|Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Any similarities to persons living, dead, space aliens, goats, forum posters, editors, beta readers, musicians, or writers are purely coincidental. There may be sexual content so if this, in any form, offends you, please cease reading this lest it send you screaming from the room. If you are not of legal age to read this, please don't.|
|Chapter 30: Feelings|
“We need to talk,” Jane said without preamble as she walked into Jon’s suite and took a seat, leaving Jon standing by the door he’d just opened. Helen arched an irritated eyebrow, not at all pleased that Jane’s imperious tone had returned for an encore performance, nor the fact that Jane was barging into a business meeting. Brandon and Chase looked up with concern as Jane continued after a long pause, “Eric is planning something that would be a disaster for Instinct’s career. A strip club. Helen, this is your bailiwick. Did you know about his plans? Am I right, that this could be a disaster?”
Jane’s deference mollified Helen somewhat, and she replied, “Yes, I approved the venture. It looks to be profitable and should not unduly harm Instinct. Celebrities often open clubs and restaurants, and I believe that it is a good idea for the boys to branch out.” Helen glanced at the three members of Instinct, seeking their approval to disclose a little about the business. Receiving their subtle nods, she continued, “Instinct cannot be their entire life forever; their next album, Changing Lanes, may be the last. The reason I called the band together tonight was to discuss the disturbing drop in concert pre-sales.” That much had come as no surprise to Jon, Brandon, and Chase; Helen had warned the band, more than once, that Instinct’s revenues, especially the critical concert advance sales and merchandising, were beginning to falter. Demographics were one issue and Brandon and Chase felt themselves to blame for that. Their decision to come out was hurting Instinct, but they hoped it would not be fatal. Everything depended on Changing Lanes; if the album proved a dud and concert attendance tanked, there would be little reason to produce another album anytime soon.
“I’ve been thinking of opening a recording studio,” Jon added, floating the idea for the first time.
Jane nodded once, and asked Chase, “And what about you?”
“Brandon and I haven’t had a lot of time to think about it,” Chase said, making the point to his mother that Brandon was very much a part of the conversation.
Jane conceded Chase’s point. “Well, you should both make plans. Eric’s venture does not bode well in my opinion. Those two strippers he’s going into this business with… pardon me for saying so, and I mean no offence Chase, but I’ve heard they are a couple, and Eric’s involvement with them, especially as he seems to spend all his time with them, might lead to… rumors. Given that you and Brandon have made your relationship public, any rumors regarding Eric could be taken more seriously than would have otherwise been the case.”
‘A fishing expedition… she has suspicions about Eric’ Helen thought. “Jane, Eric’s concept for the club is for a classy establishment, based in large part on the music industry, and as such is hardly any stain on his image. It is not much of a secret that Barbra and I are a couple, so why does Jansen and Keith’s sexuality reflect on Eric any more than my own does? Perhaps I’ve missed any tabloid items in this regard, but I’ve yet to hear of any rumors that Eric may be a lesbian,” Helen said, delivering the last word in a cold tone.
Jon nearly choked on his drink, and he hoped his mother had the sense not to push Helen on that issue. Brandon and Chase shared a concerned glance, thinking much the same thing.
Jane crossed her arms and directed an angry glare at Helen. “From a purely business point of view, which I’m sure that you above all others can appreciate, having you as their business manager was unwise. Had JT and I known of that–”
“You’d have installed a more pliable manager who would have taken your side when you turned your back on your own sons, treating them like yesterday’s fucking trash, thus destroying their careers and perhaps their lives,” Helen said, her voice rising as she shoved her chair back and stood up. At full volume, loud enough to shake the walls, Helen added, “How dare you, after what you have done, imply that I am unsuitable for this job. If you were a fit parent you might have that right, but you threw that away.”
Fearing for his mother’s safety, Jon weighed in. “There wouldn’t be an Instinct without Helen, and thanks to her strict rules regarding money the four of us could walk away tomorrow, set for life. You owe Helen an apology.”
A quick glance at Brandon and Chase showed no support from that quarter, so Jane replied, “Very well. I’m only trying to help. I know I have a great deal to make up for. Helen, I know that you have worked long and hard. It is clear to all, myself included, that you have achieved spectacular results. I am also well aware that you filled in as a parent when JT and I failed dismally in that regard. I shall be forever in your debt for that. What I meant was, it could be harmful, from a business point of view, to have sexuality issues, real or otherwise, become public. Can you honestly tell me that what Brandon and Chase have done is not the cause of Instinct’s current uncertain future?”
Forcing her temper partially back in its box, and wishing that Jane would leave that particular issue alone, Helen sat down and nodded once. “Yes, Jane, I can tell you precisely that. In today’s music business, a band can be on top one minute and forgotten the next. Instinct’s rise was fast and furious. The publicity avalanche resulting from the bomb incident put them in the spotlight in a way no band has ever been. There’s a phenomenon known as overload burnout; too much publicity can lead to decline as the public tires of non-stop exposure on a single topic. Look at all the celebrities who were the latest big thing one minute and has-beens the next. Instinct’s decline would have likely occurred without Brandon and Chase’s decision to make their relationship public. Is it a factor? Yes. Is it the largest factor? No. The new album might turn the tide, but it might not. That can be said for any band coming off a meteoric high. Don’t write Instinct’s obituary yet; we’ve got at least this new album and a six-month concert tour to go. We may be down, but I assure you, we are far from out.
“The fact of the matter is, we just don’t know what the future holds,” Helen continued, her tone softening slightly, “No one does. That’s why I’ve been such a hard nose with these boys, making them save their incomes instead of squandering it like so many in their position have done. Now, if the band fails or goes on hiatus for a while, they have virtually unlimited options. We’ll be off this island soon, back in the studio in L.A., and we’ll do our best on Changing Lanes.” Having said her peace, Helen calmed down a little more.
Hoping to change the subject, Chase asked, “Speaking of L.A., any news on that big earthquake they were expecting?”
Helen noticed Chase’s attempt for what it was, and gave him a quick smile before answering, “It looks like it was a false alarm, or perhaps a premature one. The claims of an imminent massive quake have subsided and now the consensus seems to be that it could happen in a month, a year, or a decade. No one knows, and at least they’re admitting that now.”
“So in other words, things are back to normal in California; the Big One is coming, but it might be tomorrow, or years,” Brandon said with a grin.
“That about sums it up,” Helen said with a genuine laugh. Like many people who called earthquake country home, she had a cavalier attitude towards temblors.
Jane sighed. “Given our current location on an erupting volcano, I suppose an earthquake threat is a minor concern. I’m sorry for any distress I’ve caused. The stress of being here under this constant threat gets to me. Enjoy your meals.” With that, Jane got up and let herself out of the suite.
Helen could sympathize regarding the stress, though she thought Jane’s use of that excuse was wearing rather thin.
Eric arrived a few minutes later, to find his band mates and Helen in an animated conversation. Helen looked up for just long enough to say, “You’re late.”
“I was watching the volcano with Jansen and Keith,” Eric replied, smiling at the memory of his goodnight kiss with Jansen.
As Eric took a seat, Jon said, “Damn, now we can’t talk about you behind your back anymore.”
“Like me being here ever stopped you,” Eric said with a grin. “So, anything new?”
Helen gave Eric as quick rundown on the sales data and what had transpired with his mother, and he replied, “Please try and go easy on her. She’s being a pain, no argument there, but coming here has probably ended her marriage. She’s afraid; I can tell. So, she’s trying to jump in and be a part of things. I don’t think she realizes it, but she’s trying to make a new life for herself and that’s why she’s jumping into ours with both feet.”
“I know exactly where I’d like to plant my feet,” Helen said with a snarl, and then arched an inquiring eyebrow to add, “I think she has suspicions about your sexuality.”
Eric shrugged, and then grinned. “Yeah, well, she walked in on me and Jansen when we were about to kiss. I need to talk to all of you about that, because later, we did. Then another when I left for this meeting. I guess we’re dating now. If it works out, I don’t want to hide it. What would that do to Instinct?” Eric waited for the reply, casting a nervous glance in Jon’s direction.
To Eric’s surprise, the reply came from Chase. “That’s not a good idea. Brandon and I going public hurt Instinct. I know it’s not the entire problem, but it is a part. Keep it private, for all our sakes, and yours and Jansen’s as well.”
For Eric’s second surprise, Jon chimed in to say, “I think you should just be you, whoever you’re with. I’m not saying you should come out live on national TV like those two did,” he gave Brandon and Chase a nod and a smile, to indicate that he meant no offence, “but you don’t need to hide yourself, either. You need to do what makes you happy. That’s my take on it, anyway.”
Eric glanced around the table in confusion before saying, “Why do I feel like I’m in a remake of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’? What did you guys do, swap brains or something?”
Jon chuckled and leaned back in his chair. “I wasn’t too cool about the idea of you dating a guy, but… it’s your life. If that’s what makes you happy, then that’s it. I still find it a little weird, and I’m not thrilled about being the only straight guy in the band, but hey, that’s life. Just do what feels right, but give it some time to be sure.”
Helen, like Eric, was startled by the roles Jon and Chase had taken. It was Chase’s that concerned her more, and guessing the cause, she said, “Brandon, Chase, I meant what I said. Your coming out hurt us in one demographic, to a degree, but it’s a small part of the issues we are facing. I supported you and pushed you to do it, so blame me, not yourselves. However, that said, I feel that what you did is at most ten percent of our recent decline. The other ninety percent has nothing to do with it, so stop kicking yourselves.”
“I’ll second that,” Jon added.
Brandon and Chase shared a glance, and then Brandon said, “Thanks. I mean that. Yeah, we’ve been worried about the impact the coming out and the wedding are having on Instinct.” Brandon’s concerns in that regard were diminished but not abated. The same held true for Chase.
Chase turned and told Eric, “Bro, forget what I said. Jon’s right. Don’t rush into anything, but do what makes you happy.”
Eric couldn’t help but smile at that, but his smile faded before he asked a more pressing question. “I want to date Jansen. We talked about it, and he wants it too. So, I want to ask him on a date but I don’t know how, or where to go or what to do. Advice, please?” Eric asked, glancing around the table with a pleading look on his face.
Jon went first. “Maybe just ask him out for pizza and a movie? Kind of hard with us stuck here, though. I don’t know. I’ve never really dated.”
Chase chimed in with a shrug. “Same goes for me. Just hang out, do stuff together.”
Brandon was at almost as much of a loss. “Back in Phoenix, before I moved to L.A., I went to a few parties with guys but that was it. Chase and I had dinner in his suite a couple of times when we first got together.”
Helen’s hand slamming down on the table caused the bandmates’ heads to snap around and stare in her direction. Seeing that she had their attention, Helen crossed her arms and hid a smirk as she said, “This is pathetic. None of you knows how to date? Okay, Eric, you’re about to get romantic advice from the most knowledgeable person in the room, me. The key to dating is finding something you both enjoy doing, and then doing it together. Variety helps. It could be a candlelight dinner or a walk on the beach, or a trip to the movies. The one thing that matters is that you both enjoy it, and spending some time alone together is a big plus.”
“So, how do I ask him?” Eric said.
Seeing that no one else wanted to field the question, Helen said, “Just ask. Suggest doing something together, just the two of you.”
Eric’s face went blank for a moment, his eyes opening a little wider as he connected the dots. “You mean, like… ask him to go on a walk around the resort grounds, and do some volcano watching, and maybe kick back by the pool and look at the stars, just the two of us?”
Helen nodded approvingly. “That sounds perfect. See, that wasn’t so hard now, was it?”
With an embarrassed shrug, Eric replied, “That wasn’t my idea. That’s what Jansen asked me to do tomorrow night.”
A round of poorly stifled laughs greeted Eric, and Helen rolled her eyes., “Congratulations, Einstein, he asked you on a date and you didn’t know it.”
Jon set aside his lingering reservations to say, “I’m happy for you. Have fun. I hope it works out.”
Eric could tell that Jon meant what he’d just said, and cracked a big smile, feeling on top of the world.
Feeling the cold steel of the gun barrel pressing against his temple, the General said, “Don’t be stupid, Fel. Shoot me now and we’ll crash.”
“The copilot can take over in time and I know how to get us out of here. I also see that you’re heading east, not south. No way in hell am I letting you take us to an American base in Afghanistan. They’d lock my men up forever. Turn or I’ll kill you.”
General Bradson didn’t move. He wondered if she’d really do it, but it made no difference. “Fel, put the damn gun away. There aren’t any U.S. bases close enough to be in range, not with the fuel we have left, plus there’s an Iranian fighter base near the border. In case you haven’t guessed, my government would be just as interested, probably more so, in locking me up, so Afghanistan is out of the question, for both reasons,” he said, mainly for effect. The fuel argument was true, as was the comment about the fighters, but given their cargo, he’d have willingly set down at any American base, consequences be damned. “I’m turning south in about two minutes. We’ve got to fly this course for two reasons: to skirt their SAM envelopes and to let the city of Kerman get a good, hard look at us, heading east. They’ve got TOR-M1 mobile surface-to-air vehicles deployed south of us and turning south right now would take us right down their throats. That’s the Russians’ best air-defense missile system and we’d have zero chance if we blunder into their engagement envelope. Shoot me if you want, but I’m holding this course and I’m turning on the landing and navigational lights.” Easing back on the yoke, he began a gradual climb.
General Bradson began throwing switches, powering up the deactivated electrical systems. As his navigational instruments came back to life, he told the copilot, “Navigation and landing lights, now.” The General could have done it himself, but he wanted to make a point: that he could give orders to Felecia’s people, and at least some of them would obey.
The copilot vacillated, and then made his choice by turning on the lights. Three hundred feet above the rooftops of Kerman, the C-130 lit up the night, to the shock of dozens of residents. Brightly lit and with its engines roaring at full throttle, the C-130 was noticed by dozens more residents with every passing second. Included amongst them were police officers, and a few members of the ground staff at Kerman’s airport. After staring in shock for a few seconds, some of the witnesses reached for their phones, precisely as the General had intended.
Felecia hesitated for a moment, not quite convinced, but she put away her gun. She then sent a text message to The Scar from her satellite phone, a prearranged code of just a single word and number: Valkyrie3. The Scar had indulged his taste in irony with the choice of the codeword for success. The Valkyries of Norse mythology are the choosers of the slain; female demigods who choose those who die in battle and take them to Valhalla. The numeral simply denoted how many nuclear devices they had retrieved.
Passing just north of the city center, five hundred feet over the rooftops, the General told his copilot. “Call out the altitude every five seconds. The ground level here is about five thousand eight hundred feet, but we’re heading straight for a mountain ridge on the eastern edge of the city, about three miles ahead. We need to be at six thousand four hundred about ten seconds before we get there. Call it out.”
The copilot could already see the sheer wall of cliffs ahead, looming out the darkness in the unearthly green glow of his night vision gear. Ripping it off his head so that he could concentrate on the instruments, he called out, “Six-thousand-two-hundred.”
The copilot called out the altitude as the C-130 roared towards the sheer cliffs. One minute later, he called out the final number, “Six-thousand-four-hundred,” as the cliffs ahead, lit by the landing lights, loomed out of the darkness. Felecia stifled a gasp as the mountain seemed to race towards them, and shut her eyes.
General Bradson flicked off the lights as the C-130 neared the ridge, still twenty feet below its crest. Yanking back on the yoke, he cleared the crest with thirty feet to spare and shoved the yoke forward, beginning a shallow dive as he throttled back to eighty percent power – optimal cruising speed. “Two more miles and we turn south,” he said.
Rolling out on a course of due south, descending to five hundred feet above the desert floor, the General’s thoughts turned to another problem: the truck. “Fel, we’ve got to lighten the load. We’re critical on fuel and unless we lighten the plane, we won’t make it. Get that truck unloaded and jettison it and every scrap of weight that you can.”
Felecia turned, motioning for Horst to follow, but then paused to ask over her shoulder, “What about the remaining pallets?”
“No,” the General said sharply, realizing the grievous error that had almost occurred. His voice returning to normal and he added, “We need those to get out of here. I’ll explain later, but get this plane lightened as fast as you can.”
General Bradson decided to alert Flight Two that they were inbound, and made them his first phone call.
It took ten minutes and the work of twenty men, but the three nuclear bombs were wrestled off the truck, rolled and dragged to the sides of the cargo bay – leaving enough room for the pallets to pass – and secured with tie-downs. Brian Bradson and Private Johnson, their sleep deprivation having caught up with them, slept through the entire process in the forward end of the cargo bay.
Felecia took a quick glance around, and gave an order to the driver, who was still in the cab of the truck, with his foot firmly on the brake. “Release the parking brake only and be ready to jump when I give the word.”
Thumbing the intercom, she told General Bradson, “Ready on the truck.”
The General replied, “Reducing speed now. Once the door is down, I’ll give you a three count before I pull up.”
The howl of the wind ripped through the cargo bay as the ramp lowered. “Ready,” she told the driver.
Over the intercom, General Bradson gave the count, and Felecia yelled at the driver, “Jump.”
The driver leaped from the truck’s cab, half-falling to the deck, and rolled to the side of the cargo bay where he grabbed a load ring and held on tight.
General Bradson completed the count and pulled back on the yoke. The C-130 nosed up, and as the angle of the deck passed five degrees, the truck began to roll. Felecia watched it all the way out, holding her breath as it began to track a little to the right. Moving faster as it rolled downhill, the truck’s front wheels cleared the edge of the ramp and the truck scraped along on its chassis, slowing for a gut-wrenching moment before it flipped forward, dropping out of sight. Felecia hit the bay switch to raise the ramp and began to breathe again. “Truck away,” she told General Bradson via the intercom.
“Good job,” he replied, as he leveled off and advanced the throttles to eighty percent. “Use the side door for the rest.”
A fast search of the cargo bay turned up very little. François cast a thoughtful glance at the two sleeping Marines, who had stirred only briefly when the truck was dropped, and said to Horst, “Every pound counts, right? Pity we can’t spare any parachutes.”
Felecia heard François, and turned to fix him in a withering stare. “Not unless you wish to join them. They are under my protection, is that understood?”
With a very Gallic shrug, François replied, “I was just trying to be helpful.”
Ten feet away, the man who had served as The Scar’s cook took concerned note of the exchange and decided that the time had come to inform The Scar that the General and the Marines were on board and still alive.
While Felecia and most of her force busied themselves gathering up everything that could be jettisoned, the erstwhile cook, who went by the name of Mike, slipped into one of the C-130’s tiny bathrooms. There, he used the satellite phone The Scar had given him – it was roughly the same size as a cell phone and easy to conceal – to send his employer a text message.
In his base in northern Sudan, The Scar wished that he could sleep. He despised waiting, and the mission was at a critical juncture. So, he paced, distracting himself with frequent glances at the dog-eared map tacked to the old bare planks of his wall.
Startled by the buzzing of his phone – he was not expecting any further messages until the planes left Oman – The Scar picked it up and read the text message. He considered sending a reply but decided against it, preferring a different approach. Better, he thought, to keep his man on board covert. The Scar stalked down the hallway and pounded on Yuri’s door. When Yuri answered, The Scar said without preamble, “We have a situation. The General survived and he, plus two Marines, are on board Flight Three.”
“Has Felecia betrayed us?” Yuri asked.
The Scar walked to a window. Glancing out into the darkness – he kept his Sudan base blacked out at night – he said, “I wish I knew. From the start I have made it quite plain to her what would happen to her precious men if they do not fulfill their task. We do know that the Iranians are alerted. Flight Three was on the ground longer than anticipated, and that is surely complicating their egress. Perhaps she feels she needs him to get them out. That would be logical of her. However, once they land in Oman she will have no further plausible need of him. If he is still alive at that point, we will need to take action. There is nothing we can do until they reach Flight Two in Oman.”
Thinking quickly, Yuri replied, “What about the second fishing boat? We could deprive them of that rather easily. The crew has already been taken off; they are all aboard the fishing boat that picked up Smith after he jumped from Flight One.”
Shaking his head, The Scar replied, “No. That would put the aircraft and the bombs in danger. We must wait until they reach the refuel point in Oman. I think I need to have a word with our men on Flight Two and make them a rather generous offer.”
In the cockpit of Flight Three, General Bradson was making a phone call of his own to Bill. “We’re southbound, sixty miles south of Kerman. We were delayed. I’ll need an updated departure schedule for Bandar Abbas.”
“Did you get ‘em?” Bill asked, referring to the two Marines.
“Roger on that,” General Bradson replied, allowing himself a smile, and then added, “Getting in was easy, getting out is going to be a bitch.”
“The Iranians are stirred up like a nest of hornets. We’re seeing fighter sorties, looks like a full-scale scramble, and they’ve lit off just about every radar they’ve got. I’ll get what I can for you.”
In the cargo bay, Felecia unlatched the side door and propped it partially open into the howling slipstream. Yelling above the roar, she said, “Start tossing.”
Spare weapons, water bottles, empty weapons crates, and a host of other odds and ends were shoved through the door. Just before Felecia closed it, François, smiling, reached into his pocket and withdrew the keys that had proven useless. Chucking the keys out the door, he said with a smirk, “Every pound counts, as you say.” Felecia dogged the door shut as the keys to the Revolutionary Guards’ officers’ latrine fell through the night skies, hurtling towards the craggy slopes of the Zagros Mountains five hundred feet below.
Felecia made her way forward and stood behind the pilot’s seat. “That’s everything I could find. Will it be enough?”
General Bradson nodded. “Should be. We’ll be in Oman before dawn. I’ve called Flight Two to let them know we’re inbound. They said they’ll relay the news to your employer. Right now, I need to use the head and then have a word with my son. Copilot’s airplane.”
As General Bradson stood up, Felecia held out her hand. “Give me that satellite phone. Sorry, Walter, but I can’t have you calling your friend back in the ‘States and spilling the beans about our cargo.”
Pausing for a moment, General Bradson stared at Felecia and then replied, “I’ll have you know that I’ve already talked to him, and no, I didn’t mention the cargo. I have no intention of doing so, as I do not know what he would do and I don’t want to put him in a moral dilemma. However, I need the phone; I’ve got an idea regarding one of our Marines. He might need to make a few phone calls to get us out of here.” The General then told Felecia what he had in mind.
Felecia nodded once, and then said, “Fine, but I’ll have a man keeping an eye on whoever is using that phone, understood?”
General Bradson gave her a cheerful smile before replying over his shoulder as he strolled out of the cockpit, “I wouldn’t have it any other way, Fel.”
Felecia watched suspiciously as General Bradson headed aft, and got up to signal one of her men in the cargo bay to keep an eye on the General and his phone.
Shaking Brian and Private Johnson awake, the General waited until he thought they were coherent to say, “I’ve only got a minute, then I’ve got to return to the flight deck. Johnson, you were yelling in Farsi when you were in your cell. Why?”
Private Johnson, still slightly groggy, answered honestly, “I was cussing the cowardly bastards out, sir. They left us, probably thinking we’d die from the gas. I know a few words; before we deployed, I thought it’d be a good idea to learn some of the local lingoes, so ever since I learned we were deploying to the region, I’ve been studying. I know about as much Arabic as I do Farsi.”
“How fluent in Farsi are you?” the General asked.
“Not very, sir. I can understand Farsi better than I can speak it.”
“Think you could make a phone call for me, in Farsi, to an airline and ask about flight departure times?”
“I can try, sir, but no way in hell will they take me for a native speaker.”
“They don’t need to. The phone number you need is on those notes I gave you, and so is what to ask about. Your Farsi skills should make this easier. I have a friend stateside trying via other means, but it can’t hurt to try this way as well.” The General glanced around, and lowered his voice, trusting the engine noise to ensure privacy, “I’ve got to make this quick. We’re among mercenaries. Those three big canisters in the mid bay are stolen Iranian nukes that they’re taking to a private buyer. The three of us have a higher duty here: to stop that, at any cost. I’ve got some ideas but if I fail, you two need to do your duty. Those devices cannot fall into the wrong hands, no matter the cost. That’s your duty.”
Brian glanced at the three bombs, and knew that his father was right. Feeling the lump in his pocket, Brian had no doubt that the grenade, detonated in the cargo bay near the wing root, would destroy the aircraft. He understood his orders, and was prepared to carry them out if need be. In that moment, in the noisy cargo bay of the C-130, leaning back against a cargo pallet and wrapped in a blanket, Brian studied his surroundings and understood what his father’s message really meant; Brian was to become the scorpion.
The two Marines nodded, and Brian Brian said, barely loud enough to be heard, “I’ve still got a pineapple.”
Nodding solemnly, knowing that his son was referring to a grenade, General Bradson waved Felecia’s man closer and then handed the satellite phone to Private Johnson. “Make the calls. We’re about a half hour from the Strait,” he said loudly.
General Bradson reentered the cockpit and slid into the left seat. “Pilot’s Aircraft,” he said, after putting on his night-vision gear and taking the plane’s controls.
“Are the jarheads comfortable?” Felecia asked, and then softened a little to add, “Is your son doing okay?”
“They’re exhausted and they’ve had some brutal treatment, but I think they’ll be all right. So, what happens now, Fel?”
Felecia barked an order in her command voice, “Everybody out of the cockpit, now!”
The copilot and navigator made a hasty retreat and closed the door behind them. Alone in the cockpit with the General, Felecia took the copilot’s seat before saying, “I’ve got two choices. I can leave you and the jarheads in Oman. Or, I can drop you off in Egypt, literally. Our flight path from the refuel point to our base in northern Sudan takes us over the Egyptian-Sudanese border where it meets the Red Sea. I can bend north a little, about a hundred miles, and drop you about five miles south of a big fancy resort they’ve got there. By the time you hike in, we’ll be out of Egyptian airspace and you won’t know exactly where we’re heading.” Felecia paused to gather her thoughts before saying, “I don’t like the Oman option. There’d be a chance you could get the word out in time to stop us. I know you want to, now you know about the nukes. So, I’ll drop you at the resort. I was there last year; they make a damn fine Singapore Sling. Order one for me. I wish I could join you. I know you’ve got a thick wad of cash on you, so my suggestion is you and the jarheads lay low for a while. Disappear if you can. Setting off that nuke if going to get a lot of the wrong kind of attention, so disappearing and getting new names is probably your best bet.”
Deciding that Felecia was probably on the level – she thought she no longer needed him, so there was no point to any deception on her part – General Bradson said, “There’s one little detail remaining, Fel. Two, actually. The first is that you only figured out half the reason why you’d get blown out of the sky without my help. The Iranians are on full alert and they’re looking for us. We’ve got to cross the Strait of Hormuz: sixty miles of open water. They’ve got fighters up. Hugging the terrain should shield us until we get to the coast, but there’s no way we can use that trick to sneak across the Strait. The barrier patrol they have up would nail us, guaranteed, and there’s no way we can dodge their radar over water.”
Felecia felt the blood drain from her face as she realized that the General was telling the truth. “Okay, so where are we going?”
“We’re crossing the Strait of Hormuz,” the General said, and then explained some of his plan to Felecia, though he left out a critical detail.
It took her a few seconds to digest the information, but she nodded once and, in a stunned tone, said, “That’s going to be one hell of a ride.”
© 2009 C James
Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"
Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions.
Thanks also to Shadowgod, for beta reading, support and advice, and for putting up with me.
Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice.
A big "thank you" to to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice , and to Captain Rick for his advice.
Special Credits go to our Favorite Amphibian, MikeL, for advice on artillery terminology.
Any remaining errors are mine alone.