In the beginning, they were four mercenaries. Souls bought and sold for blood and money. Whatever reasons they had to seek the mercenary way meant little to whomever had contracted them, so long as the job was done. The first time they had first fought against each other high in the skies of Balkor, it was clear to each of them that they were kindred, not opponents. And though they had taken each other down in flames, the drinks and praise were well shared the next time they had met. Now they were more than just the four, they were Fenrir Squadron.
And it was those adventures he reflected on while gather water and soap with a rag to wash her back. Carefully, he splashed the lather along an arching spine and let it pull away all the dirt and grime of the day.
“Been a hell of day, hasn’t it?” he murmured to her, bringing the rag to her cheek. But he stopped short at the wolfen emblem on her nose and the rows of silhouettes under it, one for every machine broken and life taken.
“This is it, our legacy. Not a man, or a machine. Just dealers of death for coin.” Smiling to himself, Slypher shook his head and took the rag to the wing of his MiG-31BM2 Foxhound. There was still a lot of aircraft left to clean before their next run.
“Hey man, you comin? We’re about to start!” A voice yelled across the way as he left his polished beauty to dream. Instead of acknowledging the bootsteps thumping towards him, Slypher let hazel eyes track the sun as it dipped beneath snow-capped mountains to the west, towards the warzone, towards home as he understood it until recently.
The approaching figure came next to him and stared off at the same sight, but he knew for much different reasons. “See that? That tells me payday’s a’coming.”
He had to chuckle at that, even if it was laced with a hint of sadness. He couldn’t expect anything less from someone with a callsign of Pixy . “You think so? I’m starting to wonder if gold weighs more than blood or not.”
“Spill some to get some. It’s how the world works, mate.” Then the tone caught up with the flyer, “You thinking about retirement?”
“Maybe.” Slypher said at first, before looking down the flightline towards were the rest of Fenrir Squadron stood sentry and waited for their next target. Towards the laughter of the two other members under his wings. But only one of those voices grabbed his chest and wrenched it sideways. A voice tied to a smile he could carve into clouds, if only it didn’t cause them to rain down on his world. Perched on the wingroot of her Su-37 Super Flanker were thin crimson bangs topping a valkyrie he knew all too well what it was like to wrap his arms around. But as with all good things, it hand to come to an end.
He continued after only a beat, but it did not go unheard. “Or maybe it’s time to take on other kinds of work. The civil stuff always makes good coin, and no one is shooting at you.”
Pixy saw right through him “Still hurts, don’t it?”
Slypher shook his head. “Not as much. Razor’s happy, and as long as she stays that way, that’s all that matters.”
“Well, you’re a far more noble man than I. Personally, I would’ve kicked Boomer’s ass back to that jungle in Balkor where we all met up. But that’s why you’re lead and I’m on your wing.”
Slypher chuckled. “Come on, let’s go earn our next keep.”
As with every mission they had been on since taking the contract, the briefing was long and overdrawn with how the mission fell to them after the regular military couldn’t pull it off. Their target: a known weapons storage yard, complete with makeshift airstrip for any aircraft that could handle such things. To Fenrir, it was going to be simple. With his Foxhound, Slypher had the speed and the altitude to get in, but not the agility to dance. For that, in would step Pixy and Razor, their duet of Eagle and Flanker making short work of any airborne opposition. And when it was time to bring the fire to the ground, in would sweep Boomer and his Tornado GR5 to rain steel. Simple, clean, and very profitable.
But even twenty minutes later, with thirty-five thousand pounds of raw power pushing him into the blue, Slypher couldn’t shake a whisper from his gut that something wasn’t quite right. Sure, there were plenty of anti-air and missile defense against them, and there were reports that a few high-end dogfighters were currently there, but putting the odds in favor of Fenrir would just be cruel. They even had the night sky and a coming cloud front on their side to mask their approach all but completely.
“Fenrir One to Fenrir Two. You awake over there?” he called over to Pixy.
The F-15I waggled its wings to him. He knew that his wingman wouldn’t say much, but he’d listen at least. “You thinkin’ what I’m thinkin’?”
“That this job is worth way more than what we’re spending to do it? Yea, something ain’t right.”
“Lead, Four.” Boomer called out to them, slowing down from the pack “I’m getting a red on my EW gear. Something’s tracking us, but I don’t see anything.”
“Copy that. Two, break with him and go trail-and-follow. Three, stay on me.”
“Got it.” Razor declared, while Pixy popped his brakes to fall back. Granted, it didn’t take very long for her speak her piece that he knew was coming. “You know, I can take care of myself and Four. It’s not the first time…”
“I know that.” Slypher cut her off “But, this is about the only time you’re ever alone anymore.”
“And that’s not something you need to worry about either, Tony.” There was more to it than that, but the beat to catch her breath smoothed the harshness from her voice. “Look, what we had was wonderful, I won’t ever say otherwise. But we both knew it wasn’t going to last forever.”
“Funny, I seem to remember a deceleration to the contrary.”
“Then why bring it up now?”
“Because when this job is over, I’m leaving the squadron.” Slypher blurted out before he really knew what was coming from his lips. “I just…look, call me a sentimental bastard if you like, but I want to remember things how they were when everything made sense. Even if it’s just for…”
“Contact, zero-one-zero at twenty! Something’s in the air and closing fast!” Pixy broke over the airwaves, muting anything else but business. Now it was time for their fangs to speak. Slypher could see whatever had spotted them on his own radar, but it was faint and fuzzy. Which to him meant it was likely built for stealth, so he flipped primary weapons over to infa-red to sniff it out instead. Not that it helped much, but it was enough to separate their challenger from the clouds.
What they did not expect was for a sudden beam of golden death to pierce though the night and rip through Razor’s frame like so much tissue paper. Off balance and glowing from molten metal, the Flanker began to tumble clumsily downward.
“Damn! Fenrir, break and engage!” Slypher yelled to his comrades, but only Pixy responded as he should. While the Foxhound roared for speed and the Eagle began to weave, he saw their Tornado roll and begin to circle around the breaking pieces of their teammate. If she had ejected, they could not see. “Boomer! Get your ass in the fight! Get in the trees and give us a bearing!”
“But Ash is…, I mean, Three needs someone to find her chute! I’m not gonna…!”
A second snapshot of light illuminated the sky not but a few yards from Slypher’s cockpit. Revealed were sharp angles, a sleek frame from nose to compacted tail, and forward swept wings, yet he saw no other weapons beyond what had blinded him.
But what had merely stunned Slypher was not so kind to Boomer. Catching him right in the spine, the beam snapped the aircraft in two and let the forces of physics shred the rest as it dropped to the earth below.
“Fenrir Two, Fox Two, Fox Three! Eat it!” Pixy cried out as he fired at their opponent. Though the radar-seeker flew stupidly off into the darkness, the heat-seeker found something and screamed after it faster than any human could outrun. So their enemy did not try, instead it rolled and dove for the forest below, Pixy in pursuit. And at full power, their enemy quickly reversed and snapped skyward again, sending the missile harmlessly into the ground and putting itself nose to nose with an enraged Eagle.
Slypher could see the fire belching from his friend’s nose, sending lead into the darkness, and the glowing sparks that something had indeed hit home, yet before he could cheer, it fired back. Pixy almost slipped out of the line, but the shot was just too quick and bore through one of his wings and engines.
“Dammit! Losing… handle’s stuck… not going out…” Finally static announced what he could see as he lined up his Foxhound with whatever demon they were now fighting. It was a gamble, and very stupid one. But his source or rationality now lay mangled in steel and dirt below. Now was a time for violence.
“You want me? Come on! Come on!” Slypher tensed at the throttle until his knuckles ached, but it seemed to pay off, as the glow of his impending doom gazed directly upon him from the very belly of the beast that had surprised them. Missile after missile dropped from his wings as they raced towards each other in a joust that laughed at gravity. The bright and unforgiving ray tore open the fuselage next to him and smoke bloomed outward from a now-dead engine.
A small price to pay for honor, as finally one of his heat-seekers stuck home and forced the beast to choke on its own light, giving the night sky a new star for but a few satisfying seconds. His wings, though lighter and broken, seemed to sigh in relief. For though they would never kiss the sky again, the name of Fenrir would not simply be a word. With a sigh of acceptance to that, Slypher pulled his own ejection handle and was tossed clear as his Foxhound dove into a hill and crumpled as if it were paper.
It was going to be a long walk back home, boots now weighted by a heart of stone now cracked and fallen to join its compatriots resting with the earth. But he would return here, for now this speck on the map was the resting place of three hounds of glory. And perhaps, in time, they would rise once again. For their journeys he would remember, their victories he would sing, and for the fallen he would toast in a now-vacant hanger where only their spirits would join him.
And this was my final submission for my recently-completed class. Some of this will be recognizable from some of my earlier posts, with the names and faces changed a bit, but I liked being able to expand on an idea and make it into something more.
I hope you all enjoy it, too.