Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Nicola pushed the throttle further forward, feeling the massive airframe surge as he tripled the speed of sound.

“There are now eight aircraft in pursuit, finger four formations, over under,” Sev, the aircraft’s control system, broke the silence, “speed increased to overtake.”

Nic flexed his fingers away from the sticks, the maglocks holding his palms firmly to the controls. “Ok Sev, establish passive lock on the leaders and prep countermeasures if they go hot.”

“Confirmed.” The onboard flight system would do on instinct what he was instructing, but she maintained the illusion that he was in control out of respect. “I should remind you that we have only three remaining air to air missiles, and at this speed guns are unavailable.

“Understood.” Nic checked the current flight line on the HUD. “We can’t make target at this speed, we’ll need to shake ’em off, and quick.” Outside the cockpit, the horizon curved perceptibly with the altitude. “Listen for radio chatter. Tell me what you can about who’s flying what back there.”

There was a moment of silence while Sev recorded radio signals and cracked the encryption. “I have identified six male and two female pilots. Point on the lower formation has the lead. Instructions are to overtake and shoot us down.”

“Keep a passive lock on the leader and the women.” Nic eased up on the throttle. “With no lead, the boys hopefully will try to save their planes. The women never let it go. When they get close enough, Kulbit, then take them out.”

“May I remind you that a Kulbit maneuver at this speed will render you unconscious?”

“You can tell me all about it later.”

The aircraft began to throttle back. “Understood.”

Nic watched the HUD, heart racing as their pursuers closed the distance with ever increasing speed, weapons lock indicators flashed while Sev torqued the plane to stay just out of their grasp.

As the first of the locks stabilized, the gimbaled exhaust of their fighter turned abruptly skyward, pushing the tail of the aircraft violently, first towards the ground and then forcing it to aggressively overtake the nose. Nic felt his flight-suit tighten below his chest, head pounding, blood rushing in his ears. His vision irised in and out as above his head the sky was replaced with the nose cones of a flock of metal birds, then the ground. There was a brief flash of a pilot craning his neck backwards as canopy shot past within meters of canopy. The fighter continued pushing over, the jets almost at right angles to the stabilizers. There was a quick view of the exhaust of their former pursuers then the tail snapped around again to return their plane to its original position in the sky. The gimbaled nozzles straightened and the engines returned to full throttle, afterburners engaged. Nic heard chatter in his headset, vision nearly completely black, Sev closing the distance to the now fleeing pack ahead and letting loose the three remaining missiles as the planes broke formation. Before they could regain offensive positions, the three chosen targets were tumbling from the sky in bright smears of burning fuel and shattered metal. The remaining planes turned tail and ran, leaving Sev and Nic alone in the sky.

“Nicola?” Sev undulated the pressure in his flight suit until he groaned, eyes slowly opening against the bright blue sky.

“Welcome back. We have a clean inbound vector to target, and some time to make up.”

Nic pushed the throttles all the way forward, grinning despite his aching head as the seat back pushed against his spine.

“I killed three inferior AI’s today Nic.”

“I know Sev. Sorry I couldn’t keep my eyes open to watch,” Nic powered down the HUD, “why don’t you tell me about it.”

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