Victor Daedalovich walked out onto the sunny tarmac. The brightness of the sun and the heat from the Californian summer made him wince, even behind the sunglasses that helped hide his features from any prying eyes. But it was not the glare that bothered him, but the broken finger in his left hand, the result of a botched attempt to neutralise the F-14 pilot he was replacing.
It had taken too long to hide the body, but he knew that it would eventually be found. He felt a weight of regret that he was forced to kill the man after he managed to avoid being sedated in the men's toilet. He had been specifically instructed not to kill anyone on this mission for obvious reasons. Now he knew that his chances of making it out alive were even slimmer. But at least he could die knowing that he had done the right thing.
An African-American man in a flight suit walked up to him as he strode towards the Tomcat. His patches indicated his role as a Radar Intercept Officer - the man who sits behind the pilot on F-14s. Was he the man he was told about?
"Hey Charles, how are you?" he remarked "How's the man treating you?"
"I've had better days" Victor replied in his best American accent. It was true. This was probably the worst day of his life and, hopefully, one which he will be remembered for.
They strode together towards the Tomcat. On the tail of the aircraft he saw the squadron insignia, a grinning wolf. As someone who used to hunt Siberian wolves, he felt that it was appropriate.
"I sold my car finally", the man said "Guess I won't need it any more".
It took a second for Victor to decode the man's statement. Yes. It was him.
"You ready for this?" Victor asked.
"Yeah man. As ready as I'll ever be" he responded.
Victor purposefully began to mount the ladder to the cockpit. He had never flown one of these machines before. He'd had years of experience on Mig-21s and Mig-23s, but this was the first time he would be flying an American aircraft. He tried to be as nonchalant as possible, but he caught himself examining the nosecone of the special Phoenix missile under the wing for half a second before he stepped up on the ladder.
Victor knew the configuration. His F-14 had one Phoenix long range missile under the port wing, a dummy missile under the starboard wing to balance it out, and a drop tank on the belly with 280 gallons of jet fuel. The Phoenix was the world's most advanced air-to-air missile and took advantage of the Tomcat's massive AWG-9 radar. His bosses had briefed him that the missiles had a range of up to 100 clicks. Victor realised that he was probably the first Soviet agent to get this close to one.
This missile, though, was different. It was not white, but red. Its nosecone was also different - slightly fatter and flatter than the original design. His mission depended upon that missile.
A man was right behind him. "Hey. Don't look too long." he said "This is Air Force property. Not Navy.".
As Victor climbed up the ladder the man followed. He was a member of the ground crew and helped to fit Victor into the seat. His patches indicated that he was Air Force, not Navy.
Behind him, Victor's RIO was being fitted in by another member of the ground crew.
"Sparko" said his RIO behind him "You hear about what they're doing with Iran?"
"That is restricted information!" the Air Force crewman interrupted, "You are not allowed to discuss it. Get on with the mission."
The man climbed down and walked away across the tarmac. Sparko and his RIO were unusually quiet.
"We got one more day of this guy. Then we're free." Sparko said in a low voice as he finished strapping in the RIO.
"Air Force, man" the RIO muttered "They're all on Benzedrine. Makes them assholes."
"What's this about Iran?" Victor asked as Sparko climbed down.
"Ahh, nothing really. Just some deal the government's making. I'll tell you about it later."
Victor knew that they had to be careful - in more ways than one. The cockpit voice recorder was recording everything they were saying. He knew that, at some stage, they'd have to somehow shut it off. There couldn't be any record of what they were doing - even if their mission failed and they were dead.
Victor stopped thinking about the mission and started to look at the cockpit. He'd been given schematics before he'd left Moscow and had memorised what everything was. They'd even created a mock up for him to practice on but it was nothing compared to the real thing.
"Hey Charles" said the RIO behind him "Remember when you first flew this thing? You couldn't get off the ground for half an hour 'cause you forgot to disengage the safety!"
Ah yes, Victor thought, I almost forgot. Victor flipped off the safety. He could now start the jet.
"I was still hung over" Victor replied. "Too much Vodka".
They both laughed, but Victor knew it was hollow and forced. Whoever his RIO was, he was good. He knew exactly how to help him and what to say. He knew that he would the last man he ever trusted, and he couldn't even remember what he looked like.
Victor started the plane. The turbofans began to howl and the cockpit shut.
"**611 are you ready for flight, over?**" came the voice over the headset.
"Ready for mission. Waiting for TOP" replied Victor. His American accent still struggling.
"**Move to 24R, over**"
"24R is the long one Charles." his RIO reminded him
"I'm not drunk today. I know my left from right." Victor replied
"Yeah well, sometimes I think you're too thick to remember."
They both laughed again. It was like acting in a play, thought Victor.
The Tomcat taxied to the end of runway 24R. They waited. The body may be found soon, thought Victor.
"**611 you are cleared for takeoff**"
"Roger tower" Victor said.
He began to open the throttle. The F-14's massive engines began to spew out concentrated flame. The pain in his little finger continued to break into his concentration. They had only been moving down the runway for a second when suddenly his RIO piped up.
"ABORT TAKEOFF. I REPEAT, ABORT TAKEOFF" he yelled.
What the hell was going on? He couldn't risk it. Even in the world of espionage things could go wrong. He had to abort the takeoff. The Tomcat's engines stopped their flame and the plane simply coasted along the runway, propelled by the initial thrust.
"**611 what is your status over?**"
Victor hoped his RIO would reply. There was nothing forthcoming.
"Will advise tower. Over" Victor said.
The plane continued its slowing roll down the runway. Victor could see the anxious eyes of mechanics and technicians from the hanger looking over.
"Tower this is RIO. We have a short in progress. Will advise." the RIO said.
"**Confirm 611. Taxi to dearming area.**"
Victor nudged the throttle enough to keep the plane rolling down the runway.
"You anywhere with this?" Victor asked.
"Ahh, I'm still trying to find the sonofabitch"
Minutes passed. They reached the end of the runway. There they were greeted by about 20 men dressed in protective fire suits and carrying hoses. One of them, an officer in charge, indicated to Victor that he wanted to talk. Victor switched to ground frequency.
"You guys okay?" Victor asked.
"You're asking us?" the man asked back. He was Air Force.
"We got a short Captain, no problems at the moment" the RIO replied "You guys bored or something?"
"Hey with that missile on you, we have orders to act in case of any potential emergency."
The RIO muted the comm. "Humourless bastard" he commented.
"Sorry RIO, I was born with a stick up my ass." Said the man in the fire suit.
"Whoah! You sayin' you can hear me?" the RIO asked.
"As sure as you're an asshole."
"Well gosh darn, looks like I found the short." the RIO said.
"Much obliged dirtbag. Anything else I can do for you?"
"Yeah just stay here. I'm about to take out the fuse. I may need you guys just in case we blow up"
Victor could hear his RIO take off his gloves and begin to rattle around inside his cockpit.
"You sure you don't want the techs to take care of this?" asked the man in the fire suit.
"Negative captain" Victor replied "Ranger can do that for us. We're already late as it is."
Victor looked away from the group of firemen. Near the hanger he saw two other Tomcats with their cockpits open. He wondered if he would be forced to shoot one of them down later - that is, if they can get off the ground in time.
He heard a laugh from behind him.
"Hey, guess what I found it."
"You need us then?" the Captain asked.
"Thanks for your help Captain. See you in hell." The RIO said.
"Yeah whatever..." the man in fire suit replied. Victor could see him mouthing obscenities with the microphone off.
The RIO contacted the tower.
"Tower this is RIO 611. Problem isolated."
"**611 wait for clearance. Over.**"
Victor looked at the cockpit clock. They were running late. If they couldn't take off in ten minutes then he'd have to do it without permission - something which would obviously raise suspicion and make the mission even less likely. Another minute passed.
"**611 this is Tech-comm. What is your situation**
"A short in panel 12. Fuse 34CV has blown. Removed it and turned off C37 switch. I think the boys at Ranger can fix this, over" the RIO said.
"**Have you checked safety system 4?"
"As much as I can." the RIO replied
"**We are advising that the mission should be aborted"
Despite the heat of the sun, Victor suddenly felt a chill run through his spine. There was no way he would abort the mission. He'd have to die trying if need be. His RIO was patient though.
"To hell with that Harold! It's just a short. We're not going to lose out on this. Do we really want to piss off the Air Force on this one?"
"**Fred man I understand what you're saying but this is a code 5 breakdown."
"I know Harold, which is why Ranger can handle it after the mission is over."
"**This is a potential Broken Arrow"
Victor could hear his RIO getting hot.
"This is an Air Force mission Harold. It only becomes a Navy mission after I fire the damn thing! What do your procedures manual say about that?"
There was a pause.
"**What do you suggest Fred man?"
"Ranger can handle it when we land. Until then there's nothing to prevent us from starting the mission."
"**Confirm that Fred man. Will advise Ranger. Don't forget your sunglasses. Over"
"Jerk" the RIO breathed "He does come from Iowa so I suppose I'd better forgive his ass"
"**611 this is tower, move to 24R". Clearance had been given. They began to travel back towards the other end of the runway. Victor could see the firemen putting away their gear.
"I suppose you're wondering what that was all about hey Moscow?" said the RIO
"Explain it to me" Victor asked. Obviously they could talk now.
"I couldn't get the cockpit voice controller to malfunction without taking out that fuse. And I couldn't do it while we were flying either. Sorry to botch things up for you. My name's Frederick. You can call me Fred man. All my friends do."
"My name is Victor, you can call me Daedalovich. That's what my friends call me." Victor replied.
"Nice to meet you Dee Man. So. How's Charles. Is he okay?" Fred asked.
Victor felt that he couldn't do anything but tell the truth. Fred was probably the last human being he would know personally.
"I had to kill him"
"Shit man!" Fred replied "Why did you have to do that?"
"I couldn't sedate him in time. We had a fight. He broke one of my fingers. I had to store him in the back toilet."
"Shit. I did this 'cause I was told no one would die man!"
"Things go wrong my friend", Victor replied "It can't be helped"
"Ah well. He was a complete asshole but a good pilot." Fred finally said. Victor could sense the forced nature of the comment. Obviously Charles' death was unsettling for him, not to mention that his killer was sitting a few feet in front of him.
"Does it make you have second thoughts?" Victor asked. They were nearing the end of their taxi
"Huh? No way man. No way. I ain't doing this for your country man, I'm doing it for my own. I guess I wouldn't have believed it had I not looked into a telescope and seen it for myself."
"You could see it in a telescope?"
"Well, I saw a dot. Nothing orbits that low, man. Some astronaut dudes I know were even concerned."
They reached the end of the runway. Time was beginning to run out.
"What I don't understand is why we put it up there in the first place" Fred said
"Probably because of us" Victor replied
"Yeah I know, but man, think of the consequences if someone decides to use it."
"Has it got anything to do with what you were saying about Iran?"
"What? Iran? Oh no man, that was just a rumour I heard. Has nothing to do with anything."
"What was the rumour?"
"Oh, this same astronaut friend of mine - the same guy who took me to the telescope - he told me that the President wants to sell a bunch of F-14s and Phoenix missiles to Iran."
"My people won't like that" Victor replied.
"Yeah well it isn't like anyone cares any more. I mean check out this President of ours man, he wasn't even elected, no one voted for him. How does that work out?"
"My bosses would tell me that it has something to do with the evils of capitalism."
"Shit man. I keep forgetting. Your accent is pretty cool man."
"How long you been with the KGB?"
"Only 12 months. Before that I was flying in East Germany."
"They good?" Fred was genuinely interested. They were talking shop.
"Heavy. Better than the 21s. They were hard to fly in combat."
Fred whistled. "You were in combat?"
"I shot down five over Hanoi. Four F-104s and one F4"
"In a Mig-21?"
"You shot down five US aircraft over Hanoi?"
"Russian pilots shooting down American jets in Vietnam?"
"Shit man. I always thought that was rumour."
"No. We were there all right. Many comrades... friends, were not as lucky, or as good, as I was. Mainly it was a case of American pilots shooting down Russian pilots."
"**611 you are cleared for takeoff**"
"Roger tower" Victor said.
Again he pushed the throttle forward, and the flames spurt out the back of the Tomcat.
This time nothing halted their trajectory down the runway. Victor's time taxiing the Tomcat had perversely given him confidence in handling the plane. Finally the wheels left the tarmac and the Tomcat flew into the sky.
The F-14 was the heaviest plane he had flown. Although he was experienced at flying the swing-wing Mig-23, the Tomcat was a completely different aircraft. He felt he was driving a rocket-powered bus - heavy but fast.
"Man you handled that pretty well." Fred said
"If we make it out alive, you could probably get a job back there. Top Gun instructor maybe."
"I would probably fire real ammunition. Stop you Americans from having good pilots." They laughed
"So you love your country huh?" Fred asked
"That's why I'm doing this Fred. Why are you doing this?"
"'Cause I love my country too."
San Diego was behind them. Their mission called for a flight into Nevada where they would engage a target drone with their experimental AWG-9 Rader. They would then fire the special Phoenix missile at the drone. At that point the USAF mission was complete and they would then make their way out into the North Pacific Ocean where they would land on the USS Ranger. That was the plan. That was not what they were doing.
"What now?" Victor asked. At some point they needed to fake an in-flight incident in order to conceal their real mission.
"Okay, you're familiar with where we're headed I take it?"
"I am heading in the right direction" Victor replied.
"Good. In a while we'll be near the Salton Sea. It's a giant ugly lake you'll see to the south."
"It sounds nice. A lake in the desert."
"The fishing is shit. When we get there I'll tell you to cut the power. You won't have to turn off the engines but you're going to have to force a stall."
"Keep 'em back. We're pretending that we've had a complete loss of power. If you shift 'em forward they'll be able to tell your trajectory on radar."
"You have good radars then?"
"No, just a good radar operator. I know the guy. He's looking at us right now on his scope back in San Diego. He can tell just by looking man. It's freaky."
"Okay, so I keep the wings back."
"At the same time you do that I'll be sending static over the comm. We won't be able to hear their hails but they'll think something is wrong. They'll hear our static and see our trajectory and go 'Oh Shit'".
"When you get down to around 2000 feet you can power up. Fly down low to around 300 feet and get rid of the drop tank - preferably on hillside or something."
"I see. They'll think we've crashed and they'll see the smoke from the fire"
"Hey they breed you smart in Moscow don't you?"
"And they breed people smart in the Bronx it seems too"
"Shut up man you got no idea what you're saying!" Fred laughed "I'm from South Central"
"Is that near the Bronx?" Victor asked
"Just shut up and fly the damn plane okay?" Fred responded, laughing. "'Is that near the Bronx?'"
They were cruising at 20,000 feet. Victor could see a small city to his left. Palm Springs if he remembered the map correctly. The Californian landscape below was dry, red and yellow and the occasional irrigated green of fruit groves. In the distance he could see the sun reflecting off a large body of water. The Salton Sea.
"There is nothing like flying over Taiga Fred" Victor said
"What you sayin?"
"Taiga. The Russian Forest. Flying over it gave me more joy than anything. It was cold. It was thick. It was living. It is Russia."
"Well I did fly over Alaska once. Cold place. Even inside the cockpit. Okay... there's a ridge of mountains about 30 clicks north of Salton." Fred said "Are we ready?"
"We can't talk until I cut the static out - our internal comms won't work until you get us down in the weeds." Fred said
"Let's go" Fred said.
A burst of static came through Victor's headphones. It was loud but Fred managed to turn the volume down. At the same time Fred hit the static, Victor pulled the throttle back to what he hoped was a minimum setting - enough to keep the engines spinning but without extinguishing them.
It was as though someone had opened a trapdoor beneath them. The Tomcat shuddered as the engines gave out and immediately pitched forward and downwards. The Tomcat was no longer flying, it was falling.
Victor resisted the urge to swing the wings forward. He remembered what it was like to pilot a Mig-21 with its engine out. The F-14 was different though.
Victor tried to push the plane into a loop, to give the impression that they were trying to corkscrew their way down. But the Tomcat was just too heavy. Eventually he had to force a dive. Victor pushed the stick forward and the Tomcat began a headlong plunge towards the ground. As they got closer he would attempt to pull it up.
Whoever had designed the F-14 had got it right. Victor had experienced free fall many times in often unreliable Soviet Migs, but, even when taking the Tomcat's enormous weight into consideration, he marveled at its aerodynamics as it fell. When a Mig lost power and fell from the sky, it was like a gigantic metal pipe spinning around. The Tomcat was different - it was more like a heavy steel feather.
His kept his eye on the altimeter. 5000 feet. 4000 feet. He flung the Tomcat around as much as he could. He hoped that his thrashing would impress whoever it was that was looking at them on radar.
Victor swung the wings forward and immediately the Tomcat gained an enormous amount of lift. At the same time he throttled the engines up again. The Tomcat fell a further 1500 feet before he regained control over the desert.
"Shit man. That was impressive"
"Now all you need to do is drop the tank. 2 O'clock. do you see it?"
Victor saw a series of ridges to his right. He dipped the Tomcat's right wing and headed in that direction. As soon as they passed over a ridge, Victor let the drop tank fall.
"Looks Beautiful. Like 4th of July. Smoke everywhere" Fred said.
Victor turned the plane around enough for him to see the smoke and flame of aviation fuel against the ridge line. It looked good but he knew it was probably too small to fool many people for long. He saw houses in the area and knew it was only a matter of time before law enforcement would come out to find out what was going on. Eventually it would make its way back to the Miramar tower and someone would put two and two together. Hopefully, by the time that equation was worked out, their mission would be complete.
Then Victor looked at the clock. They were running a full ten minutes late.
"We're late. We'll have to go supersonic"
"It's up to you, man. But if we do remember they'll find us sooner."
"If we're late we'll have to wait another month for another launch window. It may be too late by then."
"You're the man." said Fred.
Victor pulled the wings back again so that the Tomcat regained its delta-wing shape. Simultaneously he pushed the throttle forward as far as he felt was safe. Heading West, 200 feet off the desert floor, the F-14 went supersonic, causing a loud sonic boom to be heard by anyone in the vicinity as it passed. The noise would make people complain and eventually someone back in Miramar would realise what was going on. It was better than climbing up and getting detected by curious radar operators.
"Are they calling us?"
"Yeah. I shut your headset down 'cause I thought you might want to concentrate on flying."
"Dont mention it. I'll keep monitoring them until we get to the waypoint. Obviously then I'll have to concentrate on something else. I'll let you know of any developments."
Victor didn't respond. Flying at a mere 200ft at one point two times the speed of sound required him to use all the skills he had - not to mention luck. Not only did he have to keep an eye out for objects close by, but he also had to look out for hills and mountains approaching in the distance.
After a while the desert disappeared and was replaced by tree-lined ridges. Despite keeping themselves only a few hundred feet off the ground, they were quickly climbing thousands of feet into the sky, following the contours of the San Jacinto Mountains. They plunged down the western side, and Victor changed direction and headed South West.
"Okay they now think we're down. We've been pinged a few times by radars around the state but I don't think they realise we're the same contact"
"You have good radars" Victor said
"No, just a heck of lot of them."
"Well, apart from Miramar, there's also an ANG base at Riverside that will be interested in a supersonic contact flying over the mountains"
Victor was worried. Their mission called for them to essentially fly back towards the very air bases that would send up interceptors to shoot them down - even Miramar, the base they had taken off from. But he also knew that there was no other way.
"Okay Dee man, here's Vista. We'll be over the ocean soon."
A town streaked by a couple of clicks to their left.
"What's your plan Dee man?"
They were still late. They needed to risk more in order for speed.
"If we don't get to the waypoint soon our mission will be in vain."
"Okay, then put her up and push her out"
The Californian coast suddenly appeared and they were now streaking over blue ocean. Victor increased the throttle all the way and climbed up to 15,000 ft. The speed increased to Mach 1.8, the fastest they could go with their missile payload.
"Dee man they still we've crashed near Palm Springs, but we've been hailed by four different radar sites asking who we are."
"I suppose stalling them is out of the question?"
"I don't know what you Russkies do but US pilots do NOT go for joyrides. As soon as I speak to em they'll know who we are and then they'll wonder why we're here. We're still too close to Miramar..."
"And the Ranger is close to the waypoint. Oh well, we'll just have to give it our best shot."
"Well Dee Man, that's why I'm here. Do you want me to start her up?"
"You're the boss" Victor replied.
A few short jabs later and the Tomcat's massive AMG-9 radar came on line. Victor believed that the Tomcat actually slowed up slightly when the radar came online, such was the power required to run it.
"Shit man, they trained me for weeks on this thing. Hang on."
The AWG-9 radar, like the missile, was special, unlike the norm. It was still powerful, but had been geared for a different purpose. A special control unit inside the fuselage was directing different signals down special wires, squelching standard wavelengths and increasing others. The crew at Ranger were supposed to remove the control unit when they landed - but no chance of that now.
"Okay I've got it. Man this things sucks."
"What do you mean?" asked Victor
"I think I've got about half the range. If Ranger or anyone else has sent up someone to get us I won't know about it for a while"
"That's life my friend"
"Yeah whatever. I just hope it does what it's supposed to"
"Time will tell"
"Umm... Dee man I think they're getting unhappy. I'm hearing... hang on"
Fred paused, Victor knew he was listening carefully to something.
"Okay they found Charles. Ranger is being alerted, They know where we are. Shit."
"We have no choice Fred. We have to keep going."
"Man if I'm gonna die for something, I'd rather die for something I succeed in rather than something I failed to do... 'specially when it's my own guys going to shoot me down."
Victor peered out of the cockpit. The North Pacific Ocean spread out all around them.
"You know Fred, I always liked the sea"
"My Father was in the Soviet Navy."
"Well far out."
"He fought at Stalingrad against the Germans."
"Stalingrad ain't in the sea man. I don't know shit about Russia but I do know that cities tend to be on land."
Victor chuckled "They used anyone in those days for the army."
Victor felt safer. He was now confident that they would get to the waypoint before they were intercepted by units from Ranger or Miramar. Their mission could still fail, but at least they had gotten as far as they did.
Victor looked down at his instruments. The waypoint was approaching.
"Nearly there. Are you ready Fred?"
"We got a good time yet?"
Victor looked at the cockpit clock. The object would not be visible to the radar for another minute. He powered back on the throttle and dropped altitude.
"We're early. Believe it or not"
"I thought you were running late. What is this some weird Russian way of thinking?"
Victor couldn't fathom it. Maybe he had simply underestimated the sheer speed of the F-14. They were late when they reached the coast, now they were a minute or so early after having reached the waypoint. Victor shrugged to himself, might as well circle around for a while.
"I'm getting dizzy doing this. I don't want to be dizzy before I die." Fred said after a while.
"Fred... spasibo, thank you"
"For what man?" Fred sounded interested.
"Sometimes I wondered what it would be like to meet the last person in my life. You've made this mission succeed so far... And you amuse me."
"Oh, I amuse you now huh?" Victor could hear the smile on his face "Well we ain't sleeping together after this if that's what you're getting at. IF we survive. And YOU still gotta shoot that thing down or blow it up or whatever. When we going up?"
Victor looked at the clock. 6 seconds to go.
Victor lurched the F-14 directly up into the sky, flying vertical. The throttle was opened as far as it could go and he had engaged the afterburners. The g-forces were crushing him into his seat, but it wasn't anything he hadn't done before.
"You got it yet?" Victor asked over the din.
Precious seconds passed. Where was it?
Fred spoke loudly, it was getting hard to hear. "Still not there. We looking in the right place?"
Victor began to get annoyed. Not only were the g-forces slamming him backwards and the roar of the turbofans getting to him, but the Tomcat was bucking around from the wind turbulence from the missiles it carried. They were at Mach 1.5 but were slowing. The whine of the turbines reminded him of his two-stroke Trabant climbing a hill that was too steep.
The Tomcat flew past the 30,000 feet barrier. And they didn't even have a lock yet.
"We're doing it from the wrong direction!" yelled Fred "We need to face south!"
Victor corkscrewed the near vertical plane around so that their belly faced south. They sped past 35,000 feet at Mach 1.3. It was getting harder.
"Still no sign" yelled Fred.
Victor was less annoyed now than worried. He closed his eyes and brought his mind to bear. Suddenly he had it.
Fred flipped the Tomcat over. They were now making a steep inverted climb, their cockpit facing towards the ocean, and the radar pointing back over their heads. Not only were the g-forces forcing him back into his seat, but the inversion also meant he was upside down.
"Got it!" yelled Fred "Computer reckons Mach 8. Targeting now."
In front of them, the special AWG-9 rader, designed to punch through the atmosphere and detect things in orbit, locked onto the object.
"Locked... and away!" yelled Fred
Victor felt a shudder as the Phoenix missile left its moorings and rocketed upwards towards space. He saw the glare of the rocket engine and the trail of exhaust as it broke past Mach 3 on its way up.
Simultaneously, Victor unclipped the dummy missile that had balanced out the payload. The white object flipped backwards and fell towards the ocean. He immediately felt the Tomcat's ride smooth out. The speed increased to Mach 1.4 and 40,000 feet sped by. Things would be easier for a while, but they had to keep the object targeted and locked, which meant that their unusual inverted climb needed to continue.
A shrill beeping sounded throughout the cockpit. Victor didn't have to guess what it was.
"How long do you think?" Victor yelled
"Depends man. They're probably shooting a Phoenix at us right now. 50 clicks away, maybe a few minutes."
"What about ours?"
"Man that thing's flying vertical. Let's hope it gets there."
The incessant beeping continued as the Tomcat made its inverted climb upwards. 45,000 feet now.
"We need to get over on our belly. We have to keep that bitch locked." Fred yelled
Victor corkscrewed again. They were no longer inverted but still nearly vertical.
"Level out more. That thing is going at Mach 8. We're going to lose it!"
Victor leveled the plane out.
"Where we now?" Fred asked.
"Okay it's near. I hope you got your visor down. Don't forget, we're going to lose our instruments. Remember to keep your head..."
A blinding light filled the cockpit and Victor was momentarily dazzled. He had never witnessed a nuclear explosion before, but even the knowledge that one was going to happen could not prepare him for the experience.
The Phoenix had detonated at 110,000 feet. Its nuclear warhead was a 210 kiloton weapon that had recently been developed for the Air Force. The missile had been intended for the test that they had abandoned.
The explosion, when he could view it properly through his polarised visor, was an expanding ball of light and flame high up in the atmosphere.
Fred was yelling something behind him. Even though the blast was over 50,000 feet about him he could feel the heat searing into him through his flight suit. Victor inverted the Tomcat over to shield them from the light and heat.
It took a second for him to realise that the engines had stopped and that all his instruments were no longer functioning. He had a further second to think about how he knew this would happen but was interrupted by the shockwave hitting the crippled Tomcat, sending it into a spin. He knew that they were around 55,000 feet when the missile detonated since that was the number the dial was stuck on, the electronics of the plane now useless.
Victor wasn't a technician, but he knew that the stick still worked and that the engine was not run by anything electronic. Theoretically he knew that he could somehow get the engines started again - that's what they had told him back in Moscow anyway.
The F-14 was the most advanced plane that the US had. It was filled with electronic devices. But all of them, including the massive AMG-9 radar, was now smoldering away from the electromagnetic pulse. Yet he could still feel the plane through the stick, and he knew that the throttle was mechanically operated.
He managed to stop the Tomcat spinning, but it was now just a massive glider. Without the engines, they would plow into the ocean. Their mission had hopefully succeeded, now they were trying to escape.
"Hey Dee, you there?" Fred asked
"You got the communications working. How?" Victor asked as he began to prime the engines for restart.
"Backup system. I deliberately turned it off remember?"
"So we're being recorded?"
"Not since the tape device melted. Man what a smell there is."
The cockpit had been filled with an acrid smoke from the burnt electronics. He wondered if the Tomcat itself was aflame from the heat of the blast. He could still feel the radiant heat beating down from above him, like standing near a bonfire. It would be another few minutes before the fire extinguished and the upper jetstream blew the cloud into radioactive mist.
At least they were no longer concerned with being shot down. The other jets sent to intercept him were probably having the same problem. Their radars would have been burnt out, and any guided missiles that they had fired in his direction were probably even now plunging into the ocean, a place they would in soon if he didn't get the engines going again.
"So. What's the plan?"
"Mexico? Why not Cuba?" Victor tried to start the engines.
"Don't think we got the fuel for Cuba. We probably don't have the capacity to lower our landing gear either. That is, if we can get this bird flying again. You get the engines started yet dear?"
The left engine coughed into life again. It was a horrible sound, as if the engine was protesting against its very existence. Victor's Trabant sounded better. The Tomcat levelled out, driven by the smoky thrust of the single engine.
"What's your opinion on the engine?" Victor asked.
"Man that turbine may go. There were some control devices to fine tune the thing. Maybe they gone as well."
The right-hand engine coughed to life. It sounded better. Victor instinctively turned the left one off.
"Good move Dee man. I wouldn't want a turbine blade cutting into me."
They were probably at 10,000 feet, according to Victor's guess. The wings were swept back and could no longer be moved forward. The Tomcat was flying on one engine, heading towards Mexico. Victor's face began to tingle. Sunburn? Radiation? Who knows?
"So, you think we did it?" asked Fred.
"Hard to say. The EMP would've knocked out a few satellites. Why not that one?"
"I think even Ranger may be out. That'll make 'em pissed."
Victor smiled. If Ranger had been hit, then their radars and electronics should be out too.
"Hey Dee, can you speak Spanish?"
"There's a bar I go to in La Paz. I gotta take you to it."
"Just none of your American beer okay? I must have good vodka."
The Montana Air National Guard F-104 crept up unnoticed behind the crippled, smoking Tomcat. Its pilot, knowing that his own electronics were no longer functional, hoped that the Starfighter's cannon still worked. It did, and neither of the occupants of the F-14 were aware of anything as their aircraft shredded apart. The pilot watched as the remains of the Navy jet impacted the water, sinking to the bottom of the North Pacific Ocean.
As the pilot banked and headed towards home, he saw another flash of light in the sky, near the horizon to the north. Not another H-bomb, he hoped. No. It was bright but not blinding. Something was burning up high in the atmosphere a few hundred clicks from his position. Maybe a meteorite or something. Abruptly it went out. With all that had happened to him so far that day, he could be forgiven for not reporting it once he got back to base.
From the Eye of ArgOne Department
© 2007 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
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