Silently the mist crawled down the field of alligatored grey asphalt. Tendrils creeping into the cracks as if blindly belting it’s way past the large painted “31” at the end of the runway. At a distance the wafting whoosh of the large black and white Ibis disturbed the buzzing silence of the desert sands. An hour still to sun up and the temperature was already rising, threatening, killing the night mist that had oozed from the depths of the sand about the oasis.
The scarab like tick of metal starting to expand caused the red sand scorpion to stop mid strike, allowing the small dung beetle to scurry half a body length further before its carapace was pierced in a blinding flash of insect mortal pain. The six legs twitched as the body matched the toxin killed brain. Two or four grains of sand disturbed slower and slower as the muscles contracted and came to a final rest, leaving a still meal for the scorpion, as the air was disturbed in a blast of forward shock wave before the out stretched wings of the late night hunting pocket owl. The yellow talons rotating from under the belly feathers in a flash as they closed about the instantly crushed hunter of the sand; the first of a cycle of powerful down draft wing pulls ejected the small bird of prey twelve times it’s height into the night dark and instantly hidden from even the best trained eye. But from the heightened perception of a much larger brethren, the sight of the owl sweeping out across the desert was only that of appreciation for the balance being maintained.
The flight boot silently ground on the pavement as the darker figure in the gloom of pre-dawn, turned from the desert story and drama and continued to walk the silent perimeter of the great concrete pad that stretched newly across what should have been only grains of sand. The thoughts flooded back of a time when hunting for food was also a training of observation, patience, calculating, timing and release. The warmth of approval in the hunt would come later when he would provide more than his share. The strong talon tipped hand gripping his youthful pin-feathered shoulder and giving it that one fatherly shake that had meant the world to a young gryphon; much like the double key of a silent mike today from a wingman or a commander. Now it was his turn to key the mike, his turn to grip those shoulders, but sadly, there were too few young gryphons to teach, to mentor, to guide or to carry on the balance of the world. War had brought too much grief to too many; and so it was falling to him, once again.
The rust nibbling eternally at the galvanized sand wall washed by the low-sodium lights reflected in brilliant fish eye on the shine of his boot toes. Only the laces of the G-suit flight boots disturbed the reflected scene, and confirmed the nature of the claw embedded , plantigrade pad feet. The door swung inward to a startled young staff sergeant who dropped his snack and snapped to a rigid attention and salute, “Colonel, Sir!” The Colonel could smell the low grade fear etching the underarms of his uniform. The Colonel used to be offended by humans that couldn’t control their fear of an unknown, but was now only mildly annoyed. The low, nearly inaudible growl rumbled in his lower bowels and vibrated his chest. His right claws flashed a brilliant obsidian black as he waved off a tolerant salute.
“Have my ground crew ready my bird.” He clipped at the sergeant ,ignoring the fact he was on watch and unarmed. “Tell them I will beat the sun by 15 minutes and 40,000 feet.” Ignoring the standard ‘sir’, and thinking better of it mentioned, “and sergeant?” Sir? “Don’t let me EVER catch you again with pie where your rifle should be. Are we clear?”
“Yes Sir! Crystal, Sir!” The rush of pheromones almost gagged the Colonel and he fled to the ready room.
The F-15, an almost relic of a different war and time stood proudly on the tarmac. The lines clean and polished as if rubbed daily with Brasso, but the colonel knew that it was only weekly. His hypersensitive eyes scanned the air surfaces in the dim light cast from the tent hangar several meters away. The Gryphon ran his left palm tenderly along the inner wall of the giant square air intake along the side; remembering the conversation when he had to fight for his right to fly the older F-15 Eagle instead of the whiz-bang new stealthy ugly bloated pregnant needle of the F-22 Raptors; “I like a bird that can breathe” was all he had to tell his superior officer, and fellow Gryphon. Both knew all too well the limitations of a restrictive air intake for the muscle involved.
As he finished his physical examination, the crew chief engaged the power umbilical and started throwing switches. As her eyes slid across the dials, taking in every twitch of every meter, she turned toward the Colonel. “You’ve got the extra 1,500 lbs you asked for. Your guns are phosphorous interlaced with tracers, so don’t go ducking into your trail. She still has that bump on her belly so she’s going to ride left a twitch or two. I reset your wheels so the stick should act like before, but watch it if you have to do any serious “G”s out there.” She held out his helmet.
As he took it, she held on to it. “Sir, we’ve been together for six years next month.” Raptor to raptor their eyes met in a beyond steel lock. “I don’t know what you’re up to; and I don’t think I even want to know.” She gently let go of the helmet that remained stationary for a full second before slowly moving. “All I have to say is, you bring this bird back in the same condition she’s in now or better,” as she stepped over and rose up into his face, “or I will personally hunt you down and rearrange your fur and feathers until your mother wouldn’t know you. We clear? Sir?”
“Clear chief.” A nod and a turn toward the steel bird hunkering in the almost morning black; and he finished the thought only to himself, ‘and I love you too’.
The crew chief burned her sight into the shoulders and pure white short wings he held tight to his back. Her heart beating an erratic cascade of messages somewhere between a heart attack and a straight out stop; her only thought was how she hated watching the most ornery stubborn pig headed grandfather she could ever know. And how each and every time he would take it upon himself to lead one of these solo missions her life stopped until he was wheels down and taxiing back to her fold.
The Colonel reached up and twisted the drop step as he looked out down the runway, and the soon approaching dawn; his long white tail twitching with tension. With his one foot on the step, Colonel Aeolus Gryphon took a deep breath and slowly let it out as he swore to himself “I don’t know who started this, but I guess it’s up to me . . . .”
Three minutes later, the silver bird screamed down the runway in the last of the night` s cool air. Rising just a couple of feet, the gear retracted into the body, and as the green light lit in the cockpit, the explosion of the afterburners signaled a 90 degree rotation as the airplane now turned missile climbed vertically into lower space and pierced the region from night into day as the rising sun flashed off the visage of an avenging sword.