A few days later, Athena was getting her coffee in the mess hall when Doug walked over to her. "Buy you a free cup of coffee?" he said to her.
"From you always," said Athena with a smile. Doug smiled back and poured her a cup of coffee. Then they moved towards the nearest vacant seats they could find.
"So are you ready for your first flight?" asked Doug as they sat down.
"Ready as we'll ever be," Athena admitted.
"Glad to hear it," said Doug. "I'm going to be looking forward to seeing you and your squad do some great things."
"Your vote of confidence in us encouraging," said Athena as she finished her coffee. "We'll all do our best not to let you down."
"Glad to hear it," Doug said again. "If you're done I'll walk with you to the briefing room."
"Certainly," said Athena.
The two of them exited the mess hall and quietly and casually walked towards the briefing room. When they got there, Doug moved to his speaking podium and Athena sat in the assigned seat of the Wolf Pack squadron leader. After a few minutes other pilots and personnel began filing in for the briefing. Once it looked as though everyone was there, Doug turned on the microphone at his podium and considered the assembly. "It's game time, everyone," he began. "The first flight of this mission will be to stir the hornets' nest by really sticking it to the Bugs. On the overhead you see a tactical display of the asteroid field in the Vak'tren System. A formidable Bug base is located there. Now analysts indicate that the base can only be contained within one of the larger asteroids in the field. Which one that is we don't at this time know. For that reason, once we arrive in the system an SWACS will be deployed along with a wing from Black Widow Squadron to find it. All the while, the rest of the fighter contingent of the Eisen will be deployed as follows: Two wings from Diamondback Squadron will stay behind with the Eisen to fly support in case of attack by Bugs. The rest of the wings in Diamondback Squadron will create a perimeter around the entire asteroid field and pick off any bug ships that try to escape once we hit the base. Two wings in Black Widow Squadron will fly in Devastators equipped with a special wild weasel load capable of destroying the base. The rest of the wings in the Black Widows will act as cover support. Now these wings will remain outside the asteroid field until the SWACS locates the base. Only once the SWACS has transmitted the location of the base are the wings of Black Widow Squadron to commence with their part of the attack. Finally, and I do apologize for this Colonel Sylvesterson, Wolf Pack Squadron will be flying inside the asteroid field acting as decoys to try and lure as many bugs away from the SWACS as possible. In addition, Wolf Pack Squadron is to try to thin the bug swarm as much as they can so that there are that many less of them to try and stop the Devastators from delivering their payload. If all goes well, ladies and gentlemen, then the Devastators will get through and drop a great big 'Fuck You!' from all of us right on the Bugs' doorstep."
More than a few of the pilots couldn't help but chuckle at Doug's last comment. Doug himself gave everyone a wry grin. "Now if there are no questions," continued Doug. "Please check your ICIS for your flight duty for this mission."
Athena looked over at Fyvve and Inferno for a moment and exchanged a few silent words with them before looking down at her ICIS. She knew that checking her ICIS at this moment was purely for protocol and actually quite pointless as Doug had already told her and everyone else in the room everything she would need to know for this mission. When the ICIS was finished giving its briefing, Athena looked up at Doug to signal that she was ready to continue. "Well, ladies and gentlemen," said Doug. "That's your mission. Good luck out there."
All the pilots stood and saluted. Doug briefly returned their salute before walking out. Athena turned to look at her pilots, who came swiftly over to her. "Right in the shit?" she asked them.
"Affirmative yes sir!" said Houdini with a mock salute.
"At least we get to turn and burn and show the rest of these yahoos why we're Wolf Pack," said Inferno.
"Absolutely," said Fyvve.
"Think we'll all come home alive?" asked Kitten.
"I wouldn't dwell on such things," said Sixkiller. "It sets you up for disappointment."
"Anyone wanna take bets on who gets the top killscore?" asked Runway.
"A hundred credits says it won't be you," said Fyvve.
"Eat me," said Runway with a disgusted look.
"Not in your wettest fantasies," replied Fyvve as she stuck her tongue out at Runway.
"Game faces," reminded Athena. "Right in the shit, remember?"
"Yes, Sir!" they all answered.
"Let's move out!" barked Athena. The others gave her a proper formal salute and followed behind her as she headed for the flight deck.
Once on the flight deck, they seemed to get into an official-looking walking formation. Pilots and technicians alike moved aside for them as they approached their Vampires.
"That bordered on the surreal," said Runway once they were all seated and connected to their ship-to-ship intercom.
"Get used to it," said Inferno.
"Yeah," said Fyvve. "It comes with the job of being Wolf Pack."
Athena smiled and looked out her canopy to the observation platform where Doug was standing watching the pilots go. She could tell he was watching her and gave him a salute. Doug smiled and saluted her back. Then he flipped on his COMM and signaled Athena in her cockpit.
"Turn and burn," he said to her.
"Turn and burn," she said back to him. Doug smiled again and switched the COMM off. Athena let out a sigh and signaled all her pilots. "Okay, Wolf Pack, let's show 'em how to fly!"
"And let's teach those bugs how to die!" added Fyvve.
"This is Wolf Pack Squadron," said Athena. "Requesting permission to disembark."
"Permission granted, Athena," crackled the voice on the COMM. "Hang on a moment and we'll get you into the launch tracks."
"Acknowledged," said Athena. "Thank you."
For the next few minutes, the drop cranes carried the various members of Wolf Pack Squadron to their launch bays. When at last they were all launched, they fell into formation instantly. "Everyone five-by-five?" asked Athena.
"All systems green," said Inferno.
"Sen-fucking-sational," said Fyvve.
"Things are Purrrr-fect on my end," said Kitten.
"I'm ready to turn and burn," said Sixkiller.
"Things are perfect here," said Runway.
"Let's go make some magic," said Houdini.
"Excellent," said Athena. "Once we're formed up with the SWACS and the wing from the Black Widows, set your NAV computers to the first NAV point and engage your autopilots."
One after the other, the pilots on Athena's wing acknowledged their orders. Moments later, the SWACS fell in with them at the rear of their formation. The wing of Black Widows then fell in last behind the SWACS to keep it protected at the center of the overall formation. Once Athena was satisfied that the overall formation was tight, she gave the go-ahead signal for everyone to program their NAV computers and engage their autopilots.
To be continued…