The Dawn Patrol

MegaPrimus.  0530hrs.

  "Charlie Alpha, this is X-ray Bravo."
  Joh Matsuda checked his mic and started the bike's engine.  It throbbed to life, the whole chassis shuddering into a hard constant tremor that soon grounded itself in his bones.  He revved the antigrav, letting it float the bike higher, watching the levels nudge up.  Edward DeSoto, pale and pasty as dough, gave him a thumbs up from the sidecar.
  Joh frowned at him, raising a hand from the controls and twirling a forefinger. "Spin 'em" He shouted over the growl of the turbine.
  DeSoto frowned at him, then turned back to his own control panel and jabbed a button.
  A high keening whine slowly cycled up in pitch as the 40mm cannon's multibarrel rotated, quickly building to full revs.  Joh stood, leaning as far forward as he could, visually checking the barrels.
  Projecting from the nose of the sidecar, the three barrels were nothing but a dark blur, crying out to be let loose.  Joh sank back into the soft foam seat of the hoverbike and waved downwards vaguely.  The electric whine soon sighed back down under the sound of the engine, and Joh nodded, satisfied.  No overheating, no fluctuations, everything steady and in the green.
  "Charlie Alpha, this is X-ray Bravo.  Comms check."
  "X-ray Bravo, Charlie Alpha." Joh eased back on the antigrav and sank down, closer to the floor of the hangar than the ceiling now, letting the turbine inch them forward towards the exit tube.
  "Nice to hear from you, Charlie Alpha."
  It sounded like Bodanovich, but the encryption took the soul out of everyone's voice.  Then again, it could be an android.  There was supposed to be a new 'droid about.
  "Hey, DeSoto."
  DeSoto turned from fiddling with something and frowned at him.
  "New bot?  In the comms centre?" Joh leaned over as he spoke, closing the distance between them.
  DeSoto shrugged. "Let's get going." He thumbed a button and the armoured plastic slid up, enclosing him in the sidecar.
  "Charming." Joh stabbed a button and leaned down, letting the transparent plastic sweep over him, passing inches over his head. The designers obviously hadn't taken anyone over six feet into account.  It cut out most of the engine noise, and the hangar smell of fuel and lube was gone, replaced by the vague stink of odour-eating foam.
"Charlie Alpha."
  Joh lost his temper.  He wasn't even out of the hangar yet. "What?"
  "You're flying-"
  "I know what I'm flying." He switched the comm channel off. "Sweet zombie Jesus."
  "Assholes." DeSoto offered over the intercom.
  "Shut up." Joh let the engine out a little, boosting them toward the exit tube a little faster than the regs decreed.
  "Nets clear?" DeSoto asked.
  "Why don't you check them while I fly the bike." Joh suggested.
  -five minutes in and I'm grinding my teeth-
  A Phoenix dropped in from the entry tube, engine still roaring.  It slewed in, past them, a bright red sleekly aerodynamic slab of armoured hovercar.  The bike rolled a little in the jetwash, and Joh countersteered carefully, checking three-sixty for wandering engineers and loose tool racks.
  "Is that Morgan again?" DeSoto asked, twisting awkwardly to look back.
  The sidecar was even smaller than the bike.  Desoto had to sit with his legs half-bent, straight out in front of him, somewhere between laying back and sitting up.  At least riding the bike Matsuda could turn around and stretch any cramped muscles.
  Joh didn't reply, just gunned the engine and got them into the base of the exit tube.  He did another three-sixty, checking the bike was in the centre of the circle, then twisted hard on the antigrav.  The bike's hum increased in frequency as they rose, jet-scarred concrete flashing past, display clicking angrily as the computer registered he was still within the hangar space and breaking Regulation 233; that no craft must exceed ten (10) kilometres per hour (kph)-
  He thumped the base of the display angrily, jolting the warning off-screen.  Another quickly replaced it.  Apparently, he didn't have clearance to exit the hangar, contravening Regulation 257-
  Joh slammed his fist down on the display again, grinning fiercely and jamming the accelerator right back as the bike cleared the lip of the tube.
  The turbine growled and then bellowed to life as the SuperDynamic fuel injection finally started working.  The bike surged forward, speedo jumping, sending the bike rocketing up at a sixty-degree angle.
  "Holy.  Shit." DeSoto snarled. "Do you really need to do that?"
  Joh ignored him. "How are the nets?"
  He checked his radar, then the skyline, then the altimeter, making sure he was well clear of even the tallest building.  Acceleration still dragging at him, he eased off on both antigrav and jet, checking levels again.
  "MegaPol and MarSec nets are clear." Joh only half heard DeSoto's voice, too busy checking the space around him for threats. "Sensovision have a sanctioned raid against the Cult later on.  They've been hijacking the Sensonets again."
  Joh checked speed and altitude, both above sea and above ground, engine revs and fuel level, radar and comms.
  There wasn't much in the air.  A bulbous SolMine Liner floated overhead like an airborne steel whale, wallowing over as it came in to land.  AirTaxis flitted below, bright yellow flashes, as busy as bees.  An AirTrans shuttled past, livid green bulk juddering along a descent.
  Joh levelled out and throttled all the way back, letting the bike coast.  Ground traffic was minimal, it was early yet.  DeSoto yawned. "God, it's too early for this."
  "Let's just get on with it." Joh eased the bike over a road, letting the altitude ease down. "Come on, lock up a ground target."
  DeSoto yawned again, thumbing buttons. "Frequency agile my ass.  My wife is more agile than this piece of shit.  Fat bitch."
  That almost startled a laugh out of Joh. "Get on with it."
  The display began beeping.  Joh almost broke the 'mute' button pressing it, before checking over his shoulders for threats.  Focusing too hard on getting a lock on your target left you open to attack.  Left flank was clear.  Right flank held only a MegaPol hovercar, keeping pace several hundred metres away.
  "Got him." DeSoto sighed, rubbing his face.
  "With the laser, too."
  "We don't need-"
  "You don't have to like it, DeSoto, you just have to do it." Joh throttled up, a jerk of acceleration that snapped DeSoto's head back.
  The sudden shift lost the target in ground clutter.
  "Can we pick up another target?" DeSoto asked, focusing the radar again.
  "Same one." Joh brought the bike down and swung it around in a slow curve, circling a building, sticking close to the road.
  DeSoto groaned, but got on with it.  He reacquired the target, then activated the 40mm cannon.  Servos hummed, he felt their vibration through his feet as they moved the gun mount.  The guncam flickered to life, zooming in on the target, a battered AutoTaxi so old the paint had started to fade.  The targeting laser hit, splashing a red blotch over the rear window.
  "Here we have AutoTaxi One Three Nine, radar lock confirmed, exactly three hundred and twenty seven metres away." DeSoto slaved the cannon to Joh's controls. "All yours."
  Joh throttled up steadily, closing the distance as he swept lower, directly over the road now, tall rounded spires flashing by on either side, gleaming like jewels in the rising sun.  A quarter of the display was usurped with the guncam view, graphic overlays in cool blue telling him range, wind speed, ammunition remaining and gun temperature.  He curled a finger around the trigger.
  The canisters situated directly behind the gun, right under DeSoto's seat, held three thousand rounds of 40mm ammo, a custom mix of high explosive and armour piercing, every tenth round a tracer.  By no means the most fearsome weapon in the X-Com arsenal, it was still more than a match for most vehicles.  It could, if necessary, chew a sizeable hole in a building.
  "Hey, DeSoto, remember when you had this thing set on hispeed and you blew a hole in the recyclotorium across the road?"
  "Oh fuck off, Matsuda." DeSoto's pale cheeks flushed with colour.
  Joh grinned. "The whole base smelled like shit for a week."
  He depressed the trigger.  A warning flashed up on screen, telling him the trigger cap was still engaged.  Joh laughed, bashing the display with the heel of his hand. "Eat me."
  Another warning, this one about the number of warnings he had received.  He chuckled, hammering his fist down again. "Raw"
  "You're crazy." DeSoto sighed, shaking his head.
  "Slave the controls to the target." Joh engaged the AI and leaned back, letting the comp do its stuff.
  The program brought the bike in closer, totally dedicated to keeping the target locked in while avoiding anything it might crash into.  A nearby AirTaxi caused a sudden ascent, and the looming bulk of a tower mall a deceleration.  Joh watched the range counter click up, lips pursed.
  DeSoto observed the pilot.  He was tall and thin, dark hair pulled back in a knot so tight it looked like it was stretching the skin of his face.  What little there was of his Japanese ancestry could be seen in the slight epicanthic folds of his eyes, and the dull bronze of his skin.
  Joh grunted as the range hit a klick and a half. "It's back at one-five again."
  "Softechs keep resetting the 'ware." DeSoto shrugged, ending the lock.
  Joh boosted the engine, sweeping them back up high in a hard climb.  DeSoto never enjoyed getting that sensation in the pit of his stomach, like he'd just left his guts behind for a second.  But Joh got them level again and eased back on the throttle, letting him enjoy the view for once as the sun came up.
  It was glorious, even through the polluted air outside MegaPrimus, the sunlight shone gold.  Grass and trees were a verdant green below, curving links of PeopleTubes bracketing the roads and buildings like borders, keeping the artificial from invading the natural.  Buildings swelled up like growths, shining green and blue, reflecting light like oil on water.  Lacquered grey concrete and dark steel, plastics in primary colours, glass tinted black, an organised riot of colour, all according to regulation.
  "Comp can't hit shit at one-five." Joh took them back in a slow swoop, tilting the bike so he could look to his left and look straight down to the fields below.
  DeSoto was glad he had chosen to strap in.  He kept his eyes firmly on the display. "I'll alter the range parameter again, then."
  "Okay.  Set it to nine hundred." Joh checked his right flank again.
  The MegaPol hovercar was still there, pacing them.
  He gave the bike a little more throttle.
  The hovercar paced them, putting on a little burst of speed before settling back into cruise.
  "Charlie Alpha, this is Mike Papa One Two Two."
  Joh sighed. "Do you want to talk to them?"
  DeSoto shook his head, pushing his commset off. "No way."
  Joh grimaced. "Fucking joey." He got on the radio. "Mike Papa One Two Two, Charlie Alpha."
  "No threats.  Normal Psyke and Diablo activity.  No sign of Osiron today.  Clear board."
  The MegaPol hovercar waited for a few more seconds then peeled off, a grinning blue steel shark diving into a shoal of traffic.
  "Assholes." DeSoto opined, pulling his commset back into place. "Is that why we're up here?  The gangers?"
  "Well done, DeSoto.  You're a fucking genius." Joh surfed through the nets. "Anything on the gang nets?"
  "We don't have the new freqs yet." DeSoto flicked through a couple of screens. "Old freqs are dead, no one but wannabes on them.  Want me to search?"
  "No.  If Base hasn't found them, you won't.  And if you start a search in this thing, you'll freeze the targeting comp.  Which will mean rebooting it.  Which will mean crashing the aviation comp which will mean me doing an emergency restart as we fall out of the sky." Joh put them into a steep dive for a few seconds, pointing the nose directly at the ground before yanking back on the controls. "Like that, but longer.  And maybe with us hitting the ground instead of me pulling up in time"
  DeSoto felt sick. "Point taken."
  They cruised on, higher than most traffic, engine just above stall speed, watching the sun chase away the shadows and cast them outside the city walls.  The armoured plastic of the windshields polarised in the rising sun, taking on a faint greyish taint as the light strengthened, rendering everything outside a shade darker.  Sealed in away from the biting wind, feeling only the faintest buffet of turbulence, held in their small cocoon of steel and plastic, they sat and waited in silence, alone despite the fact that mere inches separated them.
  Smelling metal and plastic, oil and fuel, sweat and morning breath, they flew on, circling their base, their territory, looking not for prey, but for other hunters.