The title pretty much says it all. I’ll do a little more commentary at the end. Let the dogfighting begin…
James saw two MiG-25 Foxbat fighters descend on a damaged B-52 like hyenas on a carcass and cursed, unable to do anything at the moment. One of the fighters pressed its firing run too close, and ate a storm of 20mm gatling fire from the B-52s tail gun. But the other closed to the minimum range for its monstrous AA-6 missiles and fired two heat-seekers. The big missiles lanced into the B-52 and exploded its bomb bays, debris scattering for a quarter mile radius, some of it slamming into a neighboring Stratofortress.
Everywhere in the sky it seemed B-52s were dying. Russian fighters ran through the bomber stream with suicidal courage, some even colliding with their targets. The bomber tail gunners were doing all that they could, but their weapons were too short-ranged to be of much good. It was the friendly fighters, and only the friendly fighters, that would be able to defend the bombers.
At the moment, the friendly fighters had problems of their own. James realized that this was the Soviet Air Force’s make or break effort. Every qualified pilot still in PVO Strany, the Russian home-defence force, had to be up in the air. His fighters were grossly outnumbered, two to one odds not good when you were dueling with MiG-29s and Su-27s for the most part. These fighters were only slightly less advanced than his own Tomcat, and arguably just as maneuverable. There were going to be a bunch of empty bunks back at the N.A.T.O. bases tonight.
James wrenched the stick over, rolling through the final maneuver of his Immelmann and turning viciously after the Su-27 that had dropped onto his tail. For a brief moment, his wings lost lift and his fighter was simply a guided rocket. Then once more they bit air, and he finished the maneuver.
The Su-27 pilot suddenly saw that he was a dead man and dived. James followed vengefully, knowing this would be one less man they had to shoot down later. He was out of Sidewinders, and flicked on the radar.
“Boresight!” Amazon cried out. He squeezed off a Sparrow. The medium range missile streaked off the rail, going towards its target. The Russian pilot dumped chaff and wracked his aircraft to the left, but the missile was not fooled. Its warhead expanded into the enemy fighter, blowing off a wing. The Flanker went into a flat spin, trapping the pilot.
James felt the sweat running off his body, knowing he had just put in a virtuoso performance and shot down his fifth kill. Only three pilots in the whole of N.A.T.O. had done this, and only one Russian that he knew of. But now he was almost out of missiles and fuel, and the fight had just begun.
“SAM! SAM! SAM!” Amazon screamed, as the sound of the radar-warning receiver came on. Amazon switched the frequency of the jammers and banged down the chaff button of her HOTAS, a cloud of the metallic debris spilling out behind them to create a false radar image.
The missile saved their life. A stream of tracers streaked by their joint canopy, close enough to touch. James looked in his rearview mirror and felt his stomach drop, and his blood turn to ice.
A yellow-painted MiG-29K Fulcrum hung there. It was Ilvanyich.
Ivan felt the dark rage well up in him. He was going to kill some feces eating, rat screwing, half-aborted SAM battery commander! The all black F-14 had been right in his sights, hanging there ready for the kill. Now he was going to have to take some time to kill the American.
The F-14’s nose flew up into the 90-degree angle, then its canards flipped back and it came over onto its back. Ilvanyich saw this maneuver as he hurtled past, his body already reacting into a tight turn without having to think about it. It was Loftman. He was sure of it. Today would be the day the American died.
The stage was set. Both the leading aces of the primary warring nations had met each other, high in the Soviet sky that had been witness to so much killing already. Neither had the advantage or a wingman to interfere. Both had an axe to grind.
As the two fighters orbited around, circling warily, Ilvanyich thought of his dead wife, blown apart by a VF-41 Tomcat over Argentina. He thought about her as he had last seen her, in her radar controller uniform, tear in her eye, at Moscow’s airport. She had been lost instantly in a rush of people, the war being only hours away. The thought about her terrible and sudden death still haunted him.
James Loftman thought of his younger brother, the happily playing ten-year old that had vowed to go to the Naval Academy, just like “bub”. And he had become a fighter pilot, just like all three of his older brothers. His mind wandered briefly to Max and Sheen, both in the skies with him. If Ilvanyich should kill him this day, he hoped it was one of them or one of his squadronmates that avenged him.
The two pilots, both sick of the circling, simply turned towards each other and charged, neither one having any missiles. At the extreme limit of his monstrous 30mm cannon, James opened fire, the vibration of the gun coming through his feet and shaking his whole body. Ilvanyich pitched his nose up to fly over the stream, then rolled to his right and pitched down to come at the F-14 from an angle, firing his own 30mm cannon. The weapon sprayed its shells over a wide area.
James felt the F-14 shudder and cursed, rolling away. A hole the size of his fist had appeared in the fuselage of the F-14, and he had just lost contact with the fire control computer. So now it was about to become dead reckoning fire.
The two pilots shoved their throttles forward. Amazon grabbed her armrests and held on for the ride, her only job as an RIO to look out for other enemy fighters trying to crash the party. She had utter faith in her husband and pilot. He had steered them through sixty-one kills up to this point, and she had only had to go into the drink twice.
James turned to go after the hard turning and climbing Fulcrum. His heavier fighter would never have been able to hang with the lighter, nimbler Fulcrum under normal circumstances, but the thrust vectoring engines and canards that had been added to the F-14D before the war had turned it into the nimblest, most powerful fighter in the world. James felt the advantage was his as he turned after the Russian.
Ilvanyich completed the Immelmann, but not in time to come back down on Loftman’s tail. The American had climbed into a yo-yo after him, and was now sliding into the kill position a mile back. It was time for desperate measures, as his Fulcrum was losing energy and getting hard to control. He pulled up into a stall attitude, pulling the throttle back and letting the plane’s drag almost stop it in mid-air.
The manuever worked. Loftman had unconsciously made the mistake most pilots flying powerful fighters did–He had added too much speed. Ilvanyich slapped the nose back down, going into a slight dive to gain airspeed as he shoved his throttle forwards.
“DAMMIT!” James cursed, knowing he was in trouble now. He hadn’t even bothered trying to slow down, but was instead trying to gain separation, or distance between the enemy fighter and himself so he could pull a maneuver.
It wasn’t working. Ilvanyich had been given a brand new MiG-29 as a gift. This now showed, the fighter responding like a thoroughbred and leaping after the Tomcat like a barracuda after a fat, juicy fish.
James broke just as Ilvanyich opened fire. The Tomcat groaned dangerously, as he felt the G-forces kick him in the gut. Sweat was running in rivers down his body. He felt a slight twinge of doubt on whether he was going to make it, the tracers coming closer and closer to his fighter.
Then they stopped. Ilvanyich had lessened his turn, unable to hold it with the Tomcat. James reversed the turn, expecting Ilvanyich to try and go the other way and snap onto his tail.
He brought his fighter around to empty sky and cursed.
“He’s above us!” Amazon said, her tone rising.
Ivan was proud of himself. He had fired the last burst then snapped his MiG into a vertical turn. He was now coming at the Tomcat from and angle Loftman could do nothing about. He depressed the cannon tit.
“Die Loftman!” he shouted over the com net.
Someone always has to lose in war. If it was not for the fact that thousands of people die in war, man would probably have one every day. A certain competitive spirit, a total channeling of the being seldom achieved except by Zen masters, overtakes the normal civilized psyche of everyday man during the war. Man craves the adrenaline rush.
James Loftman’s number, by all intents and purposes, should’ve come up. Despite the fact that all vital spots of the Tomcat had been hardened against cannon fire up to 30mm in caliber, and that the fuel tanks had internal fire extinguishers, enough explosive power should’ve impacted the Tomcat to simply swat it out of the sky.
Twenty-five of the big 30mm shells hit the Tomcat, shaking it like a rag doll and snapping the stick from James’s hands. The electronic fly by wire system that gave the fighter part of its amazing agility, was knocked out temporarily. And, most horrible of all, a shell entered the rear cockpit of the F-14. The shell hit Amazon dead center, right in her chest. She never even realized she was dead. Ilvanyich had exchanged life for life, wife for wife.
James heard the bang behind him and the sudden silence over the intercom as his F-14 went into a spin. His will to live left his body. Amazon had been his rock, his salvation. It had been her shoulder he had cried on when he found out his brothers Andy and Luke were dead. She had been the one that forced him to keep his honor and his humanity intact by not killing Ilvanyich in his chute. She had kept him sane after having to tell his parents they had lost another son. He remembered once again the happiness that had coursed through his soul when they had been married on that small hill just outside the town of Derwin, Texas, where he had been raised. And the caring way she had broke the news to Shorty Joghnson’s wife that her warrior would not be coming home to see his newborn son, despite all James Loftman could’ve done to save him. No, life was not worth living without her. So he did not try to eject.
Ilvanyich followed the blazing Tomcat down, ready to add his last twenty shells to the damage if necessary. This was the trump to what he was sure had been a great victory. Two B-52s had fallen to him personally. If the other pilots had done as well as he had, there probably would be no more B-52 raids. They probably had not stopped the bombers from getting through, but they had probably made sure they would not be back.
Loftman had not even made an attempt to bail out. Ivan could see the hole in the canopy. Perhaps he had got lucky and gotten both Loftman and his hussy with one shot. He would circle closer.
James saw the yellow MiG coming in almost contemptously towards him, the Russian bastard probably trying to make sure he had killed him.
This thought suddenly galvanized him. A dark, evil, rage seized him. Ilvanyich was responsible for Amazon’s loss. If he only lived for the next few seconds, he would know he had died trying to avenge her.
He waited until he could clearly see the Russian, and brought his right hand up in a gesture of defiance, one finger extended. He then slammed down his flaps and hauled hard on the stick, putting extra effort into the move.
The F-14 responded as if it also wanted revenge on the man that had defiled its beautiful lines and ended the life of one crewmember before ruining the heart of the other. The nose snapped sharply around, drawing towards the MiG. The stall warnings were screaming in his ear, but he coaxed what little airspeed he had left into maneuvering energy.
The MiG hung in his sight. James felt his rage released in an explosion of unearthyly force as he pressed the trigger. He held the button down, the 30mm cannon emptying the remaining 200 rounds in its drum. Every single round hit home.
Ilvanyich knew he was dead, even as he tried desperately to get up some speed after the slow pass. His life passed before his eyes as he saw the twinkle of the 30mm gatling. Then the slugs smashed through the canopy and killed the favorite son of the Soviet Air Force, turning him, his seat, and his cockpit console into inseperable junk.
James felt very much like an old time Western gunslinger as he turned away with grim satisfaction. He checked all around him for any threats. The sky was clear, except for a rising smoke pall to the east. He turned the battered old Tomcat for home, and let the tears and grief come out, sobbing as he piloted the F-14.
Upper Heyford was a beehive as activity as James started to come in for a landing. He had been forced to wait while bombers with injured crewmen had landed. After all, he only had cold meat in his rear cockpit.
This thought was a symbol of what Amazon’s death had done to him. He did not feel human anymore, his emotions simply gone. He felt perhaps it might be shock. But he could still function, and any instructor would’ve said he was flying the damaged Tomcat as well as could possibly be expected.
Inside he was wondering if he was not at fault for Amazon’s death. Both VF-41 and VF-84 had been offered, after the Flying Dutchman-like cruise of the Enterprise a job of training new pilots in Russian air-combat tactics at Top Gun. To a man, they had decided to re-enter combat. Most of them had not lived to regret it. James wondered if he should’ve put his foot down and ordered them to stay out of it. But no, that had been everyone’s decision–and it had probably saved more lives than it had lost. He hated to think of some squadron such as VF-1, the Wolfpack, that had not been in combat the entire war, going up against Ilvanyich and his veterans. No, the thirty-six men and women that had made that decision had made the right choice, even if there were now only five of them still living.
“Samurai One One, you are cleared for landing,” the radar controller’s tired voice said in his ear. James brought the F-14 in slowly, feeling it want to get away from him. Wouldn’t that be ironic, for him to have come all this way just to crack up and die.
He had come all this way to ensure Amazon got buried in her home state of Missouri. A trip to the town of St. Joseph would be in order.
James felt another tear start its track down his face as he touched down and began his taxi roll. Certainly the F-14 looked like a plane from Hell, but that was too bad. At the moment, he didn’t care whether they scrapped it or made it a war momento. He just didn’t care anymore about anything. After he buried his wife, he would try to sort out his life and feelings.
A group of crash crewmen rushed towards his fighter. James saw the look of worry on all their faces as he raised the canopy. He simply sat in the front seat, drained.
The first fireman up the ladder to the rear cockpit lost his lunch, adding this to the fluid already swilling in the bottom of the cockpit. His partner, a much more experienced hand, called for a bodybag.
A ground crewman new to the unit cursed.
“Why didn’t you just eject instead of bringing that back! You could’ve just let the fish have your damn RIO, because the plane’s…”
The man never got to finish. James vaulted out of the front cockpit, a killing rage about him, lending him energy. His right arm smashed into the man’s face, the horrible blow nearly ripping his head from his shoulders. The man’s neck snapped, he was hit so incredibly hard.
James was far from done. Only his Crew Chief, Jeff Jones, stepping in front of him and grabbing him stopped him from killing the man.
“It won’t help her none, sir. Don’t get yourself thrown in the brig over this stupid asshole!” he drawed, restraining Loftman, which was quite a job even for the 7′ 8″ former wrestler.
James got a hold of himself. Jeff was right. One more death would not bring Amazon or anyone else who had died in this war back. Getting himself sent to Leavenworth for life wouldn’t either. Loftman turned and started to head for the ready room. A newshawk, eager for a story, started to run after him. Jeff grabbed him.
“Leave him be, pard. That man’s bearing a load,” Jeff said.
“Hey, you can’t hold me. I’ve got the right to free speech!” the newshawk said, struggling.
“You’ve got the right to get seriously hurt if you bother that man. And don’t even threaten to sue, because it’d cost you more than you’d get, my friend.”
The menace was clear in Jeff’s voice. The man had been with Commander Loftman for the duration. He didn’t intend for some dumb newsman to bother his commander while the man was struggling to stabilize himself. Jeff just hoped he did it quick, because he had more bad news coming.
A MiG-29 Fulcrum had been chasing the bomber carrying General George Wilkes, commander of the 8th Bombardment Wing. Sheen Loftman, out of missiles and ammo, had used the only weapon he had left: his plane. Sheen would be getting a second Medal of Honor to go with his other medals But that would be little solace to James Loftman.
Jeff hoped the government somehow recognized the sacrifice that the Loftman family had given for their country.
The bombing strike had indeed served its purpose. Moscow had been gutted almost in its entirety. Every major monument, artifact, and government building had burnt to the ground. More than a million people had died in the horrible firestorm. The provisional government had sued for peace.
It was a good thing. Cassin Downes had been left with a mere 265 B-52s and 75 fighters to continue his campaign. Of course, the 135 Soviet aircraft they had downed had pretty much broken the back of PVO Strany. Frontal Aviation, the aircraft that fought over the front lines, had lost a further thirty-six aircraft trying to prevent aid from getting to the bomber fight, an effort that had ultimately failed.
James Loftman had accompanied his brother’s and wife’s body back to a tall hill just outside of St. Joseph, Missouri. There, in a quiet ceremony that was not disturbed by any newsman upon penalty of death. (An order that raised much hue and cry, but was not challenged because troops of the 101st Airborne had personally entrusted themselves to enforce this to the letter. They had let the newspeople know that they could sue them later if they stayed away, but it would be kind of hard to sue if you were dead. Even the most idiotic newshawks knew better than to test the airborne.)
James Loftman was awarded his second Congressional Medal of Honor and his wife’s also, then disappeared from the world view, resigning his commission and heading north. It has been said that he left a way to contact him with his brother Max and his wife Amee in case his country should want his services in time of peril again. Rumor has it that he went to the Arctic to simply live out an existence.
Twenty years after the end of the war, the United States Navy, which was now a space going organization, was ready to launch its newest cruiser. On hand for the christening of the vessel was Max Loftman. James Loftman put in a surprise appearance, as the battlecruiser U.S.S. Loftmans exited its space dock.
An older, wiser newsman came up to apologize for being such an idiot on a cold day back in December. James accepted his apology, and introduced the man to his new wife, Sarah. The newsman got the interview that he had wanted twenty years before, and since that he was the new owner of the New York Times syndicate, the interview was beamed to houses galaxywide as front page news.
“Was it worth it?” the newsman asked as his final question.
Loftman, his red hair greying at the temples, sat in thought for a moment. He thought of friends and loves lost, of the pain and exhilarations of combat, and the ideal that he had helped defend, that had grown into a true democracy where all decisions were made by popular vote and law was in common language. He thought of the tyranny that the Soviets could’ve enforced on most of the world. And he thought of a certain redhead that had died in his backseat. As his wife squeezed his hand to bring him out of his reverie, he answered.
“Yes, in the fact that we were sent out to defend America and we did this. Yes, in the fact that I ensured my little nephews and nieces, and the two children Sarah and I have, are living free.
“But no in the fact that I lost friends. No, in the fact that I lost a woman that I loved and still do in a small part of me. No, in the fact that all I have to remember of five brothers is simply memories and old photographs. No, in the fact that mankind should’ve been able to find another way to settle their differences or help their fellow man. And no, in the fact that I am not the same man that I once was.
I still wake up in the night seeing the men I killed, and the friends that I led to their deaths. Vietnam vets, those few still alive, know what I am talking about. But it is not just a symptom of lost wars. Its a symptom of all wars. And this is something we need to remember as we explore the stars. Or else my children will be forced to fight and die, much like their forefathers have.”
The wise old reporter nodded his head, and recorded it all. This would not be edited.
James Loftman died on July 4th, 2054. He was eighty-eight years old.
What I Would Do Differently
1.) All in all, this one was not that bad. I mean, other than the wholly fictionalized, super souped up F-14D+, the fact that a conventional bombing strike of this magnitude on Moscow would likely lead to nuclear release, a HUGE data dump at the beginning, and basically throwing the reader into the middle of…okay, yeah, this will not be on my lifetime highlight reel. I mean, I’m glad I wrote it (obviously–it made me money). But it is definitely something I would seriously modify if I did it all over again.
2.) I’d do the last part via dialogue, not a straight narrative. I do blame this one on my Martin Caidin, et. al. addiction as a child. Very 1950s-1960s history account in its style, but not so much suited to fiction.
3.) I still do modern military fiction. There’s a few things sitting on the hard drive that may be excavated and dusted off, plus rumor has it the United States Naval Institute is going to throw a fiction contest here shortly. If that happens, I’m all in–I’ve been needing motivation to finish a modern naval short story, and that would certainly provide it.
Anyway, hope you enjoyed the read. Or, at the very least, aren’t now reaching for the “unfollow” button. 🙂