploded, casting flaming debris along their flightpaths. The Flanker followed moments later, screaming past the survivors and dumping flares.
"Shit!" Will shouted. "Two, you still there?"
"Yeah, what the fuck was that?"
Adrenaline and instinct took over as he switched to Sidewinders and lit his burners. "Just kill it, engage!"
The Flanker was turning wide as Will burst through its clouds of countermeasures, but his missiles let out a pathetic whimper as it came into view. "...the EMP," he mumbled, before banking hard to stay on its tail. The Flanker leveled off, and Will's gun pipper projected a virtual stream of bullets alongside green tracers from the Yuke.
"Lead, he's on me!" Warwolf two cried. Will looked a few seconds ahead to see an Eagle getting peppered with cannon rounds.
"I've got him." He pulled the trigger, sending a red torrent towards the Flanker before it nimbly darted to the side to reveal a burning Eagle. The Yuke suddenly pulled up and bled off airspeed fast, passing alongside Will's Eagle with a high alpha. Feeling time slow down, he stared at its nose art: hideous shark mouth sprawled across the radome, gills ripped into its skin, and contemptuous eyes that glared back at him.
It passed behind, and he desperately mashed the flare release while jinking the stick, jostling him around the cockpit. A strong jolt, accompanied with a loud bang and blinking annunciator lights, threw him forward. Jiggling the stick had no effect as the plane started easing towards the ground. The warning system monotonously alternated between speaking "engine," and "pull up."
The Flanker reappeared, afterburning above him and speeding off his nose. It dove down and approached head on, dropping two Archers off of its rails before pulling out of sight.
Will's jet floundering from the sky, he scrambled to grab the yellow handle between his legs, but couldn't shake his gaze from the approaching missiles.
He opened his eyes with a gasp to find himself grasping for the drab ceiling above. The morning sun filtered in through thinly drawn curtains as he leaned up rubbed his sore temples. With shaking hands, he grabbed a pill bottle from between a collection of half-filled fifths on nightstand and hastily popped some Zoloft before collapsing back into bed.
"Goddammit," he muttered as the scene replayed endlessly in his head. He aimlessly groped the nightstand and latched onto a lukewarm bottle of cheap bourbon before sitting up to down a gulp. His burning throat cleared his mind as he stumbled out of bed.
Palmer Falls ANGB
Klamath, Midland District, Osea
9/27/2010 1221 (1121 Zulu)
"Man, boss, you look like shit today," Jose said. "Sir," he quickly added.
"I feel like shit, Guts," Will mumbled as the Captain walked alongside him on the apron, towards the Ops Group offices. It was a sunny day, and his hungover eyes still struggled to adjust to the scorching light.
Jose raised an eyebrow. "Something wrong?"
"Uh, no- nothing. Just a dream."
"That one again?"
Will grumbled in response. "What's going on today, any more leakers?"
"Yessir, a couple drones and fighters over Sand Island. 108th lost their CO."
"Damn. Any details?"
He shook his head. "Naw, ACC's pretty tight lipped. They've got us running BARCAPs in the ADIZ all day, though."
Eagles roared in the distance, and they both paused to look at the runway as the fighters gracefully lifted off. Will bitterly pictured the single logbook page he'd filled this year.
"Some serious shit's goin' down," Jose continued.
"No kidding," Will answered as he stumbled through the door, squinting at halogen bulbs that offered his eyes no respite. Airmen scrambled between cubicles inside, and one rushed up to him with a sheepish salute.
"Uh, sir, bad news."
He furrowed his brow. "What is it?"
An explosion outside rumbled the building, and cockpit warning voices from fifteen years ago blared in his head. "Colonel!" Jose shouted from the door, gesturing for him to come outside. Will ran to his side.
A black smoke trail leapt from the runway and arced down to the outlying forests. Two Flankers flew directly over the runway, broken off from the spiral contrails of a furball in their wake. The lead plane wore a familiar red marking across its nose.
"...no," Will mumbled, frozen in a sea of frantic airmen. The plane drew closer, and as it passed, its eye met him with a furious glare.
He stood silently with his mouth agape, the calamities of the present drowned out by nightmares from the past.