When I was a freshmen in highschool all I ever thought about was flying for the Army, but my dream to be a pilot started much earlier. One fine day when we all the kids from school were out on vacation, I was riding my bike around town when my ears heard the rumble of the airships coming from the Fort down the road. I rode up to the top of a hill near the base, and gazed for hours at the black and green figures darting across the crimson sky. Even from our two story sub-urban home, I could hear the loud screeches of jet engines emitting from the fenced-in two mile stretch of land down the road. I used to climb ontop of our spanish tile roof and watch the hotshot pilots excecute various manuevers from touch-and-gos to ropeing soldiers into a makeshift warzone. One time, my parents had threatened to call the fire-department because their son refused to come down. I'll never forget the time my dad took me to the airshow hosted by the base commander. At the time, it was the closest I had been to the steel birds that took up my afternoons, and I loved every second that my feet touched the runway. We stayed there all day, watching all kinds of aerial vehicles from the Army and Marine Corps fly like the Blue Angels. It was around ten o clock at night, and by then my dad and I were the only civilians left on the airfield. As we were leaving, my eye caught a jet-black colored plane tucked away inside of a hangar. The image of that bird had been burned into my brain, and no matter how hard I tried to fight it, it always brought me back to that hill overlooking the base, waiting for the day those hangar doors squeeked open and I would hear it's massive engines being fired up.
It would take nearly a decade of waiting, along with four years at West-Point, for me to finally have the honor of firing them up myself...
December 10th, 2438
Damn, I thought to myself, gazing at the never-ending sea of people staring at the TV screen relative to the size of those at cinemas. I gathered that so many people were watching because it was a time honored tradition that the two best football teams on the planet met. I loved the sport, and took a seat next to some friends from my unit that were wearing '9ers caps.
"Throw it deep!" Shouted a young Ranger from the other side of the room, and several guys glanced at him as he predicted exactly was the legendary quarter-back would do.
We all watched the best game of our lives, and it was a perfect end to a season, just as it was a perfect way to kick off our mission.
"Let's get going!" Rodney attempted to shout over the roar of the crowd.
"Where?" I asked, after a drank the last of my opened beer. "Where are we going to go that's better than here?"
"To crash, retard! We go out tomorrow, remember?"
"Oh, shit!" I yelled, frantically pulling back my sleeve searching for a silver watch. 11:37 The slim hands showed. "Find Joe, we have to get back to the barracks!" It took us nearly five minutes to track down our fellow co-pilot, who was at first base with a girl in one of the bathroom stalls.
"Joe, let's go!" I said, knowing full well he was going to be pissed.
"What. Do. You. Want?" He said, in between sloppy kisses.
"I want you to get out of there because it's kinda hard to fly a Pelican into a warzone with only one pilot!"
I had always been a joker. Back in highschool my big mouth made me feel like I had outsmarted other people, but found it landed me in the same situation everytime: Thirty minutes of detention. It wasn't until I got into West Point and met our bad-ass instructors that I learned to keep my mouth shut and make due with a small grin. I didn't blurt out my comments because of fear of being ordered to clean latrines or do extra PT, but because our instructors were the fastest thinking sonsofbitches you've ever met in your life. Our class would think of the funniest thing you've ever heard, and they came back with something ten times better. After our first futile attempts at greatness, we learned we could never win. But this was a perfect time to call on my reserves of humor to get my buddy on his toes.
"Fuck!" Went a deep voice that echoed through the wet, foul smelling bathroom, and two seconds later, a figure burst from one of the stalls pulling his camo slacks up to his waist, struggling to find the belt to hold it there.
"Let's go, damnit!" I said, making a waving motion with my hand. "The fuckin' insurgency isn't going to kill itself!"
"Fuck!" He repeated, feeling into his pockets, until he ran back to the stall to retrieve his wallet. "What time is it?" His loud voice made set off bells in my eardrums.
"Around eleven-thirty," I said as I looked back at the girl in the stall, "Hi."
"Hi." She said fixing her hair.
As soon as he got set, we both ran out the door and down the long hall towards our bunks.
"Where's Rodney?" He asked, looking over his shoulder expecting our crew-chief to be there.
"Did you check your sister's house?" I replied, cracking a huge smile.
"You dick, you're just mad because all the ladies are attracted to me like a magnet."
"You're a funny guy." I said, chuckling. And even as we got to our bunks, and the drama of the night settled down, Joe and I could still hear each other laughing at each other from across the barracks.
That night I slept like a baby, without the interruption of random dreams. But I couldn't stop thinking about that soldier named Durant. All I know about him is that he was an important figure in our unit when it was first formed. One day I asked our CO who this guy was, and he told me that he was a pilot just like us, only better. He gave me a short lecture about the things that Night Stalker went through went a mission went badly around five hundred years ago. To be honest, I thought this guy was a legend. I mean, to have your name remembered half a millenia later by your country, that's pretty damn cool.
"...ake up, damnit!" Someone shouted, but I couldn't tell if I were still sleeping or if it was Joe trying to get back at me for ruining his chances at getting laid. I didn't have to wait long to find out.
"Lieutenant Fruit-cake, wake up!" I peeled my eyelids back to see Joe, Rodney, and about twenty other guys sorting their clothes and getting their boots on. Joe was a friend, and even though he was a pay-grade below mine, I didn't feel like busting rank on a guy that would end up saving your like one day, so I just flicked him the bird.
"What the hell Joe, you know I need my beauty sleep."
"You can sleep on the plane ride, god knows it's going to be a long one."
He was right, even with the advances in slip-space technology, it would still be a while before we arrived into our warzone. In order to make the trip enjoyable for the soldiers going off to battle, the United Nations Navy kindly shows an inflight movie and serves peanuts and beer throughout the trip; "That's all those squids are good for," was what every soldier and marine at the time thought, seeing as the rebel navy consisted of nothing more than a row-boat and two life vests. We were prepared with this long-ass trip, which would take a gruesome seven hours of boredom.
"What time is it?" I asked, sitting up from my lower bunk.
"Ten-thirty." Rodney answered glancing at a digital clock on his night-stand.
"And when do we leave?"
"Eleven-thirty." Joe stated, folding a pair of undies and stuffing it into his dark green duffelbag.
It took about thirty-minutes, but I cleaned myself up, fit into my desert-camo flight-suit, packed my belongings, and met my crew in the mess hall. We didn't get anyting to eat or even try to, but we had established the night before that this was going to be our meeting place for when we'd make that sad and depressing walk to the shuttles.
"Ready?" I asked?
"Ready." Joe and Rodney replied hefting their bags over their shoulders.
Together we made our way to one of the many space docks that line the magnificent Virginia coast. Before leaving Fort Campbell, our battalion was told we'd all be flying on the same ship to Harvest, but at the time we didn't know exactly which ship that would be. It was only this morning we were told we would be shipped out on the California. That day we made a bet; we guessed how many of the FNGs would get confused and board the wrong ship. We all lost. While the FNGs were green, they weren't as retarded as we were meant to believe. The small battlegroup of destroyers and ground support vessels all left on schedule, fuck-up free and without having to turn around to pick up some Rangers that had been out late the night before drinking and had an extreme hangover.
"Rodney, when was the last time you jumped?" I asked, referring to the akward feeling of being shot through slip-space.
"I don't remember." He said, trying to recall the last trip to the other side of the galaxy he went on.
"It's been a year for us." Joe said, 'us' because we had both been part of the origional garrison on Harvest. The reason why we have differant times is because, while Rodney was like a brother to us, he wasn't our first crew chief. He was transferred to our unit from the 101st airborne about two weeks after we got back from Harvest, and even though he was green to the SOAR, we knew at the time he was one of the best gunners in the Army.
It took the ship we were on only minutes to go from it's resting place on the ground to full orbit and preparing to rip a hole in space.
"All hands, brace for jump" Said a voice over the inter-comm.
"Hope you guys had a good breakfast." Joe mockingly said to some of the new guys we wanted to see suffer earlier.
The inter-comm began to countdown from five, and I moved my mouth to match each number.
"Five, four, three, two, one," no matter how many times you do it, when you hear the ship's A.I. countdown before a jump, your heart starts racing. It's like that first slope on a roller-coaster before you go over the edge. "Drive activated," and everyone on that ship flew back into their seats.
"Woo!" Shouted one of the FNGs at the top of his lungs, and the three of us just looked at him like he was an idiot, which he was.
Despite outbursts of the FNGs at regular intervals, it was actually a pleasant flight. About an hour into the flight, the low-rank enlisted guys started passing out snacks to their amazing passengers, and as promised, we got us an inflight movie. It was one of my favorite movies growing up, but I often had to watch it in secret because my parents didn't want me "polluting" my christian mind with explicit images, but what the hell I'd tell myself.
The massive plasma TV screen at the end of out cabin lit up with the images of an old Hollywood cop film set in the 1950's.
I was reading my copy of Sports Illustrated for the first part of the movie, but once I had realized what, or who I thought, was on, I gave it my full undivided attention.
When I did, I saw two guys and an old woman standing in a room, with one of the men messing around with a film projector.
"Damit! I can't get my finger in there! It won't fit!"
"Try your dick" the woman answered, and at that moment I figured out that they were showing the movie to the entire ship because every room on that boat was filled with the sound of laughter.
I only watched about a half-hour of it, mostly because all the good parts were during the first few moments, until I finally reopened my sports magazine and continued reading. Most of it was old, boring news and soon found myself dazed and drowsy...
I was flying over the desert, and could see jaged mountain tops in the distance with the blistering sun creeping in through small, circular windows. I peered out one of them and found I was over an ordinance test site because the flat desert sand below was dotted with cratters, and I mean big craters. I was in the back of an old prop plane, one that the airborne guys used to jump out of during the second world war. I was sitting next to two Army guys, but I couldn't see their faces or get a close enough look at their uniforms to see if I could order them to tell me what the hell was going on. They wouldn't have heard me anyways, seeing as the loud engines outside would have made any voices inaudible. All of a sudden, one of the men stood and brandished a pistol, and the other grabbed me by the neck and dragged me to the back of the plane. I felt my hair whip back as the man with the gun kicked the rear door open, Not relevant compared to being strangled! my mind told me, but it didn't stop it from happening. The man with his hands around my neck lifted me to my feet, but before I could say a word, the wind in my lungs was knocked out of me as the soldier kicked me in the stomach. The only thing after that I remember was feeling my body being hurled towards the ground, seeing the sleek plane overhead continue on its way, and the shock of being slammed into the earth.
December 10th, 2438
My body leapt out of the cushioned chair trying to counteract the "fall" but my mind quickly corrected, and I found my self seated again. I looked over to see Rodney fast asleep, with Joe having an internal debate on whether or not to draw on him with a sharpie. I must have been napping for hours, and figured we should be very close to our destination. I felt refreshed. After all, this was the most I have slept in a while. The massive silver screen that once entertained the troops now had a map of the galaxy, with "You are here" pointed at a red dot on top of a planet called Harvest. I didn't know what to expect once we exited slip-space; would we catch them off guard and make this a lightning-war? Or would the mammoth hunks of metal be nailed by anti-aircraft fire and be the first unsuccessful wave of troops sent to die before their boots touched the ground. ETA to our final destination was thirty-minutes, and it was the most nerve-racking thirty-minutes I've ever experienced.
"All pilots of the one-hundred-sixtieth SOAR and SFOD-Delta are to report to your designated craft and prepare for departure." The female AI ordered through the talk-box. We knew the drill; D boys and Night Stalkers would fly in to secure major airfields and key targets so the regular Army could safely follow. It was often the first military action a task-force would execute after arriving in a solar system because it was very effective. We needed to prep for launch beforehand due to the fact that every minute we weren't in our birds, it was a minute the enemy had to gather their forces.
We promptly got out of our seats and moved several bulkheads over to a staircase that would lead to another row of bulkheads. Along the way we linked up with other guys from our unit, and followed the signs toward the hangar. We navigated the endless labrinth of metal walls, dead ends, and crew quarters until we finally entered a massive open facility, with small holes for drop ships. Most of the birds we saw were the regular pelicans and hornets that were often piloted by guys that were as green as the paint the ships were coated with. There must have been over fifty regular aircraft tucked away in that hangar, but only around ten that were worthy to pilot. They were the charcoal colored MD77 Pelican drop-ships. The "M" at the front stands for Modified, and that was exactly what those amazing machines were. They were the work-horse of every single special forces unit in the UN Army, and for good reason; they, were, fast. Most Pelican dropships could only make around eighty km/h, but the hightech engines on the MD77 could bring her up to a lightning one-hundred thirty km/h, without sacrificing armor or weapons. And with the addition of a jet-black, radar resistant shell it could blend in with the night, making it a perfect match for pilots trained to fight in the dark.
Joe and I strapped ourselves in to the tandem seats of the pelican, put on our helmets and manipulated the microphone boom on it to our mouths.
"Comm check" Crackled Joe's voice through my earpiece.
"Check" I responded, turning a dial on my chair.
From our seats in the cockpit we could hear Rodney in the back, loading a large box magazine to the side of a mini-gun affixed to a swinging arm. "Check" came the voice of our crew chief.
"All comm systems are good, auxillary power coming up." Joe said flipping switches and turning various knobs, with a low whining noise radiating from the eight jet engines just outside.
"Let's crank this shit up to eleven!" Rodney playfully shouted, as Joe and I looked out of our canopy at the squad of soldiers running to our cargo bay.
"Engines, coming on." I announced as the low whine outside became a deafening screech.
The once empty troopbay in the back was now filled with the sounds of leather boot soles smacking on the deck and the clicking of customized weapons being stored on a special rack above their seats.
We sat idle in our port for at least five minutes, waiting for when those massive airlocks at the opposite end of the hangar would open and allow our mission to begin.
"You boys all have a nice flight." Joe directed at our special passengers as he turned around and gave them a thumbs up. After all, we owe the D boys a lot. It's because of them that flyboys like us have a job, and we try not to forget it.
"Just watch out for the mountains and try not to crash." One of the Delta sergeants said with a small grin, tightening a strap on his helmet.
"We'll do our best, but we won't make any promises."
"All hands, prepare to exit slip-space." Came the ever-so-comforting voice through our headsets, and a few seconds later we all jerked in our seats as if we had slammed on the breaks of a car on the freeway.
Here we go I thought as my left hand pulled back on one of the levers situated on the left side of the ejection seat while my free hand gently pushed foward the joystick, and like clockwork the massive piece of steel began to nudge toward the airlock.
"Joe, give me forty-percent power on all engines," I asked, glancing at several dials and meters, "We need to clear out so we don't get hit by another bird."
"Rhaj, engines being brought to forty-percent," and immediately we went from a slow crawl to having the stars far off in the distance zooming by.
"Rodney, I'm flipping off the safety on your weapon, once we near the target I want you to keep it spoolled up." I said, pushing a flashing light that read "Weapons". The rear mounted mini-gun was powered by electricity from the auxillary batteries, and could only be activated by the pilot or co-pilot. We learned in flight school always to tell our crew chiefs what we were doing to prevent any nasty friendly fire incidents.
"Six-two, direct your flight towards the airfield in grid 2-7-6." Boomed a voice from my reciever.
Pilots, before a drop are often briefed on every aspect of the mission. Things like where we are going, how long we are going to be there, and where do we pick up the guys we drop off. But the first wave is always an exeption; all we are given is an objective, what few details that relate to the mission are told inflight, en route to the drop zone.
It annoys the hell out of you, but there's a rush to catch them off guard so we learn to just go with it.
"Rodger, we're on the way." My flight consisted of four Pelican drop-ships, along with one SAR bird, and patched with three Hornet light gunships to provide escort, but they wouldn't be joining us due to our orbital launch. It wasn't a large, magnificent force, but it was considered an honor for a Lieutenant first class to be given any sort of command position.
My bird was only in space for a minute or so, but was soon engulfed by flames as it pierced the atmosphere of the tiny agricultural colony.
"Joe, how are we on the systems?"
"We're good, the heat-shield is taking all of the fire, and everything else is well within normal range."
"Rodney, how are the D-boys holding up?"
"Good, one of them almost threw up though."
I didn't know if he was joking or not, but if someone emptied the contents of their stomach here, they would have to find another ride back to the ship.
"He's full of crap." One of the soldiers grunted, as I let out a sigh of relief.
The transition from orbit to atmosphere was a short one, and within seconds the huge fireball vanished. From our position on the very border of the planet, we could see a brightly lit area far to the north. That was the capital, and while we were sent to remove the rebel leaders that called that city home, they would have to wait another day. For now the battlefields were the airfields, and highways, and food storage facilities and oil rigs that dotted the landscape.
This was it, our war had begun.
A lightning assault on key positions under the cover of darkness, with our enemy entirelly unaware of our presence...
What could go wrong?