During their training, Spartans were trained on every piece of equipment, every vehicle, and every weapon that the UNSC had, from the humble command knife to how to pilot a Supercarrier.
As a result, when one of the Dominion's Sabre Pilots, Husker, and his Weapon System Operator, Apollo, both caught food poisoning, Ben was quick to volunteer to fill in their spot for the day. He'd never gotten the chance to fly a service-model YSS-1000 Sabre before, but he was absolutely going to take the chance now that he had one. The Dominion's various Officers accepted his offer, and before long, he was sitting in the cockpit.
No prizes for guessing who his own WSO was.
"All set back there Curie?" Ben asked from the Pilot's seat. He ran one final check of the link between his spartan neural lace and the Sabre, and was relieved to see everything was working well.
"I am." Curie replied. Technically speaking, she didn't have to wear the flight suit, or the bulky pilot's helmet, but she did anyway. "This already feels very different from flying a simulator."
Ben cocked his head and smiled. "Oh, just wait until we take off. How's our pre-flight looking?"
"Green, at least so far. It would seem that Monsieur Adama takes good care of his aircraft." Curie replied. "What about your controls, is everything working?"
Ben ran a quick check through everything. Throttle, pedals, stick, every dial, and every switch. He also ran an inspection on the analog backup control systems, as it was never wise to put too much faith in a fallible piece of technology.
"Controls are good." Ben finally said.
Around their aircraft, the Dominion's flight crew steadily began to back away from the hull of the Sabre. Like all of the rest of its squadron, it was the inter-atmosphere version of the craft, capable of both atmospheric flight as well as exo-atmospheric maneuvers. It could, technically, reach space on its own from the ground on most planets, but doing so was strictly against regulation for the health of the airframe, at least without the use of booster rockets.
All of that wasn't Ben and Curie's problem though. All they had to worry about was a single flight as part of the normal Combat Air Patrol, where they'd be flying alongside the Dominion's most Veteran Pilot. The Commander of the Dominion's Air Group, or CAG, Keegan Amamiya, callsign Bolt. Unlike most Sabre Pilots, he flew without a WSO, although Ben didn't know why that was.
"Final checks completed… Powering on engines." Curie said, before engaging her helmet's radio. "Dominion, this is Voodoo-Nine. Pre-Flight checks are complete, and we are ready for takeoff."
The reply came from Lieutenant Aaron Kelly, the Landing Signals Officer aboard the UNSC Dominion. "Affirmative Voodoo-Nine. Standby for Taxi."
On a ship as small as the Dominion, with such cramped hangar space, actually taxiing a fighter was impossible. Instead, "taxi" referred to a system by which a ceiling-mounted crane would lift the Sabre out of the hangar, and lower it through a large hatch so that it was effectively dangling beneath the hangar, and then allow the Sabre to power on it's engines to full before letting it go.
UNSC Pilots and personnel frequently referred to the system as a "trapeze" system, named after the acrobatics, because it was similarly sophisticated and hard to perform. It was slow, often tedious, and dangerous to perform within a planet's atmosphere, but on a ship as small as the Dominion, it was a necessary price to pay to conserve space.
Once the flight crews were at a safe distance, the crane came down, magnetically clamped down onto the Sabre, and raised it up. Once the Dominion was over the hatch, the crane lowered them down, and several hundred meters beneath them was the island of Vytal, which they would unceremoniously crash into if Ben and Curie didn't do their jobs properly.
All the more reason to make sure to do the pre-flight checklists. Ben thought.
He flipped the switch, and immediately the four engines of the Sabre whirred to life. It took a moment for the Thrusters to warm up, but soon they began to steadily rumble. The Sabre's computers gave him the green light, and they were ready to launch.
"Dominion, this is Voodoo-Nine." Curie said. "Engines are hot, we are ready to launch on your mark."
"Affirmative Voodoo-Nine, cleared for launch!" Aaron Kelly replied.
Well, this ought to be new… Ben thought as he threw the throttle to full.
Within microseconds, the Sabre's thrusters were blasting hot exhaust out behind them. For around two seconds, the Dominion's crane held onto the Sabre and stopped it from moving forward, allowing the engines to reach full strength, before letting go.
The Sabre dropped suddenly for a moment, and Ben felt his stomach go along with it, before the thrusters pushed them forward with incredible force. The force pressed him and Curie backwards into their seats as the spaceplane stabilized itself. Within only a moment, they'd gone from totally stationary to flying at well over four-hundred kilometers per hour, and that speed was still rapidly increasing.
"Woohoohoo!" Curie let out a cheer as they left the Dominion in the dust. "This is incredible!"
Ben couldn't help but smile at the glee in her voice, but reluctantly, he had to bring her back to the present. "Easy there Curie, now, where's Bolt?"
"Whoo, right." Curie remarked as she settled down, but Ben could still hear the enthusiasm in her voice. "I have Bolt's transponder roughly ten kilometers, bearing triple-zero, we should form up with him."
A Nav-point appeared on Ben's HUD, not that he particularly needed it since he was flying in a straight line, but it was nice to know that the system was working.
Now that they were flying steady, Ben allowed their speed to peak out at around fourteen-hundred kilometers per hour before easing up on the throttle. Technically, with the Sabre's Energy Shields, it could go much, much faster, but there was no sense in damaging irreplaceable equipment on an ordinary patrol, and especially not without reason.
"Voodoo-Nine, this is Bolt, I've got you on Radar." Keegan's voice suddenly came over the radio, sounding arguably just as giddy and excited as Curie. "Form up on my wing and let's get this show on the road."
"Affirmative Bolt, we're already on the way." Curie replied.
Before long, Bolt's Sabre became visible, and Ben took his place alongside the flight leader.
"Good to see you, Voodoo-Nine. We'll uh, come up with your own callsign later." Bolt said, giving them a thumbs-up through the canopy. "Welcome to the skies Ben, it's been an awfully long time since my little wolfpack's had a new pilot. If you don't mind me asking, how long's it been since you were last in the cockpit?"
Curie, with her considerably better memory, was the first to answer. "Two years, atmospheric flight training in a Nandao; I was there, and he did pretty well."
"Hmm, sounds like you might be a little rusty then." Keegan said, although there was little judgment in his voice. "If you want, I can run over some of the basics with ya while we've got the skies to ourselves. Not sayin' you need it or anything, just to make sure all your screws are tight."
"Couldn't hurt." Ben simply replied.
They ran through a few basic maneuvers, lots of it Ben already knew, but there were a few things he didn't. A good example was the classic "Scissors" maneuver, apparently dating back to an older age before guided missiles stole the show.
"Do you get to use tricks like these often?" Ben wondered. He knew classic dogfights happened, especially outside of a planet's atmosphere, but it still seemed like missiles ruled the sky for the most part.
"Before we got stuck out here? Nah, not really. Banshees are pushovers, and you never want to take on a Seraph alone." Keegan answered. "But these Grimm things aren't that fast, so if you want to hit them, you can't be gunning the throttle like when you're takin' on Covies."
"Good to know." Ben remarked.
Suddenly, Ben's comm buzzed to life. The voice of Ensign Gillespie, the Dominion's Operations Officer, came through to them. "CAP, this is Dominion, listen up. We have bogies closing in on the Vytal Airzone from bearing zero-eight-zero, intercept and destroy at your discretion."
"Solid copy Dominion, moving to intercept." Keegan replied. "You hear that Ben? Looks like you and Curie will get to see some action after all."
Good. Ben quietly thought, while he knew that Curie might've enjoyed a quiet flight, he'd been a little worried that nothing was going to happen, and he wanted to test his skills. "Curie, warm up the guns."
The YSS-1000 Sabre was equipped as standard with two M1024 ASW/AC 30mm machine-linked autocannons. Each rapid-fire coilgun was capable of firing both subcaliber armor-piercing sabots and explosive dual-purpose rounds. With Commander Miller's standing orders to not use guided weapons unless absolutely necessary, they would be Ben and Curie's weapons.
"Already on it." She replied. "Capacitors are charging and ammo-belts are loaded. Do you want armor-piercing, or explosive rounds?"
"Explosive." Ben answered. Most of the flying Grimm didn't have substantial armor, so explosives would be the ideal way to deal with them.
Keegan's Sabre turned and burned towards the target, and Ben followed. Only a few minutes later, his Radar picked up a small group of airborne targets in the distance, flying around five-hundred meters above the ground.
"Tally ho on five bandits, that's got to be them." Bolt said. "Okay Ben, stick close to me and let's go get a look at these bastards."
"Affirmative." Ben acknowledged the order and kept to his place on Bolt's wing.
"If these are Grimm, they are unusually fast…" Curie noted. "Their leader is traveling at over three-hundred and fifty kilometers an hour."
"Coming up on them now, eyes up!" Keegan called out. "Curie, on your camera!"
While Curie manned their Sabre's high-fidelity optics systems, Ben used the magnification on his Mjolnir's Helmet to get a better look. Sure enough, five Grimm were flying through the air. They resembled birds, but they weren't any kind of Grimm that he'd seen before. They were small, narrow, with short swept-back wings and pointed noses.
Their Sabres blew past the Grimm at supersonic speeds, leaving them squawking in protest and stumbling as the air around them was disturbed.
"Ah, Pickers. The Fighter Jocks up in Atlas hate these guys." Keegan remarked. "Alright Ben, stay on my tail and ease up on the throttle, we won't be landing any hits on these guys at this speed."
They bled their speed as they turned to make another pass. By the time they were on the right course, they had even out their airspeed at around seven-hundred kilometers an hour.
"MASTERARM on, MASTERARM on." Keegan called out. "Weapons free."
Curie turned off the gun's safeties, and Ben experimentally moved his vision a little, satisfied when the reticle moved with his head. The guns on the Sabre were gimbal-mounted, permitting a small degree of aiming on the part of the pilot.
The Grimm steadily became visible again, and as soon as the targeting computer had a lock, Ben pressed the trigger down.
The guns roared as they spat hot fury, and in the spray of shot, two of the Pickers were hit, both being blown to pieces immediately. The remaining three also exploded as Keegan took care of the rest. Within only a moment, the targets disappeared from sight and Radar.
"Dominion, this is Voodoo-One, all targets dispatched. Was just another flight of Pickers, over." Keegan reported.
It took a moment for Gillespie's reply to come through. "Solid copy on all, resume holding pattern."
"Well, that went well." Curie remarked. "I knew that we had the advantage in the air, but that still seemed much easier than I expected."
"You don't know the half of it ma'am, I've got no more room on my nose for killmarks." Keegan said. "We see maybe twenty or so of these little flocks a day."
"This really is your whole life, isn't it?" Ben jokingly asked.
"I know, isn't it great?" Keegan joyfully replied.
Ben rolled his eyes, but smiled. Gotta love Fighter Jocks.
Their patrol continued peacefully for a time, before another transmission came through from the Dominion. "CAP, this is Dominion. We have a developing situation off of the southern coast, transmitting coordinates. Double time it to the site, over."
"That can't be good." Curie said, concern in her voice.
"Right you are. Ben, maintain current angels and turn and burn." Keegan ordered.
Ben did as he was instructed and hit the throttle along with his flight leader. Their speed rapidly began to climb as more details came through from Ensign Gillespie. "We've received a distress call from a civilian passenger liner, the San Manuel. The Captain claims that they're being pursued by pirates."
"And these Pirates are operating off of the coast of Vytal, where we very publicly just built a military base?" Curie commented without using her radio, so that only Ben could hear her. The contempt in her voice was so rich that Ben could easily imagine her eyes rolling.
"I guess it's up to us to teach them a lesson." Ben remarked.
Their thrusters roared with great plumes of fire as they flew south at over twice the speed of sound. Within minutes, they were within range of where they needed to be.
"The San Manuel should be around this area, but I'm getting nothing on Radar." Keegan said. "Ben, got anything?"
Aside from Keegan's Sabre, nothing appeared on Ben's Radar. "Negative."
"I have an idea." Curie chimed in. "If this is a civilian ship, they should have a public transponder linked to the CCTS system. Let me just… ah-ha, there we go!"
A new Navpoint appeared off to their East, as it turned out, they were around a dozen kilometers off course. Had they been flying slower aircraft, that would likely have been a far larger problem, however, even at a reduced speed, they were still flying at supersonic speed. As such, they could easily turn to make up for the wasted distance, and hopefully spot the endangered ship.
"Solid Copy, I've got a solid fix on the San Manuel… uh oh." Keegan said. "Ben, check your Radar, are you seeing these bogies?"
Ben scowled as he saw easily over a dozen targets swarming over the Passenger Liner, no doubt Grimm summoned by the negativity brought on by the attacking Pirates. The Pirates themselves were nowhere to be seen, although if they were operating a smaller craft, that would make sense, as the Sabre's Radar was ill-equipped to spot small ground and naval targets.
"Captain, civilian lives are in danger. I suggest-" Curie began to say, but Keegan beat her to the punch.
"I hear ya. Fire up the Medusa's, we'll take these bastards out the fast way." Keegan quickly replied.
"I copy, going weapons hot." Curie replied. A moment later, Ben's HUD lit up with a new weapon.
Every Sabre carried a pair of reloadable M4370 missile launchers, each of which could fire two missiles at once, and was linked to a magazine of guided Medusa missiles. The Medusa missiles themselves were extremely potent air-to-air weapons, both in and out of a planet's atmosphere.
Using such advanced weapons against Grimm would be overkill, but it was better to ensure that the civilians were safe than it was to preserve munitions. That did not mean, however, that they were without risk. One stray missile or malfunction could lead to a stray weapon careening into the passenger liner, with predictably disastrous results.
"Careful not to lock onto that liner, folks around here don't use our IFFs." Keegan gave one final warning. "Okay, we'll come around on the next pass, you ready?"
"Ready!" Ben replied.
The two fighters came screaming down from above, and as they drew closer, Ben finally got a view of what was going on, even if it was from a distance.
The San Manuel was revealed to be a very sizable ship, probably a full-size passenger liner traveling between Kingdoms. Surrounding the ship were Grimm of all shapes and sizes, there were more Pickers like they had encountered earlier, but also a Nevermore, a pair of Chimeras, and even a few others. There was some kind of tiny, localized storm of lightning on the deck, no doubt summoned by a Huntsman aboard to protect the ship's passengers.
Makes our job that much easier. Ben thought as his HUD started recognizing the targets. Four of the Grimm were marked by his own targeting system, while four more were signaled as being targeted by Keegan. Once Ben was sure that there was no risk of the ship being hit, he put his finger over the trigger and recited the relevant brevity code. "Voodoo-Nine, Fox Three!"
Four missiles fired out from his Sabre, followed by four more from Keegan as they broke off their descent, lest they crash into the ship they were trying to save. As they pulled away, Ben witnessed one of his missiles blow the head off of the Nevermore in chunks.
"Good effect on targets!" Curie called out, and Ben couldn't help but smile. With eight missiles, there was plenty of room for something to have gone wrong, but it seemed like things had just gone their way for today.
"Good work you two! That should give the San Manuel some room to breathe." Keegan said, sounding as jolly as ever. "Do either of you have a bead on those Pirates?"
"Affirmative, marking them now." Curie said. "It looks like they're in two patrol boats, Atlesian models."
Two small pips appeared on Ben's HUD just below them, and although he couldn't see them, he could imagine the two speedboats coasting in.
"Where the hell did Pirates get Atlesian vessels?" Ben asked, slightly incredulous over the revelation.
"Stay focused Spartan." Keegan said, snapping him back into the moment. "Here's the plan, I'll keep the Grimm off of the San Manuel, while you and Curie make a pass off their bows. If they don't back off after that, go for the kill."
"Copy. Confirm, show of force." Ben recited. He wasn't quite sure why they weren't just opening up by going for the kill, but he wasn't about to disobey his flight leader's orders.
While Keegan lined up for another pass against the Grimm, Ben brought himself around on a perpendicular axis to the Pirates. He came in low and fast, and fired a string of around thirty explosive rounds into the water just in front of the two Pirate vessels.
Ben pulled back up and away, before turning his head to talk to Curie. "That do it?"
"Negative, they are undeterred." Curie said.
"Affirmative." Ben said.
But just as he turned to make another pass, new targets appeared on his Radar. At first, he assumed that they were just more Grimm, but these were flying in a uniform formation, at a fixed speed, and not deviating from their course at all. Worse still, they were close, within only a few kilometers distance.
What the hell? Unless those guys just took off, there's no way they could've snuck up on us… Ben thought. "Bolt, we've got bogies!"
"I see em', tally ho on three bandits! No IFF, gotta be more pirates!" Keegan called out in warning. "Looks like gunships, Atlas-made, watch out for-"
His voice was drowned out by an alarm blaring in the cockpit. "Warning, warning-"
"Incoming, incoming!" Curie cried out as twenty-four tiny Radar contacts appeared on Radar and Ben's HUD, each one representing a missile coming to kill him and Curie. If they didn't already know they were hostile, they did now.
At that very moment, Ben remembered a very specific lesson from his flight instructor. It hadn't been Chief Mendez like normal, it was another man, a Pilot whose name he couldn't quite remember, but the advice he'd given had been useful in the past.
Don't think, just do.
"Voodoo-Nine, defending!" Ben called out, throwing the stick to the side and pushing the Sabre into a very harsh turn. Immediately he could tell the force of multiple gees pressing against him, making it feel like he weighed thousands of pounds, pushing blood away from his brain and heart. Even so, he carried on as he dumped flares. All the while, Curie used the Sabre's Electronic Countermeasures to cause as much havoc to the enemy missiles guidance systems as possible.
As the swarm of missiles closed the distance, two failed due to mechanical failures. Ten more were spoofed by Curie with the ECM defense systems, another six followed the flares, and four more were shaken by Ben's maneuvers. The last two, however, impacted their energy shields and detonated, shaking the whole airframe and draining their power substantially.
"Voodoo-Nine, are you still airworthy?" Keegan asked.
"We are still in this fight!" Curie called back in reply.
"Good, link up with me and-" Keegan said, before being cut off "Shit, incoming! Voodoo-One defending!"
Ben and Curie watched with horror as a monolithic seventy-two missiles took to the air from the Atlesian Gunships. Even with Keegan's defenses, it might just be enough to take him down. They must've seen that we had shields! They're not holding back anymore!
"We've got to help him!" Curie cried out.
Ben didn't think, he just did. "Work the ECMs, I'll handle the rest."
He tore off at incredible speeds, not aiming for the gunships, but at the missiles headed for Keegan. As Ben drew closer, some of the missiles changed course and started heading for him and Curie, triggering the warning alarm.
"Ben…" Curie called out in sudden doubt at his plan.
"I know." He simply replied.
He fired off a set of flares as he gunned the throttle and aimed his nose at the missiles pursuing Keegan. Some of them had already shaken off from the main group, but there were still enough of them clustered tightly together that Ben's plan might actually work.
"Going for guns!" He called out
While Curie and Keegan were both exclaiming in disbelief, he lined up his shot and held the trigger down. Dozens of explosive rounds flew into the air, almost all of which missed, but crucially, some didn't. One missile went down, then another exploded into a fireball, detonating a third with the shrapnel. Soon enough, at least half of the missiles were down in flames, hopefully giving Keegan the window that he'd need to be able to survive the coming firestorm.
Unfortunately, a new problem presented itself, as all of the surviving missiles that had been headed for Keegan now turned over and started burning for them.
"Ben, we can't shake all of these!" Curie called out in warning.
Now or never. Ben thought, momentarily reflecting on just how dumb this part of his plan was. "Cut power to shields, redline the reactors!"
If Curie had any complaints about his plan, which she probably did, she was wise enough to ignore them as Ben took every last bit of power that he was being handed… and put every last pit of it into the thrusters.
On just about any planet, on any day, in any star-system, outrunning a missile was a very, very bad idea. Missiles were lighter and faster than aircraft or starfighters by their very nature, as they didn't have to lug around all of the systems associated with a vehicle like that. But as Ben figured, or perhaps was just hoping, perhaps the sheer speed of the Sabre could, for just a brief moment, outlast the fuel on the tiny Atlesian swarm missiles.
"Ben, punch out, punch out for God's sake!" Keegan shouted at him, but for once in his life, Ben ignored a direct order.
The G-Forces were intense, very intense as their Sabre passed Mach Five and only kept going faster. The airframe rattled, the engines roared, but the only warning that blared was the warning of the incoming missiles.
Then, against all odds, the missiles began to explode, one by one, as their fuel supplies burned out. Doing his absolute best to keep a level head, he waited until the last missile was going before he brought the throttle back and allowed the engines to rest. There was a momentary lurch as they started to decelerate, but they were still traveling incredibly, incredibly fast.
Finally, as their Sabre finally stopped shaking and their speed became a little more manageable, Ben let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding. "We're good."
Keegan howled with laughter like a feral hyena. "That was fucking crazy, you absolute madman! Get the hell back over here and help me kill these bastards!"
In the back seat, Curie was still hyperventilating, but managed to calm herself down just enough to chastise him. "Warn me the next time you try to do something that… stupid!"
As it turned out, shooting down the gunships was the easy part, as they'd already expended all of their munitions and were in the middle of retreating. As Ben had just demonstrated, however, the Sabres could fly considerably faster than them, and before long, the Grimm, the Pirate Gunships, and the Pirate Speedboats were all history.
"Dominion, this is Bolt. All targets neutralized, the San Manuel is secured." Bolt reported.
"Affirmative Voodoo-One, Sounds like an awfully busy day out there." Gillespie replied. "Come on home, Atlesian Air Units can take over the CAP for now."
While Keegan called back to the ship to confirm their orders had been received, Ben took a long, deep breath, and contemplated what he'd just done.
"That was… insane." Curie said, before the ridiculousness of it all finally came crashing down on her, and she let out a hearty laugh. "Nice work, flyboy!"
He grinned all the way back to the Hangar, where after performing a long and complex landing procedure, he found Keegan waiting for him with a few of the other Pilots, including Fireball, who looked incredibly proud of him.
"Not bad at all Sierra, you can be my wingman any day!" Keegan said, running up and patting him on the shoulder with a big wide smile. "So, we've been talking, and we've come up with your callsign."
In a rare show of face, Ben depolarized his visor, and allowed everyone to see his raised eyebrow and wide smile. It felt more radiant than a smile, Ben practically beamed with such brightness that it seemed reflected in the faces of the other pilots. "Go on."
"Comet." Fireball said. "It might not fit the whole fantasy theme all the way but, well, I think you're allowed to be a little different."
Ben nodded, Comet, that fit well with him. "Comet it is."
Author's Notes: No, I was not expecting Top Gun: Maverick to be that good. Yes, it actually is that good, well worth seeing it in theaters, even if it is about as realistic as this Omake.
And yes, I did have the mental image of Ben and Curie flying a Sabre for the longest time, there's a reason I commissioned that one art piece of it (you can find it on my twitter profile, handle is the same as my username here, hint hint)
This is also the only Omake I've done where the title is the same as the song that I listened to while writing.