Horse shoved the stick and was slammed back against the seat by the force of the jet racing upward. The anvil of an enormous thunderstorm dominated the view from the domed cockpit, growing larger as the jet flew rapidly nearer to it. Horse rolled the lithe little craft so that its belly pointed up to the sky.
“Glad you could make it, Airman Ripley,” said a voice in Horse’s ear.
“Wouldn’t miss it, Sergeant,” laughed Airman First Class Charlotte “Horse” Ripley as her jet sped along the underside of the storm’s enormous anvil.
“Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to fly a plane, Horse?” crackled another voice. “If the top of your head is pointing to the ground, you’re probably doing something wrong!”
“Ah, c’mon Switch, be nice,” Horse replied with a smirk. “Don’t be jealous just because I get prettier toys than you.”
Senior Airman Aaron “Switch” Prevost laughed. “How’s that bird handling, Airman?”
“Like nothing you would believe, Switch.” Horse raced along the bottom of the anvil, dodging between big, pillowy protrusions the boiled from the bottom of the cloud and long, hazy columns of virga laden with deadly hail. Then, as she reached the edge of the storm, she suddenly turned the nose of her jet vertical, shooting up above the tropopause and into clear, blue skies beyond. The bright sunlight glinted off a small formation of fighter jets and Horse adjusted her heading to fall in behind them.
“I’ve got a visual on you, Raptor Group,” said Horse.
“Copy that,” replied Sergeant Kira Dahl. “What’s your status, Raptor Nova?”
“Temperatures are nominal, tanks at 79%, gauges are clear, all lights are showing green, Raptor Group,” reported Horse.
“Uh, roger that, Charlie Horse. Temps nominal, 79% fueled, good gauges, green lights,” repeated Sergeant Dahl, glancing one way then another out of her cockpit as she checked the positions of the other two fighter jets in her formation.
“Roger roger,” said Horse. “Nova is performing to specs. This is an impressive piece of hardware, Sarge.”
“Let’s make sure it comes back in one piece, then. If you break it you buy it,” teased Sergeant Dahl.
“Good luck with that,” snorted Airman First Class Dustin “Dusty” Rodgers. “Charlie don’t surf.”
“I’ll surf you,” Horse retorted.
“You coming on to me, Horse?” Dusty snickered.
“Alright, cut the chatter,” Dahl cut in. “How are you holding up in there, Horse?”
“Smooth ride, Sarge, no stomach awareness,” said Horse. “The G force isn’t as rough as they said it’d be.”
“No bagged lunch?” asked Dusty, indicating that he wanted to know whether she had any motion sickness as a result of the jet’s quick acceleration and turning.
“That’s affirm, Dust, no bagged lunch for me,” Horse laughed. “In fact, I could do with something right about now. I guess they don’t serve peanuts on these flights.”
“I brought some of my casu marzu if you’re hungry,” joked Switch.
“Actually, I think I’m in the mood for some warm tuna salad,” replied Horse.
“You’re always hungry,” said Dusty. “How are you always hungry?”
“This isn’t what cutting the chatter sounds like,” Dahl interrupted. “Figure out lunch after we finish this test.”
“Yes, Sarge,” said Horse.
“700 meters to the waypoint, Sergeant,” Switch reported.
“Copy that, seven hundred meters.” Dahl checked the formation again before she continued speaking, “Raptor Nova, approach to one hundred meters, then prepare for weapons free.”
“Wilco, Raptor Group. One hundred meters, then weapons free at the waypoint,” Horse confirmed her orders then punched the stick. She sped toward the other fighters, maneuvering into position and narrowing her eyes as they came closer to the next test.
She was flying a prototype F-19 Accipiter, commissioned by the Air Force and still classified. The Accipiter was a slim, sleek, and highly maneuverable fighter bomber intended for use in what were known as “close” missions. It was designed to fly dangerously close to the ground, between skyscrapers and in dense urban areas, along narrow gorges, and, at least theoretically, even through forests. There were only three yet in existence, and Raptor Group had been ordered to test one of them. With a price tag of 57.4 million US Dollars, the Air Force wanted the McDonnell Douglas F-19ETF Strike Accipiter thoroughly vetted and checked before more were constructed.
An order was given and the fighters 100 meters ahead of her dropped the drones they were carrying as they crossed the waypoint. Dahl, Swtich, and Dusty pulled up hard, suddenly ascending vertically then doubling back over Horse’s head to get out of her line of fire. Horse flipped the cover off of her trigger and touched her finger to it as she cruised over the waypoint and toward the drones.
“Weapons free, Raptor Nova. I repeat, weapons free. Waste those drones,” said Sergeant Dahl.
“Roger that, Raptor Group, weapons free,” Horse grinned. “Let’s see what this thing can really do!”
What happens next?
What happens next is up to you! I have recently joined the writers at Story Wars.net, a site that allows writers to create stories collaboratively through miniature writing contest. Writers submit and vote on chapters, working together and competitively to build stories. It’s a very cool idea and I’m super excited to be a part of it!
(Roggen Wulf, 2014)