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ACES men still fight men still lust


From Tue May 05 20:53:18 1998
Content Warning: This work of fiction contains mature subject matter
and graphic sexual language including descriptions of consensual sex
between a man and a woman. If you think you can't deal with this
story, or if it's illegal to possess such material in your locality,
please hit the delete button now. If you're a minor then you MUST
stop now and go no further. As a work of fiction, any similarities to
any person(s) dead, alive, or fictional is merely a really weird

Subject: In the near future; men still fight, men still lust, men still sin, and men still die.

Subject Matter: (M/F)
Rating: (X) Not suitable for minors. May be illegal in some areas.

Distribution Rights: May be distributed freely WITHOUT MODIFICATION on
USENET, USENET II, not-for-profit web sites, not-for-profit ftp sites,
and news archival services which offer free public access to archived
articles. All other rights are specifically reserved by the author.

Creation Date: 3/25/98
Distribution Date:5/6/98

Credits: Proofed and very tastefully edited by Mike Ink, a reclusive

Dedication: To friends past, present, and future.

Aces (By Sandman)

13:50 - Malaysia - 56,000 feet over no-man's land.

"Pull up! Pull up!" Piper cried as the heads up display showed the
enemy on Bandit's tail, closing in for a missile lock.

Bandit pulled up sharply, executing a flawless roll to the right that
momentarily threw the enemy fighter off. But only for the moment.
The chinese Mao was one of the most advanced fighters in the world and
could make even a kid fresh out of flight school look like an ace.

Piper pursued his own prey to the very fringe of the atmosphere, to
the extent that only the solid rocket boosters were providing thrust.
A familiar tone sounded-his computer had acquired a lock, finally
breaking through his opponent's countermeasures. What followed was
completely automatic. The computer launched the weapon; thirty
seconds later a brilliant fireball drifted over the horizon.

"I can't shake him!" Bandit screamed. "Damnit, I can't shake him!"

"Hold on buddy, I'm commin' down!" Piper said grimly, as the display
showed him he might not be in time.

Bandit was executing a series of dives and rolls to forestall the
inevitable, but the Mao's computers had almost broken through the last
of Bandit's jamming signals. When the last signal failed, a missile
would launch; traveling and turning at a speed no human could endure.
Ten years ago a chinese missile would likely fail, but then China had
caught the same quality bug that had swept Japan and the Americas.
The missile wouldn't fail.

"This is it, Piper," Bandit said, his voice eerily calm though the
display showed he was engaged in high stress maneuvers. "I was
looking forward to that home cooked meal you promised you'd have your
wife cook for us when we got leave."

"It's still a date, asshole," Piper replied, his voice ragged from the
adrenaline pouring through his body. He was closing to weapons range
fast and Bandit's computer had already uploaded the enemy's defensive
information. He'd have a shot, but the computer predicted he'd arrive
ten seconds too late.

Switching the flight controls to fully automatic, Piper, already at
full thrust, flipped two buttons, igniting the solid rocket motors in
an uncontrolled burn. The seat slammed into his back as the contact
was made. A second later, accelerating faster than both man and
machine were designed for, the world went white, then black.


"Whoooohooooo!" Bandit's voice echoed through the cabin.

Groggily, Piper checked the system, trying to work through the blurred
double image. All clear. Two splashed bogies.

"That was un-fucking-believable!" Bandit howled. "You must have been
pulling thirteen G's! You came in so fast Charlie never knew what hit

"I'd say you owe me a beer," Piper said, suddenly surprised at how
weak his voice was.

"Piper, I owe you a whole fucking bar! Shhhiiiit! Ol' Bessy here's
telling me the bogie on my tail was commanded by none other than
Woeful Wu. There's seventy-eight dead red-blooded American pilots
waiting to give him a proper welcome on the other side."

"Wu, huh?" Piper asked, still trying to clear his head.

"The ident codes match. I think you'll have more than a beer waiting
for you when we get back."

The return trip was uneventful, as was the landing and debrief. The
trip from the debrief back to the barracks was not uneventful however,
as word of the dreaded fighter ace's demise had rippled like a spark
to deadwood throughout the base. Police action or not, the war ground
to a halt as the base took a well deserved holiday to celebrate and
toast their newfound hero well into the night. The beer, boasts, and
bragging flowed freely. With a few drinks under his belt, Piper
discovered that he recalled many more details of the encounter than
maybe he had told to the debriefing officer.

"Pipe pulled a fifteen G diving roll to intercept Wu!" Bandit was
exclaiming, his words slurring a little. "He never stood a chance.
Pipe pulled in with guns blazing and I swear every missile popped all
making a straight B-line to Woeful Wu, who probably still doesn't know
what hit him!" Bandit laughed uproariously at this and the crowed
around him joined in.

"Fifteen G?" A voice from the back asked. "Shit, no one can take a
fifteen G roll and live to tell about it."

"Hey, Hey!" Bandit cried throwing an arm around Piper who was trying
to chase the sting from the last shot of whiskey with another. "Who's
this party for anyway? It's all in the logs, me boyos." Bandit said
as he chomped down on a cigar, a broad grin lightning his athletic
face. "Piper pulled a fifteen G rolling dive and walked to debrief as
steady as me."

The voice in the back muttered, "fifteen G," again before drifting

Someone raised their glass and yelled, "to Piper!"--it was not the
first, nor would it be the last toast of the evening.

Piper stood shakily and yelled back, "To Bandit!"

"Bandit?", the toaster asked incredulously.

"To Bandit!" Piper said back firmly. "Who do you think kept Wu
occupied while I was busy becoming a hero so we could all get

Captain Jensen, known as "the Cube," (which could mean either ice or
square as depending on whether he was flying or on the ground), stood
up and said, "Way I heard it, Ol' Bandit was going to be Wu's
seventy-ninth flag until you came around."

Piper's eyes narrowed dangerously. "We ain't flying HellJets BOY, and
Bandit was holding his own. I'll take him as my wingman any day of
the week, you got a problem with that?"

Sixty pairs of eyes locked on Cube, who suddenly decided he'd had too
much to drink and dropped the matter. The mood in the room had
turned from festive to awkward silence until Piper raised his glass
again and said firmly, "To Bandit!"

"TO BANDIT!" the room cheered. And the party went on.

"Cube's right." Bandit muttered over a beer later that evening. All
but the most dedicated drinkers had left the bar. "My ass was grass.
I had a chinese missile with my name on it ready to go right up where
the sun never shines."

"So I save your ass, you save mine. You've gotten bogies off my tail
before. It's what a good wingman does, and you're the best, Bandit.
The only one here who don't know that is Cube, and he's got his head
stuck up his bunghole."

"Yea, but it's never been this close before." Bandit said quietly.
"You and I both know you and your plane shouldn't have survived that
burn, man."

Piper shrugged. "We both do what we have to do. You'd have done the
same for me."

Bandit looked at his friend and wondered. Here, now in the bar it
would be easy to say 'yes.' In the cockpit at full burn, knowing that
engaging the solids could tear the airplane to shreds, that was
something you never knew if you could do or not until it was done.
The only man on the base Bandit _knew_ would do it was Piper himself.
"Yea," Bandit agreed. It was the expected thing to say, but deep down
he still wondered.

"Ten-hut!" someone shouted from the entrance, and all eyes went
immediately to the door. Colonel Briggs stared sternly around the
room as men instantly staggered to their feet and stood waveringly at

"At ease, men!" The Colonel commanded. "Far be it from me to spoil
this festive party you're all having!"

It was a sarcastic remark. The festivities had ended an hour ago.
The few men remaining decided that now would be a perfect time to call
it a night, as the Colonel made his way over to the table where Piper
and Bandit sat.

"Captain Piper, Captain Gregs," the Colonel greeted them, motioning
them to sit. "I guess, given the circumstances, you should be excused
for your appearance." Then his usually harsh face broke into a wide
smile and he shoved out his hand to shake Piper's. "Well done! Well
done, both of you." The pride on his face was the same as a proud

"Thank you Sir." Piper said, genuinely moved by this rare display of

"I understand you have your first furlough in three days."

"Yes sir. Bandit, uh Captain Gregs and I both. I was going to show
him around L.A."

"In two weeks, you're to appear at the Pentagon. It will cut four
days off your leave."

"Sir? I don't understand."

"Word of your little sortie has reached Washington, Piper. General
Hargrove himself wants to pin a new medal on your uniform. Since he's
a General, you'll have to indulge him. It will only take a few days.
Is this a problem?"

A little unsure of his answer, since it had been over a year since
he'd last touched his wife, Piper none-the-less answered, "No Sir!"

"Good. You'll still have ten days for yourself. I'd extend your
leave if I could, but we're shorthanded enough as it is. Those Mao's
are eating our lunch, not to mention our best qualified pilots." The
Colonel thought a second before saying, "Good job again, Captain
Piper. It's the kind of by-your-seat and damn the consequences flying
today that reminds me why we still put men up there. You made me
proud to be a soldier again."

"Thank you, sir!" Piper said as the Colonel turned sharply and strode
to the door.

"Well, isn't that just the cat's meow?" Bandit grinned, punching
Piper in the arm. "Ol' Pipe sitting up in Washington with the big
brass staring at him like some caged animal. Doesn't that just sound

"Yea." Piper said glumly. "Four less days with Ilene. The army sure
knows how to reward its so-called heroes."

"Come on, Pipe. Time to call it a night. We've still got two more
days of duty before the fun starts, and you've never been a fun

Chapter 1
07:50 - 10,000 ft over Los Angeles.

"L.A.," Piper said as they stared out the window of the descending
plane. "The city of angels."

"Isn't it also the city of gang wars, drug riots, and corrupt cops?"
Bandit snickered.

"As long as Ilene lives there, bud, it's the city of angels." Piper

"Now me, I couldn't disappoint all the beautiful ladies out there by
shacking up with just one. I figure I've got a good five, maybe ten
years before I need to settle down."

Piper laughed. "I was worse than you bud. Before Ilene I was
bringing a different girl home every night, sometimes two! Then I met
Ilene and she turned my world upside down. Until her I was just like
you - I couldn't see myself with just one girl. Then suddenly I
couldn't see myself with anyone but her. Funny how that is."

"Yea, har-har." Bandit joked. "The day I meet a woman like that is
the day I run out and bed every woman who'll have me until it passes!"
"That's my Bandit, stealing the ladies affections as easily as he
steals his splashes."

"Ain't it the truth!" Bandit agreed as he cast a winning smile and a
quick wink at the stewardess who was moving through the cockpit to
prepare the passengers for landing. She paused a moment and smiled
back at him, a slow blush growing on her already rosy cheeks.

"One year, five months, and three days," Piper said wistfully.

"When is the last time you said something understandable." Bandit

"That's how long it's been since I've been with Ilene." Piper said.

"Oh. Five hours for me, I guess."

"Five hours?" Piper asked incredulously.

Bandit leaned back in his seat. "While we were waiting at the airport
there was a female reporter, really cute one too. She wanted a few
thoughts on how the war was going, so we slipped off and I gave her an
exclusive. It would have been an hour but the lavatory was in use
when I caught the stewardess' eye and the moment passed."

"How can you stand it?" Piper asked with a laugh. There was a bump
and dull rumble as the plane touched down.

"It ain't easy buddy. Fortunately, we've just landed in a city with a
few million women."

Bandit's eyes were ripe with anticipation.


"Ilene!" Piper shouted as they exited the boarding ramp. He jumped
over a waist high rail and pulled a woman into a powerful hug.

Bandit smiled as he made his way over to them, and stopped a discreet
distance away. He had seen Ilene before on the vid-phone, and there
was no denying she was a drop-dead gorgeous woman. But here in the
flesh, Bandit found the vid-phone didn't do her justice. The phone
just couldn't capture her graceful form under the simple short-skirted
dress, how creamy her complexion was, how her beautifully formed legs
seemed to go on as long as the passionate kiss between her hand her

Piper had his hands wrapped firmly around her buttocks, holding her up
so her legs could wrap around him. The fevered kiss and the way their
hips ground into each other told everyone in the terminal that here
were two passionate lovers who had not seen each other for a very,
very long time.

Ilene was panting as Piper lowered her enough for her feet to touch
the floor. Her cheeks were flushed and two very prominent nipples
showed through her simple blouse. The dress was simple, but the
effect the dress gave to her lithe form was simply devastating.

"Bandit!" Ilene squealed with delight as her eyes fell on the voyeur
a few steps away. She ran over to him and paused to admire him a
moment. "I finally get to meet the man who made sure my husband
returned to me in one piece! I can't begin to thank you!"

She planted a lush wet kiss on his cheek before drawing him into a
strong hug. It was a friendly kiss, a friendly hug, but as the scent
of flowers on a warm spring day wafted over him, he felt her nipples
push into his chest and felt her waist against his. Bandit's cock
sprang to full attention. Ilene couldn't help but feel the effect she
was having on her husband's partner, and stepped back, a deep blush
appearing on her cheeks. A blush which deepened even further when she
lowered her eyes to sneak a glance at the bulge she had evoked.

Her blue eyes twinkled with mischievous delight and an eyebrow raised
appraisingly as she said, "Now I know why Jim say's you're the
ultimate lady's man."

Bandit, for the first time in his life, was left completely
speechless. He had expected a beautiful woman and was not
disappointed. He had not expected to find himself attracted to his
best friend's wife. The confusion was not helped when Piper walked
over, put an arm around Ilene and smiled at him like a man who had
everything he ever wanted in life standing beside him in this airport

"Well, we can't stay here all day!" Piper declared. "We better get
back to the house so Ilene and I can make up for some lost time. And
then, and then, you're going to get one helluva home cooked meal!"

"After a year of army rations, I couldn't agree with you more!"
Bandit agreed.

"So what have you two got planned for your vacation?" Ilene asked as
they walked to the car.

"Well I'm just here for a good home cooked meal." Bandit laughed.
"After that I've got a hotel room reserved and a rental car and I
guess I'm off to see the sights."

"Sights as in the women at the clubs, most likely." Ilene laughed and
Piper joined her.

"That sounds like a decent vacation to me, Ma'am!" Bandit agreed.

"Well, you'll probably still want the car to get around in," Ilene
said, "but I insist you stay with us! We've got a spare bedroom and
there's no need for you to spend your hard earned money on a hotel.
And you absolutely positively have to let Jim and I show you around a

"Begging your pardon Ma'am, but I get the impression Piper has his own
plans and they don't include much beyond you and your bedroom."
Bandit gave her a sly wink.

Ilene smiled broadly and patted Piper on the butt. "I think we can
manage to find a little free time outside of the bedroom," she

"If you're sure. I mean I don't want to impose." Bandit said.

"It's all settled!" Ilene assured him. "Isn't it Jim?"

"It's what I suggested from the start." Piper agreed. "But Bandit
wouldn't agree until he heard it from you."

The stopped in front of an old 1996 white Mustang GT convertible in
absolutely mint condition. Piper smiled broadly as Bandit circled the
car twice, his mouth resting on his chest. "Awesome!
Un-fucking-believably-awsome! V8?"

"V8." Piper smiled back.

"Where do you get the gas?"

"Oh there's a few collectors around, and you can still get enough gas
to keep it running."

Piper hopped over the driver's side door and rested in the driver's
seat with a self-satisfied grin. Bandit followed, hopping into the
back seat and letting his hands caress the cool leather. Ilene, a bit
more sensibly, opened the passenger side door and stepped in. The
drive back to Piper's house with the cool California wind rushing
through their hair was an experience as exhilarating as anything in
the cockpit.

"You've got to let me drive it!" Bandit cried as he stepped out onto
the driveway.

Piper laughed and tossed Bandit the keys. "Have fun, buddy! I know
I will."

Bandit grinned like a kid with a new toy as he settled into the
driver's seat. Piper had moved around and scooped Ilene up into his
strong arms. For the briefest of seconds, Bandit felt a twang of envy
as Piper started carrying the beautiful creature towards the house.
But it was only for the briefest of moments before the raw thundering
power of a V8 internal combustion engine began to sing its siren's

Chapter 2
09:15 - Los Angeles

"God, how I missed this!" Piper murmured as he pushed his face
between Ilene's breasts.

Ilene moaned softly as Piper pulled back and sucked a wonderfully
erect teat between his lips, her hands played through his hair as she
pulled him into her, arching her back ever so slightly in anticipation
of the moment he would take her.

Piper pulled away and moved up beside her, gazing at her angelic face
while his hand lightly traced the curves of her body. "You've grown
even more beautiful since we parted."

"I've been so alone, Jim." Ilene said, her face showing the full
extent of her needs and desires. "It's been so hard knowing the man of my dreams was half a world away." Her voice hitched and she
continued, "Knowing he may never come back to me."

"I'll always come back to you, Ilene. You're the reason I live."
Piper replied solemnly as he moved over her.

Ilene reached down and wrapped her hands around her husband's engorged
penis, guiding him to her entrance. Piper moved forward slightly and
entered her, savoring the way she engulfed him, feeling her contract
herself around him, reveling in the hot, moist sensations. With him
fully embedded within her, they both paused, existing for a moment as
one. Two lovers, parted yet together again. Then Piper began to move
and Ilene moved with him, their moans and screams filling the crisp
spring morning air.


"You're my main man! My number one man!
Love me! Fill me! Do me!
Like nobody else can!"

Rock and roll thundered even above the roar of the wind as Bandit wove
through the traffic. He was doing ninety easy and the car wasn't even
beginning to protest. He took a curve marked for fifty at eighty five
and let out a loud whoop as the tires stayed glued to the road, the G
forces tugging at his body, the wind howling through his hair.

"Come on baby! You're my man!
Take me, take me
on the desert sands!"

Over the wind and music Bandit heard a shrieking whine and a quick
glance in the rear view mirror showed a motorcycle cop right on his
tail, lights flashing. Bandit sighed as the joy ride ended and he
pulled over to the side of the road. It would be worth the ticket --
he hadn't had so much fun since he had taken his first jet out for a
spin. His instructor hadn't been able to withstand the G-forces,
Bandit hadn't been able to resist the urge to see what the beauty
could do. He had survived his instructor's ranting, no doubt he would
survive a traffic ticket.

The figure stepping off the motorcycle was definitely feminine,
despite the uniform, though Bandit couldn't see a face in the side
mirror. When he looked up he saw the perfect image of authoritative

The officer studied him a moment, noting his uniform before saying,
"You're not in a cockpit, flyboy. That was the most reckless piece of
driving I've seen since I joined the force."

"Shoot, that was nothing." Bandit grinned. "This baby was just
starting to get warmed up."

"Uh-huh" The officer said dryly. "License and registration."

Bandit fished out his military ID and rooted around for the
registration. "You stayed hot on my tail. You enjoyed it as much as
I did." Bandit said playfully as he handed the paperwork to the
officer. She said nothing as she studied the ID. "Look Officer, uh,
Bannon. I'm new in town, on furlough, and I don't really know anyone
here. After you write the ticket you wouldn't be interested in maybe
showing me around?"

The officer looked over at Bandit with a mixture of surprise and
incredulity on her face. Bandit exuded a boyish charm and sincerity
that had made his exploits legendary among his fellow pilots.

"How long are you in town for?" She asked still trying to decide if
he was halfway serious.

"Only a few days." Bandit replied. "Then it's back to the war." He
rolled his eyes mockingly, "Oh sorry, police action."

"I hear it's really rough over there."

"It is." Bandit agreed. "I never really know when I'll take off if
I'll be another statistic on the nightly news."

Though he said it with a straight face his tone made a total mockery
of the soldiers often used pickup line. So much so that the officer
had to laugh and Bandit joined her.

"I was heading back to the station. My shift's over. Why don't you
follow me?" Bandit grinned broadly as she handed back the paperwork
without the expected ticket. "And you can call me Jane."

"Nice name." Bandit agreed, then let out a whoosh of excitement as
Jane walked back to her cycle and led him back to the station.


"So soon?" Ilene asked in surprise as Piper felt her breasts from

"Hey! It's been over a year." Piper laughed softly into her ear. "A
year without sex, a year thinking and dreaming of you. I'm horny as a

"Rorrrr." Ilene growled agreeably as she twisted around in his arms
to face him.

Piper parted her robe and let it fall to the floor, then he lifted her
up and lowered her on to him. Joined, and laughing with each step,
Piper carried her back to the bedroom.

"Bandit's been gone a while." Ilene said as Piper lowered her onto
the bed.

"Good." He replied as he stared at her luscious form stretched out
before him.
"We shouldn't be worried?" Ilene asked.

Piper laughed. "Honey, Bandit can take care of himself. My guess is
he's already found a pretty little filly to introduce him to the joys
of L.A."

"You're kidding!" Ilene protested.

"Never about Bandit." Piper said as he slid into her.

Suddenly Ilene lost all interest in their missing house-guest.


"Oh God!" Jane moaned as Bandit moved inside her. "Yes! Fuck me!
Fuck me hard!"

Her long fingernails raked Bandit's back digging into his flesh as he
long shapely legs wrapped around him, the soles of her feet running
along Bandit's legs.

Bandit smiled knowingly, and altered his pace and technique, a little
trick he had learned that always drove the women wild, and Jane proved
no exception to the rule. Jane threw her head back and let out a long
scream of pure pleasure as her orgasm washed over her. Bandit finally
yielded his self-control and followed her, as her hot pussy clenched
in orgasmic rapture around his engorged cock.

Chapter 3
17:35 - Los Angeles

"Hey guys!" Bandit said as he stepped inside. "Hope you didn't miss
me to much!"

"You were gone?" Piper laughed.

"I guess with a woman like Ilene around, you can be excused from
missing my normally overwhelming presence." Bandit laughed.

"And where were you?" Ilene asked with an arched eyebrow. She had
given only passing credence to Piper's theory, despite the numerous
tales of Bandit's almost legendary exploits, but seeing his slightly
disheveled appearance she began to wonder.

Bandit blushed. "Well, your city seems to have just the nicest cops!"

"Cops?" Piper asked. "My car! Nothing happened to the car!"

"No! Nothing happened to your car!" Bandit said, rolling his eyes.
"It's just that one of L.A.'s finest decided to explain to me why I
shouldn't drive it so fast."

"Ohhh. And I suppose one of L.A.'s finest would happen to be a
woman?" Piper asked with a wink.

"Why, now that you mention it, I do believe you're right! I never
would have noticed it myself, at least not until she dragged me back
to her place." Bandit winked back.

"You are incorrigible!" Ilene accused. "I never really believed half
of what Piper told me about you, and only hours after I first meet
you, you run off and prove it's all true."

Bandit grinned broadly as he put a fat cigar in his mouth, giving him
the appearance of the cat who had just ate the canary, and made the
canary enjoy it to boot. "I bet Piper didn't even te ou half of
the stuff you wouldn't believe."

"Well, now that you two men have made up for your celibate military
lifestyles, I guess I'd better get dinner started." Ilene declared as
she strode into the kitchen.

"A cop?" Piper asked.

"Hey! You're not the only one allowed to have fun on his furlough."
Bandit said. "I take it the old fire's still burning?"

"At least a three-alarmer" Piper said as he leaned back in the

"You know, I can't remember seeing you quite this happy before,
buddy." Bandit said as he took a seat. "Maybe there's something to
this marriage thing I've been missing out on."

"Maybe." Piper said with a wink.

Ilene returned, passing out glasses of cold beer and kippers. As they
waited for the roast to cook, Ilene settled down into Piper's lap, and
listened with baited breath as Bandit told her how Piper had saved his
life in their last engagement.

"Hey! What's the matter? Pipe's a hero!" Bandit asked, as he

Ilene was trembling and biting her lip; the worry and concern on her
face was evident to anyone who looked. "I'm sorry, Bandit, but you
just don't know how hard it is for me with Jim away like he is. It's
wonderful he saved you, it's wonderful he's a hero, but you said
yourself he never should have survived. That's the kind of thing that
gives me nightmares." With a trembling hand she wiped a tear away
from her eye and stood up. "I'm sorry. I'd better check dinner."

Bandit gave Piper a confused look and Piper just held up a hand to
hold of until Ilene left. "Sorry Bandit, it's a touchy subject around
here. We risk our lives every day. Ilene knows that, she just
doesn't like to be reminded about it."

"Ohhh" Bandit mouthed, and finished off his beer. "It's funny, you
know. How telling one woman she might never see you again gets her
all hot and horny, and another woman all upset."

"The difference is called love, Bandit." Piper said. "You'll
discover the difference one day, I imagine."

Bandit shrugged.

Dinner was an elaborate affair, and was so different from normal
military fare that it would have been good even had Ilene not been a
world-class cook.

"Hmmm." Bandit groaned as he shoveled the food into his mouth. "This
is better than sex!"

Ilene laughed joyfully but Piper merely looked at Bandit in open
astonishment. "You have a fever or something, buddy? Did you just
say something was better than sex?"

Bandit paused, looked at the half-eaten plate before him, then back to
Piper. "Women are a dime a dozen, but a good meal, now that's a rare
thing. My Ma wasn't this good a cook!" Bandit grinned and raised his
wine glass. "To the lovely and charming cook!" Then he turned his
glass towards Piper and finished, "And to the luckiest man alive!"

Piper and Ilene laughed as they raised their glasses to his,
completing the toast.

They all helped with the dishes afterwards, and then retired to the
living room for a pleasant evening of conversation. The talk was
light, often humorous, and pointedly avoided mentioning the war.
Piper was telling the tale of how he had first become interested in
aviation when Bandit found his eyes wandering over to Ilene.

She was still the gorgeous image of perfection; a beautiful face, with
a beautiful figure, in a simple dress that was strikingly erotic. She
was exactly the sort of woman Bandit would pursue relentlessly, have a
night's pleasure with, and then move on.

Ilene glanced at Bandit, and for a moment their eyes locked, then she
blushed slightly and lowered her eyes. It was all perfectly innocent,
but for the briefest moment Bandit got the distinct impression that,
as Ilene had lowered her eyes, she was sizing him up. He discarded
that idea when Ilene returned her attention to Piper, gazing on her
husband with adoring eyes.


"He's right next door!" Ilene's muffled voice protested. "You know
how thin these walls are!"

There was a muted chuckle and a muted squeal of delight. "I once
drove Bandit from Balikpapan to Samarinda in a hummer. He was in the
back with one of the natives, and they were going at it like the world
was about to end. If I could do that for him, I think he can put up
with a few muffled grunts."

"It feels so nasty!" Ilene protested again, but without much force.

"We won't be doing anything Bandit hasn't done before. I promise."
Piper replied.

Conversation lapsed into a long series of moans and groans. Bandit
turned in the bed, trying to push out the sounds of their lovemaking,
but if anything the new position only emphasized each movement made in
the other room. Bandit tried in vain to push out the unbidden images
of Ilene. If the sounds and movements from the next room had to bring
up images, Bandit tried to let them be of him and Jane just a few
hours earlier.

But Jane's presence had already faded to insignificance. Yet another
conquest he had seen, fucked, and moved beyond. She had already
joined the mental scrapbook of countless women who had shared his bed.
As the sounds next door became more fevered, more passionate, Bandit
drifted off to sleep with an erection; Ilene's form moving over his in
his mind's eye, and her soft muffled moans in his ears.

Chapter 3
08:00 - Los Angeles

"Hope we didn't keep you up." Piper said as he set a cup of hot,
steaming coffee in front of Bandit.

"No. I was exhausted. No trouble at all." Bandit said. "But I was
thinking, I really should pick up my car, and it wouldn't hurt for me
to get that hotel room after all. I mean, I doubt Ilene will be
enthusiastic about me bringing the latest object of my affection

Piper frowned. "Hmm. I didn't consider that. You going to be
spending much time with Jane?"

"Probably. She wants to show me a few clubs tonight."

"Well, you already know her place is free. There's no problem at all
then, is there?"

Bandit frowned into his coffee. "No, I guess not."

Ilene entered the kitchen like a fresh breeze. "Morning all! My,
what a lucky woman I am to wake up to two strong handsome men, and
damn if they didn't make coffee too!"

Piper laughed and kissed her warmly. "Looks like Bandit has a date

"Does it involve handcuffs?" Ilene asked Bandit with a laugh.

Bandit blushed, for some reason feeling awkward talking about Jane
with Ilene. "I'm not exactly sure yet. We're going to visit a few

"Sounds like fun." Ilene said. "In the meantime Jim and I get to
show you L.A."

"Where do you think we should start?" Piper asked.

"I think we should start at the beach this morning. Nothing like
seeing and being seen among the beautiful people. A quick stop back
here to shower and then a late lunch at the garden, followed by Magic

Piper considered this. "That sounds like a plan! Sound good to you

"You're the experts." Bandit deferred. "I'll leave it all in your
capable hands."


As Bandit unfolded the beach towel, he realized that agreeing to the
beach was a mistake. Seeing Ilene in the short-skirted dresses she
liked to wear was bad enough, seeing her in a bikini was devastating.
Beautiful people surrounded him, women he would have found himself
chasing after like a dog in heat walked by, but everyone paled to
insignificance next to this stunningly attractive woman in a two-piece
green striped bikini.

After chastising himself, he was finally able to settle back and enjoy
the warm rays on his skin. He was resting comfortably, almost between
sleep and alertness, when he suddenly felt a pair of delicate, warm,
moist hands on his back.

"You're going to get a horrible sunburn." Ilene said as she rubbed
the lotion into his back.

Bandit said nothing as suddenly every fiber of his being became
attuned to the delicate caresses on his back.

Ilene rubbed his shoulder and blades, working the warm lotion into his
skin. "Do all pilots have such powerful shoulders?"

"I guess so." Bandit said, then winced at the incredibly lame reply,
wincing yet again at why he had wanted the answer to be more suave.

Ilene's touches drifted down to the small of his back before lifting.
He could almost feel the heat of her hands as they passed over his
butt and rested on the back of his legs. Maybe it was his
imagination, but she seemed to take her time doing his upper legs
before lightly oiling his lower legs.

"Thanks," he said as she finished.

"Don't mention it," Ilene replied. "Can't have a guest burned to a
crisp on his second day, could we?"

Bandit's thoughts were an incoherent jumble as he returned to his
tanning. He wasn't even pretending that Ilene didn't attract him now.
Now he was just trying to ignore it. He had never before met a woman
he couldn't have if he just put his mind to it, but here wrapped up in
a package that couldn't fail to appeal to him he found a beautiful,
sexy woman who just happened to be his best friend's wife. For some
reason, the fact that he couldn't have her made him want her all the

Lunch and the magic show were almost as bad as the beach. Now with
almost a perfect mental image of Ilene's form, even the modestly
conservative dress she wore failed to hide her exquisite form to
Bandit's mind's eye. Lunch was wonderful, the conversation was
wonderful, and the magic show was wonderful. But the conversation
merely drove home to Bandit just how interesting Ilene really was.

He met Jane at her doorstep promptly at six as promised, but she never
had a chance to make it out the door. He met her light polite kiss
with a kiss of unrestrained passion and need, overwhelming her with
its intensity. Bandit took a step forward, pushing her back into the
room and then another. His hand drifted to the back of her elegant
white gown and began tugging at the zipper.

Overcome by his desire and confused at his intensity, Jane offered
little resistance as her dress fell to the floor. Bandit pulled back,
his eyes never leaving hers, and tore off his shirt, popping several
buttons in the process. Jane took a deep breath as she accepted the

Bandit was not gentle as he took her. He had never needed sex as much
as he needed it at this moment. Jane was his salvation, the key to
forgetting Ilene. Her hips raised to meet his as he thrust into her,
her face contorting into an agonizing expression of ecstasy. With
mounting horror Bandit realized he wasn't fucking Jane, he was fucking
Ilene. It was Jane's moans he was hearing, but it was Ilene's moans
he remembered as he thrust harder, trying with raw physical strength
to shatter the illusion. It wasn't Jane's hands on his back, it was
Ilene's as she caressed the suntan oil into his skin. It wasn't
Jane's face and breasts which filled his vision, it was Ilene's.

"Oh God!" Jane cried.

"Oh God!" Bandit gasped weakly as they moved in orgasmic rapture.

Chapter 4
08:00 - Los Angeles

"You got home early last night." Piper said over coffee.

"Jane and I decided to skip the clubs." Bandit explained.

Piper frowned. This wasn't the Bandit he remembered. Sitting across
from him was an almost somber man, someone who looked like he was
carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. For a moment,
Piper considered asking what was wrong, but only for a moment.
Whatever it was, Bandit would deal with it, and he certainly wouldn't
appreciate an offer of help. If he needed help he'd ask for it,
otherwise there was nothing Piper could do.

Ilene however, didn't know the rules of engagement, and she noticed
Bandit's glum mood right off the bat. "What's up, Bandit? You look
like you just lost your best friend."

Bandit looked up at her sharply. "My best friend just happens to be
your husband. I wouldn't want to lose him any more than you would!"
he snapped and stormed out of the room.

"What?" Ilene asked Piper.

Piper waved her off and followed Bandit into the living room. "You
OK?" Piper asked.

"Yea. Sorry. Delayed combat fatigue and all that rot. Look Pipe,
I'm gonna hit the town on my own for a couple of days, really cut

"Sure. Anything you want. It's your furlough too, you know."

"I know." Bandit walked over and picked his keys up off the table.
"See you in a couple of days."

Ilene walked up behind Piper as Bandit left the house. "What a
strange man."

"Something's gotten into him, that's for sure." Piper mused
worriedly. "Knowing Bandit, I'd say this is exactly how he'd react to
falling head over heels in love."

"Love?" Ilene asked arching an eyebrow. "It doesn't look like love.
He looks positively miserable."

"Bandit's convinced love would be worse than a prison. He enjoys his

"You don't think love is a prison, do you?" Ilene asked.

Piper turned and gazed lovingly into his wife's eyes. "Only the best
kind. The kind I never want to escape from."

Ilene smiled warmly, but her thoughtful, considerate eyes followed
Bandit as he made his way to the car.
Chapter 5
10:23 - Los Angeles

It had been seven days since Bandit had fled. It was the seventh day
of his drunk. Time had passed in an alcoholic blur of hangovers,
buzzes, and uncounted numbers of women, beautiful or not. Sitting
across a table from the woman he had woken up with this morning,
Bandit was becoming dangerously close to sober, though it was hard to
tell exactly considering the bizarre decorations in the woman's

The woman across from him was pretty enough, but she was dressed in
weird colored robes and wearing a gaudy crystal necklace. The crystal
was similar to others which dotted the room around him. Bandit rubbed
his eyes trying to remember who she was, how he had met her and what
they had done the previous night.

The woman drew a card from a large, oversized, strangely marked deck
and laid it before him. "You're in love." The woman said with all
the certainty she might say "You're a man." She smiled at the obvious
conclusion that he was in love with her, but her smile faded quickly
as she laid another card on the table. "A forbidden love." She
frowned as she laid three more cards out on the table. "It consumes
you." She drew another card from the deck and stared at it a moment
before letting it fall on the others. The card fluttered in the air a
moment before coming to rest face up.

Bandit had no idea what she was doing or why she was doing it, the
cards she had drawn were just pretty pictures, though her words echoed
in his mind like an accusation. But the final card, the card that had
fallen above the others, turning to face him as it had fallen, was
understandable by anyone. A cloaked skeleton wielding a scythe and
riding a pale horse appeared below a flowing banner with a single
word: "Death".

"Lady, you're a nut case." Bandit said as the world closed in around
him. He rose, found himself naked, and furiously cast his eye around
the small apartment looking for his clothes. He found them article by
article, leading from the front door to the bedroom.

"The cards never lie," the woman said simply as he began dressing,
wincing at the smell of old alcohol and stale smoke that assaulted his
senses. "You love another, a forbidden love, and death comes for us
all. It does not mean that you will die, only that you will
experience death either yourself or that of someone you care about.
Let me do a full reading."

"Fine. Do your reading." Bandit growled as he scooped up his shirt,
socks and shoes and fled from the apartment.

The bright California sunshine assaulted his senses like a curse as he
fled the building. Bandit drove to a nearby cheap motel and checked
himself in. He groaned at the man who stared back at him in the
mirror. He didn't recognize this person, the unkempt hair, and the
dark circles under the eyes. The two-day-old beard said, for the
entire world to see, that here was a person who didn't even care about
himself. As he stared into the mirror, he realized it was the truth.
He didn't care about himself. The only person he cared about was

Even in his drunk she had haunted him. His obsession with her was
unlike anything he had ever known before. "Bandit, you're one sick
motherfucker." he said into the mirror. The man in the mirror mouthed
it right back at him. Bandit fell back onto the bed and buried his
eyes in his clenched fists.

Chapter 6
10:30 - Los Angeles

"Bandit!" Piper greeted Bandit warmly. "Been painting the town red?"

"More like black and blue." Piper grinned. "There were a bunch of
Marines at the bar last night."

"You don't look any worse for the wear!" Piper said with a twinkle in
his eye.

"No, but they do!" Bandit laughed and Piper joined him.

Ilene drifted up behind Piper at the door, studying Bandit with a keen
and interested eye. "Hell, I'm forgetting my manners. Come on in!"

"Really, I just dropped by to wish you luck and congratulations. You
leave tonight don't you?"

"Actually in a couple of hours." Piper said. "More than enough time
to share a beer. I can't believe I'm saying this after living with
you night and day for more than a year, but hell, I missed you!"

"Same here." Bandit grinned sheepishly.

"Come in Bandit, I'll get you guys a couple of beers." Ilene said.

Bandit's eyes flitted to Ilene then to the ground. "Really, I
shouldn't stay."

"Really, you should." Piper said. "Somehow I got the idea you were
going to tell me what to expect at this big award presentation but
then you up and disappeared."

"You've been decorated?" Ilene asked as she handed Bandit a beer.

"It was a long time ago." Bandit said.

"Not that long. It was before we served together, but the way I hear
it, Bandit got lucky and shot down three Mao's all by his lonesome.
Saved the troops below from an air strike. He got the same sort of
treatment I imagined I'll be getting tomorrow."

Bandit smiled, staring at the beer warily for a moment before setting
it on the table. For the next hour, Bandit told Piper what he could
expect, most of which was complete and total boredom.

"Oh yea, whatever you do, don't pinch the General's wife. She may
like it, but the General doesn't." Bandit said with a perfectly
straight face. Piper guffawed and Ilene joined him.

"So, what have you been doing with yourself, Bandit?" Ilene asked.

"Oh, exploring the town, meeting people. That sort of thing."

"And now?" she prompted.

Bandit leaned back in the chair and ran a hand through his hair. "And
now I just miss being in a cockpit. The furlough's run a bit too long
for my liking."

"After today you've still got four more days." Piper reminded him.

"Well, if you want to hang around tonight, I'm sure I could whip up
another meal. Four more if you want, since the invitation is still
open." Ilene said.

"You don't know how tempting that sounds." Bandit said. "Really.
But with Piper leaving in an hour or so, I think I'd better pass."

Piper gave Bandit a puzzled glance. "What are you talking about,

"It just wouldn't be proper and all." Bandit said.

"Hell, I trust you every day with my life. I've trusted Ilene every
day for more than a year. Why in the world should I be concerned
about the two people I love and trust the most in this life being
together while I'm off getting a few grams of brass pinned to my

Bandit flushed. "No reason, I guess. Dinner would be great. But I
can't promise anything after that. I've met a few people, you see."

Piper laughed uproariously, "That's my wingman!"

Bandit cast an uneasy glance at Ilene, and found her staring back at
him with a puzzled expression.

Chapter 7
19:05 - Los Angeles

"This was every bit as good as the first meal, Ilene." Bandit said as
he pushed the empty plate away from him, and patted his swollen belly.
"I can't believe I ate as much as I did."

"Jim always did say that he had to work three times harder as the
others at the gym to work off my cooking." Ilene said as she began to
collect the plates. "But thanks for the compliment."

"Let me help you." Bandit said as he helped her clear the table.

"If you insist. I love cooking, but hate the cleaning."

Ilene ran some hot water and began washing the dishes while Bandit
helped her with the drying.

"You're quiet tonight." Bandit noted after a few minutes of silence.

"Oh I'm just missing Jim." She looked over at Bandit with a weak
smile. "I'm glad you decided to stay at least for dinner. It's
always hard for me when Jim has to leave again. With you around it's
not as bad."

"I really shouldn't stay." Bandit said. "I plan to sneak out right
after everything's all tidied up."

Ilene pushed the pot back into the water and turned sharply. "All
right, Bandit, what did I do?"

"What?" Bandit asked, surprised at her sudden intensity.

"For a year we've talked on and off on the Vid-phone, and I rather
thought we'd be friends. I got all excited about meeting my husband's
wingman and showing him the town. I barely get to know you and you
start avoiding me like the plague!"

Bandit stared at her a moment, noting how she trembled as she stared
back at him, how her breasts rose and fell in deep breaths, how her
stern, demanding expression somehow made her even more desirable.

Bandit's shoulders slumped, and he let out a deep, measured breath.
"It's not you, Ilene. It's me. You know what kind of man I am. I've
never met a woman I wanted that I couldn't bed. Well, I finally met a
woman I want but can't have."

Ilene's face was a mixture of shock and surprise as she took an
involuntary step away from him.

"There. I've said it. You didn't leave me very much choice in the
matter, either." Bandit said angrily, accusingly. "I don't know what
would be worse, chasing you and winning, or chasing you and losing."

"I - I don't know what to say." Ilene stammered and finding her knees
suddenly weak, she placed a hand on the counter for support.

"You don't have to say anything." Bandit said. "It's not your
problem. It's mine."

"You mean you left because, because…" she was unable to continue.

"Because I was afraid that if I stuck around, I'd try to seduce you."
Bandit finished for her. "Surprised? I sure the hell am. I always
thought that I was in the cockpit; that I decided who I liked and who
I didn't. But you, you hit me like a ton of bricks, and you're the
one woman in this world I can't have, but right now you're the only
woman in this world I want."

Bandit turned, took a step to leave, and stopped. He swung back
around, trembling. He started to say something but stopped, his face
a reflection of profound loss as he turned and left.

Slowly Ilene lowered herself into the chair and stared off into the

Chapter 7
19:05 - Los Angeles

"I didn't expect to see you again." Ilene said as she stared at
Bandit through the screen door.

"I didn't expect to be here again." Bandit said with a weak, quirky
grin. "I need to get my bags. They're still in the bedroom and I fly
out tomorrow." Ilene stepped back and invited him in. "I won't be
long. I promise." Bandit said.

"I love my husband, Bandit." Ilene said as he was halfway across the
living room.

Bandit ground to a halt and turned slowly. "So do I. He's the
brother I never had. He's the reason I'm here today getting my bags,
rather than rotting away in grave."

They stared at each other in awkward silence for a minute before
Bandit turned and headed back toward the bedroom again. "If it wasn't
for Jim…" Ilene said quickly then stopped biting her lip as Bandit
turned back around. "If it wasn't for Jim, you're exactly the sort of
man I could fall hard for." she finished softly.

"Don't say that." Bandit said. "It doesn't help," he said as a plea.

"I - I just wanted you to know," she said and shook her head as if
shaking herself out of a daze, "I admire you for what you're doing. I
mean, I can't very well fault someone for liking me!"

"Oh yea. This is real admirable." Bandit said bitterly. "Falling
hard for my best friend's girl then running away from it all like a
whipped pup. Real admirable, they ought to give me a medal or
something." He turned sharply and disappeared into the bedroom,
emerging after a few minutes with his bags.

"We're going to meet again, you know." Ilene said. "Either your next
furlough, or after the war. You and Jim are too close for us not to
meet again. If you keep running away from me, you'll never learn how
to deal with this, this whatever it is. Come back for dinner

Bandit's eyes were pained and his teeth clenched as he answered. "Do
you know how hard it is for me to be here with you right now, like
this? You're in my mind, Ilene! You're in my fucking mind and I
can't get you out! I've slept with countless, countless women, but
the only woman I can think about is you! I want you so badly it
hurts! It's like an itch I can't scratch, and it's driving me insane
trying to deal with it."

Ilene's head fell back as if she had been physically slapped, and
Bandit's eyes narrowed as he stared at her. "Knowing that, Ilene?
Knowing that, do you still think I can learn how to deal with this?
Is dinner really such a good idea?"

Ilene straightened herself and tried to meet the passionate intensity
of Bandit's gaze. "There's got to be a way…" she began.

"There isn't. This ends now by me going out that door and staying as
far away from you as I can."

Bandit took two steps to the door. "Wait." Bandit paused for a
moment and then took another step. "Please." Ilene said again.

"What are you doing, Ilene?" Bandit pleaded.

"I - I - I don't know." Ilene's agonized voice answered him.

Bandit turned and stared at her, studying every pore of her face.
Realizing that maybe his desire for her was returned. "Ilene."
Bandit implored but was unable to say another word as he stood there.

"For a year, whenever I wondered too long if maybe Jim wouldn't be
coming home, whenever it got too bad, he always called. Almost always
you were in the background making some quip or another. I liked you
Bandit. You're everything my mother ever warned me about, but you're
exciting, funny, and more than anything, you're dangerous. So I like
you. In the flesh, you're all that and more. Handsome, a smile to
die for, and even a tight butt. I can deal with finding you
attractive and even desirable. Why can't you do the same for me?"

"Because I don't think with my brain, Ilene. In the air, I fly by the
seat of my pants, on the ground I go where my heart leads me. I've
never had to deal with a woman I lusted after as a friend. I don't
know how to deal with it. I can't deal with it. This is insane! I
should have been out that door five minutes ago. Where this is going
is not good."

"So leave." Ilene said finally.

Bandit started to turn and then stopped. "I can't."

"You've discovered how to deal with me as a friend?" Ilene asked.

"No. I've discovered that you find me attractive and desirable."

"And yet I still love my husband." Ilene said.

"As do I." Bandit said as he took a step towards her.

"Only tonight." Ilene said in a quivering voice. "Tonight and never

"God, let it be enough." Bandit said as the bags fell to the floor
and he stepped into her embrace.

Chapter 9
23:19 - Los Angeles

Exhausted from the ceremony and flight, Piper, seeing the darkened
house crept quietly into the bedroom. The general had been very
sympathetic, even apologetic about the time he was taking away from
Piper, and had his secretary book him a layover stop in LA. It
couldn't make up for four lost days, but at least he'd have one more
night and morning with his wife before he returned to the action.

In the pale moonlight, something struck him as odd as he noticed the
bed, drawing closer fear and dread began to fill him as he realized
Ilene was not alone. With surprisingly little feeling he stepped
back to the doorway and felt around for the light switch. Ilene and
Bandit woke with a start, squinting under the harshness of the
unexpected light.

"Get your stuff and get out of my house, Bandit." Piper said in a
steady tone.

"Piper!" Bandit exclaimed then stopped as the full realization of
what was happening hit home.

"Now." Piper ordered.

Bandit searched Piper's face in vain, grasping at anything that could
save their friendship. Finally, under Piper's unwavering glare,
Bandit collected his things and quietly left, defeated.

Piper's stone cold eyes followed Bandit, and then turned on his wife,
who was sitting up, sobbing quietly on the bed.

Chapter 10
15:17 - Malaysia - 56,000 feet over no-man's land.

Bandit was limping back to base alone. He and Viper had stumbled on a
group of three Mao's on patrol. Viper had splashed one and wounded
another before a chinese missile sent both Viper and the plane he was
flying down into the tropical jungle miles below in a million tiny
pieces. The fight which had followed had taken every shred of skill
and luck Bandit possessed.

What saved him may have been his deathwish. That's what the other
pilots called it. Since coming back from furlough, no one on the base
had managed to miss the fact that the two inseparable pilots now
avoided each other. The rumors flew as rumors will, a few even coming
close to the truth. But what all agreed on was that since returning,
Bandit had been taking almost stupid risks, risks that at least for
the moment had significantly improved his kill ratio, but risks that
none-the-less would not let him survive long.

No sane pilot, when hearing a missile tone, would kill his thrust.
The thrust that was the only thing between the pilot and a warhead,
and that was never enough. But after Viper bit the big one and the
Mao broke through his defenses, Bandit powered down his engines and
applied the air brakes at supersonic speed. The enemy fighter was
firing its missile as it overshot past him, and the missile had not
only lost its lock, but Bandit's plane was now in attack position.
The computers effortlessly splashed the bogie. The other enemy
fighter was too wounded to be much of a threat. Bandit didn't even
have to engage as the pilot bailed out, seeing he was alone.

"Red five." The radio squawked. "Blue six is under enemy fire.
Transferring telemetry data now. If you can, Piper needs you." The
last was certainly not military, apparently combat control felt
mentioning Piper's name would spur him to action. Combat control was
right. Bandit fired the afterburners without a second's hesitation.

The situation was grim. Piper's patrol had been attacked by three
Mao's. They had splashed one Mao, but Piper's wingman was lost in the
process. Now Piper was in a losing battle against two fully armed and
uncrippled Mao's.

"Blue six. I'm coming in hot. ETA thirty seconds, stall them as long
as you can."

There was a second of static filled silence before the radio burst to
life. "I never thought I'd be happy to see you again in my life,

"Yea well, save the mushy stuff till later. We're all sorry here, but
no-one's as sorry as me, and for damn sure no one's going to be as
sorry as those Mao's."

One Mao had hung back while the other hunted Piper. Thanks to Piper's
telemetry, Bandit's computer had an inside track to the enemy
fighter's defenses the moment it appeared on the scope. The Mao's
were good but the American over-the-horizon sensors could still peer a
little farther than their chinese counterparts. The first Mao never
knew what hit him."

"Only one more ECM layer to go and he'll be through, buddy." Piper
said. "You're not close enough. Shit, you don't even have any
missiles left."

"Just hang on! I'm coming as fast as this garbage scow will take me!"

"It's over." Piper said. "I forgive you, Bandit. Promise me you'll
take care of Ilene. Tell her I died still loving her, that I never
stopped. I said some things I wish I never had. I hurt her Bandit.
I hurt her bad."

"Tell her yourself." Bandit said as the computer told him he was now
in missile range, if he'd had any missiles. The computer predicted
fifteen seconds for the Mao to lock on. Bandit switched the display
and typed furiously on the keypad. "Fourteen seconds to lock on.
Fifteen seconds to the Mao at maximum afterburners and then a one
sided dogfight. The Mao still had six devastating missiles while
Bandit had only his guns, and in a dogfight the Mao could outmaneuver
his plane.

"She never stopped loving you for a second, Piper." Bandit said. "I
was wrong, she was wrong, my life was screwed up from the moment I saw
her at the airport, but neither of us stopped caring for you, Piper.
She never stopped loving you, you never stopped being my best friend."
Bandit's fingers hovered over the solid rocket booster switches. A
million years ago Piper's fingers had hovered over these same
switches, a million years ago Piper had rolled the dice, knowing there
was a chance he'd survive and save his friend. Bandit knew as soon as
he closed the switch he would die. The computer was wrong. He did
have a missile left. A few tons of high tech composite materials with
a few thousand gallons of explosive fuel and a helluva lot of inertia.
"There's only one man and one woman I'd do this for Pipe. We had some
good times together. Try and remember that. You're one lucky son of
a bitch."

Bandit flicked the switches and the solids ignited in a kamikaze
uncontrolled burn. The designers knew that those switches would more
than likely disintegrate the plane, knew it would more than likely
kill the pilot, but in a no win situation it offered a slim chance to
live. When every card had been played it was an ace in the hole.

As Bandit's world went black, his plane slammed into the Mao.

Chapter 10
09:30 - Arlington national cemetery

Piper choked back the tears as he stepped up to the podium and stared
out over the men and women who had gathered here to pay their final
respects to Bandit.

"I never had a friend like Bandit before. He got me in more trouble
than anyone I'd ever been associated with, he saved my bacon more
times than I care to count, in the end he caused me more grief than
I'd ever felt before. But when I hated him the most, or thought I
hated him, he never stopped being my friend. Bandit was like that.
He wore his heart on his sleeve, never said anything he didn't mean,
and he might do things no one in their right mind would ever do, but
no matter what, if the chips were down he was always exactly the
person you'd want to help you pick them up."

Piper sniffed and whipped away a tear. "I'm here today because Bandit
saw I was in trouble and he had a choice to make. Bandit chose to
save my life at the price of his own. That was Bandit. In life, he
was just a man who struggled, like all men struggle, winning or losing
in those struggles as his nature dictated. In death, there's no one
here today that would not call him a hero, least of all me."

Piper stepped away from the podium and into the waiting arms of his
wife. They stared at each other for a moment, each seeing the pain of
their loss reflected in the other's features, before falling into a
long comforting embrace.

-- Sandman


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