by D.L. Glenn
Another excerpt of my first manuscript. Fast-action in this one.
Hazim called on Alo to leave his position, hopeful that he could beat the wall of flashing thunderstorms exploding with blue flashes of lightning in the distance. The mortar team fired the final VX round and followed up with the final pair of regular high explosive shells into the large dressing and staging areas, hoping to take a final toll on any more of the infidels that may have been shielded from the poison cloud.
There had been survivors of the initial cloud’s deployment, but most in the area had received some level of dosage and it was only a matter of time before the deadly wetness attached to their clothes seeped into the skin and mouth and brought injury to them. The few who remained unscathed would largely thank the variety of dirty habits they had at the time. Here and there, a pack of kids who had ran into the parking lot before the bombardment to imbibe in sex or drugs in the comfort of the cars would live.
A number of people who had taken cover in the backstage area had indeed survived the cloud, but were blasted apart by the huge mortar rounds that marked the end of the attack. Of those that survived all of the initial onslaught, many made the fatal mistake of running to and from the scene to try to render aid or escape. The mud puddles they stomped through were full of soman lying patiently in wait for them. The ditches some hapless victims instinctively took cover in ran full of rain drainage, carrying the toxin to them as they lay cowering and shivering.
Alo took one last look through the infrared binoculars around the grisly landscape and tucked the binoculars and radio into the cargo pockets of his trousers. He kept his night-vision goggles handy though, and began easing down the empty Stinger launcher around his back to more easily pack it down the hill. He fully expected to have to use it later. The Americans would be coming now.
The rain was coming down steadily. Lifting his face to the sky, he was happy at the development. The storm had both the smothering effect on the raging fires below and the added weight on any lingering VX particles lingering in the air that could be spread over the strike team. Ebullient, he descended quickly and carefully.
The wind was growing quite gusty by the time he reached his trail marker, blowing the rain sharply against his exposed skin. He took a moment to rest his ankles and walked over to the edge of the trail, where he picked up the two Stinger rockets he had left behind and groaned at the added weight.
“Allah be praised, it is not much farther.”
He had a crackling behind him that he thought was just the wind jostling a limb free. The sound was seconded the metallic snick of a pistol’s hammer to his right and froze mid-step.
“All right Punjab, put the weapon down!” Alo had no idea where the scraggly American had come from or what he was saying, but he knew instantly he was a civilian. A military officer would have probably fired first and eliminated him as a problem under the circumstances. A professional definitely would not have exposed himself with such abundant cover and surprise as his allies. He raised his arms and began chanting the only words he knew in English.
“No shoot! No shoot!” Alo knew the translation’s meaning sounded absurd but kept chanting the words loudly. He was at a disadvantage and hoped he was close enough for his cries to be overheard by his friends. The man moved cautiously around him, jabbering in English and motioning with the gun to lie on the ground. The terrorist complied, lying his arms by his side, watching the face of the American. He decided quickly to key the radio so Hazim could hear them.
Suddenly their ears were filled with the surprising whistle of an aircraft’s engine. Immediately, the entire valley rumbled as an enormous detonation lit up the outline of the mountain to Randy’s right. The shock wave pushed rapidly up the face of the ridge, surprising them both. Alo managed to push the transmit button through his pants’ leg.
Culturally different as they were, Alo the terrorist and Randy the quickly sobering fly flisherman realized simultaneously that the Americans had arrived for retribution.
Randy had a decent fix on where the missile guy was in relation to his spot and he hustled up the mountain to the farthest point up the hill he could reach. It was the end of a mountain bike trail, he was able to remember his way around the face of the mountain surprisingly well in the dark and rapidly reached the location he thought was most likely to be utilized for an escape.
He knew instinctively that hurricane or no hurricane, the government would be all over the valley in a matter of minutes and they would be highly pissed. From his own observations, he knew the surface to air missile had come from the side of the mountain facing the concert. The lightning and thunder were growing more fierce by the minute. Randy noticed the winds and rain were coming at him with a growing sense of menace. Dorine was fast approaching, washing the Appalachians with a fierce desire for respect.
He waited at the end of the trail, crouched down in a stand of huckleberry bushes. Not sure what he would do if an armed party came through, his heart pounded with the apprehension of the terrorists taking him before he could even make a move. He was sure anybody with the determination to bring anti-aircraft missiles and chemical weapons could at least manage a machine gun. He, on the other hand, had a whole box of .45 shells, but only one clip to load.
He was losing his bravado and seriously thinking about doing the rational thing- hauling ass out of there. It was a damn foolish move to make. Impulsive, reckless, and probably fatal. A heavy clanging of metal against rock and the thudding gait of a tired man coming quickly down the trail alerted him. It was too late to run.
In the dark Hiller could not see anyone and the fear of exposing himself to more than one opponent with only a pistol grew worse with each second. His breathing could not decide if it wanted to rush out uncontrollably or stop completely. His pulse began pounding, the beats leaving his chest and spreading to his throat and ears, booming in his head.
One man against who? One old pistol fired maybe twenty times at emptied beer cans over five years against assault rifles,missiles and grenades? Every tingling hair and heartbeat screamed, "Run! Get the fuck out! So fucking crazy! God forgive me, I know not what in the hell I'm doing!"
A flash of lightning lit up the area. In the split second of illumination he could plainly see a single man with a thick tube on some type slung over his back and a large pair of goggles around his neck. He did not see a long barrel weapon in the brief flash of illumination but was certain the guy had to be packing something. As he watched the man slouch over and place his hands to his knees and stoop to rest for a sec, Randy moved to the side of the trail. The terrorist dropped to a knee to reposition the heavy tube on his back, muttering in Arabic. Randy sprang out and yelled the first thing he could think to say.
“All right Punjab, put the weapon down!” It sounded ridiculous.
He leveled the gun at him and fully expected to have to shoot him when he made a reach for his own gun. The terrorist dropped the objects he had in his hands and grew wide-eyed. He threw his arms into the arm and gave his best ‘91 model Iraqi impression, exclaiming “No shoot!” Randy had thought of the probability that anyone who could infiltrate the country and bomb a concert would definitely know quite a bit more English than that. The man was obviously and deliberately pulling his chain. That meant he was unafraid of him and eager to get through with the usurper. Randy, on the other hand, was mortified. He thought whimsically of his father, who would stomp on the brakes of his old Chevy flatbed when an eager hound would chase them up the street.
“Now stupid,” Terry Hiller would ask the dog, “what you gonna’ do with it?”
He waved to the man to lie on the ground, which he did. He was just moving up on the man to look him over when a flash of light and an enormous rush of air shook the area. The roar of a streaking jet announced the presence of the United States Air Force.
The pair of A-10s had nearly exhausted their fuel supplies during the full throttle flight northeast from their temporary berth at Nashville International Airport. The AWAC plane on station had diverted its course to an orbit a bit farther away from the combat area when the recon plane had been downed, since they had no real countermeasures on board and had no idea about the enemy’s capabilities. The Warthogs were the first offensive aircraft able to be summoned up on short notice. It was a pitiful showing, given the massive forces possessed by the U.S. government. Pants down at the onset, the military was now trying to get onto the task at hand.
The two pilots, Lt. Col. Edgar Hollister and Captain Gary Tribioni, were both reservists and veterans of the Gulf War. The old planes were throwbacks to the old stick and rudder planes of a bygone era. Their pilots were often chided for flying a plane with the less-than-glamorous moniker of Warthog. The plane’s extensive successes in the Gulf War had exonerated the plane from the undue criticisms and many sneering pilots in the flashier supersonic dog-fighters had their rescues covered after being shot down by the loitering Warthogs. The plane flew low and slow, and could take a lick or two. Ground attack was its business and business was about to be good.
The men in the cockpits had been roused from their VOQ’s and been told to dress quickly, no explanation given. The two pilots had gone to the flight readiness area, put on flight suits, and were driven immediately to their waiting planes. Other pilots and ground crewmen, shaken by the news of the WMD attack, had already arrived in various stages of undress and were running over the plane, pre-flighting for them. Each of the pilots were a bit edgy at having other guys check their planes for them but the shaky bits of information as explained to them by the duty officer alluded to the fact that this hop was going off half-cocked as it was and they were going in hot.
Total clusterfuck was what Hollister’s crew chief had said about the preparations.
The ground crew had managed to load a pair of 1000-pound Maverick AGMs on each plane and got the “pistol” loaded. The “pistol” was the nickname the pilots had given the awesome seven-barrel 30mm Gatling gun housed in the nose of the plane. They had time to top off the fuel tanks by the time the pilots arrived and pulled the arming pins from the Mavericks as the pilots climbed aboard and turned over the turbofans.
Within thirty minutes of waking up from quiet peaceful slumber in Nashville, the two men were airborne and flying toward a hostile environment in, of all places, a sodden golf course in West Virginia. They never even had time to call their wives.
The pair flew at top speed, constantly updated with whatever information the AWAC could supply. An Army NBC advance team was already inbound from Ft. Campbell, Kentucky but the downing of the recon plane had thrown a wrench in the works. The pilot of the plane had not reported any SAM activity and the AWAC’s radar had not given any indication as to what may have happened. Only the reports from the ground at the concert site alluded to any form of ground to air attack on the Phantom and the officers organizing the counterattack had to go on it at face value. The intelligence community was at a fever pitch, albeit disorganized by the dispersion of assets and immediacy of the unfurling crisis. The crisis with red China, it seemed, had not ended with the deaths of the naval personnel.
The nervous air controllers had received word that all known local authorities that could be reached had reported in and the few known civilians living in the area had been evacuated. The attack had taken a horrible toll on the local police and sheriff’s deputies. Many of the police that were off-duty had jumped at the chance for the nice overtime pay that the concert producers had offered and were now among the tangles of corpses. The National Guard was mobilizing, but they were in disarray. Changing a mission from hurricane disaster relief to search and destroy tended to need some time.
Col. Hollister received the “weapons hot” order almost immediately upon reaching the area of operation. As he armed the Mavericks, he signaled his wingman to do the same with his wing lights. The AWAC controllers were still not sure of the enemy’s strength or hardware and the pair of pilots had adhered to radio silence until arriving in the area. The video-guided missiles showed the pilot’s what the seeker heads saw and soon enough, the red and white outline of a large vehicle loomed into view, three miles away. With night vision goggles and the infrared seeker heads aboard the anti-tank missiles relaying their electronic eyes to the cockpit, they grimaced at the eerie white flashes of fires burning where the RF-4 had crashed. A few miles east, the twinkling of flames that marked the scene of the massacre. The lead plane locked the missile on a hot target and the Colonel broke radio silence.
“Echo-24, I have a large vehicle at the base of the mountain. Confirming weapons hot.” The missile’s guidance computer began sending word that it had the vehicle dead to rights. His finger hovered over the launch button.
“Phoenix lead, confirm weapons hot. Good hunting gentlemen.” The finger flinched and the big missile was away. Both of the planes broke to the right and dove for the deck, their only protection against a retaliation from below. Neither had any SAM suppression munitions on board. There had not been enough time to find and load them.
The missile struck and Randy Hiller’s home disintegrated, sending smashed and melting shards of Winnebago bursting and flaming in all directions. The wingman circled tightly to look for secondary explosions and reported none. They had hoped to see something blow up more decisively, since they were looking for a military party. They regrouped six miles south and began to circle for more prey.
Hazim was just shutting the rear door on the Xterra when he saw the flash of an explosion at the base of the mountain. It had erupted on the other side of Cacapon Mountain. He could not see or hear the cause, and for a moment, he believed the Americans were shelling them from afar. Just as he was beginning to radio Alo for any information he had on the explosion, Alo began transmitting the loud voice of an American. The voice was garbled, but the American voice told him Alo was being detained.
Hazim called Tariq over and he quickly confirmed the Chosen’s suspicions. Hazim went into action, grabbing a rifle from the rear of the Xterra and ordering Heleg and Tariq to reposition the 12.7mm thirty meters up the trail. He and Fadir set off up the trail to kill one more infidel and get his group to safety. He knew their time on earth was probably short now.
Like a good follower of Allah, al-Mukhtar, the Chosen, intended it to be useful.
Air Force One, near Little Rock, AR
President Gregory Baker hung up the phone and sat in his chair, totally numb. The exuberant caller had been the American Ambassador to China, who had just informed him Chinese Premier Li had finally contacted the American Embassy with a wild tale. The Intelligence assets were only just beginning to sort it all out. The Premier had been held by an undetected group of subversives working within the highest ranks of the PRG. He had been arrested on a false charge of embezzlement and held in his home in Beijing while the leader of the ring, the Chinese Air Force’s senior commander, had called the shots on his behalf. The Chinese people had not been informed of the shift in power and the order to provoke Taiwan and the U.S. had been treated as one originating from their beloved Premier. It was obeyed without question.
The coup leader had ordered the attack on the carrier. He was set on retaking Taiwan and eager to show up the Americans. It was genocide, Li knew.
The ruling body had gotten suspicious when the orders insisted all forces, including nuclear forces, be brought up to war footing. As much as the Chinese civilian government wanted Taiwan to rejoin them, they were not ready for a nuclear conflict that would end up badly one-sided. The Premier had made that fact abundantly clear to all of the higher-ranking communist party officials and his sudden shift in policy began to puzzle the party heads. Details from Beijing were still sketchy, but the coup d’etat had been, ironically enough, uncovered by the state-run press. The plotters had been arrested and some had gone down fighting. There were loyal troops surrounding the Chinese capital with tanks, the situation was fluid but the shooting had stopped.
The Premier had literally begged, sobbing and frightened, for a cessation of hostilities and an immediate counsel with the UN and American State Department. According to the Ambassador, the tough old Premier continually apologized for his countries outlandish military behaviors in the days prior. He had been kept under a strict guard and had no idea of just how close to total annihilation his country had come. The ambassador had tempered this encouraging news with the sincere apology to Baker for the loss of his son and his repeated assurances for any civil reparations to the families of military men killed during the South China Sea incident deemed necessary by the U.S. government. Contrite was too soft a word.
Prior to the ambassador’s breaking news, the President had taken a mild dose of Valium upon doctor’s orders and had requested some time alone to absorb the loss. The stunned staff had began deciphering the situation with such a fervor of emotion the President could scarcely focus his mind in a coherent form. They were working all angles on the terrorist attacks, which intensified with the announcement of the Chinese situation being downgraded and the extra assets being freed up almost immediately. The press attaches on board were clamoring for information and the press officers were giving it to them sparingly; there was none to give. The FBI was just beginning their investigative process and the military had officially been given the ball with the announcement of martial law.
The FBI Director had argued to the President’s chief of staff that they should run point on the matter, since the military option may only ensure that innocent civilians attempting to escape may be misidentified as hostile and attacked. With the deteriorating weather conditions, the best option would be to cordon off the area, wait and watch. The terrorists would have to come out eventually, if not, they could be eliminated later by ground forces.
The chief of staff had thanked the Director and told him that the President’s son and an estimated 20,000 other people were either dead or dying and the entire east coast was being inundated by the greatest hurricane on record, also at a great loss of life and property. Property that included the FBI headquarters, which would severely hinder their commencement of efforts to find and subdue the attackers.
If ever there was a time for decisive military intervention, it was then. The FBI was to hold fast and let the military have a crack at them first. It was a personally motivated Presidential directive. The Director backed off, flying up to the New York offices to personally coordinate the investigation into the unfolding attack.
It was decided that the Secretary of State and the offices tasked with China matters deal with the validity of the claims.
There were matters at home that far outweighed the mind of the President that instant.
70 miles SE of New York Harbor.
It was their third mission together into the hurricane since their rotation had come up and Diane Wicker and Ervin Taylor finally had their coordinated movements honed. The Captain was very impressed with his young co-pilot’s improving handling of the choppy skies within the hurricane. She flew a good stick.
The big Hercules was never a pilot’s dream plane to fly. No one ever saw a C-130 sitting next to a missile-laden F-16 and thought that the chubby Hercules was the sexier sell. Ervin himself had never thought of flying the big Hercules but as they said, the military is no democracy. He was ordered to fly C-130s after flight training so he flew them. Hurricane hunting had come later.
Diane was actually drawn to bigger planes. She had aspirations of flying jumbo jets for a juicy civilian company after her hitch and had taken on the assignment as if it were a leap in the right direction. She had not known the assignment would involve flying into hurricanes, but after three extended flights into the worst one ever known, she felt as the jargon goes, “Like an old stick.” Of course, her feminine status was always subject to joke. “Handling a good stick” being the obvious double entendre.
They completed a circle around the eye and let the analysts in the rear do their duties. The cockpit crew kept the mood professional, even while scrambling to keep their aircraft steady in what flight crews nick-named “the popcorn popper.” The Cacapon Massacre weighed on everyone.
They flew for nearly an hour in heavy turbulence, finally growing tired from their toils and exiting to the serenity of the eye. They reached the calm of the eye and began flying in a leisurely circle at 12,000 feet. The joking and lackadaisical manner vacillated in an instant. A ship below showed up on radar.
“What the hell? Pilot, radar is picking up a surface contact.” The navigator looked incredulous.
“What the hell? Confirm it Mike?” Ervin turned his head toward the navigator.
“Roger, sir. Definitely a ship down there.” The pilots both peered down, instinctively searching for distress lights on the inky water below. Diane asked the obvious.
“Who would be stupid enough to be out here? Don’t they know they are idiots?”
“For that matter, how did they withstand the storm to get into the eye?” The flight engineer asked over the intercom.
The navigator noted aloud that they were probably adrift, had to be.
“Negative, sir! I’m getting a hostile radar track We’re painted! Recommend take evasive action!”
“Painted? What the hell…” Diane’s voice rose an octave.
Ervin’s interest was piqued. “Roger that! Inform home plate. Possible hostile ship. Advise we are descending for a visual.” He nosed the plane over and began a spiraling descent. “Man, these guys are crazy. You getting anything on guard?” He asked the radio man in the back. The reply came back negative.
“No radio traffic at all. They probably took a beating by the leading edge, sir.”
“Maybe.” He suddenly felt a bit nervous. “Heads up! That could be our Arab friends.” The entire plane’s complement went to a state of battle readiness. The plane’s pulse Doppler radars were designed with clouds not subs in mind but the plane still had a very capable ground searching system. Diane began relaying altitude levels as they corkscrewed down. They leveled the plane at five thousand feet and turned the plane on a bearing to over fly the contact lying somewhere below them in the black waters.
The sub had surfaced needing to recharge their batteries and exchange air before firing their missiles. Toulouse swore at his superiors for not buying tube-launched cruise missiles as he had requested. The idea of having the surface the sub to launch infuriated and frightened him. His intelligence officer had convinced him of their safety from radars due to the turbulence caused by the rain bands, but he still sweated nervously. Having to surface was unacceptable. Assuming the sub could vent and recharge without detection, their position would surely be identified when they fired. Recharging their batteries and taking on a fresh exchange of air was a necessity, considering their sail under the sea had stretched their electrical engineers to the brink of insanity in their attempts to keep the electrical systems powered sufficiently during the long periods spent submerged.
They had barely begun to vent and recharge when the lookout reported seeing a set of flashing lights in the sky. Assuming the worse, Toulouse went into action.
“Battle stations Prepare to submerge!” The radar man called to him that they had been scanned. “Damn!” They had been surely seen.
“Alright men, we are committed.” He ran to his radio man.
“They are signaling sir!” The boy looked to the Captain. His face was taunt and pale.
“Ensign Bolah, translate How are the vents!” The chief scanned a monitor.
“Closing Captain! Recommend we move to firing position!”
“Make it so! Helm, engines back full. Turn to bearing 2-9-0. Weapons control, complete firing checklist. Make ready weapon one.” His XO came dashing in from the head, stuffing his shirt into his trousers.
“Sir, we must turn on our radar and begin to deal with the threat. There is no way to enable the missiles in time if it is a warplane.” The translator announced that the plane was informing the shore of their position.
“Radar! Track him Begin jamming!” It was the final peg, there was no turning back now.
“Confirmed, Home Plate, submarine sited 7-5 kilometers south-south-east of La Guardia Beacon! Recommend sending additional assets and requesting orders!” The gibbous moon cast just enough light through the calm cloudless eye to illuminate the dark cigar-shaped profile of a surfaced submarine against the shimmering sea. Ervin could not believe the situation. The radar tracking them was not American, that much was certain, the wavelengths were incompatible. He had not wanted to hit the panic button, believing the sub could well be American, but the position of a submarine surfaced off the coast of New Jersey in the middle of a hurricane seemed ominous enough.
“Captain, let’s buzz them, could be an ally.” Diane was tense.
“You heard about that shit in West Virginia. Home plate needs confirmation, but I’m not taking up a fight with no defense or offense. Radar, talk to me.”
“Sub is backing into the soup. Dammit! Sir, we’re being engaged by some sort of jamming pod.”
“Maybe they’re pissed we caught them skinny dipping.” Diane’s dry wit was lost on them.
“Maybe we caught them about to clean up where their asshole-buddies in NYC left off.”
“Sir, they are radioing our exact position. We need to splash them. They are the only eyes on us.” His XO was itching to go topside and use the Strelas. Toulouse could see it all over the man’s face. He stared at the frantic looks on the faces of the various crewmembers and knew immediate action, however faulted, was necessary.
“Ready the missile, XO.” As the executive officer began to ascend the ladder, he was halted by the new exclamations from his radar controller.
“Contact is a large multi-engine turboprop, sir! Possibly an Orion sub plane or a Navy Hawkeye.” The radar man shouted as his initial radar search was updated. “Target is descending rapidly, sir! Could be a torpedo run!” Toulouse ran through the scenario. He was fairly certain that any sub hunter would be diving to drop sonar buoys to verify just what kind of sub he was and track him should he submerge. If he were surrounded by the buoys, the navy would have plenty of time to vector an attack sub or other warplane to the area. He doubted that there was any time that the Americans were without an attack sub lurking around New York, hurricane or not. If the plane was about to drop sonar buoys then one way or another, a torpedo or ASROC would be sure to follow. The plane had to go and quickly.
“Time to launch?”
“Inertial Guidance is online, feeding evasion variables now. Say…one minute forty seconds.” His navigation officer interjected.
“Captain, we are still 100 meters from the position necessary to successfully launch! Buy me time!” Toulouse nodded to his XO.
“Go, Harraz, down that plane!” His XO scurried up the ladder.
“Sir! It’s coming right at us!” His lookout radioed down. Toulouse grabbed the mike.
“Verify type and intent!”
“It’s a Hercules!” The hull shook and the entire sub came alive with the rumbling from the low overhead pass. “Confirm sir, U.S. Air Force C-130! It just passed directly over us!” The XO’s voice came on.
“Sir, it looks like a weather plane. Numerous antennae. No visible weapons but our visibility is quite limited. It could just as easily be a gunship sent to find us! It’s dark out here. Barely made out the profile.”
“Splash it, Harraz! And then get clear, thirty seconds to launch!” Harraz acknowledged and Toulouse dropped the mike and ran to the fire control station. “Radar! Bearing on target?”
“Target circling.” The fire control board began beeping. The cruise missile was ready. All they needed was 500 more meters of clearance and a minute more time.
“That’s gotta’ be them!” Ervin did not have much training in submarine identification but knew it looked like a Russian sub’s profile. “Sons of bitches! We ain’t got shit to shoot!” He kicked the left pedal and snap-rolled the big bird on its side. He keyed his radio to transmit.
“Home Plate, Home Plate, confirm surfaced hostile submarine! We are being tracked, going weapons hot and engaging!”
Everyone in the cockpit snapped his or her head at the aircraft commander. “Weapons hot? Hot with what! Barometer buoys?”
“I gotta’ brick in the john we can drop!” His navigator stared at the tiny black speck clearly looming on the shiny horizon and growing as they approached.
“They are probably hearing us, Mike. Maybe they don’t know we ain’t got nothing. They are surfaced for some goddamned reason. Maybe they hear us telling home plate we are gonna’ bomb them and duck for cover. I’ll bet they are up to no good being this close and this shallow. Kill the lights, we’re gonna’ make their assholes pucker!” He dropped the big plane down to the deck and poured the coal to the four engines.
Harraz and the lookout readied the four-tube box launcher and leveled it at the approaching plane. The Strela was basically a Russian version of an American Stinger. The newer versions of the missile did not need to hone in on the hot exhaust gases like a traditional heat-seeker. The air whipping over the leading edges of the plane gave off enough friction heat for the seeker head to lock onto. Harraz sighted the missile and thought about letting the plane pass over them again before firing. The lookout heard the Captain’s from his headphones telling him that the infidel was indeed armed and he relayed his instruction to fire immediately. The missile’s warhead squawked as it locked onto the hot gases streaming from the left wing. Harraz pulled the release switch and the missile was away.
Below deck, the whoosh of the missile leaving its tube was heard and felt. The translator had indeed told him about the transmission from the C-130. Toulouse had thought his XO had mistaken the antennas for gun barrels and misidentified an AC-130 gun ship for a weather plane. They were still two hundred and fifty meters from the edge of the turbulent eye wall when they heard the explosion.
The pilot and crew were eyeing the horizon past the sub, aiming to avoid a collision with its conning tower but still buzz it close enough to get their attention. Ervin and Diane each saw the flash and streak of the missile launch.
“Shit! SAMS! SAMS! Breaking right!” Everyone on board heard the warning and braced. The plane peeled to the right just as the missile impacted the number one engine. The warhead struck a prop blade directly and sent shards into the turbofan engine. The warhead then exploded just beneath the housing and further shredded its interior. The fuel tank hanging between number one and number two engines exploded, ripping the damaged turbofan from its mounting sending pieces of debris through the entire length of the left wing and fuselage. Inside the fuselage, supersonic shrapnel lodged in equipment and bodies with equal aplomb.
“We’re hit! Cut fuel to number 1!” Ervin began climbing as best he could and tried to get some rudder control.
“Roger’s hit bad! Mike get over to his station!” The navigator half-rolled over and scooped the engineer’s body from his chair. The engineer’s helmet was the only thing keeping his head together. The brain matter and blood was sprayed all over the navigator’s station. Ervin looked back and checked out the engine.
“Feathering 1!” Diane began fumbling for the controls.
“One’s gone completely! Help me level her out! Climbing to two thousand. Let’s see if we can lose them in the soup. Turning left to 0-1-0!” He keyed his COM link.
“Mayday This is Husky 2-5 on guard. We have been hit by a hostile sub! Going down! Repeat, going down! Home Plate, do you read on guard!”
“Roger Husky 2-5, do you have control?”
“Barely! Number one engine is gone! Numerous casualties! Navigator’s dead! He hit us with a missile, that fucker!” The pilots struggled to hold the wings level.
“Can you state the last known position of the hostile?”
“He was moving in reverse, looked like he was backing into the soup.” Mike called to Ervin, “Captain, we’re losing hydraulics on the left elevator!”
“Standby! Home Plate! Standby, we have to get this fat pig stable!”
Harraz watched the missile strike home and was disappointed at the lack of an all-consuming conflagration. The plane broke to the right just as the missile struck its left wing and it pitched its nose sharply toward the water. He thought it was about to crash into the sea, but the plane miraculously pulled up, streaming a trail of flames and debris from its damaged engine. He leveled the box launcher at the plane and followed it as it turned again. Harraz lost sight of it as it passed between his line if sight and the conning tower, only knowing it was behind him because of the burning flare against the dark clouds encircling them. He could see and feel the windy edge of the eye wall approaching and knew that he needed to be going below or else be blown overboard by either the imminent blast of the cruise missile’s booster rocket or the howling wind. The plane was hit hard enough to ensure him its crew had other worries besides their plans. He called to the lookout and they scrambled up the ladder to the access hatch on the top of the conning tower.
Ervin and Diane were already feeling the loss of hydraulics. He knew they were hit mortally, and closed his eyes in prayer. There could only be a finite amount of time before either the sub, the storm or the lack of fuel got them. Attempting to fly into the shearing winds of the hurricane with such a diminished capacity was suicidal, nor could they loiter around inside the eye forever.
“Pilot to crew! Guys, We’re hit and hit bad! Chief, what’s your situation!”
“Sgt. Horne here! Chief’s down, hit bad! I’m okay but we got about four guys back here hit bad. Three obvious KIA! Avionics are shot! Doppler’s shot! What’s our status?”
Ervin looked to Diane. Her eyes told him she knew and shared his fears. He looked away from her to the corpse of his flight engineer and immediately a sharp and unexpected yaw to the left forced his attention back to leveling the nose again. The turbulence resulting from their proximity to the storm was not helping matters. He gazed at Diane with a look of detached acquiescence to the impending fate and shook his head at her. She swallowed hard and nodded. A tear rose in the corner of her left eye.
He keyed his mike again.
“Home Plate, this is Captain Ervin Taylor, aircraft commander for Husky weather flight 2-5 on guard. I’m making a command decision for the record. Our plane will not make it. I am ordering the crew to eject. Request air-sea rescue. Do you copy?”
“Husky 2-5, this is General Brody at Home Plate. Son, stick with it. There are no air-sea assets in the area. State your fuel.”
“General, we have about seven thousands pounds of fuel, but we are leaking fuel and hydraulics by the buckets. She’s going dead-stick quick.”
“Son, I urge you to stick with it. We can vector in a tanker, over.”
“Negative sir. That hostile is still surfaced. We think it intends some kind of missile launch against New York.”
“You can’t confirm that, Captain! Take evasive actions and hold the fort.”
Ervin tipped a sluggish wing as far as he dared. The sub was still visible, bouncing around in the increasingly hostile waves and scooting backwards, leaving a frothy ice blue wake that was growing more invisible in the choppier seas near the eye wall.
“Sir, for the record, it’s my call. We are going to ram the hostile. I repeat, ram the hostile. Tell our families we love them. Husky 2-5 out.”
Diane was already staring down at the sub and helped Ervin aim the nose at the little silhouette. “You got balls, sir.”
“I figure we might as well take the fuckers with us.” Diane grasped the gloved hand of her AC and began murmuring the Lord’s Prayer as they guided the three working throttles forward. “Let’s just make sure we don’t miss.”
“Crew…brace for impact.” That was the last words spoken by the crew of Husky 2-5.
The translator had monitored the broadcasts and told Toulouse to fire, regardless of the safe envelope. The drone of the approaching Hercules grew stronger and Toulouse rushed for the fire control board. The fire control officer had nearly turned his control key to the “Fire” position when the big plane impacted the port side, detonating American and Arab alike. The sub and the WC-130’s flaming wreckage sank almost immediately, the fiery site of the sacrifice quickly occluded by the swirling waters of the churning Atlantic.
The A-10 pilots had found another three targets, all vehicles. The lead plane engaged the tiny truck it found with the nose cannon and chewed it to pieces with a short burst of 30mm fire. His wingman reported only a small secondary, probably the gas tank. The planes circled around tightly and each of them let loose with a burst from their cannons on the larger of the vehicles. The area exploded with secondaries as machine gun tracers began cooking off wildly.
“Shit hot!” came the call to the AWAC. “Multiple secondaries, Echo 2-4! They were loaded for bear down there!”
“Confirm Phoenix lead, can you confirm any other targets?”
“Affirmative Echo. We have one more small vehicle to hit. It’s rolling southwest toward the main highway.”
“Copy that Phoenix lead. Beware of the wind and the ragheads and bring your ships in. Echo 2-4 out.”
“Roger that! Gary, check that crosswind. It’s getting a bit bumpy around here.”
“I copy lead.”
Tariq finished throwing the last of their equipment from the rear of the Xterra into the large ditch and ran around to the driver’s seat. He knew the aircraft had to be loitering around, probably trying to do an impromptu bomb damage assessment. Working quickly and growing more frightened with each second spent oblivious to the planes’ whereabouts, he cranked the motor on the SUV and put the transmission into gear. He pulled the truck onto the now rain-soaked dirt road and nudged the accelerator enough to set the truck rolling down the road.
He leapt from the cab and ran back to Heleg and the machine gun position. The wind was now blowing constant and strong, driving the rain smartly against them and covering the sounds of the quiet A-10’s dual engines. They watched the interior lights in the Xterra glowing through the rain, but even the intently watching duo nearly bolted from their cover in fright when the rolling vehicle disappeared in a hail of sparkling mini-explosions as Phoenix lead let loose a short burst of 30mm shells into the Nissan. A number of the shells detonated a few of the high-explosive and white phosphorous mortar rounds purposely left in the cargo section.
In their haste, the enemy managed to salvage all of their necessary small arms munitions and the rafts from the Nissan, but the RV and its contents were a total loss. Heleg and Tariq jumped from the emplacement and began grabbing what they could from the pile of burning RV parts and dragging the equipment back to the 12.7mm position.
Randy literally pissed on himself when the 1000 lb. Maverick missile destroyed his RV, a fact kept unnoticed by his captive due to the shear wetness of his clothing. He had uttered the words, “Jesus Christ!” quite unexpectedly when he got his wits about him. The terrorist had flinched as well when the explosion had rocked them and he had not moved since.
“You just lie there rag head. Move and I’ll fuck you up good.” He raised his arms and beckoned to the prone man. “Hands out, fuckhead.” The terrorist begrudgingly extended his arms.
“Good. Speak English?” The man shook his head. “I’ll bet you don’t, fucker. I spit on Allah. Allah can eat shit! You understand that?” He hocked up and spat at the man’s head. He missed, but the man got his message and glared at him. Randy was growing more aware of an adrenaline rush by the second. The terrorist captive, however, only glared at him.
“Where’s your buddies, Akmed? Huh? Answer me, asshole!” Randy was keyed up, wanting the man to do something rash, but not prepared to shoot him down in cold blood. A live captive would be greatly beneficial to the Feds to interrogate, yet he could not realistically hold a hostage with other members of his detachment running around in the dark.
“Stand up!” He motioned the man upward. “Take off the belt.” He could clearly see a holstered pistol on the man’s right hip. He pointed the .45 at the man’s waist and gestured for the pistol belt to drop. The wind was howling through the trees and he had to shout to make himself heard.
The pistol fell to the ground and the arms went up. Randy walked forward, cautiously pointing the gun at the terrorist’s face. He flinched his nose at the man’s pockets and demanded for him to empty their contents. The bulges indicated something bulky. Randy hoped for either a grenade or a radio. He got a burst transmitter and an army ration.
Hazim and Tariq were having a difficult time navigating the steep trail. Already, there were the beginnings of washouts along the trail and the wind had seriously hindered their visibility, an errant gust nearly knocking them off their feet. Hazim could still hear the loud voice of the American on his receiver and he wished he had brought Tariq instead of Fadir. He could only make out tiny fragments of words in English, just enough to get an understanding of Alo’s probable situation.
“Fadir, be leery. As near as I can follow, he is being held up by some Yankee. It sounds like only one. The American must be a hunter or policeman of some kind.”
“Let me listen, Chosen.” He took the radio and held it to his ear. “Listen Hazim! Alo speaks!”
Alo began speaking in Farsi, feigning the outward appearance of pleading to the American but telling his situation to Hazim. “I am with one Yankee! He has found the radio and wants to use it!” The low rumbling of the airplanes’ cannons disassembling their recreational vehicle was heard both through the speaker and through the howling wind. The American smiled.
“They are bombing everything Punjab! You dicks bombed the wrong friggin’ part of the world this time! And shut the fuck up!”
Alo continued. “Hazim, I have two Stingers here. We must destroy the planes if we intend to escape! He only has a pistol. Come quickly! He is a civilian!”
“Quiet! Or I’ll shoot you now!” Randy blindly bought into the victim charade. “You know Baker? American Baker?”
Alo recognized the President’s name and nodded. The American drew his finger across his throat and pointed at him. “Baker will kill you all for the death of his son.” Alo only knew the words “Baker, kill, and son.” He continued to act as if pleading for his life, and fell to his knees to enhance the spectacle. “Hazim! He intends to avenge the son of Baker. Be leery, he has a pistol and looks frightened!”
“Shut up!” He waved at the terrorist to move to the side and picked up the transmitter. He noticed all of the symbols were Arabic. One of the buttons was completely depressed. Keeping a wary eye on his charge, he pressed the button adjoining it and flinched when a pair of hushed voices suddenly gushed from the tiny speaker. His eyes met the terrorist’s. The Arab saw the writing and rushed.
“You son of a…!”
Alo saw the jig was up and made a lunge for the radio and Randy fired instinctively from fear. The .45 bullet found its mark. Alo was thrown back aerially three feet. The big slug caught him just below the throat and done its work instantly. The terrorist lay crumpled into a heap, dark blood covering his back from the exit wound. The head twisted at an obscene angle.
Randy stood gawking at the twitching corpse for a moment, horrified at what he had done. The man’s eyes stared at him in horrible disbelief and blood streamed abundantly from his twitching mouth. Randy shivered, both from the horror of his act and from the coldness of his wet skin. He realized suddenly that the voices on the radio had stopped. He fumbled with it for a moment and found the off switch.
It was useless to sit there waiting for the dead man’s friends to come up so Randy decided to make a run for cover. He picked up the fallen man’s pistol belt and slung it over his shoulder. He looked over the corpse again and decided to take his night-vision goggles. The terrorists had probably heard the shot.. He had no idea what the man had been telling them over the open channel. He hoped no one was listening on the other end except the good guys, but he doubted it. Out there in the Cacapon forests, he felt more alone than he ever could have known camping, ostensibly, to get away from it all.
Echo 24 15,000 ft. over Frankfort, Kentucky
The all-hearing ears at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, relayed the terrorists’ communications in real-time to the controllers and officers in the various situation rooms, terrestrial and airborne. The ranking officer aboard the AWAC, a Marine Major General Hubert O’Neill, listened with interest to the high-pitched voice of the unknown American who had cornered the terrorist. Already the debate over just who the man was and why he was involved so closely with the terrorists was beginning.
A background search of any persons that were known to be in the area was already being conducted. Randy Hiller’s penchant for isolation and his consistent use of cash ensured it would be a difficult search, especially with the huge displacement of evacuees. O’Neill ordered the A-10s to search one more time for any more possible vehicles and to over fly the concert site for a visual on the massacre. He then picked up a phone and called Air Force One.