She can hear them, her wing-mates, calling over the communications, over the yelling operator, the screaming warnings from her plane's own controls.
“Pull up, pull up, pull up--!”
“Reaper, pull up!”
“God damn it Rookie!”
“Fuck fuck fuck--”
She doesn't. Not yet. She's so close, she can almost taste it. She lays into closer targets with machine gun fire, her targeting system knocking off the distance between her and the preselected enemy. She's not in missile range, not yet, but her nose stays tilted downward and she drops at a dangerous pace, plummets, fingers curled around the joystick.
The piloting system wails at her. Her wings flirt with the sides of buildings, her propulsion rattles glass. The readouts show her altitude. She's close enough to the ground she could damned well land--
The targeting system flashes red, diamond-in-square, just for a second.
A second is all she needs.
She hits the buttons in rapid succession with her thumb, lets go of the joystick with her left hand, slaps out at the emergency breaking system as she pulls her foot off the propulsion, twists joystick and physics at angles that make it hard to tell direction.
Her nose finds the sky for a moment-- she releases the break, punches the throttle. The targeting system has already found her a new mark; bogie chasing her wing-mate, peppering the sky with a hail of bullets, trying to clip his feathers.
Adrenaline sings in her blood, g-forces gnaw at her bones. She could have been moments too late; lost in a scatter of flaming wreckage, buried in her previous target, dead and lost with her plane. It's not even a rental.
She's not. It was close, but she's not. She can almost hear the operator clenching his teeth, his nerves searing his skin, high strung and grateful and horrified, angry. Her brothers-in-arms are busy and she doesn't know what will happen when they all head back to base, but something will.
Something will. Something has to give.
She breathes, manages to speak-- or thinks she does, but adrenaline sings in her blood too loud for her to hear her own words.
Someone laughs in her ears, breathless, joyous, relieved. Crossbones, she thinks.
“You little bitch,” Crossbones croons, and she registers him as distant, radar puts him across the skies. She punches machine-gun holes in her enemy as she flies past it, narrowly missing getting cut in half by the wing. Her plane screams it's too high and she hits the break, twists, turns at an angle to follow the bogie. Her targeting flares red and she hits the buttons, barrel-rolls to dodge a missile of her own, breaking hard to confirm her kill as the shattered remains fly past her. “I am going to fucking skin you alive, don't you ever fucking do that again--”
He sounds fond, maybe. Impressed, a little.
She hits a button and calls out to him, acknowledges him, or thinks she does, and then she lets it go as her system directs her after someone else.
Of course, she does it again.