“Checks complete. Ready for take-off.”
Lin Chucheng, sitting in the cockpit, flicked his thumb. He inhaled deeply and ran his shaky hand gently over the controls. Aircrafts began to launch off. From behind, Alice suggested, “This is your first flight, so just focus on practicing and don’t be nervous.”
“Isn’t it also your first time?”
“Yes… but I think there’s more pressure on you. At the end of the day, I don’t have as many tasks.”
A gunner’s job was to defend the aircraft against enemy aircrafts encroaching upon their rear and locating targets on the map for their pilot. Candidly speaking, the gun was there for placebo effect. If an enemy aircraft aggressed, dive bomber aircrafts were likely goners. Their only hope was their convoy in the air. As such, the gunners didn’t need much training unlike pilots and were pretty much chosen on whims.
Lin Chucheng already learnt to pilot a main fighter and was able to easily pilot during his examination. Now that he was in the air force, nonetheless, he was nervous to the point that his every movement was clunky. He was so nervous that he missed his turn for take-off.
Lin Chucheng steered his aircraft onto the runway, albeit amateurishly. Once the ground staff gave the signal to fly, he inhaled deeply and sped up.
The backseat jolt and engines’ revving should’ve been romantic, yet Lin Chucheng’s nerves calmed down as he picked up speed. As his instructor mentioned in his explicit description, he calmed down after the jolt, and the clouds closed in.
Lin Chucheng shook his head and looked down on either side, bidding farewell to the humans, edifices vainly worshipped bound to the ground and the shadow he couldn’t escape. His father, the so-called nobles and their ideals weren’t in the new world – the sky. The only thing accompanying him was his fighter and his breathing.
“TF-6, your take off is slow. What’s the matter, nervous?” Oraina questioned over the radio.
Lin Chucheng took another deep breath and, in a dull voice, replied, “A little. This is my first official mission in the air force, after all.”
“Today, we are training to fly as a group. You were taught to fly solo in the academy, so we are now teaching you how to fight. Now, split into formation. Lin Chucheng, come to my left wing,” Oraina instructed.
Lin Chucheng sped up from the rear. The group split into several teams of three. Lin Chucheng ascended to meet Oraina. His hands were sweaty, and his breathing was heavy. Perhaps it was the work of the sun outside. Perhaps not. Either way, sweat coursing down his forehead stung his eyes.
Lin Chucheng felt a cool touch on his cheeks and reactively turned his head to see the pink handkerchief.
“Wipe your sweat. Remember to bring a towel for yourself next time. I can see you sweating bullets.”
Lin Chucheng took the handkerchief and gently wiped his face. The handkerchief was rather stiff compared to what he was used to, but the flower scent on it reminded him of his mother’s hand, easing his nerves.
“Target located. Prepare to dive and carry out our bombing mission!” Oraina instructed.
The team began their descent. Lin Chucheng wiped his eyes quickly and caught up. The three aircrafts dove down one after another. Lin Chucheng held his breath as he monitored the screen for his descent, focusing on the three white circular targets on the ground. Lose output for one second and his rocking aircraft would crash face first into the ground.
They flew considerably lower than when in training at the academy, and Oraina had yet to give the order to bomb away. It didn’t take a genius to figure out accuracy was likely higher the lower the aircraft flew. Having said that, the risk of crashing into the ground increased correspondingly.
“Come on, come on, give the order to ascend now,” Lin Chucheng prayed, eyes switching between the outside and the red button he was contemplating hitting. The details of tree branches visible through the window were more and more prominent. Legs shaking, he inwardly told himself, Calm down. Calm down. I’ll make it. I’ll make it… Steady, hands, steady.
Seeing the plan rock abnormally, Alice shouted, “You can pull up. Relax.”
“… I’m trying!”
Lin Chucheng instantly slammed the button and pulled hard to climb back up. He thought his arm would come off, turning the aircraft up during its fast descent. He had memories flashing in his mind and regret seeping in.
Lin Chucheng started to engage in self-talk in his head: I can’t bring it back up… It’s still descending… Is this it for me…? I’ll die if I let go, won’t I? Why did I insist on joining the air force? Why did I come here to kill myself? Am I going to die before even making it to the battlefield…? What am I d-
“Pull up! Pull up! Lin Chucheng, pull up!” roared Oraina.
“Hargh!” Lin Chucheng snapped out of his nightmare and pulled up with everything he had, sweeping up grass and more from the ground as he returned to the sky.
“Hoo… hoo…” Lin Chucheng pulled off his helmet. His legs were sweaty… It had to be sweat…
“Congratulations, Lin Chucheng. How does it feel to come back to life?”
The laughter around Lin Chucheng restored his brain functioning.
“You don’t need to swoop down so low to drop a bomb; however, every pilot in our division has to go through it. I’m pleased with your performance. You, first, didn’t drop the bomb too early; second, you can fly well enough. Congratulations, you’re now one of the kingdom’s excellent pilots,” Oraina complimented emotionlessly.
It took a while for Lin Chucheng to process. Once it did, he belted over the radio, “You blasted piece of crap!”
From that day onwards, there were two legends in the air force.
Legend number one: Lin Chucheng was the first new recruit to complete the super-low bombing.
Legend number two: Lin Chucheng, who was the first new recruit to complete the super-low bombing, cussed at the strictest instructor.
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