Lucine Voski sat in the cockpit of her YJ-0 Blizzard that she had affectionately named SkyEater. This was her baby. She had been offered a newer model of the same aircraft upon her promotion, but she had turned it down. One of the first to come out. But that was years ago. Now, everyone flew the newer models except her. She still had her first plane. And she would fly it as long as she could.
She glanced out to her right to make sure the trainees were still with her. They were flying newer models. Their Blizzards were sleeker and much more modern. But Lucine knew she could outfly and outmaneuver them any day of the week.
“Stay alert, boys. We’re only five clicks out. Prepare for a flyover in 60 seconds.”
“Roger that,” the familiar voice of Grigor Khazhak, one of the trainees cackled over her headset.
Lucine grinned. Everyone else used Romeo now instead of Roger. She liked the kid’s spunkiness and sense of humor. She knew that using older terminology was his way of poking fun of her taste for older aircraft and vintage headsets.
No one else used the large, bulky headset she had salvaged for her own use. They all used the sleek, modern earpieces just released in the latest model. But it didn’t bother her. She liked her antiques.
“You ready, Vahan?” she asked the trainee sitting behind her.
He didn’t say anything. The tall, dark-haired trainee behind her just raised one hand and gave her a thumbs up. Lucine turned her head so he wouldn’t see her smile.
It was always like this with them on their first trip out in her old clunker. She could outfly any of the other boys. By time the flight was over and they got back, Lucine knew that Vahan would be singing a different tune.
She saw the outline of the city approaching quickly. It was a familiar sight. She came almost once a month on these training missions. Bringing the new trainees out for a spin and showing them the ropes.
It worked out well because the entire city was completely off-limits to civilians. One because it was a military zone and forbidden for the general population. But really, because no one wanted to come out here.
The area had been quarantined off over twenty years ago. There had been a breakout of some sort. It never really had been explained to anyone. At least not that Lucine was aware of even at her level of classification. And she was pretty high up there.
But regardless of the reason, she and the trainees could fly around between the buildings to hone their chops and run their drills. Any stray bullets were absorbed by the city skyscrapers without the risk of hurting someone.
“Ok, kids! Everyone get into formation at 150 meters. Look alive, and I’ll see you on the other side.” Lucine ordered.
“Last one there is the rotten egg,” Grigor shouted over the headset, making Lucine wince. Hers didn’t adjust volume automatically like theirs did.
“No, this isn’t a race,” she barked. “It’s just a drill. Practice the sharp turns needed between buildings. Remain in control at all times. No speeding for now. We’ll get there eventually, but not today. I have to get you babies all back home to your mommas alive.”
Lucine could hear their collective sighs over the headsets. They were all anxious to show off and do something fun on their first day out.
“You ready to take over the controls, Vahan?”
She glanced back in time to see his nod and passed the controls over to him.
“It’s all yours,” she said and looked out over the city just in time to see a streak of white light coming out of one of the skyscrapers in their direction.
There was nothing she could do to get out of the way in time. There was a loud blast and the shock from a direct hit. She felt the plane going down, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.
She let it down as best she could among the skyscrapers. They went down hard. Skyeater would never fly again. Lucine climbed out and looked up. She couldn’t see a thing through the thick smog. There was no way any of the other ships would be able to see them down here under the smog.
Not that they would even come looking. The whole place was still under quarantine. Even if she and Vahan could find their way out of the city eventually, they wouldn’t be let out alive. She knew that much for the level of clearance that she did have.
The woman screamed in frustration. Vahan just watched her with that same scared look on his face. She smiled. “Don’t worry, we just gotta find a way back home.” But she knew he didn’t believe her.
Lucine wondered if they would be able to live in the city somehow. Who had shot at them? Were people still living here?
“Well, c’mon, son. What are you waiting for? We got a long way to walk before supper.”