The Man From God Only Knows Ch. 06byAdrian Leverkuhn©
Part VI of The Blackwatch Saga
©2009 Adrian Leverkuhn
Austin Stormgren sat in the jumpseat behind his brother and another pilot in the cockpit of a markedly-old Boeing airliner; a 737, Jamie called it. It was slower than molasses, capable of about one-tenth the speed the SCRAM-jets the Blackwatch normally used to cover long distances, and the cockpit smelled like nothing he'd ever run into in his life. Coffee and body-odor stood out, but Jamie said the real stench came from tobacco. Tobacco! That stuff was almost legendary! And despite its slow speed, the old bird had one special trick up her sleeve that made it unique in all the world – and uniquely suited to this mission.
She had been the sole flying test bed for a next-generation electro-optical camouflage system when the secession wars broke out. Austin didn't understand it – basically sensors read light from the relevant angle and realigned molecules in a crystalline substrate applied to the surface features of the aircraft – and like a chameleon the aircraft – from a distance at least – for all intents and purposes almost disappeared from view. The illusion broke down rapidly when you got within a quarter mile or so of the aircraft, but with Jamie's plan that would be enough. Or so they hoped.
He leaned forward and looked out the cockpit window: he could see the wing flexing but it looked weird. They were miles above the desert floor but even in the early dawn light he could see desert features on top of the wing. The image shimmered and adjusted as the aircraft flew over a small mountain range; the wing looked more like a pile of boulders for a moment, then shimmered again into something new. He watched as Jamie looked at a screen full of radar data coming from who-only-knew – probably Davos, for all Austin knew – then spoke into the intercom.
"Target entering atmosphere. We should pick them up on their bleed, say within ten minutes, and expect landing in another ten minutes after that."
"Roger that," came the metallic reply.
"I got time to pee?" Austin asked.
"Yeah. Fuck, I need to take one too. Jennie, take the airplane."
"My airplane," the co-pilot said.
"Come on," Jamie said as he crawled and contorted his way out of the left-hand seat. "Fuck, feels good to stretch for a second. Ah!"
They walked back into the cramped aisle by the forward galley and the main entry; Jamie opened the bi-fold door to the tiny restroom and fired away, talking all the while about what a funky airplane the 737 was, how solidly built it was and how easy it was to fly, then he backed out and motioned: "Your turn."
"Not much on privacy, are you?"
"No such thing, living inside a fucking rock. You get used to it. Anyway, you'd better get used to it, too, at least if you're serious about making it onto The Emissary. There aren't that many open slots left, you know."
"I'll make it." Austin leaned into the room and held his nose while he pee'd. He popped out after thirty seconds and gasped for air. "My God in Heaven! It really stinks in there!"
"Yeah? Seventy year old crap; that'll do it every time. This bird ain't no spring chicken." He patted a wall affectionately, looked around at the interior, at the men gathered in the rear.
"You seem to take everything so calmly, Jamie. How do you do it?"
"Hm-m? Hell, I don't know, kid. Just the way it's been, I guess. When you fly, you stay calm or you screw the pooch everytime. You get killed, fast. And speaking of which, you're gonna need to be thinking pretty quick on your feet in about ten minutes. You'd better go back there, get with the ground team and get ready to roll."
"Yeah, right." Austin turned, looked at the commandos huddled in the rear of the aircraft. Fifty men against whatever thousands ConIsmus could muster. Would they be enough? Would Weblenson really be able to neutralize so many, so quickly? "Well, good luck Jamie."
"Me? Shit, Ace, I'm gonna be sittin' up front reading some vintage porn while you're out there kicking ass. I may have big brass balls up here in the big, blue sky, but put me on the ground and I grow chicken feathers every time."
They looked at each other for a moment, then shook hands. It was an awkward moment, in a relationship that had been nothing but a brief series of awkward moments.
"Right. Take care, brother."
"I'll try to keep a couple of cold ones ready."
James slapped his brother's back. "Later, Ace, later. I've got to go do some of that flying shit right now." He turned and walked back into the cockpit but hesitated a moment, turned and looked at his little brother one more time. He swallowed hard, tried to keep from tearing up while he watched the kid walk back to the other men.
"What a crazy, fucked up world!" he said to himself.
He turned and shut the cockpit door behind him.
Tribonian Bergtorson led his assault force – and the people they'd picked-up over the past couple of hours – through the Institutes buildings; he was looking for Misogi Kibata, the silver-haired exchange student/cadet from the Asiana confederation. The girl's father was part of Asiana's diplomatic mission to the Blackwatch; it would do no good at all at this late date to lose the girl – even if she had known the risks. Besides, he'd heard a rumor she had a crush on Aurelius/Austin. That couldn't hurt. And if he could get her onto The Emissary? Goodness! What concessions could he wring from Asiana for that?
His radio crackled.
"Streetsweeper-3 to lead, we have her."
"Lead to three, good work. Proceed to pick-up."
Outstanding. Now, why hadn't he heard from Weblenson?
Another volley of machinegun fire ripped through the rocks above Weblenson's head, spraying a hail of stone and mud down the back of his neck. He was pinned down, unable to move; his group of twenty commandos was scattered along a defensive skirmish-line to his left and right, the Justinian's downed air-car was about a hundred yards in front of his position. Scattered remnants of the Commandant's elite ground force had seen the Justinian's car going down and rallied to her call for help. She was hurt, but apparently not critically so. Weblenson had one last card to play, and he wondered if it was time to throw it down now. Or hold just a little longer...
He took out his radio.
"Justinian?" he whispered into the headset.
"Who is this?" he heard her reply.
"Where the fuck are you? What happened?"
"Justinian, it appears they detonated a low-yield device underground, possibly a neutron device." That was the planned-for lie, anyway. "My men are gone, only a handful left. Where are you?"
She read off coordinates, then: "Do you have any medical personnel, Commander?"
"Yes, Justinian. I had them pulled well back."
"We need them here," he heard her say, and he could hear other men crying in the background.
"I hear gunfire, Justinian."
"There are commandos between my position and yours; I don't have enough men left to mount an assault on their position. Can you cut them off, maybe take them from the rear?"
"Yes, Justinian. Give me a few minutes to get in position. I will call you back in a minute."
Weblenson called his lieutenant over and they discussed options, then he sent him on their way. He took out his other transceiver and switched frequency. "Snowbird to Streetsweeper?"
"Snowbird, status report!"
"Resistance heavier than anticipated."
"Understood. ETA now twenty minutes."
Weblenson groaned. It would be almost impossible, he knew, to cover the distance to the airport in that amount of time, let alone conduct a ground op first. "Twenty, understood."
He turned to the lieutenant and gave a hand signal.
The 'assault' on his position from the rear began.
Sinn August-dottir lay in the lee of the downed air-car, a blood-soaked pressure dressing over the top of her right thigh, a deep cut on her forehead oozing blood through a gauze pad taped there. Her pilot lay next to her, dead. Four other men, two wounded badly but still fighting, lay on either side of her. She hears gunfire, looks over rubble and sees Weblenson and a group of men converging on the commandos that has pinned her own men down for a half hour. The firefight lasts but a few moments and is over, she watches Weblenson and his men running through rubble toward her position. Soon a medic is by her side, cutting away fabric, sticking a syringe full of morphine into her other thigh. The world begins to swim and shimmer, she can just barely make out what the men are saying...
"She's lost a lot of blood, Commander."
"We don't have time for this. Load her up; we've got to get moving!"
"Moving?" the Justinian said through a shifting purple haze, "Moving where, Commander?"
"To the airport, Justinian. The hospital was attacked not long ago, and the streets are no longer safe. There is an aid station at the airport."
"What... why the..." she tries to speak, instinctively knows something is wrong but her body isn't responding anymore. An orderly leans over and puts an oxygen mask over her face... the gas smells odd, metallic... She feels her body falling, falling like a leaf into a broad running current... 'I remember water,' she thinks as the last ragged vestiges of consciousness reach for her, before she is pulled up into the light. "I remember streams and autumn leaves." Her eyes close, her breathing slows.
"We've got to hurry," Weblenson tells his men. They have her on a stretcher now and are running toward a ground transport when a huge double sonic boom rips through the sky overhead. Weblenson looks up, sees the Commandant's SCRAM-jet re-entering the atmosphere, begin its wide, arcing turn to bleed-off energy and line up for the approach into LAX.
"Alright men, that's, that's our signal... up there!" He stopped and pointed at the fiery re-entry. "We've got about ten minutes to get to the rendezvous."
They threw the stretcher in the transporter and clambered in. The pilot pulled back on the stick and the truck leapt into a grim, smoke-filled sky.
"There it is!"
James Stormgren craned his head to the right, looked out past the co-pilot's pointing finger. The SCRAM-jet was trailing a thick white vortex of condensation and fiery residue from re-entry; it looked to be turning on the base leg of its approach. He looked down at the shiny domes that cover Palm Springs, then at the threat receivers on the panel: still all quiet.
"Angel One, LA Center, clear to land, no other traffic, contact approach on one two two point five."
"Angel One to one two two point five."
Stormgren reached up, dialed in the new frequency, looked out over the left wing and saw the Commandant's shuttle begin its final roll-out onto final. He poured on throttle and began climbing to intercept it; by the time they were over the eastern limit of the city he had the 'invisible' 737 tucked in behind and just a little above the shiny white dart-shaped shuttle.
So far no radar contact, no warble from the threat receiver.
He backed off a little, moved a little left, prepared to arm the single Sidewinder missile hastily slung under the 737's right wingtip for just this purpose. A part of him hated to destroy such a beautiful machine, let alone the men and women inside, and a part of him hoped the other pilot would be able to control the shuttle and somehow bring her down intact. He wondered if he'd be able to in similar circumstances.
Probably not, he told himself.
He could see a huge white desalinization plant off to the southwest, the coast and sea sparkling beyond; almost dead ahead he could see the remnants of a huge explosion drifting in the still morning air, apparently large fires were still burning down there, probably out of control.
"Five hundred," the automated voice of the flight computer chimed.
"Missile armed," Stormgren said. He knew that almost instantly threat receivers on the shuttle would go off, that they'd initiate a 'go-around' and begin countermeasures.
"Two hundred, minimums," the voice of the flight computer again.
"Fox one!" Stormgren yelled. The Sidewinder leapt from its mount and crossed the two hundred meters to the Commandant's shuttle in a millisecond; before, probably, the other pilot would have time to react to his threat receiver. The missile slammed into the left engine pod; fan blades and a huge orange blossom of fire erupted from the left side of the fuselage; the shuttle began rolling drunkenly to the right as the other pilot struggled to control the resultant asymmetry.
The shuttle crossed the runway threshold nose down and left wing up; the right wingtip struck the ground and the shuttle began cart-wheeling – before disappearing inside a roiling black cloud alive with orange flame.
Stormgren chopped the throttle, flared the 737 and touched down; he didn't use the thrust reversers, didn't want to call attention to their arrival and alert whatever ground forces were stationed at the airport. The jet rolled out slowly to the end of the runway, the old coast highway and the beach lay just over a line of dunes beyond. He turned the jet, aimed it right back down the runway, then cut power to the number one engine on the left wing as the jet rolled to a stop. He heard doors opening in the cabin, men shouting as they slid down emergency slides; he saw his brother running away from the aircraft to help establish a defensive perimeter and he felt a little surge of adrenalin-fueled pride.
"There!" the co-pilot sang out, pointing toward the old main terminal complex a mile away. "Trucks!"
Yes! No one pursuing! The plan might work after all!
He looked down to the far end of the runway - to wreckage burning uncontrollably there; so far not one fire truck or other emergency vehicle had responded. What the hell was going on?
Now two groups of trucks approached; one on the ground from the terminal and the other from the air. The second landed in a cloud of dust; men boiled out and joined the others already on the ground. He saw a stretcher being off-loaded from the air-truck, a couple of wounded ConIsmus troops being helped out by commandos as the first group arrived. Another few minutes to load and they'd be able to get the fuck out of Dodge. Men were climbing the webbing to get aboard, but it was slow going.
A sonic boom, then another and another. Heavy transport shuttles re-entering atmosphere over the city; reinforcements arriving from another city-state. He reached for the intercom:
"Hurry it up back there! At least three shuttles inbound!"
Stormgren looks out his window; a couple men remain, one talking on a radio handset, pointing at the shuttles overhead arcing down toward the airport. Stormgren looked up at the shuttles; he'd never seen anythin like them before. And they weren't lining up to land on the runway! They were coming straight down, like helicopters, and right down toward the runway.
"Start one!" he yelled at the co-pilot.
"Goddamnit, start one!"
"Starting one!" Stormgren heard the turbine spooling up seconds later. The remaining men on the ground turned and looked up at the cockpit; one was still talking on the radio. The other was looking up at the approaching transport, then turned and looked up at the cockpit.
"Oh God, no," James moaned. Austin. It was Austin, and he watched helplessly as the other man grabbed his brother, pushed him toward the aircraft. Austin shook his head and, as if resigned to an uncaring fate, stood by the other man.
A commando burst into the cockpit. "All aboard! We better move!" he shouted. "Now!"
Stormgren nodded, looked at the engine temps and pressures as both engines spooled up.
"Give me take-off flaps," he says to the co-pilot.
He looks back at the men on the runway, but they are gone. He can see a group of men running away from the area through fire and rubble off to the left; something catches his eye... it is the first transport shuttle flaring to land far down the runway.
He pushes the throttles to the stops and pedals the rudders to command authority, all thought of his brother fading as reality settles-in: he might not be able to clear the shuttle and its heavy down-firing thrusters. The 737 gather speed, the old concrete runway rumbles away underneath as they pass through one hundred knots. Stormgren looks down the runway at the first shuttle.
"V-one!" the co-pilot calls.
"Fuck!" Stormgren yells. Another shuttle is landing at the far end of the runway, the shadow of the third blots out all light just overhead.
"V-two, rotate!" the co-pilot calls out.
Stormgren pulls back on the yoke as explosions ripple through the air around him.
End Part VI
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