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The Beginning


Michael McBride
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"Black Knight Flight One, we have four contacts coming in, Angles 30. Range, fifteen miles."

"Roger that, Command." Colonel David K. Atkinson flipped his mic over to flight channel. "Alright, Knights. We've got four contacts, coming in hot. Arm air to air missiles."

"Uh, Colonel, I have an issue."

"What is it four?"

"I'm only showing two air to air missiles... not six."

"What?" Atkinson looked down and realized the Lieutenant was correct. Atkinson grumbled something about Command to himself, but before he could give out any further orders, he heard panicked shouting over the mic.

"Contacts! Contacts! Right above us, 12 o'clock high! I don't know where they..." The comm ended in static as Black Knight 3 was shot down, a wing flying off and the cockpit on fire.

"Take evasive action! Two, on me. Four, do you see a chute?" Atkinson wrenched his AS-37 Mamba to the left as he said this, diving low as he watched a stream of bullets race by through the air where he had just been.

"Negative, Lead. No chute. Repeat, no chute." Atkinson's radar flickered and suddenly he realized what was going on. Three planes were coming for him and his wingman while one was racing after Four. Atkinson put his plane into a steep dive as he raced for the deck below, grumbling something about how much the other pilots must have paid the man upstairs to get this type of advantage.

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Commander Derek Justin Erton smiled as he watched the completely matte black Mamba dive down and away from him. One of his wingmen was already down, and the rest should follow soon. "White Flight, switch to missiles."

"Negative, White Leader. We don't have any."

"What?" Commander Erton cursed and then looked up through his cockpit for a moment. "Marty, I am going to get you for this one." He cursed again and then keyed his mic. "White Flight, get up close and personal with these guys. It's time for Atkinson to go down and shut his trap. If he ejects, shoot him down."

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"These guys just don't give up do they?" Atkinson cursed, sliding his plane to the left before snapping it up on his right wing and pulling hard around. He glanced down at his RADAR and noticed an opportunity. "Four, break left on my mark."

"Lead, this guy is right on my tail."

"I KNOW Four... trust me. Three... two... one... mark!" Four snapped left as Atkinson continued his circle. As soon as Four passed in front of him, he let loose a stream of machine gun fire, and the plane following Four slammed right into it. Bullets slammed into the cockpit and traced back along the engines, lighting them on fire for a split second before the plane exploded in a brilliant fireball. The rapidly expanding ball of fire engulfed Atkinson for a second before he came shooting out the other side.

"Lead, you good?"

"Roger that, Four. I'm a little cooked, but still good to go."

"Thanks for the save... I thought I was a goner back..." Four's transmission ended just as he came into Atkinson's view again. A surgical blast of machine gun fire from one of the attacking planes sliced through Four's cockpit. The plane did not explode, but instead began a slow, listless dive towards the ground.

"God !@#$@#$ damnit!" Atkinson shouted as he yanked his stick back, flipping his plane over in hot pursuit of Four's killer. "Two, watch our backs. Let me know when those other two $%&@ers want to dance." The other pilot was good... very good, Atkinson had to give him that, but he knew that he was better. He switched to missiles, and immediately got a tone, being this close. The pilot in front of him immediately started juking to try and lose Atkinson. He switched back to guns. Good, they had missile warning systems... that could work to his advantage in the future. The pilot stopped juking as much, simply staying out of the range of Atkinson's guns. Smiling, the Colonel lined up the opposing pilot in the center of his cross hairs and then switched to missiles again. In less than a half second, he got a solid tone and pulled the trigger to send one of his air to air missiles streaking at the other craft.

The outcome was predictable. The other pilot immediately realized his error and tried to dive, but it was too late. He didn't even have time to launch countermeasures as the missile slammed into his port engine and detonated, shredding the plane. Before Atkinson could even smile, he got some sobering news.

"Lead, we've got company."

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"God damnit, Three, he is not that good. Two did not just fall for that maneuver."

"I've got a good angle on him, Commander."

"Take him out, Three. Wipe him off the face of the map. Atkinson will rue the day he crossed me."

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"Lead you have a guy coming in from your six o'clock high. Break right, I'll try and get him."

"Negative, Two. Go after their leader. Keep him busy, I'll dispose of this amateur."

"But Lead..."

"Go Captain. Now." Atkinson broke to the right, giving the other pilot a clear shot of his six. The Colonel goosed the thrusters slightly, giving him some more room, but he intentionally kept the other pilot close. He kept missiles armed, even with nothing to shoot at, and randomized his dodge pattern so the other pilot could never get a good bead on him with his short bursts of machine gun fire.

"Come on... come on..." Atkinson breathed quietly to himself. "Slide right up in behind me like you know you want to, you son of a !@#$%*." As soon as the other pilot situated himself directly behind his plane, Atkinson put his plan into action. Pulling the throttle back to zero and slamming on his air brakes, he pulled up and rolled his plane over. Exactly as he had hoped, the opposing pilot shot past him, just feet under his rolling Mamba, which left Atkinson right on his tail. Again, he got a solid tone and fired in under a second, turning a third plane into burning metal.

"Fox Three!" Two announced the launch of a missile as Atkinson looked down his RADAR, seeing Two and the other flight's lead locked in a head to head run. Head to heads were the most effective way to kill an enemy... they were also the best way to get yourself killed. Atkinson pulled his plane over towards the head to head run just in time to see the enemy pilot roll, forcing the missile to miss, and then spraying fire at Two. A spark and then an engine was on fire for his wingman.

"Two, punch out! Punch out!" Atkinson breathed again as he saw his wingman eject from his dying aircraft and a chute deploy. Still, there was work to do. An alarm let him know that the other pilot had a gun lock on his plane, and Atkinson pulled over to the side and dove.

A sickening series of thuds resonated through the right side of his aircraft. An alarm popped up on his display: starboard engine gone, dead. With the left engine still firing, his plane began a flat spin towards the ground. Working as fast as he could, Atkinson began trying to reroute power and adjust his flaps to regain control. His altimeter was rapidly counting down towards zero, when finally his engines fired again and Atkinson started pulling up. The numbers were still descending, but slower now. The Colonel pulled back on his stick as hard as he could. At just 100 feet, his plane leveled out of its fall just before the world went black...

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Colonel David Atkinson climbed out of his flight simulator cockpit, pulling off his black helmet and brushing off his black flight suit before pulling out a pair of aviators and slipping them on. Smiling slightly, he looked up at the booth that oversaw the facility in Redemptio.

"What gives, Marty? I thought I pulled out of that dive. Why'd the sim end?"

"Your side won, Colonel." The voice came back over the speakers.

"What? How?" Before Marty could answer, another voice cut in, cold and biting.

"Your wingman's missile circled back around and nailed me as I was following you down, Atkinson. The sim merely waited to see if you would survive before ending it." Atkinson turned at the sound of the new voice.

"Ah, Commander. I knew there was only one person who could get Marty to do that much stuff to our planes AND still fail to kill me. Good try though." David turned to walk away, but not before looking up at Marty again. "By the way, that steak dinner is canceled. Especially after those shenanigans."

"Colonel!" The Commander's voice cut through the air again, making Atkinson stop. "This isn't over."

"It's okay, Erton. Just admit that you're not as good as me." Atkinson popped a piece of gum into his mouth and started to chew, flashing a cheeky grin at the older man. "Besides, there's a reason your guys are in training and the Black Knights are the most decorated fighter unit the Federation has." Erton opened his mouth to speak again, but Atkinson cut him off. "You're dismissed Commander. Don't you have carriers to train on now or something?" With a short laugh, he tossed Erton a quick, sarcastic salute, and turned on his heel, walking out of the simulator room with his flight close behind him. Erton could only stare, standing with his flight in the middle of a cold, empty room.

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To: Thomas Dobbs, President of the Federation of Pravus Ingruo

From: The Desk of Hannah Asgeirsson, Potentate of the Hanseatic Commonwealth

President Dobbs,

Greetings Excellency, I had always been under the impression that the Federation and the Commonwealth during the Tintagylian Era had been if not close allies, decent acquaintances. Therefore, I would like to begin mending the ties between the Australians and the Americans, something that I believe to have been strained from recent events, especially the fall of the Dragon Empire while the Hansa was dormant. In doing so, I have thought long and hard to what in our country that needs drastic improvement, with the expansion of the army and navy, our ground and sea forces have more than enough expertise to continue to fight. However, I would like to focus much more on my air force and I know of the heroic deeds of the Xaristani Air Force that you now encompass. As a sign of respect from both of our sides. I would like to request a few of your ace pilots to come the Hansa and show a bit of our men the ropes for true air combat. Perhaps after this, we can continue to bring our nations further together. Just because we may have different ideologies and are on difference sides of the world does not mean we cannot cooperate with one another.

Sincerely,

Hannah Asgeirsson

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The note had certainly caught Tom Dobbs by surprise, and it was what he didn't know that scared him. He didn't know if Sarah had a hand in all of this, or if this was just simply a new leader reaching out a, rather unorthodox, hand in friendship. Still, his political advisers had told him that this was her MO: be blunt, be unorthodox. It seemed to be working for her so far, so Dobbs decided he would meet an unorthodox maneuver with one of his own. Instead of sending Commander Derek Erton, probably his most polished pilot/diplomat, he instead had someone else in mind. A knock on his door interrupted his thoughts.

"Enter." The door opened and Colonel David K. Atkinson walked in, dressed in his black flightsuit. He snapped to attention and flipped up a salute to Dobbs.

"Colonel Atkinson reporting for duty, sir." Dobbs looked at him for a moment before snapping a salute back.

"No need to be so formal, Davey, my boy. We're not in front of the public." Tom walked forwards and put his arms around the taller pilot in a bear hug. "How're you doing, lad?"

"Not bad, sir. Spending lots of time in the simulators, just keep my boys sharp."

"Ah, yes, I heard about the... incident you and Erton had the other day." Atkinson rolled his eyes.

"Just an old man thinking he can keep pace with the young guns, sir." Dobbs laughed for a moment.

"Well, son, I've got a new mission for you. No more simulator time for the near future."

"What is it, sir? A HALO drop? Low and fast buzzing? Spy mission?"

"Diplomatic, Davey."

"Diplo... what?" Atkinson looked incredulous. "Sir... isn't that a little... out of my league?"

"Well, it is you or Erton." Dobbs smiled, knowing that would get under David's skin. "Hannah Asgeirsson of the Hanseatic Commonwealth has asked for me to send some of our ace pilots over to Australia to show them the ropes, do some diplo meet and greet, and... some R&R." Dobbs smiled at him, pulling out a folder and handing it to him. "These are the orders for the entirety of the Black Knights. Make sure your men have a good time... and watch out for Ms. Asgeirsson. We've been told she's a spitfire."

"Just the way I like them." Atkinson laughed as he took the folder and flipped another salute.

"No international incidents, Davey." Dobbs said as he flipped one back. "You're dismissed."

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"Pravus Ingruo Interceptor Squadron One, callsigns Black Knights, totaling twelve planes, coming in for a landing at Brisbane. Requesting clear landing strip, we have a show planned." Atkinson flipped off his mic and grinned to himself. They wanted ace pilots? They had them. "Black Knights, follow Captain Chelchu down to the strip, 20 feet off the ground, him leading, the rest side by side, three feet between wings. I want touch down from everyone simultaneously. I will fly over you all at 40 feet and loop around before landing myself. They want a show, Knights, let's give one to them. Hanseatic Impression, execute." As they came in for approach, Atkinson pulled above the other pilots and then flipped his plane over so he was flying upside down, looking into the cockpits of his pilots. He smiled as they did exactly what he told them, all flying over the runway and then landing in perfect precision. Atkinson flew over them before flipping his plane over and circling around again. Diving towards the runway, Atkinson pulled up at the last moment, his exhaust creating twin dust clouds as he cut his thrusters, touching down softly and coasting to a stop on the runway. Atkinson pulled up behind the rest of his fighters and smiled, keying his mic again. "Knights, I hope you all look pretty. Time to make our second impression."

The Federation had commissioned brand new dark gray flight suits with black trim for all the Knights, while Atkinson still wore his all black flight suit. He doffed his helmet on his chair and slid on his aviators as he opened his cockpit and climbed down, helmet under his arm. He walked forward, classic pilot look in the late afternoon sun, with his trademark grin plastered to his face. Now this was a good first impression.

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"Incredible." Said one young Lillian's eye as she followed the planes through the sky and down the runway as the smoke began to rise from their landing. "They're amazing." Indeed, much of the Lillian Guard and Hannah's government was out on the observation platform as the American pilots landed on the long runaway towards them. They landed amidst the cheers and hurrahs of the Commonwealth's elite and probably the wooing of countless Lillians. Hannah only shook her head, she remembered back in Finland when a detachment of her soldiers were come into a town for rest and resupplying. The girls would throw themselves on the soldiers and it caused nothing but a great deal of problems. She had no intention of seeing that done here. Though, and she would not admit this to anyone, her heart had jumped just a bit when one of the planes flew over her head.

"Well don't think you're going to do anything out of protocol Dominique. Is that understood." Said the white haired Potentate. "They're pilots here to train our air force, not to take my entire elite guard out on the town."

"Yes Ladyship."

The young leader nodded her head. "Well, c'mon. They're getting out and need to be greeted. Just for heaven's sake don't make a fool of yourself."

Hannah and three other Lillians walked down from the observation deck towards where the planes had landed and their crews walking out. She was in pristine condition herself, black pants were tucked tightly into thick black boots, her undershirt, hidden behind a dazzling white frock coat with golden epaulets on her shoulders. One think that set Hannah apart from pretty much everyone else in her guard and in the country, she was a young woman, only about thirty, twenty-nine years old, and her hair was solid white, that she wore down her back. Her eyes, a flashing emerald green and a thin smile that had a minorly sadistic nature to it. But there was an exotic northern nature to her features. As they approached, she looked at David Atkinson for the first time.

"Oh Lord..."

Hannah remembered a scene like this from one of those action movies she sat through when she was younger. The hip, strong pilot ready to sweep her off her feet. Turning to her Lillians, the pilots had already done their job. But she couldn't help but smile back at the Colonel, whether she was laughing inside, or just a little bit interested. She reached out her hand to his own. "Colonel David Atkinson I presume? I'm Hannah Asgeirsson, Potentate of the Hanseatic Commonwealth. Welcome to Brisbane."

Edited by Sarah Tintagyl
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Their timing could not have been any better, their landings could not have been any better. And if Atkinson knew his pilots like he knew himself, then the entire group could not look any better. He walked straight to the person who looked like she was in charge, and he was rewarded as she was the one who spoke.

"Colonel David Atkinson I presume? I'm Hannah Asgeirsson, Potentate of the Hanseatic Commonwealth. Welcome to Brisbane."

"You presume correctly, Potentate." David took her hand lightly and bowed deeply at the waist, placing a light kiss on the back of her hand. "I am David K. Atkinson, Colonel in the Federation Air Force, and leader of the 1st Interceptor Squadron, callsign 'Black Knights'. Please, call me David." He straightened back up, turning to the pilots arrayed behind him. "Allow me to introduce the Black Knights, Potentate. My second in command and trusted wingman, Captain Tyler Chelchu." Chelchu stepped forward, bowing deeply. "And the leaders of Two and Three flights, Lieutenants Zachary Offer and Jessica Mackin." Both pilots stepped forward, bowing as well.

"All of us, and especially me, Potentate, are at your service." David added a subtle inflection in his voice to add to his broad smile. Whether or not this was a diplomatic trip, he was still himself and still looking to have some fun.

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Hannah chuckled and bowed in accordance with the other Black Knights. "Well David, I'll cut right to the chase since you seem to be a man that likes to know things upfront and well." She smiled. "I'm a woman that deals with things upfront..." She turned, gesturing him to walk with her as the Lillians walked next to the other two pilots, while one talked with Jessica about the flight and a few things unnecessarily important about Hanseatic life.

"...First, you will be assigned as foreign commander of the first Hanseatic flight squadron here in Brisbane. As per my letter, the Hansa is not and does not have an elite air force like other countries have. We've put a lot of time into perfecting our navy and our army, but I believe that the air force is probably the most important thing for a nation to survive in these chaotic times. So naturally, you'll be training them everyday on really whatever you feel they need improvement on. I was a ground commander before the Fall, so I have no clue." She laughed. "Second, you're men are respectable and you seem to be yourself, but my country is not a foreign hang out spot, please try to behave yourself while you're here. Okay? And third." Hannah took him by the shoulder, placing all her strength into the grip and pulled him close. "You respect me, I respect you, its as simple as that. I'm just not one to be crossed, so don't try pulling any tricks with me." She let go and turned him to face her. "Other than that David, I like your style. A little flamboyance can go a lot way." Looking at the Lillians a ways back. "You've already swoon them, try not to take my entire body guard away from me."

With that the Potenate began to walk away from the Colonel, as air force commanders began to approach from the observation deck.

"Oh by the way. If you must speak with me, I'll be in Brisbane for the next few months. Just make sure its important okay." She smiled back and disappeared into the ground, her height still allowing David to see her white hair from a distance.

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David remained stoic throughout the entire speech, though he couldn't help but smile with the way she manhandled him. He'd heard stories about Sarah Tintagyl, but this Hannah... well, she seemed different. And he liked different. She was a challenge, that much was obvious. As the advisers and bodyguards left, David huddled his command together.

"Alright, first things first before we get started here." He reached into his pocket and tossed a box at each of his friends and comrades. "This came in from command mid-flight. Something of a welcoming present. Captain Chelchu, you are hereby promoted to Major. Lieutenant Offer and Lieutenant Mackin, you are both hereby promoted to Captain. We'll have a formal ceremony when we get back, but this obviously entitles all three of you to now command your own squadrons, if you want one."

"Now, for the other eight boys standing over there, we keep them in line. Potentate Asgeirsson wants no impropriety while we are here. Am I saying don't have any fun? No. But if you do, keep it under control and relatively quiet. Tyler, Zachary, tell the guys that if the women want them, fine, but they are to take it slow and not do anything stupid... which means letting the lady suggest everything. They seem to be in charge around here. Jessica, that makes you a goddess among men. Have fun, just stay safe."

"Now, while we are here, we fly only Hanseatic gear, alright? We leave the Mambas in a hangar somewhere. We want them to respect us we work with exactly what they are working with. Capt... Major Chelchu, that's your job. I'll arrange some sim time for us before we get started with these guys tomorrow. Now let's get to work." Atkinson smiled as the three officers went off to perform their respective tasks and he turned to meet the Air Force officials. "Here we go."

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"Black Knight 1, this is Black Knight 2. Respond, over."

"Go ahead Major Chelchu."

"We have eight bogies, repeat zero eight bogies approaching from the west. Range 20 miles. Altitude Angels 25. Advise, over?"

"Kick some $@!, Tyler." Atkinson turned his F-22 Raptor towards the oncoming fighters. Though they were outnumbered two to one, David felt confident in their odds. A warning light popped up on his dash a moment before his entire plane shook and he was jolted forward, the room spinning around him.

"Eject, Lead! Eject, eject, eject!" David reached down and pulled, and the world went black...

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Sighing, David climbed out of his flight simulator. A second later, Tyler pulled himself out of his too.

"So, that was a lot closer than twenty miles. What the hell happened?"

"The other guys must have figured out that with the RADAR diffusing properties on these Raptors, bunching close together made it seem like there were more than there actually were or something. We had one slip right past us. He got you with a missile and then me with guns... the other should be out in a moment."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that..." David said, looking up at the screen. The pilot who had snuck past them was already down, and two more of the opposing Raptors dropped while they were watching. "Damn... that's pretty good. We've trained them well."

"Now we just need to do that with the Hansa."

"Don't worry Tyler. We will... we will."

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Later that night, David was up late typing an e-mail to Hannah regarding his plans for training over the next few weeks.

Potentate,

The following is what my pilots and I will be attempting to train your pilots in over the next few weeks. Hopefully with our help and tutelage, they will mold themselves into an Air Force unrivaled in the Pacific Rim. The schedule of drills and exercises are attached. If you see something you would like changed, please do not hesitate to let me know.

Sincerely,

David K. Atkinson

Colonel, FAF

Federation of Pravus Ingruo

P.S. On the way over, I read about your assault on Nordic Reich during the Valkyrie War. Most impressive reading, I assure you. Seems you're about as talented on the ground as I am in the air.

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Two days later, the Potentate would become a Queen.

Darwin was a beautiful city, however until some permanent residence could be established Hannah returned to Brisbane to monitor the Hanseatic transfer to Australian life and really, besides the flag, nothing much changed at all. The Hansa had always been a pseudo-monarchy, much like Promised Land seemed to be the same way and so for the most part daily life didn't change. However for Australia's new queen, life changed quickly and suddenly at the blink of an eye managing affairs spread out across the Queendom and this was only the first week. She had been so busy in fact that the Queen had almost forgotten about the American pilots from Pravus Inguro training her air force. It had been the e-mail that David had sent her when she opened her laptop late in the evening, relaxing from her new wave of stress. Clicking on the link, she read it tiredly, but she smiled at finishing it. "The Valkyrie War. Lord..." She mused. "Its been so long."

Sitting down she typed out her own response.

David,

Well I guess you don't need to call me Potentate anymore, if you've kept up with the news that is. The tiara fits nicely though, I'm happy to let you know. Anyways, I've been told about your plans for the training procedure and I'm looking forward to the progress they make, with the Queendom established a strong air force is invaluable to the survival of Australia, I have you to thank. In addition, please tell President Dobbs his well-wishes were welcomed with open arms. By the way, I'm honored that you got to read any literature on the Valkyrie War, it was really one of my best moments as a ground commander and trust me, I think that if I could go back into the past sometimes, I most definitely would. For your training sessions, be warned, I may be watching, so try to impress the set of eyes that are off in the distance. You're playing with her toys after all.

Regards,

H.R.H, Hannah Asgeirsson

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Even with the coronation of Hannah as Queen and the excitement among the Hansa, David had made sure to keep all the pilots, both his and theirs, focused and busy. As nice as it was here, and as much as Hannah intrigued him even more now that she was Queen, he had a job to do. And she wouldn't be impressed with him, no matter how dashing a smile or skilled he was, if her pilots failed under his tutelage. Since there was so much excitement, David had kept all the pilots confined to the simulator chamber for the past few days, but now it was time to take these Hansa out into the real air.

Their mission today was a simple one. In an arid part of the northern Australia desert, they would practice ground bombing raids. While the F-22 wasn't ideally suited to the role, it was a good in a Wild Weasel function, and would be needed to suppress SAM sites, along with ground armor and troops from time to time. Today's test would see what the pilots had absorbed during the Black Knight's teachings.

The format was simple. Each pilot would do the run once, with automated weapons. There would be a few tanks and APCs, a couple of SAM sites littered around, and then the planes were to return to base. Since their primary targets were the ground forces and the secondary sources were the SAMs, any SAMs taken out would be bonus points. The pilots had one run through a valley to wreck as much automated havoc as possible, and then had to turn around and come back to base for their score. Even David didn't know exactly what was out there. Major Chelchu had organized this run, and the point was to make David run it as well, under the same conditions as the other pilots, so they could see how they stacked up to him.

As David waited on the runway, he was getting score updates onto the display in the cockpit of his Raptor. First pilot made it halfway through before being "killed". Another made it all the way through but was then "killed" at the end. There were no crashes, which was a good thing, but none of the twenty-four Hansa pilots made it all the way through the course and safely back to base without being "killed". David slid off his aviators into his breast pocket and pulled down his helmet visor. Time for a show.

He took off and moved into position at the end of the valley. "You ready for this, David? I think I cooked up a good one. If I didn't know everything, I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't make it through."

"Well, then I'll just have to prove you wrong, Tyler. Anything you can do I can do better." He heard laughter coming from the other end.

"Targets have been uploaded to your computer. Your timer will start when you enter the valley. Good luck." David double clicked his mic and then turned his Raptor and swooped into the valley. He checked his weapons and target positions, finding he only had enough weapons for all but one of the ground targets... and there was one SAM site out of line that could pose a problem. Grinning, David switched over to his Air-to-Surface (ASM) missiles. He targeted the SAM site first that was off to the side and squeezed the trigger, sending a "missile" shooting out. Ignoring the missile lock warnings that painted his screen, he dove low, only fifty feet off the ground, and switched to guns. The first two ground targets lined up nicely and David let loose, "firing" a stream of bullets at them. The rounds slammed into the two mini-convoys of troop transports, lighting up two "kills" on his display. A third, from the other SAM site, popped up a second later. Switching back to missiles, David regulated his throttle and altitude, "destroying" every single target in the valley, with a missile to spare. With a victory shout, he peeled towards the end of the valley before beginning to circle back around.

Which is when his missile warning light shot on. Not a missile lock, but a missile launch. In that split second, David fired off "flares" and pushed his stick down and to the side, diving instead of climbing like most pilots would. His sensors indicated the "missile" shot past him, but there was still a lock. Wheeling around, Atkinson targeted the source of the "firing", a SAM battery hidden under camouflage in the hill. He grinned.

"Nice one, Tyler." "Firing" a final missile, David "destroyed" the final target. "Hahaha, Major. That is how you fly a course."

"Indeed, Colonel. Indeed. See you back at base."

"Roger that. You owe me a beer for that last one, by the way."

"Don't I know it. Chelchu out." David turned his plane back towards base. The video from his flight would be downloaded, analyzed, and gone over with the Hansa pilots. Pulling into the airport with another flared landing, Atkinson hopped out of his Raptor, seeing Tyler already there, along with the rest of the Black Knights, and few Hansa pilots. A round of applause reached him, and David tossed his helmet aside, slipping on his aviators and taking Tyler under his arm.

"Ladies and gentlemen, for all of you who were frustrated today, this is the man responsible, and now this is the man who will be buying you all a round."

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After the initial applause from the pilots, the sound of a single solitary clap sounded from behind the ground. There standing alone, was a white haired woman, only some thirty years old. She had a slight smile on her face, large round sunglasses hiding her piercing green eyes, and her sun dress blew lightly in the breeze. Her Royal Highness, herself. The Hanseatic pilots immediately bowed their heads low to the queen as she began to walk through the crowd, many of them as well beginning to genuflect to the ground on one knee. To this, she shook her head. "Please, I'm a military woman first, you don't need to bow." Then turning back to David, nodded. "You put on quite a show Colonel Atkinson, dwarfing my own pilots in comparison, I have to say, I'm impressed."

She turned and pointed to the desert where they they had been flying over. "Just standing out there off by myself, its amazing how much you can see with a pair of binoculars and some quick thinking." Hannah cleared her throat and tapped her chin with her fingers. "So tell me." She turned to a Hanseatic pilot. "Are you going to be able to do that in a few weeks or is that only going to be something that the American's have access to?"

"We'll try our hardest Your Highness."

Hannah twirled a finger through her hair. "And is Colonel Atkinson a teacher that knows what he is talking about, or is he just a show boater? After all, none of you survived the trials."

"We've only just began training Your Highness." Said another pilot.

"Indeed."

"But he knows exactly what to talk about, he knows the methods, the tricks of the trade. An ace is an ace Majesty, no matter how you look at it."

"Is that so?" Hannah looked back at Atkinson and smiled. "Well what would a infantry commander like myself understand about you birds of the air." Her smile shrank into a solemn line. "Its good to see progress being made Colonel. I look forward to more reports and anxiously await the day when my pilots can do what you just did." The smile flashed again as she turned on her heels. "Have a good day gentlemen."

"Your Highness." The pilots said in unison, before Hannah stopped and reached into her pocket for a small booklet and tossed it over to David. The Tintagylian Age: Memoirs of a Hanseatic Commander.

"You said you enjoyed reading about the Valkyrie War. There you go David. Humor me." She smiled back and then continued to walk into the desert sunlight.

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The Queen's presence only half surprised the ace pilot, and he bent at the waist in a bow as she approached. He smiled inwardly when his other pilots did the same. He wouldn't have expected his sometimes rag-tag group of pilots, all aces in their own right, to act in such a regal way so quickly and so consistently, but he would have been lying if he had said he wasn't proud of them.

As the Queen turned to walk away, David glanced down at the book she had tossed him. He smiled, knowing the challenge she had placed before him, but underestimating his character and placing him in a stereotype could be a mistake she would rue.

"Today's lesson," David began, making sure his voice was loud enough that the retreating Queen would be able to hear him, "is twofold. The first, is to always be prepared for anything, whether it be a hidden SAM battery or a Queen handing you her memoirs to read thoroughly." A roll of laughter came after his last words. "The second, is to use unorthodox tactics. The world's air forces are mostly trained in the same manner, the basics. We are not here to be basic, ladies and gentlemen. We are here to be extraordinary. I promised the Queen to make you into the best damn air force in the Pacific Rim and I will damned if I fail in that endeavor. So, we use unorthodox tactics, whether it be diving towards the ground while flying at a low altitude to dodge a missile, or reading the book a Queen gave you front to back and back to front to prove a point. Understood?" A chorus of affirmatives greeted him.

"Good. Now go out and get that round, but do not party too hard. If this had been a real exercise, I'd be the only one standing here right now. Get to know your wingmates better. Laugh. Discuss tactics. And be here at 0530 tomorrow morning for PT. We have more drills we're going to conduct. Now go enjoy yourselves."

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Hannah couldn't help but stop when she heard the Colonel began to speak. His voice was definitely of a higher volume from when he had talked before, so she knew that she was to be included in this conversation. She couldn't help but laugh, in a way Hannah was a bit disappointed. After the exodus to Australia and her subsequent promotions up the Hanseatic ladder of command, she was regarded in one of two ways. Either she was a complete !@#$%* that most male and female commanders attempted to avoid, for her rather 'unorthodox' methods of getting things done, or she was idolized by the young captains and lieutenants rising to the top. But she was either treated horribly, or that she could walk on water, both of which annoyed her to no end. Atkinson was different, he was playing with her and he wasn't just falling down, for ever quip she made, every humorous insult to batter him down and possibly build herself up, was met by him nearly doing the same.

She watched as the pilots dispersed and after just a minute or so, it was only her and David staring back at each other across the sand. Curling her toes inside her sandals, the Queen crossed her arms and smirked. "So you email me how interested you are in the Valkyrie War and my part in it and then you use it for humor. Tsk-tsk-tsk." She shook her head. "Using a general's story as the butt of a joke, maybe I should dismiss you from Hanseatic service now Colonel Atkinson." Hannah blinked. "But the better question, is why are you still here? You're comrades go off to drink themselves in a stupor at the bar, my pilots to do the same, or study your acrobatic tricks and dream of doing their own. What are you planning to do for the evening? Early bedtime?"

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David turned at the sound of the Queen's voice and inclined his head slightly to her in respect, also removing his aviators and sliding them into his pocket. Though he knew his gaze would be met by her sunglasses, he could at least pretend he was looking into her eyes.

"Your Highness." He said, smiling at her. "I would certainly hope they would not drink themselves into a stupor, but allowing them to go without me allows them to act as they would without command around. If they choose to drink themselves into a stupor before an early morning tomorrow, that will tell me a lot about their character. If they only have a drink or two, that will tell me a lot as well." He glanced down at the book she had tossed him.

"As for me, well, I think I have some reading to do tonight. I can only hope it will be as interesting as the battle reports I read in my fighter on our trans-Pacific flight. I'm not your typical pilot, your Highness. Reading is part of what put me here today. Studying data from my flights, odds, probabilities. Your pilots will learn that in time. I promise you that. By the time I am done, all of them will ace a course like the one we ran today."

David looked down at the book again and smiled at her. "I'm going to head to my Mamba and take it for a quick spin, making sure I don't get too comfortable with these Raptors and I'm heading to the flight center to study the tapes from all of their flights, seeing what everyone needs to work on. Is there anything else I can do for you or help you with?"

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Hannah nodded and took off her own sunglasses as Atkinson did the same. Her bright eyes shinning brilliantly in the sunlight. "Well I hope you enjoy the read Colonel, I put a lot of time into it and if you come across any grammar mistakes that the publisher didn't catch or worse yet any tactical errors that I made. Be a doll and tell me about them, alright? But as for you being a typical pilot, I would never have thought to title you as something like that." She stuck out her hands, almost in surrender. "Planes are definitely not my cup of tea, I can tell you that right now, I've never been much of a flyer and being in the air alone, just not something I would want to do every day of my life. So when I say that you are dealing with some brave men and women, to be able to do the stuff I saw you and your men do today, I was very impressed. Trust me, if I come of as cross, its just the damn shell that I have over me that I've been building since I was eighteen." The Queen chuckled and let out a small sigh.

"But I'm sorry for disturbing you Colonel, thank you for taking the time to humor me. Have a good evening." She bowed and turned to walk back to where her escort waited. Fiddling her fingers as she went.

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"You as well, your Highness." David inclined his head again as she turned to walk away. Something that she said struck him however, an opportunity perhaps. Granted, he was crazy for thinking of it as an opportunity in the terms he was, but he was nothing if not crazy.

"Your Highness," he said, jogging after her before walking alongside, "You know, if you ever wanted to go up, you wouldn't have to go up alone. My Mamba is a specially modified to have two seats... it's actually how I flew Tom Dobbs out of the country when the Generals took over a number of years ago. So, the invitation is there, your Highness. If you ever want to see the world as I see it, you just let me know." He inclined his head again. "I will see you later... Hannah." He flashed his trademark smile one more time before turning on his heal, walking towards the hangar where his Mamba was kept.

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She stopped mid-step and turned as David continued back towards the hangar. Something had struck a chord when he had said her name, most of the time, especially now, given her new title, that would be at least a minor insult. For a foreign officer to show such disrespect to a royal. But who was she kidding, she was about as royal as the dirt she was standing on, she was just very intelligent about the world. 'No, just keep walking, don't turn around, do not turn around.' The Queen thought to herself, but slowly she could feel her feet beginning to turn in the sand. "Colonel!" She paused. "I mean David, wait." Hannah walked up next to him, he was just slightly taller than her as she looked into his eyes. "I...I've never been in a jet before, just in large transport planes, or private aircraft, nothing like the birds you guys fly.

'No Hannah, no, don't do it.'

"Would that invitation be up for around nowish?" She asked, almost nervously, but with a small, though very present tone of hope.

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"Now?" David almost laughed, thinking she was joking. He hadn't ever expected her to really take him up on the offer. In fact, he had been half expecting to be told to stay on his Mamba and fly himself out of the country for using her actual name. "Uh... well, sure, why not? I know Jessica has a spare flight suit that would be about your size, and I'm sure you guys have some spare helmets somewhere. I'll bet we could find one that will fit you." He smiled at her again. Turning, Atkinson walked with her to the hanger, where his Mamba was parked out in front. "I'll perform my pre-flight inspection, your Highness. I'll be right here whenever you're ready."

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After he agreed she made sure to return to a neutral mood of not carrying, or at least not trying to play into David's hand. She didn't want to give him any ideas, this was a strictly a way to understand just what they were doing up there. To make sure he actually knew what he was talking about. "Well good, now I can see for myself, just what kind of training you're giving to my men." Hannah joked. "Make sure you're not just a hack with some acrobatic gifts."

Reaching the hangar, it was abandoned except for the Black Knight's Mambas and the Hanseatic Raptors off in the center of the building. As David went in one direction, Hannah walked towards the equipment room to find something a bit more suitable to wear. After shuffling through dozens of flight suits, she finally found Jessica's and as David had said, it had been a good fit, though a bit mismatched when it came to arm lengths and leg size and such. But it was close enough and it was comfortable, though Hannah couldn't help but feel a bit of nervousness creeping into her mind. "Oh this is such a bad idea. Such a bad idea." Taking a helmet off of the shelf, she tucked it under her arm, while bringing out a a scrunchy to put her hair up in a loose bulb in the back.

Stepping out of the equipment room, she looked out at Atkinson's plane as he was finishing up the pre-flight preparations and sighed. But as she had said to herself before, she had to stay on top, some snappy American pilot was not about to send her reeling in a plane. "All right, ready." She smirked. "So is this the toy that you fly in? Mr. Acrobat."

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OOC: Picture of the Mamba here. Atkinson's is just all black.

IC:

David laughed when he heard Hannah's description of the Mamba. There were two reasons for it: he hardly saw the plane as a toy, and he was nervous as hell. He was nervous for two reasons: because he was flying the Queen around in his personal aircraft, and because he was flying a lady he fancied, who happened to be a Queen, around in his personal aircraft. He also realized things were coming in twos a lot today.

"The AS-37 Mamba, pride of the Federation Air Force. Capable of hitting speeds of Mach 2, and an altitude of 57,000 feet, which it can reach in just over a minute. At capacity, it holds 12 AA missiles in internal bays." David smiled and ran his hand over the fuselage. "This plane and I have been through a lot together." He brushed a minuscule speck of dust off the side where some white outlines of planes were. Twenty six in all, in fact. A record of his kills.

"Well, shall we get going?" David offered Hannah the ladder to get in. The Mamba could fly with one or two... most squadrons flew with two, but the Black Knights all flew with one. Hannah would be sitting in the RADAR operator/machine gunner's chair, behind David, but still with a spectacular view. After making sure she was all strapped in, David climbed in, a flight tech dragging the ladder away. He pulled his helmet on and swore he could hear his heart pounding. He had double checked his pre-flight checklist. He wanted no mistakes with her on board. Nervously, he keyed his internal mic.

"Ready for takeoff, m'lady?"

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As David went on with his description of the plane, Hannah could only hear a few certain words. One of them being. "Mach 2 and 57,000 feet." She wanted to leave, that was quite enough. A jet that went top speed and only a little layer of Plexiglass separating her from being completely obliterated in the air. It was almost too much for her to handle, she should turn around, turn around...around. "Pfft. You make it seem like this is going to be scary."

'I DID NOT JUST SAY PFFT..."

In short, she was petrified.

Climbing up the ladder, Hannah got into the seat behind where David would be seated. She strapped herself in and as the glass covering came down on top of them, and the oxygen masks filled up, she closed her eyes and said a prayer. At least if she died now, she knew that she had at least tried to get forgiven by whatever god happened to be watching over her at the moment. The controls lit up, but she kept her hands on her lap, twiddling her fingers nervously before the sound of the microphone blasted into her ears. They were ready for take off. She tried to be brave, she wanted to be brave. But even as spoke, the words barely came out. "Y-Y-yeah...r-r-ready." The adrenaline building up in her body to astronomical levels, but in the back of her mind, this was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to her since the plane crash in the Arctic and her 'alteration'.

"Lets do this thing!"

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David smiled slight behind his mask. Alright, David... let's go, he thought. Taxiing slowly out of the hangar, he paused on the runway. "Tower control, this is Colonel Atkinson in Black Knight One. Just going for a little joyride, over."

"Roger that, Black Knight One. Have fun up there. Air space is clear."

"Good to hear, Tower. Atkinson, over and out." He lined up his Mamba and then fired up the engines, sending the craft hurtling down the runway. He pulled up, gaining altitude, and flipped the craft on its wing, pulling over to where the exercise had been today. The pieces were still there, so he decided to take Hannah through it... with a few more tricks of course. Those tricks included flying upside down for a portion only two hundred feet off the ground. Even at that height, the ground looked so close it seemed like you could reach out and touch it.

Grinning, and having more fun with it now, David flipped the plane back over and suddenly pulled back on the stick, sending the Mamba in an almost vertical climb. He held the stick back, climbing higher and higher, his eye on the altimeter. At 50,000 feet, he leveled off and put the plane in cruise mode, keying his mic again.

"And this, Queen, is the view of your Queendom." He said, grinning brilliantly behind his mask.

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It was the most incredible feeling that she had ever had. Hannah literally felt like a bird in the sky, soaring through the air and unimaginable speeds to behold the beautiful landscape underneath them. As they bolted out of the hangar, she held her breath, her head pushed back against the chair, faster and faster they went, higher and higher they climbed. It feel like her heart would burst any moment, that her chest was coming apart at the seams, as her body was inflating with an energy she had not felt in years. They went in circles, upside down and right side up. They flew through the clouds and into the bright red, evening sun and slowly as they spun around, Atkinson doing his tricks of the trade, she could feel her mouth beginning to open, but not to scream in terror or fear, but in excitement and joy. Finally as he swung the plane up, Hannah watched at the sky fell around them, she switched off her mic for a moment, least she deafen the pilot, and screamed as loud as she could. She kept screaming, she couldn't stop. Her face was that of a child on a roller coaster, grinning from ear to ear, her hands clenched tightly into two fists. It was amazing.

Eventually, David brought the plane back to a level movement as they glided gracefully through the upper atmosphere. There below them, the Australian Outback stretched far into the distant horizon. It was incredible and for the girl who had just been crowned queen of everyone under that horizon, the sight nearly brought tears to her eyes. "Its...beautiful. I've never seen anything like this before. So this is Australia." She chuckled. "I never knew." Looking back into the plane, she smiled behind the helmet. "I owe you an apology Colonel Atkinson, this was quite the adventure, you know precisely what you're doing and this is definitely not a toy." Then losing the serious attitude that she had carried around with her. "And the most fun I've had in a long time. You're quite the pilot. Thanks for doing this for me."

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With the mask on, Hannah couldn't see his smile, but he hoped his eyes were smiling as much as his mouth was in the rear view mirror. And still, even while this had been fun... he had a few more tricks up his sleeve. "Hang on, Hannah." He said, and suddenly flipped the plane over and started heading towards the ground, picking up speed as his nose was pointed straight down. He grinned, knowing she had to be either scared out of her wits or loving this ride. He pulled up on the stick, leveling off just a hundred feet above the ground, still racing along at high speed. Approaching the airport, he keyed his mic again.

"Tower, this is Black Knight One... keep your heads down." David grinned, shutting off his mic and then whipping past the tower, only about 20 feet away. Smiling, David lowered his speed as he circled back around, coming in for a more conventional landing this time. Slowly, he taxied into the hanger, shutting down the Mamba and popping the cockpit. After the tech brought a ladder over, he climbed out, turning and offering his hand to Hannah.

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As the cockpit door opened up. Hannah took a quick breath and her eyes fluttered. She looked down at her hands and took off her helmet, she was still alive and she felt amazing. Reaching down, she took David's hand as he helped her back down to the ground and shook her head in unbelievability. Her feet touching the ground she looked up at David and then down at the ground. "That was...that was a lot of fun, I appreciate you doing that for me Da- Colonel Atkinson. You've shown me things that I haven't seen...well...ever in my life. It was a real treat. Some how, I'll have to return the favor, so if you think of anything I can do to repay you. Maybe we can work something out. Like maybe you don't have to read my memoirs." She chuckled and stuck her hand out.

"Like I said, I appreciate it. But I should probably be getting back to Brisbane. I don't want to keep you and I know I'm going to have a stack of work to look over when I get back."

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David lightly took Hannah's hand, again putting in a bow from the waist, his lips brushing over the back of it. As he straightened, he smiled. "I will read your memoirs, your Highness. And I shall enjoy doing it every second I am." He started walking slowly with her back to her guard. "Enjoy your paperwork, Queen. I will make sure to see you after I finish reading your memoirs." He tossed her another smile and a wink before turning away again, already pulling her memoirs out of his front pocket.

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