“Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings so that you shall come easily by what others have laboured hard for.” Socrates..
My squadron leader claps me on the back. ‛This is new, all new and top secret. It looks like the mark fives but is nearly 30% faster. The carbon monocoque won’t save you from anything. You should be on attack only. The new squeezebore 30mm cannon are your trump card. 1 kilometre per second; the shells will explode at the faintest touch of aluminium let alone titanium. Each round holds 500 carbon nanotubes. The enemy’s electrics will be mince.’
“Attack only”. Well, it was in my training. Get in, fire, get out; all at full throttle. It’s what you do when you’ve traded everything for speed.
There’s hardly any room to take a deep breath among all the controls, let alone get comfortable. What is it about fighter plane design that makes it feel as though the cockpit was tacked on as an afterthought?
Everything here is crammed with jamming equipment. The age of missiles is over for the moment.
500 carbon nano tubes per round? the pilots will be mince too. I’m less enthusiastic every time I think about that. Why do people have to die?
“In times of peace sons bury their fathers. In times of war fathers bury their sons”.
Hmm, maybe this is not a day to dwell on Herodotus.
I’m a male of medium height and saddened that my taller peers have been squeezed out of fighter command. I’ll be up against short fat females who, by dint of their proportions, can out-G anyone. As a pilot, I’m old at 24 and outclassed by 18 year old women.
I’ve spent loads of time talking to pilots on the web. It’s illegal: seriously illegal but I thought I’d learn the enemy’s tactics and so on.
Actually, I learned about their families, babies’ teething problems and saw their siblings all dressed up for local festivals and weddings.
Forbidden forums; secret names: “Ariadne11” – Spain – had a daughter at 15 and struggled when selected for flight training at 17. We supported her on a thread when her parents put her under terrible pressure to give the child up for adoption. “Black Knight44” – Russia – damaged his spine when ejecting from a burning jet trainer. We spoke to him every day during his recovery and sent Champagne toasts when he was able to rejoin his squadron. Illqhou – Andamanese Islands – made us laugh when she compared her emergency landing on water to pearl diving. “Storch”, “Electric Penguin”, “Faeryfire” and so many others became part of my life.
Social networking is banned while politicians program their local slaves … the younger generation … to go out and die for them. They don’t want the world’s forces making friends with each other.
Of course, I’d never say anything like, “When the rich and powerful cannot find it in themselves to agree they send other people’s children out to die for them”. That was sung by a stiletto pilot in a song. I’m probably not supposed to read philosophy – truth is seditious.
I wriggle further into my seat. My engineer leans over and straps me in so tight I think he’ll ruin my tailor-made G-suit.
After six months on simulation and flight training during which I earned “Exceptional” you’d think I’d be excited about my first real mission.
Actually, I feel like an cynical old man and sick of killing before I even start.
The canopy closes and automatic checks flash over the instrument panel. I go through my own sequences; those drilled into me by relentless routine. I’m like an automatic pilot, responding to orders: no choice.
“Of all men’s miseries the bitterest is this: to know so much and to have control over nothing”.
Thank you, Herodotus, but I’m sort of busy. I’ll save you for quiz nights.
Oops, must concentrate… My helmet speakers roar, ‘Yellow Flight. Rise to twenty kilometres and patrol over Lossiemouth.’
My flight leader says, ‘Yellow Flight to control. Twenty K, patrol Lossiemouth, understood, over.’
Bloody hell, this tinny thing rattles as it blasts along the runway. Training craft are more robust. Everything settles once I’m up and the undercarriage bays thump closed. It’s more like a simulator now – except they never pick up bird shit on the virtual canopy. Maybe it’s for luck.
There’s bound to be a reason why we’ve been sent up. I don’t believe they want fighters just to patrol. That means someone will die today. Will it be me, my flight leader or some enemy girls hardly out of school? Thinking about it I’d prefer to meet them and go out for a drink.
“Croesus, who told you to attack my land and meet me as an enemy instead of a friend?”
My flight leader’s voice, on one-to-one, sounds more human than before, soft and warm, intimate, like her mouth is almost touching my ear. ‘How are you doing, lieutenant?’
‘Nothing’s dropped off yet.’
‘You remember all you’ve been taught?’
I answer, ‘Yes, ma’am’, but think:
“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”
Why is all this Greek shit filling my head today of all days?
‘Your destiny is to intercept two craft over Orkney.’
Destiny? That’s not language I’d expect to hear on a flight – and she’s abandoned radio procedure. Anyway:
“The destiny of man is in his own soul.”.
Hang on, her voice isn’t that of a pilot on a sortie, more like someone hugging a mug of hot chocolate and cuddled up with you in front of a log fire. A thought bangs on the door of my mind. I ask her, ‘My destiny? you not coming too, ma’am?’
‘Not yet. I’ll follow. Every flight’s been scrambled. Something big is happening. Looks like they’re coming at us from all sides.’
And I’m in first? So it’s me that dies today.
She says, ‘There they are on your radar. I’ll see you later one way or another.’ She peels away.
Now, I’m rattled. This is totally suicidal. Strangely, I’m more pissed off with not knowing what the hell is going on than dying. What’s this, “She’ll see me later, one way or another”? How does she know I’ll not be blown apart and spread over the North Sea?
Two racing contrails heading north and 500 metres above my altitude. They must know I’m here and belting towards them at twice their speed but they’re doing nothing.
This has to be some sort of set up: some test. Those planes should be manoeuvring, breaking left and right. It’s textbook: they can take on a single plane so easily.
I’m biting my lip, pulse racing, sweat slicking my armpits.
Why are they doing nothing?
I cut the throttles, slowing so I can take them both in one attack… But they’re sitting ducks. Probably two teenage girls who got up this morning and were sent to this death through poor training or faulty radar … or something. It beggar’s belief.
No, sod it. I’m not going to kill them, poor bastards. So I’ll die instead. Fine; why doesn’t that feel wrong?
“Death may be the greatest of all human blessings.”
Oh, shut up, Socrates. Now isn’t the time but thanks for dropping in.
I slow to the speed of the jets and rise between them. Maybe they’ll see me and wake up. At least they’ll have a sporting chance before my angelic-voiced flight leader turns up and blows the shit out of them.
So here I am flying between two enemy jets and so close I can see the pilots.
Oh, for fuck’s sake. What’s going on? Is this some sort of joke?
My flight leader’s plane creeps into sight until she’s beside me. ‘Hello, lieutenant. You can call me, Electric Penguin, or Sophie, now.’
I ask, ‘What’s going on? Was that some sort of exam? Did I pass or fail?’
‘Whether you passed or failed is for you to decide.’
‘Can we land somewhere? you know, near a pub, somewhere sunny. I’d like to talk this over and maybe decide over a pint of beer.’
‘Sounds lovely. Follow me.’
Oh my goodness … the sky fills with planes.
My speakers buzz with a cacophony of voices and call-signs, Faeryfire is here, Ariadne11, Illqhou, Storch… they’re all here.
‛OK, Sophie, who the hell are you?’
‛Someone following your lead.’
‛Yeah, on a thread you kept quoting some guys from ancient Greece, who said things like, “Let him who would move the world first move himself”. You moved: we followed. The politicians will have to find some other way of squabbling. We’re not going to kill each other just for them.’
© 2014 Gary Bonn