Ben's instruments came to life, showing him to be cruising at ten thousand feet at a velocity of exactly mach one. Then the simulator's screens came to life and his canopy was suddenly blazing with daylight and blue skies. He instinctively jerked his head in a way resembling an exaggerated nod to make the tinted visor of his helmet flip down over his eyes.

We're up against a Sabertooth, he thought to himself as his left hand left the throttle for an instant to flick the switch for fully active radar, there's no point in bothering to even try to hide. This is going to be an old school dogfight.

His HUD showed the icon for Clean just behind him and to his left, which was where his trusted wingman usually was. And there was a bogey coming right at him, twelve o'clock dead ahead!

"Break!" Even as he shouted the command Ben slammed his throttle forward and jerked his stick back and to the right, rolling away from his adversary. That adversary tilted back and stood up on it's tail before twisting in the air as vectoring thrusters fired. The huge fighter continued to pirouette and fell backwards and Ben saw sparks of light from both sides of its nose and the screens of his simulator pod went dark.

"Red One," the computerized voice said with a total lack of compassion, "has been eliminated. Gun kill by Blue One."

"Goddamnedshowoffairdancinggu nslingingasshole!" Ben slowly unclenched his fists from where he had been pounding them against his armrests. Grinding his teeth and still swearing under his breath, he reached down and pulled the ejection lever. Because he was in a simulator pod rather than a real plane the canopy opened up and he wasn't shot out of the cockpit with a rocket up his butt.

Be hit the quick release button on his harness and hopped out of the pod. As he walked down the steps that were conveniently placed there he looked to his right to Clean's simulator pod. The thing was twisting and turning, rocking and rolling. At least he was still giving them a real fight.

Ben walked out of the simulation room and into the main pilots' lounge, taking off his helmet to reveal his short trimmed black hair and blue eyes.

"Yo," a taller, brown hired man wearing a flight suit and gold rimmed aviator sunglasses said, "how you doing, Vaga?"

"Fuck off, Prowler," Ben said as he walked past his squadron commander. Captain David Bunye really didn't care about decorum and such from his pilots as long as they could perform when they had to. Ben was arguably the best pilot in the Sky Demon squadron and a flight leader to boot, so he could get away with telling off his CO once in a while.

Ben took a few more steps and turned into the little alcove that was encompassed by a quarter-sphere of screens showing the current simulation, which involved Clean's Bodkin juking and jinking as he was being chased by a Sabertooth. The big command fighter wasn't as maneuverable as the the stealth interceptor it was chasing, but its pilot was shamelessly using his superior thrust to compensate with moves such as high yo-yos to stay on his quarry's tail. Ben recognized the young woman controlling the displays. There was only one controller with that ponytail sticking up from the top of her head.

"How's he doing, Diane?" Ben asked.

"He's running like hell," Lieutenant Sanders replied. "Though really, I didn't know anybody but you could do a pirouette like that, especially in a Sabertooth."

"I made her teach me how to do it," he said without thinking, "and she apparently taught it to that jackass."

"You know them? The Sky Kings?"

"We were in advanced tactical fighter training together," he said. "Then they-" Ben cut himself off. Those two jackasses outranked him now, they were Lieutenant Commanders and he was just a lieutenant. He was pretty sure they wouldn't put him on report for insubordination but Diane just might.

"There was an accident," he said. "Most of the people in the class thought they were washed out, but I knew that was bullshit. As wingmen they were the only ones on me and Clean's level. You don't just get rid of talent like that. I guess that's when they got recruited as a Sabertooth team."