At The Edge of The World
November 13th, 2014
Staff Sergeant Joshua Flint, 1st MEUSOC Battalion
U.S.S. George H.W. Bush
Stirring around from the laziness that was called sleep, I woke up in a dark room. Light shined in from a small porthole in the metal walled officers quarters. I looked at the digital watch strapped to my left wrist. 0500 Hours. Three more hours than I was use to sleeping on normal operations. At the opposite of me was another bed. The slim body under the sheets belonged to Michelle. Elf and Jorge was in the room next to us, the four of us being assigned to quarters after four pilots left for retraining in the F-35C. I pushed myself off to bed and walked to the bathroom inside the quarters. The pilots that left had the rank of Commander and Captain, they were in that pay grade for over two years to get a shot at the newest aircraft. The day quickly became routine. Brushing, shaving, bathing, it all felt the same. Sometimes you don't even realize that you were doing the action, it was all muscle memory and automatic. I slipped on the same unwashed flight suit and walked out into the metal corridor of the carrier. After twelve hours in the same jet, I didn't know how I kept my bladder under control. Oh wait, I pissed in a bottle hidden in a small compartment in the jet. Colbert had placed it there for long flights and it really came in handy. Yesterday was utterly boring after the nuclear explosion. Takeoff, fly in formation, patrol, refuel, patrol, refuel – the cycle never ends until your time on station was over. I walked to the mess hall and got my usual meal. An American breakfast with triple helpings of bacon, eggs and toast. This was the same dish all of the Marines eat in boot camp. I found a lone table in the middle of the cramped mess hall filled with chatting aviators and crewmen. I sat down and started to devour my meal, wolfing down everything. My mind forced me to stop. I forgot my drink. The mess hall was serving hot coco and I wasn't about to miss out. A man with whiting buzz cut hair and muscles bulging through his flight suit walked into the mess hall, rubbing his eyes.
"Jorge, why are you up so early? I thought Seals sleep until ten." I said with an amused smile and sat back down at my table.
"Fuck you, Flint. Of all the years I've been with you, I don't know why I haven't slept next to Elf yet." He replied, walking over to the small cooking area filled with Navy chefs.
"Now I know. He snores like a fucking pig." Jorge grunted back, rubbing his forehead.
"You get used to it after a week." I stated and resumed wolfing down the meal.
"After a week? I won't get enough sleep in a week. We've been running operations since that last incident in the middle of Iraq and I haven't gotten any more sleep than three hours." Jorge groaned and quickly chugged the coffee down his throat.
"Have you heard about Raimstein?" I asked finish the last strip of bacon and grabbed the hot chocolate.
"The USAF Air Base in Germany?" He replied as I stood up.
"Yeah." I stated walking to the med-bay to visit Bal.
"No why?" Jorge grabbed another cup of coffee he bought at the mess hall.
"Russian Air Wings deployed to Belarus attacked at 1345 Hours yesterday. Two hours after the nuclear bomb exploded. Within the first hour of the campaign, they took out four F-16C fighters in their hangars while the rest of the aircraft from the airbase was on their way to counter the aircraft flying into France. By the time they noticed, the whole air base was taken out." I explained walking into a long and wide room filled with injured men on both sides.
"No survivors?" Jorge asked.
"No survivors, they used napalm bombs." I replied seeing Bal apparently flirting with another nurse.
"Apparently Bal's fine..." I whispered standing next to his bed.
"Sorry Alice, I'll talk with you another time okay babe?" Bal stated to the navy nurse who nodded, glancing at the two of us before walking away.
"What the hell, Bal. You're suppose to be sleeping." Jorge grunted finishing another cup of coffee, crumpling the paper cup in his hands and throwing it into a trash can near Bal's bed.
"And you guys are suppose to flying." Bal replied with a cocky smile.
"Flint hooked up with the spook." Jorge said quickly as a smile started to spread on Bal's lip.
"Yeah I know you'd–" Bal stopped talking, his minding thinking of something else.
"What?" He exclaimed with widened eyes.
"How did you get a girlfriend before me? How did Mr. The-Marine-Corps-is-my-life get a girlfriend?" Bal said with disbelief.
"I don't know. Just felt like it. Plus, you jelly?" I asked with a sly smile.
"Why you little shit..." Bal grumbled, moving in his bed just to hiss in pain.
"...wait until I get out of this fucking bed. You'll see who's the ladies man." Bal growled as his pride took a hit.
"Yeah, yeah, no bite at all little man. Come on Flint, he looks fine enough." Jorge said with a chuckle.
"We'll see Flint, we'll see!" Bal yelled, making the patients and doctors look over to him.
The two of us decided to go up on the flight deck for some fresh air. Stepping out from the loud hangar underneath the carrier, the load roar of jet engines threatened to blow out our ear drums. Salty winds blew at our faces as the heated sun shined from the darkened horizon. Red skies glowed around the yellow sphere as it slowly rose from the division between sea and sky. Two dark gray painted F-35Cs sat on the catapults with the shuttle locked on their nose wheels. Two black shirts ran around the aircraft checking the systems one final time before they took off. They ran back from the aircraft as the F-35Cs activated the afterburners. The air behind the engines of the F-35Cs turned into a heated red, fuel being ejected into the burning hot exhaust. Their nose sank towards the deck before being catapult into the air. They disappeared in a blur just to reappear off the bow, climbing up to their predetermined altitude. Four more F-35Cs were in line to takeoff. Behind the carrier were returning F/A-18Es and Fs from the patrol. Three were on deck being decontaminated after flying through clouds of nuclear smoke, much like we were after flights at midnight. It was already humiliating enough having to disrobe in front of female and male HAZMAT teams while being sprayed with decontamination liquids. The two of us looked at the flight deck for a while long, the sun slowly turning night into day. We walked back down into the hangar to see our aircraft sitting with the liquids drying in the shelter. One of the green shirts was wiping the liquid off of the grey, metallic skin of the Hornet. I smiled seeing the same level of dedication I had while on the field with the men.
"Is that who I think it is?" Came a voice from behind us.
"Fuck it is! Staff Sergeant Joshua Flint." I turned around to see an African-American and a Caucasian man in the standard Marine Corps outfit walking towards me with their M16A3 rifles.
"God damn, it's the gay couple." I chuckled shaking both of their hands.
"That's Snake Six-Six to you, Reaper." Sergeant Gregory Long stated with a smile.
"I haven't seen you since Desert Storm. How's World War Three treating you?" Staff Sergeant Micheal Evans asked, the African-American giving me a fist tap.
"World War Three?" I asked, curious.
"Russia's bull rushed the European countries as you know, China on the other hand is launching an all-out assault on Japan, South-East Asia and Australia. Pakistan's helping them out too." Evans explained as I nodded.
"The UN is in complete disarray, Canada and the US are keeping put though. All the Pacific and Atlantic tasks forces are full to the brim with missions." Long continued, pulling of his helmet.
"What about you two? You looked too armed to the teeth for a stroll in the carrier." Jorge said and crossed arms around his chest.
"We're going into Moldova to recover the attack plans. Small country but a bitch of an Army." Long replied with a smile.
"Hoo-fucking-rah, brother." Evans fist tapping his partner.
"Well, we'll see you around. Our ride's here." Long pulled on his helmet and jogged out to the small elevator used to lift the aircraft onto the flight deck. An Army MH-60K sat waiting for the pair as they hopped onto the helicopter.
"Staff Sergeant Joshua Flint and Chief Petty Officer Jorge Keller, please report to the ready room." The PA system blared inside the hangar of the ship, the sound echoing throughout the hollow inside.
"Looks like another patrol." Jorge sighed as we quickly ran into the corridor.
The both of us narrowly dodged walking navy personnel, running as fast as we can to the ready room. I saw Michelle running towards us with her hair all frizzy and unkempt. Elf was right behind her and tried hard not to trip over his feet as he looked like he was still in a daze of sleep. The four of us turned left into a wide room filled with two television screens and a giant whiteboard behind a plastic desk. Hawkins and Colbert were already in their seat near the front with the Carrier Air Wing commander, the one responsible for all the aircraft's personnel standing next to the Deputy Commander. We quickly jumped in the seats next to Hawkins and Colbert. Captain John Howard walked toward us with a clipboard before glancing at me.
"Good job on the flight yesterday, Staff Sergeant. You've just made ace with three kills. You too Chief Petty Officer." He stated with a quick smile.
"Alright, now onto more pressing matters. We need an air base in Moldova taken out. Are you six up for the job?" Captain Howard asked as I nodded.
"You don't even have to ask, sir." I replied, pulling out a pen.
"Good. I love the motivation. Now, Colbert and Hawkins will be flying two spare F-35Cs instead of their usual F/A-18Fs. I'm sure you two had a five-day intensive training with Captain Jacobs, am I correct?" Captain Howard asked.
"Yes sir." They both nodded.
"Well, he's been MIA since the battle started." Captain Howard sighed and pulled up a folder.
"As for you four, you'll be flying the F/A-18F Super bug as always. Now. Your mission is to disrupt air base activities. One will be fitted with BLU-107C Durandals. The other will be equipped with DSU-38/B, an airburst five hundred pound JDAM-ER bomb with an extended range of eight kilometers." Captain Howard read from the folder, my hands writing down notes into my thigh notebook.
"Hawkins will be flying with Flint as per senior flight status and Colbert with Keller. Hawkins will cover for Flint while moving ground and same with Colbert and Keller. Take off time is 0835 Hours so you have...an hour to get ready for the flight. Callsigns are Razor One, Two, Three and Four respectively. A flight of F-22A Raptors callsign Bull Three will be escorting you into airspace with a tanker on TACAN channel zero four eight x-ray callsign Camel Six-Three will be orbiting Italy will be standing by to refuel you." Captain Howard threw the folder back onto the table where the Deputy Commander was sitting, he didn't even flinch.
"Any questions?" He asked, the six of us sitting like statues in the seat.
"None? Okay then, dismissed." Captain Howard finished and turned back to the Deputy Commander.
"That's it?" I leaned over and asked Hawkins.
"Yeah, that's how things are done VFA-107 'Diamondbacks'." Hawkins replied and gave me a wink.
"Alright, let's get out of here. I have to get my weapons straightened out and practice." I grumbled, getting up and walking over to the range down in the hangar.
I walked down the hallway towards the firing range built into the side of a hangar. Quickly hopping into my room, I pulled out my trusty REC 7 rifle and Sig Sauer P2022 pistol from a small duffel bag. I quickly walked out into the corridor and bumped into Lieutenant Hawkins with her standard issue M9 pistol. The two of us walked down towards the hangar together. I inquired why she was here.
"To practice with my M9, I've gotten out of touch with it in the last couple of years." She said with a small smile.
We walked into the hangar and loaded up our magazines until it was brimming with ammunition. The quiet hangar filled with the rocking sea and the electrical humming was replaced by the crackling of supersonic ammunition striking paper before being stopped by the sea. Everyone was on overdrive, walking ammunition up to the aircraft and flying combat air patrol in Western Europe. The hangar was rumbling with engines from the launching jets and the thundering of turbines from the landing aircraft smashing into the deck. Soon the gun fire slowed down to a halt. Lieutenant Hawkins pausing to rest while I hammered the targets continuously with my rifle. The SEALs might have fired more rounds than the entire Marines but we fire more rounds than our infantry brethren, it pays to bet the best.
"You're really good, Sergeant." Lieutenant Hawkins praised and loaded another magazine into her pistol.
"I have to be, that's my job's requirement." I replied and emptying the current magazine before slapping in a new one.
"Hey guys." I heard a voice from behind me call.
"We're on alert 30. Suit up." It was Lieutenant Colbert warning us that we're going in early.
"Already?" I asked and packed up my gear.
"Russian flights inbound for the carrier and runways. The entire air group's OCA Strike's (Offensive Counter Air) been pushed forward one hour." Lieutenant Colbert spoke quickly as I ran with my duffel bag through the enclosed space.
"Is that why the aircraft just landing's being launched already?" I replied and stepped into the locker room.
"Yeah, everyone's on overdrive." Lieutenant Colbert stated and opened his locker.
I opened Colonel Bartholomew's locker, a Colonel who went on to train on the F-35C. His old helmet equipped with a JHCMS painted in a red stripe in the middle with letters on the side reading CAG (Commander Air Group). I had a small smirk on my face and pulled on the G-suit. Michelle pulling on her helmet gave me what I thought a death stare. Tugging on the straps of my G-suit, I paid no attention and stepped out, walking down a long corridor to the other side of the aircraft carrier. We emerged out from the darkness and onto the backs of our aircraft. Two F-35Cs and two F/A-18Fs sat waiting on the deck with jets rearming and refueling. It was what we called a 'red deck'. Two green shirts ran towards me and snatched away a small little black data cartridge. We did a quick inspection of the aircraft, pulling on the missiles, checking if all the pins were out and pushing on the control surfaces. Armed with six bombs, two medium air-to-air missiles and two short range missiles, and three fuel tanks this thing looked like a beast. While I looked at the underside of the aircraft, Michelle walked up to me.
"Hey, Flint." She addressed me with my last name, that's a bad sign.
"Yeah?" I asked and walked over to the ladders, finished with my inspection.
"What were you doing with Lieutenant Hawkins?" Michelle asked as I pulled the helmet onto my head.
"I -" I started but was cut off by the green shirt.
"We've been shifted from Alert 30 to Alert 10." He quickly spoke and helped me pull on the harness.
"Are the Russians that close?" I asked and poised my finger over the engine crank switch.
"They're six hundred miles out with Anti-AWACS missiles, good luck out there sir." The green shirt saluted and slid down the ladder, folding it back into the aircraft's skin.
I quickly initiated the start-up sequence. A growl came over the helmet's thick shell, the turbines were turning. I looked at the right panel and saw the data cartridge inside. To my right, Jorge gave me a thumbs-up. To my left, Lieutenant Colbert saluted me in his matte black F-35C armed to the teeth with missiles and stealthy external jamming pods. The canopy slowly lowered to close off the cockpit. With the radios already on, I strapped the oxygen tightly on my face. I slid the JHCMS visor down and began the BIT test. Numerous lines of code scrolled by before the HUD popped up on the visor and disappeared.
"Tower, Razor One requesting permission to taxi to the Catapults." Lieutenant Hawkins's voice came over the radio.
"So, Flint. What were you doing with Lieutenant Hawkins?" Michelle asked, her voice laced with jealousy and looked over her control panel, staring at the back of my helmet.
"Is that jealousy I hear in your voice?" I replied, amused.
"No, I just wanted to know where you went. Jorge and Elf were with me the whole time." She stated and looked down at her control panel.
"Razor flight, permission granted. Taxi to CATs One to Four, you are number two for take-off." The tower replied, I gave a quick hand signal for the crewmen to remove the chalks holding the aircraft in place.
"Razor flight rogers, all aircraft taxi to perspective CATs." Lieutenant Hawkins ordered and eased her aircraft forward.
"This is Razor Two, copy." Colbert replied and followed after her.
"This is Razor Three, taxing to CAT Three." I reported and leaned over the instrument panel of the F/A-18F.
"Razor Four copies." Jorge stated.
One yellow shirt waited a few feet near the front of my aircraft. He looked at the F-35Cs as they slowly turned towards the catapults. The stealth aircraft's exhaust danced with mirages from the high temperatures being ejected from the Pratt & Whitney F135 turbine, it's matte black nozzle petals expanding and contracting. With the F-35Cs lining up behind the launching F/A-18Es, the yellow shirt looked back towards me and raised the orange light sticks in his hands. He waved me forward. I responded with a push of the throttle. The whine of the aircraft shifted in pitch and volume. The Hornet slowly moved forward with more than thirty tons of ammunition loaded on its wings. He pointed the light sticks left and saluted me. I replied with a salute and vectored onto the middle-left catapult. Just as I lined up with the jet blast deflectors, the F/A-18Es were flung into the sky. The blue ocean and the clear sky beckoned for us. The dark clouds of the nuclear explosion stuck out of the horizon like a giant sore thumb to our left. With the last sortie launched, it was our turn. One loud clank signaled me to ease the aircraft onto the catapult. The Jet Blast Deflector lowered back into the ship to grant me access. I flicked a switch to lower the wings and lock them into position.
"Hammer flight, inbound for landing." I slowly followed a yellow shirt's instruction as he directed me onto the catapult.
"Roger that, enter traffic pattern. The deck is red, repeat. Red deck." The yellow shirt signaled me to stop.
"Hammer flight copies, returning to pattern." I pushed the toe brakes and flicked on the parking brake to stop the F/A-18F from rolling forwards or backwards.
"Ghost Eye to Dragon flight, we have enemy bogies pushing the envelope. Zero eight zero, group, fifty miles, two thousand feet, low." The radio chatter went on, the crew rushing around my aircraft.
I could see a small shuttle being dragged by two men back towards the main landing gear. The yellow shirt watched and slowly waved me forwards with two of his fingers uncurled, gesturing for me to move. With the parking brake disabled, the aircraft crept forward slowly. He then flashed his hand at me and nodded. I flicked on the parking brake and sat back in the seat. Michelle stared at me through the mirror, the anger in her glare apparent.
"Razor Three, wipe your controls." The black shirt next to me ordered.
"Roger, three wiping controls." I yanked the stick in a circular motion and pressed on the rudder pedals.
"Looks good." He replied and walked underneath my aircraft.
"You didn't answer my question, Flint." Michelle pressed the question.
"I was just practicing my shot that's all. I am an operator after all." I replied and looked up at the rearview mirror.
"You need to learn how to share, Oliver." Hawkins stated from her aircraft parked on the right side of the angled deck.
"Shut up." She shot back with such venom it was surprising.
"Uh, Razor One, cleared for takeoff. Heading zero eight seven, angels thirty, squawk five thousand." The tower quickly replied.
"Razor One copies." I looked to the black shirt and gave him a quick thumbs-up.
He nodded and looked over to the catapult officer, giving him a quick thumbs-up while the green shirts verified the F/A-18F's weight one last time with a giant electronic board held up high in the air. One yellow shirt standing far away from my aircraft raised both of his hands up and flashed them continuously, signaling me to rev the twin turbofans into afterburners. I pushed the throttle up and did a final wipe-out once before taking off. Looking back, left and right, it never hurt to make sure nothing was wrong. Small flaps on the wings raised and lowered while the rudders on the twin tail fins moved left and right. I looked back at the yellow shirt and gave him a thumbs-up along with a quick salute. He saluted back before touching both hands to his helmet, kneeling down and pointing his right hand into the sea. I heard a giant whoosh from a catapult nearby. Lieutenant Hawkins's F-35C shot forward into the sky and was quickly followed by Lieutenant Colbert. I grabbed the left rail mounted onto the canopy. The oxygen hissed in my mask as nothing except the roar of the engines pounded my ear. My heart thumped in my chest and the radio chatter faded into the noise of the carrier and the aircraft. I inhaled. My body jolted backwards while my only hand kept my body from completely being pressed into the seat with the other pulling the stick back to ensure that the jet pitched up at the end of the catapult stroke. Shaking filled the cockpit. One second passed, the Super Hornet was already being thrown halfway down the catapult. My helmet was nestled against the ejector seat. The shaking stopped and my body was thrown forward. We were airborne. I realized that I stopped breathing and exhaled. Banking the F/A-18F left, I did a ten degree clearing turn and retracted the landing gears.
"Good launch, good launch." Lieutenant Hawkins murmured a hundreds of meters in front of me.
I stared at the cloudless sky to find Hawkins. She was a small dot with Colbert above the horizon. The pair was turning away from us. I banked right and pulled the throttle back to conserve fuel. The HUD projected onto my visor telling me I was at two thousand feet and rising. Hawkins, Colbert, Jorge and I formed up miles away from the carrier itself. We were flying a fluid four formation with at least four thousand feet of space between each aircraft. I was level with Hawkins's aircraft and the four of us flew at fifteen thousand feet after receiving clearance from the tower. The skies were filled with formations of all sorts of aircraft. I trimmed the aircraft to fly at altitude and controlled the speed with my left hand. My eyes spotted F-35Bs, F-35Cs, Rafales and F/A-18s dart, crawl and cruise all around us in all sorts of formations. Something caught my eye just behind the giant mushroom cloud.
"Razor Three, I've got something behind the mushroom cloud." I quickly scanned my radar over the area but it was still too far out.
"Roger that Three, One is scanning." It was going well over the water but I'm not sure about going on land.
"Razor One, Ghost Eye Six-Three, we have visual contact bearing three one eight from my pos (Position). Declare and identify over." Hawkins requested, the four of us closing up the formation.
"Wait one, Razor." Ghost Eye replied.
"I've got a bad feeling about this." Jorge murmured as I flicked the master arm switch.
"All callsigns listen up, the aircraft Razor One has just identified fits the description of a new PAK FA T-50PU designed for long-range interception. Five of the jets are leading the formation! We are seeing a large force behind them inbound for the carriers off to coast. All callsigns vector in for support!" Ghost Eye quickly blurted out.
"Dragon One, rolling in." An F-22 Raptor darted from behind me, specks of light shining from the dark mushroom cloud.
"Ghost Eye Six-Three, we have missile launch on our aircraft! How the fuck –" The AWACS was cut off by a giant orange explosion blooming just to my left.
"All callsigns this is Dagger Four, midnight. I repeat midnight. Diverting all AWACS capabilities to nearby F-22 and F-35C fighters. Stand-by." The missiles just took out all of our AWACS birds in one go, most of our fighters were now engaged in jousting battles with the enemy.
"All callsigns, Dagger Four and Katana Six will now assume AWACS responsibility. The new PAK FA fighters were carrying AA-13 Arrow missiles designed to travel at Mach 6 and terminate AWACS birds from three hundred kilometers away. Sword Two, Four, Five and Six engage fighter groups bearing one two five, angels eighteen. Canard One, Two, Four and Six engage fighter-bomber groups bearing one three eight, angels thirty five..." The radio chatter filled our ears, the four of us increasing altitude with adjacent flights dedicated to OCA (Offensive Counter Air) Strikes.
"Bull Three, Razor flight, we're here to babysit you." I looked to my left seeing four F-22As streaking in with their wings brandishing the full non-stealthy combat armament with eight AIM-120D missiles in addition to the six already in their bay.
"Happy to see you Bull Three, we're on the way to a KC-135. Shouldn't be too long of a wait." The four F-22As banked left and quickly conformed to the formation, they were two thousand feet in front of us and acted as our forward guard.
"We won't be bored, got plenty of hostiles to engage if they come at us." Bull Three turned on their datalink to share data with the flight, multiple blips popping up on my air-to-air radar.
A flight of F-16Cs glided beside us, their drop tanks still full with fuel and their wings armed with AIM-120Ds. The flight leader started to slip in front of me. Two F-15E Strike Eagles flying SEAD sorties banked left. Their wings were fitted with air-to-ground AGM-65 Mavericks. Strips of aluminum exploded from the rear end of the aircraft. I looked back down to see streaks of white smoke trials rising to meet us. One missile just whizzed by my canopy, the projectile was so close I could read the labels. The F-16C banked right with chaff exploding out his rear end. His aircraft crossing over to the right engine nacelle.
"Tiger Six, mud lock, notching." The F-16C banked left to try and defeat the missile, he had his jammer on full-power.
"Tiger Six, Katana Six, we have mud launch, SA-12 far behind the frontlines. Bulls-eye zero three nine, one hundred fifty miles." The F-16C just crossed my canopy again, exploding into an orange fireball.
"Tiger Six-Two, Tiger Six-Two, my lead just got hit! No chute, I repeat no chute!" Smoke fogged up my canopy and obscured my view.
"Katana Six, airmen down, airmen down, send SAR bird to bulls-eye two eight one, fifty miles." Droplets of hydraulic fluid and oil splattered onto the canopy.
Radio chatter exploded into a frenzy as I inverted the aircraft and dived to clear myself from the smoke. I did not expect to rest to happen en-mass. Little suns bloomed within the empty space called the sky. Aircraft left and right exploded into an array of scrap metal and burning oil. I righted my jet and tired to find Hawkins. She was flying just higher than I was, her datalink feeding information as she jammed the radars with the jammer pods. My fuel gauge read more than enough fuel for the mission and but not back. Missile lock warnings and missile launch tones blared in my cockpit. I flicked on the jammer and dumped chaff trying to hide in the mess of aircraft. I looked back and saw a small little dummy decoy streaming away from my aircraft.
"Razor One, Razor Three, I've got mud spikes." I reported flying next to Hawkins.
"Razor Four, ditto here." Jorge grunted.
"Razor Flight, stack below me to reduce radar signature." Hawkins ordered.
"Two, stacking." I shifted the stick right and slid under Colbert's F-35C.
The giant exhaust ejecting heat just over my canopy. Ripples of heat danced dangerously close to the aircraft's twin tails while we cruised right through the battle. The F/A-18F shook madly from the combined turbulence and bad air streaming off of Colbert's aircraft. I looked up seeing Michelle just staring out into the chaos that was formerly the great nation of France. It seemed like time froze as she sat there in the cockpit, a tear dropping from her right eye. We lost many in the fight. The sound of whistling drew to to the left side of the cockpit. One large blur the size of my canopy zipped past me. One giant missile gliding slowly towards the sea got my attention. I pressed my helmet onto the glass to get a better view. One large exhaust, four short rear fins flying at a subsonic speed.
"Razor One-Three to George Bush, the Russians just launched long-range anti-ship missiles. I think it's the Kh-37 missile equipped for Standoff Attack Missiles." Missiles ripped by both sides of the jet and filled the air with white smoke.
"Roger that Razor One-Three, mission control copies your report." F-22s, F-15Cs, F-35As, Rafales and German Typhoons lined up in rows stared down Russian PAK FA and SU-35S fighters.
"George Bush to Zumwalt, give me a wall of lead and launch defensive missiles." I heard the confirmation beep from one of the MCFDs, the coalition fighters were locking on to their targets and was ready to fire.
"Zumwalt, firing one-five-five millimeter cannons and launching Standard Six missiles." We closed within the firing range of both air forces.
"Dagger Four, all callsigns open fire!" Sounds of fizzling filled my ears as the nearby aircraft's missiles motor ignited, launching them into the sky.
Volleys of lethal American AIM-120Ds and European MBDA Meteors soaring towards the enemy at Mach four. The aircraft banked and popped chaff. The F-35Cs advanced jamming pod and our own AN/AQL-184 Electronic Attack Pods protected us to a degree. I kept my hands steady. Missiles launch, missiles lock and all the other radar alarms blared in my headset. Fireballs bloomed in front of us. Looking through Colbert's F-35C's fuselage, friendly fighters and multi-role aircraft exploded into scrap metal. The F-22s flying forward guard bravely held their formation while popping off missiles to ward off the fighters daring to come close. On the enemy's side, three Mig-35s darted underneath us. Their blurred shape arching towards the sky above me. They were trying to get a lock on us.
"Razor Flight, vector to tanker fifty miles to the East. Bearing one nine five, angels thirty five." The Mig-35s screamed towards us, their fangs gleaming in my rearview mirror.
"Razor One-One copies. I see the Migs Flint, don't worry." Hawkins flashed her lights for a brief five seconds before banking out from the formation.
After Hawkins was far enough, Colbert too banked to follow her. I watched his F-35 slowly slip out from my field of view. Yanking the stick right, I felt my body jolt sideways with the jet slowly lining up with the twin F-35s. I lined up right behind and below Colbert's F-35 with Jorge joining me shortly. The Migs in the meanwhile were gone. Our forward guards flew into position, their bays closing with a few missiles left. I assumed they took care of the predators. The battle raged on to our left while we flew towards the border of France and Spain. Time flew by and so did my bladder and stomach. My stomach growled for food and my bladder begged to release its fluid. Shouldn't have had two cups of that hot chocolate. After two hours in the air, we were running on fumes on both external tanks and internal ones. The tanker was just a few miles away.
"Guys, I'm starting to run on fumes." The digital readout read five thousand pounds along with the FUEL warning flashing on my HUD.
"We're ten miles out from the tanker and the border. It'll be much safer there than France." I couldn't stand it any longer and opened the little cubicle containing the bottle.
"I got to go." I mumbled and emptied my bladder.
"Josh, that's gross." Michelle finally spoke after a long flight.
"I've got to go when I have to go." I said with a playful smile, she wasn't amused.
"Miki." She shook her head.
"I don't want to talk Josh." She shot back coldly.
"Razor One, Camel Six-Three, requesting permission to refuel." The tanker was a small speck out from my cockpit.
"Roger that Razor One, cleared to pre-contact position." The four of us slid out from the stack formation.
I flew just right of Hawkins, her wing tip lining up with mine. Jorge flew with Colbert as we split up to take the four drogues trailing behind. The closer to the tanker we got, the harder it became to control the shaking jet. A lot of bad air was being ejected right into the F/A-18's airframe. We flew two meters behind the drogue before getting the all clear. I extended the air refueling probe and slowly eased the aircraft into the basket. The small shuttlecock-like drogue was slowly swaying around from turbulence. I glanced left to see Hawkins already connected and receiving fuel. Colbert and Jorge was the same. A growl of frustration left my mouth as I pulled the throttle back slightly. The F/A-18 slipped backwards from the basket. I pushed the throttle up just slightly and creeped up on the floating drogue. The snout of the Hornet poised over the small opening. I held my breath. Psss. The drogue hissed with compressed air as the refueling probe was locked into place.
"All aircraft has contact, opening the taps." The fuel gauge started to slowly rise.
"This wind is messing with my chi." I grumbled fighting the stick for control of the aircraft.
"Just smooth it out Flint. You Marines are too rough with your vehicles." Hawkin's F-35C's elevators flap up and down slightly.
"Yeah, sure. Smooth it out. You're sitting in a next-gen two hundred million dollar jet while I'm sitting in a last-gen fifty-five million bucket." The external tanks were half full, the flying boom system used by the Air Force was much faster.
"I flew in it before, remember that. Just sip all the fuel you can. I have a feeling we won't be returning to the Bush." My stomach felt uneasy, the thought of not being able to go back to solid ground frightened me.
"Can it Hawkins, you'll jinx us with that kind of attitude." I tapped the MCFD to bring up the navigation map, three hundred miles away from the ship.
"Razor One-Three, topped up and ready to go." Michelle spoke from behind me as I nodded.
"Razor One-Four, we're full, thanks for the fuel." I slowly backed down the power and slid from the basket.
"Razor One-One, thanks for the fuel. We'll see you guys on the ground." The F/A-18 shook softly as we encountered bad air once again.
"Razor One-Two, thanks amigo, we'll treat you to a round of beers if we ever meet." I banked left to clear the tanker and headed towards Moldova.
"I don't think that's going to be a promise you'll keep Razor. We're Chairforce and you guys are squids. We're never going to meet." Hawkins was leading formation again, her F-35C flying four thousand feet in front of me.
"Anything can happen Camel." Sure anything could.