Namibia, South Africa
It was to have been a straightforward egress, a textbook implementation
of the last leg of the prescribed, classic HI-LO-HI flight pattern - fly in,
carry out the covert extraction, where the StratoStars, all of which now being
manned for real, would skim the ground under radar coverage, and then once
in the clear, would climb their way out to relative safety, gaining distance
while making use of the thinning atmosphere to attain higher speeds.
The early-warning AWACS aircraft on patrol that day was not part of the
plan, however. The particular model that spotted the StormKeepers was equipped
with some of the latest long-range active sensors available - it was probably
on attachment from the Terran Defense Force, helping out with the local
Seemingly out of nowhere, six Banshee flyers popped into the air, their twin
high-speed turbofans making loud, continuous buzzing noises as the engines rotated
about their axes and made the transition from take-off mode to forward
flight. Catching the SK StratoStars completely by surprise, the Banshees had
the advantage of firing first, and they took it.
"Uh oh here comes trouble", [SK] John muttered as long red lances of laser
light flashed past his cockpit. In front of him, at point position, he heard
[SK] Huh? grumble a little, "Why they all so like that? Never ask first anyhow
shoot" and to his right..... he winced as one of the beams made contact with
Ramrod's port wing.
Shaking off the direct hit, [SK] Ramrod assured everyone, "I'm fine, no problem".
The StratoStar had shields capability, though the generator was a miniature
one that came nowhere close to the awesome Medusa generators found on the larger
Hercs. A single laser shot scoring from extreme range did not hurt it any.
"Now it's our turn. Execute Immelman. Burst, now!!"
Pushing the throttle until it wouldn't go any further, beyond the built-in
indentations marked "100%", [SK] John pulled the fly-by-light joystick back,
maintaining the pressure until the fighter was flying vertically upwards on
a visible pillar of a total of 84,000 pounds of scramjet thrust. At the top
of the climb, the three fighters peeled off at near-exact 120-degree angles to
each other, completing a beautiful Tristar Immelman maneuver worthy of
any modern airshow.
The Banshee flyers did their best, but their rotating turbofans, while giving
them the necessary agility for close air-support operations, were ill-suited
to straight-out speed/rate-of-climb contests with true jet fighters. Especially
the latest-tech dual-role air/space fighters like SK StratoStars. The SAAF pilots
did what they could, though, levering up into the sky, shooting lasers and
short-range heatseekers, all of which missed due to the difficult aspect
The answering volley from the heavens, however, did not miss nearly as much.
Setting loose a flight of AIM-640 Lancer missiles, [SK] Ramrod blew off the tail
of one of the Banshees, and watched on as the last missile did an automatic
re-acquisition and proceeded to slam directly into the midst of yet another target
which was still clawing its way into the skies.
John followed suit, all four of his missiles detonating as one, consuming the
third Banshee in a large orange-yellowish fireball. He noted with some admiration
the reflexes of the pilot, whom, upon seeing that there was no possible way to
effect countermeasures against that many incoming missiles, decided to put his
own life first and foremost by ejecting from his plane.
Executing a gravity-defying pull-out of his post-Immelman dive, John watched
as [SK] Huh? proceeded to demolish the rest of the would-be interceptors.
Carrying the equipment pods for the remote operation of the other two air/space
fighters until moments ago meant that Huh? could not also take on missile packs
at the same time. He had to fall back on non-guided weapons now.
Twin streams of ATC fire leapt from Huh?'s fighter, tearing paper-thin armor
into shreds, ripping off into silvery pieces, the entire shuddering structure
smoking as it went down, its mangled fans making a crazed howl worse than any
Seeing their companions down, the last two aircraft could have been forgiven
had they decided to turn tail and run - however it seemed that running was
not the standard order of the day for them. Almost as one, the Banshees
switched to near-hover mode, swinging around, facing Huh?'s StratoStar
screaming towards them at Mach 1.2, almost calmly squeezing off bolt after
bolt of brilliant ruby-red lasers at their SK foe.
Sweating bullets in his cockpit, Huh? knew his fighter could not take very
much more of this treatment. The shields were failing rapidly - the
StratoStar's armor was not much better than a Banshee's. In fact, if anything,
it was even thinner - given its role as a air/space strike fighter, the
StratoStar was not built for slugging matches against ground-based Hercs, unlike
the close-support models. And even now some of the powerful energies were leaking
through the shields, slicing pieces off the thin layers of armor.
Braving the hail of lasers reaching out towards him, splashing against
his dwindling shields, [SK] Huh? did the only thing he could think of.
Setting the weapon selection to HLAS, Huh? focused savagely on the Banshee
to his left. His integrated HMD Helmet-Mounted Display picked up the cue
from the eye/pupil-targeting system and transferred the co-ordinates to the
fire control computers. A single yellow beam shot out from the Heavy Laser
mounted under the StratoStar's nose, slicing a turbofan engine neatly from
So intent was the other pilot on aiming at Huh? that he did not notice
his fellow countryman's cries over the tactical radio system - and neither
did he notice that the precise shot which had sliced off the port engine
of his partner's craft had in effect destabilised the counter-rotating
port/starboard turbofan system. Not until the other Banshee had crashed
right into him did he notice anything at all out of the ordinary, in fact.
By then, it was too late. The two Banshees raced each other the short
distance to the ground, wreaking havoc on the sparse vegetation as they
exploded spectacularly upon impact. The pilots never had a chance - their
cockpits had jammed together from the moment of contact.
The trio of SK pilots circled over the smoking, charred area for a few moments
more. There was absolutely nothing they could have done except to defend themselves.
Ramrod's quick thinking had gained for them their advantage over the
numerically-superior forces which had declared themselves the enemy once
they started shooting.
Thinking back with a start, John realised that none of them had spoken on the
tactical link since Ramrod issued the call to execute the Immelman maneuver.
It was almost as if they had agreed in principle to use the Tristar version
of that particular move, almost as if they knew exactly what to do. It was
early days yet, but later on, this phenomenon would be given a name - silent
rage - the integration of small-scale units being so complete that only the
briefest of communications was necessary. It required complete trust,
understanding, and years of working and fighting together. And it could not
be ordered, or enforced - it just... happened.
Breaking the unintentional radio silence again at last, Ramrod, John and
Huh? reported to each other their damage, ammo and other current status.
The mood was sombre - after all, the StormKeepers had just downed six pilots
they had no real argument with, nor had any intention to argue with.
Engaging afterburners, the StratoStars boosted off once more into the
evening sky. This time the final HI phase of the flight was completed without
further incident, and only when the scramjets switched to their efficient
high-speed, high-altitude cruising mode could the three SK's relax a little
more, hurtling at above Mach 4.5, skimming the edges of the Earth's atmosphere
at 120,000 feet above the ground, on a sub-orbital path toward home.
The TDL message received halfway on the journey home changed the mood again
somewhat. It was a terse message, simply stating a set of co-ordinates, a
meeting point in 3D space. The three pilots worried over the range numbers
a little, but decided in the end that they could make it without further
refueling. Setting the auto-speed limit to Mach 6, [SK] Ramrod, Huh?
and John blazed their way across the skies, hurrying to their new designated
After all, by tradition, and respect, no-one arrived late for a meeting
with StormAldur Tsoron himself. Not even after a skirmish with six Banshees...
... to be continued