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|Chapter 31: Wings of Fire|
Tapping lightly at the door of his mother’s suite, Eric wondered if she was already asleep. He didn’t have long to wonder as the door swung open. The first thing he noticed was the puffiness around her eyes. ‘She’s been crying,’ he thought, and gave her a wan, sympathetic smile as he walked through the doorway.
As they sat down on the couch, he said, “Sorry to come by so late, Mom, but I was worried about you.”
Jane stared at her son for a moment, and then, her upper lip quivering, reached out and drew him into a hug. Her voice, normally filled with dignified resolve, came in an uneven, hesitant timbre as she held Eric tight and said, “Thank you. After all I’ve done, I don’t deserve a thing, but here you are. I’ve made a right mess of things again, haven’t I? I’m sure you must have heard an earful from Helen and your brothers. I only wanted to help, and I know I rubbed them all the wrong way. I just wanted to be... useful. I can’t seem to do anything right.”
Eric felt his mother’s chest heave as she stifled a sob. Patting her on the back and holding her tight, he said in a soft voice, “It’s okay, Mom. I’m here for you, we all are, and always will be. Don’t worry about tonight; things happen. I know you were trying to help, but you know what? You don’t need to do stuff like that. We already know you care, because of all you gave up to be here. You don’t need to be useful to be part of us, because you already are and always will be. Just let us be here for you, to help you through what’s happening.”
Jane didn’t reply, she couldn’t. She just held onto her son as the tears, so long hidden, began to flow freely. All the emotions she’d been feeling washed over her; the fear of being alone in the world first amongst them. That, she now knew, would not be the case, and her tears bespoke more of relief than of the anguish she’d been feeling.
Holding Eric tightly, feeling his strong arms around her, Jane felt, for the first time in a very long time, truly loved. She had been seeking without knowing what she sought, and now, her heart was home. Releasing Eric, she dried her tears. “I’m a mess, in so many ways. Thank you Eric. I feel I’m going to be all right now. It’s just so hard... I gave over twenty years of my life to JT, hurt you and your brothers horribly, and for it all to end... he’ll never change. Everything, no matter what, has to be his way. Enough of that. I’m starting over. With the three of you, and with my life. It was high time for a change. Thank you for coming, Eric. That’s the thing I most remember about you from when you were little; you always seemed to know just what to say, especially when someone was feeling down. How did you get so wise?”
Eric chuckled and shrugged. “If you tell anyone you think I’m wise, they’ll have you committed. It wasn’t hard to figure out. Just remember what I said; we’re all here for you. Having you come back into our lives was the best thing ever, as far as I’m concerned. Look, it’s going to be rough at times, but things will be okay. Just give it some time.”
A nod, as a slow smile found its way onto Jane’s face, and she said, “I’ll be okay. Life is too short to spend it being miserable.” Jane glanced at her son, as her own words rang true to her, prodding her to continue. “We all need to make ourselves happy. To that end, Eric, I want you to know that whatever path you choose in life, I’ll give you no grief. If this club idea is what it takes, so be it. I can’t say I understand why you want to be a stripper, but that’s your decis–”
“Whoa, Mom, I think you misunderstood. I’m not going to be a stripper.” Eric knew he wasn’t being completely honest; he had enjoyed doing his act at the Oak Leaf, but planned on doing an occasional small act for the thrill of it, not as a full time occupation. “I’m going to do a four-second routine, just pull my shirt off, when I open the club on its first night. That’s what Jansen is trying to teach me. My main job in the new business will be finding the bands. Jansen and Keith are handling the exotic dancing side. Helen would kill me if I tried going on stage as a dancer.”
Jane sat motionless for a moment, her face blank. Then, she blinked. “Oh. I certainly did have that wrong, didn’t I? I suppose that’s why Helen does not disapprove of this venture, and why she likened it to you opening a restaurant or a nightclub. You told me about the bands before, and now I think I understand. I seem to have put my foot in it, yet again. I’ll be honest, I still have reservations regarding this new business of yours, but I meant what I said: If you are doing what makes you happy, then you’ll have no grief from me.” Jane warred with her conscience for a few moments, and then added, “That applies to things other than business, too. Brandon and Chase seem to be happy; I’ll be the first to admit that. It’s taking a little getting used to, but so long as they are happy, it is their life and I will be happy for them. The same applies to you, of course.”
It was Eric’s turn to be surprised. ‘Is she saying what I think she’s saying?’ he wondered, and then looked into his mother’s eyes. With a smile and a nod, Eric replied, “Thanks Mom, that means a lot to me.” Eric didn’t go further; he felt it would be a case of too much, too soon, to actually talk with his mother about his budding relationship with Jansen. However, he now felt certain that when the time came for that discussion to occur, his mother would greet it with an open mind.
By mutual, unspoken consent, the conversation shifted to more comfortable grounds, and they spent the next hour reminiscing. By the time he left, Eric could tell that the walls his mother had built between herself and her family were at last beginning to crumble.
Returning to his suite, Eric settled into bed alone, his thoughts on the date Jansen had asked him on. Smiling to himself, he clicked out the light and decided that there was an earlier opportunity for a date, assuming that Keith didn’t mind.
Eric’s final thought before falling asleep was that he needed to ask Keith, and just hoped he’d be the one to answer the phone in the morning.
Deep beneath Cumbre Vieja, changes were underway.
Cumbre Vieja is not a stereotypical cone-shaped volcano. Seen from above, it runs from north to south, several times longer than it is wide. Its shape is a result of its history; its eruptions occur along a fracture zone that runs north to south. Typically, the initial activity of an eruption occurs in a central crater, and then the magma forces its way into the fracture zone, erupting along it. This process is what gave birth to the many cinder cones and craters on the mountain. As before, so it was happening again: the magma, seeking the paths of least resistance, was spreading out, forcing its way both north and south. As it advanced, it encountered ground water, heating it to thousands of degrees. The water would have flashed to steam, except that it couldn’t; the tremendous weight of the overlying rock contained it. Instead, some of the superheated water dissolved into the magma. The pressure continued to build, expanding further and further north and south.
The magma itself took up space, and this caused Cumbre Vieja to swell. The change, a deformation of mere inches but over three miles in length, was detectable by tiltmeters installed on the volcano’s slopes for that very purpose. For the geologists monitoring the eruption, this proved ominous; it was hard evidence that the eruption, previously confined to a single crater, was spreading out along the rift zone.
It was this rift zone that had slipped slightly on its western side during the 1949 eruption. That fact, combined with the evidence from the tiltmeters, was enough to raise serious concerns that the lateral collapse of the western side of Cumbre Vieja, previously deemed unlikely, was now a possibility, one growing more serious by the day. A quiet warning was sent to government authorities on La Palma and the U.S. Eastern Seaboard: an evacuation warning might be coming, stand by. Over copious amounts of coffee and donuts, the geologists decided to see what the following day held. They thought they had the time, and wished to avoid sparking an unnecessary panic.
What the geologists did not know about was the vast amount of groundwater the magma had encountered. Had they known, they would have considered the situation to be far more serious, based on the risk that the superheated water could play the role of a lubricant if a collapse, most likely triggered by an earthquake, began. Once the pressure on the magma diminished, the gases trapped within it would violently expand. That same process had driven the devastating landslide and lateral explosion at Mount Saint Helens in 1980, which for the moment held the record as the largest landslide in human history.
In the cockpit of the C-130, General Bradson’s eyes swept the instruments and he glanced over at Felecia, judging that it was time to put his cards on the table. He said in a casual tone, “There’s something you need to know. If you’ll recall, I was prepared to die – and take my son with me if need be – to wreck that Iranian facility. Just how do you suppose I feel about delivering live nukes to your employer?”
The implied threat was obvious. Felecia dropped her hand to the butt of her gun as she replied, “Odd that you should say that, after telling me how to get us out of here.”
The General chuckled softly. “As you might guess, I left one part out. It’s what we need the JATO rockets for. You’ll never figure it out, and no one on this aircraft will survive without it, not now the Iranians are on full alert and hunting for us. Now, down to business: I will not allow those nukes to fall into your employer’s hands. There’s probably more to this than you know; I think he’s had nukes before. When I realized what you’re after, I remembered his injuries, specifically his burns and missing arm. That matches what we found in Buenos Aires, when we thought we’d found the remains of Jerry Clump, the man who set off the bomb in Toowoomba and planted the bombs in New York and Los Angeles. A detonation command was sent for those, Fel. I took ‘em out just barely in time. He incinerated an entire city just to demonstrate that he had the capability, and then tried to add Los Angeles and New York to the pyre when he figured the jig was up. Even if it’s not the same guy, I cannot and will not let someone like your employer get his hands on nuclear warheads. Just what the hell do you think he wants them for? Paperweights?”
Thinking over what the General had just said, Felecia resisted the urge to draw her gun. “Let me tell you something, Walter. My men are all I have and I lost a lot of them tonight. I knew I would, but I did it because I had no choice. If we cross Frankenstein,” she said, using a nickname for The Scar that she almost never dared use, “he’ll shop us all to Interpol and anyone else who wants our heads. That’s a pretty big group, given the work we do and the enemies we’ve made. He can trash our reputation, and that’s lethal in this business. The flip side of that is if we get him what he wants, then he pays my men for this mission, enough to get the hell out of this business and start new lives. Most of my mean can’t go back to their old lives, they became mercenaries because they had nothing else left, no other options. That’s why I agreed to this mission: so my men can get out, instead of ending up in an unmarked early grave somewhere, forgotten victims in somebody else’s war. What it all boils down to is this: the lives of my men depend on it, so Frankenstein is getting his nukes. I fucking hate that but I have no choice. What this means for you is that if you won’t get us out of here on those terms, you might as well shove the nose down right now, because my men will be just as dead. I also prefer quick to slow, it’s kinder. If you don’t believe me, think on this: when the mission started, I gave orders to Horst and Wilhelm: kill any of my men who would be left behind. I did that so they wouldn’t be taken prisoner by the Iranians.”
General Bradson felt his gut clench; he hadn’t imagined that she would be ruthless to her own men. Not understanding her real reason and assuming she had done that for operational security reasons, he said, “I misjudged you, I guess. I had you pegged for a commander who cared about her troops–”
“SHUT YOUR FUCKING MOUTH!” Felecia yelled in a blind fury, as her gun came to bear on General Bradson’s head. “You have no fucking idea, do you? In your world, being taken prisoner means at least a chance of survival. Not so in mine. Think it through; just what do you suppose would have happened to any of us taken prisoner back there? We’re mercenaries, in Iranian uniform. We’d be executed, most likely after torture. Better a bullet in the head than that, so that’s why I did it. So don’t you even think you can blackmail me; I’ll kill us all unless I can see a way that my men get out of this alive, and I don’t mean being thrown into a damn cage for the rest of their lives. Better to end it quick. So unless you’re getting us out of here, shove the damn nose down or I’ll shoot you and crash us myself.”
“I’d prefer that we all live through this, your men included,” General Bradson said calmly. “I have an idea on that. It’s risky, but I think I can promise your men as good a chance at the outcome you want. Better, actually. Factor this into you calculations; are you sure Scar won’t double cross you? You’re all loose ends. If he’s who I think he is, he’s utterly ruthless. We believe he personally killed at least one man who would not give him what he wanted, and when he was after the Kryton switches he kidnapped the manufacturer’s daughter and had her returned to him a piece at a time. Then when he had the switches he killed them both. He put a bomb on a private jet to kill a rock band because he’d used their shipping containers to transport the bombs and thought they might be a loose end. That plan failed, so he sent his henchmen to Telluride to try again, to kill them and any other loose ends with them. One of the 'loose ends' in Telluride was his own son. We believe he knew that. We also believe that he moved his bomb assembly workforce into Toowoomba so they’d die in the blast. He does not like loose ends: he kills them.”
“I know him well enough to know that, you sanctimonious ass. That’s why I planned to keep at least one of the bombs wired up to detonate until he coughed up the money, paid my men, and they were out of his reach. It was his idea to nuke the underground base if we could. I don’t know if he is Jerry Clump, it doesn’t really matter from my point of view. I do know that he plans to auction off one of the bombs and said that nuking the base would make the bombs more valuable, both by drying up the rogue supply and proving that they work. He ordered a nuclear attack for purely financial gain. I had no objection to nuking that base, but I know he’s a snake.” Felecia took a deep breath, and made her decision, trying to do her best for her men. “If you can offer my men a way out, or at least a solid chance of one, count me in. But I’ll warn you now; not all of my men would side with me if I turn against ‘ole Frankenstein. Money talks in this business.”
With a relieved smile, pleased with both Felecia’s motives and her tentative agreement, General Bradson said, “I don’t have it all worked out just yet, but here goes: We refuel from Flight Two and continue the mission. We’ll tell your men we’re heading back to the training base in the Cape Verdes–”
“Forget it. Our fearless leader will be waiting for us in Sudan. He’s got his own troops there, about thirty of ‘em, loyal to him alone, and they’ll disable this plane at the first hint of trouble, count on it. So will some of my men, for that matter.”
General Bradson shook his head. “We won’t be going to Sudan, and your men don’t need to know the real reason why. I’ll discuss this with you in detail after we take off from Oman; there’s no need to commit until then. In the meantime, we have to get out of Iran. Private Johnson is using my phone at the moment, so use yours and check on the status of the second fishing boat. Make sure the other boat took its crew off, and get me the updated coordinates. Then call your flight crew back in, because we’ve got to go see what our Marines have found out.”
Three minutes later, Felecia and the General, coffees in hand, stooped beside the two sitting Marines. Felecia handed a cup to Brian. To his surprise, she did so with a wink and a smile.
Private Johnson gratefully accepted his coffee from the General, and as he returned the General’s phone said, “Sir, I got through,” while casting a wary eye at Felecia.
“Go ahead, it’s okay,” General Bradson said.
“Sir, I called and asked for a seat on the Iran Air charters scheduled for departure this morning. I said I was in a bus, coming in. The lady at Iran Air didn’t like my accent, so I told her I was an Indonesian tourist, hoping like hell she didn’t speak Indonesian, because I sure don’t. Anyway, the next charter pulls away from the gate in ten minutes. We missed the first one. There’s another an hour later, then a third one just before noon.”
Smiling, General Bradson turned to ask Felecia, “So, are you going to threaten to shoot me again?” That remark caused Brian and Private Johnson to look up in surprise.
Rolling her eyes, Felecia said, “I’m sure what I’m thinking is wrong. No way can you get on those planes.”
“True, but they are part of our ticket out of here. I wasn’t sure they’d still be flying due to the alert – the original plan called for us to be here sooner, before the alert, and just fly across. These were contingency plans, but now our lives depend on them. One option was to set this bird down in a remote spot I’ve picked out, and wait. Risky but feasible, and that’s our fallback plan. The Iran Air plan is what we’ll go with. When I came up with it, what I was hoping for is that our Iranian friends hadn’t learned their lesson from 1988: Iran Air 655. The Iranians were on alert then too, due to an ongoing naval clash with the U.S. in the Gulf. But they didn’t ground the air charters taking pilgrims for Hajj, and one flew out of Bandar Abbas just in time to be mistaken for an F-14 by the USS Vincennes. It was shot down. Right now, they’re running air charters out of Bandar Abbas to Jeddah in Saudi, for pilgrims heading to Mecca for Umrah. Those are passenger jets and they’re heading in roughly the same direction we want to go, and we know roughly when they’re taking off.”
Felecia shook her head as if to clear it. “You’re making no sense, Walter. How will that get us out?”
General Bradson turned and shouted down the cargo bay, “Check the pallets, make sure they’re ready to drop. We’ve got one shot at this. Then get everything that can move lashed down tight, we’re going to be doing some violent maneuvering.” Without waiting for Felecia to confirm the order, a fact not lost on Felecia, a dozen of her men began inspecting the pallets while others swarmed through the cargo bay, carrying out the General’s orders. General Bradson smiled as he looked at Felecia to say, “The problem we face is radar. If a fighter radar or air-search radar sees two planes, one directly under the other, it will paint them as a single target. We’re going out under one of those charters; preferably the one leaving in fifteen minutes and I hope like hell they aren’t late.”
Felecia shook her head again, “Not possible, Walter. This crate is prop driven and has a max airspeed of what, three-sixty? A lot slower than a jet… but, you know that, so what gives? Can’t be the JATO rockets, those only burn for about twenty seconds…”
“I’ll explain in the cockpit. You wouldn’t believe me anyway. Let’s just say you were more right than you knew when you said it’ll be one hell of a ride.”
Back in the cockpit, with Felecia standing behind him, General Bradson resumed command and checked the navigation display. His phone rang, and knowing that it was Bill, he answered it by saying, “We’re twenty miles northwest of Bandar Abbas International. We’ll have visual soon. Any update on the Iran Air about to take off?”
Bill was surprised by that, and said, “Yeah, looks like they just left the gate. How the hell did you find that out?”
“Telephones are handy things my friend, and airlines have flight information desks.”
Bill mentally kicked himself for not thinking of that, and then added in a dire tone, “You’ve got six MiG-29s over the Strait, lighting up the sky with their radars. That’s as of five minutes ago. Keep it tight or they’ll nail your ass. I’ll call if I get any updates. Good luck and good hunting.”
General Bradson returned the phone to his pocket, and told the copilot, “The ridgelines run east to west here. I’m going to fly parallel to the last one north of Bandar Abbas, and pop up so you can see the airport. You’ll see a jetliner getting ready to take off to the southwest. I’ll need to know the second he starts his takeoff roll.”
The copilot removed his night-vision gear, and snatched up a pair of binoculars. “Ready.”
Having satisfied himself that Felecia was willing to trust him, the General decided to explain his plan in full. “Here’s the situation we face; we need to get under that Iran Air flight. It’s the only way we can get across the Strait. They’ll be climbing to get to their cruising altitude. During climbout, they’ll have a lot slower groundspeed. Two-fifty or so initially, then increasing through about four hundred around eighty miles out, which is past where we need them. We’ll be fine in sixty miles. The main problem is that we need to be in level flight; we can’t match their climbout speed if we’re climbing too. We also need to get closer to their altitude, or there’s a chance the fighter radars might discern us as a separate bogie. However, we can’t climb now, because we’d show up on radar. That’s what the JATO rockets are for. At the right time, I pull up and then those eight solid rocket motors are going to put us in a nearly vertical climb, maintaining our airspeed, and as they burn out, I drop the nose and we should be about five hundred feet below and a little behind the Iran Air jet. We’ll close up and stay directly under it as we cross the Strait. The altitude separation will increase as they climb, but by the time that’s a major factor, we should be getting close to Omani airspace. Then we’ll blow the fishing boat to draw their attention, and make the Iranians – and anyone else looking for us – think we’ve crashed.”
Felecia nodded in stunned silence, and then said, “Won’t they see the flare of the JATO rockets? That’ll be visible for fifty miles… oh.”
General Bradson chuckled. “Exactly. That’s why we need to fill the sky with fire, which will also make a big fat clutter on their radar scopes for a few seconds.”
Three minutes later, General Bradson banked the C-130 to the right and pulled the nose up, climbing to just above the level of the ridge to his south. From twelve miles away, the copilot was able to discern the brightly lit, taxiing Iran Air 737. “Aircraft in sight, in motion but hasn’t turned onto the threshold yet,” the copilot said.
“I need to know the second he begins his takeoff roll,” General Bradson replied, ducking the C-130 down below the ridgeline for a few moments and checking his navigational display. Thumbing the intercom, he said, “Prepare to drop all pallets, eight second intervals, on my mark!”
General Bradson reefed the C-130 around, orbiting a fixed point in the broad valley just north of the ridgeline. Completing one circle every sixty seconds, he pulled up to just above the level of the ridgeline every time the nose was pointing at the airport, to give the copilot a chance to observe the Iran Air flight as it taxied out.
During their fifth orbit over the valley, General Bradson, as on every prior circuit, popped up above the level of the ridgeline and waited while the copilot reacquired the Iran Air flight. “Turning now, not slowing. Still turning. He’s accelerating, not stopping at the threshold, looks like a rolling start… still accelerating,” the copilot said.
Ramming the throttles forward, General Bradson rolled out on a course of due south, cresting the ridgeline and following its seaward slope down, holding the C-130 two hundred feet above the ground. That was just low enough, he hoped, for the plane to be concealed by the ground clutter of the ridge behind him, for the few seconds he needed. Checking his display, he called out, “Three miles to initial point,” and pulled back on the throttles, slowing to two hundred and fifty miles per hour before lowering the ramp.
“Iran Air just rotated off the deck,” the copilot said, announcing that the jet had left the ground.
General Bradson gave the men manning the pallets a five second count and then yelled, “Drop! Drop! Drop!”
Four seconds later, as the General firewalled the engines, Horst reported from the cargo bay, “Pallets away, door coming up.”
The first of the four pallets, containing five hundred mayonnaise jars, each holding a grenade, scattered its cargo into the dark skies west of Bandar Abbas.
For the mayonnaise jars, gravity took over and they arced towards the ground. A few collided and released their grenades early, but the low altitude meant that they would be on the ground before they could detonate. This time, due to the far lower altitude and more accurate drop, over ninety percent of the jars settled into trajectories that would terminate within the bounds of Iran’s largest surviving refinery. That status was not to last.
The massive Bandar Abbas Petrochemical oil refinery was not the only target. The delay between pallet drops had placed the massive oil storage tanks of the Dodgerdan oil terminal, which abutted the refinery’s southern perimeter, squarely in the target zone.
Horst watched the pallets being shoved out, and beyond the gaping open cargo bay door he could see the lights of the refinery whizzing past two hundred feet below. As he watched, the first of the grenades detonated, lighting up the darkness as they sent out their blasts of fire and shrapnel, shredding the fragile infrastructure of the refinery and oil tank farm. A ripple of fire, beginning at the north end of the refinery, flashed towards the sea, chasing the speeding C-130, rending the sky as a series of secondary explosions immolated the facilities. From Horst’s viewpoint, the scene framed by the bay door became seething hell incarnate, and he could feel the heat on his face as hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil joined in with the blazing gasoline, perpetuating the hellish maelstrom. Instinctively turning away from the blast, he slammed his palm down on the bay door switch.
A massive fireball, two miles long and half a mile wide, lifted into the sky, soon towering over and behind the southbound C-130 as the plane accelerated through three hundred miles per hour.
Streaking over the Strait of Hormuz, General Bradson banked a few degrees to the left, not needing his night vision goggles to see the brightly lit Iran Air jet. Steering until he judged that he was roughly under its ground track, he pulled the C-130’s nose up into a forty-five-degree climb. Their airspeed began to bleed off, allowing the Iran Air jet to begin to pull ahead.
With the massive fireball still rising behind them, General Bradson told the copilot, “Give me a count, every second after ignition,” then he held his breath and punched the JATO ignition switch.
The C-130 shuddered as the JATO rockets lit off, and the C-130 surged into the sky on a pillar of fire.
Taking his cues from his airspeed indicator in order to keep their airspeed below redline, the General pulled the nose further up, to within fifteen degrees of vertical, as the plane maintained three hundred and fifty miles an hour, gaining four hundred and fifty feet of altitude every second.
When the copilot’s count reached fifteen seconds since ignition, General Bradson began lowering the nose and reducing throttle, concentrating on the airliner filling his vision, easing the C-130 onto its ground track from behind, two hundred feet below its altitude. Feeling the thrust decrease as the JATOs burned out, he advanced the throttles to maximum and beginning a shallow climb, continually glancing almost straight up at the Iran Air’s fuselage. Forcing himself to breathe again, the General said, “We can’t match their rate of climb, but their groundspeed is about two-ninety so I can keep us close to their rate of climb for a little while.” Sparing a fast glance at his radar detectors, he added, “We’re picking up fighter radars, probably the MiGs, but they should see us and the Iran Air as one aircraft. We should be fine, unless one of ‘em decides to do a flyby and make sure.”
The General didn’t know it, but in the Tehran command center, the news was out. The C-130 had been seen heading east over Kerman, and fighters were busy combing its possible routes to Afghanistan. What General Bradson had not counted on was an almost immediate report from Bandar Abbas Naval Air Station, four miles from the refinery complex, telling of the refinery’s destruction. That was enough to clue the Iranian commanders in on the fact that their target might be in the area. Some of them feared another ruse, like the one at Abadan: a decoy. It didn’t matter; the MiGs over the Strait were detailed to redouble their efforts, and told to expect a southbound enemy aircraft.
The MiGs' radars did, as the General had hoped, paint his aircraft and the Iran-Air 737 as a single target, marking it with the Iran Air’s civilian transponder code.
The fireball over the refinery had been plainly visible to the MiG pilots thirty miles offshore, and it had shown up on their radars as a giant reflection, clearing a few seconds later, leaving only the Iran Air flight, heading southwest. That, combined with the alert from their ground controllers, was just a little too coincidental for the MiGs' commander. He queried his ground controller and was told that the Iran Air flight had just taken off from Bandar Abbas, destination Jeddah, and should be where he was seeing it. He glanced at his radar screen, remembering that the jet had been almost in line with the fireball, just a little offshore. No, he decided, he did not like coincidences, and he was well aware that he would be held responsible should the enemy escape. With that thought in mind, he gave a command to one of his squadron.
Leaving the rest of his flight to continue the search, the pilot of the last MiG-29 in line responded to his orders by peeling off, reefing around in a high-G turn, advancing his throttles to full military power and rolling out on a nearly head-on intercept vector for the Iran Air 737.
Cursing the unfamiliar darkness – the Iranian Air Force rarely flies at night – the MiG pilot studied his radar display, seeing only the Iran Air flight, planning to confirm its identity via a head-on pass half a mile to the jet’s west. That would be close enough, he reasoned, and the fastest vector.
Five minutes later, the C-130’s copilot, using his infrared night vision gear, spotted the inbound MiG. “Twin engine fighter, inbound at two o’clock high,” he said, the stress showing in his voice.
“Let’s hope they don’t see us,” General Bradson replied, looking at the fighter and then up at the Iran Air flight, which was now over thousand feet above the C-130. He could see that the MiG – it was close enough that he could make out the familiar profile of the deadly MiG-29 – was slightly below the same altitude as the Iran Air jet and was, he hoped, going for a visual ID on the brightly lit commercial flight. Unless the enemy pilot was using infrared vision gear, General Bradson felt that it was unlikely that the MiG would see the blacked-out C-130 below.
He was wrong.
© 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.
Special thanks to Wildone, for noticing one of my goofs and letting me know so I could fix it.
Any remaining errors are mine alone.