Author's Notes: I wondered why Kimberly would have dropped Tommy like she did, and just the letter seemed out of character. At the same time, a debate had grown over how current fighters in the U.S. inventory would have performed against Quadrafighters. Add in a character invovled in that, stir, and... here's what you've got. The first in a series...
The four F-16C Block 60 Fighting Falcons were on a routine test exercise – a live SHOOTEX, as the pilots called it. A B-52G from the Louisiana Air National Guard was carrying the half-dozen targets – drones made from Russian missiles acquired to keep them out of the hands of rogue nations – and would be approaching from the west.
“Tiger 11 to Tiger flight, stay alive out there,” Colonel Keith Martin, call sign “Kmart,” said over the frequency.
“Sentry Sierra to Tiger 11, I’ve got six bogies, bearing 255, range 230, speed 1100.” The E-3C Sentry, an Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS), had picked up the bogies.
“Tiger flight, turn to kill. 255, increase to 600.” Martin’s response was calm. They’d gone over the plan, and had it committed to memory. They fire their AMRAAMs head-on, then turn back to get a shot at those that got past the initial volley.
Tiger 14, Hal Elliot, was 19 years old, young for a test pilot, but he’d made his way through an aeronautical program at his high school in Miami. His old friend, Kimberly Anne Hart, was surprised at that. He was also a natural tactician, and had almost a sixth sense when it came to aerial combat.
That sense was nagging at him. Wasn’t Hippo supposed to launch the drones from the northwest?
He took a look at his radar display. With a closing speed of nearly 1800 miles per hour, he had all of five minutes…
The fighters split into two groups of three. The drones couldn’t do that, Hal protested silently, they were unguided. Then something else went into his head. They were not drones. A second display, a downlink from the Sentry, had a single blip right where the B-52G was supposed to come from…
Meaning that they were charging towards the real thing.
“Tiger 14 to Tiger Lead, those are not the drones! They’re the real thing, repeat, they’re the real thing!”
“Sentry Sierra to Tiger Flight, evade, evade! Those are Quadrafighters, repeat Quadrafighters!”
“Tiger Flight, split up!”
The F-16s broke, but Hal took the time to lock an AIM-120 on the incoming fighters, and fire. “Tiger Four, Slammer away!”
There, he told himself, that ought to make them dodge. He made a mental note NOT to tell Kim about this flight if he could help it.
The Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, or AMRAAM, was the best air-to-air missile in the world, having scored multiple kills during wars in the Middle East and Balkans. The missile, when fired at a target within its “no-escape zone,” could track down the most violently maneuvering aircraft with the best electronic systems. However, this shot, intended as a distraction, was at a fighter that was flying towards the missile at high speed, and not trying to evade. The AIM-120A didn’t need to make any maneuvers save for those to turn towards its target after the launch.
The missile, flying at Mach 4, met the lead Quadrafighter head-on, and the warhead’s fuse detonated the 45-pound warhead at the moment of impact on the alien craft’s canopy.
On Sentry Sierra, the controller shook his head as Hal had fired the missile. The Machine Empire’s forces were quite advanced, probably even having faster-than-light drives. No way was a missile, even an AMRAAM, going to kill one of the bad guys. All it could do was make them dodge – and piss them off. The entire crew watched as the icon representing the missile closed in on the icon representing its target.
The target flew just as straight as the drones, right into the missile.
“Direct hit,” one junior controller reported.
The icon vanished. “Holy…” The junior controller breathed, checking his displays. If what he’d seen with his eyes was correct, this was a hard kill.
The senior controller turned to the junior coordinator. “Looks like a kill to me,” he said.
“Yes, sir,” the junior controller said. Just as he was about to radio Tiger flight, Kmart’s excited voice broke in.
“Tiger 11 to Sentry Sierra, splash one Quadrafighter. Hal’s missile hit. That’s a kill, repeat that’s a kill! We can kill these bastards!”
“Looks like it,” the senior controller said, trying to contain his excitement. One other bogey was closing in. “Tiger Flight, weapons free. Good hunting.”
Hal Elliot turned the F-16 to his left as one Quadrafighter tried to get on the tail of his wingman, First Lieutenant Wally Powers. Hal selected his cannon, and let loose with a snapshot, scoring a direct hit in the cockpit and sending the Quadrafighter spiraling out of control towards a watery grave.
Wally bagged another one with a Sidewinder, forming up with Hal as they closed in on the other three. One of them was gone, claimed by an AMRAAM from Martin’s F-16. That left two. Hal unleashed an AMRAAM at the Quadrafighter trying to climb out, just as Major Ed Miller sent one after the fighter that chose to break towards Florida. Within ten seconds, it was over. The Air Force had just downed six Quadrafighters, with no losses.
“Red Ranger to Air Force fighters, what happened?”
“Red Ranger, this is Tiger 11,” Colonel Martin’s voice echoed over the net. “Six Quadrafighters came looking for trouble, and we gave them more than they could handle. All of us are okay.”
“Roger that,” the Red Ranger said. “Guess somebody had a bad day.”
“Don’t worry,” Hal said in response, “Next time, we’ll see if we can’t save a couple for you.”
Miller and Wally chuckled over the radio, while Martin took one glance at Hal, then said, “We do apologize for the inconvenience, Red Ranger. We’ll see if we can’t make it worth the time to fly out here the next time it happens.”
“Hey, you guys are okay, that’s made it worth the time,” the Red Ranger said.
“I’d agree if the position was reversed, Red Ranger. Tiger 11 out.” Martin wagged his wings, then banked the F-16 towards Miami, followed by the other three.
Once the Red Ranger was gone Martin flipped to Hal’s frequency. “Hal, that line was uncalled for.”
“Sorry, sir,” Hal responded. “Was trying to be generous.”
“I know, but they bag the monsters. It looks like we can handle the fighters, you especially. I’ve been dying for some payback.”
“So have I,” Hal said. “So have I.”
Tommy Oliver did not have a good feeling about this. Those Air Force pilots were damn lucky to get out alive. It had been a brilliant move by one of those pilots, firing that first AMRAAM for the initial kill. Their aggressive nature wrote the rest of that chapter.
I didn’t even waste the breath to tell them not to look for trouble, he thought. These guys have been dying for payback against monsters raiding Angel Grove, and they’re not about to let go. One of those guys sounded young, about his age. He put that thought off as he relaxed and flew the Phoenix ZeoZord back to base. Billy, Alpha, and Zordon would probably have sorted out the kills by the time he got back.
At the Pan-Global compound, Kimberly Hart had finished a brief workout due to Coach Schmidt’s flu bug. Some of the guys had their eyes glued to the TV. Odd, she thought, they had been bashing soap operas since day one. Heck, it was almost time for “As The World Turns,” her favorite.
But they weren’t watching soaps. In fact, the soaps weren’t on. Instead, there was a news reporter at Homestead Air Force Base, right near Miami…
“Some F-16s tangled with those alien fighters. Six were shot down.”
“Six of the F-16s?”
“No,” said that guy, “The alien fighters were shot out of the sky. All six of them.”
“Clean sweep!” said another one, as they high-fived.
“Oh my gosh,” Kimberly said, staring at the screen. The reporter was discussing the event, with some comments by an Air Force spokesman. Hadn’t Hal been slated for a test flight that day? If he was, and he was mixed up in that fight, he had some explaining to do…
The TV station was broadcasting some of the tapes. There was the Red Ranger, Kimberly smiled just hearing Tommy’s voice. Then, there was another voice she recognized. A rather cocky comment about saving some of the bad guys for the Red Ranger for the next time.
Hal Elliot was going to explain himself for that comment, she told herself.
The local café was a favorite hangout of the fighter pilots and Pan-Global athletes. Kimberly Hart did not have to look hard to find where Hal was. It was quite easy. Where else would a dozen or so fighter jocks be swarming around, with four of them not having to buy their drinks?
She kept at the edge, just listening as one of the pilots described the encounter. This guy was a colonel, outlining the rough setup.
“Hal, tell me something,” one of the other pilots asked. “What were you thinking when you fired that Slammer?”
“Look, those guys were going to at least dodge, or the lead pilot would have to recover if his craft had shields. Turned out they didn’t. At that point, it was just like fighting it out with MiG-25s. Turn, burn, snapshot, that sort of thing,” Hal explained.
“Well, you did pretty good. A hat trick,” the pilot said. “Another cream soda for the guy.”
Kimberly’s eyes went wider at that. Hal not only had engaged, but he had shot three of the fighters down. There’d been six of the things, too. This was impressive, she had to admit. Still, he was in deep trouble. What had he been thinking, she thought as she listened to some other pilot mention the encounter between some Navy F-14s and the Quadrafighters over California.
“They’re just sore because they didn’t get a shot off,” Hal responded. “They only had inert training rounds, something that I hope has changed. Still, the Navy pilots had been able to track the Quadrafighters, and they played it smart. Now we know we can hit `em with out missiles and our guns.”
“We don’t have a unit near Angel Grove,” one pilot pointed out.
“That’ll be changing,” the colonel said. “General Eastman’s on the horn with SECDEF, the JCS, and the White House. Time we got in the act.”
“No argument here,” Hal said. “I’ve got a rather special girl with a special someone there, and I don’t think she’d appreciate having him hurt. I mean, I know I can do something, I’m not going to sit on my butt.”
Kimberly’s jaw dropped. Hal had feelings for her, beyond friendship, probably. She walked towards it, and finally caught Hal’s eye.
“Oh, hi, Kim,” Hal said. “How are you doing?”
“Oh, just fine,” she said, in a tone of voice that indicated Hal was in trouble. “You seem to have had an interesting day.”
“Angel Grove has it worse,” Hal said. “Care for a soda?”
“No thanks,” Kimberly said. “What were you thinking, plowing right in?”
“They were thrown off balance, we could track `em, lock `em up, and splash them. No problem. All our guys came home, they’re the ones on the bottom of the Florida Straits. Quick and easy, much easier than I expected, in fact.”
“He’s not kidding,” said another pilot, Powers. “That lead Quadrafighter flew right into the first Slammer he fired as a distraction.”
“Yeah, another guy flew right into a snapshot,” the colonel, Martin, added. “One their leader was gone, and we attacked, they didn’t stand a chance.”
“Perfectly safe air combat,” Hal added.
“All to impress me?”
“No,” Hal said.
“Sure,” Kimberly said, and stormed off.
Hal looked at Wally. “I knew she’d go ballistic,” he said. “See you later, guys,” he added.
Kimberly was storming off as Hal jogged out of the center. “Hey, Kim!”
She turned to look at Hal, and he knew she was still rather upset. “Hal Elliot, that was the dumbest thing you did in a long time.”
“What part? Becoming a test pilot, firing that first Slammer, or the attack after we bagged the first one?”
“The last two,” Kimberly said. “You never told me you loved me.”
“You have that guy in Angel Grove…” Hal began.
“He’s not worth you getting yourself killed!” Kimberly snapped, cutting off the next part of his sentence. “He’s not worth it, Hal. Now, clear out before I decide to kick your butt.”
She stormed off before Hal could say that he didn’t love her the way she thought he did. With that, he walked towards his car, hoping she didn’t do anything they would both regret.
Kimberly arrived at her room, and looked for her stationery. This was the hardest thing she’d ever done, and she knew Tommy would hurt. Well, not for long, she thought, Kat’s been head-over-heels in love with him since she saw him. They’d work something out.
There, she said. She grabbed a pen, and began writing a note. There were no second thoughts, and soon it was in an envelope and stamped. Soon, she was on her way to a mailbox. Was Hal really worth throwing away what she and Tommy had? At the mailbox, she stopped, holding the letter, thinking about it. Hal was 19, and he had probably thought it through. Plus, she was in an emotional state right now…
Two F-16s flew overhead, both armed strictly for air-to-air action, and with white missiles. Warshots, she told herself. Hal had explained that part to her one time. She watched as the F-16s climbed, until she could no longer see the tailpipes. They weren’t going to avoid trouble, she told herself. Hal’s the least likely to. In fact, hadn’t the colonel mentioned that the Air Force might create a unit around Angel Grove? Hal seemed ready to volunteer. To risk his life, just because he loved her, and wanted to keep her and Tommy safe so they’d have a chance at a life together.
Intellectually, Kimberly knew there was no choice. Hal didn’t know she’d been the Pink Ranger. He didn’t know Tommy was out there fighting those monsters for three years. All he knew was that the one he loved was at risk of heartbreak or worse. She thought again. The choice was between Hal Elliot’s life and the guilt of knowing he’d died so they could be together without knowing the truth. A truth she could not reveal, in fact. The emotions were harder to convince. But that ended as two more F-16s flew overhead. With that, she dropped the letter in the mailbox and closed it. She’d made her decision, and now, she had to live with it.
Later that evening, Hal Elliot ran into her again. “Hi,” he said. “Sorry about earlier,” he added. “It was kind of rough up there.”
“I can imagine,” Kimberly said. “I didn’t know you loved me. I didn’t even know you felt that way.”
“What are you saying?” Hal said, confused.
“You’re in love with me. That’s why you’re volunteering to fly F-16s, why you fought those fighters earlier today.”
“You dumped your boyfriend for me?”
Kimberly nodded. At that point, she realized she’d acted too hastily. Hal seemed stunned. “Kim, I’ve never really thought of you as a girlfriend,” Hal said. “I mean, you’re like the kid sister…”
“You never had.”
Hal nodded. “Precisely. You’ve known me since I was 14. You know that I get nervous around girls I do think of as potential girlfriends.”
Kimberly nodded, realization dawning brighter every time. “And it gets worse the more you like `em.”
Hal nodded. “Even if I did feel that way, Kim, I know I’m in second place, and this guy was in first place. A bond like you two had doesn’t shake easily, and not over me doing what I did today. I’m still going to Angel Grove.”
Kimberly nodded, tears forming in her eyes. “Now what?”
“I go there with two missions now. One, bag as many bad guys as possible.”
“And the second?”
“Explain things to that boyfriend of yours.”
“Ex-boyfriend,” she corrected.
“It won’t stay that way if I can help it,” Hal said. “I’ll walk you home, then I got to get some sleep. It’s going to be an early day for me tomorrow.”
“Eastman got the authorization.”
“You know me,” Hal said.
“You heard me,” Kimberly Hart responded.
Once at his place, Hal Elliot knew he should sleep, but he couldn’t. Despite the best of intentions, what he’d feared from the moment Kimberly had arrived in Miami for her training had occurred. He’d gotten between her and the guy she loved. Not much he could do now but fly like hell until his luck ran out. That decided, he went to his room to try and sleep. He owed that to Eastman and Martin.
“Angel Grove, here I come,” he said, as he went to his room.