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Sample Chapter from fiction book

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Sample chapter from book “Secret Title”

Welcome to India

‘hmmmmm’

Aviva had just settled into the lounge chair on the balcony of the hotel. Her wing had been tasked on the flight into theatre three days before they were actually expected to report for duty. After securing the airplane on the ramp she got out of the base as quickly as anyone could possibly have done, escaping for 72 hours of leisure time before reporting for active service. War service.

‘I’m melting’ she thought, feeling like a stick of soft butter that’s been taken out of the refrigerator, then left on a plate in the warm morning sunshine.

The last 6 months had been increasingly tense, with the first indications that an attack could be carried out, through the spin-up for task specific training missions, the accident, the rush to get everything into the region and finally that long, long night crossing of the Pacific Ocean. When she pulled the last switch off in her F-18 this morning she nearly collapsed with relief. Not relief that the war was now imminent. War seemed like the easy part after everything else. It was the preparations for it that was brutal. This down-time was desperately needed. As far as she was concerned it was the difference between future success and complete breakdown.

This was going to be the most restful sleep she’d ever had in her 34 years.

The airspace coming into the Govardhanpur Airfield in northwestern India, and nearly adjacent to the Iranian border had been busy, as one would expect in the current circumstances. Ordinarily this wasn’t a problem for her, but when you’re struggling to remain awake …. Well, little routine things can become big problems.

It wasn’t raining or cloudy, but the heat of the region combined with the city’s proximity to the ocean meant haze. A haze so dense that to say it was hazy was misleading because visibility at 1000’ couldn’t have been more than a half mile. Combined with the sharp slant angle of the suns light climbing up over the eastern horizon there was little in the way of visual references during the final minutes of the approach to land. And within this haze there were dozens of fast moving airplanes all jockeying to line-up in their approach to terra-firma again. So this was an instrument landing in what was, technically, visual conditions.

She’d had the Nav radio set to the correct ILS frequency for the runway and had been hearing the stations Morse identifier for more than 5 minutes. Although Govardhanpur didn’t have an instrument landing system, specialists with the USAF had arrived over a week ago to establish a temporary installation that provided glide-path and glide-slope services for the military aircraft that would be arriving this month. Her Horizontal Situation Indicator (HSI) was aligned with the runways published heading but she began having trouble centering the alignment. That is to say that it just wouldn’t center despite her maneuvering to capture it and get established. And the Glide Slope indicator didn’t come in as expected either …..

 ‘What the hell … ‘she thought, twisting the knob to refine the runways heading in her instruments. But this had no effect. Then the “aha” moment, only this came out as an audible ‘Shit’. The toggle between GPS Nav and the conventional Nav Radios was still set to GPS mode from the transit.  A stupid .. rookie .. error.

This was the kind of thing that would fuck-up everything. Stupid little toggle switches left in the wrong position at a critical moment. Equipment that would otherwise work perfectly is rendered useless …. Completely unused in fact …. when an error like this is made. Aviva flipped the switch and immediately had good runway alignment and a live glide slope. She pressed the ‘App’ button on the side of her PFD and the aircraft began tracking toward the approach end of the runway in alignment with the centerline at a perfect descending angle of exactly 3 degrees. The fighter’s auto-pilot interacting with the field’s instrument landing system would now take her right to the threshold despite the shitty viz this morning. A total Luddite could land the plane now.

That moment during the approach was, in many ways, the final straw, the universes one last gasp to kill her before she reached her goal.

Aviva had looked for the hotel on the internet before leaving the States. The airfield was in the Jamnagar district of India, the so-called ‘Jewel of Kathiawar’. It’s one of those cities with a history that dated back to the 16th century, with old palaces, forts and temples. Several large parks and public gardens, and all with what had sounded like a perfect mix of tradition and modern convenience. Relaxing and peaceful. Just what the doctor ordered.

Air conditioning. Something that was going to be much appreciated later today she thought, turning onto her belly when the skin on the front of her legs began to get too hot. Despite the haze the sun was searing with energy even this early in the morning.

You don’t pack a bikini to go to war so she was laying out here in her underwear and a light t-shirt. The flight suit came off about three feet into the room after arriving. A look of grateful relief went across her face as the ‘poopy suit’ came off. Opening a bottle of water from the mini-bar she flipped the T.V. on, and the room suddenly seemed to have life to it. She always thought it was peculiar how the noise from a television animated a room, but it definitely seemed more comfortable, more homey. She next unlatched the balcony door.

The Hotel President was pretty much in the center of the city so there was a fair bit of traffic noise coming up from the street five stories below. It wasn’t a racket exactly, and the sounds were also quite soothing in their own way. Aviva supposed this was reassuring because it meant there were other human beings close by. She was still, at the same time, completely isolated on her little balcony here.

The television was tuned to receive CNN International and a couple of unfamiliar looking anchors were jabbering away about the activity at airports in the region. Remarks about ‘unprecedented numbers of military aircraft’ along with speculation about when it could happen, how it could still be stopped, threats of retaliation ….. it was clear, everyone everywhere knew there were far-reaching implications about what was going to happen, and everyone was worried. To Aviva, the implications were unsettling, but she already knew the planned answers to the where, when and how questions and she also knew what her role would be when the time came, and it was a role she was comfortable with. She knew her job, was supremely confident in her ability to carry out her duty, and had a clear conscience about her task. Something had to be done and she was ready to do it.

The drone of the traffic, the drone of the pundits on the TV, the warmth of the sun … everything was combining now to create the same chemical release that a handful of muscle relaxants and sleep aids would have done. She let her mind drift to the events of the past few months, and began to replay the accident that happened high above Montana.

The mission had been routine, and everything was going perfectly. She really didn’t even have anything to do. Her flight had been tasked to escort 5 B-52’s as they simulated a bombing run, refueled, then returned to ‘friendly’ air again. In this case the heavies had left from Fairchild over at Spokane, run their simulated mission out over the north end of Vancouver Island (Canadian and American forces shared training areas and often exercised jointly). After “dropping” their weapons they had turned back over the Canadian Rockies then rejoined with the tanker just south of Calgary for the refueling exercise that would be a part of most actual taskings prior to turning back toward Fairchild. Total mission time was around 7 hours.

Her flight including herself and 3 other fighters had intercepted the heavies and begun the escort duty 125 miles west of Port Hardy, a small town at the north end of Vancouver Island. Level at 37000 feet, 325 knots indicating, and pretty much a straight line in during the final bombing run, her airplane was hardly even breathing hard. It was a real walk in the park. No turbulence even. The entire exercise was for the bomber crews, not for the fighters. During the real deal bombers would often have fighter escorts so one was requested tonight to ensure maximum realism. It’s always good to test these things out as realistically as possible …. You never know what will turn up during practices. Maybe a stray radio emission from one of the weapons on the F-18 had the ability to throw off the sensors of the bombers. Until you tried it, you just didn’t know for sure.

So nothing real to do, but it was a beautiful night for a cruise. Sliver of a moon. The lights of a half dozen towns twinkling up and down the coastline. Kind of a break in and of itself actually.

It wasn’t even a real intercept as far as how they went about finding the bombers in the night sky. There was a N.A.T.O. A.W.A.C., one of the new 767 frames driving itself around a giant oval racetrack that paralleled the border between Canada and the United States. Those guys could see over three hundred miles in every direction and were managing communications for the flight, watching for conflicting traffic for every plane, and probably patrolling for illicit cross-border flights that have occurred from time to time. Hippies in Nelson, B.C. were sometimes known to use small helicopters to fly bales of marijuana into the states. Normally flying low would keep them off radar, but not when there’s an A.W.A.C. out. That crew was referring to itself as Cyclops this particular night, and they had simply vectored the fighters onto the wing of the bombers to achieve the intercept.

Running feet dry across the coastline of B.C. the entire formation began riding a light chop, and Aviva noticed they had picked up about 80 knots of ground speed. They were surfing a pretty good tail-wind now.

“Bourbon 22, Cyclops, climb to 390 for traffic”.

The crew in the lead bomber need not reply, in fact should not reply. During an actual tasking radio emissions could be tracked by ground sensing stations. Such missions were almost always conducted “dark”. External lights off.  Radios quiet. Cyclops would be able to see them complying with the directive in their displays, and the lead bomber began a 500 foot per minute ascent within seconds of receiving the transmission. Everyone followed, including the fighters.

It didn’t take long to cross the Rockies ..they were subsonic of course, but still considerably faster than your typical airliner flight, maybe 28 minutes or so. Coming up on the eastern slopes the lights of Calgary would have been really nice to take in for a few minutes, but the planes began jumping around in the lee wave that had developed where all of that warm moist pacific air crashed down off the rocks onto the prairies. This was no longer a sight-seeing trip. This kind of wind had different names wherever it occurred around the world but she recalled now the ancient name the Indians had referred to it by. “Chinook”. The snow eater.

The auto-pilot disconnected. The trim adjustment just wasn’t keeping up to the vertical changes that were occurring now, and the moment the computer decided it was her turn to fly it didn’t exactly hand her back an airplane that was in control. She recovered quickly, but also realized immediately just how much work the autopilot had been doing for her up to that point.

Mission success tonight included proving everyone here could refuel …  a technical measure of success on the overall readiness and capability of the crews and equipment involved. But they had an out. If any of the crews couldn’t get gas for any reason they could just pull the throttles back and land in Calgary, or Lethbridge, or Medicine Hat, or Great Falls. They had a lot of options tonight. But during the real thing they’d be out over the Indian Ocean, probably at night. Success during an air-to-air refueling attempt was the difference between sleeping in a bed that night, or swimming with sharks. And even then, sometimes you only got to swim with the sharks if you survived the ejection…

So they all had to try.

Travelling southeast-bound now about 25 miles east of the mountains each of the planes began taking its turn. The fighters first, then the heavies.

All of the little guys had pulled in, “mated” then gently banked off without any problems, including Aviva. In fact it might have been the smoothest tanking she’d ever done. Whatever bumps and rolls she had to endure in her relatively small fighter, so to did the KC-135 looming ahead of her. She hit all of the same bumps they did a hundredth of a second after them, so rough as it was, relative to the tanker all was normal.

Mostly normal. They were quite a bit slower now than they were when they’d been zipping across the rocks, only 235 knots. So the plane was sailing along nose high and the flight controls definitely felt mushy. But this was hardly a problem, merely referred to as ‘Slow Flight’ in the handbook.

The fighters established a station trailing 500 feet high and off to the left side of the tanker while the bombers moved in. The bombers did this one at a time, whereas the fighters had been sipping two at a time from drogue lines trailing from each of the tankers wingtips. Each bomber was going to take about 12 minutes to load enough kerosene to fulfill the mission requirements, and the first was nearly finished now. It was a really dark night … even with running lights on now the outlines of the planes were nearly indistinguishable from the horizon. Black planes flying together on a black night in close formation. This was routine, but it was still dangerous, and everyone was watching as close as possible right now. At least, they were all watching that which could be seen, which wasn’t much.

Avivas flight had to stay with the heavies until they crossed the Alberta – Montana border then they could break off and head home themselves.

The first B-52 had already finished and skidded port to a position just ahead and below the fighters. Everyone was still rocking around in the mechanical turbulence being created by the Chinook, but everything was running like clockwork. So despite the rough ride during the last part of the mission it looked like they were all going to score a ‘Snake’ on the top of the mission brief. A snake as in an “S’, as in “satisfactory”. The second bomber was now taking its final gulps of the precious liquid. She began pulling up the nav details to get home on her multi-function display. All of the data was coming off the GPS system and ‘drew’ lines right across the display from where she was to where she needed to go. Nav in the 21st century was almost stupid simple. One eye on the screen and one eye outside. Or as nearly as one can humanly get to achieving this.

In the darkness just below her the crew aboard the lead B-52 was doing exactly the same thing. Watching instruments, setting up nav systems, recalculating their range with the fresh fuel that had just been fed into them, and everyone bouncing along on this enormous 300 mile long mountain wave. The auto-throttle setting was running fine, and the speed setting was holding a perfect 238 knots, just as it had been set to do.

Ever notice how an 8 can look like a 3 or a 5 in certain light conditions?

That massive bomber, all 515000 pounds of her, fully fuelled now, still laden with bombs (They carried them but never really dropped them of course. Imagine trying to explain that when you RTB!) and gradually inching forward in the inky darkness of the night. The blades of eight turbo-jet engines screaming out as they hurled the mighty beast along.

“Break, Break, Break” is the signal that arrives over the intercom that links the two heavy jets during the refueling. The B-52 slowed and lowered its nose while the tanker accelerated and began a gentle climb away. Number 2 in the bomber formation starts to bank left away from its station during the refueling. Not the gentle skid left lead had done, but aggressive. Too aggressive, over-banked even.

 The pattern was set. The dark night. The distractions in the cockpits of the various planes. Lead slightly out of position forward. The hard turn left by 2. Accidents seldom result from a single factor and there was a string here that was going to be fateful.

Her head was in the cockpit when the flash occurred ahead of her. Aviva felt the sudden chill of ice in her veins as she looked up. Frozen it seemed in a moment of horror, the two bombers had collided. The fuel spilling from the broken wings of both aircraft ignited, illuminating both of the giants in the instant before two aircraft tried to enmesh to create one. Only one would not result …  the result would be none. The awkward angle of the two planes, the thought, in an instant, of the people on board both. Then, motion again ….

Parts and burning fuel that seemed to fill her windscreen were now rushing at her in a blur. Hard back on the stick in a reflex, she buried it against her body, the sudden insult to the senses of high G-force, the F-18 flung itself vertical at 9 times the force of gravity. Aviva could hear the plinks of parts from the two disintegrating aircraft as they struck the belly of her airplane. She was beyond the vertical now. Stall warning sounding, she glanced at the speed in the HUD …. 47 knots! She was stalled, inverting …. Beginning a slow fall toward the ground. The flaming aircraft tumbling around in the top of her canopy, just a couple hundred yards away now….

Pressing the push to talk button under her left thumb now  “MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY”

….. She was awake again. Trying to catch her breath, on all fours on the lounge. Sweat dripping off her head and chest. Her legs beginning to pink from the exposure to the sun ….

“Fuck”, still trying to catch her breath.

Aviva looked out over the city, took one last breath and now, with her breathing under control again stood, paused for a moment with her forehead in her hand, then shook it off and headed toward the shower.

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Written by snappledagain

10/15/2013 at 13:58

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