Lieutenant Commander Drake Kendrick flew his plane across the Pacific with his formation. The five planes he was flying with were on his either side behind him. Ahead of him, he could see the flecks on the horizon that were the enemy battle group. Once they were in range for visual sightings, their stealth designs wouldn’t do much to protect them. Anti-air missiles wouldn’t be able to lock, but bullets would still tear through their planes easily.

“Lock in on targets now.” He gave the order calmly. There was no use panicking yet. The enemy didn’t even know they were coming yet. They weren’t running flight ops anymore, either, because fuel supplies had become too limited in the war, so no planes were going to randomly spot them out here. Once he had confirmations of locks, he knew the enemy would know they were coming now. That’s why everyone in the formation was locked in on aircraft carrier launching mechanisms. The only way they would be able to complete their mission with any survivors would be for the enemy to be unable to launch most of their planes. “Fire.”

He watched the condensation trails of the missiles firing toward the enemy ships and readied for his least favorite part of the mission. “Full speed ahead, gents.” As soon as the words came out, he and his wingmen pressed in fully on their throttles, quickly accelerating at about four times gravity to Mach 2 at an altitude of only 100 feet above sea level. The body of his plane rattled and groaned, despising its pilot’s demands and resisting his commands.

Still, the plane held. This was the operational limit of the plane, a limit being tested at that very moment. Nothing about the plane liked him right now. He knew, however, that the speed was necessary for the mission’s success. Once it was up to speed, the formation launched its second set of missiles, these directed at various critical points on enemy escort ships. One missile launched at these speeds was enough to trash such small ships. Drake resisted the urge to close his eyes in prayer. If he did, he’d crash and die before he finished the first sentence. He was too close to the water.

Sooner than seemed right to him, the enemy was easily visible. The formation fired another set of missiles at half of the remaining escorts. Soon would come the worst of the flying. His team had trained so intensely for this next maneuver that he’d been forced to drop half of the possible candidates for the mission in the first day of training. Here was where the balance hung. Whether it was the plane or pilot, if one failed to pull off the maneuver, they’d quickly be an unintentional kamikaze, and America would lose its support from the UN.

Here it was. With less than four miles between the battle group and the formation closing in at just under half a mile per second, the planes dropped their torpedoes and pulled up at an acceleration of 6.7 gravities. Every pilot but Drake blacked out, but they were immediately awakened by shots of adrenaline programmed to be given at the appropriate mission time. Every second was perfect. The formation climbed to over twelve miles before turning back to Earth. The planes’ engines stalled out at precisely eleven miles, and momentum had carried them the remaining mile and a half to the stratosphere. Each pilot had now had plenty of time to awaken fully, their tightened grips and positions relaxing as they briefly took in the view of space before up became down, and the formation pulled into a dive back to Earth, angled toward that tiny battle group, so crippled by this attack.

But not every catapult had been put totally out of possible service, apparently. Three enemy planes had managed to launch before the last catapult had failed, and those three planes were now coming up on his radar, heading straight for his group. Without thinking, Drake entered his Sheii’Cronell state, releasing Drigondii. Quickly, Drigondii brought the first plane into aim and shot it down with a three round burst from eight miles. His plane was able to get the next enemy into aim by five miles. That plane was soon a paperweight, too. The third plane, however, broke through and passed him. That was when the mission came apart.

The enemy managed to fell one plane in its first pass. It would take ten seconds for the enemy to bear around to meet them. In the meantime, the remaining five planes in formation all fired their remaining missiles to their final targets. Three targets still remained. Comms were currently being jammed, but once the formation passed the battle group and started on its return, the enemy would have intel on their planes. Surprise would be gone for future missions.

Drigondii knew at that moment what he needed to do that Drake could not. He had to ensure mission success despite current conditions. “Larry!” He called across the comm to his wingman. “We’re finishing this. Everyone else, head home.” The remaining formation members punched their throttles, returning to Mach 2. It would still take about ten minutes for them to return to their carrier. Drigondii and Larry brought their planes about and began firing on one of the remaining ships with their machine guns. After a few seconds, they flew past a decimated hulk of slag. Drigondii’s sensors still couldn’t find that enemy plane, and he didn’t have time to search for it himself. He and Larry brought their planes about and fired on the second remaining ship. The last ship was hidden near the middle of the group. They’d need to climb again to get enough direct line of sight to take it out with machine guns.

They’d brought their planes to three thousand feet before Drigondii found that enemy plane. It was above them another couple of miles, but the missile it had just launched toward Larry’s plane was within a mile. Already concerned, Drigondii then felt the missile launched from the last remaining ship. He knew there was only one thing he could do. Reaching out to the missiles, he redirected their locks to the only other place he could: his own plane. ‘Terira,’ he called out, praying she was ready to do what he needed and knew what it was, since he didn’t have time to explain all of that as the missiles simultaneously began to strike his plane from either direction. He had only just managed to fire the burst necessary to destroy the enemy plane before it could fire again.

Time seemed to be at a standstill. Drigondii could see the missile crunching into his plane’s nose. He used all the power he could muster to create a field of incredibly dense energy around his body. He couldn’t even summon the energy to cover his jumpsuit before the force of the explosion hit him. His body was limply tossed into the cloud of fire as his plane shattered. By the time his body fell from the bottom of the cloud, Larry’s plane was too far away for Larry to see him. Shame. He’d have liked to let him know he lived, but the time had come.

Drigondii felt it before he saw it. It was perfect piloting, better than his own yet was. In an instant, his wife manually hyped her Valkyr around his falling body. He hit the deck of the spaceship at terminal velocity, and the thud let Terira know he was on board after a nearly impossible maneuver. In another instant, the Valkyr hyped into orbit, and Drigondii Sheii’Cronell truly left Earth for the first time. He wouldn’t be back for a long time.

Quickly, Drigondii relinquished control to Drake, who practically flew to the cockpit where his wife was already bringing up imagery of Lieutenant Larry Denton’s plane. They both watched as he expended his remaining ammunition in a single dive ,decimating the hull of the ship that had just shot down the man he had considered a brother all his life. Once it was done, he pulled up and took off back for the carrier from which a larger formation had launched than the group that would return.

“It’s over.” Terira turned to Drake as she said it. “Drake and Sara Kendrick are both dead now. It’s time to go, Drake. We have someone to meet.” She programmed a hype course and took a breath before Valkyr 53 imploded in a hype leaving the Solar System for the first time in over a decade.

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