Science Fiction Thriller

The radar ping went from searching to a solid tone. I didn’t need a missile from the backpack launcher to hit this plane. I’d spun right onto his tail almost near enough to grab him. The plasma caster would more than suffice at this range. One more enemy to take down before Highwire destroyed the final missile silo. I extend my arm and take aim.

Cloudstreak’s voice came over my headset. “Peregrine, enemy wingsuits at the silo!”

In an instant I dove away from the enemy fighter and towards the distant silo. Above it I could see a flurry of the enemy’s Archangel wingsuits, and raining down beneath them were the remains of Highwire and his combat squad. I couldn’t believe it, and the disbelief fed through the neural network and slowed my dive. My Aerial ReConnaissance wingsuit comes to a hover as I stared at the sight, the radar contacts relegated to my subconscious. Even before the report came in from command, I watched the fiery trail streaking up from silo.

“All units: the warhead has been launched! Repeat, the warhead has been launched!”

“Command, what’s the warhead's target?” I asked calmly, trying to keep my emotions in check.

“Tracking suggests its heading for Midia.”

My home!

My wings responded at once, powering me towards the trail. “Command, this is Peregrine. I’m in pursuit of the warhead.”

“Negative, Peregrine. We cannot confirm that this is the last warhead.”

I watched as the Archangels turned to fly escort for the warhead. My course didn’t swerve. “Command, those demons are going with it. If this isn’t the last warhead, they wouldn’t have sent all the Archangels to escort it.”

There was radio silence, so I continued moving into a pursuit angle. Mentally I kept the propulsion to supercruise. At full power an ARC suit might just catch up, but this way I can at least stay within striking distance. Blue Streak missiles, in particular their second stages, were among the fastest things in the sky. Even the demons escorting it would fall behind before it reached its target. Still, fighting through those Archangels with an ARC was suicide at the best of times. They had both superior weapons and armor, and though an ARC could still take a few rounds before I had to be concerned, it would require precise aim to hit the vulnerable spot.

“You’ll never get passed the escorts.” Falcon’s voice said, as if reading my thoughts again.

“Command, what other choice do we have?” Cloudstreak called out.

More seconds passed. The distance-to-target indicator stopped closing, then began to grow again. They were getting away.

Give the order, Command!

“All wingsuit units,” I was already accelerating the moment I heard Command’s voice, “Engage the Archangels and clear a path for Peregrine. We’re uploading the warheads specs to your suits. The warhead needs to be knocked out before it gets in range of the city.”

“Understood.” I replied. My wings swept back and I began to climb after the missile. Mach 2 came and went in a blur.

“Peregrine, wait for us.” Cloudstreak yelled.

“Copy.” I started to slow for them when the warhead data flashed onto my visor. Quickly I noted the model, speed, and blast radius. It’s the three stage model, but when I see the second stage I issue two mental commands and begin accelerating again.

“Peregrine!” Falcon commanded.

I refused to respond. Falcon and the remaining suits were all true combat models. They couldn’t travel at the speed of a Blue Streak, and this was not ordinary Blue Streak. The second stage booster was vastly upgraded. Even an ARC couldn’t outrun it in a straight line.

Now Command entered the fray. “Lieutenant, slow down!”

Finally I responded. “Sorry, Command. If we don’t hit it now I’ll never catch that second stage.”

A pause. “We see that now, Peregrine. No other units are close enough to intercept. Good luck.”

“What the hell?” Falcon must have reached that part of the data report as well.

“Peregrine, we’re counting on you.” Cloudstreak said.

“Understood. I’ll see you boys on the ground.” I let out a slow breath. “Peregrine, going dark.” In addition to the radio, I switched off everything except life support and the passive radar to feed the propulsion. I needed every bit of power I could find, and there was no mistaking the trail left by the Blue Streak. The radar was to track the Archangels.

The distance indicator again stops, then begins to count down from just beyond five kilometers. Even at this range, I can make out ten Archangel wings with their distinctive golden color.

I glance down to a new command window. It was a pair of countdowns, one for when stage two would likely deploy, the other until it crossed the fallout line to Midia. I switch between it and the distance indicator to gage my window. By four kilometers out, I know that I have a very small window before the second stage ignites. I can’t waste much time trying to dodge, much less fight, any of the escorts.

I set the wing configuration to minimize my drag. My closing speed increases, but it doesn’t add much to the window. We’re already past Mach 3. Covering almost two miles every three seconds, even a hundred miles per hour is becoming a miniscule difference.

I then look to the indicator for my plasma caster. Before the shutdown of its feed to the power supply, the caster had stored three charges. I also had a pair of very short range air-to-air missiles left in the backpack launcher, but they were of little use. We were now moving faster than they flew. Both commands had also gone off without a hitch.

Passive radar acted up. A quick glance told me why. About half of the demons had slowed to engage me. The remaining five were still managing to keep up, though they would soon be left behind by that second stage booster.

For a moment I started to panic, then I recognised their closing speed was too great. They’d only have one pass at me before I zoom past them.

Two of the demons seem to notice this mistake and start to accelerate back towards the warhead, but it’s too late. The others fire their plasma casters, machine guns, and even a few missiles towards me.

Some callsigns are demanded. Some are given in jest. Some, like mine, are earned. No one can maneuver an ARC at full speed like I can. Even so, I feel the impact of bullets bouncing off my armor, the only saving grace at this speed being the glancing angle they’re impacting me at. One plasma charge narrowly misses my head, a guaranteed fatal strike, and even so I’m blind for a few seconds until my eyes recover. Mentally I set the autopilot to hold heading, and when I can see again I am only a few degrees off course, and half of my foes are now behind me.

Suddenly two of the remaining Archangels start to rapidly decelerate and fall, taking a few shots at me before they jettison their wings. Clearly they ran out of power. I panic and look at my own power supply indicator. Only 34% remaining, and I started this chase with a little over 60%.

Though I can ill afford it, I set the autopilot again and run a quick diagnostic. One line in my left wing is shorting out. Bullet damage. I cut off the node and the freefall of power slows at 28%. I’m still consuming vast amounts of energy trying to catch up, but now I can catch the warhead before I run out. I may have to bail out for once. Another measure of time is no longer on my side.

One of the three demons slows to engage me. This guy knows what he’s doing, only decelerating enough that he can come alongside me and pick me apart at his leisure. That he’s not using his gun tells me that either he ran out of ammo attacking Highwire and is closing to plasma range, or he doesn’t want to miss. I bet on the latter.

I deftly move the plasma caster into a forward position by sliding my arm up my torso and pressing my wrist to my shoulder. The Archangel doesn’t seem to notice.

The range on a plasma caster is little more than 500 meters before the charge loses integrity and dissipates.

We reach the range, and continue to close. Waiting for the easy shot, then.

I turn on the targeting assist, taking aim at the demon’s head. More power diverted, but necessary if I am to succeed.

At 300 meters I make a shift to the left and ready to fire. The Archangel fires first, narrowly missing my shoulder as he puts a hole in my wing. My charge hits the Archangel’s visor and he disappears behind me.

I check the distance. Just over two kilometers to go.

The last two Archangels are flying as fast as they can while they fire sporadically at me. I can feel a few bullet impacts, but the range is far enough for my subtle dodging to throw off their aim.

Now I’m within two kilometers. I only have two shots remaining, and two Archangels are in my way.

The demons begin to slow. I can’t afford to waste my last shot, but I have to survive in order to even get close enough.

Either way, they’re now in plasma caster range.

Autopilot becomes a must as I close my eyes and make a mental command. Active radar turns on and picks up the last two Archangels in front of me with a solid ping while also avoiding the plasma as best it can. They’re closing too fast, likely also out of power. I just need to get through, but I can’t pass up the opportunity for another kill with my expendable ordinance.

The data transfers to the pack, which opens up and arms the two missiles. Once I hear the tone indicating the missiles are ready, I spin and fire. I barely feel the small charge that pushes the missiles away from me before they ignite their engines. Then I zoom past the last Archangels.

Radar confirms that I hit one, the missiles flying through a second after I’d cleared the airspace. At first I accepted that I missed the other, but then I noticed the error message. My last missile was jammed and stuck to my back in the open position.

Closing the pack with an active weapon is a fool’s choice, but I can’t afford the drag. The pack closes up and I continue to close in.

I’m now less than a kilometer out, but my wings are in bad shape. I’m only capable of 82% power with the varied plasma and bullet impacts. Even so, I’m still gaining on the warhead. Nothing but time stands against me. With the diminished speed, my window is now seconds at best.

I ready the plasma caster. The range was fast approaching.

Ten seconds. 750 meters.

I move the plasma caster into position, pressing my wrist to my shoulder.

Six seconds. 660 meters.

The Blue Streak’s first stage shuts down and decouples in one moment.

Two seconds. 570 meters.

The second stage ignites. I fire both charges at its engines from extreme range. The first slips just behind the flames, but the second smashes between two engines. The entire section explodes.

My wings spread out to help me maneuver around the debris. I mentally turning the radio back on. “Command, this is Peregrine.”

Then I saw the blue flames of the final third stage. The destruction of the second stage must have caused the warhead to trigger a failsafe. I clear the debris and right my course. “Second stage was destroyed. The final stage activated and is still on course. Attempting to pursue.”

I started to hear celebration in that background at Command from my first sentence, but by the end of my report the background was silent. “Acknowledged, Peregrine.”

“Going dark.” I turned on active radar for a brief moment. The gap was widening, and I was already at full power.

I looked again at the timer. It had been right about the second stage; now there was only the countdown to my home’s demise. I issue a command about the third stage. The data shows that it’s not as fast as the second, but it is still fast when my ARC is not at full flight capacity.

Come on! There has to be a way. My eyes dance between the command windows. The distance is back to one kilometer, and even with my wings minimizing drag again I’m only barely gaining on the warhead.

A quick glance to the timer. Three minutes to the boundary. I run the calculation in my head, then I have the computer do it as I think through the numbers again.

Both say the same thing. 300 meters short.

I won’t make it.

I can’t try going up any more. The distance would be insurmountable then.

I could turn off life support and throw everything into speed, but I would pass out long before I reach the target.

Even if I could get there in time, I had nothing but a service pistol and a jammed missile to take the thing down with.

The jammed missile! I send the command for the pack to open the loading flap. The rear of the pack opens. This helps the techs load the missiles, but now it’s turned the pack into a booster.

So long as the missile doesn’t launch inside the pack and blow me up.

The command is given. I feel the surge and have the suit adjust for the new propulsion system. The calculation numbers on the visor go down.

200 meters short.

100 meters.

Just enough.

The missile runs out of fuel and I’m back to just my own power. I have a five second window to knock out the warhead. After that, radiation will hit the city.

I look to the timer.

Thirty seconds.

Using my service pistol is out of the question. We’re flying faster than the bullet travels. I’d only be shooting at myself.

The missile is also useless now.

Fifteen seconds.

Only one option. I hate it, and I probably won’t survive.

I’m over the engines when I spread my wings to full extent. The drag starts to slow me, but I need as much striking area as possible.

I dive at the engine and give the ARC one final command.

Release wings.

I almost black out from the deceleration, and the shockwave from the explosion leaves me fuzzy. Shrapnel wounds sting me where my armor got punctured, but as I spin through the air I catch sight of the Blue Streak. The kamikaze worked. The warhead was thrown clear of the explosion, but it is falling well short of its mark into the desert south of Midia.

I rotate in the air and control my descent like a skydiver, my fall carrying me away from the explosion. A few minutes later as I pull the chute, the warhead detonates.

The light was blinding, but by then I was out of range.

A rescue helicopter followed my emergency transmitter and picked me up a few hours later. Needless to say, I was commended for my actions and even given a promotion. The war ended before my shrapnel wounds healed, but I did manage to get back to flying again.

It’ll take more than a collision with a nuke to clip this peregrine’s wings.

July 13, 2020 17:25

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