"What do you say?"
Having asked him the previous day if he accepted to be my X.O., and knowing he needed some time to digest that, I waited until the very beginning of our briefing. But I couldn’t wait any longer.
"Yes, sir", answered Wedge. "I’ll do my best to perform my duties."
"I’m glad to hear that. Let’s enter the room. The guys are awaiting."
"A medium range fighter sweep during the day?", asked Wolf as soon as the plans were laid on the table.
"Be glad the minor munition shortage didn’t affect us", replied Wedge, the new Anvil’s X.O., grinning a little. "If this was a bombing mission we’d be screwed."
"At least no SAM is expected", said Lighting with a deep look on his face. That was the signed I needed.
"Okay, men, let me clarify some things", and they all looked at me, as if my oratory begun to improve a little. "First of all, this is war. It isn’t pretty. Every day I send one of us behind the enemy lines I know there’s a chance you are not going back. Maybe it’s a missile, maybe it’s flak, maybe it’s just mechanical failure. In any case, we are risking ourselves over and over again, flying mechanical beasts of destruction, breaking limits every day. We are human, but every mission we fly makes us more than that: it transforms us in part of our fighters. We are fighters. We are warriors! Our steed is silvery and our sword blows entire buildings. The dragons out there need to be hunted and maybe... just maybe... there’s a princess to be saved if we return safely."
"Let’s hunt some bogeys, Anvils! Let them know a Hornet pilot is chasing them!"
And finally those eyes in tears told me I’ve improved. It was about time.
I was on 301, with Lighting by my side with 302. A hundred meters above Wedge and Wolf were on 303 and 306, respectively. In despite of the ammo shortage, we could arm our Hornets with four sidewinders and two sparrows: as soon as we reached Mach 1, we all knew that was a great day to be a hornet pilot: there was rain on the horizon, and our fighters were, after all, all-weather aircraft.
"Contact, two o’clock, four bogeys", said Wedge, calmly leading his section.
"It’s party time, guys", I’ve said, confirming four Floggers on the radar. "Weapons free, good hunting."
Our enemies were also aware of us, so we were prepared to see dozens of long-range AA missiles on the sky. As I approached my target, one of the sparrows bit his wing, but Lightning was not too lucky, as his sparrows hit only chaff while himself needed to turn away as the Flogger almost hit him back.
Wedge dodged easily the wild missiles fired by his opponent, but his aim was poor. Wolf, on the other hand, almost hit his MiG, but "almost" is something it never counts.
As soon the Flogger I’ve hit turned back, I’ve engaged Lightning’s MiG, firing two sidewinders, but not being able to even get a good lock. At least my target flew by me before firing his missiles, sending them to the ocean below.
Wedge and Flogger-3 went head-to-head, both firing their missiles, but Wedge was quick enough to break right before he was targeted. "One down, one out, two to go", he said via radio.
During the mess, I couldn’t even be aware of Wolf, and it seemed neither his Flogger could: out of nowhere he appeared at his target’s six and got him down. "Correct that", he said. "One to go."
Wedge engaged the last MiG while Wolf served as his wingman. As soon as Wedge fired his last two sidewinders the MiG dodged and lock-on him. I could even know what thoughts crossed his mind on that very moment, but fortunately Wolf got his job done, firing his last two missiles and forcing the MiG to fire widely.
As the other section was completely without missiles, I’ve engaged the Flogger with Lighting covering me. My last two sidewinders hit the forward portion of the craft, making the Flogger spit smoke everywhere, but not destroying him. At least he turned back and we won the day.
During the egress, Wolf reported his Hornet was having unusual problems, but he managed to land safely. Anyway his fighter was considered not ready, with some kind of avionics failure.
In despite of our complete success, Wolf was visibly shaken: add the dutiful protection of his section leader with his avionics failure and you get a stressed pilot. And he would rest a little if he wanted to sit on the cockpit soon.
The result, of course, needed to be told to our men. As soon as I entered the de-briefing room, I’ve told them:
"It was a complete success."