B-Sides and Outtakes– “Armageddon Dawn”–Part IV

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If you haven’t been following the story–long story short, the crap has hit the fan for Humanity.  Angry aliens are coming to basically turn Earth into one big butcher shop.  You can pick up the first part of the story here.  This Part begins Chapter 2.  So, without further ado…

Chapter 2: Recriminations and Reckonings

 

Topeka, Kansas

0755 Local (0855 Eastern)

 

With a deep, throaty roar, the sleek looking fighter made another dizzying pass over Forbes Field, moving so fast it was almost a blur.  Its sonic boom rattled all the windows on the base and some of the surrounding communities.  If anyone had gotten a good glimpse of the aircraft, some would have thought the Combat Air Museum’s F-14 Tomcat had been brought out of storage and re-engined.  Others would have believed that the Museum’s hard-working curator had managed to somehow secure an F-15 Eagle from the Air Force, a feat nigh impossible given the USAF recalcitrant aircraft loan policy.  Still more would have thought they were seeing some futuristic prototype, as while the aircraft shared many of the Eagle and Tomcat’s physical characteristics, it’s lines were too smooth, its demonstrated agility as it suddenly stood on its tail and snap climbed for altitude all in one motion too great for both of those wonderful aircraft, the likely G-load so great it would have snapped either fuselage in half not to mention killing the pilot.  Not to mention neither of those aircraft had canards in lieu of tail surfaces, or sharply angled out tail fins like an F/A-18 Hornet.

All would have been wrong, and none would have thought the aircraft was the same Phoenix-class mecha that had been standing guard over the field just a few moments before.  As the aircraft rocketed upwards at near escape velocity, it’s pilot kicked the rudder controls again.  The fighter’s nose whipped sharply to the left, into a cartwheel, the big wing’s control surfaces biting on Earth’s thick atmosphere while its repulsor lifts provided the necessary physical thrust in opposition to Earth’s gravity.  While the surfaces were arguably not necessary, Confederation repulsors having more than enough power to make the turn itself, the Phoenix’s primary concept developer, one Eric Walthers, had pointed out that repulsors took energy, control surfaces less so.  While no Earth metal could have sustained the forces put upon it by the sharp turn the fighter had just undertook, the Phoenix hadn’t been built on Earth.  The energy savings in turn could be used for weapons, or for stronger shields, something always helpful when facing a charge of Orionan armor.

“Okay jackass, you’ve proved your point,” Jack’s comset crackled as he finished the dizzying turn.  “Now get back down here before someone wonders what in the hell you are driving and calls the Air Force.”

“Roger Sir,” Jack replied laconically.  Eric had not been aware that Jack had become fully proficient in the operation of his Phoenix, something the hovertanker had undertaken while Eric was on his honeymoon leave.  While odds had been good the Orionans would still have been so stunned by Argnor’s death, as the ranking remaining officer in the 1st Shock Brigade, Jack had thought it might be a good idea if he learned how to use the brigade commander’s mount, or at least that’s what he told himself.  In his heart, he truly knew he had been motivated to see how the other half lived, and the fact that Eric had been provided with a brand-spanking new Phoenix hadn’t made the decision that terrible.

There was the sound of a warning tone in his helmet, causing him to turn his eyes to the threat display mounted on the left side of the cockpit.  By the time his eyes reached the screen, the computer had analyzed the sensor paint and found it to be non-threatening, changing the tone in his ear.  Shaking his head, Jack keyed his microphone.

“It would appear that the best pilot the Confederation has ever known has put in an appearance,” he stated, deliberately goading Eric.  As the current leader atop the Confederation’s total kill board, Eric was justifiably considered the greatest pilot by many of the alien races that made up the Confederation.  However, among the humans, that topic was quite open for debate, as the current arrival had actually had a hand in destroying several warships, to include a pair of the incredibly tough Orionan battleships.

“Certainly better than anyone who would fly a piece of crap like that mutant,” Star Commodore Kevin Connelly stated snidely, using the derisive name for all mecha.  “Flying one of those things is like a man admitting he lets his wife strap on the ol’…”

“Aren’t you supposed to be running a vacuum or something?” Eric asked.  “Oh, no wait, I’m sorry, that’s supposed to be in a vacuum.  I thought there was some rule against you guys actually flying in atmosphere—something about accidents.”

Kevin growled over the net, biting his tongue.  The incident Eric was referring too involved the first time that Kevin had flown an advanced Confederation aircraft.  His translator chip had made an error in dialect while Kevin and his Dominionite instructor had been eight hundred feet over Barren’s Great Kalahari Glacier.  Eight hours later, after rescue crews had dug down to the plane, they had found Kevin and his instructor having an in-depth discussion on the evolution of Earth swear words and the differences in “English” versus “American”.  While it was an error that any pilot could have made, especially with the translator chip difficulties, the fact was that Kevin had been the first to do it, and he had cracked up a plane and caused an avalanche doing it.

“Commodore Avalanche, I have visual on your aircraft,” Jack said, switching allegiance quicker than a Balkan country during a World War.  He could see the silver Peregrine fighter, its flying wing configuration rather distinctive as Kevin placed it into a bank ten miles south of Forbes Field.

“At ease, Star Major!” Kevin barked, to the great amusement of Eric and apparently a couple others who had been monitoring the net.

“I take it Admiral Tobarakh sent you down with the latest telemetry?” Eric asked over the net.  His battle armor was not as advanced as General Connelly’s, the difference being that his actually had to fit inside a standard mecha cockpit.  That meant he could not conduct a live feed of the Huntress’s sensors without the Phoenix, and that might have been a tight fit within the Combat Air Museum Conference room.  While his briefing was not nearly as important, he still wanted to have decent bells and whistles for when he briefed Kansas’s governor and the gathered military commanders from its posts.  There had been some trouble chasing down some of the Reserve component commanders, but the Kansas State Troopers had gotten it done.  Sure, there were a couple of husbands that would have some explaining to do, especially the one found with his nineteen-year-old neighbor at a Junction City Motel, but Eric figured the end of the world would probably put off divorce proceedings.

Or maybe not depending on whom hubby likes better.

“Well, that and to read you in on the battle plan once you’re done scaring half of Kansas.  By the way, the first evacuation ships have entered hyperspace,” Kevin said.  “Let’s just say if I were you I wouldn’t go anywhere near Barren in the next few weeks.”

“Yeah, well, those folks should thank me, they’re the last ones who get a free trip without getting genetically checked,” Eric snapped.  “If they don’t like it, they can stay aboard and take their chances with the Orionans.”

“Hey, I understand, but just realize not everyone’s a freaking orphan, Eric,” Kevin replied.  “Some folks might have wanted to have a chance to say goodbye.”

“Look, get your ass down here and give me the data, we can have a morality lesson later, Hatcheman Six out,” Eric snapped, cutting his end of the transmission.

There was silence over the command net.  Nominally Eric and Kevin were peers, the rank of Star Commodore being invented to avoid the traditional confusion between a naval captain and a ground forces captain.  While according to Confederation rank conventions Eric was senior due to his higher number of kills, that was a Dominionite invention and didn’t hold much pull within the TEC.  Before the invention of mecha, both men had been in the same squadron, and their honors had been about even.

It was only after Eric had been given command of first a battalion, then his current brigade, that he had started to draw away.  Funny thing about ground combat with hundreds of Orionan battle armor, it tended to give a person a greater opportunity to score.  In the mind of most of the men and women who knew them both, Eric’s higher score didn’t matter, and the fact that he was pulling rank on Kevin at this moment would probably spark a few heated arguments, if not some fights, in various TEC barracks.  It was also completely out of character for Eric, who was usually rather focused and emotionless in tense situations.

That’s not a good sign, Jack thought to himself.  C’mon boss, we don’t need you to start losing it now.  He watched as Kevin’s fighter shot past him then stopped three hundred feet over the Forbes Field tarmac.  After hovering for a moment to lower his landing gear, Kevin brought the fighter straight down in a smooth, effortless landing.  As Jack brought his own craft in for a landing, he saw the Peregrine’s canopy pop open and Kevin hop out, helmet rotating back into his suit.  From the way he was striding, Jack had an idea that there was about to be one hell of a fight.

 

Kevin let the screen door slam shut behind him as he stormed into the aircraft hangar, fists balled and his eyes scanning for the source of his ire.  He saw Eric standing in the museum’s aviation art gallery, his hands resting on the guard rail as he looked over the museum’s primary display aircraft.  Kevin moved to the narrow metal staircase that spiraled up the east side of the gallery platform, taking the steps two at a time, his armored shoes ringing on the aluminum.

“Here’s your telemetry you son-of-a…” Kevin started, then stopped as Eric turned to look at him.  Kevin had never seen a person look as guilty as Eric did at that moment, as if he was carrying the shame of the entire world on his shoulders.

Holy shit, he looks bad.  Kevin had never seen the man so haggard since the early days after First Contact.  While most of the others had volunteered to go fight for the Confederation, Eric and his flight leader had been given the stark choice of leaving Earth or remaining in Area 51 the rest of their natural lives or until the government had gotten around to notifying the rest of the world what had occurred.  While Eric had desperately wanted to believe

 

Weather Mountain

1000 Local (0900 Central)

John Rutledge swam out of unconsciousness slowly and painfully, his head throbbing painfully.  Coming to, he found himself unable to move, affixed with some transparent putty to the wall.  He attempted to blink his eyes, than realized he had no control of any muscles but those in his eyes.  Swiveling these, he saw General Connelly and Conrad conversing near Prime Minister Yeldham.  The woman’s eyes and face were earnest as she said something, obviously a plea for mercy from General Connelly and Conrad to let her down.  Then, with a rush, POTUS could hear her words.

“I’ll do anything you men ask.  Anything,” she was saying desperately.  Connelly placed his hands on Conrad’s shoulder, then turned away.

“Madame Minister, I suggest you make your peace with whatever God you believe in,” Conrad said in his clipped British accent.

“Colonel Bradstock, I’ve seen your records, you are a decent man,” Yeldham said desperately, her chest heaving.  Her blue eyes were filling with tears, her face coloring.  “I have three children, and a husband.”

“I promise to grant them the same mercy I am giving you, Madame Minister,” Conrad said coldly.  “More mercy than my own mum, my brother and sisters, their children, and five billion other people on this planet will probably get.  Now make your peace with God and die with some freakin dignity.”

POTUS suddenly found himself gaining his capacity to speak.  Moving his tongue around his mouth, he looked up as General Connelly stood in front of him.  The General reached up with a flask, emptying some water in the President’s mouth.

“You just killed all of these men,” POTUS said breathlessly, looking at the bodies of the security detachments around the room.

“No, Mr. President, you and the other idiots gathered in this room killed these men,” Connelly said, gesturing at the other world leaders and their aides similarly trapped to the walls.  “I simply rendered them a more merciful killing than you will receive.”

Behind General Connelly, Yeldham stopped uttering her prayers, then looked up at Conrad.  Her mouth opened like she was about to say something, but never got a chance as the Englishman fired the rail gun mounted on the inside of his suit’s forearm.  The device’s slug killed the Prime Minister instantly, evacuating her skull.  Conrad sighed heavily, dropping his arm back to his side.

“Is that what you are going to do with all of us, you bastard?” General Reilly asked from beside POTUS.  “Shoot us in the head then cut our bodies down?  What, too cowardly to fight like real men, you’ve got to…”

Connelly punched General Reilly in the throat, the blow just hard enough to cut him off.  He followed it up with an augmented blow to the top of the head, causing the man to slump back into unconsciousness.  Looking over at him, he checked his vital signs and heaved a sight of relief to see he hadn’t killed the fellow officer by accident.

“I’m cutting her down,” Conrad said heavily.  “She was a good person, even if a bit misguided.”

“Carry on,” General Connelly replied, turning to face the President.

“Was Reilly right?  Is that what you intend to do to all of us?” POTUS asked solemnly.  To his utter shock, Connelly began laughing.  It was not a laugh of happiness, but more one of a man who was just barely holding on to his sanity.

“Mr. President, what Conrad did to Prime Minister Yeldham was a mercy,” Connelly said flatly.  “What will be done to you is justice.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You obviously have a short memory, or we wouldn’t be at this juncture,” General Connelly replied.  “Remember the part the Dominionites mentioned about the Orionans being a carnivorous race?”

The President suddenly felt the bottom drop out of his stomach.

“Oh my God,” he said, his face becoming absolutely pale, his memory recalling the briefing given to him.  The Orionans were more accurately omnivores with an overdeveloped carnivorous side.  What made them such savage opponents and the scourge of the galaxy was the fact they took great pleasure in eating sentient beings.  That little fact echoed in the President’s mind, and he found himself fighting even harder to get free of his trappings.

“Give it up, Mr. President,” General Connelly said quietly.  “This is Dinotilian stasis silk, about thirty to forty times more powerful than steel, yet as flexible as rubber.”

“You bastard!” the President shouted.  General Connelly could tell he was becoming quite agitated and raised his fist.  A red beam of light flashed from Connelly’s suit, and suddenly the President felt his limbs go slack again as his muscles were turned into putty.  To his great terror, he suddenly realized that he could still see and hear everything around him.

“Orionan stunner ray,” Connelly said.  “Now, as I was saying, you are all enclosed in stasis silk.  I would be greatly surprised if any of you are able to break out, and even if you are it will more than likely be after the last evacuation vessels have departed this planet.”  Turning, Connelly looked around the room, realizing more of the world’s allegedly great leaders were starting to stir.  He would have to hurry up, or he would end up having to stun them all.  Downside of that is the sensation isn’t as great, he thought viciously.  Leaning forward, he put his mouth right up to the President’s ear.

“As I was saying, the Orionans take great pleasure in eating sentient beings,” Connelly whispered.  “What the Dominionites failed to mention is that the victim usually lives through the entire event, until their brain pan is crushed in their jaws.  It usually takes them a couple of victims to figure out how to keep a race alive for the longest.”  Reaching into his suit, Connelly pulled out a picture of a smiling young man, the spitting image of his father, and held it in front of the President.

“I think you recognize my son, Captain Francis Jason Connelly, Mr. President?” he whispered fiercely.  “He was the fifth human being captured alive by the Orionans, by the Crown Prince whose death they are coming to avenge.  I received the holovideo four months later.”

POTUS could see tears forming in the other man’s eyes, rapidly blinked away.

“You know what it is to see your youngest son consumed by aliens, Mr. President?  To see them gnawing on his legs while he screams?  To watch as they make their way upwards, all while he is still alive?  No, of course not…but you will.”

The President widened his eyes, the only movement he was capable of.

“Oh, you actually thought when we took your DNA earlier that it was truly to ensure we were able to rescue your families and eliminate any false identifications?”  Connelly chuckled as he looked out the window.  There was the roar of jet engines as a flight of F-22C Raptors passed overhead in tight formation, part of the Combat Air Patrol assigned to cover the leader’s meeting.  Today those aircraft are kings of the sky.  Tomorrow they will fall like clay pigeons.

“Mr. President, entire family lines are going to be ended tomorrow once the Orionans land.  I wanted to ensure that those of the people most responsible were among them.  I am sure once Krognar realizes that you were the former leaders of this planet…well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to have any DNA in common with you.  I’m sure a few of your fifth cousins are going to be quite surprised when they find themselves being placed back on shuttles for return back to this planet.”

Conrad came back in at that moment.

“General, we have control of all the world’s communications networks and broadcast stations.  We are are ready for you.”

“Has Eric finished his message to Krognar?”

“Yes, and it is being beamed to the Orionan Fleet as we speak.”

“Hopefully we can get them to jump early and Kwirh can give them a bloody nose.”

“If anyone can do it, Kwirh can.”

“All right, let’s go put the world on notice they’re all about to die and at least give them a chance to make peace with whatever God they believe in,” General Connelly sighed resignedly.  “Get me a direct link with Star Colonel Walthers.”

B-Sides and Outtakes– “Armageddon Dawn”–Part II

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Continuing on with Chapter 1…

 

Fort Riley, Kansas

0625 Local (0725 Eastern)

“Jack, what the fuck is going on?” Captain Jason Mitchell, CO of A/2-70th Armored Battalion (FCS), West Point Class of ’03, asked worriedly.  The two of them had been in the middle of a conversation when Jack had suddenly stopped and focused on the far corner of the room.  Over the next fifteen minutes, his oldest and best friend, recently back from the “dead”, had gone as pale as a sheet.

The two of them had come a long way from Mrs. Phipp’s Pre-School class, held at this very post.  A short, squat fireplug with dusty brown hair and soft brown eyes, Jason had been the Jeff to Jack’s Mutt for over a quarter of a century.  In all of those years, through High School jitters, pregnancy scares, and even a pair of operational deployments, Jason had never seen his friend look so simultaneously frightened and despondent as he did when he turned to meet his eyes.

Star Major Jackson ‘Jack’ Aaron Phelps, commander of the 6th Shock Battalion “Golden Lions”, was a tall, skinny man that had been described as a walking red-headed pipe cleaner on more than one occasion.  Just a tad over 6’ 6”, technically Jack should never have been an Armor officer, but he had slouched on the day that he was being measured for his commissioning physical at West Point.  It had helped his cause that he had been flirting with the nurse when she was writing down his measurements, continuing his reputation as a goofy ladies’ man with his friends.  That he and that same nurse, fortunately a civilian, had carried on a torrid love affair most of his Firstie year at the Point had cemented his status as a “male slut” in Jason’s eyes.  Of course, that relationship had come to an end when Jack had started dating Jason’s wife, a topic that the

That Jack’s inherent goofiness was seemingly nowhere to be found was  just one of the many changes Jason had realized in his friend.  The two of them had not really had a chance to talk in the past thirty minutes since Jason had arrived early at his office.  Amazingly, he had not turned into a gibbering idiot when he had realized who was sitting in all black armor shooting the shit with the charge of quarters.  Before Jason’s stunned look had really registered with the young sergeant, Jack had told him they should probably talk in Jason’s office about the upcoming alert.

Now, after getting less than specific answers to many pointed questions, he had just watched his friend conduct a conversation with an empty corner.  Jack looked at him like he had just asked the stupidest question in the world, like why air existed or something.  I’ll be goddamned if you get to come back from the dead and look at me like I’m an idiot, Jason thought, standing up from behind his desk, his face starting to turn a deep red.  His subordinates called the expression ‘nuclear release’, as it usually meant the verbal equivalent of an atomic bomb was about to spew from the commander’s mouth.

Realizing that Jason was about to go beserk, Jack held up his hand to stop his friend and started to “speak”.  The sounds that came from his mouth were utterly alien, a somber stream of unintelligible vowels, consonants, and humming sounds that seemed almost impossible for a normal human being.  Tears forming in Jack’s eyes, the expression on his face one of utter pain.  Frenziedely, he began gesturing with his hands, the sounds coming even faster, as if his mental control was starting to slip.  Jason ran around the table and grabbed his friend, his battle armor feeling cool and rough to the touch.

What the Hell is the matter with you?!” Jason shouted, shaking his friend.  Jack stopped, his face looking like someone who had just come out of a hypnotic trance.

Jason’s office door opened, causing him to turn as his executive officer, First Lieutenant Eugene Hitchcock poking his head around the corner.

“You okay Sir?” Hitchcock asked, his face in its usual scowl.  His eyes switched from his commander to Jack’s, clearly indicating that he still wasn’t buying that the man was absolutely trustworthy.  He had heard about the strange Major who had shown up in an armored suit that looked like a cross from Herbert and anime.  Hitchcock made no bones about not being an intellectual, having been a jock his entire life.  In High School had been one of the guys who always tripped the nerds in the hallway, barely passed his classes, and had sex with the captain of the cheerleading squad while she had been dating the town’s all conference quarterback.  Hitchcock’s head was perpetually shaved, his green eyes hard and squinty in his somewhat fleshy face.  His penchant for cruelty and exacting attention to detail made him easily the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the battalion, a man even the sergeant major did not cross.

Unfortunately, Hitchcock’s ignorance meant when confronted with something he didn’t understand, he had one setting—animosity.  The fact that this stranger in front of him was wearing something that appeared a whole level of technology more advanced than his M-9 Powell did not make him happy.  That the bastard apparently outranked him and had the identity to prove it had him positively upset.  That the CO, an officer that he did not particularly like but had come to respect over the past fourteen months had basically told him to go make himself busy while the adults talked had caused his office wall to spontaneously sprout some holes.  Nothing would have made him happier than storming into the room to find the CO being assaulted, giving him clear license to the crap out of this Phelps guy.  That this was his personal fantasy was clearly communicated in the glance he leveled Jack’s way, a look that any superior officer would have found highly belligerent.  Fortunately for Hitchcock, he did have control of his temper and made no attempt to attack Jack—even without the armor, he would have never known what hit him.  Six years of combat, Dominionite hand-to-hand training, and Jack’s knowledge that his world had hours, not days, to live would have made the fight short and pitiless.

“I’m good XO,” Jason said sharply, feeling the power in the suit as his friend tensed.  It was a subliminal feeling, but Jason suddenly realized that there was nothing in the office, if not the unit’s arms room, that could stop his friend when he was in the suit he wore.  “Major Phelps was apparently having a…uh…”

“Jason, you might as well tell him,” Jack said, this time in perfect English.  Looking at his friend, Jason could see that whatever psychotic episode had possessed him had quickly passed.  Indeed, Jack looked positively resolute, like the time he had been fought old Tom McClary, the school bully that had outweighed him by forty pounds.  Not surprisingly to those who knew him, Jack had won—insanity trumped mean-spiritedness nine out of ten times.

“I think it’s better if you do it,” Jason replied after a moment.  Although I’m not sure if he’s going to listen.

“Actually, you probably want to get all of your officers and NCOs, for I have even worse news,” Jack replied, his voice barely a whisper.  “Life as you know it is probably coming to an end in the next twenty-four to thirty hours.”

There was dead silence as Jason looked at his friend’s face.  One of the great advantages of having known someone their entire adult life was that you realized really quickly when they were completely and utterly serious.  More so than any time that morning, Jason realized his friend had changed.  As a man who had recently seen the elephant himself, he recognized a fellow veteran, and apparently one that was not exaggerating the danger they were all in.

“XO, go get the platoon leaders and platoon sergeants.”

“Sir?” Hitchcock asked, incredulous.

“I don’t think I fucking stuttered, XO!” Jason barked, his voice utter iron that drove Hitchcock out of the room murmuring apologies.

“What the hell happened to you just now?” Jason asked, looking at his friend with real concern.

“I slipped into Dominion and forgot you didn’t have a translator chip inserted behind your ear,” Jack replied simply.  Jason looked at him blankly, causing Jack to grown even more pale.

“My God, what have you people been doing the last six years?” he asked in utter despair.  General Connelly was right—this situation is very, very bad.

“Living our lives, wondering why my best friend sent an e-mail instead of calling to say that he had been asked to do something special, and that he’d be in touch in a few months,” Jason snapped.  “Getting told that same friend had died at an ‘undisclosed location’ forty-eight hours later, burying a casket full of sand, and comforting his ex-girlfriend, who just happens to be my wife now.  Fielding new tanks, then taking them to the desert to fight freakin’ World War III.  You?”

Jack seemed utterly unimpressed by Jason’s litany, the look on his face one of utter contempt.  ‘Pardon me why I shed a tear, you stupid bastard’, his face seemed to say.

Jason felt the color rising back up into his face, shocked at the utter lack of reaction his friend showed to the fact that three to four million Americans had been killed in broad daylight by a terrorist bomb.  The nuke, an old Russian one, had been placed aboard a container ship in a thoroughly shielded container.  It was still unknown how the weapon had made it through several checks, orbiting satellites that scanned for the distinctive radiation plume that all warheads gave off, and just plain old dumb luck for discovery.

However it had happened, at precisely 9:23 A.M., 11 September, 2006, the residents of New York City had joined the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as people who had first hand knowledge of what the center of star looked like.  Estimates of the bomb or bombs’ yield had ranged from three to five hundred kilotons.  The total of the dead would never be known, but they included several well-known celebrities, both of New York’s Senators, and most importantly the 44th President of the United States and his Vice President.  The most violent of the several attacks that would occur that day, the New York bombing had galvanized the nation in a matter that its predecessor hadn’t even come close to.  The ensuing war, while not eradicating Islam as some had advocated, had definitely eliminated its more radical elements.  That Jack was unimpressed at the horrors Jason and his fellow Americans had suffered was too much to take.

“What the hell is the matter with you?  I just told you that five million people were killed and you have no response?!” Jason asked, balling his fists.

Jack snorted, shaking his head at his friend.  In that instant, Jason felt the bottom drop out of his stomach.  His friends’ eyes were dead, a stunning example of a thousand yard stare if there ever were one.

“I have seen entire worlds die, Jason.  Been part of battles without name, on planets your great, great, great-grandchild’s grandchildren would not have ever reached if we had been left to our own devices,” Jack said flatly.  “Held the hand of aliens while they bled all over me, telling them the entire time that it would be okay, that my planet was preparing itself for war, and that no species carries out war like humanity.”

Jack turned away from his friend, looking out the window.  I have to get control of myself.  Jason didn’t know, no one did, he thought.  But most of them are going to die all the same.

“But yet I return home, to find out that my best friend and my girlfriend, the one woman whose face sustained me through so much, are married.  My life, everything I owned, gone—sold off through a lie.  Oh, and most importantly, my vaunted species so utterly unprepared for war it seems like I never left.”

Jason glared at his friend, bristling at his emphasis on the word girlfriend, like Amy and Jason had cheated on him or something.  Maybe if you had actually married her rather than just dated her for two years, I’d feel a bit more guilty.  While it now appeared quite fortunate that Jack’s notorious commitment phobia had kept Amy and him from going up the aisle, Jason had always thought it was an awfully crappy way to treat a wonderful woman.

“I’m sorry that we seem so unprepared, Jack,” Jason said with a sneer, his anger starting to bubble over.  “Glad to know we might as well basically lie down and wait for the anal probes.”

“A freakin’ anal probe would seem like heaven compared to what the Orions will do once they reach this planet,” Jack said, his voice matter-of-fact.

“Whoa!” First Sergeant Adam Panke said.  “I feel like I just walked in on the end of a very twisted conversation.  You want to start from the beginning?”  Like most tankers, Panke was a very large man.  While he still was within the Army body fat standards, it was often a close run thing.  Of course, Panke just happened to be one of the best NCOs, if not the best First Sergeant, in the 2/70th Armored Battalion, something that probably bought him a little bit of slack with the Command Sergeant Major.

“Delilah, estimate on how much longer until the Orion Fleet attacks?” Jason asked the computer within his suit.

“Thirty-one hours, twenty-two minutes, and thirty seconds using standard attack algorithms,” the speaker on Jack’s suit intoned in a sulty feminine voice.

“Dammit,” Jack breathed slightly.  “That means the entire freakin’ battlefleet is deploying.”

“Confirmed, all analysis indicates over ninety-eight percent of of the Orionan battlefleet will deploy, to include four, no five Emperor-class battleships,” Delilah replied.  “Over ninety-eight percent of the Orionan battlefleet is projected to be present.”

“Uh, is your suit seeing anyone?” the 1st Platoon Leader, 2nd Lieutenant Jim Mulryan, suddenly asked.  “Because if not, I’d like to take her out.”

“Prepare a mind flash, setting Humans,” Jack said, ignoring the comment.

“Wait a second,” Panke started.  “What in the Hell is a mind flash?  That ain’t like that flashy thing Will Smith uses in that movie…damn, what’s the name?”

“No,” Jack said sharply.  “As a matter of fact, it is the complete and total opposite.  When this is complete, you will know just about everything I know.”

“I’m not so sure about this,” Hitchcock said.  “I don’t want some damn alien playing around in my brain.”

Jack pinned him with a glare, the look so intense that Hitchcock actually felt a momentary pang of fear.  The wild intensity in the man’s gaze told him that he had just used up his one free opportunity to be stupid.

“You don’t have to be sure,” Jack snapped, his eyes never wavering.  “You can walk right out that door right now, Lieutenant, and the only thing you’ll be sure of is that you will definitely be dead in thirty-one hours.”

There was a stunned silence in the room, every man present sure that Jack was not bluffing.

“Well, with a ringing endorsement like that,” Panke said, “let’s go ahead and do this mind flash thing.”

“Mind flash, prepared,” Delilah said.

“Have you even seen the woman who made that recording?  Is she available?” Mulryan replied.

“Ever seen a Gorgon?  You know, Medusa?”

“They’re myths,” Mulryan said, his voice showing his doubt.

“They’re not a myth, and she’s one,” Jack replied, completely deadpan.

“You’re shitting me,” Mulryan said.

“No, but you’re about to find that out anyway,” Jack said.  “Gentlemen, as I said before, once this is complete you will know just about everything I know in about five minutes.  This means you are about to absorb about six years worth of information all at once.  Your emotions will be heightened, as will your reaction to certain stimuli.”

“How many people have these suits?” Mulryan asked, his face skeptical.

“All members of the TEC have these suits, and they record our experiences every time they are put on until the owners are killed or the suits upgraded.”

“So we will know everything you have known, everything you have done for the last six years?” Jason asked, the interest in his voice clear.

“Yes, to include the sensory input, i.e. all my pain, all my nausea, everything,” Jack replied solemnly.  “First Sergeant, you might want to send someone for a mop now.”

“Why is that?” Panke asked.

“We’ll likely need one by the time we’re done.”

“How long is this going to take?” Panke asked.

“We’ll be done by the time the mop and bucket get back here.”

Panke leaned out the door.

“Specialist Peters, go get a mop and bucket and bring it back here,” Panke said.  “Wait for me to open this door.”

“Roger Top!” Peters replied, after which Panke closed the door.

“All on you, Sir,” Panke replied.

“Delilah, start flash.”

The experience was roughly the same, but different for each of the officers.

 

Jason found himself sitting out in space, looking back at Earth through a transparent window.  Suddenly he saw a hand extending a picture and recognized it as Jack’s.  Looking closer, he saw it was a picture of Amy, six years earlier.  Surprised, Jason felt his heart catch as he looked at his wife’s bright green eyes and red hair.

“Yeah, she’s beautiful,” he heard Jack say, causing him to jump.  He started to try and turn his head to the right, where he heard his friend’s voice, and had an intense moment of discomfort as his view started to rotate to the left.  Feeling his mind slide into madness, he mentally closed his eyes and found that stopped the nausea while still playing the images in his mind.

“Sorry about that,” Jack said.  “Best if you just listen and let the images flow—about the third time you do a mind flash, you start being able to change your field of view independent of the memories being viewed.”

Jason started to reply, then found that speaking started to make him ill.

“I really wouldn’t try to talk right now—like I said, flashing’s a bit intense.  Just listen.”

The next few moments were a fast forward of the journey to the ice planet of Barren.  There were periods of weightlessness, Jason feeling Jack’s initial joy followed by a gradual tiring of the sensation.  Finally, gravity returned, albeit at a stronger rate than what he was used to.  He found himself wanting to ask for an explanation, but remembered his friend’s advice and kept his mouth shut.  That decision had just been made when he was confronted by a Dominionite explaining that in an attempt to replicate Earth’s gravity, the (unpronounceable name)’s artificial gravity and inertial dampeners had both failed, something that could have been quite bad at FTL speeds.  Then just as he had time to process that information, the ship was orbiting Barren with its four moons, one quite close, and its bright red star.

“Planet’s a little too far away from the star for the surface to be very habitable,” Jack said.  “Should’ve heard the Russian contingent…those jokers were going off!  You’d think the aliens had said Beria was actually alive and in charge of the place.”

Jason fought the urge to shake his head at his friend, not sure if the movement would make him violently ill.  Lavrenty Beria had been Stalin’s KGB head, a fact that only Jack and other history freaks would remember. 

However, once they realized that everyone lived underneath the ice crust in advanced cities, they calmed down.”  The view cut to the interior of one of the cities, the technology far in advance of anything seen on Earth.  Jason watched as the person’s eyes scanned over a wide city panaroma, the expanse bustling with people.  Or not, he realized with a start and a closer look.  Many of the “people” were bipedal aliens, everything from lizardlike humanoids to multi-legged insectoid aliens.  As he looked at each different type, he felt his mind categorizing each of them, many of them too numerous to name.

“This city is New Avalon, the largest on Barren, population five hundred million sentient beings, two hundred million of them human.”

“Two hundred million?!”

“Oh yeah, guess I should cover that.  Basically, the Confederation has cured just about every disease known to Man.  We’re relatively lucky, actually—there are diseases that evade even the most advanced medicines among many of these races.”

“Still, two hundred million humans in one city?  What the hell?!”

“Well, Barren is sorta like Switzerland in the Confederation.  Neutral terrain, neutral native populace that can’t go off planet.”

“Wait a second…”

“Yeah, let me go ahead and get to that part,” Jack said.  There was a sensation of displaced time, then suddenly Jason found himself in a large hall that was full of a great number of aliens.  A tall, distinguished alien in what was obviously a full dress uniform stood at the center of the hall, his back ramrod straight.  Dominionite, his mind echoed.  Star Admiral Lihr Tobarakh, to be exact.

Across the room, a solitary alien stood up.  A bright light fell upon the alien, and Jason got his first good look.  The alien’s skin was a light red, the color of a tropical sunset.  This color was offset by bright, almost glowing, yellow eyes, four of them set in a broad, protruding face.  The creature’s mouth opened, and Jason saw several rows of sharp teeth as it began to speak.  Its voice was a deep, ominous rumbling.  It’s two arms were quite animated, indicating the depth of its emotion. 

Lepscallions, the most hated bastards in the ConfederationDespite their fierce appearance, the fuckers can’t fight their way out of a wet paper sack,” Jack spat.  “This idiot is known as Rax.”

Star Admiral Tobarakh, you stand accused of violating the laws of this august body.  Specifically, you have communicated with a less advanced species for purposes of exploitation, introduced non-quarantined specimens into a controlled population, and violated the Charter of the Confederation.  How do you plead?”

            The Dominionite ignored the Lepscallion, turning away from the alien and looking into the darkened chamber.  The look on the Dominionite’s face was one of utter contempt, the alien’s blue eyes glaring like baleful embers.  As he finished rotating around the room, his lips parted in a snarl.

            “So it has come to this, that those races which run, skitter, and hide in the face of the Orionans deign to prosecute one of those who guarantee their safety?  That a Lepscallion, a member of a race so pitiful at warfare fully half of its systems have been conquered, its members filling the Orionan larders, stands as my accuser is a symbol of all that is wrong with your ‘enlightenment’.”

            The hall erupted with noise, cries of shock and anger in thousands of tongues rising in a babble that threatened chaos, enlightened species or no.  Suddenly there was a high, keening noise, the piercing sound causing Jason to whince in a pain comparable to a swift kick in the groin.

            “Oops, sorry, forgot to tell you that these folks don’t use gavels,” Jack said with a sheepish grin.  “It’s even worse when you’re present.”

            That much was obvious from the utter silence that followed the instrument and Lihr visibly staggering before regaining his composure.

            “Your insults are an indication of your guilt and lack of development, Lihr Tobarakh.  No matter, this body finds you guilty and sentences you to banishment on the planet of Barren.  Per banishment rules, you are to be stripped of all titles and allowed to live whatever days remain to you without the intervention of nanotechnology or advanced medicines.  These proceedings are closed,” Rax snapped.

            There was a chiming sound, causing Jack to look around at his surroundings.

            “Well, your men will be coming out of their own flashes in about five minutes, so I’d better speed this up.  Unfortunately for Rax, that was most definitely not the end of the proceedings.  The Dominionites have a Constitutional Monarchy, and the Tobarakh’s are royalty—let’s just say by the time all was said and done, the Lepscallions were lucky that they didn’t wake up to the Second Fleet bombarding their planet.  Basically the Dominionites told them if Lihr was stripped of all titles, the Dominion would leave the war and take the chance that the Orionans would take so much time to digest the rest of the Confederation, specifically the Lepscallions, that the Dominionites would be able to defeat them with Human help.”

            Jason took stock of his nausea and decided to risk speaking.

            “Would they have been right?”

            “Maybe, but given that the Second Fleet was the cutting edge of technology at that point, probably not.”

            “Second Fleet?” Jason choked out, then immediately resolved to quit talking.

            “Rough translation that I’ll cover very quick. Basically, the First Fleet was the scratch group of vessels that fought over the first ten years of the Second Orion War—mainly some smaller warships and armed merchant cruisers. It’s now an honorary thing, as the learning curve was a bit steep at the start of the war and not many of those guys are around.” 

Jason marveled at how matter of fact his friend was about death and dying, talking about the destruction of an entire fighting force like he was discussing the weather.

“The Second Fleet was the first one to actually be constructed around purpose built warships—most of those vessels now patrol quieter sectors against Orionan raiders and pirates, although after the general amnesty offered for all pirates there aren’t so many of the latter.  The Third Fleet was specially constructed and saved for a vital occasion, that being the Battle of Taurus IV, the Lepscallion Homeworld.  That was the first use of the full Terran Expeditionary Corps, as we Humans had chosen to be called.  Some of us had already fought, especially Star Colonel Walthers and his merry band.  The TEC would’ve held the planet if the Lepscallions could fight worth a damn.”

Suddenly Jason found himself plopped down on a fertile plain, in the middle of a terrible combat.  His first sensation was of terrible scream over the comlink, followed by a blurred object hurtling across  his field of view from right to left, and he felt palpable shock.  The field of view whipped to the right, a targeting reticle swimming into the center of his field of view.  The sight in front of him made his blood run cold, or at least whomever’s field of view he was looking through’s blood run cold.

Advancing at a rapid clip just over the horizon, approximately twenty-five miles away, was a line of dark dots that stretched across the entire field of view.  While too far away to clearly see their shapes, a helpful image was suddenly projected just below the targeting reticle, with PRAETORIAN BATTLE ARMOR scrolling underneath it.  The “Praetorian” was humanoid in shape, with two thick legs and two bulbous arms extending from its broad shoulders.  Facts and figures rapidly scrolled by, Jason catching that its armor was approximately ten meters in height, five meters across.  As the dots continued to close, the animated Praetorian’s right arm suddenly split down the middle, the hand flipping back along the upper half, then both halves sliding back above the elbow to reveal a long, glistening blade.  The field of view looked up just in time for the entire advancing line to sparkle, then suddenly all was blackness.

 

Jason frantically came to, his eyes wide with terror and his arms swinging wildly.  Jack grabbed him, grabbing his friend close.

“Shh, shh, the rest of them aren’t woke up yet,” Jack murmured, comforting his friend.  “Sorry, but I wanted you to understand what we’re up against.”

“What the hell happened?” Jason gasped, his face suddenly breaking out in a cold sweat.

“You died,” Jack replied, letting his friend go.  “That was the feed from my 1st Platoon Leader, Chester McPherson.”

“What were those things?!”

“What the readout said, Praetorian battle armor led into battle by the Crown Prince himself.”

“Sweet Jesus, what was the range?”

“Twenty-three point six miles, to be exact.”

“Oh God.”  Suddenly Jason understood how much things had gone to Hell.

“If it makes you feel any better, that was a lucky shot, fired by the Crown Prince himself.  About a five percent hit chance, and Chester hadn’t raised his shields yet or the rail gun wouldn’t’ have killed him.  Taurus IV was a rude shock for all of us.”

“Sweet Jesus.”  The Powell’s max effective range was eight kilometers, and that was with a HEAT round.  That video had given Jason the impression chemical energy rounds wouldn’t be much use against those monsters.

“How many aliens are in each of those…things?” Jason asked.

“Aliens?” Jack asked with a near maniacal titter.  “Jason, there’s only one alien.”

Jason’s response was interrupted by Delilah signaling the end of the remaining men’s mind flash.

“Your men are getting ready to wake up,” Jack said grimly.  “I wasn’t present in their mind flashes, so they saw some things you didn’t and vice versa.”

“Things like what?”

“Things like what the aliens look like in the armor.  I’ll get to that later for you.”

In the end, only two people were sick, Mulryan just making it to the window before he hurled, Hitchcock spewing all over his own front before his eyes fully focused.  The remainder of the men were clearly shaken, the hardest veterans among them sitting with eyes wide and mouths agape.  Jack showed his first signs of sympathy, remembering back to his first introduction to the harsh realities of interstellar warfare.

Nothing like realizing you really are on an insignificant ball of dust in the grand scheme of things to make you question everything you’ve known.

“I apologize gentlemen.  Usually mind flashes are done in smaller increments, but as you can see, there is little time.”

“My God, we are all dead,” Panke said, his voice hollow.

“Well, glad to know there is some truth to the Trojan War,” someone else muttered, following the comment with a short bark of laughter.  “Although I’m not so sure about being a Christian and the Bible now that I know Goliath was an alien.”

“There still remains no good reason why David’s stone should have pierced Goliath’s helmet, if that makes you feel any better,” Jack replied drily.

“Oh, yeah, makes me feel just great to know that there is a God when Satan himself is coming to kill us all,” Hitchcock replied softly, his face still white as a sheet.

“You and your families will be safe,” Jack replied.  “We are shifting first priority to the military posts and any veterans we can find.  As you can see, death from disease should be a thing of the past.”

“So you mean all these cures for diseases, like cancer and Alzheimers that the Center For Disease Control just ‘figured out’—they’ve all been a freakin’ plot?” Panke said, his voice low and menacing.  “My mother died of breast cancer three years ago, just a couple years before the ‘cure’ officially came out.  Our freakin’ leaders have had it the whole time?!”

“Before you go getting upset, General Connelly is Weather Mountain talking to the G-8 leaders as we speak.”

“Talking?  Fuck that, I hope the bastard is killing them all,” Jason said with vehemence, his eyes brimming over with tears.  “Janet’s in Baltimore.  There’s not a chance, is there?”

Jack thought quickly, then shook his head.  Janet was Jason’s younger sister, and suddenly he found himself having to shut thoughts of her out of his mind.  Constantly underfoot as a child, Janet had grown to a quite attractive and smart woman.  If not for Amy, and the fact she knew just how much of a dog I was…Jack forced himself to stop thinking about her.

“Given current evacuation loads and available vessels, Delilah estimates there will be over five billion dead,” Jack said simply, his eyes hard.  “Right now we’re just trying to save whomever we can.”

“So in other words, no,” Jason snapped.  “Bastard!”

“Jason, five billion people are going to die.  Five billion.  One in roughly six people will be alive in forty-eight hours.”

“My God,” someone sobbed, his sentiment echoed by several oaths as everyone else in the room did the math.  Suddenly the magnitude of their fate started to hit home.

“So who is the chooser of the slain?” Hitchcock asked mirthlessly.  “What’s the criteria for these Noah’s Arks?”

“Priority will be given to trained active military and their immediate families that share the same domicile,” Jack said heavily.  “Followed by women and children evaluated by DNA coding.”

“So only the best and the brightest, huh?” Hitchcock asked, his face a mask of anger.  “Guess that means everyone in my family but me is pretty much screwed.”

“I didn’t make this…”

“I know,” Hitchcock said wearily.  “What’s the plan?”

Mecha are already being dispatched to find men and women who have been identified through various DNA repositories throughout the world,” Jack replied.  “Unfortunately, that means things are going to rather heavily weighted towards the developed world.”

“Guess we’ve been screwing the Third World for the last two or three hundred years, why stop in the last few hours?” Jason asked bitterly.

Jack gave his friend a look, sighing.  Jason had been that rarest of individuals at West Point—an honest to God Liberal.  While not as rare as an African-American Klu Klux Klan member, it was in the same ballpark—with about the same social stigma among one’s peers.  While Jack had been judicious enough to realize his friend’s views had some merit, he still felt that many of them didn’t.  One of latter was the fact that the Third World’s plight was some great plot of the developed world.

Although after this colossal goat fuck, I’m not so sure.

“I’m fairly sure that the people responsible are going to be hating life soon,” Jack observed grimly.

“So who else knows everything besides us?” Jason asked.

“The entire military senior leadership of the state is on the way to Topeka as we speak.  For now, you need to activate your battalion’s alert tree, the brigade if you can trust them to keep things under their hat,” Jack replied.  “I don’t know who your senior officer back here is, but we need to start getting transportation set up to get everyone here on post.  Make sure the fucker understands that we don’t have enough time to draw up a damn PowerPoint decision brief, wargame this out, and everything else.  We need to get the ball rolling now.”

“What are you going to go do?” Jason asked.

“Figure out how we’re going to set up the damn evacuation from the airfield.  Go home and get your wife, Jason.  Amy’s a great woman, and she’s not going to take it very well that she’s going to have to leave her family.”

Once more the enormity of what was happening hit every man in the room.

“I hope it’s slow and painful,” Hitchcock seethed.  No man in the room needed to wonder what he was talking about.

“If you knew General Connelly, you’d understand that’s not going to be a problem.”

I Can’t Believe I Wrote That–“Final Fight, Part II”

Standard

The title pretty much says it all.  I’ll do a little more commentary at the end.  Let the dogfighting begin…

Chapter 2

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.


            Chapter 3

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.


            Chapter 4

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.  🙂

I Can’t Believe I Wrote That–“Final Fight Part I”

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So after the events of The Vladivostok Thing, World War III basically went poorly for the Soviets in my World War III.  How bad?  Well long story short, the United States and NATO committed to a counteroffensive that speared into East Germany, Poland and Hungary rose up in rebellion, and most of the 1st and 2nd Line Soviet forces got annihilated west of Warsaw.

*pause*  No really, this was almost all written out.  In various electronic files.  There was a whole timeline and everything in addition to a complete novel, about a dozen short stories, and a whole lot of stuff that didn’t get done.  Just about every few weeks when I was in high school and into West Point, there’d be another item I’d start when I was waiting in line or bored.  Most of those notebooks are lost to the sands of time or, if I have found them, they’re still in long hand because I don’t see the point of typing them up.

However, in a few cases, stuff has survived in electronic form.  The following short won me third price in the 1993-1994 West Point Cadet Fiction Open. Looking back at it now, I realize I made a multitude of sins.  But, hey, that was $75 I took home. Of course, I also had to read the whole thing, cursing and all, in front of the Superintendent of cadets.  You know, the three star who could banish one to Siberia…or Fort Drum.  (Not really.  I think.)  Ever dropped an F-bomb in front of a flag officer?  Yeah…

Anyway, this will be two parts.  While better than my last one, it’s still a definite “If you ever need to know how far you’ve come…”-work. Commentary at the end:

Final Fight

By James Young

 

            Introduction

The Third World War had been going on for six months.  The forces of the Commonwealth of Independent Soviet States had been pushed back to the frontiers of the ex-U.S.S.R.  The nations of N.A.T.O. were on the verge of being victorious, their strategic bombing campaign of the past two months starting to have effect of the Soviet forces at the front.

But the war was not over yet.  The dying continued at the front, up to five thousand men dying a day.  The strategic campaign continued, young men and women of all the warring nations continuing to die in the air.  The only solution in sight seemed to fight the way to Moscow and rip the heart out of the Soviet government, no matter what the cost in lives.

Lieutenant General Cassin Downes, hero of Hamburg, Frankfurt, and the defense of Germany, thought there was a better way.  He felt that the strategic air campaing needed to be stepped up another notch.  So far, the allied bombers had stayed away from Moscow.  Cassin felt that the Soviet leaders did not yet see that they would be ultimately defeated.  A massive strike to Moscow would accomplish this purpose, not to mention the fact that it would draw up the remainder of the Soviet Air Force to fight.

Cassin thought long and hard about this decision.  The historical precedent was not good for this sort of action.  In 1940, when Hitler had switched from attacking fighter airfields to attacking London, he had succeeded in drawing up the entire RAF.  He also succeeded in giving the beleagured fighting force a break from constant air attacks and scrambles on their airfields.  The Luftwaffe, in the opinion of many historians, had lost the battle, if not the entire war, right there.

Even worse was the fact that the Russian leaders, after having their capital city turned to rubble, might feel that it was time to go to the nuclear option and end all life on this Earth.

The final decision was on Cassin’s shoulders.  President Clinton had given him the go ahead to do whatever was necessary.  He had a blank check, as long as he ended the dying and the suffering, and let the world try to build a better community from the ashes and rubble of the old.

Cassin was rightly known as a man of decision.  On December 5, 1994, he gave the orders for Operation Sodom, the mass bombing of Moscow.  The B-52s were to be loaded with a mix of high-explosive 1,000lb bombs to smash the buildings into rubble, cluster minelets to deter firemen, and napalm to start fires.  Cassin hoped it would start a firestorm that would send a singular message to the Soviet leaders that the war was over.

Enter the two protagonists of this story.  Commander James Loftman, United States Navy, is currently the leading ace of N.A.T.O. and its allies with 57 kills.  He flies the F-14D+, a massive upgrade of the original F-14 Tomcat of Top Gun fame.  The units commands are VF-41 and VF-84, the Black Aces and Jolly Rogers, the two crack fighter units he has commanded through the entire war.  He is to be commander of the escort fighters for this massive strike.

Colonel Ivan Ilvanyich is commander of the 127th Guards Fighter Regiment, the “Eagle Killers.”  This crack unit flies the MiG-29K Fulcrum, the deadliest fighters in the Soviet inventory.  This regiment is one of the few regiments to have survived the entire war without crippling losses.  The greatest MiG aces still alive are in this unit, no man having less than 5 kills.  Currently, after the bloody battles of December 3rd, the unit is down to 14 aircraft.  The Soviet government has entrusted Ivan Ilvanyich to command the fighters left that will be forced to face the next American attack.  His orders are to forget defending the target, but to rip apart as many B-52s as possible.  Only 325 of the big bombers remain serviceable in the European theater.  If his pilots can destroy sixty-five of them, this may convince Cassin Downes to cease the bombing offensive after losing twenty percent of the force over Murmansk on the 3rd.

The duel between these two men is already legendary.  They have clashed once, after Ilvanyich had shot down and killed James’s younger brother Randall over Vladivostok, the base of the Soviet Pacific Fleet.  The battle had been indecisive–an errant Soviet missile had knocked down Ilvanyich.  Loftman had come close to shooting down the parachuting Soviet pilot, but had broken off at the last moment.

Three weeks after this battle, over Murmansk, the Guards and Jolly Rogers had clashed again.  In this blizzard of air fighting, Ilvanyich had killed the Loftman’s best friend, Shorty Joghnson, after Joghnson had killed Ilvanyich’s nephew, Dimitry.  This combat had lasted six minutes (most dogfights only last thirty seconds), but Joghnson was not a Loftman and had been shot down in flames.  His RIO had ejected, but Joghnson had rode the Tomcat in.

A clash between the two fighter pilots was fully expected on this day.  Loftman had already ordered his pilots to call out if they started to engage Ilvanyich.  He wanted the man for himself.  Ilvanyich had told his pilots to mob Loftman if they found him, waiting until he got there to finish the job.

This short story begins at 1000 hours, when the B-52 stream crosses the Russian frontier and the fight begins.


Chapter 1

Amazon cursed, looking over her radar.  In all the time the woman had been flying as James Loftman’s RIO she had never seen jamming this thick.

“I can’t get a lock on them!  We’re being jammed too heavily!” she said, shaking her red maned head.

James Loftman cursed.  With the enemy fighters closing at M.A.C.H. 1, they wouldn’t have any time for a Phoenix ultra-long range shot.  By the time their radar burned through the Soviet jamming the MiGs and Sukhois would be in their jockstraps.  He shoved the throttle forward against the stops.  The two Pratt & Whitneys screamed their fury and shoved the Tomcat II forward.  If the enemy wanted to get in close, that was fine with him.  He was carrying six Sidewinder short-range missiles and the massive GA\U-8 Avenger cannon on his centerline.  The 30mm cannon was designed for A-10 Warthogs, the tank-killing aircraft of the Air Force.  It worked great against tanks.  It simply disintegrated aircraft.

“Aren’t we going to fire home on jammers?!” Amazon asked, feeling the kick in her back from the 125,000lbs of thrust to her rear.

“Nope!  They want a knife fight, and we’ve got numbers.  Just run the countermeasures!” James shouted, reaching up and dropping his goggles.  He adjusted his 6′ 6″ frame in his seat and gripped the stick, hoping the jammers built into his aircraft and those of the EA-6 Prowlers behind them would keep the Russians from getting off a radar missile shoot of their own.

 

Ivan Ilvanyich allowed himself a small smile.  Loftman and the hot-blooded pilots of the U.S.N. first wave weren’t even trying to fire home on jam missiles, but simply wading in to the attack.  The Americans figured his eighty-nine fighters to be the ill-trained students that had been appearing over the Central Front as of late.  Well, they were in for a nasty shock.  Every instructor, ace, and experienced pilot he could find he had put in this first group of fighters, to open the way for the inexperienced pilots massing in the second wave behind them.  The ninety-six F-14Ds were in for a nasty surprise.  Ivan began chuckling as he imagined the trap drawing closed.

Ivan didn’t even bother glancing at his radar.  He knew it would be covered in white snow from the American’s better jamming.  It was a good thing he had talked the Moscow air-defense commander into letting him use some of the limited electrical power for ground based jammers.  This had kept the damn Tomcats and their Phoenix missiles from decimating his fighters at more than a hundred miles range.  His blue eyes took on a gleeful tint as he thought of what he would do to the enemy fighters with his eight AA-11 Archers.  Ivan Ilvanyich might die on that day, but he would sell his life dearly.  Very dearly.

 

James armed the Sidewinders, the Tomcat’s internal computer checking weapons’ status.  He got five symbols on his HUD, the small screen that was just on the inside edge of his cockpit.  He reached down and flicked a small switch, jettisoning the defective Sidewinder.

The two forces sighted each other at eleven miles.  Pilots quickly locked-on and fired their all-aspect missiles, then turned and began evading the enemy’s.  In the first mass exchange, twelve Tomcats and fifteen MiGs died.

The U.S.N. pilots considered themselves the best in the world.  The one mission they were supposed to have in life was to land on a bouncing postage stamp in the middle of the sea.  They were trained to a high level, even the newer men and women.  Without even having to think about it, they seperated into two-plane groups called sections, mutually supporting each other.  Only after this did they turn to go about their current business, which was hunting everything flying with a red star upon it.

 

Ivan turned after a slow-moving Tomcat.  The inexperienced pilot had climbed to avoid an Archer shot, losing airspeed and thus energy to turn.  It was a simple kill.

His wingman had killed the American’s wingman with a missile shot from the side, the two Tomcats never sighting the incoming Fulcrums.

The Tomcat pilot put his nose down and dived, rolling out of the turn.  Ivan followed, the AA-11 on his wing following wherever he looked with the helmet sight.  The Tomcat was meat on the table.  He fired.

The missile screamed off the rail, accelerating past the speed of sound quickly and arrowing toward the now accelerating Tomcat.  Its seeker head found the paradise of the two hot, afterburning engines.  The missile’s 33lb warhead exploded twenty feet from the Tomcat’s rear, its metal casing expanding in a storm of white-hot fragments.  The Tomcat’s right engine exploded, flashing into the fighter’s fuel tanks.  The Tomcat and its two man crew exploded in a brief fireball.

 

James Loftman rolled in behind the Su-27 Flanker.  The Russian pilot rolled over on his back, pulling back in an outside loop.  James followed, the twin canards (small winglets) and vectored engines of his fighter spinning his nose up through the horizon.  He felt the G-forces tugging at his body, and the edge of his vision starting to go grey.  But he cut inside the Flanker’s turn, cutting the range to a few hundred yards.  He flicked a small switch on his HOTAS, bringing up the cannon sight.  The pipper was a little bit high and to the left of his target, as the Flanker turned hard to try and avoid him.

With a kick of the rudders and a hard push on the stick he rolled inside of the Soviet’s turn, the pipper finding a resting place right between the twin tails of the Soviet fighter.  James pulled back a little bit further, the pipper now resting in the middle of the fuselage.

“Goodbye,” he said softly, firing a long burst of 30mm tungsten-carbide shells.  The solid shot cored the enemy fighter dead center, ripping it apart.  It fell out of the sky, nothing more than junk after the Avenger’s high velocity fire.

“MiG-29 bolting at six o’clock!” Amazon shouted.  James reefed the fighter around, turning towards the enemy fighter.

“He’s headed for the bombers,” James said, his voice cold and expressionless.

“Roger that.  Flanker at ten o’clock high!”

James forgot the MiG-29 that was headed for the bomber and turned towards the enemy Su-27 that was coming in from his left.  The Russian pilot was turning to pursue four Tomcats that had just cancelled the check of two MiG-29 Fulcrums.  He hadn’t checked his tail.  James moved the switch on the stick again, as Amazon checked their rear.  The Flanker was at five miles, well within Sidewinder range.

“Break Sundowner Flight!” he shouted over the radio, seeing he wouldn’t be there in time to keep the Flanker from shooting.  The four F-14C’s broke hard right, as he locked onto the Su-27.  The Flanker pilot, seeing his attack was ruined, reversed and started to come back at James, trying to escape.

An F-14D in front of him would be the last surprise the enemy pilot would ever have.  A left-wing Sidewinder leaped off the rail and slammed into the right intake of the Flanker.  The fighter disinegrated in mid-air.

James turned away from the flaming wreckage and went ahunting.  It was time for someone else to become his next kill.

The tactical net had become a cacophony of fighter calls and cries for help, as Ilvanyich’s second wing of two hundred fighters slammed into the main bomber stream.  James could tell this was going to be a hard fight, and turned back towards the main bomber stream to help out the close escort of F-16s.

 

Ivan kicked the rudder, watching the two F-14s head for the ground in flames.  It had been ridiculously simple for him to come up and surprise the two fighters.  Both had died without a single maneuver.

The furball had calmed down around him, and was not such a mass of whirling aircraft.  The allied fighters were starting to gain the upper hand with their mutually supporting teams and better training, but the issue was not decided yet.  The dying had gone about even for both sides, the deaths of individual crews simply more numbers for the statisticians at the end of the war.  The U.S. Navy pilots, veterans all, would mark this as their toughest fight ever.

An even more intense battle was occurring around the 325 B-52 Stratofortresses.  The N.A.T.O. close escort, numbering around one hundred fighters, had been overwhelmed by the deluge of Soviets, and were having enough trouble defending themselves, much less the bombers.

The bomber commander was screaming for reinforcements from the front lines, which were only three hundred miles behind the bombers’ current positions.  The N.A.T.O. fighters circling in this position had turned and started to rush towards the battle, but Frontal Aviation units had begun slowing them down.  Best estimates were that it’d be at least fifteen minutes before the fighters arrived.

Fifteen minutes is a long time in air warfare.

What I Would Do Differently

1.) The massive data dump at the beginning.  Writing now, I would attack that one of two ways.  The first way would be to have a faux newscast or newspaper article.  This would introduce the reader to most of the secondary characters without having to read through what is basically the Star Wars title scroll on steroids.  The second?  Dialogue between characters as they’re getting the final briefing or prepping for the flight.  The latter is a bit trickier, as it’s touch making sure things don’t sound contrived.

2.) There are a few places where I don’t explain the hardware, yet it’d be fairly easy to.  In other places, I explain too much and it derails the story.  If I were to go full book-sized (not gonna happen, thank you very much), I’d probably add a glossary or some line drawings at the end.

3.) I’d also wargame this out.  Fifteen minutes?  Ha!  That’s not just a long time, that’s an eternity in modern air warfare.  This is where research, research, research comes in.  May 10, 1972 was probably the third or fourth largest furball in modern history.  From the first USAF F-4 merge to sea air rescue was maybe an hour.  Lesson learned.

I Can’t Believe I Wrote That…–Vladivostok Special

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This post will conclude the Vladivostok thing.  For those who missed the first installment–I once had an entire universe in which the Cold War went hot.  Through various moves, direct action, and movement through multiple versions of Word, most of this first novel up and disappeared.  This is very much a rough draft, and I’m never going back to finish it, but I’ve put it here for critique and to show my evolution as a writer. Three biggest things I noticed doing a quick read through:

1.) Show, not tell?  Yeah, that rule exists for a reason.  Much older James Young was cringing as he read what his teenaged self had gone and done.  Holy drawn out expositions, Batman!

2.) I had no concept of the tanker support necessary to conduct an operation this massive back in 1994.  Even with a far larger Air Force, this entire operation might have bordered on the “impossible” with a simultaneous war occurring in Europe.

3.) Just thinking all of the UCMJ issues that would be caused by pilots in the same chain of command deciding to date.  Yeaaaaaaahhh…way too many Top Gun wannabe there.

If you’re looking for some complete World War III action, I suggest William Stroock (on Amazon) or joining this forum (where there are over 200 chapters).  Now, back to the magic…

 

 

                 Section III:Hades and Beyond

 

Tokyo International

0500 hours

October 9

 

Luke walked around the A-6 one more time, checking it over once again.  The jet was pristine, having just been painted with a fresh coat of naval white.  The squadron insignia was painted brightly on the tail, standing out in stark relief.  The Boomers, VA-165, were ready to sortie forth once more.

The armorers’ trucks were making their way down the line of hangars towards their aircraft.  Luke could see the large HOBOS guided weapons and AGM-84E SLAM missiles mounted on the war wagon, their safety pins fluttering in the wind.

He could not believe that they were about to engage the enemy once again.  He was amazed that he didn’t have some deep seated fear of facing Russian guns and missiles again.  His inner calm was disconcerting.  It was if his subconscious knew what was coming but had neglected to tell his conscious self.  He would have to live with it as long as it didn’t effect him later.

Kari was in the cockpit running a systems check on their attack computer.  The weapons system was showing all systems green, as were their internal avionics.  The Intruder was ready and willing.

The armorer trucks finally made it to their squadron.  Luke watched as the armorers lifted three large 2,000lb optically-guided bombs onto each Intruder.  These were followed by four SLAM missiles.  Finally, a pair of Sidearm short-range anti-radar missiles were put on the outer wing stations.  A fuel tank went on the centreline of each jet, giving them loitering capability.

The Boomers had been given one of the toughest targets in Vladivostok harbor.  The carrier Varyag had been present at the Battle of Wake.  Her fighters had savaged the American escort and did a number on quite a few attack aircraft that had attempted to get close to her deck.  They had then escorted the Russian carrier strike on the U.S. Fleet.

The fighters weren’t the carrier’s only defenses.  Massed short-range, 23 and 30mm cannon were capable of putting up an umbrella of steel.  Her point-defense missiles could pick approaching bombers right off the waves, or shoot down opposing missiles before they pierced the vessel’s side.  In the open ocean, this vessel would be a very hard kill, her task force preventing many weapons from getting to her.  Hopefully, inside the harbor, she would be an easier prey.  Luke and company were about to find out.

 

 

Misawa AFB

0510 hours

 

So this is how it all ends, Isaac  thought to himself.

The confidence he felt looking over his squadron somehat belied his feeling of dread.  Colonel Collins had sent him good replacements to recoup his losses, bringing him up to a complement of twenty-four Strike Eagles.The forty- eight men and women under his command were the best in the business.    With this force, Isaac was sure they could knock out the bridges at Artem and Ussuryisk.  Eight of the Strike Eagles would be carrying AGM-130s and SLAM missiles.  The other sixteen would fly Wild Weasel support and escort.

Isaac was arming his aircraft with six cluster bombs, four HARM missiles, and six 1,000lb bombs for the Wild Weasel mission.  Two AMRAAM and two Sidewinders gave him some air-to-air capability.  The remainder of his flight was armed in the same way.  Tyrone’s flight was also flying the Wild Weasel mission.

The strike package, consisting of Josh’s and Jake’s flights, carried four AGM-130s and six SLAMs apiece.  They had the ability to put a serious hurt on the bridges and the surrounding area.  For self-defence they carried two Shrike missiles.

Patricia came over, her helmet in her arms.  Todd, who had been standing beside Isaac, suddenly found a reason to absent himself.  This was more than likely going to be a tearful parting.  Neither one of them was happy about the high command decision to take Patricia’s flight off of close escort for Isaac.

“I guess this is what we came for, Princess,” Isaac said lightheartedely.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Patricia replied.  Both of them fell silent.  The silence dragged on for several moments, as Patricia fiddled with her helmet.

“You know I’m not very good at this,” Isaac said finally.

“Obviously neither am I,” Patricia replied with a smile.  She finally looked up in his eyes.  Isaac could see tears starting to form.

“I love you.  I don’t want anything to happen to you.  Good luck, Patricia,” Isaac said in a rush.

“I love you also, Isaac Young.  Take care of yourself,” Patricia said, gently touching him on the arm.  Isaac reached out and embraced her, kissing her hard.  He let her go, squeezing her hand and turning to board his fighter.

Patricia turned and headed for her own flightline.

“I can’t believe you kissed her,” Todd said, as he sat down in the pilot’s seat.  “That’s going to get you in a lot of shit if someone saw it.”

“Todd, if I get back from this mission, they can court-martial my black ass.  However, until then, I am not going to worry about it.  I love her.”

“It’s about time you got lucky with somebody,” Todd said, smiling.

 

 

H.M.S. Illustrious

Pacific Ocean

0517 hours

 

Jack climbed up in his Harrier, finally ready.  Two 1,000lb bombs hung on his inside pylons, their Paveway seeker heads almost guaranteeing a hit if guided correctly.  The next pylons over carried a pair of ALARM missiles apiece.  The anti-radar weapons were very deadly, especially in the self-protection role.  They retained the ability to loiter over the target, swinging under a parachute, if the transmitter shut down for a few moments.

Jack had been placed in command of 809 Squadron after the strike films and combat reports had all been turned in.  Though still holding the official rank of a Flight Lieutenant, all agreed that he was the best suited and most experienced pilot remaining.  The papers for his promotion were already in the works.

The losses of the Balikpapan mission had been quite high.  Six Harriers had been shot down or so badly damaged that they had to be pushed over the side.  Only two pilots had been pulled out of the shark-infested waters.  Of the Australian F-111Cs, three had been blown out of the sky.

In exchange for the aircraft, the British and Australians had wrecked a refinery and airfield and sunk three vessels, two tankers and a destroyer.  The gains had outweighed the costs, but that was of no consolation to Jack.  Two of the three pilots had been close friends.  The stupid squadron commander wasn’t even missed in his book.

The Nassau had left them after flying upon the reinforcements.  The American made jets had a few differences than the British Harriers, but it was of no consequence.  Their pilots were fully trained in the jets and could fly them just as well as anyone else.

Jack paused a moment to look off the Illustrious‘s port bow.  The sea was full of ships.

The largest concentration of naval airpower since World War II was cruising in formation with the Illustrious.  Her sister ship, Invincible and the French carriers Clemenceau and Foch were the only NATO representatives in the large task force.  Their small complements would not have been able to put much hurt on the Soviet fleet, and surely would not have been able to repulse a counterattack by the same fleet.

The eight carriers of the United States Navy more than made up for this deficiency in striking power.  The George Washington, Carl Vinson, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt,and Ranger were unblooded vessels with untried air  groups that had something to prove.  The America had been present at Wake, and her mainly new air group had a tradition to build upon.

The Enterprise and Eisenhower were arguably the two most dangerous ships in any navy.  Their two air groups had been flying combat ops since day one of the Third World War, being almost as experienced as most European pilots.  The group was coming off a very bloody strike on India, when many fighters had been hit and knocked down.  The group had made good its losses, and these new hands had been trained to a high pitch in the short time since the attack.  With the current highest-scoring ace in any NATO or allied country and the highest scoring USMC ace as squadron commanders, the groups were well commanded and capable of wreaking a large amount of havoc.  The Russians were about to be very sorry once the attack started.

Jack finished strapping in, a deck hand helping him.  He watched the deck officer, following the man’s directions to the catapult.  The officer helped line his Sea Harrier up.  He then proceeded to do his dance, then finally dropped and pointed off the bow.

The Harrier was thrusted off the short ski jump deck.  Jack pulled back on the stick, climbing slowly into the sky.  The Harriers, having the shortest legs of any attack aircraft, were the last to launch.  Jack immediately turned his nose for Vladivostok.  His wingman, launched just a few moments later, followed suit.  The rest of 809 Squadron was catapulted off a few moments later.  The group was ready for battle.

 

Sea of Japan

0515 hours

 

Amee looked over the group of F-16Cs under her command and smiled a death-head’s smile.  The twenty-four Falcons were ready and willing to do battle on this day.  The last few days of flying strikes into the teeth of North Korean fighters and other associate actions to make it appear that the Fifth Air Force was girding for an offensive had really thinned out their numbers.  A couple of Guard units had been forced to send aircraft to make good losses.  Things were getting real bad on the pilot side.  Several had been recovered by Air Sea Rescue, but many, many more had fallen into enemy hands or rode their planes into the drink.

Fortunately, no more of Amee’s pilots had died.  A new pilot had arrived to replace Checkmate, so her flight was back up to strength.  The last few days had been scoreless for her, but that would probably change since they had been given the air-to-air mission for this strike.  Four AMRAAM missiles hung under the wings.  Two Sidewinders were on each wingtip, and the 20mm cannon was loaded to full capacity.  Amee knew she would probably come away with a kill by the end of the day.

Bob pulled up alongside, waggling his wings.  Amee could see the grin on his face in her mind, even though the lower half of his face was covered by his oxygen mask.  Knight lived for battle.  His official kill score was low, but Amee didn’t know how she would’ve scored half of her kills without Bob’s section flying backup.

The attack wing was flying under EMCON, none of their radars or radios emitting anything.  The group was circling around Tokyo, forming up quickly.  The naval attack force would hit five minutes earlier than the Allied attack from Japan.  Therefore, surprise really didn’t matter for this attack wing.  When they arrived, everyone would be awake and waiting.

Still, for cosmetic purposes, the group was appearing as if they were attacking North Korea.  To backup this supposition on the Russians’ part they would fly within seventy-five miles of the North Korean coast.  In order to prevent the North Koreans from intercepting the force, the ROK Air Force and those PACAF units based in Korea would fly a maximum effort fighter sweep north, retaining only twenty F-4Es for air defense.

The Russians would probably scramble fighters just in case, sending them south as reinforcements.  This would be good for the strike, as it would suck most of the Russian aircraft too far to the south to stop the naval strike.  It might mean a large number of Air Force aircraft didn’t make it, but this would be made up by the higher number of naval aircraft that made it.

Amee finished her lazy turn, the squadron arraying itself behind her.  The F-16s were middle cover, being stacked between F-14s and F-15s up top and Mirage 2000s and CF-18s at low level.   Five hundred and seventy-six aircraft were flying from the islands of Japan.  The advance guard of one hundred eighty fighters would probably smash through the combat air patrol over the harbor with ease.

The strike wing was finally finished forming up.  Amee nodded her head to herself, and increased her speed to five hundred knots.  The fighters had an appointment to keep.

 

Vladivostok

0545 hours

 

The first shots of Operation Apache proper were not fired by any aircraft in the strike forces.  Instead, they came courtesy of three B-1B Lancers carrying sixteen conventionally armed AGM-86B missiles apiece.  The forty-eight weapons were targeted on the long range search radars arrayed to the north of the harbor.  The one thousand pound warheads were fused to explode one hundred feet above the installations.

All of the missiles functioned properly, being launched at five hundred miles range.  At 0545 they arrived at their targets with several large thunderclaps of explosions.

The detonations brought several alarms into screaming wakefulness.

Ivan cursed, throwing his covers off his bed.  He sprinted for his gear, grabbing it and heading for the flightline.  The rest of the regiment was following suit, dashing for their MiG-29s.  The fighters were already prepped and ready for combat, fuelled and loaded with the standard air-to-air load.

Ivan put on his G-suit, zipping up the  uniform as he ran out of the door.  Right before he headed for a fighter he caught himself.  He was still grounded.  His orders were to remain on the ground no matter what.  That included any alerts…

“Fuck them,” Ivan said aloud, and finished dashing for his jet.  They could shoot him later.  He’d be damned if he was going to stay on the ground during what appeared to be a major Allied attack.

 

Pacific Ocean

0548 hours

 

“Tighten it up boys.  It’s party time,” the calm and kind of distracted voice of James Loftman crackled over his headphones.

Josh nodded his assent.  He looked back over his squadron.  VF-2, the Bounty Hunters.  This group, like most of the other squadrons formed from the remnants of The Battle of Wake Island, was a mix of old hands and young rookies.  However, Josh felt that he had the best rookies and they were about to exact a heavy price from the enemy.

“This is Achilles Two-Zero to Escort Lead.  You’ve got company coming out of the base like bees out of a hive.  The bogey count’s up to nine eight, and it doesn’t appear to be stopping.  Crater One-Zero, you are cleared to begin radiating,” the voice of an AWACS controller crackled over the net.

“Roger that Achilles.  We are cleared to fire upon said targets, correct?” Loftman asked cooly.

“Affirmative.”

“This is Skull Lead to all fighters.  We will fire by unit, with Skull firing first and designating, on my mark.”

The dance was about to begin.

 

The second act of Operation Apache was the jamming of the Russian fighters’ air-to-air radars.  This was the specific job of eight EA-6B Prowler aircraft.  These aircraft were outfitted in the full soft ECM warload, not carrying any HARM or Shrike missiles.  The four jamming pods mounted under their wings were quite capable of turning the radar screens of the ninety-eight bogeys already scrambled white with snow.

In each aircraft, a tactical officer reached forward and threw a switch.  The battle was now joined.

 

Pacific Ocean

0549 hours

 

The salvo of AIM-54A and -54C missiles lit up the night with bright flashes.  Each F-14C&D+ had been carrying four missiles at least.  Each had a range of 90+ miles.  The RIOs in the backseat of each Tomcat had launched onto four targets, one for each missile.  The original salvo had four hundred and fifty missiles involved in it, targeted on one hundred and twenty Russian aircraft.

The Russians’ own ECM began operating at this moment, as the pilots began juking, turning radically, and diving.  The powerful AWG-9 radars cut through the majority of it, but not all of it.  Several missiles went ballistic and detonated early, having lost their original targets.  Chaff and radical maneuvers defeated several other missiles.  However, fifty-eight of the Phoenixes did contact with a Russian fighter.  The MiGs and Sukhois were annihilated by the large, one hundred and twenty plus pound warheads.  Many of the pilots did not eject from their mortally wounded aircraft.  Fragments of the aircraft rained down into the dark ocean.

 

Ivan looked behind him, fear evident in his face.  His wingman had simply disappeared in a dirty brown ball of fire and smoke.  Fragments had pelted his MiG but had not done any serious damage.  His radar screen was still mostly whited out, and he had no idea where the enemy was.  The Mainstay orbiting over Vladivostok was as blinded as the fighters.  If the enemy force closed within a hundred miles of the AWACS’s position, they would be able to see through the fog of ECM.  Until then, the fighters were on their own.

“All Eagle elements, go to afterburners!” Ilvanyich barked.  He could hear acknowledgements, but they sounded as if they came from the far end of a tunnel.  The Americans were jamming the radios also!  Ivan shoved his throttle forward to its maximum, the twin engines rumbling behind him.  The radar screen suddenly became clearer, the mighty pulse-Doppler radar finally finding its targets.  Ivan began punching off AA-10 Alamos, as the enemy fired off their AMRAAM in reply.

 

The missile exchange at thirty miles range led to the first losses of the U.S.N..  Twelve F-14s were blown out of the sky in exchange for twenty more MiGs and Sukhois.

“Skulls and Aces, continue through over the harbor.  Bounty Hunters, Tomcatters, Swordsmen, and Challengers, the bad guys are yours!  Rest of you, close escort!” Loftman barked.

Josh nodded, turning hard towards the incoming enemy fighters.  The odds were just about even, both sides down to just IR missiles and cannon.  It was up to the four squadrons to cut the enemy fighters down in single combat, while their other cohorts interposed themselves between the enemy fighters and the bombers.

The two groups closed hard and fast, exchanging missiles head-on.  A further eight Russians and two Tomcats died as a result of these low-percentage shots.  The Tomcat crews punched out, only to die of exposure in the cold Pacific seas.

Josh saw a Fulcrum passing below him, turning hard after it.  The Russian pilot saw him at the last moment and dived, turning hard away from Josh and dumping flares.

Josh knew that his heavier F-14C could not hold a turn long with the Fulcrum, but he dived after anyway.  The Russian pilot suddenly snapped his nose back up to the level, rolling hard inverted and popping back towards Josh.  Josh pulled up, and the two were suddenly canopy to canopy in a rolling scissors.  Josh rolled around his axis, trying to keep the MiG in sight.  The Fulcrum could outclimb his plane, and Josh watched with widening eyes as the enemy pilot gained seperation and suddenly turned further towards his tail.

A streak of smoke suddenly terminated on the Fulcrum’s left wing.  The fighter lurched into a nose high attitude, starting to spin immediately as its left aerilon was hit.  The canopy popped off the fighter, the pilot exiting into the slipstream.

The F-14C that had fired the shot joined up on his left wing.  Josh turned and reentered the fray, looking for more targets.

All around him, aircraft were engaged in dogfights.  Right before his eyes, a MiG-23 was riddled with 20mm gatling fire and exploded.  The Tomcat that had done the deed had about five seconds to live before a big AA-10 heat-seeker turned it into a hurtling junk.  Josh saw the Su-27 that had fired the shot and went after it, lighting afterburners.  The Flanker pilot saw him and turned into him, Josh pulled up sharply, arcing around in a perfect Immelmann.  The Flanker pilot had started to follow, but Josh’s new wingman had started to drop onto his tail.  The Russian wisely decided to dive away, gaining speed and seperation.

“Fulcrum at three o’clock!” his RIO shouted.  Josh turned his head just in time to see the twinkling of the MiG’s cannon.

The fifty round burst walked right through his Tomcat, sawing it in half.  The fuel tanks exploded like twin suns in the dawn sky.  Neither Josh or his RIO had a chance to eject.

 

Ivan turned after the American’s stunned wingman.  The man reacted too sluggishly as he tried to turn into the attack, and Ivan squeezed off two AA-11 Archers.  One misguided, turning after some unknown target.  The second guided straight into the Tomcat’s inlets, exploding just inside the intake.  The metal fragments and energy from the missile’s warhead wrecked the turbine blades in the fighter’s engine.  The jet became instantly uncontrollable.  The canopy flew off, first the RIO then the pilot rocketing out of the jet.

Ivan turned away from the falling jet, looking all around him.  The Flanker that had been the original target joined up, and they headed for an already smoking Vladivostok.

 

Vladivostok Harbor

0555 hours

 

The Wild Weasels of the strike from the sea descended on Vladivostok harbor with a veangance.  The Naval and Marine pilots had been provided with maps and photographs of their targets, then thoroughly briefed on their targets’ capabilities.  These men had been assigned the job of killing the most threatening SAM and missiles sites, since they would be first on target.  The Japanese wing Weasels were to pick up whatever these men missed.

The first blood went to the SAM defenses.  A SA-11 site ringed by two ZSU-30-2 gun vehicles locked onto and engaged a flight of Wild Weasels descending on an SA-12 site.  The F/A-18s ignored the offending site, knowing it was someone else’s prey.  It was a fatal mistake.

Five missiles flashed from their launchers.  Three Hornets disappeared in dirty brown flashes and brief waterspouts.  The fourth Hornet made its release on its target, the salvo of Maverick missiles ripping apart the SAM vehicles and attending radars.

The gunners aboard the naval ships and ashore chose this moment to get into the act.  Radars began coming online, seeking out these attacking birds of prey.  In return, the remaining twenty-four Prowlers began jamming and HARMing these radars.  The Wild Weasels were not bothered unduly by the gunfire that devolved into barrage fire.  It was the SAM radars that were still on-line that were the problem.

 

The first wave of the Japan Wing arrived almost undetected.  The fighters of this group had ceased radiating suddenly, and the EF-111A Raven aircraft accompanying it had begun to jam all radars and radios.  It was only when the twenty-four F-14Cs that comprised part of the lead escort locked onto the two An-74 Mainstays orbiting the big base that someone knew something was up.  By then, it was too late.

Three Phoenixes apiece struck the Mainstays in the midst of their efforts to vector in more fighters.  The reinforcements rushing towards Vladivostok from the collection of Soviet bases in the surrounding area suddenly had no guidance.  The pilots continued flying into the cauldron however, feeling that they would do some good.

 

The Allied fighter pilots turned eagerly to do battle, as the attack boys began their runs.

 

Zulu One

 

Amee wrenched her stick over to avoid colliding with the Japanese F-15J that was cutting across her nose.  Out of the corner of her eye she saw the MiG-23 chasing it and reversed course, the heavy G’s pushing against her chest.  The lights started to grow dim.

It will all be worth it if we get behind the bastard, Amee thought dimly.  Just as her vision was going totally black she saw the single engine of the Flogger.  The pilot was in full burner trying to keep up with the Eagle in front of him.  Amee heard the growl of her port wingtip Sidewinder and fired the missile.  The AIM-9 streaked off the rail and found its prey, blasting off the Flogger’s tail.  The swing-wing fighter belched black smoke and fell off on its side towards the harbor below.

However there were many, many more where that came from.  If the attack boys didn’t start their work soon, the escorts were going to be hard-pressed to defend them.

 

Boomer One-One

 

Luke juked up and down, trying to present a very difficult target to the Soviet gunners as they tried to hose down his aircraft.  With most of the fleet in the anchorage, the volume of fire was terrific.  Tracers whizzed by the canopy incredibly fast.  Their Intruder had already taken two minor hits.

A stream of tracers from a Udaloy-class destroyer suddenly mated with one of his ten Intruders.  The A-6 disappeared in a pyrotechnic display, debris falling into the harbor.

“Find that son-of-a-bitch fast!” Luke barked, as an F/A-18 dived down to Maverick the offending destroyer.  The Hornet punched off three missiles, aiming then at the source of the tracers.  The destroyer fired its two 3.9-guns in reply, the weapons banging out their staccato tatoo.  The gun crews were obviously very good or very lucky.  At least two shells struck the Hornet.  Its missiles, however, obviously hit some bunkerage or something flammable, for a black cloud of smoke with an orange base began to bubble from the destroyer’s hull.

The rest of the anti-shipping aircraft were descending on their prey like hawks.  Luke saw a Buccaneer descending on the Sverdlov-class cruiser, the Zhdanov, firing Martel and A.S. 30L missiles as it dived.  Tracers reached up from the cruiser to meet the attack.  The Buccaneer was hit, mortally wounded.  Luke saw the pilot consciously put his nose down and follow his missiles into the side of the ship.  The cruiser heeled over sharply, smoking heavily from bow to midships.

“SAM!  SAM!  SAM!” Kari shouted.  Luke saw the incoming missile and jettisoned flares and chaff, turning into it.  The SA-N-5 was decoyed away by the hot heat of the flares and exploded far behind.

One of the Intruders behind Luke, piloted by Lt. Horace Cruthers, a survivor of Wake Island, was not so lucky.  Two SAMs met at the Intruder’s fuselage.  Amazingly, the craft continued flying long enough for Horace and his B/N, Ens. Jack Tate to eject.

“I see the bitch, eleven o’clock!  The bastards moved her!  She’s just outside that floating dry dock!” Luke shouted to Kari.

A storm of fire was pouring from the shore and the carrier.  Missiles were screaming off their rails, as the ship’s powerful radars began burning through the combined ECM of the task force at their close range.  Two more A-6s disappeard in spheres of flame.  The carrier was at the end of a long gauntlet of ships.      Shells ricocheted off the water, skipping back into the air at the oncoming Intruders.  The tracers were beginning to get uncomfortably close.

“This is Boomer One-One!  I could use some Weasel support!” Luke shouted, jinking.

“Ask for no more, Boomer One-One!” a cocky voice shouted over the net.  Five F-4G fighter bombers dived towards the carrier, HARM missiles streaking from under their wings.  They were greeted happily by the Russian gunners.  The Weasel leader was a brave man, following his missile’s up with a cluster bomb attack.  The twin AK-630s on the stern of the Varyag made this incredibly costly.  Only two aircraft pulled up and away from the carrier.  However, the cluster strike silenced the heaviest of the gunfire from the ship.

Kari was busy aiming the SLAM missiles, choosing her spots on FLIR.  She chose the area just under the flight deck as her points of aim.  Even if they did not kill the carrier, they would at least wound her.

At six miles range she fired off the missiles.  Three of the four functioned normally.  One, however, simply continued on into the dark waters of Vladivostok.

The fourteen missiles that guided or launched correctly range gave the carrier little time to respond.  Only one was claimed by CIWS fire.  The others found homes in the carrier’s vulnerable side.

Two weapons slammed into the port elevator.  The combined explosives buckled the platform, leaving it stuck in the up position.  Another four weapons marched down the flight deck, opening large craters in the surface and starting severe fires in the hangar deck.  Two more weapons hit the ship in the island, clearing the bridge and starting a fire here also.

The final six weapons buried themselves in the carrier’s hull.  The damage they did was serious, but not fatal.

“Time to get rid of excess luggage,” Kari said.  Luke pulled up hard and fast in the classic toss-bomb envelope.  The three 2,000lb bombs seperated cleanly, arcing towards the Varyag.  The other three A-6s that were all that was left followed suit.  A large-caliber shell fired from their left holed another Intruder, blasting it apart, but only after it had released its bombs.

The carrier’s CIWS weapons began blazing away at the large, FLIR guided bombs, the cannon shells ripping apart three.  Two bombs went sailing over the Varyag, impacting fifty feet on the other side.  One fell short.  One failed to detonate.  That still left five.

The first bomb hit astern, ten feet above the waterline.  It penetrated at a very sharp angle down to the propulsion spaces before it exploded with a thunderclap.  The force of the explosion buckled the flight deck and ripped a large hole in the side of the carrier.  The power to damage control parties was immediately cut.  The fact that there were D/C parties at all was due to Gregory’s orders that all ships be ready to sail within thirty minutes of the order being given.  These brave men began sprinting to their stations, knowing that their ship had been very hard hit.

The second large bomb hit directly on the flight deck and exploded on the hangar deck amidst a fully stocked ammunition locker.

The Varyag was hard hit in this blow.  The blast carried away the entire forward part of the flight deck, blasting the debris for a three kilometer radius.  The ship whipsawed violently

The third and fourth bombs landed in the ship’s stern, landing in the propulsion center.  The bomb’s delayed fuses exploded a few moments later, throwing the ship into darkness and killing the power.  The emergency generators began to come online, as the carrier began to flood.

The last bomb did the most damage.  This weapon punched into the D/C command post, deep in the bowels of the ship.  Its blast immediately decapitated the efforts of the control parties.

The combined blasts heeled the ship hard over, giving her a sharp twenty-five degree list.  The flooding in the engine room began to take hold, sending her closer and closer towards capsizing.  Her captain barked orders for counterflooding, shaking in rage at what had been done to his ship.

The fight to save the vessel would continue long into the night, but would be futile.  Varyag would settle to the bottom late the next day, the fires having driven off her crew.  She would be gutted by the flames.  At war’s end she would be refloated and towed to a watery grave in the middle of the Pacific.

 

Over Vladivostok Harbor

 

The cavalry arrived for the hard pressed Soviet fighters.  Two more regiments had screamed east from bases inland.  These fighters now fell in upon the strike force as it pounded the base.

Ivan joined up with one of these new fighters, turning to engage a pair of F-14D+ Tomcats.  The Navy fighters saw him and turned towards the two MiG-29s.  At eight miles range both sides fired head on IR missiles.

Ivan juked hard, dumping flares and throttling back.  He turned to look for the other Fulcrum and saw the fighter trying to run and drop flares at the same time.

“Cut your afterburners, comrade!  Cut your afterburners!” he shouted.  The pilot complied too late, the Sidewinder blasting off a large portion of the tail.  The pilot ejected, his canopy flashing in the sky.

Ivan turned to see that the other pilot had managed to get a kill before he died.  One Tomcat was falling wrapped in flames.  The other was turning back towards him after ridding himself of the pursuing missile.

The two fighters turned towards each other, closing too fast for a missile shot.  Ivan wrenched back on the stick, reversing his turn and going to the vertical.  His nose came around at an extremely high angle of attack, bleeding off airspeed quickly.  However, the angle helped him to make an incredibly tight circular turn.

Ivan was expecting to have an F-14 in his sights.  In the Middle East, this had been the key to killing the U.S.N. pilots, getting them in a turning fight.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work.  Ivan’s guts turned to ice as he found himself matched maneuver for maneuver.  This F-14 seemed to be a souped up model, for it had canards and a much larger tail section.

It hit Ivan at that moment what he was facing.  This was one of the American jackals that was reponsible for his wife’s death.  He saw the insignia of a skull and crossbones and knew that he was right.

Someone was going to die today.  He turned tighter, going into a half roll.  The battle was on between him and this American.

 

Rumbler One-One

 

“Shotgun!” someone screamed.  Isaac turned in time to see two HARM missiles shooting off and then a ball of flame as another Strike Eagle was hit by some unseen threat.

It was dark in the valleys before the bridges.  Isaac and company were engaging in treetop, ‘hold your balls and pray’, flying.

Todd swivelled his head, desperately looking for what had killed the number four aircraft in their flight.

“Kango Two has the threat!” Tyrone wingman’s called out.  The night was suddenly split by the explosion of four 1,000lb bombs.

Isaac was ignoring all of this going on behind him, scanning in front of them to avoid terrain and try and pick out a SAM site before it killed them.

The TEWS began singing its song once again.  Todd picked up the threats, two ZSU-30-2 gun vehicles.

“Zoos, one o’clock!” he shouted.

“No shotgun!” Isaac warned.  The gun crews didn’t have a good lock on them as of yet.  If someone fired a HARM they could quickly shut off their radars and fire visually.  In the tight confines of the valley, simple barrage fire would kill aircraft in the strike package.  Isaac pulled up sharply, dragging the pipper for two cluster bombs across the enemy AAA vehicles.  Todd punched off the bombs, and they dropped back just as the enemy gun vehicles began firing.

The stream of tracers lit up the cockpit in a surreal light as they passed overhead.

“HOLY SHIT!  BREAK!” Todd screamed.

Isaac had already seen the electric tower in front of them and began pulling up and to the side of it.  Tree branches thudded into their wing, Isaac turning that close to the mountain.

“Bogeys, twelve o’clock high!” someone shouted.

“Duke Flight has them,” came the reply.

Isaac nodded to himself.  He had know Patricia would find someway to bend the rules and get him some cover.  Four F-15Cs rose from their place in the strike package and began locking up the closing enemy fighters.

Two SAMs streaked from the rises above, passing close aboard the climbing Eagles.

“Kango One has the threat,” Tyrone’s calm voice said.  Todd, looking up for a brief moment, saw the F-15E dive in and scatter a liberal amount of 20mm ammunition on the enemy troops that had fired upon them.

The incoming fighters were eight MiG-23 Floggers.  Princess Flight had them outranged and outclassed.  Isaac saw no need for them to have to stay and dogfight.

“Blow through and stay,” he ordered over the net.

“Yes sir!” came the reply of the Captain leading the unit.

Eight AMRAAM missiles left their launchers and streaked off into the night.  In the absence of ECM and with their targets having low maneuverability, the missiles had a field day.  The Russian pilots attempted to break at the last moment, turning into the enemy attack, but failed.  Six bright flashes in the night sky told the tale of dead MiGs.  The two remaining enemy fighters continued to close, firing AA-7 Apex missiles.

Chaff and ECM began radiating from the F-15Cs.  Suddenly, the missiles had a plethora of targets.  Not one of the four launched hit anything.

The U.S.A.F. pilots selected Sidewinder and fired.  Two more flashes and a trails of flame at five miles range told Isaac that the Floggers were no longer a threat.

“Gotcha!” Isaac shouted triumphantly.  “Good job, Sevens!”

“Break Duke Leader!” Todd barked.  “SAM!  SAM!  SAM!”

Todd hadn’t actually seen the missile, for it had taken off with little flash or indication.  However, the huge warnings on the TEWS told him that some SAM crew had just punched off three SA-10 Grumbles.  Todd selected a HARM missile and put his hand over the trigger.

“Shotgun!” he barked.  The missile left its position and arrowed towards the enemy radar.  The operators, caught looking the wrong way, were totally surprised when it exploded scant seconds later.

However, the SA-10 had a second-line IR guidance.  Two locked onto Viper Leader.  The pilot had nowhere to go, low to the terrain.  He dumped flares and pulled up sharply.  One missed.  The other exploded close enough to cause damage.

“Shit!  Mayday, mayday, Viper Leader having to leave this baby.  Go get ’em Mudmovers!” the pilot shouted, his control board having gone totally red.  He reached below his legs and pulled the ejection handle.

“One more turn,” Todd said.  They had circled to come around on the bridge’s from the inland side.  Now this circle was complete.

The Amur river gleamed in the rising sun.  Isaac turned the Strike Eagle hard to follow it to the south.  The strike force, minus three Strike Eagles, followed.

For one brief moment, all was peaceful in front of them.  The skies were clear, and the gentle rippling of the water made it seem like a surreal scene.

The next moment, the gun crews and SAM vehicles opened fire.  The Strike Eagles had to run a gauntlet of four miles before they were in AGM-130 range.  It was a hell of a way to do business, but they had no choice.  Popping over the hills had not been an option.

The strike aircraft began rippling off SLAMs, the AGM-84Es shooting off into the night to find homes at radar sites and command posts that had already been marked.

Isaac watched in horror as a stream of gunfire ripped his wingman’s Strike Eagle in half.  A SAM streaked out to kill one of the F-15Cs, its pilot riding the jet into the river.  Tracers and shells skipped off the water, and misguided SAMs sent up huge waterspouts.

Isaac got a grip on himself and advanced the throttle, as Todd triggered off the last of their HARMs.  The two Strike Eagles left in his flight followed him, as Tyrone and Kango Three tried to give the strike force some close protection.  Isaac half rolled and popped up, getting an image of the threat.  Multiple weapons systems locked onto them, but he didn’t worry about them.  Todd got a look at the area around the bridge as they dived back into the water.

A gun vehicle had started to track them.  Isaac selected gun vehicle and wrenched the 20mm gun onto line with the ZSU.  The M-61A1 fired a seventy-five round burst and exploded the vehicle.

An SA-16 zipped over their fighter and hit the far shore.  The secondary was enormous, and Isaac had to take a second glance.  Obviously the Russians had put an ammo bin or something there.

The bridge came into view ahead of them.  Rumbler Four suddenly pitched nose high and skipped into the river.  Amazingly, the weapons officer got out before the jet disintegrated.  Isaac half-rolled and dropped two flares, distracting a heat-seeking missile launched at him.  Isaac pulled hard back on the stick, popping up.

The bridge was right in front of him.  Isaac took a moment to admire the construction.  He then turned and began looking for any bridging equipment that might be close by.

The bridge suddenly erupted behind him, as eight AGM-130s hit it.

Isaac saw the bridging equipment and rolled in on it.  Rumble Four was right with him.  Todd rippled off two 1,000lb bombs.

Later, Isaac would never be able to recall seeing the gun vehicle.  Rumble Four would claim he had turned and fired on it just before it stitched up his plane, but Isaac would not recall doing this.  Four also would report Isaac as crashed, for his fighter did appear on its way down once it was hit.

All he would recall is feeling the Strike Eagle whipsaw violently and hearing the sound of several bangs.  It was only through his great skill that he managed to keep the fighter in the air, as the cockpit started to fill with smoke and flame.  Isaac reached down and pulled the fume evacuator.  The cockpit began clearing immediately, and the flames went out.

After righting the aircraft Isaac heard a roaring noise.  He looked up and saw the huge hole in the canopy.  A 30mm shell had passed right through the forward part, leaving a huge hole.

“Thumper, you alright?!” Isaac shouted.

“Yeah, but this damn plane isn’t!” came the laconic reply.

The Russian crews, thinking the plane was in its death throes, had not bothered to continue firing upon it.  Now that it was apparent they were going to make it, shells began screaming in at them.

“I think we might want to leave this bird soon!” Todd shouted, as Isaac used what little maneuverability they had to juke.

“Well, if we’re leaving, I’ve got something to do!” Isaac said, spotting a convoy ahead.

 

Sergeant Paul Ramos looked up at the incoming fighter.  The plane looked positively sickly, but it was still flying.  He dropped down into his ZSU-23-4 gun vehicle, awakening the gunner.

“Aircraft, dead ahead!” he shouted.  The gunner didn’t even bother with the radar, but glued his eyes to the optical sight.  The F-15E was incredibly large, and he pulled back on the trigger.

 

Isaac would remember the second gun vehicle.  The ZSU-23-4 blew off half of their right wing.  If the gunner had been a better shot or used the radar aiming system, they would’ve been dead.  Unfortunately for him and those in his convoy, he was not.

Isaac fought the plane for just a second, managing to get the pipper on the convoy and jettison the last of their weapons.  The explosions were very satisfactory in the rearview mirror.

“Can we make it back to Japan?!” Isaac asked, looking over the damage.

“That’s iffy!  Both engines are running hot and rough, we’re losing fuel, and the hydraulics are going!  But hey, they build ’em tough at McDonnell Douglas!”

“Well, let’s see how tough,” Isaac said, turning for Japan.

****Finis

 

So, that was the end of this particular set.  If memory serves, Isaac and company make it home. The Russian Pacific Fleet is pretty much mangled in harbor, but at some hellacious cost to the attacking forces.  That’s pretty much it.  Thanks for reading, and more will be on the way.

 

 

 

“I Can’t Believe I Wrote That…”–James Channels Sir John Hackett and Tom Clancy (The Vladivostok Thing Part I)

Standard

So back in the dark ages, when the Bear roamed the Earth and the world stood on the brink of nuclear annihilation, Tom Clancy came out with a book called Red Storm Rising.  I’m not ashamed to say, I read the (hard)covers off that thing.  Tanks, fighters, bombers, anti-ship missiles…this was like a dream for me as a kid.  (I, um, may have had a childhood that was interesting.)

Shortly before Tom Clancy came out with his book, Sir John Hackett had published The Third World War: The Untold Story.  As a kid, I thought it was awesome that our small local library had both The Untold Story and it’s predecessor, The Third World War: August 1985.  (Why yes, I do have both of those on my shelf as primary sources for my dissertation.  Shush.)  As an adult, I realize it was our proximity to Whiteman Air Force Base that led to the military science and history section being a lot denser than those in your average town of 20,000 people.

In any case, I basically created an entire World War III.  That’s right, hours upon hours spent wargaming out an entire military conflict using various tools at hand.  Then typing it up on either Mom’s word processor (go lawyers!) or the computer we had with Wordperfect.  I was on my way…I was going to be a contender…my books were going to sell.  Well, until two things happened:

  1. The Wall came down.
  2. My sister decided to delete all the files on the Word Processor disks because, well, “I needed the space and it’s not like they would have gotten published anyway.”  (Forgiveness…can you imagine…forgiveness.  Yes, that’s a Hamilton reference, and yes I have forgiven my sister.  When someone lets you stay in their guest bedroom despite the fact you walked in with what was likely the flu, they get a pass.)

So, long story short, I only have a few of my World War III files.  Despite my sister’s claim, I did make some money off two of the short stories.  One took third place at the Central Missouri State University Fiction Open with a prize of a whopping $5.  That I promptly spent the evening I received going to Taco Bell and the movies.  (Once upon a time it was possible to do that with $5.)  My mother has never let me hear the end of that, by the way.  For some reason parents want to do things like frame “The first money my child ever made writing.”

The second story?  Well it won me third at the West Point Fiction Contest put on by the English Department when I was a plebe.  That prize was a little bit better–$75.  Can’t tell you what I did with that…oh, wait, I can.  It became several Battletech sourcebooks.  Which are now downstairs in the basement.  Hmm, maybe if I’d invested that in Microsoft…meh.  What’s done is done, and you can’t put a price on hours of entertainment monkey stomping various people in a boardgame.

At any rate, I’ll start off with the middle chapter of the very first book I ever finished.  Long story short, the USN’s Seventh Fleet got its behind handed to it north of Wake Island in the first month of the war.  As a result, several characters from the fighting in Europe have been temporarily shifted to the Far East.  Yeah, I didn’t say it had to make sense (see the category).  However, if you think about pilots like James Howard in World War II, it’s basically the same mindset.  I can’t even remember what I called the book now, but for blog purposes we’ll just call it That Vladivostok Thing.

Note: There are some serious technological errors.  Mainly I assumed certain things, like at some point Congress would force the Air Force and Navy to go to a common refueling system.  Ha!  Sometimes being young and hopeful is amusing.  Also this was originally done in Wordperfect…then uploaded to Word 2.0…then Word 97…then Word 2010.  In other words, it’s not formatted, and the italicization is kind of sketchy.  But, hey, free chicken is free chicken.

****
Isaac Young was not a man known for boasting.  All present were aware of this.  If he said it, he had to be pretty sure of it.

“I knew about the general opinion that the Fulcrum could outturn an Eagle.  But I was too low to pitch out or anything else.  So I turned after the bitch.  I cut inside her at about five hundred feet’s range and gave her a snap burst.  Blew the hell out of her cockpit, and she spun into the ground.”  Isaac’s mind stepped briefly back to that frantic battle over Mirlow’s runway.  It had been a battle and a half, and not all the Allied fighters had made it back.

“Perhaps that is true, Colonel Young.  But one of our Eagles is meat on the table for a Fulcrum.”

Isaac’s watch began beeping before he could get off a reply.

“Hate to be rude, but the movie we are going to see starts in about five minutes,” Isaac said.

“It was enjoyable, Colonel,” Tarbiwi said with a smile.  Isaac made a polite bow and then extended his hand for a shake.  The two men shook, and Patricia and he began heading for the movie theater.

Pat was uncharacteristically silent.  Isaac could see that she was obviously lost in thought.

“A penny for your thoughts,” he said, gazing at her.

“Only a penny?”

“Okay, a dime.”

“I was just thinking about what you admitted to doing back there.”

“It had to be done.”

“It just seems to be dishonorable.  I know, I know, the old fighter pilot’s saying: ‘chivalry is dead and so are you if you believe in it,’ but I still think that mission was bullshit.”

“That woman was cutting us to shreds.  Hell, she only flew three sorties and she had those eleven kills.  Someone had to take her ass out.  Max and I were sent to do it.  It’s not like I enjoyed it,” Isaac said.

“I don’t know.  I guess my vision of fighter pilots is that we’re the last of the knights in armor or the samurai, not ninjas.”

Isaac grew silent, looking out towards the base’s runway where three Japanese F-4s were landing.  He turned back around and continued walking, thinking.

“What are you thinking?!” Patricia asked, exasperated.

“Just disagreeing with you silently.”

“I’m sorry.  I don’t think any less of you as a person or a pilot for it.  I just don’t think it’s right is all.”

“I respect your opinion.  I just think it’s wrong.”

Isaac looked over at her, expecting a blow up.  Patricia was kind of a legend back in Europe for her fiery temper.

The brunette gazed back at him, her green eyes totally calm.

“I’m glad you’re so honest.”

“I try to be.”

“Let’s change the subject.”

“Good idea.  We deal with war for a job.  Why should we talk about it when we’re not flying?”

“You’ve got a point there.”

The two of them stopped and looked at each other, both silent.  It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence, it was just a silence.  Isaac’s hand bumped Patricia’s.  She was almost as shocked as he when she took it.

 

H.M.S. Illustrious

Indian Ocean

2000 hours local

September 20

 

Jack gently extricated himself from the Harrier’s cockpit.  He had slipped on the nonskid surface and tore his leg open the other day.  It was still tender, and the little half hour patrol he had been on didn’t help any.

The British task force was off the coast of Indonesia. So far they remained undetected.  The Illustrious and Invincible were both preparing to fly off a minor nuisance raid.

The Nassau was still in accompaniment, her fighters ready to make good losses.  This mission wasn’t exactly in the script, but Jack and his comrades weren’t going to complain.  They had been inactive for too long, and were getting cagey.

Jack’s Harrier was struck below for servicing.  He was headed for the ready room to receive his briefing.  It looked as if things were about to pick up.

The pilots of 809 Squadron were all present when Jack arrived.  He took the sole remaining seat at the rear of the room, wincing as the skin on his leg was pulled.

“Your leg still hurting?” his wingman, Flight Officer Dave Edmonton, asked.

“Yes.  Hell, I wasn’t running that fast when I tripped.  It shouldn’t be hurting this bad.”

“Oh well, it’ll soon be the least of your worries.”

The commander of 809 Squadron chose that moment to enter the room.  The officer walked to the podium, testing the mike.  Jack was not exactly fond of the man.  He seemed to think that service in the Falklands and Operation Desert Storm had suddenly given him a divine right to lead.  The only reason, in Jack’s opinion, that he still had a job was the rash of retirements of Fleet Air Arm officers.  This had been during the 1993 budget cuts.  Jack hoped those idiots in Parliament realized how bad they had botched the job when they had done this idiotic deed.

“Gentlemen, you and I are about to enter the arena of combat.  Now, as a veteran myself, I realize some of you may be nervous.  I assure you, opposition is expected to be light.  This is simply a baptism of fire, not a major operation.  Therefore, there is no real reason for you to be nervous.”

Jack felt the urge to strangle the man.

“Now, our target is the harbor of Balikpapan and all shipping inside of it.  You will each be carrying two one thousand pound armor-piercing bombs and two Sidewinder missiles in addition to your fuel tanks.  Each flight will attack just one target.  Our objective is to sink a few rather than cripple many, so make sure your original target is sinking before you shift to another,” the commander said.

Thank you, but we already knew that, Jack seethed silently.  The fool was truly incompetent.  They had all practiced anti-shipping strikes, and knew the ideal was to sink a few important ships with as few bombs as possible.

“There are two anti-aircraft gunboats stationed at the north end of this harbor, by the tanker terminal.  These may pose a problem if 812 Squadron does not get to them.

Jack knew the men of 812 Squadron off Illustrious would take care of the two vessels, so let that part of the briefing pass through his head.

“More important are the ground based defenses surrounding our targets.  Unlike the Americans, we don’t have enough aircraft to devote any to simply taking these out.  A pair of 812’s aircraft are carrying ALARM missiles, and will kill those systems that are the greatest threat.  The rest will just have to be avoided through luck,” the officer finished.

“That is all, gentlemen.  Godspeed.”

Jack got up and headed for the exit.  He felt like he was going to be sick.

Their Harriers were being prepped on the flight deck.  Jack’s was already prepared, and he boarded her.

The armament crews removed the fuses from his two 1,000lb bombs, dancing out from under the aircraft and holding these aloft.  Jack saluted, then began taxiing for his takeoff position.

The first Harrier taxied into position on the catapult, the deck crew hooking it into position.  The British pilot closed the canopy, preparing for launch.

The shooter depressed his button, and the steam catapult fired.  The Harrier moved down the deck and off the ski jump bow, winging its way into the air.

All six of Illustrious’s Harriers took off without mishap, joining up and passing back over the task force.

Jack settled back into the seat, checking all of the gauges and armament switches.  It wouldn’t be a good thing to have his bombs not release because some stupid switch decided not to work.  That would mean he had braved the fire of the harbor for nothing.

Two hundred miles from their target they dived to the wavetops.  Jack and his wingman slid to the outside of the formation, dropping back slightly.  They would be the last to attack their targets.

812 Squadron chose that moment to join up, coming in from the port side.  The eight Harriers passed overhead in perfect formation, engines screaming.  They waggled their wings as they headed towards the target.

Jack checked all of his systems one more time.  He was only a little nervous, his training kicking in.

I hope there aren’t any fighter’s up, he thought to himself.  The Harrier was a great dogfighter when it wasn’t encumbered by bombs, but it flew like a truck when heavily armed like they were.

“Tallyho!” his headset crackled, the harbor of Balikpapan coming into sight.

“The gates to Olympus are open,” the leader of 812 Squadron called out.  This was the signal that there were no fighters airborne above the harbor.  812’s first flight would simply expend their ordnance on known SAM and AAA sites, then fly as CAP.  If the Harriers moved quickly enough they would be in and out before the Indonesians scrambled.

Movement from his left suddenly caught his attention.  Jack saw a fast moving group of dots headed towards the harbor at high speed.  No Harrier moved that fast on an attack run.

“Bogeys, eight o’clock!” Jack shouted

“Shit!  Jettison bombs!” the squadron commander shouted, panic in his voice.  The man reefed his fighter around, trying to turn sharply with his bombs and drop tanks.  Unfortunately for him the Harrier did not have enough lift to pull off the turn.

The plane spun into the ocean, exploding.

“BELAY THAT ORDER!” Jack barked.  He recognized the incoming aircraft now.

“Aircraft are F-111Cs,” he said a couple of seconds later.  Obviously the commander hadn’t faced aerial attack in his ‘many’ combat experiences.  Jack just wished his original opinion of the man hadn’t been vindicated by the loss of a plane.

“Follow me,” Jack ordered, turning towards the harbor again and climbing.

Smoke was rising from the destroyer that had been guarding the entrance.  812 Squadron had put two 1,000lb bombs into the ship’s stern, opening it to the sea.  It appeared that the crew was abandoning ship.

The F-111s had continued inland, turning towards the airport.  Jack keyed his mike, an idea occurring to him.

“Section Two and aircraft Two, go after that large merchantman to the north of the harbor.  Dave, follow me,” he said, turning towards a supertanker parked at the oiling terminal.

Gunfire rattled up towards them, the tracers floating at first then suddenly hurtling by.  Jack skidded, bringing his nose on line.  The gunners began throwing up a barrage in front of them, the flak burst jolting their planes.

Jack ignored the AA fire and concentrated on his bombsight.  The little circle was hurtling across the harbor towards the tanker.  He could see men rushing back and forth across the decks, scrambling to find their weapons.  Jack resisted the urge to switch on his 30mm cannon and strafe the tanker’s decks.

A man on the bridge suddenly held up a long tube.

“SAM!  SAM!  SAM!” sprung from his lips.  Dave and he began jettisoning flares, slowly weaving.

With a puff of smoke the SA-7 sprung from its tube.  It instantly went after a flare, having no head-on engagement facilities.  The missile exploded below, as the bombsight centered on the tanker’s waterline.  Jack squeezed the release, feeling his Harrier suddenly get a ton lighter.  He brought his nose back online, overflying the tanker and beginning his turn over the terminal.

The Snakeye retarded bombs deployed their fins, slowing their speed in order to allow their fuses to arm.  The armor-piercing weapons punched into the tanker’s fourth hold, lodging in the aviation gas there.  They had a time delay of five minutes.

Dave released also.  One bomb was short, but the other was a beautiful shot just above the waterline.  He began turning to join Jack.

 

The Indonesian gunner knew he was dead.  As soon as the two bombs went off there would be a huge secondary explosion, annihilating his tanker and more than likely the refinery beside it.  So, if he was going to die, he was going to take his assailants with him.  All of this was decided in milliseconds.

Knowledge of death made for wonderful concentration.

He pulled the triggers on the quad .50 calibers he controlled.  The four weapons spat a stream that met the Harrier four hundred feet above the harbor.  The slugs punched through the Harrier’s fuselage to the engine.  The gunner realized he had made a good hit when the fighter began smoking heavily.

 

“I’m hit, I’m hit,” Dave said calmly.  “Am preparing to eject.”

Jack had seen the burst catch Dave’s fighter.  It was obvious that the fighter wasn’t making it back to Illustrious.  It remained to be seen if it would make it far enough away from the shore.

“I don’t think it’s immediately fatal,” Dave said, bringing the fighter level.

“Get yourself out to sea.  Hold on,” Jack said.  He switched frequencies and began talking.  “This is Hermes, Section Three.  Apollo’s hit.  We’re going to need a rescue chopper.”

“Uh, roger that Hermes.  Where is your present position?”

“Three miles off of target, over,” Jack replied.

“Roger that.  We’ve got an Aussie lost three miles closer to Big Mama from your current position,” the controller replied.  “Try to make it to his position.”

“Uh, this thing’s not holding together much longer.  I’m going to have to leave it here pretty quick.”

“Okay Apollo.  Did you hear that Big Mama?”

“Yes, we did.  Ride it as long as you can, Apollo.”

“Uh, time’s up, I’ve got a big fire indicator,” Dave said.  Jack turned just in time to see his friend punch out of the now burning Harrier.  He saw the parachute open and began turning to orbit, checking his fuel state.

“Okay, we’ve got a good chute.  I’m circling.”

“Roger that.  Be advised Sea King will be awhile.”

A flash appeared on the horizon.  Jack saw the beginnings of a smoke cloud spiralling up towards the sky.  Something big had just gone up in a major way.  It would be interesting to see what the post-strike pictures showed.

Dave hit the water.  Jack turned back again, making sure that Dave got out of his chute.

The bright orange of his dinghy stood out on the ocean.  Dave began to climb into it.

Suddenly he shot into the air, thrashing.  He then disappeared under the surface of the water.

“Oh my God!  Big Mama, Big Mama, Apollo has just disappeared!” he shouted into his mike, diving towards the surface of the water.

Dave’s arm came up, waving frantically.

Jack saw the large shark come up and engulf his friend.

“NOOOO!” he shouted, pounding his instrument panel.  He began screaming, cursing the rescue crews over the net.

It would take the shipboard flight surgeon several glasses of brandy and a gentle talking too to make Jack sleep that night.

 

Hahn AFB

1200 hours local

September 21

 

The man standing on the runway was the deadliest all-round fighter pilot in the free world.  Thirty-nine Russian aircraft had fallen before his missiles and guns.  More than 350 billion rubles worth of ships, tanks, and artillery had been destroyed by him alone.  And, as if that was not bad enough, he had an entire squadron under his command.  The Russians had a reward of twenty thousand rubles and a promotion of two grades in rank for any pilot who shot him down.  This was the man that had masterminded the assassination of General Stefhan Gorikov, commander of the Polish Army.

He was now looking at an ops order telling him to designate four pilots for a mission in the Far East.  Colonel Max Loftman didn’t like the sounds of this.  No one was telling him anything.  From the sounds of his immediate superior, Brigadier General Roland Tight, the pilots might not be coming back.

Max was waiting for an escort flight to return from one of its missions.  He had already been instructed that he couldn’t go on the mission.  Therefore, he had decided to send the next best thing.

They had launched six F-16s on the interdiction mission.  Four, one smoking, were coming back.  The Allies may have turned the tide on the ground, but the air war was still quite dangerous.  His squadron had been taking fearsome losses ever since the first day.  Thirty-three percent on this mission was pretty good, considering the target had three batteries of ZSU-30-2s guarding it alone.

The damaged F-16 came in to land first.  Max winced.  That meant the pilot was already injured.  Not good.  Not good at all.

The rescue crews were already driving swiftly towards the end of the runway.  The F-16 had already deployed its arrester hook, this fact signalling that it did not have brakes.  Max noted the absence of two Sidewinders, shaking his head.  Obviously his first choice hadn’t changed her habit of getting in an aerial fight every time they returned from a mission.

The F-16 landed without mishap, the hook catching the wire and slowing it down.  The rescue crews immediately rushed it, spraying it with foam as soon as it stopped.  The crash crews leaped up into the cockpit, jettisoning it with the rescue charges.  The group of four men gently lifted the pilot from his seat, lying him on a stretcher.  Paramedics quickly ripped open his flight suit, grabbing bandages and beginning to patch him up.  The man was in an ambulance headed for the hospital in under three minutes.  Hahn’s crews had become quite efficient.

The next fighter in was the flight leader’s.  Max hopped in his jeep and began driving towards the hardened aircraft shelters.  He was about to inform Major Wallace of her new transfer.

The Falcon stopped, shutting down just outside its shelter.

Major Wallace was a stocky, broad-shouldered woman with soft brown eyes and about average looks.  She was only an inch shorter than Max’s own six foot two.  She took off her helmet, shaking her brown hair loose.

“What happened to Lieutenant Ryan?!” Max shouted, hoping his voice carried over the scream of jet engines.

“He wasn’t watching his six close enough.  MiG-21 got his wingman with an AA-8 and nailed him with its cannon.  Guess he shouldn’t have celebrated after scoring his kill.  They traded us even, two of theirs for one of ours, and a probable.”

“How’d you get a probable?” Max asked.

“It wasn’t me.  I ended up zipping for today.  Captain Fredericks fired a Sidewinder after one of the bastards as they were leaving.  Last time we saw missile and aircraft, they were headed into a cloud.

“Oh.  You and I need to talk,” Max said.

“Okay.  Where at?”

“Ready room.  You’re off flight status as of now.”  Max saw her about to begin complaining and held up his hand.  “You’re not in trouble, it just concerns a mission.

“Oh.  Is this another ‘Ramilles’ mission?” Major Wallace asked.

“Would I put you through another one of those?” Max asked.  The look he got assured him he would.

“Okay, I assure you it’s not another airborne assassination.”

“Then let’s get to the ready room.  I’m starved.

 

Misawa AFB

2100 local

 

Isaac was covered in sweat, the liquid covering him in a fine sheen.  He jerked the stick over, wrenching the F-15E in a tight turn, the simulator cockpit tilting crazily.

“Grill Pan!” Todd shouted over the intercom.  The SA-12’s fire-control radar was very dangerous indeed.

“Shotgun!” came the cry from his wingman.  The F-15 launched a HARM, the missile zipping towards its prey.  It slammed into the radar, blasting it apart.

“Yeeehaaa.  Popping up!” Isaac shouted.  The Giant site had been the last defense that they knew of before the bridge.

“ZOOOO!” Todd shouted.  It was too late.  Their cockpit went dark, signalling that they had been killed instantly.  What was maddening was still listening to the battle.  Tyrone took instant command, ordering Captain Jack Thomas to begin his run.  The pilot was carrying two AGM-130 rocket-propelled guided weapons.  His wingman came up and fired off three Maverick missiles first.  The missiles were capable of picking out the heat of a vehicle and homing on autonomously.  Two killed the gun vehicle that had nailed Isaac.  The other killed a SA-13 ‘Gopher’ vehicle.

Captain Thomas popped up and released both weapons at his target and promptly exploded, the victim of an air-to-air missile.  Six MiG-29 Fulcrums dropped in on the party, a vicious dogfight ensuing.

At the end of the melee, Isaac’s twenty aircraft squadron had been reduced to eight.  A bitter taste was filling his mouth, as he popped the canopy.  The first face he saw was that of Commander Dereth.

“I hope your losses aren’t that heavy in the real thing,” he said, shaking his head.

“You and I both,” Isaac replied.

“Hey, at least it happened here and not there.”

“If it had happened there I’d be a corpse right now,” Isaac replied.  He was not happy about getting smoked by a gun vehicle, feeling like it was the highest form of dishonor.

“Well, it’s my turn to get killed now,” Dereth said, noting that the simulator’s programming disks had been changed.  All of the aircrews were being cycled through the simulators, the high command wanting the mission to be as familiar as possible when it was actually flown.  There would be no Torpedo Squadron Eight’s on this mission.  The Allies could not afford it.

Isaac’s headed out for the door, wanting to get away from flying or even thinking about flying for awhile.

A pair of arms wrapped around him from behind, squeezing him.

“You don’t look happy,” Patricia said into his back.

“You’re holding a very fresh cadaver,” Isaac said.

Patricia turned him around, standing on her tiptoes to kiss him.  It was the first time they had kissed and it surprised the hell out of Isaac.  It was just a light kiss on the mouth.

“You feel pretty warm for a cadaver,” she said, still standing close to him.

Isaac was still stunned.

“Let’s get out of here,” she said, taking his hand and starting to pull him behind her.  Isaac followed her to a Hummer, hopping in beside her.

They headed back towards the billet.

“So why are we in such a chipper mood?” Isaac asked.

“I have no idea.  I just suddenly got happy.”

“Oookay.  I guess this is one of those things men aren’t supposed to understand.”

“No, it has nothing to do with being a woman.  I’m just happy for some reason.  Enjoy it while it lasts.”

“I think I’ll take your advice,” Isaac said as the jeep came to a stop.  They were about to get out when he put his hand on her shoulder, turning her towards him.  This time neither one of them were surprised by the kiss.

 

Vladivostok

0400 hours local

September 22

 

The teletype aboard the Kirov-class cruiser Andropov began chattering incredibly fast.  As de facto flagship of the Soviet Pacific Fleet, many messages came directly to this vessel.

Gregory had been staging a surprise late night inspection of the vessel.  As soon as it was realized that the message carried a ‘FOR ADMIRAL’S EYES ONLY’ opening prefix the captain called him to the bridge.

Gregory was handed the sealed in an envelop message.  He took it to the captain’s stateroom, pulling out his letter opener and slitting the envelope open.

TO:ADMIRAL PACIFIC FLEET

FROM:DIRECTOR KGB

 

  1. EXPECT AN ALLIED ATTACK BEFORE OCTOBER 5,          1994.

 

The message was short and succinct, but carried great implications.  Gregory only wished they had told him what kind of attack it would be.  He couldn’t guard against everything at once.

At least he had been warned.  He would now take the proper precautions.  He left the captain’s stateroom, walking swiftly to the CIC.

“Captain Gremenko, let me see your radio phone.”

“Sir,” the captain replied, saluting and handing his admiral the phone.  Gregory signalled for the operator to call HQ.  He swiftly barked his orders to the captain at the answering desk.  The standing CAP was to be doubled, and all SAM batteries were to be put on standby.  A second Il-76 Mainstay would be sent up into the air with the stronger CAP.

Gregory knew this would do for a short time until he could get more reinforcements from commander of the Far East TVE.

Someone in the Allied hierarchy had screwed up.  It was up to Gregory to capitalize on it.  He’d have to make Vladivostok as much of a fortress as possible.

 

Yokota AFB

0900 hours local

 

The four F-16s had just finished taxiing to their shelters when Amee Wallace heard her name.

She turned towards the sound, surprised that she would recognize anyone here.

That’s when she saw a tall and muscular shape standing in the doorway to the hangar.

Captain Dodd Jackson had been a fellow classmate in flight school.  He had always struck Amee as a bit of a showoff and arrogant son-of-a-bitch.  She had been strongly attracted to him but had always decided she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of know this.

She hadn’t known he was assigned to Yokota.  She hopped out of her fighter, walking over towards the man and extending her hand.

“Hello, Dodd,” she said.

“Hello, Amee.”

The two stared at each other for several long seconds.

“I heard that you’re ruling the skies over in Europe.  I suppose you’ve been assigned to this little shing ding also.”

“Yep.  I guess they figured I needed to come over here and kick some Asian ass,” she said, walking with the pilot towards the operations room.

“You always were the confident one,” Dodd said, smiling.

“My record, dear, speaks for itself.”

“True.  Unfortunately, some of us haven’t been as fortunate.”

“Do you have any kills yet?”

“A pair of MiG-23s.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, I guess that would be small change to you,” Dodd said with a trace of bitterness, turning to walk away.

Amee stopped him with a hand on her arm.

“Hey, I didn’t mean it like that.  We’ve got a lot of pilots without any kills.  Don’t fret,” Amee said.

“I just feel so inferior to you,” Dodd said.

A few years ago prior, Amee Wallace would have rubbed it in.  She had matured greatly since the last time they had met.  She pondered what to say.

“You shouldn’t.  A lot of it’s luck.  We also have more opportunities in Europe.  How many missions have you flown?”

“Around sixty-eight.”

“I’m coming up on the three century mark right now.  That averages out to a kill every twenty sorties.  At that average, you’re only one kill under the average.  Don’t worry, you’ll get yours.”

“What are you doing right now?” Dodd asked.

“Reporting in then heading for the simulators.”

“How about having a drink with me at 1800 hours.”

“All right.”

Dodd nodded and got on his way.

Amee walked into the operations room, looking for the commander of the base.  A captain was sitting at the reception desk.

“Major Wallace and flight reporting.”

“General Callahan is right inside,” the captain replied.

Amee walked in, stopping at the door and saluting.

“Have a seat, Major Wallace.  I’m so glad we could get you on loan from Europe.  You and your flight are just in time for our diversionary mission.”

“Sir?” Amee asked, surprised.  Her flight had just staged all the way from Europe with only a little break at Hawaii.  To expect them to fly a mission right away was insane.

“Don’t worry, Major, you’ll have plenty of time to rest.”

“Yes sir.”

“As a matter of fact, there’s a hummer waiting to take you over to the billets now.”

“Well then, sir, I shall take my leave of you.”  Amee salute once again, about-facing and heading outside.

The Humvee picked them up and took them over to the officers’ quarters.  The flight was given a room to share, gear being loaned to them from the base exchange.

 

Misawa AFB

1000 local

 

Isaac woke up slowly, his mind coming out of the fog of a deep sleep.  He rolled onto his side, throwing his arm over.

It touched someone.  He snapped awake, sitting up and pushing the covers off of himself.  He looked over to his right.

Patricia’s face was the picture of contentment as she slept.

The night came back to him now.  They both had ended up in his bed.  What had seemed like a good idea the night before now loomed as the stupidest move he could make.  He wasn’t even sure he had used a condom.

Oh fuck, he thought.  This was most definitely against rules and regulations for starters.  Second, it wasn’t where he had wanted Patricia and him to end up.  Third, no one knew if they were going to survive the next day or not.  This was a hell of a setup to get emotionally hurt.

Patricia woke up, stretching.  She opened her eyes and looked right into Isaac’s.  They got as wide as saucers and she snatched the covers up to cover herself.

“What the hell are you doing in my room?!” she asked fiercely.

“I’m not in yours.  It appears we crashed in mine last night,” Isaac said drily.  Patricia looked at him, shocked.  She suddenly got up and started dressing, moving quickly.

Isaac looked on in wonderment for only a second.

“Wait a second!  Where are you going?” he asked, standing up.

“Somewhere,” she said sharply, putting on her flight suit and walking out the door.

Isaac sat down on the bed, wondering what he did wrong.

There was a knock at his door.

“Wait a second!”  He put on his underwear and a pair of pants, walking to the door and opening it.

Todd was standing there, a bemused smile on his face.

“I suppose there’s a perfectly good reason I came back to the room last night and found you sleeping with Major Wilkes,” he said with a huge grin.  Isaac shot him a look, motioning for him to come in.  Isaac then turned and went into the kitchenette section of the hotel room.

“What’s the matter champ?  You scored, didn’t you?” Todd asked, shocked by his friend’s strange behavior.  Isaac wasn’t much of a smooth talker with the ladies (said it ran in his family), so Todd had figured he would be overjoyed to have slept with as good a looker as Major Wilkes.

Isaac finished fixing himself a cup of coffee, pouring in extra milk.  He leaned back against the counter and took a couple of sips.

“I didn’t want to sleep with Patricia,” he said finally.

“Why not?!  You’re not turning funny on me, are you?”

“Remember when you first met Tonya?  Did you want to sleep with her first thing?”

“Hell yeah.  As I recall, I did.  It was great.  The love came later,” Todd replied.

“My God you’re insufferable sometimes Todd,” Isaac snorted.

“Sit down you lovestruck idiot.  I see that you really care about her.”

Isaac sat down by his friend and compatriot.

“So what is the matter?”

“She seemed shocked that she had slept with me, like I had trapped her or something.  I hope she doesn’t think that was all that I was out for,” Isaac said.

 

“I don’t know if he still respects me,” Patricia was saying.

The phone line back to the States was quiet.  Patricia knew her big sister was mulling over what she had just been told.

“Well Pat, I don’t know what to tell you.  Did he act like he didn’t respect you?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t stay around long enough.”

“That wasn’t real smart Pat.  You need to talk to him.  Tell him how you’re feeling.  Running away is just going to leave you both confused.”

“There’s another problem.”

“Oh Pat, no.  Don’t tell me you guys didn’t use a condom.”

“Fine, I won’t tell you.”

“Shit.  Alright, I guess you won’t know for a few days no matter what.  Just keep flying like you normally do.  And do me a favor.”

“What Joan?”

“Next time make sure he wears a condom.  Geez, I’ve got high school students who at least do that.  You’re the top female ace in the nation and should know better.”

“I know, Joan.  I didn’t even plan to sleep with him.”

“What’s he like?”

“He’s about six foot, but not quite.  He’s got a large, muscular build.  His personality’s not too shabby either.  I’ve only known him about a week but it seems so much longer,” Patricia said.

“That doesn’t tell me much.  What color hair does he have?  What color are his eyes?  Come on Pat, you’ve got to tell your big sister everything.”

“He’s black.”

“WHAT?!”

“I said, ‘he’s black.'”

Silence once again rode the phonelines.

“That’s a mild shock,” Joan said finally.

“I never thought you’d be shocked by that.”

“Don’t get me wrong, Pat.  I’m not saying it’s wrong…”

“Good, because I’d hate to never talk to you again,” Patricia interrupted.

“You’re just the last person I expected to do that.  I thought Mom and Dad had a stronger influence on you than they did me.”

“Just because Mom and Dad were bigots doesn’t mean they raised me to be one.  I was slightly smarter than that.”

“True.  Look sis, this is going to run up your calling card.  Call me back later, wherever you may be.”

“Big roger on that one, little sister.”

Patricia hung up the phone, opening the phone booth and starting to step out.  She slammed right into a large bulk and looked up into a pair of brown eyes.

“We need to talk,” Isaac said.

“Do we ever,” she replied.

“Where do you want to go?” he asked.

“Someplace quiet.”

“Lead the way, you know this place better than I do,” Isaac said.

 

U.S.S. Chicago

Pacific Ocean

1300 hours local

 

“Take her up to fifty feet,” Commander Tim Ryan, leading submarine captain of the NATO alliance, ordered.  The submarine gently began rising towards the surface from her deep, dark position.  She was holding at a point one hundred and fifty miles from Vladivostok.  Her crew were all at battlestations, waiting tensely.

“Do we have a fix on the Helena yet?” he asked.

“No, sir.  The last time we had a fix on her was when we went up for the satellite communication.”

“Okay, that’s not my problem.  If we get a submerged contract, kill it.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Okay, raise the ECM antennae.”

The crew responded, raising the sensitive wire.  The antenna would pick up any ships or aircraft that were radiating with their radars.  The screen showed no targets.

“Ready all missile tubes.”

The Chicago‘s mission was twofold.  The first part was to test the defenses of Vladivostok.  The second was to destroy the Backfire regiments based at Vladivostok East.  The submarine would launch fifteen Tomahawk land attack missiles at this target.  Each missile carried a cluster warhead, the bomblets designed to crater the runway if they did not hit an aircraft.  The missiles were being launched this close so that some of their jet fuel would be left.  These would lead to a very merry blaze, tough to put out except with the most sophisticated fire-fighting equipment.  With a few of the missiles’ bomblets being delayed-action and/or land mines, it would be difficult for these types of firefighters to get close enough to the conflagration.

Three other submarines were participating in this attack.  The four subs were working in two submarine pairs.  A total of fifty-one Tomahawks would target the enemy harbor of Vladivostok.

 

Delta One-One

North Pacific Ocean

1325 hours

 

The pilot of the C-130 Hercules was not exactly happy flying just fifty feet above the water eighty miles from the largest enemy base in the Far East.  If they were detected by any radar, they were dead.  The C-130 was nothing but a big fat target if enemy fighters started coming in.  The four F-14C Tomcats grouped around it didn’t comfort the pilot any.  If the Soviets detected his large aircraft, they’d scramble alot more than four fighters.

“Five minutes until drone launch,” his flight engineer informed him.

“Great.  Five more minutes of this damn orbiting.  Any second now that Mainstay’s gonna find us,” the pilot muttered.  So far they hadn’t been warned of incoming fighters by the E-2C Hawkeye circling one hundred miles to their rear.  The silent jamming being provided by two EF-111 Ravens couldn’t work forever.

The transport carried two unmanned recon drones.  These had a range of more than seven hundred miles and were packed with passive sensors.  They would record the signals sent out by the enemy SAM and AAA radars, and also get their locations.  The guidance computer’s program would then turn them back out to sea, where they would crash and float.  A Japanese diesel submarine would recover their tapes for later analysis.  This was a vital part of Operation Apache.  The attack force would be decimated if it was forced to fly into the harbor without knowing where the enemy defenses were.

“MARK!” the flight engineer roared in his headset.

“Drones away,” the pilot replied, releasing both unmanned aircraft.

“Shit!  We’ve got a failure!”

“Well, I didn’t bring a spare.  Let’s get out of here,” the pilot said, turning his transport.

 

Pacific Ocean

1345 hours

 

Forty-seven of the fifty-one missiles launched successfully, arrowing high into the sky atop their rocket boosters.  A few moments into launch they jettisoned these, their winglets unfolding and the jet engines starting.

The alarm was raised almost instantly by an anti-submarine frigate that was only ten miles away from the Chicago.  The ship radioed off a frantic warning and attempted to engage the Tomahawks as she steamed towards the American sub.

Ryan had been expecting a barrier patrol ship.  The Chicago‘s torpedo tubes had been loaded with two Mk-48 torpedoes and two Harpoon anti-ship missiles.  The experienced attack crew of the submarine did not hesitate.  The Harpoon sprang from the sea and hit the frigate before it even had time to react.  The 488lb warhead exploded in the ship’s engineering spaces.  Its blast warhead killed the engineers instantly, and the engine room began to flood.  The wound was fatal, adding yet another ship to the Chicago‘s growing toll.

The Tomahawks were detected by actual ground-defense radars when they were fifty miles out.  The first missile battery to attempt an engagement was an SA-11 Gadfly unit.  The battery launched eight missiles in rapid succession, claiming two Tomahawks.  Then the remainder of the defenses opened fire, raising a dense curtain of shells, fragments, and missiles.  The Tomahawks made a feint towards the harbor, causing the ships to open fire.  The shellfire carried all across the little inlet, slamming into other ships.

The first missile plunged into a hardened aircraft shelter at Vladivostok East.  The missile’s blast warhead obliterated the bunker and the Tu-26 Backfire inside of it.  The bomber had been ready loaded with three ‘Kingfish’ anti-ship missiles, and these added their warheads to the terrible secondary blasts of the bomber’s fuel tanks.

The Tomahawk strike accounted for the better part of two regiments and put Vladivostok East out of action for sixteen hours.  Even after the runway was repaired, the base continued to be a very dangerous place, as delayed action bomblets and landmines cooked off the rest of the night.

    

Pacific Squadron HQ

Vladivostok

1700 hours

 

Gregory was still in a rage.  His orders were given sharply and performed rapidly with the epitome of military discipline.

He could not believe that almost all of his assigned striking power had been destroyed in one swoop.  Now he would have to explain to the Politburo what the aircraft had been doing on the ground and why he hadn’t taken better precautions.

Well, it appeared the American attack had taken place.  He supposed that the United States Navy believed he would not risk his surface fleet without Backfire support.  Well, they were wrong.  He would sortie with the entire Pacific Squadron and force the decisive battle.  But first, first he would have to neutralize the Japanese.

The first part of this mission would start that day.  Six squadrons of Su-24 Fencer ground attack aircraft with an eight squadron-strong escort of Su-27 Flankers.  The targets would be the bases of Yokota, Misawa, and Chitose, with two squadrons almost ensuring airfield destruction.  The heavy fighter escort would hopefully destroy the aircraft that got into the air.

Gregory had instructed his strike and fighter commanders that this would take place whenever the United States Navy sortied.  Until then, they were to maintain their squadrons at the ready.  All leaves were cancelled as of the next day.

He’d be damned if the enemy would reinforce Korea.

 

Misawa AFB

0950 hours

September 23

 

“Well I’ll be damned,” Isaac said slowly, looking across the tarmac.

“More than likely.  What’s the matter?” Patricia asked, squeezing his arm and looking towards where Isaac was staring.

“Goblins,” he said.

Patricia saw them now.  The F-117A Stealth Fighter was arguably one of the deadliest strike platforms ever conceived.  It wasn’t extraordinarily fast or able to carry a large bombload, but it had one prime advantage over all other strike aircraft in the Allies’ arsenals:  It was invisible to most types of radar.  It could sneak in and drop its two one-ton bombs on a dime if need be, using its extensive precision weapon guidance suite.

“I wonder what they’re here for?” Patricia said quietly.

“Probably to make the Soviets think they’re our main attack.”  Isaac leaned back, looking up towards the sky.

The couple had grabbed a couple of hours away from duty and decided to have a picnic.  They were now sitting on a grassy knoll two miles from the runway, eating a lunch of sandwiches and listening to the radio.  They hadn’t really said much, having had a long heart-to-heart the night before.  Patricia had slept in his room, even though they had not made love.

Isaac turned down to look at this beauty that had seemingly dropped into his lap.   He must’ve done something good for the man upstairs to bless him so.  Having had this thought, he sent a silent prayer of thanks.

“What are you thinking?” Patricia asked, snuggling up closer to him.

“How lucky I am to have found you,” Isaac said simply.  Patricia looked up, expecting to see a sparkle in his eye.  She saw that he was serious and was taken aback.  Isaac cursed inside, thinking he had said too much.

“I think that has to be the sweetest thing said to me by any man ever.  Thank you, Isaac Young,” she said.  With that, she leaned up and kissed him.  Isaac, surprised at first, kind of clumsily put his arms around her towards the end of it.  Patricia chuckled deep in her throat and disengaged.

“Now, let’s try that again while you’re prepared for it,” she said lightly.  Isaac leaned down to kiss her, wrapping his arms gently around her.  This encounter was having definite potential before Isaac’s beeper went off.

“Shit.  This can’t be good,” Isaac said, releasing her.  He stood up and started gathering their picnic stuff.  Patricia scooped up the blanket and radio, putting both in the Hummer and hopping in the driver’s seat.

“Wait a second.  I’ll drive,” Isaac said.

“You move mud for a living.  I fly fast fighters at high speed.  Who do you think has better reflexes?” Patricia asked, starting the jeep and shifting into reverse.  Isaac jumped in, getting swayed into Patricia by the force of their start.  Pat backed up onto the access road and then put it in drive, accelerating up to forty-five miles an hour and heading directly for the aircraft shelters.

 

Todd was waiting for them when they pulled up, both of their flight suits in his hand.

“What’s up, doc?” Isaac asked.

“We just got tapped for the mission from Hell.  Four Strike Eagles, eight mere mortals.”

“Where are we going?”

“Subic Bay, Philippines,” Todd said calmly.

“You’ve got to be shitting me,” Isaac said.

“No, but I wish I was,” Todd said.

“Just what I need, to fly two thousand miles one way just to hit some small target,” Isaac said.

“Well Rumbler, far be it from me to complain, but if you wanted to avoid missions such as this you should’ve signed up for the mortals.”

“At least then I’d have a big watch and a cheap airplane,” Isaac said, baiting Patricia.

“And you wouldn’t have so much mud on you all the time,” Patricia replied.

“Go to hell, Pat.”

“More than likely.”

“Alright, let’s get boarded up.  What are we going after?”

“What’s left of that invasion force. It’s sitting nice and pretty in Subic, hasn’t moved since July.  Our priority targets are the two Sovremenny and one Udaloy-class destroyers that accompanied this strike.  After that we’re on our own.”

“Why couldn’t the Navy boys handle this?”

“Because they would’ve needed double the escort.”

“Oh.  And, since we’re supposedely self-escorting, we can fly this with less support.”

“You’re pretty quick boss,” Todd said sarcastically.

“What’s the mission load?”

“Four one-ton bombs each on two birds, Weasel layout on the others.”

“FAST packs?”

“Of course.  We’re meeting six KC-10s fifteen hundred miles off the coast.  That should get us there and part of the way back.  Our ETA should be 1345 hours.  I’ve got Tyrone, Josh, and Jake flying the other three birds.”

“Might as well have our best, huh?”

“Jake’s got HARMs in place of his AMRAAM’s, so don’t really count on him if the shit hits the fan.”

“Any info on what we can expect in the way of opposition?”

“A few captured F-5s and a squadron of Floggers.”

“F-5s as in Tiger IIs?” Patricia asked, checking to make sure her hearing wasn’t going.

“Yes.  After the fall of South Vietnam back in 1975, the North Vietmanese trained some of their pilots on captured Freedom Fighters.  The Filippinos didn’t blow up all of their stored fighters when they left.  Special ops forces that stayed behind report that the Viets are flying the jets.  Go figure.”

“At least we know how to beat F-5s,” Todd said.

“Yeah, kill ’em with an AMRAAM at thirty miles and dogfight the Floggers,” Patricia cut in.

They were all dressed and ready to go.  Isaac shook his head and started towards their jets.

“Why don’t they use the damn Goblins?” he thought to ask.

“They’re here if we miss.”

“Just wonderful.”

They boarded their aircraft, going through the normal startup procedures.  Takeoff went without a hitch.

“So how’d it go sport?”

“Fairly well, before we were so rudely interrupted.”

“Sorry, but I had orders from higher up to find you and Major Wilkes.”

“Well you could’ve took your time with it.”

“Yeah, and got all of us thrown in the brig.”

“I think I love her.”

“I always figured your luck would change eventually.”

“Thanks for everything, Todd.”

“Hey, someone had to set you straight.  Now let’s get a move on.  We’ve got a bomb drop to keep.”

 

Yokota AFB

1000 hours

 

Isaac and his strike force were not the only warriors preparing for a strike.

Dodd caught the tossed helmet from his crew chief, putting it in his lap for the moment.

“It’s showtime,” he said, strapping in.  He looked briefly to his left, seeing Amee buckling into her own steed.  She flashed him the thumbs up, smiling across at him.

In order to maintain a normal tempo and direction of operations, the Fifth Air Force was still flying strikes against the North Korean infrastructure.  The only difference was that the fighter aircraft that were on loan from Europe were put into the rotation.  This greatly reduced crew and aircraft fatigue.

Amee had been tapped for one of these missions.  Since her flight did not know the area or enemy well, she had asked that Dodd’s section be assigned in order to fly lead.

It was Dodd’s favorite type of mission, a fighter sweep at medium altitude loaded for bear.  The twelve aircraft mission would test the North Korean and Chinese pilots up towards the Yalu river.  They would refuel on the way back.  Four F-4EJs were flying Wild Weasel support.  It promised to be an interesting mission.  Dodd had told Amee several stories of the almost fanatical zeal of the North Korean pilots in defending their airspace.  The pilots of the Fifth had nothing but respect for their foes.  The kill ratio to date was around three to one in the favor of the Fifth.  This was much lower than it had been in the Korean War, and the training of the United States pilots hadn’t been as intense then.  The North Korean Air Force and their Chinese allies had stepped up to the level of their probable competition.

“This is Cobra Leader to tower, asking permission to taxi,” Dodd said.

“Go for it, Cobra,” came the reply.  Dodd started up his engine, lowering his own canopy.  His crew chief saluted smartly, stepping away from the Fighting Falcon.  Dodd began taxiing, rolling at thirty miles an hour.  His wingman pulled out from the hardened shelter to his right, falling in behind.  The twelve sharklike fighters began rolling hot, trundling down the runway.

 

Amee cleared her mind, preparing for a hard combat.  The fact that she was far away from the more familiar Europe did not bother her; the aircraft and enemy’s training was basically the same.  What bothered her was that she was flying with eight men that she didn’t know and was not familiar with.  She had come to know her squadronmates in Europe, even the new guys, quite well in the past three months.  The three men loaned to the Fifth with her had flown into the gates of hell at her side in Europe.  She knew how good they were.  These Pacific pilots hadn’t been through the same testing fire in her book.  Dodd’s low number of sorties convinced her, more than anything else, of their lower quality.  She just hoped it didn’t lead to her or her men getting killed.

Four AMRAAM and two Sidewinder missiles were mounted on her aircraft.  She liked this particular armament, since it gave her the ability to kill the majority of her enemies at long range.  The other three aircraft of her flight were similarly armed.

Dodd’s two flights had a different weapons outfit.  They were only carrying four Sidewinders, having made a habit of leaving the AMRAAMs for F-15 units.  To Amee this was insanity.

Dodd and his wingman lined up for a section takeoff.  At a nod from Dodd, both trundled down the runway at full military power.  The two Falcons looked very much like their namesakes taking flight, their undercarriages beginning to be tucked away.

Amee shook her head at the sharp takeoff.  She shoved the throttles forward gradually, wanting to use every bit of runway to achieve rotation.  This would greatly conserve fuel that might be needed later.

“Let the games begin,” she whispered to herself, pulling the stick back and letting her little fighter soar into the air.  The group joined up quickly in flights of four.  Dodd looked over both of his shoulders, checking to make sure that they had enough aircraft.  He then put his plane into a turn, heading for the North Korean coast.  Amee followed, sliding into an echelon formation with her flight.  She looked over the Pacific units, checking out their formations.

“At least they haven’t lost their training edge,” Amee said to herself.  The Pacific aircraft were flying beautiful formations,  the wingmen following their section leaders with great skill.  Dodd had told her that these were the best pilots in the wing, and she now saw why he felt that way.

The flight across the Sea of Japan was quick and uneventful.  As they began approaching the North Korean coast, Amee armed her AMRAAM, cuing them up for first shot.

“Second Flight, head for the waves.  Major Wallace, go high,” Dodd ordered, deploying the forces for maximum coverage.

“Tallyho!  I’ve got bogeys on my radar, eight angels coming to meet us,” Amee’s wingman said.

“Roger that, Zulu Two.  Cobra Leader, Zulu Flight is engaging,” Amee said.  Dodd’s reply was garbled and unintelligible.

“Shit.  We’re being jammed,” she said, quickly turning her upper body to the left.  Her wingman was already looking towards her, waiting for her signal.  Max Loftman had trained them all in what to do in case of jamming, having had a very bad experience the first day of the war.  Her flight responded without a second thought, breaking into their sections.

Their radar screens suddenly went white.

“Cub,” Amee thought to herself, using the NATO designation for the converted ECM aircraft that was a favorite of Soviet-equipped services.  Zulu Flight had a strategy for this also.  Amee switched on her self-protection jammers and dived, heading away from the last known enemy position.

The glimmer of sun off a canopy alerted her to the incoming enemy fighters.  Zulu Three and Four broke off, turning towards the enemy.  Amee hoped they could delay the enemy long enough for her to find and kill the enemy ECM aircraft.  She levelled out of her dive at less than a hundred feet, hiding down in the ground clutter.  Her radar continued to be whited out, and visibility down at this low level was getting down to two miles.

A fighter sprung out of the mist in front of her.  The MiG-21 pilot was obviously looking for her, for he suddenly cut back, turning towards Amee and her wingman.

“I’ve got lead,” Amee said, turning towards the enemy fighter.  She brought the nose of the Falcon around, pulling six Gs.  The North Korean pilot had been making a lazy turn, and she rapidly gained ground on him.  The gunsight centered just aft of the cockpit, but she heard no tone.

“Lockon dammit,” she said sharply.  Then it hit her that she hadn’t switched back to Sidewinder from her AMRAAM.

Just as her thumb was reaching forward to switch the button over, the MiG pilot sighted her.  He reversed, lighting afterburners to try and turn away from her.  Amee kicked the rudder pedals, turning hard after the Fishbed.  The North Korean pilot pulled up into a tight turn, corkscrewing away from her fighter.  Amee lit her afterburners and followed, throttle shoved forward to the max.

The MiG pilot then made a fatal mistake:  He tried to level off and turn.  Amee pitched her nose up and went into the vertical to turn inside of him.  She came off her high arc and levelled off just above and behind the enemy fighter.  Her thumb switched the weapons to guns, and she squeezed the trigger.

Two hundred rounds spat from the M-61A1 gatling in her port wing.  The 20mm shells ripped into the delta-winged fighter at the wing root and snapped the port wing off.

“Scratch one,” she said, pulling up and doing a quick tail check.  The only thing there was Zulu Two.

Her radar suddenly came online, the jamming disappearing.

“Wild Weasels must’ve got her,” she said over her net to Two, pulling up to two hundred feet.  Three blips were coming at a high speed from on her nose.  She switched back to AMRAAM, locking up the three enemy aircraft and calling out a warning to Zulu Two.

Her own radar warning receivers came alive at that instant.  She began jinking, waiting for the range to close to twenty miles.  Two had not acknowledged the warning, but it was past time to worry about that.

“Fox Three!” she shouted, firing the four AMRAAM missiles.  The four AIM-120 missiles dropped off their racks, engines igniting.  One went ballistic, arcing into the wild blue yonder.    The enemy’s volley arrived without warning.  Amee was surprised by the detonation of two missiles on false images that her centreline ECM pod was putting out.  Another was thrown off by her jinking.

Two was not so lucky.  Two AA-10s impacted his aircraft, turning it into a fireball that slammed into the North Korean countryside.  Amee listened intently for the sound of an emergency radio, knowing in her heart that she wouldn’t hear it.

The seven AMRAAM that had guided had killed all three aircraft.  Amee turned back towards the Sea of Japan, puzzled by the silence on the net.

“This is Zulu Leader to Cobra.  Where’s the party?” she said into her mike.  There was utter silence on the net.

“Okay, my com is obviously out,” she thought to herself, turning towards the Sea of Japan.  Her radar picked up three bogeys to her port, range twenty miles.  She shoved her throttle forward, her IFF querying the targets.

Two were unfriendly.  Amee lit her afterburners, running to the aid of the friendly pilot.  Her eyes detected the three aircraft dogfighting.  The Falcon was outmaneuvering its two Su-27 Flanker opponents, but couldn’t get a true advantage.

Amee announced herself with a long-range Sidewinder shot, the missile shooting off her starboard wing and zipping right after its prey.  The Chinese pilot never knew what happened, having his eyes focused on the Falcon in front of him.  The AIM-9L shot right into the twin Saturn/Lyulka afterburning engines.  The fighter pitched crazily, going into a flat spin.

“See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya,” Amee said joyfully, turning after the startled wingman.  The pilot knew a hopeless situation when he saw one, and dived for the ocean.  Amee, looking at her fuel state, let him go.  She joined up on the F-16, indicating her radio was out.  The pilot nodded, turning towards their rendezvous point.

The KC-10 was orbiting two hundred and fifty miles off the coast of Japan, four F-15Cs and two EF-111 Raven electronics craft orbiting it.  An F-16 was circling a little further off in the distance, obviously counting heads.  Amee slid in behind the KC-10, extending the Falcon‘s new air-to-air refuelling probe.

“Some Pentagon regular sure made a smart decision when they standardized refuelling methods,” she said to herself.  She wasn’t sure they would’ve had time to refuel both fighters by the old boom and receptacle method.  Her own low fuel light had begun blinking just moments ago.  She joined up, feeling a reassuring contact between the probe and drogue.  Fuel began pumping into her tanks, making her fighter slightly heavier.  She took on half tanks and released her fighter from under the tanker.  The other Falcon followed suit, and they headed for Japan.

The flight in was uneventful, and Amee was almost amazed to find herself raising the canopy and taking off her helmet.

The other two members of her flight came dashing up, the concern on their faces evident.

“What took you so long?” the pair asked in unison.

“How long you guys been down?” she asked.

“Around ten minutes.  We killed two of that flight of MiG-29s that tried to bounce us under EMCON,” Captain Bob Knight, Zulu Three, said.

“Not bad.  What happened to the other two?”

“They got the hint that we don’t like party crashers and turned away to find someone else.”

“I bet some officer’s not going to be happy about that,” Amee said happily.

“Where’s Checkmate?”

Amee’s face said it all.

“Did he get out?” Bob asked.

“No.  I think he had a multi-strike, because that was a very large fireball.  I don’t think he even knew what happened, because I never got a change in lockon tone to warn us that we had incoming.  My whole commo set is screwed, because I never heard anything.  I had to land zip lip just a few seconds ago,” Amee said.

“Damn.  Tramp was a great guy,” Bob said.  If so many hadn’t already fallen in this war, he might’ve actually cried.  It was somewhat fortunate but also frightening that their emotions had grown over with scar tissue.

“I’m going to have to get off a line to Max about it.  You know he feels that he must write the family.  We’ll also need a replacement,” she said.

“We’ll probably be incorporated into the squadron here.  They took some pretty stiff losses.  It was the first time a Cub’s ever been used against them.

“Damn.  I’m just glad Max took the time to train us in zip lip during that momentary lull after Hamburg.”

“No doubt.”

“Well, I’d better go find Captain Jackson.  He’s not used to seeing this much death among his friends,” Amee said, resting her helmet on the cockpit’s edge.

“Major, haven’t you heard?” Bob asked.

“No, I haven’t.  What happened to Dodd?”

“Ma’am, Captain Jackson was hit by cannon fire from an Su-27 Flanker.  Before his fighter exploded, he rammed the Cub.  I’ve already recommended him to his commanding officer for the Medal of Honor, posthumously.  He concurred with my opinion, and several other pilots signed the document,” Bob replied.  “That’s too bad, because he had just scored a triple kill.”

Amee felt a great emptiness inside of her.  Dodd had truly been a great guy.  For a moment, she felt like she was almost going to cry.

But then her cold side took over.  Checkmate had been a good guy also.  War was impartial.

 

Pacific Ocean

1330 hours

 

“Holy shit,” Todd said from the backseat.

“What?!”

“I’ve got a damn Mainstay radiating, dead ahead, at two hundred and twenty miles.  He just came active, and he’s swept over us,” Todd said.

“Shit!  Shit!  Well, we’re blown,” he said over the intercom, then pressed the com button.  “Eagle One, we’ve got problems.  We’ve just been lit up by a Alpha Five Zero Mainstay.  We’re going to top speed.  Run interference for us,” Isaac said, pulling up even further and shoving the throttle forward.  They would need a tanker alot closer than originally planned.  He concentrated on checking over the fighter while Todd got on the horn to PACAF HQ.

“We’ll have to toss the suckers,” Todd said.

“Roger that.  But first, we’ve got to get past whatever’s up here with the Mainstay.”

“Tallyho!  We’ve got ten bogeys on us, Mudmover!  Am engaging,” Patrica said into her mike.

A small bit of fear clenched Isaac’s stomach.

“Roger that, Eagle,” he said over the net.  He looked out into the wild blue yonder.  “Keep yourself safe, Patricia,” he whispered softly.

 

The airfield at Subic Bay was bedlam.  Two squadrons of MiG-23 pilots began running towards their aircraft, shouting to each other, faces set and grim.  It looked like the Allies had finally got around to doing something about the Chicom presence at Subic.

Eight F-5Es were taking off to fly point defense on the airfield, their pilots scanning the skies around them.

In the harbor, the Udaloy and Sovremenny-class destroyers went to red alert.  Everyone aboard both ships knewt that they would be prime targets, being very dangerous weapons platforms. They began radiating, their radars seeking a target.

 

“We’re going to have to do an electronics dump,” Isaac said.  An electronics dump was where a type of radar was selected as a target for the aircraft’s weapons.  The attack computer would then steer the fighter towards that point.

“Forget it, we’re going in for a controlled drop,” Isaac said, hating to make the decision.

“I was afraid you were going to say that,” Todd replied, continuing to watch their air-to-air radar.

 

Patricia armed her AMRAAM, readying the four missiles for firing.  Eight MiG-23 Floggers had been circling the AWACS aircraft, and they were now coming out to play.  Her pilots had a slight range advantage over these older aircraft, but Patricia also knew there were plenty more were that came from.

“One through four only!” she barked over the net.  There was no need to await confirmation, because all her pilots knew what she meant.  Only the first four Eagles would fire missiles.

“Three and four half?” her section asked.

“Roger!” she answered tersely, laying off the throttle.  The Floggers crossed the imaginary line in the sky and she fired, spreading her missiles over the first four of the enemy fighters.  Her flight got off twelve missiles without a single failure.  The eight MiG-23s never really had a chance, the AIM-120s hitting all eight and blasting them apart.

“Gotcha,” Patricia said to herself, the rush of combat heightening her senses.

“Second flight has the Mainstay!” the second flight leader barked, accelerating and turning away from Patricia and her flight.  The radar craft had a close escort of four MiGs, but these were like pigeons before the hawks.  The four Eagles killed the Mainstay with ease, the flight leader putting one Sidewinder into the craft.

Patricia saw her radar screen painting several targets approaching at high speed and high altitude.  The fighter pilot’s calm came over her.  It was time for battle, and it wasn’t looking like her flight would have the numbers.

 

Isaac levelled off just above the waters of the Pacific Ocean, Josh flying just off his wing.  Tyrone and Jake had broken off to come in from a different direction.  Isaac had already decreed that he would get the Udaloy while Tyrone dropped on the Sovremenny.

The 2,000-lb bombs were FLIR guided.  That meant they could lock them on with their sensor suite, drop them, and get the hell out of Dodge.  Jake and Josh would run interference with their HARMs and cluster bombs first, then Isaac and Tyrone would make their runs.

The sun was glaring nice and hot into their cockpit, warming it like a greenhouse.  Isaac felt the sweat trickling off his forehead, drawing a ticklish path down his nose.

Todd was making sure everything was going to work as advertised, briefly checking the radar to see if they had any uninvited North Vietmanese guests dropping in.  So far, after the death of the Mainstay, the enemy had been busy with Patricia and her pilots.  Isaac hoped that his love was still safe.

 

Patricia wrenched the stick over and down, bending the Eagle into the vertical plane for her turn.  Flares dropped under her aircraft, putting out a nice hot target for the AA-8 Aphid.  The missile was fooled by the highly sophisticated flares, exploding close to one.

“Bad news buddy,” she said, rolling inverted and pulling back on the stick to tighten her dive into a loop.  The Gs were brutal, but she had been pulling Gs forever it seemed.

The Lucky Sevens were ruling the skies, having cut their teeth on enemies much more dangerous than these MiG-23s.  It looked like their only limits on kills were going to be fuel and ammo, the first before the other.  Only one F-15 had bought it in the furball, the victim of an unseen assailant.

Patricia came around on the clumsier Flogger, the enemy pilot desperately trying to gain seperation.  She cut the enemy fighter no mercy, pushing the throttle forward to gain more power and energy.  Her turn tightened, and the reticle crept just forward of the extended wings of the MiG.  She flicked to guns and fired a long burst.

The MiG burst into flames from the cockpit aft.

“That’s another crispy critter,” she said to herself, rolling away and finding her wingman’s aircraft.  The pilot had been busy blowing the MiG’s wingman off her tail.  Now he was ready to find himself another kill.

Patricia took a look at their fuel state and shook her head.

“We’ve got to go, Sevens.  We’ve done all we can here,” she said.

The Eagles seperated from their prey with almost practiced ease.  A lucky AA-7 lob from a pursuing MiG-23 caught one of her Eagles, damaging it.  The pilot reported that he had fire lights all across the boards.

“Get out of there then.  We’ll call Air/Sea,” she said.  The pilot nodded, reaching down and pulling his toggles.  The rest of the flight joined up and climbed out, heading for altitude and Japan.

 

“Shotgun!” Josh shouted, triggering off two HARM missiles.  The AGM-88s shot out from under his aircraft, heading off towards the horizon and their targets, two SA-6 sites placed at the entrance to the bay.

“We’ve got F-5s playing goalkeeper!” Todd shouted in warning.

“Lock ’em up!” Isaac replied.

“Boresight!”

“Fox Three!”

Four F-5Es had been vectored towards Subic, the ground radars having got a glimmer of something.  Todd had called out the bogeys, so Isaac would fire first.  What his AMRAAM’s missed, Tyrone’s would get.

The four missiles dropped away, four engines lighting.  Isaac knew that they had a good shoot, and concentrated on guiding the missiles while Todd made sure they didn’t get killed by some ground-based threat.  That would suck royally.

 

Josh and Jake accelerated smoothly, passing them on their way into the bay.  They had done this drill hundreds of times, having popped dozens of radars in Europe.  Missiles rose into the air after them, but they were all early model SAMs that they knew how to avoid.  Jake began looking for ZSU units to shoot with his six Mavericks.  He found one parked on the helicopter pad of the Udaloy.  He locked on the IR warhead of the missile, and depressed the firing trigger.

It was as if that shot had opened the shooting gallery.  Every gun with a line of sight to his aircraft or the front of the bay opened fire.  Men were on the dock pointing up towards his aircraft.  He saw some with tubes mounted on their shoulders.

“Strelas on the ramps, boss,” he said, rolling in on the largest group of men.  Tracers and shellbursts rocked his fighter, as he gently moved the throttle forward to full military power.  His backseater, 2nd Lieutenant Daniel “Zeppelin” Hedger, armed the cluster bombs, punching the attack run into the automatic bomb computer.  They pulled up and tossed the weapons, Jake pitching away from the harbor as soon as the bombs had thumped off the Strike Eagle.

“Tigers high!” Josh shouted.  The first four Tiger IIs had been blown out of the sky by Isaac’s medium-range missiles.  Six others had taken their place, having sneaked in low and popped up to find their prey.

Two of them promptly disappeared in dirty brown fireballs.  It didn’t pay to appear in the reticle of an itchy-fingered SAM commander, especially when you were flying commandeered enemy aircraft.

“I hear that.  Don’t worry about them, Spic,” Isaac said calmly.

“Watch it, Warrior!  You’ve got one diving in you!” Todd warned.  Jake had already seen the diving Tiger and its wingman.  He turned into the attack, the two fighters crossing his nose.  The craft split, one of them going to the left, the other going right.

“I’ve got the left one,” Josh intoned, turning his big fighter after the little jet.  The Vietmanese pilot never saw him coming, as he continued to turn after Jake.  Josh fired off one Sidewinder, watching it find a home in the Tiger’s two engines.  The fighter cartwheeled into the sea.

 

Isaac rolled in, not trusting the attack computer.  Todd was taking careful aim with the FLIR unit, as they approached the edge of the toss envelope.

Isaac saw Tyrone circling in for his run out of the corner of his eye.  The flak was thick, but not well aimed.  Todd locked on the two bombs, aiming towards the destroyer’s stern.  The computer plotted their pull up point, which was three miles from the ship.  The heavy shellfire from the shore and the two destroyers continued to impact all around them.  Isaac checked the skies once to make sure they weren’t getting jumped, then advanced the throttles full forward.  The Udaloy‘s bow was one bright flash, as its two 3.9-inch main guns blazed away.

“SAM!  SAM!  SAM!” Todd shouted.  Isaac saw the missile coming from the Sovremenny and fought the urge to juke or jink.  He simply punched the chaff button, skidding slightly.  The missile, already partially confused due to his extremely low altitude, went after the metallic strips and hit the sea behind them.

The Strike Eagle rose up sharply.  At the apex of its climb, all four bombs seperated from the aircraft.  Isaac continued pulling over on their back, rolling back level as he did so.

A bright flash and pall of smoke made him look towards the Sovremenny.  He turned just in time to see two bombs piercing the ship’s pristine hull, the other two bombs having been detonated by the CIWS systems.  The bombs had twenty second delay fuses.  Isaac wanted to get a bomb report, so he cirled to starboard to keep the ship visible through the top of his canopy.

Their four bombs had their number thinned by three.  One of the bombs did a horrendous amount of damage as it was detonated, the fragments and blast clearing the Udaloy‘s decks and superstructure.  Circuit breakers were blown from their mountings by this same blast.  The last bomb hit and pierced to the engine room of the vessel.

Tyrone’s two bombs exploded with a roar.  The twin explosions were followed by an even larger one, as the bunkerage of the Sovremenny exploded in flames.  The vessel began to list, her magazines beginning to vent themselves in the great heat.  The missiles and shells arced off over the base, impacting in what was left of the red light districts and bars that served the United States sailors and soldiers that had been stationed at the once great naval base.

“Break Rumbler!” his earphones crackled.  Isaac didn’t hesitate, wracking the fighter over on its wing and pulling the stick back towards his gut.  The Tiger II that had been about to kill him suddenly found itself without a target.  The Vietmanese pilot was a pro, realizing that somebody had obviously warned Isaac and that somebody was probably about to cancel his check.  He turned towards land and lit his afterburners, deciding discretion was definitely the better part of valor.

Tyrone let him go, joining up on Isaac’s wing.

It was at that moment that the sole bomb to hit the Udaloy detonated.  It was a massive detonation, the large amount of explosives buckling the keel.  The ship began to settle with its broken back.

“Gotcha,” Isaac said.  It had been a nice surgical strike, and it looked as if they were getting away with no losses, Jake and Josh forming up behind them.

“Bogeys at angels twenty, closing fast!” Todd said.  Isaac shook his head at himself.  He should’ve know that the enemy would appear as soon as he started thinking they had pulled the mission off.

“I’ve got all four of my AIM-120s,” Tyrone informed him.

“Roger that,” Isaac said with a clipped voice.  Their Eagles wer grossly outnumbered, the odds looking to be sixteen to four.  Things promised to get real interesting, real quick.

“It is with great pleasure that I introduce the United States Naval Air Arm into this little shingding,” a voice filled with grimness said over the radio.  The screen did a little dance, as a cloud of missiles took out their would be assailants.

“What in the hell?” Isaac asked, starting to climb.

“I’m Lt. Josh Harris, of Fighter Squadron Two, the “Bounty Hunters”.  It is with great pleasure that I save some Air Force rear, sir,” the jubilant pilot continued on.  Isaac wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth, or even ask who had sent the F-14s out to save their butts.  He simply thanked his lucky stars and began climbing to stretch what fuel he had.  He hoped the gas cans were fairly close, or he was going to need a towel along with the trip to the bathroom that was beginning to make itself felt.  It was going to be great to kick back with a couple of guys and drink this one away.

 

Yokota

1500 hours

 

Amee continued to pack Dodd’s stuff, trying hard to keep her emotions in check.  It would not do for her to break down in front of these pilots who had just found out that she was now their commanding officer.  Amee picked up a photo that had been lying in the bottom of his footlocker.  She flipped it over, looking at the front.

It was her own graduation picture.  She had looked so happy then.

The pain and remorse came rushing back at her relentlessly.  She turned and quickly walked out, the tears brimming at her eyes.

The sky was beginning to grow overcast, the wind getting slightly chilly.  Amee walked listlessly, without purpose, tears streaming from her eyes.

Her feet led her to a bansai park.  Here she sat down, and began sobbing.

She couldn’t believe that Dodd’s death was affecting her so.  It had to be the cumulative effects of all the deaths since the war’s beginning.  Dodd hadn’t mattered that much to her.  Had he?

The sound of soft footfalls made her turn to look towards the entrance of the small park.  Bob was walking towards her, moving at his normal pace.  Amee could see the concern on his face.

“Are you going to be alright, Virgin?” he asked, sitting beside her and wrapping an arm protectively around her.

“I don’t know what happened to me back there.  Just seeing that picture and realizing he had kept it all this time.  It hit me.  It really hit me right here,” Amee said, pointing to her chest.

“There’s nothing wrong with that, ma’am.  Just proves that we’re all still a little human.  If you didn’t feel some loss, this war wouldn’t be worth fighting.  We might as well have given up,” Bob said.

“I guess it was Captain Jackson and Checkmate both in the same day that got me.”

“I understand.  You forget, I’ve been in for six years.  I understand what it feels like when a good buddy buys it,” Bob replied.  Amee nodded.  Bob had been with the 86th TFW since before the start of the war.  Only twenty-eight of the seventy-six pilots on the roster could claim this distinction.  Amee was one of these, but not in the fullest sense.  She had arrived at Hahn just two weeks before the war started.  At first she hadn’t felt the same sense of loss that the others had when one of the Hahn Hackers’s pilots had been hit and killed.  This had lasted until the death of one of the replacement pilots and her good friend, Captain Jackie Schaefer.

Recent events had just reminded her how close to the heart war could strike.

 

Misawa AFB

1815 hours

 

The Eagle’s tires kiss the ground.  The fighter settled down and began decelerating, Isaac playing the brakes with the skill of a concert violinist.  The fighter slowed to taxiing speed, and Isaac turned it down the taxiway.  He breathed out a long sigh, finally glad to have his feet back on the ground.

“I hear you,” Todd replied.  Isaac unsealed the canopy, letting the wind blow into their face.

“Next time High Command calls us up for something…”

“Yeah?”

“Forget you ever took the call,” Isaac said.

“Is that a direct order?”

“No, it’s a very well concealed threat from me.  I don’t think I’m going to sit down again the rest of the day,” Isaac said.

“Sleep always sounded good to me,” Todd said.  “Especially if I had Major Wilkes to keep me company.”

Isaac simply smiled under his mask at that.

A jeep was waiting for them when they pulled into their hardened shelter.  Isaac stopped the jet and simply lay limp in the seat, taking deep breaths.

“Never again, Todd.  Never again.”

“I hear you.  I hear you.”

“Come on you lazy bums, get the hell out of that jet!” someone shouted from below them.

“Fuuck you,” Isaac and Todd said in unison.

“Come on, you mudmovers, we’ve got a debriefing session to attend.  Headquarters wants to make sure you hit the target,” Patricia continued, coming up the ladder.

“Headquarters can get in this jet and fly out there if they’re that concerned.  I’m headed for the nearest bunk that’s open,” Isaac replied.

“We’ve got orders to report immediately,” Patricia said.  Isaac could see that she hadn’t even changed out of her own flight suit, and she and her squadronmates had been down a full twenty minutes more than Isaac and company.

Isaac got up out of the seat slowly, stretching.  He set his helmet and all other extraneous gear in the cockpit.  Patricia was waiting for him as soon as his feet hit the ground.

“Anyone watching, Todd?” she asked.

“No ma’am,” Todd replied from his perch up in the cockpit.  Isaac didn’t even have time to ready himself for the embrace, Patricia wrapping her arms tight around him.  She then proceeded to kiss him, a fierce brief joining.  The seperated and stepped back from each other.

“Let’s get out of here, Colonel Young and Captain Wilkes,” she said.  Todd joined them, dropping down behind Isaac.  They started walking out towards the Hummer, all three starting to show signs of fatigue.

The drive over to the base headquarters was quiet and short.  Isaac hauled his tired body out of the HUMVEE, stretching his legs once again.

The front door to the headquarters building opened, and out stepped a major.  He stood at attention and saluted all three of them.  All three of them returned the salute, and looked on in amazement as the major opened the door.

“If you would follow me, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, stepping in and starting to stride out in front of them.

“Uh, Major Corbett, what exactly is going on?” Isaac asked.

“Sir, General Kern is here to present you with a Silver Star.  A satellite pass over the Philippines an hour and a half ago confirmed that both vessels are disabled for a very long time.  The Udaloy-class ship has settled to the bottom on its side.  The other vessel is still ablaze, and does not appear to be salvageable.  Major and Captain Wilkes will be given the Distinguished Flying Cross.”

Isaac could not believe what Corbett had just told him.  This would be the eighth award for gallantry he had been awarded.  The only major award he did not have now was the Medal of Honor.  He was still in his state of shock when they arrived at General Kern’s office.  Major Corbett preceded them, entering and announcing, “Colonel Isaac Young, Major Patricia Wilkes, and Captain Todd Wilkes.”

Isaac stepped into the office and immediately braced to attention, his arm snapping up in salute.

“At ease, Colonel Young,” General Kern said, returning his salute.  “You act like you’re here to get a reprimand instead of an award,” the General said good-naturedely.

Isaac never had gotten used to being around brass.  His eight years in the Air Force had been spent flying and nothing else.  It was kind of fortunate that the war had come along, since he had been slated for a ground assignment within the next couple of months.  Isaac could not stand being grounded.  Nick Loftman had called him the ‘last of the true warriors’.  All I care about is flying and fighting.  He paused for a second, glancing sideways at the brunette to his left.  And a certain young woman.  He was in the good company of fellow warriors.

 

Patricia let her shoulders fall down from the attention position, standing at parade rest in her flight suit.  She just hoped no one would notice that she was shaking.  She would rather have faced ever anti-aircraft gun in the enemy’s arsenal than this group of generals, colonels, and press reporters.  She didn’t belong here.  She was just a lucky pilot, not a good one.  There were plenty of pilots better than her in the Sevens.  Hell, there were better pilots than her even in her squadron.  Why was she standing in this general’s office about to receive a medal?

She started to dig her nails into her palm, not noticing the pain in her nervousness.

A glance out of the side of her eye showed Isaac standing there, as still as a rock.  His face was relaxed, showing no tension.  It totally amazed her that he could be so calm.

Yeah, but he’s got plenty of awards under his belt, she thought.  He doesn’t need to be worried.  All of her awards had been presented to her by the commanding officer of the 777th, Sheen Loftman.  It was quite easy to face him.

She felt a calming effect come over her.  Hell, she must belong here if she was in the office with Isaac and Todd.

 

“Colonel Young, I have become quite familiar with your exploits of the past three months.  I realize that you are no stranger to medals by now, so I won’t bore you with some long flowery speech.  I will simply present you with this medal,” Kern said, stepping up and pinning the Silver Star on Isaac’s chest.

“Thank you, General Kern,” Isaac said, as the four reporters in the room took numerous pictures.  The story would have to be kept under wraps until after Operation Apache, but it would still make a good human interest story.

“Now then, to Major Wilkes.  I must say that your beauty matches your fighting skills, Major.  It is my pleasure to present this medal to you,” Kern said.

“Thank you, sir.”

“And now you, Captain Wilkes.  From what I understand, you are the best thing that ever happened to Colonel Young.  From the third day of the war when you were both teamed up, you have done nothing but cost our enemies death and destruction.  I feel that you yourself are often underrated by everyone except Colonel Young.  I am pleased to present you this medal, in appreciation for what you and your pilot have done.”

“Thank you, sir.”

The General stepped back and saluted.  All three of them returned the salute in unison.

“I think you all want to get some rest, unless I am mistaken.  I dismiss you,” the General said.

“Thank you, sir,” Isaac replied, saluting once again.  Kern returned it, and Isaac about-faced and walked out of the room.  Patricia and Todd followed.

They were silent until they got into the Hummer.

“Where the hell are we going now?” Patricia asked.

“Anywhere but here,” Todd replied tiredely.

“The barracks it is,” Patricia said.

“I’ll be glad when this is over,” Isaac said.

“You’re not the only one.”

 

“I Can’t Believe I Wrote That…”–

Standard

In addition to Writing Tips and Random Confessions, I will also have a regular entry called “I Can’t Believe I Wrote That.”  In each of these, I will post a snippet from something I’ve written in the past.  Sometimes it will be an item that won an award, other times it will be a story idea that got overcome by events.  Today’s sampling is from the way back machine–the 1990s.  I used to be a huge fan of the FASA game Battletech and it’s various spinoffs.  As a player, I once designed my own unit, Clan Rabid Badger, with a backstory that basically this was an entirely different splinter group from the other clans.  Of course, this would never get published.  I place it here both for your entertainment and so that you can (hopefully) observe my evolution as a writer. :

 

                   The Dragon and the Skull

                        By James Young

 

Introduction

 

In the year 3075, the Precentor Martial of Comstar, Maximillan Focht, decreed that it was Comstar’s sacred duty to begin exploration beyond the Periphery.  In the years since Truce End, the Clans had been quiet, and the Inner Sphere was gradually beginning to relax.  Some called it a new age of prosperity that needed to be taken advantage of.  Others warned of it as a time before the Clans overran the entire Inner Sphere.

 

                           Chapter 1

     2nd Lt. Frank Jackson was having a really bad day.  No, the word bad did not do this day justice.  He was having a really shitty day.  Shitty as in diarrhea, beans, and hot tamales all rolled up in one day.

First off, he and his platoon had been put on ready alert early that morning.  Early as in 0230 hours that morning.

This had come right after a grueling four day excercise in which his platoon of battle-armor had been pitted against ‘Mechs in drill after drill.  This wouldn’t be so bad if they would’ve had some support when they did it.  Unfortunately, the excercise guidelines did not call for this.  So his unit had been forced to take on 100-ton behemoths single-handedely.  Needless to say, they had not fared well.  This, to Jackson’s thinking, was very bad for morale.  His men had walked off the field during the last battle looking like whipped dogs.  It seemed to be High Command’s way of telling them that no infantry, powered or otherwise, belonged on the battlefield.

As soon as they had made it to stand-to some colonel had showed up and gave them the bitching out of their lives for not being there in full armor ready to go.  It had been another half-hour before they were all totally suited up and ready to go.  As soon as they had been done getting ready they got another chewing out due to the fact it had taken them so long.  They had then been made to wait four hours while someone finally decided where they were going.  They had then been loaded onto a ferry ship for a one day voyage to the last planet at the edge of their current system.

The weather on Dragoon was terrible.  A screaming wind and windblown snow made hearing or seeing anything external quite difficult.  A quirk in the electromagnetic field of the planet made their communicators go dead every so often for around twenty minutes.  It compared favorably to living permanently in a snowblower.

The day was reaching its climax of shittiness just at that moment.  They had been ordered to cover twenty miles and investigate an object that had landed just a few minutes before.  It had appeared to be as large as a ferry ship on radar.  However, any idiot it could tell you that it hadn’t been because none were supposed to pass within two light years of the system.  In Frank’s humble opinion, it was just an asteroid or something that had fallen to the planet.  Any idiot could tell you that Battle Orion was the only planet that had any spacefaring capability.  Hell, they were probably the only higher-intelligience civilization within several thousand light years.

At the moment, they were in another communicator dead zone.  Jackson turned behind him and made a hand motion, moving his first squad forward.  The ten armored figures fired their jump jets, arcing up and moving forward ninety meters.  Jackson waited until the troopers had taken up covering positions before moving himself and the second squad forward.

They had just landed when Jackson caught the furious pointing of his platoon sergeant, Jonathan Winters.

He turned his head to look towards where the man was pointing.  His suit’s special optics immediately focused on the motion he saw.

A cold feeling lanced through his guts.  Either someone was playing an incredibly cruel trick on him…

Or there was a Battlemech walking through the cold and mists.

“Fuck me,” he said softly.  This was not good.  This was not good at all.  One glance at the ‘Mech’s IR signature told him it was not of Battle Orion origin.  The silhouette was totally foreign to OSDF style, which emphasized composite, slab-sided armor.  The ‘Mech’s outline on his screen appeared to have rounded edges, with its head and cockpit section somewhat rounded also.  In a very severe contrast with OSDF standard procedure, one arm of the ‘Mech ended in a weapon.

There was no doubt about it.  Frank Jackson, son of Elvira and Naomi Jackson, a native of Battle Orion and a graduate of Newfoundland Military Academy, had just seen the first ‘Mech of an invading army.  The fate of millions of lives rested upon him.  There was no standard procedure or written books for what he was to do next for no one had expected this event to ever happen.

 

Lieutenant Daiyo Osa, commander of First Scout Lance, Charlie Company, 5th Battalion, 12th “Ghost” Regiment, smiled to himself as he piloted his Daiyo-class ‘Mech.  The Lieutenant found it somewhat ironic that his name was the same as the ‘Mech he piloted.  He had drawn the dubious honor of being the first pilot to leave the Overlord-class dropship Mogami.  The thirty-six ‘Mechs on board this vessel were mainly medium and light vehicles, ordered to scout out this world before the main assault force arrived.  His lancemates were arrayed in a crescent behind him, two Komodos and a Scarabus.

Osa had to shake his head once again while scanning the wastes in front of him.  The compact with Comstar had made some very strange bedfellows.  He had never thought he would see the day that a Federated Commonwealth ‘Mech was working in concert with a Draconis Combine group in a scouting role.  The lance was very well equipped to handle any threat from any range.

A movement to their left set off several sensors and warnings in his cockpit.  Daiyo quickly came out of his reflective state and started turning his ‘Mech to face what his computer was obviously designating a threat.

“Unidentified Battlemech, cease advancing forward and do not make any threatening moves.  I am Lieutenant Frank Jackson, Battle Orion Self-Defense Force.  You are violating OSDF space.  Cease all military activity and prepare to be interrogated,” his headset crackled.

Daiyo had no idea what the man was talking about, but he could clearly see the squat, metallic and menacing shape of what looked to be a Clan Elemental battlesuit facing him with both of its SRM launchers and a small laser pointed square at his ‘Mech.

Daiyo knew that if there were Elementals on this planet that it was not a good sign and someone higher up needed to know.

 

Frank’s announcement had brought an immediate response from the alien ‘Mechs.  The original target had frozen and turned its torso towards him.  The two wasp-waisted, forward-thrusting ‘Mechs to either side and behind the first target brought their lasers onto line with his armor suit.

Frank could hear multiple intakes of breath over his com net as the rest of the platoon prepared for sudden combat.

“Mech pilots, cease transmissions unless spoken too and do not make any more hostile movements.  You are…”

The original ‘Mech fired its PPC.  The azure bolt caught Frank dead center in his chest, punching through the majority of his armor and knocking him breathless.  Fragments ripped into the flak suit that all Battlearmor troops wore under their heavier plate.  Some penetrated, and he felt the warm oozings of blood starting in the wounds.  Amazingly, he was not knocked unconscious.

The remainder of the platoon did not hesitate.  Twenty-five of the troops had been lying motionless in the drifts to the rear of the ‘Mechs line of advance.  These now popped up from the drifts, firing their small lasers and SRM packs.  Five of the battlearmor troops concentrated on the offending ‘Mech, six of the missiles thundering into the Daiyo‘s rear left torso.  The pounding exposed skeleton, armor fragments being hurled for yards around.  The ‘Mech started to stumble forward, smoke pouring from its rear.

 

Osa fought hard to keep his ‘Mech standing, the blast having savaged his internal skeleton and ripped his rear armor to shreds.  He knew his original fire had put one trooper down, probably permanently.  Unfortunately, it seemed that he had opened the door to a hornet’s nest.  His fire computer counted at least thirty other battle troopers closing in on their ‘Mechs.

Another SRM salvo hit his front armor.  He triggered his own SRMs and the ER PPC in reply, the combined weapons killing another trooper and severely injuring one of his squadmates.

Daiyo started his ‘Mech moving, realizing his heat was starting to build up and that he could not continue to blaze away with the PPC.  The medium lasers in his left arm flashed twice, finishing off the trooper he had injured.

Several thumps and a severe overbalancing of his ‘Mech told him that the Elementals had swarmed his craft.  Fighting hard to keep from panicking, Daiyo began to run.  As he reached top speed he stopped and rolled the ‘Mech.

The two troopers who had just begun to climb up his back were smashed to the ground, stunned.  One trooper managed to hang on, though.  He pushed his small laser into the gaping hole that had been his rear left torso and fired again and again.

One look at his internal structure readout told Daiyo that it was time to leave the ‘Mech.  The Daiyo‘s center torso internal structure was starting to give, and it would not be long before the Elemental smashed his gyro.

Daiyo fired the PPC one last time, killing another trooper, before he reached between his legs and pulled the ejection toggles.

 

The remaining ‘Mechs, once their lance leader began to fall, turned and ran, firing parting shots.

“Hold down, people!” Sgt. Winters shouted, as a couple of the troops attempted to follow.  The blood lust was upon them, and he had to get them back under control.

He was amazed his voice was so strong.  His hands were shaking like leaves, and the only thing he could see was the hatchet arm of one ‘Mech slicing a trooper in half.  A quick count showed twelve of the troops, including the LT, down.  Six were definite deaders.  Two more looked to be serious casualties that would need immediate attention.

Winters sprinted over to where the Lieutenant lay, being attended to by two of his troops.  He could see a very large burn hole where the PPC bolt had hit.  The armor had saved Jackson, but just barely.  At the moment, the medically trained officer of the platoon was breaking open the suit to get to the lieutenant.

Jackson was very much awake.  Winters kneeled down and began blowing excess heat air over the man, trying to keep him warm.  It would suck for him to survive the PPC hit and die from exposure.

It all became a moot point very quickly.  Jackson’s chest heaved one last time, then he died.  Command of a platoon of very scared, very green battlearmor troops had just passed to him Winters.

“All right people, let’s mark the bodies,” Jonathan said, suddenly tired.  The Lieutenant had been a good man, and it somehow hurt Winters to see such a fine young man go.

The platoon moved quickly, breaking out body bags and marking ID’s.  Once this was done, the group opened up the Battlearmor individual units and took out the bodies of their comrades.  Several of the men and women were crying openly inside their armor as they pulled the zippers on friends that had seemed like family.

Winters found it hard to keep his own eyes dry as he placed the LT into the silicon-nylon fiber bag.  The special weave and airtightness of the bag would keep the bodies from decaying.  Winters pulled the pin on top of the bag, arming its location beeper.  A single pulse would be sent out every five minutes, having a range of ten miles.  The pulse could be received by vehicles that had graves and registration assignments.  The radio pulses would not lead enemy units to the position, thank God.

Thoughts of enemy units suddenly made him think of their ferry ship.

“Holy shit!  Police up the wounded, second squad, and fall back to the ferry ship.  Tell them what happened here.  First squad, third squad, and fourth squad, follow me,” Winters said.  He didn’t have to explain where they were going.  The twenty battlesuits that he had ordered to follow him fired their jumpsuits, bounding after him.  They were going to find war.

As Winters was leading his men off, one of the second squadders found Daiyo, lying facedown and unconscious in his seat.  The troopers gently placed him in a wounded carrier, then strapped him to the back of their armor.  The group turned and began dashing back towards the ferry ship.

 

 

Dropship Invincible

 

Captain Eric Potelemy, Federated Commonwealth Space Fleet, wiped his brow and looked at the three Mechwarriors before him.

“So you gentlemen left Lt. Osa to his fate?” he asked finally.

“Sir, we had no other choice.  I have never seen so many Elementals move in coordination like that before.  You may accuse us of cowardice, but I assure you, we would not have made it out alive if we had stayed there and fought.  If the situation was repeated, sir, I would still have ordered the retreat,” Mechwarrior Hanse Mitchell said.

Eric pondered for a moment, thinking.  If what these warriors reported was true, there was a significant Clan presence on this world.  This could make an evacuation very necessary.  All he had aboard his Overlord-class dropship was now thirty-five medium and light ‘Mechs.  Eight of these were of the Komodo and Snake-classes, dedicated anti-Elemental hunters that were next to helpless against enemy ‘Mechs.  Ten of the remaining twenty-seven were light ‘Mechs that probably wouldn’t be much use against an OmniMech assault.  In short, they were about to get their ass kicked off the world if the Clans were there in force.

“Mechwarrior Mitchell, I have three choices at this moment.  Choice one is have you shot for abject cowardice on the battlefield.  Although this choice occurred to me at first, a look at your battle tapes tells me that you were clearly outnumbered and outclassed.  A point of Elementals is easily the equivalent of a ‘Mech, and you were facing eight of them.  You would have done nothing but gotten killed and your ‘Mechs destroyed.  I’m sure if Lieutenant Osa had understood how many toads you were facing he would not have fired upon that first Elemental.

“My second choice is to simply send you back to your ‘Mech.  I don’t think I will do this either.”  Mitchell prepared to protest, his face starting to turn red.

“Calm down, Leftenant Mitchell.  You are now in command of your lance.  I will assign another Komodo, and attach a scout lance to you.

“Your orders are to go find this enemy unit, or its parent garrison.  Do not, repeat, do not engage in combat.  If the enemy finds you, run and report as you come.  I understand our techs have figured out that there is a serious communications problem with this planet at certain intervals, but that shouldn’t be a problem.  In thirty-six hours, four more dropships are arriving.  They carry one hundred and forty-four ‘Mechs in their bellies.  I do not want to be the man responsible for them getting ambushed by the Clans, understood?”

“Sir, yes sir.”

“Proceed, Leftenant.”

Mitchell and his two compatriots got up and left, headed for the ‘Mech bays.

A door opened to his right.  Major Alan McWaters stepped through the door, saluting.  McWaters, a fellow Fed-Com officer, pulled up a chair.

“Alan, I think you need to extend the perimeter by about two kilometers after those eight ‘Mechs leave.  I don’t feel like getting surprised today.  Those pilots not on perimeter duty should be in yellow alert status, flight suits at the ready.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I hope we don’t find anything on this godforsaken world.  It’s not the place I want to die.”

 

Winters gently raised the periscope attachment on the back of his armor.  The Battlearmor troops were first and foremost scouts, and their suits were well equipped for the work.  At the moment, Jonathan and company were sited two miles away from the landing site.

Jonathan fought hard to keep a sick sense of fear from rising in his stomach.  At first he had thought these phantom invaders might simply be pirates who had modified a few agricultural machines and then wreaked havoc upon the surrounding area.  As pirates, they would be easy to chase down and destroy.  Winters and the group behind him, now that they knew what they were facing, could’ve probably done the job.

Now, looking through the periscope, he knew that they were actually facing an alien race.  A huge ferry ship lay grounded, surrounded by vehicles, ‘Mechs, and men.  He could count eight weapons ports on his side alone.  This was looking nastier by the moment.  Winters began recording, his battle camera getting number of ‘Mechs, their IDs, and a threat analysis of their weaponry.

“Sir, movement at our three o’clock,” one of his troopers said calmly.

Winters turned slowly to look, trying to avoid setting off a motion detector.  What he saw chilled him even further.

Eight ‘Mechs, three of them obviously survivors of the earlier fray, were heading back towards the battlesite.  A pair of hovervehicles carrying infantry followed.

“It’s time for us to leave, ladies and gentlemen,” Winters said.  “Sergeant Wreks, take your squad south.  Corporal Lewis, take yours west.  Fourth squad follow me.”

The battle group moved per his orders, going slowly.  The enemy unit soon moved out of sight in the blinding snow, but Winters could still track it on his IR screen.  This meant they were still quite capable of seeing him.

“Squad four, we’re going to trail these people,” he said.

The look of horror was unanimous among the members of the unit.  Most of them had only one SRM volley left, meaning they might, just might, be able to take out one ‘Mech between them.  Their small lasers that they carried in their right arms would do nothing but piss a ‘Mech off unless they swarmed it.  To trail this unit was apparent suicide.

“I know, I know, it appears crazy.  But folks, we’re now in a shooting war that we didn’t start.  We’ve got to track these folks and keep reporting in, or else the crew of the  is going to get surprised.  I dispersed the other two squads because we had too large of a force.  I’m not looking forward to it, and I’m just as scared as you guys.  Unfortunately, it’s gotta be done,” Winters said.

 

                           Chapter 2

The ferry ship Invincible was name ship for an entire class of OSDF ferry ships.  Heavily armed and armored, she was capable of landing two companies of Battlemechs with an air support arm of ten fighters.  Her multiple racks of missiles, banks of lasers, and volleys of autocannons could clear a hostile landing zone quickly.  The advanced habitation and communications suite that she was provided with made her a very capable task force leader/command post.  Trips aboard this ship were very comfortable, and she was a popular vessel.

At the moment, she was carrying a skeleton crew.  Her fighters were off on excercise, and the two companies usually assigned to her were back on the planet of Valhalla.  Actually, this was not much of a problem.  This had been strictly an exploration of the asteroid that had impacted on Dragoon.  Four ‘Mechs and their pilots had simply been brought along just in case there had to be some lifting or manual work done.

Captain Wendell Korper turned and looked out over the grey expanse of Dragoon.  At the moment they were not in the middle of a blizzard for once.  The light of Valhalla’s primary, Viscerus, was reflecting harshly off the snow.  Korper was glad for the light-dampening shades of his cockpit glass.

He was the pilot of a Battle Orion Defense Manafacturing Systems (BDMS)-1 Gunslinger Mk III.  The 100-ton ‘Mech was the workhorse of the Battle Orion Defense Forces, having a good balance of electronics, fire control, and targeting systems.  The Gunslinger was the epitome of combined arms philosophy, able to attack a target on its own, jam an enemy’s fire systems, or call in artillery support with its targeting systems.  Korper, who hadn’t originally been assigned to the Gunslinger-class, had come to appreciate his ‘Mech.

“This place is actually pretty when it stops snowing,” came the quiet voice of Lieutenant Irene Cage.  She was his wingman, and had strode out of the Invincible along with him.  Her Ninja-class ‘Mech was the cutter and slasher of the OSDF, able to use its mobility to quickly close with an opponent.  Its armament also suited it well to the long range killing of opposing ‘Mechs, preferably from ambush.  Matching it with a Gunslinger made a very capable killing team for ambush or the long-range assault.

“Yeah, but I wouldn’t want to live here.  I hate cold weather.”

“You’re a pansy, Wendall.  It’s not that cold, especially in a ‘Mech.”

“Oh shut up.  Just because you come from the Helsinki system, where the temperature is perpetually eighty below, doesn’t mean we normal people are used to it,” Wendall replied.

“I still think you’re a pansy.”

Wendall was about to retort when he saw the first members of the 1st Platoon.

“Holy shit!  Battlearmor, coming in!  They’re missing a few!” Wendall said.  He could see the battlesuits had been in action, seeing the burn marks from where their SRMs had left the racks.  A couple of the suits had wounded on their backs.

“This is Echo One to Tin Man.  You’ve got eight battlesuits coming in with casualties and they look as if they’ve been in fight.  You might want to get the medics up and ready,” Wendall said, looking over the incoming troops.

“This is Bandito Two to Tin Man.  Large enemy force, repeat large enemy force inbound your position.  Appear to have been tracking Bandito elements.  Force is eight ‘Mechs and seven vehicles strong.  ‘Mechs are in the light scout class, but numbers could be a problem to Echo elements.  Vehicles appear to be mostly infantry carriers, but there are two missile vehicles.  Will attempt to delay enemy force.”

Bandito Two?  Where the hell is Frank? Wendall thought.

“Bandito Two, what is the state of Bandito One?” another voice, that of Major Paul Roderick, asked.

“Bandito One is Kilo India Alpha.  Current position is strobing on all Golf and Romeo elements.  Would suggest lifting off as soon as remainder of Bandito Force makes it to ferry ship.  Enemy has ferry ship on ground.  Will transmit all pertinent data over data link before attacking.”

“Roger that, Bandito Two.  Data links open.”

“Two transmitting now.”

 

Jonathan depressed the transmit button and relaxed into the harness of his suit, fatigued.  They had been in almost constant movement for the last two hours, pursuing the ‘Mech and vehicle force at a long distance.  The ‘Mechs had a great speed advantage on the battlesuits, and had been drawing away before they stopped at the battlesite.  Now the men of Fourth Squad had a chance to kill a ‘Mech and delay the enemy force.

Winters had already chosen their prey.  The ‘Mech appeared to be a walking gun platform, a large bore weapon extending from its  right torso.  Winters armed his SRMs, the last volley drifting into the racks.  He then charged his small laser.

The other eight battlesuited warriors followed suit.

 

“Sir, we have found seven body bags,” one of the infantryman reported.

“Any identification?” Hanse asked over his external speakers.

“Yes, sir.  These men have what appear to be encrypto tabs on necklaces around their necks.  These have no instructions or external messages, but we are policing them anyway.  Sir, these men do not appear to have been Clan.  They are not the size of normal Clan Elemental pilots, but their suits appear to be even more advanced than those of the Clans.”

Hanse pondered this for a moment.  He had been born after the Clan invasions and had never faced one of these units.  The infantryman speaking to him was an expert in the Clans, having fought them in numerous raids and skirmishes that had been given no real names.  If he said these soldiers were not Clan, they more than likely were not.  The final verdict would have to wait until the arrival of the Draconis Combine heavy ‘Mech units.  These warriors had had several close brushes with the Clans, most of them recent.  A few of them had commandeered Clan ‘Mechs even.  Hanse hoped that they didn’t run into any Clan ‘Mechs for their sakes.  Any of the warriors on this expedition would likely shoot first and ask questions later in the heat of battle.

“Do you have any idea where the enemy units went?”

“Their tracks lead in two directions, sir.  One is north, the direction we just came.  The other is south, away from the dropship, sir.  This appears to be the location of the enemy base,” the infantryman said.

Hanse really had to stop at this moment.  This sounded like an opportunity for him to gain greater glory.  If they found the enemy’s base or a dropship that was acting like one, they could get more ‘Mechs to come up.  With a few more medium ‘Mechs, Hanse and company could probably cripple the enemy vessel while it was on the ground.  If it was crippled, the Invincible could probably proceed to make a strafing run and do severe damage to the ship, neutralizing it on the ground.

Hanse would be hailed as a hero.

All of this ran through his mind in a single moment.  Just as he was about to give the order for his unit to pack it up and prepare to move, they were under attack.

 

Winters leaped through the air over the rise, his jump jets carrying him through a sharp arc.  The instant his feet hit he fired the small laser at his target.

The bolt carried high over the ‘Mechs head.  The pilot sidestepped sharply, running away from the attacking squad.  He obviously did not intend to fire his main weapon on Winters and his battlesuit.

Someone else obviously did not feel the same.  A medium laser flashed into his armor, some of the intense energy carrying through to him.  He fought down the urge to vomit, the pulse making him nauseous.  Once again, he fired his jump jets.  Two more medium lasers hit where he had been standing.  Waters turned towards the enemy ‘Mech, arming his SRMs.  The moment his feet impacted, he fired, then fired his small laser a split second later.

The enemy ‘Mech had triggered its medium lasers at just that moment.  Winters was kicked backwards, landing hard on his back.  The impact knocked him unconscious.

 

The impact of two SRMs staggered the Scarabus, and Hanse turned from watching a Komodo dispatch another Elemental.  One of the armor suits had attacked him from behind, and was about to pay the price.  The enemy trooper fired a desperation shot from its small laser.  The shot hit the ‘Mech in the hatchet arm, doing a slight amount of damage.  Hanse stepped forward just as the enemy trooper fired his jump jets.

With a catlike maneuver he swept his hatchet arm to intersect the enemy trooper.  The hatchet sliced through a leg, the limb tumbling back down to the ground.  Blood spurted onto the crystalline ground, as the suit tumbled crazily away and hit the ground, tumbling.

“Gotcha,” Hanse said quietly, turning to oversee his command.

The infantrymen were policing up the area, approaching the two suits that had any chance of their pilots having survived.  They pulled one slightly wounded, unconscious trooper out of his suit.  The pilot had caused moderate damage to a Komodo with his sharpshooting, but had been caught by that ‘Mechs massed laser fire.

Hanse considered ordering the man killed out of hand.  Elementals were the most despised of Clan troops, having wreaked great havoc among Inner Sphere forces during the Invasion.  Some of the infantry hands had been in units that had suffered heavily from these attackers.  The Elementals had not been gentle with normal infantry that they had encountered, often killing hand-to-hand for the sheer joy of it.

The orders were on his lips until they pulled the man out.  He was a small man, looking about average height.

“Do not harm him, Sergeant,” he barked over his external speakers.

“Yes sir,” came the clipped reply.  The man’s brother had been ripped limb from limb by an Elemental.  He had a personal score to settle with the genetically engineered soldiers.  If the man had appeared to be a true Elemental, Hanse would’ve let him satisfy his bloodlust.  However, he felt that it would not be wise to do so at this time.  They needed information, and this was the first live prisoner they had.  The second trooper they had pulled out, however, could die.

“Do what you will with her, Sergeant,” Hanse said simply.

The woman’s screams began to echo in his external speakers.

 

The wind was starting to kick up again.  Wendall was incredibly unhappy, thinking of the death of his friend as he looked at the battlevids one of the troopers had brought in.

“They didn’t even give him a chance,” Wendall said darkly.  His friend had simply been ordering a challenge to someone invading OSDF space.  That was within the rights of any sovereign planet or representative of such a planet.  There had been no reason to shoot him with the PPC.

“Don’t worry, sir.  We’ve got the bastard who did it,” one of the troopers said.  Wendall got ready to turn and head for the brig, hand resting on his pistol.

“Freeze Wendall!” Irene said, stepping in front of him.

“Out of my way,” Wendall growled.

“I’m not about to let you get put away for life, dammit!  You know that that is against OSDF regulations,” Irene said.

Wendall stopped, Irene’s words catching him.  OSDF Regulations, Code 17, Section 14, “The Treatment of Prisoners”, expressedely forbid the abuse or mistreatment of an enemy or mutinious individual.  Wendall could not touch the man without facing a life sentence and total stripping of his rank in court-martial.  Especially with this being an unknown alien race.

“I just want to talk to him,” Wendall said.

“You’ll leave your damn pistol here, Wendall Korper,” Irene barked.

The look on Wendall’s face told Irene that she was pressing too close.

“I remind you of your rank, Lieutenant Cage,” Wendall replied.

“Sir, yes sir,” Irene bit off the words.

Wendall took off his weapons belt and dropped it on the table, then strode off into the ferry ship’s belly, headed for the brig.

 

Daiyo came to with an IV dripping into his arm.  He fought the urge to yawn, knowing he was probably under observation.  The sound of someone breathing convinced him that this was true.

“Captain Korper, he is conscious now,” a silky female voice said.

Daiyo steeled himself.  Clanners were notorious for being good interrogators.  If he began to experience too much pain he would bite off his tongue.  That would end all interrogation.

Daiyo opened his eyes, expecting to be restrained.  found that he could move his hands, and even move his body.  He sat up, looking into the piercing blue eyes of a man sitting across from him.

“Who are you?” the man asked simply.

“I am Lieutenant Daiyo Osa, Draconis Combine, Fifth Battalion, Twelfth Ghost Regiment.”

“That tells me nothing,” the man said simply, his eyes still boring into Daiyo’s.

“Are you Clan?” Daiyo asked.

Wendall began to feel confused.

“What are you talking about?!” Wendall asked.

“Clan.  Which Clan do you belong to?  Who is your ilKhan?”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Wendall asked.

“Are you not Clan?” Daiyo asked.

“What are these damn Clans you keep talking about?  What the hell is the Draconis combine?” Wendall asked.

“The House of Kurita?  You mean that you have not heard of the Battle of Luthien?  Once again, what Clan are you?”

“I believe I will ask the questions here, Lieutenant Osa,” Wendall said sharply.

“I do not intend to answer anything else, uh, whatever your name is…”

“It is Captain Korper, Lieutenant Osa.  The battlearmored trooper you killed this morning was my friend.  Now, I have no idea who you are, what these Clans are, or who House Kurita is, but you will most definitely tell me why you killed my friend when you were violating Battle Orion space,” Wendall said archly.

“I have no idea what this Battle Orion space is, but my unit is claiming this planet and the other two planets in this system for House Kurita.  If you wish to surrender, you may any time,” Daiyo said.

Wendall was struck by this man’s arrogance.  He tightened up his hands as they were in his lap, cracking his knuckles.

“Okay asshole, let me inform you of something.  First, you are in Battle Orion space.  Battle Orion is the home planet of the Orion Self-Defense Force, or OSDF.  Our duty and job is to protect the borders of the Republic and carry out exploratory missions beyond these borders.  Second, we did not start this conflict or invade one of your planets.  We simply were acting in defense of our star system.

“Third, unless you brought a hellacious amount of ‘Mechs with you, you’re going to die.”  Wendall lifted up his collar tabs, pushing them up towards Daiyo.

A screaming skull on a red background was mounted under the Velcro tab.  A black triangle outlined the skull, with the insignia “Fuck With The Best-Die Like The Rest”.

“It’s a simple uniform tab.  I have one of those on my uniform also,” Daiyo said, pointing to his shoulder.

“You don’t understand.  That is the insignia of Legion No. 4, First OSDF Army.  Dark Legion is our unit’s name.”

“I don’t think you understand, my friend.  More than two regiments of ‘Mechs are dropping down to this planet in less than a day and a half.  Another regiment of assault class ‘Mechs will follow in another day.  You cannot hope to stand before this assault, my friend,” Daiyo said cockily.

Wendall began laughing hysterically.  He was consumed in belly laughs, convulsing on the chair.

“This force will destroy your pitiful legion, my friend,” Daiyo replied.

“Oh that’s good, buddy.  You’re a regular comedian,” Wendall said, smiling.

“Three regiments, all heavy, is not a force to be laughed at.  Obviously you have not faced the might of the Dragon,” Daiyo said.

“You really don’t know who you’re dealing with, do you?” Wendall asked.  “Three regiments is not even a brigade.  Dark Legion is composed of sixty-four regiments.  We are the best of the OSDF, for we are at the cutting edge of exploratory missions.  Even if you managed to smash through this little group here on Dragoon and Valhalla, then you would be crushed by the 121st Assault Brigade.  We will smash you, then go back down your trail with the entire Legion.  We will find your planet, raze it to the ground, and kill your entire population.  And if a Legion can’t do it, we’ll call in the entire First Army.  An Army is made up of four legions.  That’s two hundred and fifty-six regiments, asshole.  We can crush you entirely if need be.  If you wish to put you head in the hornet’s nest, that’s fine.”

“This is a pretty good lie, Captain Korper.  I must congratulate you on your great imagination.”

“You were warned, my friend,” Korper said simply.

It was at this moment that the alarm began screaming, riging in its stridency.

“See you in Hell, then,” Daiyo replied, leaping to his feet and taking off running.  Daiyo briefly considered tripping him, but thought better of it.  With rescue obviously so close there was no reason to try and get himself killed.

 

Irene was buckling into her boarding bucket when Wendall came into the ‘Mech bays.  She looked worried, her face lined in a frown.

The other two members of their platoon were sprinting for their own ‘Mechs, rubbing sleep out of their eyes.  The two had been exchanging shifts with Irene and Wendall.  Wendall hoped that the two had enjoyed their four hours of sleep.  He buckled into his own seat, riding up into the Gunslinger.  He sat down into his heavily padded seat, pulling his straps over.  The ‘Mech powered up immediately, sensing his weight.  He felt the electromagnetic rail gun in his right torso being loaded and his two lasers being loaded.  The IR-guided missiles mounted on the outside of his right arm came online, the sensors going active.   Finally, his fire control system, a Boomerang Mk. 23, came alive.  This was the most advanced of the OSDF’s targeting systems, allowing the destruction of individual limbs on an enemy Battlemech.  Even if this option was not used, the computer gave a general advantage to a ‘Mechwarrior at long ranges when matched with the fighting radar.

“This is Echo Leader, coming online now,” he said into his comlink.

“Roger that Echo Leader.  We’ve got multiple hostile paints coming in from all four quadrants.  Computer’s getting a count right now, but we’ve got more on the way.  Range to nearest contacts are eight miles,” the voice of the Invincible‘s controller came over his comline.

“That’s a big check, Tin Man,” Wendall said.

“Get a move on, Mr. Korper.  The contacts are massing for attack now,” the controller said.

“Roger that.  Okay Fourth Platoon, let’s get a move on,” Wendall said, rumbling towards the open door.

“We’ve got thirty contacts, twenty-four ‘Mechs, six vehicles, Echo Leader,” Korper said.

“Roger that,” Wendall said.

A different voice came on the phone.  “This is Captain Lukes, Captain Korper.  We’re not ready to lift off.  We need at least thirty minutes to secure everything, Captain.  We’ll need another ten to secure your ‘Mechs.  Get out there and do some damage, Korper.  The heaviest enemy ‘Mech appears to be fifty-five tons, but they’ve got six to one odds,” Lukes said.

“Ain’t life a bitch,” Wendall muttered to himself, moving his ‘Mech towards the weapons door.  The measured tread of his feet vibrated gently through the ‘Mech.  The Gunslinger was ready to go to war.  Wendall was amazed that there was no fear in his heart.  He simply had a grim purpose.

 

Irene was frightened.  Her hands shook terribly on the controls as they advanced from the ferry ship’s hull.  She kept her eyes on Wendall’s ‘Mech, trying to gain her concentration.  It seemed that her ‘Mech was getting bad vibes off of her, moving with trepidation.

“Let’s get ready to rumble, folks.  Tallyho, twelve o’clock.  Range is five klicks,” Wendall said.

“I’ve got more contacts, three o’clock, range six klicks,” the second section leader, 1st Lieutenant Petros Moral, said.  His quad-legged Arachnid Mk III ran over the cold wastes, the weapons fit being mostly long-ranged.  His wingmate was piloting the deadliest ‘Mech out of the group, a BDMS-2 Samurai.  This ‘Mech was well respected, having the best combination of speed, protection, and firepower, provided it was used correctly.  However, should a pilot fire every one of the heavy weapons in his arsenal he would find himself swiftly overheated.  The pilot, Julie Thornburg, was quite competent, having graduated first in her class and been given one of the deadly Samurai‘s as her reward.

“Alright folks, odds are six-to-one but they’ve got only half our weight.  Each of you take a quadrant!” Wendall barked.

“Roger,” Irene choked out, running to the south.  Julie turned and dashed to the west, her Samurai‘s full military throttle kicking in.  It could run at double its walking speed for a few minutes before its legs would freeze, but those few minutes could make the range close incredibly quick.  Thornburg was jumping in with both feet and a roundhouse swing.

The six ‘Mechs advancing towards her were the heaviest of the attacking ‘Mechs.  Two of them were 55-tonners and three were 45-tons.  It was a fair match,  Julie and her 100-tonner able to deal heavy death.

 

The advancing ‘Mech was closing at high speed.  Hanse turned to the other five ‘Mechs in his lance.

“Torez, Morikos, Lakes, your kill,” Hanse said.

“Sir, that beast is at least one hundred tons!” Torez shouted back.

“Have fun,” Hanse replied, leading the 55-ton Shadow Hawk IIC behind him to their left.  The commandeered Clan ‘Mech was a key to his plan with its amazing ability to close with a certain position.  The pilot inside began running, making himself a very hard target over the clear ground.

The enemy ‘Mechwarrior turned and began to go after the Shadow Hawk.  Torez, piloting a APL-1M Apollo, stopped and targeted the oncoming ‘Mech.  The Artemis IV system inside either ‘Mech’s torso achieved lock on the enemy ‘Mech, and he depressed the trigger.  Thirty missiles arced from the torsos, headed downrange towards the enemy ‘Mech.  The three other ‘Mechs, two Komodo‘s and a Stealth, had to close to close range to kill the enemy ‘Mech.

The enemy ‘Mech twisted to the side, trying to avoid the missile fire.  Unfortunately, the ‘Mech could not get rid of the Artemis lock.  Twenty-seven of the missiles thundered into the massive ‘Mech, staggering the behemoth.  The enemy pilot stopped and brought up its left arm, pointing it at the Apollo.  The pilot triggered his weapons, three bolts zipping downrange and hitting the ‘Mech dead center.  Hanse had recognized two of them as PPC bolts.  He shuddered at the range they had been fired upon.

The Apollo was shattered by the damage, its internal skeleton showing.  This was just briefly though, as the last weapon, a large laser, shot into the internal structure of the Apollo.  The laser found the engine, shattering it.  The ‘Mech pitched forward, smoking heavily.  It thundered face down with a heavy thud.  The shielding to the engine suddenly gave way, exploding through the ‘Mech.  Torez did not get out.

 

Julie felt the heat starting to rise in her ‘Mech and made sure that she did not fire the heavy energy bombardment once more.  She then brought up her right arm to engage the closing medium ‘Mechs.  She was being diverted from the other two enemy ‘Mechs, but that was of no matter.  The ferry ship’s guns could handle the attacking ‘Mechs.  She was doing her best to finish off these enemies.

The missiles had simply chipped away armor on her arms and torso.  She brought up the U-AC-20, pointing it at the first enemy ‘Mech.

The Stealth was closing at 152 kph, firing all of its weapons.  Julie waited until the ‘Mech was swelling in her windscreen, its fire starting to impact all over her ‘Mech.  The enemy pilot was cocking back and getting ready to deliver a punch when she fired the huge autocannon at double rate.

The stream of tungsten-carbide shells hit the ‘Mech dead in its cockpit.  The stream went clear through the enemy ‘Mech’s cockpit, blowing its head completely off.

The carcass slammed into her ‘Mech, knocking it backwards.  Julie immediately knew she had held her fire way too long, as she stumbled backwards and landed flat on her back.

The damage board began screaming warnings on her.  She had lost a pair of heat sinks and the majority of her rear armor.  The ‘Mech was hard hit, but not mortally damaged.

The first Komodo suddenly came flying through the smoke and snow she had stirred up.  The ‘Mech slammed into him hard, smashing her chest armor to pieces and driving her to the ground.  The ‘Mech stumbled over her and landed face down.

Julie was first to her feet, the Samurai having great responses and control.  She ignored the ‘Mech on the ground behind her, bringing up her autocannon to fire at the other ‘Mech’s teammate.  The stream of shells caught the charging Komodo high in its left torso.  The ‘Mech’s left arm fell to its side, as the torso crumbled.  The massive amount of damage left the ‘Mech stumbling backwards.

The impact of multiple medium lasers into her back through her forward.

“Shit!” Julie shouted, looking at her damage schematics.  There were just too many of the enemy ‘Mechs.  Her extended-range laser and part of her engine had been hard hit.  She could no longer fire the twin PPC’s in her arm due to the high heat.

She turned, taking the second volley from the Komodo into her chest.  The enemy pilot suddenly realized that he was taking on more than he could handle, and fired the jump jets.  The medium ‘Mech sprung away from her, firing back for its own defense.

Julie tracked slowly with her PPC’s and fired one.  The bolt caught the ‘Mech at the apex of its climb, knocking it off balance.  It hit hard, tumbling and shearing it’s arm off.

Some sixth sense made her duck her ‘Mech and turn.  The volley of laser shots went over her head, missing close.

“I’m sick of your ass,” Julie said, firing her jump jets just as they enemy ‘Mech fired again.  The Komodo pilot’s shock was evident as he did not move out of her way.

The Samurai had been designed to be the most mobile and deadly ‘Mech in any phase of combat.  Its physical attack capabilities were enormous, its size and maneuverability giving it the ability to match smaller ‘Mechs.  The favored attack of all Samurai pilots was the “Leap o’ Death”.  When first conceived, the ‘Mech’s designers had realized that this would probably occur.  Its arms were designed to automatically go up vertically to protect the weapons mounted there if a pilot decided to use such an attack.

The sight of a 100-ton beast falling from the skies was the last thing the enemy ‘Mech pilot saw.  Her kinetic energy smashed the ‘Mech’s forward thrusting head up and back, and she smashed the enemy war machine to the ground, controlling her fall so she landed atop it.

The impact threw her hard against the straps, bruising her.  The computer screamed out dire warnings, telling her that the ‘Mech could not take much more abuse such as this.

“Just give me a few more seconds,” Julie said, and smashed her fist forward into the enemy torso.  Her steel clad hand smashed through and grabbed the enemy’s gyro, shredding it.  Even if her first impact hadn’t killed the pilot, this final act had disabled the ‘Mech.

Julie turned to face the other enemy ‘Mech.  Its leap had taken it out of its weapons’ range, and now it was trying to rush back to take her in the rear.  Unfortunately Julie had enough time to turn and bring up her autocannon.

The massive weapon spoke for the last time.  The storm of shells obviously hit something major, for the ‘Mech exploded violently in a thousand pieces.

“That was impressive,” Julie said coldly, standing to her feet.  The jump into the enemy ‘Mech had seriously damaged one of her leg structures.  She could walk, but not run.

 

Wendall felt the four electromagnetic rail gun shots slam into his ‘Mech.  The damn light ‘Mechs were packing very large weapons for their weight.  The mounting gave them the appearance of running rail guns.  His ‘Mech’s armor was already reduced, and he saw incoming missiles launched from an infantry vehicle.

“That’ll be enough of this shit,” Wendall said, picking his first target.  He had let the enemy fire first to close the range and be sure of his targets.  Now he was ready to fire.

His large pulse laser lashed out first, hitting one of the running rail guns dead center in its torso.  Wendall watched as the thing’s armor seemed to melt away, leaving its skeletal internal structure exposed.  Wendall mashed down on the trigger for his extended range medium lasers just as the enemy pilot fired his rail gun.

The slug passed close by his cockpit as his laser bolt pierced the enemy ‘Mech through.  The bipedal war machine went face down hard, coming to a dead stop.

Wendall turned to face its charging platoon mates, his own rail gun coming online.  The agile ‘Mechs suddenly changed direction, scattering.  Wendall focused on the one closest to his own ‘Mech, swiveling his torso to fire as he began advancing at a steady walk.  The firing control computer began assimilating information and probable paths, then highlighted the one most likely to be taken.  It began tracking along this line, cueing him to fire.

The rail gun spoke once.  The depleted uranium slug sped downrange and smashed into the enemy ‘Mech, hitting it hard in its right side.  The capacitators to the rail gun exploded, completing the destruction of the ‘Mech’s right side.  The massive damage blew it over on its back, out of the fight.

The other two light ‘Mechs stopped and fired, their rail guns hitting him low on the left side.  Wendall turned towards the two ‘Mechs, and was about to fire when a fusillade fire hit him.  Two laser bolts and a rail gun slug savaged his right arm.  The computer showed serious damage to this area, the limb being partially severed.  He could still use it, but not that well.  He was fortunate that no major weapons were mounted there.

Wendall turned to see a ‘Mech that looked like it had a war bonnet atop its head.  This ‘Mech was obviously a greater threat than the two light ‘Mechs with the rail guns.  He would not be able to fight all of them at the same time.  It was time to get moving.

Wendall reached down and slapped the ‘Mech into full military power, the legs starting to pump at a faster rate as he turned towards the enemy ‘Mech.  Two rail gun slugs passed close by, as the two ‘Mechs behind him tried to hit him in the back.  Wendall knew it would take them a few moments to get turned and begin pursuing him.

He had forgot about the vehicles.

As the twenty LRMs slammed into his back, his memory was jogged.  The damage was enormous, his reactor starting to overload.  The computer fired him out of his cockpit, arcing him through the cold sky.

I hate cold weather, was his last thought before he was knocked unconscious.

The Gunslinger exploded, its death throes lighting up the dusk sky.

 

The pilot of the ‘Mech that had hit him with the double punch of Gauss rifle and ER large laser smiled as he brought his communicator up to his lips.

“Sir, we have another prisoner,” he said simply.

“Roger that,” Captain Potelemy replied.  He was riding in his command vehicle ten kilometers from the scene of the action.  “Do not hurt him.  He may prove..”

The planet’s weird electromagnetic field had cut off the last of the transmission.  The important part, however, had gotten through.  The ‘Mechwarrior signalled the infantry troops not to hurt the enemy pilot.  He then turned his Huron Warrior towards the enemy dropship’s last position.  Smoke was rising from that position, and he hoped that meant their assault had accomplished its mission.

 

Invincible

 

Those members of Echo Platoon that wre still in one piece fell back in order towards the dropship just as Wendall was going down.  The group had killed fifteen of the small enemy ‘Mechs between them, their clear firepower advantage having told in spades.  A fifteen to one kill ratio wasn’t bad at all.

Irene fought hard to keep the tears out of her eyes.  Wendall’s ejection transceiver had not been picked up.  This could mean several things.  More than likely it meant he had not punched out before the enemy vehicle had killed him.  As she walked her battle scarred Ninja into the ferry ship, firing a parting shot out the door, she tried hard not to think about what Korper had meant to her.

A shadow suddenly blocked out the sun.  An enemy ‘Mech had managed to jump through the sleeting fire Invincible was putting out and land in front of her ‘Mech door.  The enemy pilot was hoping to get an internal hit, shooting through the door and hitting something major.  Unfortunately for him he had jumped right into Irene’s crosshairs.

Three lasers flashed in unison, hitting the Shadow Hawk IIC dead center in its chest, blasting it backwards.  Just as the enemy ‘Mech was trying to scramble to its feet, Irene’s ‘Mech door shut.

Irene backed her ‘Mech into its transporting cradle, hearing and feeling the ferry ship’s guns thundering on.  She picked up her comset, clicking it on.

“Echo Two…”  She fought down a sob.  “Echo Two secured,” she said finally.

“Roger that.  Liftoff in two minutes,” the controller replied.

 

Hanse looked at the prone Shadow Hawk IIC and the dropship starting to shudder and knew they were going to lose the ‘Mech.

“Get out of there, Gary!” he shouted over the com.  As if he heard him, the ‘Mech started to rise and turn to jump.

A pair of weapon’s mounts swivelled to track the ‘Mech.  A large autocannon began its buzzsaw song, catching the ‘Mech in the back.  When Hanse saw the stream of autocannon shells exiting out the other side of the ‘Mech, he knew it was over.  The explosion of the ‘Mech was lost in the flames and fire of the enemy dropship taking off.

The ship rumbled into the sky and headed into the leaden sky.

“Dammit!” Hanse said, pounding his control panel.  The ship was rapidly lost in the low hanging clouds.  The enemy had escaped!

 

Invincible

“Okay folks, we’re out of boost stage,” Captain Lukes voice came over the com.  “All officers meet in the ready room.”

Irene popped her cockpit tab.  This automatically released a rope ladder, and she headed down it, disdaining the boarding bucket.

Julie was waiting for her at the bottom of the ‘Mech, tears also in her eyes.  Wendall had been a friend to them both, a good company commander.  The two hugged each other, consoling.

Petros came over and hugged them both to his huge chest.  He was speechless.  Just six hours before, they had all been one happy lance that had volunteered to go to Dragoon and were just then making planetfall.  Now they were minus one member, the pilot still on the planet dead or seriously wounded.  It was the first incident of combat in over twenty-five years for the OSDF.  That had been a minor pirate outbreak.  This appeared to be an alien invasion.

“We’ve got to go,” Petros said.

“Yeah, he’s right,” Julie said, letting Moral go.

The ready room was a grim place.  Gunnery Sergeant Chris Potter, acting commander of the First Platoon, looked like he was still somewhat in shock.  More than half of the Platoon were either casualties or missing.  Master Sergeant Winters had never called again.  They had left their dead to the enemy’s mercy.  His unit had only managed to kill one ‘Mech in exchange for all of this.  It was truly a bad day for the infantry corps.

Captain Lukes looked over his battle scarred troops as he walked into the room.  He had just finished setting the ferry ship on course for the system capital of Valhalla and was preparing to put the Invincible into two times the force of gravity to get there.  The officers were first going to meet and discuss what had just happened.

Lukes sat down at the head of the table.  He had not served during the pirate outbreak, being assigned to a different sector.  Lukes had never had to face speaking to troops had suffered the loss of friends in combat.  This was as new and frightening experience to him as it was the young men and women grouped before him.

Of course, Lukes had never let something like that stop him before.  His general philosophy was to seize a bull by the horns and not let go.

“Ladies and gentlmen, it may not feel like it, but we’ve won the first round,” he said shortly, keeping his voice level.  “In exchange for one ‘Mech and twenty troops, we destroyed sixteen enemy ‘Mechs and three vehicles.  I know that sounds like I’m a coldhearted bastard, but we have won an important victory.”

“Pardon me, sir, but that’s not going to bring a single one of our friends back,” Petros said simply.

“Belay that, Moral!” Major Roderick barked.

“Sir, yes sir,” Petros said, his voice having not changed a bit.

“Sir, what are we going to do now?  Are we going to go back?  Are we going to call for help from the rest of the Legion?  Or are we going to wait for the enemy to screw up and land on Valhalla?” Julie asked Roderick, giving Petros a glance that told him to hold his tongue.

“I think we’re going to do two of those things.  Those two are calling for reinforcements, at least a brigade, and waiting on Valhalla.  I understand that you want to go back and attempt to find Captain Korper, but unfortunately that just isn’t viable now.  The ferry ship was moderately damaged just by that small number of ‘Mechs, and we can’t afford to run the risk of getting damaged beyond repair by any forces the enemy may have on Dragoon.  We know that they have a fairly large dropship thanks to the battlevids of Sergeant Winters.  I don’t know what they’re carrying, but let’s not take any chances.  I’d feel alot better with the remainder of the 121st Garrison Battalion behind me,” Roderick said.

“I hear that,” Lukes replied.

The members of Echo Lance were obviously not happy with this decision, but kept their mouths shut.

 

Mogami

 

Wendall awoke with a gasp of pain, screaming.  Someone had jostled his arm, shaking the broken limb.  The pain was like a white dagger through his pleasant, unconscious state.

“He is awake now, sir,” a voice said with laughter in it.  Wendall snapped his head towards the voice, seeing a laughing technician.  Wendall realized swiftly that his arm had been jostled in order to shock him back into consciousness, not accidentally.  Right behind this brainstorm came the fact that he was not lying in Irene’s arms like he had been fantasizing about, but was stuck inside an enemy ferry ship.  Finally, it occurred that he should try to escape.

All of this happened in a millisecond.  In the next, he was popping up and swinging with his good hand.

The shock of a stunner slammed him back onto the cot.  Wendall bit back his scream, vowing death to the man in front of him.

“I was hoping I would not have to stun you, ‘Mechwarrior, but you obviously do not know how to make yourself a good houseguest,” the technician said.

“You men are jackals!” Wendall shouted.  At the moment his diaphragm was all that was responding.

“Ah, but we are the jackals who have you in our clutches, Clanner,” the tech replied.

The glow in Wendall’s eyes was very, very apparent.

“I don’t know what in the hell a damn Clanner is, but I am not one!  Now let me see one of your superior officers, asshole, and we can talk about this!” Wendall shouted.

The tech looked at him strangely, then scurried out of the room.  Wendall looked up towards the ceiling, wondering at what his fate was about to be and trying to ignore the nagging pain in his arm.

A few minutes later a large, blonde-haired man came striding into the room.  His steel gray eyes met Wendall’s blue ones.  He did not extend his hand or give a greeting.  He simply said, “Follow,” and turned towards the exit to the interrogation room.

As Wendall was leaving he happened to glance over at another table.  A man was jerking under the influence of electricity.  He seemed familiar somehow.

Then it hit him.

“Sergeant Winters!” Wendall shouted, turning and dashing for the table.

A block of muscle and gristle hit him dead in the back, driving him to the floor.  A pair of hands reached around and grabbed his good arm.

“I would hate to break your good arm, my friend.  Now this time, follow me,” the man atop him said, adding a little bit of pressure.

“To hell with you!” Wendall gritted.  “You’ve treated me like an animal, not a prisoner of war.  You’re torturing one of the men in my command!  Have you no honor?!”

The man holding him suddenly realized he had a leverage.

“We will stop torturing him if you cooperate with us fully and answer all of our questions.  However, if you do not, we will kill him in the most painful manner possible,” the man said.

Wendall realized he had messed up.  Looking over at the screaming, thrashing Winters he realized he had no choice.

“Agreed,” Wendall said.

 

Major McWaters turned to his chief of intelligience.

“Strange, but he does not seem Clan.  If he was, he would be a ‘trueborn’.  And if he was trueborn, he would not be using so many contractions.  I think this man and his subordinate are telling the truth-they are not Clan,” McWaters said.

“I’m afraid I must agree, sir.  They do not seem Clan,” his intelligience said.  The man had been a lance commander in 3050 when the Clans had first arrived.  These men were definitely not exhibiting any of the Clan characteristics.

This is not good, McWaters began thinking.  If these men are not Clan, we may have bitten off more than we can chew.  The last thing the Inner Sphere needs is more enemies.

“We shall see how things go between the captain and our ‘Mechwarrior,” Alan said, switching to another camera.

 

Wendall sat down across from the enemy officer.  He had inferred that the man held real rank when the crew had treated him with great deference as he escorted Wendall through the ship.  A few soldiers they had passed had treated Wendall to hot glares and looks of hatred that assured him of his death if the captain ever let him out of his sight.

Wendall returned these looks with a smile.  These were obviously warriors his platoon had bested or killed friends of in the battle.  Somehow their looks did not bother him that much.

“You are quite cocky, my young friend,” the man he was walking with said.  They came before a compartment, and the door whispered open.  His companion gestured for Wendall to have a seat.

“Looking at the way my platoon conducted itself, I have reason to be.  And before you say I’m cocky, just think about this:  Two of those pilots had less than a year’s service under their belt.  The men and women you will be facing on Valhalla, which I assume you are going to try and occupy, are the cream of the crop.  I admit, with a hundred and forty-four ‘Mechs, you might take the planet, assuming their larger than these tin cans you call ‘Mechs aboard this ship.  But, I assure you, it’s going to be at a cost.  And the population is not going to just sit there,” Wendall said.

“You talk too much, my friend,” the man replied.  “I assume you took Lieutenant Osa prisoner, which is how you found out your information?”

“You’d probably be correct in that assumption,” Wendall replied.

“Hmm.  I guess that means we will have to discipline him when he returns,” the man said.

Wendall looked at the man strangely, than shook his head.

“You don’t understand ‘Mechpilots if you’re going to do that.  If he’s anything like an OSDF pilot, he’s naturally cocky.  And from what I’ve seen, we’re alot alike.”

“What is your name and rank, ‘Mechwarrior?”

“Captain Wendall Korper, Orion Self-Defense Force.”

“And I am Captain Eric Potelemy, Federated-Commonwealth.”

Wendall smiled.  He had thought that this was the enemy ferry ship commander.

“I must protest the treatment of Sergeant Winters and myself.  We have not been treated for our injuries or given the decency and respect an enemy prisoner of war accords.  It is bad enough that you and your men have invaded a sovereign state without provocation.  You did not need to increase your crimes by mistreatment of the prisoners you take.  I demand that you cease torturing Sergeant Winters and give us the treatment that we deserve,” Wendall said.

Eric pondered for a moment.

“It is done.”

Wendall looked shocked at the ease of the decision.

“But on one condition, Captain Korper.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to compromise your comrades by giving me their defensive positions.  No, what I’m going to ask you is much more important than that.  I want to know everything there is to know about your society.  I mean I want to know rulers, protocol, military training, everything.  I don’t want it all at once, for you’ll have plenty of time to tell me everything.  I just want it by the time we finish off Valhalla,” Eric said.

“You have a deal, Captain Potelemy.  But, I assure you, Valhalla will not be the cakewalk you expect,” Wendall said, smiling.

A tone sounded from a speaker mounted in the bulkhead behind Wendall.

“Captain Potelemy?”

“Yes?”

“Sir, the Oi group has arrived,” the intercom buzzed.

“Thank you, Mr. McWaters,” Potelemy said.  “Follow me, Captain Korper.  You’re about to see just why Valhalla will be a cakewalk,” Eric said.  Wendall rose, his arm reminding him that it was still broken.

The captain led him to the bridge of the ferry ship and gestured for the shields to be removed from the windows.  Wendall was treated to a panoramic view of Dragoon’s cloudy sky.  Night had fallen, and the clouds looked dark and sinister as they went about their paths.

Suddenly these clouds were lit up from above.  Drive blasts pierced the bottom, melting the snow and ice on the ground below.

A very large shape passed through the clouds.  Wendall saw the outline of the ship and realized that it was the same type and size of the ship he was standing upon.  The vessel came to a rest, its landing legs deploying.  Wendall realized that the OSDF was going to have problems as he looked over the full three hundred and sixty degree area.

The first ship had been joined by three others.  A total of five dropships were now sitting on the ground.  Sure, sixteen of this ferry ship’s ‘Mechs were gone, but that still left at least twenty more.  There were one hundred sixty-four ‘Mechs preparing to invade Valhalla.  It wasn’t looking good for the garrison battalion.  With all of their aerospace assets and a large number of their battalion assets gone on Exercise Winter Thunder, the 121st Garrison Battalion was going to be in deep kimchi.

 

Valhalla

 

Colonel Iam Pilot, commander of the 121st Garrison Battalion, finished making his last turn on the three mile run.  The headquarters building for the unit, sited in the center of downtown Valhalla, was only a quarter of a mile ahead of him.  He began sprinting, pumping his legs faster and faster, the air burning in his lungs.

The sound of a siren totally surprised him.  Iam almost stopped to look up at the pole behind him to see if someone was working on the siren when he realized that not just that one was going off.

Military officers everywhere were stopped, looking up in stunned silence.  Unannounced drills were illegal by vote of the Valhalla Council.  If the sirens were screaming, there had to be a reason.  After their brief moment of immobility, the men snapped out of it and started sprinting for their positions.  Iam sprinted hard for the HQ building, his muscular legs flashing.  His ebony face carried the worry that was running through his mind as he entered the front door and headed for the elevator that led to the subterranean command post.

The command post was proof to gas, fire, and all forms of explosive ordnance short of direct nuclear barrage fire.  This was the safest place on Valhalla.

Iam punched in his access code, and the doors opened.  Iam nearly ran down a pair of company commanders sprinting out of the elevator.  He grabbed one of them, Captain Herschel Allen.

“What’s your status?!” he shouted against the din of the restarting sirens.

“We’ve got all of our tanks back online.  I don’t know what in the hell happened to Third Platoon, but if it’s Loker’s fault, he’s out of there.  Damn butterbar lieutenant needs to get his head out of his ass or my foot’s going to be in there with it,” Herschel said.

“Give him some time.  I seem to remember another butterbar lieutenant who wasn’t exactly the smartest person in the world that I gave a break,” Pilot told him.

“Yes, sir.”

“Get a move on.  I wish Korper hadn’t gone on that stupid expedition to Dragoon and left the one company of ‘Mechs I have without a commander,” Pilot said.

Herschel gave him a strange look.

“Sir, don’t you know?  That’s why we’re on red alert.  Someone shot up the Invincible,” Herschel shouted behind him, headed out the door.

It was in this manner that the commander of the 121st found out he was in a shooting war.  However, Colonel Pilot did not realize yet what he was about to face.  The first thought running through his mind was simply pirates.

Little did he know what was coming.

 

Dragoon

 

The group of men in the current room were some of the deadliest fighters in the Inner Sphere.  Each and every one of them was a veteran Invasion and the bitter fighting and raiding afterwards.  Most men here had lost family and friends to the invading societies, but had also exacted a very heavy price for their losses.

The expedition had been set up by Comstar in a diplomatic flurry.  The organization had first been forced to get rid of the natural distrust most of the Succession States had for it.  The second phase had been presenting the Com Guards as the basis for the expedition into unknown space.  Third had been getting all of the Houses to lay aside their differences and agree to go into the expedition jointly.

In all of these endeavors, Comstar had succeeded.  The group of 163 ‘Mechs gathered here were the best of the newest plus a few older, renovated models.  Sure, these units weren’t the Kell Hounds, Wolf Dragoons, Seventh Sword of Light, Gray Death Legion, or Black Thorns, but they were good enough.  And more were coming.  When all was said and done, Comstar and its alliance would have 326 ‘Mechs, 124 vehicles, 60 Aerofighters, 21 VTOLs, and 12,000 infantry in this system.  If necessary, the system could be used for raids into Clan space from the rear.

The overall commander of this large force was not from Comstar, however.  General Mutsu Fuchida had been a simple ‘Mechwarrior at the start of the Battle of Luthien.  By the end of the engagement, he was a captain in charge of his own company.  His bravery and capability on subsequent raids and assaults had got him promoted to command of his own regiment.

That’s when Comstar had requested him for this mission.  The man had graciously accepted, realizing he would probably be held a hero if this was successful, and could blame it on Comstar’s planning if he did not.

At the moment, he was reviewing the ROMs of the earlier battles with a grim look on his face.

“Every one of these enemy ‘Mechs massed around one hundred tons, my lord,” Hanse was saying, as the vids of his lance getting worked over were run.  “This ‘Mech in particular seemed to have the firepower of my entire lance comprised in its frame, plus the mobility of any one ‘Mech.  Its pilot, we have found out from one of our prisoners, is just out of their training academy.  She moves like one of our most experienced warriors,” Hanse said, the replay of the last Komodo‘s destruction moving across the screen.

“Lights please,” Hanse said, sick of seeing the slaughter.  “Gentlemen, we are facing a very dire threat as we sit here.  Apparently, these ‘Mechs are not Clan, even though they have Clan technology.  Both of our prisoners claim that they are not Clanners, and lie detector tests seem to bear this out,” Hanse said.  “We…”

“Have you subjected the men to torture?” Major Himoto Osa asked.  He was the older brother of Daiyo Osa, and the news of his brother’s capture had him in a generally unhappy state.

“No we have not, Major Osa,” Captain Potelemy thundered from the end of the table.  “Simply because your brother was to stupid to gain knowledge of the situation before he made an unprovoked attack is no reason for us to subject these men to torture.  I’ve decided we can get a hell of alot more information out of these men of their own free will than by torturing them to death, which is what we were going to end up doing with the enlisted man.”

“How are you so sure, oh great Captain, that they will comply with us willingly?  Have you asked them about what we can expect to face on this ‘Valhalla’?!” Himoto retorted.

“Calm down, both of you.  Himoto, I am ashamed of you showing such emotion.  You must control yourself better.  There is no reason for you to become upset.  And as to you, Captain Potelemy, it is not standard practice for us to treat our prisoners so well,” Mutsu said.

“And perhaps that is why you are the most disliked of any foe,” Potelemy retorted.

“We don’t lose often, and I would like to remind you that I am your superior officer, despite what our House’s differences in the past,” Mutsu said.

“Yes, sir.”

“Now then, I will allow you to continue in your treatment of the prisoners.  However, if they do not begin to produce pertinent information, than we are going to try the Draconis way.”

“Yes, sir.  However, I would just like to state that you will have to use mind-altering drugs and that you will leave these men mental wrecks that will be no good to anyone,” Eric said.

“We did not plan to keep them alive anyway if it got to that stage,” Mutsu replied.

“What is our timetable for invading this last planet?” a Free Worlds Federation officer asked.

“It is a six day journey to this other planet.  We will leave tomorrow, after all of our scout ‘Mechs are repaired.  This will be different in that we can use our Aerofighters to soften up the planet and its defenses.  Hopefully, this means we will not have to rely on our scouts to such a great extent, considering that not many are left.

“The Oi will lead an armed reconaissance tomorrow.”*** FINIS  (Battletech and associated terms retain their copyright with Topps, Inc.  All other characters and this text are copyrighted by myself.  This may be shared at will, but may not be published for profit or used in any manner that violates copyright)