The next afternoon, Phil and Kickstart shot through space with Quiet Riot on their wing. The two men had drawn flight lead for this mission while Quiet Riot assumed their rear security. The pair of T-Bats blasted past the moon of Phinda and skimmed the asteroid belt ringing its equator. The two instructor-safeties for the flight, "Hardtack" and "Selat," hung back about five thousand meters silently watching from their A8s. They were only there to umpire the upcoming action. The four students had their eyes peeled for their real targets.
Phil keyed his subspace radio.
"Niner 1-1 to 1-0, proceeding from Checkpoint 2 to Checkpoint 3. Still no signs of enemy contact, but keep scanning your sector."
"This is 1-0, WILCO," Quiet replied tersely.
"Hey Saber," Kickstart said on the intercom. "You ever wonder what those two talk about inside their heads?"
"I try not to," Phil chuckled back. "I can't imagine it's anything very nice."
"Ha, probably not," Kickstart replied, "but it would be pretty cool to know if we make them nervous as nervous as they make us."
"I wouldn't count on that, Brother," Phil replied.
At that moment, Kickstart's eye caught two objects moving at high speed against the blackness just outside of Phinda's gravity well. Before he could alert Phil, Riot's voice crackled to life in their headsets.
"Contact, two bogeys two o'clock low. Course 278 Mark 147 Distance 4,350 Nautical Miles."
"Acknowledged," Phil replied. "You got 'em, Kick?"
"Roger," Kickstart replied trying to get a firm fix. The interference coming from the asteroid belt was causing the Sizzo problems. Finally, he managed to get the contact steady on the T-Bat's long range sensors.
"I see them on my scopes now," Phil said as his instruments updated. He keyed his subspace radio. As the flight lead, it was his responsibility to report to the instructor-safeties.
"Control, this is Niner 1-0. Two bogeys, course 278 Mark 147. Distance is now 4,105 Nautical Miles. Are they friendly?"
"Acknowledge your report, 1-0," Selat replied from his A8. "That's a negative. You are cleared to engage."
"Roger!" Phil shouted back as he brought his tactical systems online.
"This is 1-0, Acknowledge," Quiet cut into his radio traffic.
"Of course they don't wait for their flight lead to call them…" Phil muttered. "Kick, can you see who it is out there?"
Each one of the instructor spacecraft had a slightly different paint scheme. After a few weeks, the students had learned to recognize them. Kickstart craned his neck as the T-Bats began accelerating up to attack speed.
"The lead one is Blaster," Kickstart yelled. "I can't tell who the second one is. I don't recognize the colors."
They didn't have to wait long.
"Alright Boys and Girls," a voice cut in on the instructor net. "Catch me if you can! Tally Ho!"
The mystery A8 suddenly broke away from Blaster, hit its afterburners, and zoomed off into Phinda's asteroid belt trailing impulse exhaust behind.
"WAS THAT GODFATHER!?" Kickstart shouted.
"Yeah, I think that was Godfather," Phil replied with a sharp breath. "Shit…"
He keyed his radio.
"Niner 1-0, this is 1-1," Phil said on the radio to Quiet Riot. "Godfather's trying to separate us and draw us into a fight on his terms. We're not taking the bait. We're going after Blaster first. I got the lead. Stay on my wing and cover me."
There was an uncharacteristically long pause before Quiet answered.
"They better not be thinking about ditching us and going after Godfather alone," Kickstart said. "We need them to watch our ass!"
"They're too professional to do that, Kick," Phil replied pointing the T-Bat's nose toward Blaster's fighter. "At least I hope so…"
Finally, Quiet answered.
"On your wing."
"She doesn't sound happy," Kickstart said.
"Don't really care right now," Phil replied as he pushed the throttles forward to full impulse. Soon, both spacecraft had closed the distance with Blaster and began maneuvering to get on his tail.
"Micro-torpedo select!" Phil shouted. He looked back through the canopy to see Quiet Riot's T-Bat just a few meters behind him. The wingman's job in this situation would be to prevent Godfather from sneaking up behind and taking a shot while the lead was trying to get a weapons lock on Blaster.
"C'mon, Baby! C'mon!" Phil said trying to set his weapons reticle on Blaster's fast moving spacecraft. "Shit! He's good!"
Blaster twisted and rolled his A8 faster than Phil could match.
"He's trying to get around behind us!" Kickstart shouted.
"I see it! I see it!" Phil shouted as the g forces threw them back and forth across the cockpit. Phil's target reticle started chirping as it began to close in Blaster's signature.
"1-1, this 1-0," Quiet said on the radio. She sounded almost bored. "Are you in need of assistance? I can take the shot from back here."
"Negative, this is my kill! You can't have them all." Phil shouted angrily before turning back to his console. "Lock up!" he said still maneuvering his targeting reticle. "Lock up!"
Suddenly, another small silhouette shot out from the asteroid field almost too quickly to see. It settled right behind Quiet Riot.
"Godfather's on Quiet Riot's tail!" Kickstart said looking out of the rear of the canopy. "He's moving right into prime firing position!"
"1-1, this is 1-0!" Quiet shouted through the radio with more nerves in her voice than Phil had ever heard before. "Fire or clear! We're can't maneuver back here!"
"Acknowledged!" Phil shouted back still trying to get weapons lock on Blaster. The lead enemy craft was now in a high speed turn helping to bring Quiet Riot right into his partner's sights. "He's coming around. Just hold on for five more seconds!"
"We're not gonna be here in five seconds!" Quiet replied desperately. "We have one of the best fighter pilots in the galaxy on our ass!"
"Got him!" Phil screamed as his reticle turned red right over Blaster's silhouette. The constant tone of weapons lock screamed in their ears.
"WOOOO!" Kickstart shouted. "Blaster's dead."
"Bandit one is killed," Hardtack confirmed on the instructor net.
"Well done. I'm off. Returning to Base," Blaster said acknowledging Phil's kill. He turned sharply and screamed away.
The sound of a second weapons lock echoed through Phil and Saber's cockpit.
"SON OF A BITCH!" Quiet and Riot both shouted on the net in unison.
"Niner 1-0 is killed," Selat said on subspace. The Vulcan instructor's calm and clear demeanor somehow made the women even angrier at being taken out of the game.
"NINER 1-0 IS OFF! RETURNING TO BASE!" Quiet roared as she turned to follow Blaster back to Tellar Prime.
"It's just you and me now," Godfather said taunting Phil on the net. The salty captain gunned his engines and closed the distance right onto their tail.
"He's right on top of us!" Kickstart shouted looking out the rear of the canopy. They could both hear the steady beeping of Godfather's sensors creeping closer to weapons lock.
"Hey, Kick," Phil said grinning behind his visor. "Hardtack's still back there, right?"
"What the hell are you talking about?" Kickstart said. "Of course, she is."
"Well, Ma'am," Phil said remembering her request in class yesterday. "I hope you're watching. Kick, hold onto something."
"OH SHIT!" the Sizzo replied grabbing the handles on the side of the canopy.
"U-TURN!" Phil shouted. He cut his impulse engines, engaged his maneuvering thrusters, and spun his T-Bat around in a 360 degree flat spin. Godfather's A8 shot straight past. Top Gun's senior pilot looked out of his canopy to see Phil waving at him. Then, the T-Bat's pilot reengaged his impulse drives and shot straight into firing position behind Godfather.
"WHAT THE HELL!?" Godfather shouted in shock.
"You shot down my wingman, Sir," Phil said knowing that they could hear him. "You didn't think I was going to let you get home in one piece?"
Godfather went fully on the defensive. He climbed sharply and then dove trying to gain some distance between his own A8 and Phil's T-Bat.
"Gonna have to do better than that," Phil muttered. He barrel rolled his fighter to keep his sights moving toward the tiny spacecraft. Both men in the cockpit gritted their teeth and flexed their leg muscles as the immense g forces started to overcome their inertial dampeners.
"He's making a break for the asteroid belt!" Kickstart said as Phil narrowed the band of his targeting scanners.
"He's not gonna make it…" Phil answered.
In Godfather's cockpit, the old man was doing everything he could to keep ahead of Saber's relentless pursuit. He was just a few thousand kilometers from the edge of Phinda's Belt. If he could just get there, he knew he could escape.
"Hey Saber," Godfather taunted Phil again on the subspace radio. He knew his only chance was to break his opponent's concentration long enough to get to the relative safety of the asteroids. "Where did you learn to fly like that? I sure know it wasn't in Starfleet."
Phil tensed a bit behind the stick of his T-Bat. Godfather's question really made him think. Suddenly, he was nine years old again in his childhood room back in Yorkshire. His parents had long since gone to sleep, but he was lying on his bed as the fictional heroes from his 20th century movie collection spoke from the small holoscreen hanging above his dresser. He listened while staring up at the ceiling as the glow of countless air and space battles illuminated the painted plastic models of Spitfires, F-14s, and X-Wings hung from his ceiling with fishing line…
"Saber!" Kickstart shouted jarring him back to the present. "He's gonna get away!"
Phil leaned forward, keyed his radio, and shouted an answer to Godfather's question:
"Where did I learn to fly, Sir? The White Cliffs of Dover, Miramar, and the Death Star, that's where!"
"Where the hell are those?" Godfather laughed back. He didn't know what Phil was talking about, but there was some kind of innocent pride in the tone of his voice. Something that made all the competitive jockeying for position and posturing just fall away. It was obvious how much this kid loved being a pilot.
Godfather saw the asteroid belt right in front of him. There was a still a slight chance he could escape Phil's artful pursuit. Instead, he relaxed a bit on his controls. The next sound in his headset was something Godfather hadn't heard in his thirteen years as a Top Gun instructor: the steady tone of a student's weapon lock on his fighter.
"Bandit two is killed," Hardtack said slowly on the subspace radio. "Niner 1-1, you are cleared to return to base."
"Son of a bitch," Godfather muttered realizing his perfect streak was over. Still, he managed to crack a smile. "Good job, Kid," he muttered without keying his radio.
Back on the school's tarmac, the other student flight teams were going through their own pre-flight checklists in the heat of late afternoon. Maintenance crews ran back and forth between the spacecraft ensuring that fuel was loaded and parts were probably fitted. A roar at the far end of the runway caught their attention.
Blaster's A8 touched its wheels down with two puffs of white smoke and then taxied straight back towards the instructor's ready line.
Overdrive looked over to Tick-tock. They both leaned on the boarding ladder of their fighter.
"He's back early," Overdrive muttered with surprise. Quiet Riot's T-Bat touched down right after and slowly began making its way back to the student line.
"Well," Tick-tock said curling both his antennae, "I guess its gonna be a bad day up there if they're already dead. I heard a rumor."
"And what rumor is that?" Sunspot called over to them from his parking spot. The pilot was checking the weapons fittings underneath his winglets and making notes on his checklist.
"I heard that Godfather went up there to show Quiet Riot, Saber, and Kickstart who the real 'Top Gun' at 'Top Gun' is."
"Man's like fifty years old," Berserker, a Caitian pilot, shouted from the other side of Overdrive's T-Bat. "Is he even still cleared to fly by the flight surgeon?"
"You wouldn't be saying that if you saw him on your tail," Overdrive laughed.
The roar of another spacecraft landing caught their attention. It was another instructor A8. As it taxied past them all to a stop, they realized that it was, in fact, Godfather.
"I'll be damned," Overdrive said turning to Tick-tock. "I guess you were right," he said getting ready to climb into the cockpit.
"Yeah," Tick-tock said. "But if he's back here, where's Saber and Kickstart?"
A sonic boom echoed across the tarmac. A lone T-Bat screamed in out of the blue and flew a circle all the way around the air station. The roar of its engines drowned out everything else on the ground.
"What the hell is Saber doing?" Sunspot said looking up into the sky. Overdrive looked over to see Godfather crack open his canopy, pull off his helmet, and rub his eyes.
"Holy Shit!" he screamed raising his helmet into the air as he figured it out. "SABER GOT GODFATHER!"
Phil and Kickstart shot over the tarmac at less than 500 meters. Phil victory rolled his T-Bat and dropped two plasma flares from his tail.
A huge cheer rose from all the students. It didn't matter to them that it was Saber. One of their class had taken down the legend.
Phil brought his T-Bat down gently onto the runway and taxied over to a parking space. Even before the ground crew had guided him to a stop, the other students were running up to congratulate him and Kickstart.
The two men opened their canopy and slid down the ladder to the ground. Instantly, the other pilots and Sizzos rushed over and surrounded them with handshakes and shoulder slaps.
"Did you get him? Did you really get him?" Overdrive shouted at the top of his lungs. Phil looked around the crowd and shrugged.
"Yeah, we got him," Phil replied. Another huge cheer rose from the students. Phil looked across the concrete tarmac to see Godfather leaning against the side of his A8. The old man merely nodded back respectfully. It brought a smile to Saber's face.
However, the moment was short lived.
"You Assholes!" two women screamed before pushing their way through the crowd. Quiet charged up and shoved Phil right to the ground. Riot dove towards Kickstart and swung her helmet towards his head. He managed to duck just in time.
"HEY! HEY!" the other students shouted pulling the two crews apart.
"What the hell was that!?" Phil shouted as he dove back up onto his feet
"I told you I could have taken the shot!" Quiet screamed loud enough to echo off the runway. "Instead, you kept me back on your wing and took your sweet ass time killing Blaster."
"We couldn't maneuver and you let Godfather kill us!" Riot added.
A hushed murmur went through the others.
"That's right!" Quiet said to the rest of the group. "The great Saber here sacrificed us like lambs to the slaughter just so he could enjoy the glory of double kill!"
Phil had finally had enough of these two. He didn't care what the others thought, but he was going to tell the truth.
"That is not what happened at all!" he shouted back at them. "I was in the lead position and you were the wingman! I got Blaster as fast as I could."
"He's right!" Kickstart screamed. "I was up there too! Saber did everything right and it's your job as wingman to watch our six. It's not our fault Godfather came in and waxed you."
"Bullshit, you could have waved off of Blaster and gotten us out of there," Riot yelled. "You didn't have to stay committed."
"Then they could have formed back up and gotten us both!" Saber replied. "It's our job to engage when we have the shot!"
"Quiet, Riot, if you were on their wing, it was your job to keep them clear until they could engage," Overdrive said backing up Phil and Kickstart.
"Screw you! You weren't up there!" Riot said.
"He's right though," Sunspot added firmly.
Phil looked over with surprise. He didn't expect to have any supporters among this group. Quiet Riot looked around and realized that the others were nodding in agreement with Overdrive and Sunspot.
"Whatever," Quiet said gritting her teeth and shaking her head. "We don't need any of you."
"When we get presented that trophy at graduation, all of you are gonna realize who the best are," Riot boasted. The two women pushed their way back through the crowd and stormed off towards the locker rooms.
"Forget them!" Berserker said grabbing Phil and lifting him off the ground. "You bastards did it! Beers on you tonight at the O-Club!"
The others went back to congratulating Phil and Kickstart. The Sizzo reveled in his moment of glory, but Phil glanced over from behind his aviator sunglasses to see Quiet Riot walking off alone. He had been dreaming of a moment like this for weeks, but this just didn't seem right.