Dogfight – A Dystopian Wars Short Story

This is a story I wrote for the Spartan Games forum based on their epic game, Dystopian Wars!

I remember clearly when aerial combat consisted of nothing more, or less, than slinging a halfbrick (I used to use the old Staffordshire Blue; lovely things as they are, they’re also weighty and carry a rather sharp cut-edge) out of ones cockpit at the head of the enemy. I was always highly accomplished at this having set numerous records bowling at cricket grounds the length and breadth of the kingdom.
So when I embarked upon my virgin flight in one of our first machine-armed fighters I was completely dismissive of the likelihood of ever achieving a hit on anything but a stationary or near-stationary target. The principles of aerial combat, I believed, revolved around the turning capabilities of the craft to sustain, and possibly close, range with the target and the ability to break away and gain altitude to toss ones brick downwards upon the bonce of ones enemy. With the machine guns firmly fixed forwards in this new single-seater craft (the double-manned craft with turreted weapon to the rear having become obsolescent in the wake of faster and more dramatic engagements in which the gunner was oft targeted by more agile planes, the death of whom rendered the pilot and remainder of said craft practically impotent (unless, of course, they’d brought a brick with them)) I imagined that the only outcome of such a duel would be that the plane with the faster rate of turn would prevail (being able to undercut their opponent and turn inside of them to bring their weapons to bear before the other pilot could break off and ‘bug-out’, as the practice of aerial retreat is, rather charmingly, known to our Federated cousins).
Imagine, then, my dismay at being forced into my first combat with a much lighter, faster and more agile opponent in the skies near Rotterdam.
We were escorting a rather unique, new model, bomber on a run into Prussian waters, when my squadron mates and I were set upon by a gaggle of brightly painted (the colour compared favourably to the clouds, if I remember rightly; cloud-moflage you might say) little fighters bearing Prussian colours. Needless to say, our fist priority was to protect the bomber, but our friends at the Intelligence division would tan our backsides nine shades of purple if we failed to gauge the capabilities of these new planes (particularly in combat). My squadron commander, Captain LeBuef – ‘Beefy’ as we called him – ordered two of us, myself and my good chum Lawrence King, to move offensively against the enemy and keep them occupied whilst the bomber was escorted by the rest to it’s objective in Holland. We had already determined rendezvous coordinates before setting off, in the case of us being split up during the mission, so it was decided that we would proceed directly there once our engagement was concluded.
Kingy took the lead; swinging to meet the first Prig head on on a collision course. ‘It’s a bravery test, then’ thought I, and so followed suit; lining up my new, darkly painted crosshairs on the second of the Prussian flyers.
We were well aware of the effective range of our new weapons but I communicated to Kingy that we might make use of them as a sort of motivator; to force the Prigs to evade and, hopefully, betray some of the secrets of their craft. “We’ll not hit them at this range, mate” I recall him saying, “Not shooting to hit” I replied, “just going to put the willies up ’em; see if they break”. Kingy waggled his wings in agreement and I watched a stream of bright bullets pour from each wing towards the oncoming Prussians. We were close enough that I could hear the purr-like whisper of the guns as they span and reloaded and fired again and again. The lead Prig juked and swerved sharply, unsure as to the specifications of our weaponry, and his mates began to weave as they advanced upon us.
I glanced behind to see the bomber and the rest of my squadron disappear into a wide bank of blue-white cloud, their wingtips brushing coiled contrails behind them as they slipped into the fluffy sheet.
Looking back ahead, I saw one of Kingy’s bullets ping off the nose of the lead Prig. The pilot took it as fair warning and yanked up on the yoke; ascending hard. Two of his fellows followed suit, either trying to lull us into a climbing pursuit to expose our slightly softer bellies to the remaining opposition, or to gain height for a diving attack. We presumed the latter, so up Kingy went; nose thrusting for the brilliant blue of the sky, his guns wound down as he released the trigger. I followed him, slightly behind and to the left.
Surely enough, the Prigs levelled before too long; their bodies, more than their craft, incapable of sustaining further height. Suddenly the lead banked sharply and the other two crossed in front of him and headed back in the other direction, apparently inviting us to give chase, which we did. The lead plane, still curving around to the right, dipped under us as we pursued the others, who ducked and wove furiously. Both Kingy and myself were close enough to fire and I squeezed down on the little trigger, trying to keep my crosshairs on my quarry as we had practiced back in Blighty. I watched the golden tinted rounds sprint away from the barrels of my guns and strafe smartly across the rudder of the Prussian plane, peppering the light paintwork with dark, jagged spots. I noticed that the plane seemed instantly sluggish on the turn and fired again. This time, the bullets struck his wing and I almost chuckled to myself as charred fragments sailed past me, trailing streamers of smoke. The plane began to dip and spin and the pilot lost control. I watched as the craft plummeted into the clouds below and I was beset by a horrible feeling of vertigo and a strong respect and dislike for the weapons which still spat golden flame from each of my wings. I had just realised, you see, quite how devastating these machines could be.
But I didn’t have long to ponder this feeling; I heard the swish and saw the bright flash as Prussian bullets whizzed over my canopy, then felt a slight bump and heard a clipped pattering sound as the bullets ripped into the armoured plating on my tail.
Immediately I signalled to King that I was going to evade and he acknowledged with a sharp word; his mind still on the enemy fighter before him.
This was before the days of assigned wingmen and the practices of assigned attacker/defender roles, indeed, it was before the time when aerial combat manoeuvring was a recognised term, before we had named the Split-S and the Stanley Turn and we were simply trying our damndest to survive whilst making sure that the other bugger didn’t! Any semblance of wingmannery perforce is purely basic formation flying and done with next to no thought of tactical advantage.
That being the case, I found myself acting quite alone as I rolled my little fighter and pulled back, hard on the yoke; my face blotched with bursting blood vessels as I fought against the G-forces and struggled to come back up and around inside the Prig’s turn. He’d seen what I’d done, obviously, an was already dancing his plane up, down, left, right, spinning and waltzing, trying to evade my guns as I flipped back over, the turn complete, my sights on his bobbing and weaving rudder once more.
I glimpsed, momentarily, King’s fire strike the side-wall of his target ahead an off to the right, before the Prussian dove and I thrust the stick forwards to follow.
He pulled up sharply, far sharper than I could, and rolled once, twice, then banked in and down, his guns now high-side and pointing straight at me. I span out to the right and pulled up and over, flying upside down for a brief second before flipping onto my wing and curling back on the reverse of the course I had taken. I spotted him from the corner of my eye as he banked to follow and I began a long, lazy loop around, hoping to trap him into slipping in behind me for a quick shot.
He took the bait and the second he was behind me I lowered my speed and quickly pulled around into a sharper turn, almost three hundred and sixty degrees. He zipped past me but I was already pulling the trigger and his side was riddled with holes before my turn was complete and I was up on the high-right of him, no more than seventy feet behind. I climbed still more and watched him bank to the right and begin diving. I pushed my nose down and dove with him, closing the angle as I did so. As soon as I ha a clear shot I took it and watched as bullets slammed into the top of his plane. One pierced the canopy and I shuddered slightly as a gout of blood sprayed the inside of the glass red.
My enemy defeated I turned back onto the heading for the rendezvous and dipped into the cover of the darkening clouds.

No one ever saw King again; we can only assume that he was killed in the engagement.
I reached the rendezvous and was met there not three hours later by Beefy himself who informed me that they had been followed and attacked by the three planes that we had not been able to engage. The others had acquitted themselves handsomely, apparently, destroying all three Prigs with no losses and not even a scratch in the bomber, which had gone on to decimate a munitions factory in coastal Holland.
I was awarded for my actions, but it was the firs of many and King was the first of many friends I would never see again in my life of war.

*From the prologue to ‘My Life Of War’ by Flight Admiral Sir Matthew Stanley*

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~ by ninjabreadmen on January 11, 2011.

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