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 Post subject: Night Witches
PostPosted: Tue Aug 27, 2013 1:10 pm 
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Night Witches

Chapter 1

Somewhere over North-Central New Mexico
0235 MST/0935 ZULU
Saturday, December 29th, 1984
F-111D 68-0807 of the 4427th Tactical Fighter Replacement Squadron

The twin turbofans of the twin TF-30P-9 engines roared through the night sky of the featureless New Mexican desert, the sound of the aircraft arriving before the aircraft did as it roared by, barely 200 to 300 feet off the ground, it’s Terrain Following Radar, or TFR for short, set to “hard” to get the maximum terrain masking effect. Hard referred to the ride the perceived ride would be, and the autopilot tied into the TFR did not disappoint.

In the cockpit, two professionals, barely out of their flight schools and on the cusp of their final exam reexamined their cockpit settings, while keeping one eye out for any unknown obstructions such as power lines that didn’t have a appreciable radar return. Many students had been killed over the years by what was euphemistically called by many in military aviation called CFIT, or Controlled Flight Into Terrain.

1st Lieutenant Daria Morgendorffer was simply trying to concentrate on flying the aircraft in the inky black, and hoping to Christ she didn’t experience the joys of CFIT, or more embarrassingly, having to recycle on their final exam. She chanced a glance at her WSO, or “wisso” as they were colloquially known, 1st Lieutenant Jane Lane and mused Two more unlikely Air Force officers are we. Ah ****, Morgendorffer, concentrate on flying the goddamned airplane.

Neither pilot nor WSO could see the other’s face, let alone their head underneath their helmets, oxygen masks and visors, and even if they could, it wouldn’t be something they’d be paying much attention to. Both pilot and WSO were coated in a slick sheen of sweat, and were so focused on their tasks, neither had had time for any sort of banter, let alone any kind of reminiscing about “good ol’ Lawndale”.

Daria was doing all she could not to grab the damn stick and climb for altitude, but the fact was, the autopilot was tied into the TFR, and it was giving them a ride reminiscent of a bucking bronco machine Daria had once encountered during her days at the ‘Springs. The tired old F-111 shimmied, groaned and some small bangs occasionally towards the rear of the aircraft. It had unnerved both pilot and WSO, and Daria had thrown up in her oxygen mask once during an earlier familiarization hop, thankfully while it was unhooked, but they were both used to it by now.

“Major terrain feature coming up fast at two ‘o clock, 3 miles” said Jane, laconically. Her eyes were split for attention, half the time, they were looking into the hooded display of the radar, and the other half of the time, they were looking up for short periods, in her sector of the aircraft making sure that they didn’t miss a powerline, or a terrain feature the TFR did miss. One thing about TFR flight, it wasn’t boring.

“Got it, ****, that was a bit close.”

Jane smiled to herself, unseen under her mask as they roared down towards their target, an oft-abused AAF airfield left over from WWII. It was now being used as a mock target for F-111 classes at Cannon AFB further south. The airfield had endured more mock nuclear attacks than Almorgordo had real tests. And now, it was Daria and Jane’s turn to execute a LABS or Low Altitude Bombing System attack utilizing a pair of B-61 nuclear bombs, set to 60 kilotons each.

The idea was to put one of the bombs at either end of the runway, but to be honest, if they got it with spitting range of the middle of the airfield, it would be good enough for the final exam. Another student F-111, coming in from a different approach was going to hit the airfield 2 minutes after the first attack with another 60-kiloton device to hit the other end of the airfield. The other practice bomb was there in case the first one missed, though Daria didn’t want to contemplate that. Scoring for their final was, well…. strict.

But there was one other consideration, Daria didn’t want to contemplate the embarrassment both she and Jane were going to have to deal with if she missed on the first go round. It was an unspoken article of faith among F-111 crews. To miss a target was simply not done, not even two rookies on their final exam to graduate the RTU and become an operational crew.

It had been a long strange trip for them both to the Air Force, someplace that if you had asked either of them, they both would have shrugged and simply said, “**** happens”. For Daria, it had all begun one fall day of her senior year of high school in 1977….


Interlude 1: Lightning Strikes

Daria had let herself in after school, and found a note on the table. She was used to this by now, with Quinn having Fashion Club, and her parents off god knew where, with, as Daria surmised, with god knew who?

She shuddered at that last bit, not that both of her parents were having affairs, but the very idea of her parents, well, doing that. Intellectually, she knew this was a silly thing to be grossed out about, I mean, how in the hell did Quinn and she get there if they didn’t? But the idea…well, it just didn’t sit well. Part of being an American teenager, I guess? But why the note? As she looked on, it was addressed to Quinn and Daria in her mother’s prim and proper handwriting.

Daria, Quinn;

We’ll be home late; we need to have a family meeting. We’ll get into why later.

Love,

Mom


Oh Damn, Daria’s mind reported, Quinn and her cohorts probably got themselves in some kind of jam and I have to play big sis to the rescue? Daria lunged for the phone and dialed a number she knew by heart. After two rings, a familiar and welcome voice picked up on the other end.

“Hello”

“It’s me, Jane, Quinn’s probably gone and done it again.”

“Oh crap, want me to come over?”

“If you want, seriously, why can’t we just drown her and get it over with, I mean, who’d miss her? The Fashion Club, the three Js? She really can’t be all that important to the future of humanity or something, can she?”

“One hopes not, Morgendorffer, but you know with your history where the cops will look first.”

“Only if you tell them Lane, only if you tell them.”

“Traitor” Daria barked with a chuckle.

“Hey, a girl has to think about her future. And if the cops offer a sweet deal…”

“Planned homicides aside, can you come over, I just got a bad feeling about this…”

“No problema, Amiga. Be over in a few.”

Daria gently hung up the phone in the kitchen and made her way upstairs. She was dreading the “family meeting” already.

Three Hours Later….

Daria and Jane had spent the time studying, and speculating whether or not the family meeting was sending Quinn away because she’d been caught in a cocaine fueled drug bust, or it was the long awaited announcement that the Morgendorffers were getting a divorce.

Nothing had prepared her for the surprise that had been waiting for her downstairs.

The kitchen was brighter than normal, with the light bouncing off of the beige linoleum countertops and white marble to create an environment that was almost blinding. But, somehow, Daria faked finding her way to the kitchen table. A forced smile at Quinn, and a less forced smile at her parents came next. God, whatever the hell this is going to be, please let it be quick and merciful.

“Girls, we have some bad news for you both. I wish it weren’t so, but some investments your father made didn’t exactly pan out.”

“Hey, I thought that beets as alternative fuel was a great idea! You seemed to think so too!” exclaimed Jake, his face turning red with a mixture of mortification and anger.

“Yes dear, I suppose you would think so. Mr. “I know so much better about money!” snapped Jane.

Quinn and Daria glanced looks at each other. The sisters had been close, once, before the pressures of high school had driven them apart, but now, that closeness was rediscovered. Was this it? Was a divorce finally coming?

“Girls, I’ll just come right out and say it. We had to use half of the college fund to pay down some debts, including the mortgage. We’re fine, but well, we can only afford to send one of you to college.”

Both Daria and Quinns jaws dropped. It was unthinkable that only one of them was going. How in the hell could Dad be so damn irresponsible? I mean, Dad was neurotic about money!

“I hate to do this, girls, but we as a family have to make a decision on which one goes to college, and which one may have to wait a few years.”

Daria looked about the table, her sister was crying, her dreams of a life at Fashion Institute of Technology and living in New York were dashed, at best. And Daria’s own dreams, of Boston College and being the writer she wanted to be, circling the metaphorical drain. It made her feel sick, and she could feel the bile rising in her throat like an unstoppable tide.

“Jesus!” Daria blurted out. She stood to her feet with a shot “So, what’s the plan then? Have us fight it out on the front lawn? Winner goes to college?” Her parents looked on in horror at Daria’s words and saw that she was holding back tears by force of will.

“Daria, no. You should go. I’m…I’m a bubblehead, you’re the smart one.” Quinn said softly, placing an hand on her arm.

“No, sis. There are options for me. This is your only shot. FIT is a bitch to get into, I looked it up for you.” Daria smiled weakly.

“What kind of options?” Helen inquired

“Well, there was a Air Force recruiter at school today…and he did say I had the grades to get into the Air Force Academy..and mom, you do know somebody on Representative Steer’s staff? Could he get me an academy appointment?”

“Daria, why the hell all the interest in the Air Force? The military ruined my Dad!” Jake exclaimed.

“Jake honey, it’s her life.” Helen said, placing his hand in hers.

“Mom, think about it, if I get it, it’s a chance for me to go to school on Uncle Sam, I serve my time, get out and do something else.” Daria suggested

“True kiddo, but your eyes. I mean, no offense, they aren’t that great.”

“Not that bad either dad, and it’s not like I want a flying job.” Daria explained.

“Let me call the good Congressman in the morning Daria, I am sure I can get you that appointment.” Jane smiled a knowing smile.

“Ok…” Daria looked on, knowing there was some history between Congressman Steers and her mother that she definitely did not want to know about…

************

Daria snapped back to the present. The rest was history. She’d discovered she LIKED flying, but with her vision and gender, the best she was going to manage was flying C-141s or KC-135s. Not exactly interesting flying, and not the kind of flying she wanted to do.

So, what happened? Fate struck again in Daria’s life in 1980. As she was home on Christmas break, she consulted her ophthalmologist. It turned out her initial diagnosis of near sightedness was mistaken. She had a simple problem that was easily corrected with a minor surgical procedure. Some time on her back during summer leave from the academy and a medical review board later, she had been cleared for flight status. But because she was a woman, there was still no prospect of any “real flying” as Daria had been informed.

But in 1981, a president Daria hadn’t even voted for changed her life forever. While Daria was sweating her junior year at the Air Force Academy, newly elected President Ronald Regan had his own issues. He wanted to expand the military, and that included the Air Force. But, the problem was simple. There was a shortage of potential qualified pilots. Several solutions were suggested, but all of them required lowering standards to levels neither the Air Force nor the DoD was really happy with. There was only one solution: Put women in the cockpit of combat aircraft. Reagan wasn’t happy with it. Neither was Weinberger, but as one White House aide put it “It will get some of the feminists in support of the defense buildup”. Thus, with one house bill which had bipartisan support, and guaranteed liberal support for much of the other Reagan defense initiatives, and as March 6th, 1981, women were now allowed to fly combat or man combat roles on board ships of the US Navy. They were still barred from most combat roles in the Army and the Marines, but the Military Police and some other Combat Support roles had been opened to them.

Daria had immediately run down to find her TAC at the academy, vision of being an F-15 driver dancing in her head. Her tactical officer had mournfully brought her back to earth with the words; “Nope, a lot of the women who are already in are going to beat you to the F-15 and F-16 slots. Just the way things are. But, there are plenty of openings in the F-4, F-111 and A-10 communities. Or you could try B-52s? But I think I know you well enough.”

Her TAC had said, “You want F-111s. They are big, fast, loud and you get to fly as low and as fast as you can. I drive F-111s, and I love every damn minute of it.”

One trip to Mountain Home AFB and a check ride in an F-111 that summer had sold it for her. It wasn’t sleek and hip like F-15s or F-16s, (but the F-111 had pretty nice lines for something that moved mud, and yeah, it was fast) but somehow, it suited the non-conformist in her. And the idea of sneaking around at night making things go boom then running like she’d stolen the aircraft made her smile. Screw them, fighters make headlines, we attack pilots make history.

“Hey, you with me, Daria?” Jane exclaimed. “We’re coming up on the IP”.

“****, sorry, just thinking how I got here.”

“Comeon, amiga. Head in the game. We got us and thirty million dollars worth of airplane here. I really want to bring it all back the same way we found it.”

“Right, ok, break out the Bomb Run (Nuclear) checklists and let’s do this” while reaching above her head, keeping her eyes on the world outside.

Just at that moment, the Radar Warning Receiver hooted a wailing noise and a diamond appeared on the display above the WSO’s station. It was a small, box like display, with the space around the aircraft displayed into quadrants. A diamond with a “6” appeared on the display, signifying a “Straight Flush” type radar, which was the acquisition and tracking unit for the SA-6 surface to air missile system had acquired the aircraft, and was seeking to lock onto and fire a missile. It wasn’t a real SA-6, though the radar was probably real, captured from god knew where, but for Daria’s purposes, it was real enough, as getting killed by a SAM would flunk them the exercise, and get them recycled, or repeating the course.

Daria’s blood went cold, but her training kicked in “Jane, chaff, jammers, now!”

Jane slammed her fist down on the countermeasures button and turned on their jammer pod under the right wing, She fell into formality and regulation, just as she had been trained “Pilot, SA-6 at 9 o’clock, 8 miles, hasn’t fired but she knows we’re here.”

“Pilot’s airplane!” Daria exclaimed as she took back the stick from the autopilot. It was somewhat risky what she was about to do, but she didn’t intend to wait until the SA-6 fired before trying to break the lock it had achieved.

“Lane, any significant terrain? I’m gonna take this thing down to 100 feet and run like hell, don’t want to blunder into a mountain!”

“Scope’s clear for the next six miles, only significant terrain is a minor feature at 11 o’clock, make it 9 miles.”

“Stats on the SA-6?”

“15 mile range, speed Mach 2.8, semi-active radar-homing seeker and a minimum attitude of 330 feet.”

Daria smiled and sucked in a bit of air noisily. “****, first piece of good news, ok, we stay low, pop up for the LABS toss, then kick in the burners and dump a ton of chaff. The target’s what, another 12 miles?”

Jane head nodded as she kept her attention riveted on her scope “Yep, but 100 feet? Jesus Daria, we’d better hope nobody put any power lines or simulated guns out there.”

Daria’s spine chilled at both thoughts. Simulated guns would “kill” them just as dead as the faux SA-6 out there. But the power lines? That would really make us dead. Bummer.

The time to the release point from the target passed quickly as Daria’s attention was fully focused on flying the aircraft. A F-111 100 feet off the ground going full military power left little, if any, margin for error and if Daria rose another 200 feet before she was ready to set up for the toss? Then there was a good chance the SA-6 would catch her and Jane.

“8 miles to target, its time, Daria”

Daria and Jane both reached over with their left hands to a keypad, and punched in a 15 digit code each to “unlock” the practice warheads in the bomb bay. The bombs weren’t really B-61s, just 12-pound dummies that were ballistically similar, but for purposes of the exam, everything was done, as it would have been for real.

“Code acknowledged” muttered Jane.

“Code acknowledged, we have nuclear consent.”

“Ok, 3, 2, 1. Weapons computer has the airplane. Wait for the cue. Opening bomb bay doors” Jane said tensely. The centerline bomb bay doors opened with a slight hydraulic whine.

The RWR hooted again, and this time, the diamond was with a “57” in the center, signifying there was a Fire Can type radar directing a 57mm battery against Daria’s airplane. It was close, looked about maybe 3 miles or so, at 12 o’ clock. She could only hope the exercise tracking equipment didn’t register a hit against the F-111 during the run, but she couldn’t worry too much about it.

“Run’s looking good, I have good return on the airfield. I can see the aiming point clearly” said Jane in a satisfied tone.

“PULL, PULL, PULL” intoned a mechanical, female sounding voice from the aircraft, and Daria, put the aircraft on it’s tail and advanced the throttle to it’s stops. The computer calculated the information from the radar return, calculated where the aircraft was and then automatically triggered the bomb release. Daria continued to pull the F-111 into a half loop, then at the apogee of the loop, turned the aircraft upright, and continued to accelerate away from the target at full afterburner, the blue flame shooting for at least six to eight feet away from the aircraft. A 60 kt nuclear weapon had a lethal radius to flying aircraft of about 3 miles.

“Tell me that hit, tell me that hit, amiga” Jane pleaded.

“Dunno, let’s just run like hell before they rule us dead from our own bomb? And don’t forget the chaff!”

A few beats passed, and the whine of the RWR turned off, and a voice crackled in Jane and Daria’s helmets.

“Rookie 07, this is range control. Ladies, good shack, I repeat, good shack. Comeon home. Watch for Rookie 05 making his own run. Out.”

“Yes!” Daria exclaimed, almost squealing.

“We did, amiga! We’re big bad fighter jocks now!”

“Me, big, bad? I don’t exactly look the part?”

“Ugh, Dammit Daria, It’s time to get some ego, girl. We are the new female paragdigm. We fly a 30 million dollar airplane, and we fling nuclear fireballs! We are the epitome of cool!”

“Um, Jane, don’t make me hurt you?”

“You won’t when you hear what I got planned with you, your Z-28 and our 30 days graduation leave!”

Daria put the aircraft in a gentle turn back towards Cannon and smiled, unhooking her oxygen mask. Jane aped her actions, and both of them smiled a knowing smile.

“Does it begin with Las and end with Vegas?”

“Yes, it does, Daria, I have been too good for two damn long, and so have you. I am in the mood for some sin, and where else but the place that specializes?”

“Ya know, I am getting to like this swagger thing. Didn’t think I would, but yeah. I do. Glad I have you to share it with, Jane.”

“Suits you Daria, hey, we’re fighter pilots, or well, pilot and WSO. But it doesn’t matter, we have a cool job! Eat your heart out Brittany!”

*********

Chapter 2

7 Months Later

Officers Club
RAF Lakenheath
Lakenheath, United Kingdom
Monday, July 22nd, 1985
1835 ZULU/1835 Local

Mondays were always dead days in the O-Club at Lakenheath, and tonight was no exception. But, as young officers found out, it was one of the more affordable options one had when deployed to the UK. So, on a whim, and armed with the fact neither of them was scheduled for the flight roster tomorrow, it seemed a pizza and a beer at the O’Club was in order.

Daria and Jane had arrived at Lakenheath in February, ferrying an F-111 from the depot that had been “zero-timed” or practically rebuilt. It had also been upgraded to an F model from it’s previous D model and had been assigned, like Daria and Jane to the 492nd Tactical Fighter Squadron of the 49th Tactical Fighter Wing based at Lakenheath. It had been a somewhat leisurely flight, with plenty of time to talk, and reminisce. Of course, Jane had also taken the crew rest opportunity in Iceland to go nuts in the Reykjavík duty free store. I didn’t think we could fit that much smoked fish and Stoly in the damn bomb bay! Miracle none of it broke. It was quite the introduction to their crew chief, who still complained to anyone who would listen he couldn’t get the fishy smell out of that aircraft. Loudly.

What followed next was a hectic training schedule to learn the nuances of the F-111F versus the D they qualified on back at Mountain Home and Cannon. As of last week, they were fully qualified on the Pave Tack system in the aircraft. Pave Tack was an electro optic targeting pod that also had forward-looking infrared (FLIR) and laser targeting capabilities. Pave Tack was found on both the F-4 and the F-111. It was a big pod, and weighed almost 1400lbs and took up a good chunk of the bomb bay, but it allowed the F-111 to be an all-weather threat.

It had been a grueling time, and the two of them were wrung out between the ground school and the airborne training flights. But, as of last week, they were proclaimed, “qualified”. Of course, that week, they had to sit “Victor” or nuclear alert, cut off from the world in the alert shed, hoping the nuclear klaxon never went off.

It was with the end of that that 1st Lieutenants Lane and Morgendorffer were given a rare week off. Priorities being priorities, they had managed to score some off base housing. A small cottage was for rent by an elderly English woman who normally didn’t rent to pilots, but since “you’re young girls”, she figured it was ok. She was moving south to London to live with her daughter and son-in-law, who after their landlord’s heart attack wanted her closer to something resembling a hospital, not “living out in the sticks next to an American air base with jets going all hours of the morning and night”. The rent was reasonable, and so was the cottage, which for its rustic appearance had all the modern conveniences. It was also a quarter mile to the Lakenheath main gate, which was a bonus. Next was well, getting to know people. Jane and Daria soon found out they were one of only two female crews in the entire wing, and the only one in the squadron. The other female crew, naturally, was looking for like gendered folks that wouldn’t constantly see them as a dating opportunity. Though, Daria admitted, most folks had been way too busy around here to do any of that kind of thing.

So, on a rare day all four crews were off, it was a few phone calls, and off to the O’Club for Pizza, Beer and girl talk. The crew from the 494th was a study in contrasts. The pilot was a blonde, girl-next-door looking 1st Lieutenant from Midleville, MI named Lisa Cunningham. She was an AF brat whose father had been an F-105 driver over North Vietnam, and had thoroughly infected Lisa with the flying bug. Lisa had excelled in her AFROTC classes at Michigan State, and her proud father pinned on her wings, and attended her F-111 replacement unit graduation. Her call sign was “Pony Girl” due to her father revealing to her replacement instructors that she was, well, horse mad. She was a bit shy on the ground, but she flew the F-111 with precision, and sometimes made even the long serving pilots in the squadron feel a bit insecure.

The WSO, was a short, diminutive Asian-American 1st Lieutenant named Alice Kanagawa, she was third generation Japanese-American Yonsei and hailed from the most unlikely of places: Mobile, Alabama. She was nuts about the University of Alabama football team (Her brothers had played on it) and her call sign, “Crimson” was a reference to that. Her ‘Bama accent sometimes seemed out of place with her ethnic origins, but as she put it “****, there’s been Japanese in Mobile since the war.” Her father was a shrimper who had worked hard to put her and her two brothers through school, but they’d all gotten ROTC scholarships, with her brother Tony a tank platoon leader in West Germany and her other brother a platoon leader with the 82nd Airborne. She took jokes about her height in stride, and many a male aircrew had asked Lisa “So, do you put a phonebook in the airplane for her?” Alice was the opposite of her pilot, she was the life of the party, and had made bringing Daria out her shell a joint project with Jane.

A baseball game between the Mets and Braves was on in the corner, on the TV, but none of the four were watching. All of them were laughing over the tale of just how much Jane had bought at the aforementioned duty-free store.

“You should have seen it, I had three or four shopping carts, and Daria here’s sweating like she just got life in prison.”

“Did not, I just mentioned what a spectacularly bad idea it was?”

“You’ll thank me when you make Captain and we can have a proper wetting down party!”

“Trust me, Daria, you will” Lisa said with a knowing smile.

“Ahem, I am a well behaved Air Force Officer, not like you neanderthals!” Daria exclaimed.

“Uh, sure amiga, is that why you keep running into that F-15 driver from Soesterberg.”

“I’ll have you know it’s the other way around, Jane, and he’s getting on my last nerve. Jerk’s just waiting to be collateral damage in a battle of wits anyhow.”

“I think he’s kinda nice” Jane said, a twinkle in her eyes.

“Comeon Daria, how bad could he be?” Alice drawled, “****, love or at least a good time is where you find it in the Air Force.”

“Ugh, he’s annoying, full of himself, and this ‘accidental’” Daria waggled her fingers like quotation marks is beginning to piss me off.”

“Funny, he says the misanthropic thing ticks him off too.” Jane retorted.

“WHAT!” Daria exclaimed, her beer almost taking a tumble.

“Yeah, got his number, we supposedly have a date, but I think he’s just using me to get to know you. I intend to play along, Daria.”

Daria’s face reddened, I am not going to be jealous. Hell, why am I jealous, he’s just some arrogant F-15 jock who wants to score with the cute ‘Vark driver and-

As Daria was about to complete that thought, a series of curses came from the bar. All four heads at the table turned as one to the TV. It was emblazoned with the words “ABC NEWS SPECIAL REPORT”.

“****, probably Yugoslavia again, some reporter probably got into a shouting match with a Soviet paratrooper.”

Yugoslavia had been in the news a lot, ever since civil war had broken out last month, and the Soviets had invaded two weeks ago. It wasn’t long before President Reagan and the rest of NATO had demanded a Soviet withdrawal, which of course, had been denied. A US-led intervention had followed 24 hours later, centering on Rijeka and Ljubljana with more Italian, British and US troops arriving daily in the past two weeks. The alert levels had increased slightly at Lakenheath, but there wasn’t too much out of the ordinary…but what the hell did this special report mean.

A voice cried out “Turn it up!”

The camera zoomed in on Peter Jennings, and he began with his clipped Canadian accent “Good afternoon from New York everyone, we apologize for interrupting your baseball game. I wish the news we had to report was better, but we have a confirmed report from the press pool with the Marines in Rijeka that there has been a battle between US Marines and Soviet troops. We’re going to go live to CBS’s Bob Simon, we apologize for the picture and audio quality in advance..”

“Oh ****” was all Daria could manage to say.

Interlude 2

The White House, Washington, D.C;
Monday, 22 July 1985
1504 Hours EDT, 1904 Hours ZULU


President Reagan sat behind his desk in the Oval Office, going over an update from EUCOM in Stuttgart. The Marines and Army Airborne who'd gone into Yugoslavia, along with British and Italian troops, had taken up defensive positions along the Slovenian-Croatian border. The local population-at least the non-Serbian elements, had been grateful to see NATO troops arriving to help defend their newly declared independence, despite the fact that Soviet troops were reportedly closing in on both Zagreb and Ljubljana. Still, the Rules of Engagement did allow for NATO forces to fire first if their positions were threatened, and so far, that seemed to working for the moment.

The President's biggest problem at the moment was domestic. A number of Democratic Congressmen and a couple of Senators had introduced a resolution invoking the War Powers Act, and had been publicly calling for the U.S., along with NATO, to withdraw from Yugoslavia. This, despite the approval from the Democratic leadership on the Hill, just showed that some in the Democratic Party were still thinking that any intervention abroad was a repeat of Vietnam. Though the Democratic leadership, including both House Speaker Tip O'Neil and Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, had come out in favor of the intervention. Shaking his head, the President was about to go on to some pressing domestic policy papers when his Secretary buzzed. The National Security Advisor, Admiral John Poindexter, had to see him at once. “Send him in,” the President said.

Admiral Poindexter came into the Oval Office, a grim look on his face. “Mr. President,”

“What is it, Admiral?”

“Sir, there has been a shooting incident between our forces and the Soviets. Several, actually.” Poindexter reported.

“How serious?” Reagan asked, standing up as he did so.

“Serious enough, Mr. President. The first reports, though those are likely to be wrong, indicate that the Soviets just rolled right up to a forward Marine position. They may have assumed the Marines were Croatians, because they opened fire on sight.”

“Unless they had orders to fire on any NATO forces they encountered,” commented the President.

“Possible,sir.” Poindexter acknowledged. “At any rate, a company-sized Soviet force was pinned up near a village west of Zagreb-which the Soviets seem to have decided to bypass-and a number of Soviet tanks and armored personnel carriers were destroyed. Marine aircraft from Italy have also encountered MiGs while they were flying cover for our forces on the ground, and two MiG-23s tried to engage the Marine F-4s. They were destroyed, and a Soviet pilot was captured by Marines on the ground, along with a number of Soviet soldiers from the prior engagement.”

Reagan paused for a few moments, clearly thinking over the situation. Though there had been encounters between American and Soviet forces in Korea, and Soviet attacks on American reconnaissance aircraft, those had been minor skirmishes. Now, Americans and Soviets were facing off on a real battlefield, and he knew full well that things were likely to go down a slippery slope that would likely lead to war.

“Casualties on our side?”

“Some, sir. No hard numbers as yet,” Poindexter said.

Nodding, Reagan picked up the phone on his desk and called his secretary. “I want the Secretaries of Defense and State here, along with the Vice-President, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the CIA Director here in an hour.”

“Yes, Mr. President,” his secretary replied.

“All right, John,” Reagan asked his National Security Advisor, “What's next?”

Poindexter took a deep breath. “Mr. President, we'd better start thinking about implementing REFORGER, or at the very least, preparing to do so. The sooner we make that decision, the better. That means calling up the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, and getting NATO and other allied merchant ships into friendly ports to get convoys organized and loaded.”

“And what else does that entail?”

“Mr. President, that means that the aircraft that take troops to Europe bring back military and embassy dependents, tourists, and so on.”

Nodding, the President stood up and went to the window of the Oval Office. He looked out on the White House lawn, and gazed at the tourists on the sidewalk. “It's been forty years, John. It's happening again.” Dear God, what will it be like?

Don Regan, the White House Chief of Staff, had heard, and he was coming into the Oval Office. “Mr. President, I've heard. The TV Networks have this story. They're all calling it 'First Clash,' and there's also video out.”

The President turned to his Chief of Staff. “How'd they find out so fast?”

“Sir, after the controversy over the media blackout during the Grenada operation, DOD organized a National Media Pool, as you know.” Seeing the President nod, Regan went on, “When the Marines went in, the Pool was activated and they went in a few hours later. CBS has the pool's TV crew, and the networks are sharing the report.”

“Let's see it,” the President ordered.

Nodding, Regan went to the bank of TV sets in the Oval Office, and turned one of them on-to the D.C. ABC affiliate. Peter Jennings was on, with the “Special Report” title at the bottom of screen, and there was Bob Simon, who was the CBS pool reporter, giving a description of the fighting. “So far, Peter, the Marines here say that the Soviets just drove right up to their positions, and the Soviets just opened fire.” The camera panned around, catching several wrecked BTR-70 APCs, a couple of BRDM reconnaissance vehicles on fire, and three burning T-72 tanks, and ominously, the body of a Soviet tank commander hanging halfway outside his hatch on one of the tanks. “Right now, the Marine commander says he's staying right where he is, and if the Russians want this position, they'll have to fight for it.”

“How about American casualties?” Jennings asked.

“There are some, Peter, but as to numbers, the Marines won't say just yet. And Soviet casualties? Just take a look around-that should tell you.” And the camera did pan around again, focusing in on several wrecked BTRs and numerous dead Soviet soldiers, who had been cut down by small-arms and machine gun fire escaping from their vehicles.”And the Marines here say they do have some Soviet prisoners.” The cameraman then focused on several bewildered young men in Soviet uniform, guarded by Marines. Then it focused on a nearby Marine M-60A1 tank, its turret swiveling, then a loud BOOM as the tank's cannon fired. On a nearby ridge, a fireball erupted, and a speck that must have been a vehicle of some sort began to burn.

“What happened?” Asked the ABC anchor.

“Well, Peter, the Marine commander says there's at least a battalion of Soviet troops to the east, and a company of them tried to come over that ridge just after the first encounter. They pulled back, but every so often, a Soviet vehicle and some infantrymen have come over the ridge top. The Soviets have pulled back each time, but they keep trying to come over that ridge. And Marine artillery fire has landed on them several times.”

“Turn it off, Don,” Reagan said.

“Yes, Mr. President,” and Regan did so.

“All right, Admiral,” the President said, turning to his National Security Advisor, “Who's your best Soviet expert, civilian-wise?”

“That would be Dr. Condi Rice, Mr. President.”

“Get her. I want her in on this meeting as well. But how do you think the Soviets will take this?”

Poindexter paused, choosing his words carefully. “Sir, I really don't know, but my best guess is that they won't take this easily. The first real clash between American and Soviet forces, and they were seen to be on the run. It won't go down very well either in the Kremlin or in the Ministry of Defense.”


******

“****, are we at war?” some unidentified denizen at the bar asked.

“No, we’re not, not yet” a lanky older gentleman opined, twisting his cigar. He wore blue fatigues, and Warrant Officer bars, and looked like the old man of the sea. There was a knowing look in his eyes. “You youngins need to know it. We aren’t at war yet. But we will be. The Russkies don’t take **** like this lying down. And it won’t be like some damn video game. Not by a long sight.” He finished his drink and made for the door like a shot from a cannon.

Daria turned towards her companions “So, what now?”

Lisa opined “Let’s assume 12 hour rule, head for your place, drink Coke and watch the news.”

“And call our folks” Alice added.

“Sounds like a plan, I’ll get our coats. Daria, pay the man.” Jane added

Daria grimaced as she laid out the money, I think money’s going to be the least of my concerns real soon.

**********

8 miles SSE of RAF Scampton

F-111 s/n 72-1447

1420 ZULU/1420 Local

Tuesday, July 23rd, 1985

"Jane, tell me we lost him" Daria implored as she kept an eye on the terrain zipping by the aircraft. The TFR was set to HARD and usually, the auto-pilot came through, but occasionally…terrain and aircraft did intersect, painfully.

"Dunno, TWR doesn't have him, but I bet the limey sonofabitch is back there." Jane intoned, then she glanced at the air speed indicator

"Watch the speed boss, we're gonna "boom" a village or two down there." Jane was referring to the fact that going supersonic so low over the peacetime UK was frowned upon by the locals. An F-111 at 300-500 feet going supersonic could break a lot of windows.

"I know, but this asshole's running me out of options." Daria exclaimed. "We at the IP yet?"

"Coming up on it…NOW!"

"Awesome, let's pull our checklists for Bomb Run (Conventional) and..." Daria said, when a horrible sound crackled in their ears on the GUARD frequency.

"TAKA TAKA TAKA. I am sorry ladies, but you are some dead sepos." the voice said.

"****!" Daria exclaimed, she turned apologetically "Sorry Jane, we lost"

"Least it wasn't for real" Jane shrugged "We'll do better next time".

"Thunder Lead, this Tuna 2, nice work. How did you get us? We didn't pick you up on the threat receiver?"

"Lots of gritted teeth and damn near Mach 1 at low-level, I turned the radar off and went for a guns shot. God you bloody 'Vark drivers are fast! Hope the Fencer troops don't fly as well as you."

"Well, you got us, so you should be able to get them." Dara said, a resigned tone in her voice.

"Yes, but I suspect others of your flight got past us, coming up alongside you from your 6 o clock left."

Daria craned her neck around, and fought to see the old F-4M come ease up alongside the F-111, waggling it's wings.

"If you'll look to your left, dear madam?" Thunder Lead intoned.

There was a hand written sign on a pilot's kneeboard from the backseater. It was held up against the pilot's glass. Daria had to reach for her binoculars to read it. It said simply "NEXT TIME YOU LADIES GRACE CONNINGSBY, YOU'RE BUYING THE BITTER!" It also had a string of numbers that could only be a phone number.

Daria turned a shade of red that could be noticed even under her helmet and mask, with her visor being up. She turned to Jane as her peals of laughter could be heard through the intercom system.

"Jesus Daria, we're supposed to be working, not keeping up relations" as Jane said, struggling with her laughter.

"Hey, he hit on me!" Daria exclaimed "He's better about it than Mr. Soesterberg, god what a creep!"

Nicely done, Daria, cover the fact you just might like the moron, ok, he is an F-15 driver with an ego the size of Texas and…

"..anyhow Tuna 2, we're at bingo and it's time for us to head back to Conningsby, thanks for the lovely chase."

"Roger that Thunder Lead, hope we made a good tackling dummy" Daria said dryly.

"Eh Tuna 2? Ah, yes, American Football reference. Really, ours is so much more civilized."

"Really, riots and all? Nah, not much of a sports gal, Thunder Lead." Daria said with a giggle.

"That's the Yobs, and I suspect many of them are going to be learning a little discipline soon. They signed Queen's Order 2 last night. As I said though, we should be off, good flight back to Lakenheath."

With that, the Phantom tipped over on its wing, broke away sharply and rejoined its fellow, who holding off at a distance.

Daria turned to Jane, who was still giggling "Gee Daria, you have a way with fighter jocks, mind telling me your secret?"

"Screw you, gimme a heading back to Lakenheath, and what happened to callsigns in the air?"

"Sorry Butch," intoned Jane "So, shall it be direct or the scenic route?"

"Let's go scenic, we can practice a low level pass over Bentwaters and scare the **** out of those A-10 pukes They're practically committing incest with the Army anyhow, Sundance."

Jane smiled at the last idea "See, Butch, a little schadenfreude and you are right as rain."

Daria smiled at that last thought. "You think?"

"I know my best friend, Butch, and we are bad ***** fighter pilots, losing gracefully is not part of the program! Now, since we have a while before we have to check in with the ADIZ, what shall it be Butch? Journey or AC/DC? I am feeling a little Steve Perry myself."

"Sundance, give us a little Journey for our journey if you would?"

"On it, bosslady!" Jane said with a flourish as she produced a tape cassette from the arm pocker of her flight suit and popped it into a tape deck crudely velcroed to the top of the instrument panel next to the TWR. She popped in the tape, pressed play, and the song Don't Stop Believin kicked in, filling the cabin with the kind of tempo that helped Daria get into the rhythm of putting the aircraft through her paces as they made a turn towards the North Sea.

45 minutes later

As Daria and Jane neared the coast, they killed the music and Daria dropped the aircraft down to 1500 feet, the F-111's wings in full sweep and her two turbofans glowing like twin blue orbs against the afternoon sky.

"Damn" Jane mused, "the mix tape was just getting to Highway to Hell!"

"Wanna get another speech about how the plane "belongs to the taxpayers", Sundance?"

"Not really, but I get you, Butch. By the way, your temper is up? Wanna talk about it?" Jane intoned

"Just pissed I got us whacked." Daria said ruefully.

"Hey, those Russians don't fly as well as the Brits do, comeon! You'll do better in the real thing. You always flubbed the practice SATs and then what happned, chica? You got an even 1650!"

"Guess you're right, just worried."

"And I appreciate it, Butch, but now's the time to fly casual, apply lessons learned and think on what we did wrong, and what we did right, ok? Anyhow, I'd like to cap this off by scaring those proto-Army guys at Bentwaters? Think we can do that. jefe?"

Daria nodded "Bentwaters Tower, this is Tuna 2, we're an F-111 from Lakenheath, requesting permission for a low level pass of the base from east to west, over."

The reply was short in coming

"Tuna 2, Bentwaters Tower, negative on your permission, climb to 3000 feet and continue on to Lakenheath at heading 250. Our pattern is full, over."

Daria tuned to Jane "This is new, Sundance."

"No ****. Wonder what's up."

"Damned if I know, let's do as the tower says, I really don't wanna piss off the tower today, Sundance."

"Got it, I'll watch for traffic."

"Thanks."

The sky was clear with barely a cloud in it up to ten thousand, so watching for traffic was easy, the troubling part was, is that there was so much of it. Even a base like Bentwaters shouldn't have been that busy…

It was then Daria noticed something. She dove for the binoculars and trained them on the base. Where are all the A-10s? There's supposed to be A-10s here. And what are those F-4s doing on the ramp? Wait. did they send the A-10s on to Germany? Are things getting that bad?

'Butch, we got traffic at our 4 O'Clock low, coming up fast, looks small, wait, it's a pair of F-5s, ****, it's the aggressor guys, probably up to hassle us."

"****, another bunch of fighter pilots giving us grief today?" Daria intoned.

"Looks like it Butch."

The two shapes resolved themselves into a pair of sleek, shark nosed F-5 Freedom Fighter IIs in Soviet style camouflage and "bort" numbers along the sides of the nose. These were aircraft from the 527th Tactical Fighter Training and Aggressor Squadron. Daria and Jane had had run ins with them before. They flew like Soviet and Warsaw Pact pilots and the F-5s simulated the MiG-21 quite well. Daria and Jane had been "killed" by them, a lot. It was a fate many an AF pilot had shared. In deflating egos amongst the rest of the Air Force, they had built theirs up.

But something was wrong with the F-5s as they pulled alongside. Daria couldn't place it at first, something just didn't seem right…but then it hit her like a damn thunderbolt from the heavens. It was the Sidewinders on the wingtip rails. Most of the time, the F-5s carried captive blue tipped exercise rounds on one tip, and a ACMI (Air Combat Maneuvering Instrumentation Pod) on the other, but this time, both tips had live, white tipped Sidewinders.

"Daria, are those live AIM-9s?"

"Hell yes!"

"Things are getting real, aren't they?"

"Damn straight."

As soon as the F-5s got a good look at the F-111, they both broke smartly away, lit their burners and dove back down to the deck.

"Guess they wanted to make sure we weren't Russians?"

"I hate to think what would have happened if we were, Sundance, I really do. Let's get the **** out of here, gimme a steer for Lakenheath."

"I will, Butch, but let's fly casual along the heading they gave us, if the Aggressors are toting live warshots? No telling who else might be tight on the trigger around here."

Daria nodded, and both of them said little about it, or anything else beyond the minimum required the rest of the flight back to Lakenheath. It was as if both were lost in their own thoughts, and fears of the coming storm that now seemed to be becoming more inevitable by the day.
*******************************************

INTERLUDE 3

The White House, Washington, D.C.

1005 Hours EDT/1505 Hours GMT

Tuesday, July 23rd, 1985

President Reagan was in the Situation Room, meeting with the Vice Peresident and his National Security Advisers. Besides VP George Bush, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, and Admiral Poindexter, the National Security Advisor, Gen. John Vessey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, CIA Director William Casey, Secretary of State George Schultz, and the National Security Council's top Soviet expert, Dr. Condelezza Rice, were all at the Cabinet table. They were going over developments in Europe, and the likely response.

"So far, Mr. President, Admiral Crowe at CINCSOUTH in Naples is reporting that the Soviets in Yugoslavia have halted-for the time being at least, in both Slovenia and in Croatia." General Vessey was telling the President. "However, there have been some air clashes, and we've lost a couple of Marine Phantoms. But, we've also destroyed several Soviet aircraft."

"And we've told the Soviets not to get within a certain distance of our forces, correct?" Asked the President.

"Yes, sir." General Vessey replied. "So far, their ground forces are doing that."

The President turned to his Secretary of State. "George, anything out of Dobrynin?" Anatoly Dobrynin was the longtime Soviet Ambassador to the U.S., and knew America probably better than anyone in the Soviet Foreign Ministry.

"No, Mr. President,. Not a word. My people say that the Soviet leadership may be keeping him in the dark deliberately."

"They don't trust him. He's 'gone native', in other words?" Dr. Rice asked.

"That's what my people tell me," Schultz replied.

The President sighed. "All right. I've sent that letter to Cherenenko, offering to meet with him anywhere, anytime, to settle this without any further bloodshed. Mutual withdrawal from Yugoslavia, under UN supervision, a referendum in each of the three breakaway states in Yugoslavia to confirm their desire for independence, all of it. If I don't hear from him by noon, I'll make it public."

Everyone understood the need to show the world that the U.S wasn't pushing the Soviets into a war; and that Reagan was willing to go the extra mile to seek a negotiated settlement. Whether or not the Russians would see that was another question.

Dr. Rice spoke up. "Sir, they'll read the letter. And they'll ignore it."

Heads turned to her. "What makes you say that?" Weinberger asked.

"Mr. Secretary, we're dealing with a Politburo that has an average age of 66. If what the British are saying after Gordievsky's defection is true-and there's no reason to doubt that, we've got a major problem."

"Could you explain further?" CIA Director Casey asked. He had gotten the MI-6 debrief of Gordievsky, and he'd nearly turned pale reading it.

"Of course. The Soviet leadership, apart from a few Candidate-or nonvoting-Members of the Politburo, is not just aging, but paranoid. That Able Archer exercise in 1983 scared them:they honestly believed that it was a cover for a real attack. Despite what their own intelligence sources-whether KGB, GRU, or Stasi-told them. They're living in the world of 1941, not 1985, and are convinced that the West plans to attack them at the earliest opportunity." Dr. Rice said.

"They're that paranoid?" Vice-President George Bush asked. A former Director of the CIA, he knew the intelligence business.

"They are. None of the Politburo members-other than Foreign Minister Gromyko-have been to the West, though a few of the Candidate members have, but they have no influence on policy. And since 1941, the Soviets have vowed never again to be caught napping by a surprise attack."

Digesting this, the President nodded. He turned to Director Casey. "Anything to add?"

"Mr. President, we can confirm a few things, though I do agree with Dr. Rice's assessment," Casey replied. First, the Soviets have not discharged their time-expired soldiers, either from Eastern Europe, or in the Western Military Districts. They've called up their new draftees, who normally would be coming into service anyway. Second, we're getting signs via overheads of movement of trains and rolling stock to the Baltics, Beylorussia, and the Ukraine."

"Right to Soviet Army garrisons, Bill?" Poindexter asked.

"That's correct, Admiral. They're getting ready to move large numbers of troops west." Casey responded.

"Didn't they just run a major exercise?" Secretary Schultz asked.

"Yes, Mr. Secretary, they did. And they even called up some reservists for that. But those men haven't been discharged, either. And there's also activity at key Soviet naval bases on the Kola Peninsula, as well as the Baltic, the Black Sea, and the Pacific. They're getting ready to surge subs into the sea lanes."

"Any signs of a Soviet strategic forces alert?" The President asked.

"No, sir. They do seem to be going out of their way to avoid that: their missile subs at sea are in their normal patrol patterns, and none of their SS-20s have moved out of their garrisons. Also, no unusual activity has been observed at their ICBM fields, nor their strategic bombers. There is a lot of activity at their theater bomber bases-the Badgers, Blinders, and Backfires, but none of the Bears assigned to intercontinental missions have been active, apart from routine training." Casey reported.

The President digested everything he'd heard. "Recommendations?"

"Mr. President," General Vessey said. "General Rogers at SHAPE has formally asked for REFORGER. If we're going to hold them conventionally, we need III Corps and the reinforcements for V and VII Corps."

"Approved," Reagan said at once. "You can call up the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, and start getting those convoys organized."

Vessey let out a invisible sigh of relief. "Yes, Mr. President."

"Mr. President," Weinberger added, "some units tagged for REFORGER are National Guard-"

"Cut the orders Federalizing them," Reagan directed. "I can call up to 100,000 without Congressional approval. That goes for any Air National Guard as well."

Secretary Weinberger nodded. "That includes evacuation of military dependents, and nonessential civilian DOD employees from Europe, you do realize?."

"Who comes out first?"

"Mr. President, the dependents in Germany and the Low Countries. That includes West Berlin. In fact, we'd better get them out first, in case the Soviets decide to seal off the air corridors." Weinberger paused, then went on, "Phase II is Britain, Iceland, Italy, Greece, and Spain."

"I'd like to include nonessential Embassy and Consulate staff, and all Foreign Service dependents as well," Secretary Schultz added.

"Granted," the President said at once. "And get as many Americans out of Europe as you can; expatriates, tourists, whatever. And what's in the first wave of REFORGER?"

"Yes, sir, on the evacuation. Now, the first group for REFORGER will be the 2nd Armored from III Corps along with Corps HQ, the 4th ID for V Corps, and the 1st Infantry, the Big Red One, for VII Corps. Then the rest of III Corps follows." Weinberger said. "That's 1st Cav, 5th ID, and 3rd ACR, along with Corps aviation, artillery, etc."

"Very well, and the Air Force as well?" Seeing Weinberger and Vessey nod, Reagan asked, "Anything else?"

"There's one other thing, Mr. President. Do you with to increase the DEFCON level?" Weinberger asked.

"Not now. I don't want to be seen as pushing the Soviets into a war. If they do something, then we'll do just that. Keep everyone at DEFCON 4.."

Neither Weinberger or Vessey liked that, but they knew the President had a point. "Yes, Mr. President."


**********

Chapter 4

Main Gate
RAF Lakenheath
Lakenheath, United Kingdom
Thursday, July 25th, 1985
0830 Local/0830 ZULU

Daria and Jane were fighting their lack of sleep with a mixture of willpower and coffee as they checked themselves over as they sat in the line of cars that had accumulated to enter the main gate at Lakenheath. They wore their flightsuts and sidecaps, with their aviator sunglasses hiding the bloodshot eyes and bags from having to stay up all night writing performance evaluations for their enlisted ground crew and then translate them into “Pentagon-ese.” Today was the deadline for their submittal so they made the cutoff for promotion during this fiscal year. Ah the Air Force, Daria mused 20% flying, 80% paperwork.

There was also an AAR to go over with her flight leader on why they got tagged by that Brit F-4 and then the gripe sheet for the airplane to submit in triplicate, one copy to the crew chief, one to squadron maintenance and another to squadron operations. The F-111’s air-conditioning was erratic and a couple of gauges kept giving false readings, nothing serious, but one of them was the fuel gauge and that could lead to some issues. It was only off by 250lbs and Jane and Daria had long known to correct for it, but better to get it get fixed now, with a potential war in the air. There also was the issue of the backup altimeter that had quit in the landing pattern. That had been a bit more serious.

And that’s assuming any of the gripes get fixed before the end of the month. We’re running up against a new fiscal year, so while Wing’s looking for new ways to spend money? They’re also looking for ways to save money. It’s positively schizophrenic.

“****, amiga? What the hell is the holdup?” queried Jane.

Daria shrugged, but then it hit her. The usual security around the base was a few USAF Security Policemen, armed with their ubiquitous holstered .38s in near perfectly creased OG fatigues, boots and badges shined to a gleaming standard, standing by the main gate and checking IDs and giving razor sharp salutes, and giving the kids of base personnel more jaunty ones once they were satisfied with your bona fides. Not today.

Today the looks on the faces of the SP’s were far grimmer, and there was RAF Regiment personnel in attendance as well, with their DPMs clashing with the SP OG uniforms as they were setting up sandbagged positions on either side of the road leading up to the main gate, all the SP’s had M16s, and they were not slung. Not today. And every car was being given the once over, trunks opened, wheel wells checked with flashlights, and mirrors on poles run under the car. Daria also noticed there was a M-60 being setup within sight of the main gate in another position just inside the fence. There was also a pair of SPs, one with a military working dog going up and down the line of cars and letting the dog sniff the cars freely.

“Daria, what the hell is going on? We on alert?”

“I dunno. But some serious **** must have gone down overnight. Look, stay cool. It’s just another day at work, right?” Daria said, a note of hope in her voice.

Both said little as Daria’s black Camaro inched its way toward the main gate as the traffic slowly made its way on post. All the while, aircraft landed and took off, rattling the cars with the jetwash as it made its way towards the ground.

Daria decided to turn on the radio, pushing in the button on the car radio to both turn on the radio and set the tuner for the pre-set to Armed Forces Network, and she was greeted with the oddest thing she’d ever heard.

The radio had a single monotone voice that simply repeated “Execute Even Fox, Execute Even Fox.” The voice repeated the phrase three times, and then without preamble, went right into the strains of the Beatles “Eleanor Rigby”.

Daria and Jane looked at each other in bemusement and confusion. “What the hell is going on?” they both said to each other at once.

“Jinx!” both then said.

“Tie doesn’t count.” Daria said laconically

“Damn well does, we owe each other.” Jane said, shaking her head ruefully.

“Kinda defeats the purpose?”

“Daria, standards must be upheld, that is something you, of all people should be in favor of!” Jane said with a tone of mock rapprochement.

“Traitor”

“I’m sorry, I thought I heard you accuse your best friend of treason? That’s a serious charge in these troubled times? I mean, Daria, why in the world would I betray us to the Russians? Not like they have much to offer me short of crushing poverty, government controlled art and really bad architecture.” Jane said with a crooked smile.

Daria shrugged again “I suppose so, thanks for the bit of levity there.”

Jane nodded “De Nada amiga, I’m scared too.”

Daria looked Jane in the eyes. “Jane, if it comes, to, you know. Could we really do it?”

Jane nodded “Yeah, Daria, we could. Don’t know whether to be proud of that or cry.”

“How about both?”

After a seeming eternity, the car pulled even with the guard shack, which was now manned by one of those grim-faced SPs. The SP who approached the car was an impossibly young Airman 1st Class, who’s most prominent facial feature was his adam’s apple. His acne was only now fading and he was in full battle rattle, which made him look bigger than he probably was. He was covered by several of his fellows as well as a pair of “rockapes” from the RAF Regiment who held their FN-FALs at the low ready position, but they looked ready to raise them to their shoulders with the slightest excuse.

“Mam,” he nodded at Daria, and then again at Jane “Mam, I have to ask you both to get out of the vehicle and please keep your hands in plain view, base commander’s instituted a general search of all vehicles entering the base, no exceptions, mam.” The SP shrugged with his rifle for emphasis, expressing his regret on having to do this.

Daria was shocked; she hoped it wasn’t too obvious on her face. The sunglasses did a good job of hiding the eyes, but the rest of the face was probably turning white at this point. Probably a dead give away I’m not Spetsnaz.

Daria simply nodded and got out of the car, and stepped away from it a short distance, as Jane did the same from the other direction. Both were patted down by female SPs, who then gave a “thumbs up” to their opposite numbers. While that was going on, the car was searched, the glovebox was opened and rifled, the wheel wells were gone over with a flashlight, the trunk opened and it’s contents gone through, nothing was left unsearched, even the bottom of the car was searched with a mirror on a pole.

“ID, mam? And could you remove your sunglasses, mam?” the female SP queried.

Daria fished for her wallet slowly. This many armed and nervous folks around, sudden movements were definitely a bad idea. She gingerly produced her green DoD issued ID card which made her look like an axe murderer and handed it to the SP, who looked both her and the picture up and down far more carefully than had been previously done. While she was giving Daria the once over, Daria removed her sunglasses, and winced at the sunlight that poured into her defenseless eyes.

Soon, the SP seemed satisfied with the nature of Daria’s identity; she came to attention and snapped off a salute “Thank you, mam, you’re clear to proceed. Have a good day!”

Daria returned the salute, muttering about mornings such as these, came to attention and returned the salute. Not her fault so I might as well be decent about it. As she made her way back to her car and got in about the same time as Jane, who was equally nonplussed, she put on a gritted smile and growled. “Shall we find some parking and head to work?”

“Might as well, things being on the verge of World War III, they might need some ‘Vark drivers. Where the hell are they going to find those?” Jane said with a snarky smile on her face.

Daria simply shook her head as she put the Camaro into drive.

As the car cruised onto the base, both Daria and Jane drove slowly, taking the time to notice the various activities happening on the base. Security Police and RAF Regiment people were everywhere, either walking guard mounts, setting up machine gun positions, or in at least one case Daria noticed, the RAF was setting up a Rapier position overlooking the main runway.

And as for the main runway….it was a hive of activity, ungainly looking C-141s landing and taking off, and as she noticed the ramp, a C-9 parked on the far end of the ramp, along with 2 other aircraft, 767s from the look of them in United Airlines livery.

“Daria, what the hell is United Airlines doing here?”

“Somebody musta pushed the panic button and called up the CRAF, guess REFORGER’s started.”

REFORGER, or Return of Forces to Germany was an acronym meant to describe the crash deployment of US forces by air to meet up with pre-positioned equipment in Germany. It had been practiced every year as part of routine NATO exercises, but those NATO exercises had never involved cargo aircraft landing at Lakenheath. Considering also that REFORGER had concluded last month, there was only one conclusion: This was no exercise.

“Things must have gone from bad to worse in Yugoslavia.” Jane mused

“God, I thought Reagan’s offer last night would have calmed them down.” Daria said as she shook her head.

“Guess not” Jane shrugged.

It wasn’t long before Daria’s Camaro cruised into it’s usual parking space at her squadron area, and the two put on their “pillbox” covers and sunglasses, grabbed their flight bags (which had more uses than just being their flight equipment) and checked each over to make sure they were presentable.

Satisfied that they were, they made their way to the squadron offices, performing the military ritual of saluting and answering salutes. One thing neither of them could miss is nobody was doing the usual “movement with a purpose” today, but more walking briskly, or in some cases, outright running.

Daria looked at Jane in puzzlement after she noticed an Airman First Class with an armful of papers barely manage a salute to both of them as he attempted to become the first human to reach warp 2.

The unspoken question of them both: “How bad is it now?

As they reached the door to the squadron offices, they doffed their covers and sunglasses, pocketing both in their flightsuits, and as soon as they did…they saw the unbridled bedlam as opposed to the usual quiet competence the squadron administrative staff usually showed, one usually didn’t hear much more than muted phone calls punctuated by brisk typing..not today.

Today, people were almost yelling into the phones, and admin staffs of all ranks were running about the office with arms stuffed with papers. They’d never seen the office like this.

Daria was determined to get to the bottom of this. She grabbed the first person she could find, an Tech Sergeant who had a 3 foot stack of folders stuffed with forms that he barely balanced in his arms.
“****, who the hell’s grabbing…Oh, crap..sorry mam, it’s all hit the fan today.

“What’s going on, Sarge?” Daria asked

The tow-headed Tech Sergeant shook his head, his violet eyes bleary from too many hours on Air Force coffee alone and his OG uniform badly rumpled. He’d been at this for days. “The NCA’s activated REFORGER, mam and the squadron staff’s been busy all day with admin requests, maintenance requests, as well as coordinating the movement of munitions to the flight line.”

Jane jumped in “Wait, they’re moving live munitions to the flight line?”

“Right to the HAS’s mam. The Russians increased the pace of their mobilization last night and word is, Chernenkyo’s giving a speech today. I doubt the news will be good, mam. Oh, and I almost forgot, all unmarried pilots without dependants are to drop what they’re doing and report to the ready room, immediately.”

“Goodie, guess we’re all on Victor alert now.” Daria mused.

“Don’t even joke about that, Daria.”

“Who’s joking?”

Thursday, 25 July 1985,
0700 EDT/1200 GMT (1800 Moscow Time)
The White House, Washington, DC

President Reagan and his National Security Team were meeting in the Situation Room, in what was becoming a daily routine. Just as JFK had in 1962, Reagan was having such meetings twice a day, as the Yugoslav Crisis seemed likely to escalate into a full-scale war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. And the American public, thanks to the news footage shot by the DOD Media Pool, now felt themselves to be at war with the Soviet Union. So far, the shooting had been confined to Slovenia and Croatia, but that couldn't last forever.

The President asked Secretary of Defense Weinberger, “Cap, how's REFORGER going so far?”

“Mr. President, the lead elements of III Corps are on the ground in Germany and Holland. They're drawing their equipment from their POMCUS sites. Right now, III Corps HQ, lead elements of the 1st Cavalry Division, and additional elements of the 2nd Armored Division are on the ground. Also, the 4th ID for V Corps and the 1st ID for VII Corps are also arriving. And yes, dependents and all other nonessential Americans are coming out. Phase I of evacuation from Germany and the Low Countries is well underway, and we've begun Phase II from England, Italy, Greece, and Spain this morning.”

“Good,” the President said. He turned to the CIA Director, William Casey. “And the Soviets?”

“They're beginning to move what we believe is the 28th Army from Beylorussia. They're tagged for East Germany: most of their units are part of Group of Soviet Forces Germany in peacetime, but the Soviets are moving the rest in. We're also seeing movement in the Baltic MD, and it's expected the two Armies there will move through Poland and East Germany to attack Schlesweig-Holstein and Denmark.” Casey reported.

“What about the Tank Army Groups, one each in Beylorussia and the Ukraine?” Admiral Poindexter, the NSA, asked.


“They're getting ready as well. Overheads show unit shakedowns, things like that. And their Air Force units in both Beylorussia and the Ukraine are getting ready to deploy forward.”

“Thank you, Director,” Reagan said.

“Mr. President,” House Speaker Tip O'Neil said. He'd been asked to sit in on these meetings by the President, and O'Neil had made sure that whatever the President needed out of Congress to respond, he would get, and, if necessary run right over the anti-war members of the House in the process. “No formal response from Moscow to your letter?”

“No, Mr. Speaker, there hasn't,” Reagan replied. “Nor have they responded to Waldheim's offer, or the Pope's, for that matter.” He was referring to UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim's offer of his “good offices” to mediate between the superpowers, even offering to host a summit at the UN's offices in Geneva. And Pope John Paul II had made a similar request, offering to host Reagan and Premier Cherenenko at the Vatican for a conference. The Soviets' silence had been ominous.

“Mr. President,” Weinberger said. “The Navy reports that Strike Fleet Atlantic is forming off of Norfolk. That means a four-carrier battle group ready to go north to the Barents Sea, if necessary. That's Nimitz, Eisenhower, America, and Independence. Coral Sea is headed to the Med to back up John F. Kennedy and Forrestal, with Saratoga right behind her.” He paused for a moment. “Enterprise is in the Indian Ocean, and...”

“Sorry to interrupt, Mr. Secretary,” Dr. Condi Rice said. She had just taken a phone call. “NSA is reporting that Premier Cherenenko is about to give the speech before the Supreme Soviet. CNN is going to be carrying it, live. It should be on at any moment.”

Reagan nodded to Don Regan, his Chief of Staff. “Let's see it.”

Regan turned one of the TVs in the Sit Room to CNN, and the commentator was noting that every seat in the Supreme Soviet was full. Then the Premier came in, with Defense Minister Marshal Sergei Sokolov right behind him, and the KGB Chief, Viktor Chebrikov. Everyone watching noted the somber expressions on all three, and the Premier appeared exceptionally grim-faced. Chernenenko went to the podium and began to speak.

The translator was having a hard time keeping up, and for sure, the NSA would have a full transcript as soon as the speech was finished, but Cherenenko was lashing out at the West, denouncing the U.S., Britain, and Italy for “Blatantly interfering in the affairs of a fraternal socialist state, and the unprovoked aggression against the Soviet Armed Forces in Yugoslavia.”

VP George Bush noted, “Nothing new there.”

Reagan nodded as the Premier went on. “When Soviet blood has been shed, there will be a response. That cowboy in the Oval Office, who thinks that nuclear missiles are six-shooters, and that tired old bitch in London, who follows him at every turn, they will discover the error of their ways. The same goes for Kohl, that fascist in Bonn, who longs for restoration of Germany's 1937 borders, and that 'sunshine socialist' in Paris, Mitterrand, who claims to be 'independent' of America, and yet, has followed her in Lebanon and elsewhere.”

Reagan looked at Director Casey. “Has he lost it?”

“Looks that way, Mr. President,”

“As for that Nazi who calls himself 'Secretary-General', the USSR does not accept offers of so-called 'mediation' from a Fascist, nor does it do the same from a reactionary churchman whose aim is to undermine a fraternal socialist state,” Cherenenko said, denouncing both Waldheim and the Pope. He went on. “For there to be a peaceful solution, NATO must withdraw its forces from Yugoslavia, pay compensation for all the damage it has inflicted, cancel all of the measures it has taken since its criminal attack on the Armed Forces of the USSR, and withdraw at once all tactical nuclear weapons from Europe. Only then will the USSR and the Fraternal Socialist Countries consider rescinding the measures they have taken in response. NATO's failure to do so can only have the gravest possible consequences. And the reactionary leaders in the West should know this: the patience of the Soviet Union and the Fraternal Socialist Countries is not unlimited.”

Chernenenko then left the podium, and Marshal Sokolov spoke. He announced the call-up of reservists in European Russia, retention in service of those scheduled to be demobilized, and the cancellation of military leaves. All Soviet servicemen and -women were to report to their units, and Sokolov finished by calling on all members of the Soviet Armed Forces to “do their duty in defense of the Motherland.”

Only after that did the Soviet TV feed stop, and CNN's anchor picked up his commentary. “Mother of God,” Reagan said. “They really want it. They want a war.”

“Yes, Sir,” Secretary of State George Schultz said. “There's no doubt. We're going to war. The only question is when.”

“Concur,” Casey said at once.

“General,” Reagan turned to Gen. John Vessey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. “How long to complete REFORGER?”

“Another week, sir. We're in Day Three right now.”

Nodding, Reagan turned to Secretary Weinberger. “Two days ago you and General Vessey wanted DEFCON 3?”

“Yes, Mr. President,” Weinberger said.

The President looked at his National Security Team. Heads nodded. “Do it. All U.S. Forces worldwide to DEFCON 3, immediately.”

492nd Squadron Ready Room
RAF Lakenheath
Thursday, July 25th 1984
1235 GMT/1235 Local

Daria Morgandorffer had seen a lot of crazy in her short life, especially when her dad was involved. But Cherenenko in full rant had beat him all hollow. She was simply shocked this was a man with his finger on the nuclear trigger. Even on the ancient 70s TV in the aircrew ready room, all those present had to strain to hear the bombast, but the room had been as quiet as a tomb during the speech.

Many of the pilots in the ready room had shared her reaction, with a lot of gasps and “oh ****” punctuating the broadcast of the speech. At least one pilot said after the speech. “Guess it’s “So long, Mom, we’re off to drop the bomb.”

“Um, Jane?”

“Yeah Dar-?”

“We’re going to war, aren’t we?”

The door crashed open with a loud bang and the cry of “Ten-HUT!” and the pilots and WSOs rose to attention with a crash of feet, and all conversation and other noise ceased as the operations officer, Major James Killenger, a balding man of 35, with a large stature and a slight scar down his hairline, a memento of his ejection from a burning F-4 over North Vietnam in 1971. He’d spent the two subsequent years as a “guest” of the North Vietnamese. He strode to the lecturn and then waved everyone back into their seats as he began.

“Ok people, here’s what’s going on? The base is being cleared for war. That’s where all the married personnel are, putting their wives and kids on the outgoing ‘141s. They’re also clearing the base hospital. My advice? Don’t kid yourself about any chances for peace after that little speech. After the married folks get back, we’re going to pass out your day one, strike one target folders. Expect to be told to move onto the base shortly, as word is USAFE is we will probably be locking down the base at any time in the next twenty four hours..”

This was met with a lot of groans and “goddamits!”

“AT EASE!” Major Killenger bellowed. “We’re at the brink of war people, and that’s not all. Aircrews and groundcrews not on Victor alert will be sleeping in their HASes. Furthermore, within the next twenty-four hours, all aircrews and groundcrew will be issued sidearms. You WILL be expected to wear them at all times.”

“****.” Daria muttered under her breath.

“This is the real deal, people. The Soviets are mobilizing faster and faster, and now their Premier has gone berserk on the world stage. We’re sending the families home as fast as we can get them out of Britain and Germany, and the old hands have assured me we didn’t do this in either ’62 or ’73. The Soviets are only going to see this one way. Best get used to the idea, now, I am going to hand this over to the squadron intelligence officer as he gets you reacquainted with the threat board for East Germany and Poland….”

*****************
Chapter 5 – Quinn’s Story


158 West 75th Street
Lobby of the Steadman Building
Friday, July 26th, 1985
1320 Local/1720 Zulu

Quinn Morgendorffer had seen a lot in her 24 years…or at least she thought she had. She’d never seen a major city in the throes of panic. New York City was in a collective nervous breakdown. As she waited on a cab to get her back to her apartment in Stuyversant Town, she took a breath and took it all in and wondered at a city in the grips of panic. A dusky skinned man ran by, a dark bag in his hands, he missed Quinn by inches and shouted out “Sorry miss!” as two cops in NYPD two tone blue were in hot pursuit, screaming “HALT! STOP! STOP OR WE SHOOT!” That last part jarred Quinn to the core. When did they start shooting robbery suspects?

Even at street level, she heard the sirens and smelled the smoke from uptown. Harlem and Bed-Stuy were burning. There had been riots since Chernenko’s speech, mostly from people who were convinced it was all going to end “like in that TV show, the Day After, and their ‘fill in the blank group’ would be left to die.” The NYPD had sent all it had north, with the FDNY right behind. Both had had their ranks thinned because of reservist call-ups. She’d heard rumors Governor Cuomo had begged President Reagan for use of the National Guard, but Reagan had refused, mainly due to the situation in Europe. There were also rumors of an impending curfew, of martial law being declared, and that there were Soviet commandos planning to hit Gracie Mansion or the tunnels. The rumor mills were running rife, and Quinn had heard them all. God I hope Daria’s ok? Listen to me? I’m hoping my big sister is alright. Well, if things really get pleasured to mindless excess up, she’s going to war, not me. My entire fault, really. Didn’t get into FIT anyhow. But I did pretty well at Columbia.

This was partly why Quinn was standing outside her former workplace, the contents of her desk in a cardboard box and a letter of termination sticking out of the box. Figures I lose my job because for the first time in my life, I do the right thing and stick up for my big sis..Oh well, I kinda hated that job anyhow…

4 hours earlier

Quinn entered the offices of Fierce magazine much as she had for the two years previously. She was dreading the day to come due to the fact that her boss, Mort Kauffman, a so-called “writer of young urban fashion” (a legend in his own mind, Quinn had often thought) and senior editor of the magazine, was planning on hosting a “dinner party for peace!” and expected his assistant, Quinn, to drop everything for a bunch of his superficial friends and coke addicted models to pretend they were somehow smarter than Regan and Chernenko while eating quiche.

Never mind Quinn and many of the staff were worried whether or not they would be here or part of the upper atmosphere from day to day at this point. None of that mattered to their superficial, idiot boss, who was still going on about his late trip to the Hamptons and how this “tiff” between the superpowers had everyone spooked for no good reason. Why, one of his wine and cheese parties and Reagan and Chernenko would be friends!

Or, at least Mort seemed to think so. “It’s all the fault of those warmongers in the military, just like Vietnam,” Mort would say. “We need a good protest by the youth, not those anti-nuclear fashion disasters, but some really good looking kids, something with some real kitsch!” The first time Mort said it, Quinn almost agreed with him, and then it hit her:

Daria and Jane were among those so-called “warmongers.”

She knew them, she knew they didn’t want a war, and they didn’t want to die. She’d spoken to Daria over the phone last week. Looking forward to it was the last thing that could be said for Daria, or Jane. Daria’s voice had been shaky, she was trying to stay brave for her sister, but she knew it was an act. Funny thing was? Daria’s attempt made Quinn feel a bit braver too. For the first time ever? Quinn Morgendorffer was proud of her older sister, and woe to the SOB who felt otherwise.

And I work for this ass that disparages my sister. Why do I put up with this schmuck again? Oh yeah, because I want a job in fashion journalism. What the hell is so damn important about that anyhow? God, he’s like a male version of Stacy. Quinn Morgendorffer, it is time to put Fashion Club where the hell it belongs: The damn wastebasket. You’ve ghost written articles for this putz when he is coked out of his damn mind, and does he even give you a byline? No. There’s a national emergency happening, and he’s worried about his trip to the goddamned Hamptons and wants the peace movement back so bell-bottoms and long hair makes a comeback, not because we might get cooked alive!

The thoughts made Quinn even madder than usual, and her gruff “hello” to the receptionist came out meaner than intended, not that the receptionist had much more going for her than “typing fast and running slow.” Her neon-green hair and ever-present bubble gum didn’t say much as to her situational awareness either. As Quinn made her way to her desk, she noticed Cynthia, her “girlfriend” and one of the junior photo editors was gone, and her desk suspiciously clean.

Where the hell is Cynthia? Mort didn’t fire her, did she? I’ll duck into Glaydis’s office and ask. Glaydis was one of the assistant editors and hated Mort as much as Quinn did, and had a boy with the National Guard uptown who was due to ship out for Kentucky any day now. She had bigger things than whether or not Mort had some nutty fantasy going.

“Morning Glaydis? Where’s Cynthia?”

Glaydis looked up from the stack of articles she’d been proofing, and bleeding all over with a red pen. Her brunette hair was clean, but disheveled, and her green eyes were bloodshot, like she’d been crying. She sniffed, and smiled a weak smile, for Quinn’s benefit.

“Hi Quinn,” she said in hushed tones. “Mort’s gone nuts, I think he’s high on something, which isn’t new, but it’s a hell of a time for that with the fall line issue due. Then again, there may not be a fall line if things keep going the way they are. Mort’s not helping though. He fired Cynthia for having the nerve to take time off to get her kids to her parent’s place in Maine.”

Quinn’s jaw dropped. “What? Why? She’s just asking for some time to get her kids out of the bullseye!”

“I know that and so do you. But Mort just up and fired her for ‘lack of dedication to the magazine.’” Glaydis replied, her fingers waggling for emphasis.

Quinn couldn’t believe it. Here there was Armageddon staring them in the face and Mort was more worried about the magazine? Cynthia had three kids, was a single parent and the oldest of her kids was in the 4th grade. In short, she had a damn good reason wanting them the hell out of town and with her parents in Maine. But Mort fired her rather than do the right thing. It’s not like Fierce lacked for photo editors.

“What now? Do we soldier on till the bombs come? Do we quit, or do we just not bother coming in?” Quinn asked with a pleading tone in her voice. I don’t know what to do, I mean, nobody’s telling us a thing right now, what do we do?

Gladys gave a gallic shrug. “How in the hell do I know, Quinn? Me, I got no man, no kids at home, and a housecat for company, I’ve been a New Yorker all my life and I am over 40. Dearie, if the bombs come, I intend to have some Bordeaux with a side of sleeping pills. Same for the cat. My little Sammie isn’t dying like that. Dearie? My advice? Finish out today and quit. Assuming the nukes don’t come, you can use me as a reference. And, if they do come? Well, you can be the generation that rebuilds from our screwups, either way, right now? Who the hell needs fashion journalists at a time like this? I’ve seen your stuff Quinn, it’s good, really good. Go find somewhere where it will do some good, not here where you can listen to the coked-up ravings of a crazy-ass moron.”

“Why wait Gladys? I should type up my resignation and just put it on his desk now. I’ve got you as a reference, right?”

Gladys simply nodded, then got up and came from around her desk; arms wide and the same weak smile on her face.

“To better times, toots.” Gladys whispered as she hugged Quinn. “When you talk to that crazy fighter pilot of a sister you have, tell her to stay safe for me, ok?” She pulled back from Quinn as she smiled a bit more genuinely. “And you, I don’t want to see you until this thing is over, one way or the other. Might be a good time for you to see your family. Aren’t they 30 miles or so from Baltimore?”

Quinn nodded, but realized if Aberdeen Proving Ground or Fort Meade got hit, it might not make much of a difference.

It was at that moment that Quinn’s reverie was broken by the nasaly, high-pitched voice that was, to most, like fingernails on a chalkboard, the fact that it was slurring and it took a few moment’s to realize that someone was calling her name, and that someone happened to be her boss was equally troubling. God Mort, I know it may seem like the damn world’s coming to an end, and it may very well be, but really, you have to be coked out of your mind during working hours? ****, might as well get the day formally started.

Quinn and Gladys shared a knowing look and Quinn turned to leave, walking briskly towards Mort’s office down the hall. Mort was still bellowing for her, although the bellowing sounded more like the bleating of a sick calf.

“Quinn, goddamit, where are you?” the voice bellowed from behind the door.

“Coming, Mr. Kauffman.” Quinn said, her teeth gone past gritting and right onto grinding.

She entered Mort’s office, which had a decent view of the southern Manhattan skyline, and right into lower New York harbor. The rest of the office’s décor could best be described as “bad 70’s porn film meets Andy Warhol.”

Quinn could see a lot more ship traffic than was normal out Mort’s window, a lot of it painted haze-grey rather than the standard mélange of merchant and local livery. What the hell is going on in the harbor?

“Hey, red? Focus, I pay you to make me look good and smart!” Mort said, inches from her face, his alcohol breath wafting over Quinn and making her eyes water. “It’s just those idiots in the Navy again, probably blowing the hell out of a whale!”

Quinn began to see red, I hate that nickname, and I hate that he’s usually blasted out of his mind when he says it.

Mort then smiled and leaned back into his pleather office chair. He was wearing a fur lined sportcoat in the middle of July, and had glasses you could see yourself clearly in, not to mention the purple bell-bottoms and the ruffled shirt. It was all a sad testament to the fact Mort had not gotten with the times. He was stuck in the 70s where he ruled the Garment District and he didn’t let a soul forget it. His hairline had rapidly receded, and the rug he called a toupee was barely covering the fact up. Completing the unattractive picture was his sweaty, meaty hands and his oversized gut. No, Mort Kauffman was a testament not just to a has-been but a never would be.

“Quinn. I need you to clear my calendar for today, call ‘Tessa and call Studio 54 and get my usual table,” Mort said with a bit of a toothy grin. “By the way, something that’s occurred to me, Quinn.”

Uh-oh. “And that is?” Quinn replied, the bile rising in her throat as she spoke.

“Every woman in this office I have had the pleasure of breaking in, shall we say. Not you. And hey, why not we make the two-backed monster while we can, before Ivan blows us to hell? Maybe we can even do some lines off of each other, to heighten the experience? Hmm?” Mort said, a greasy smile breaking the monotony of his face.

Quinn turned red at the suggestion. First, out of embarrassment. She wasn’t the girl who led boys around by their emotions any more. She was a new, professional Quinn who took this demeaning job to get her big break in this town…and now this clown suggested she screw him because it was the apocalypse? No Mort, not even if you are the last man on Earth, god forbid.

Mort, much to Quinn’s chagrin, didn’t wait for an answer, and lept over the desk with an agility that Quinn didn’t suspect he still had. Quinn, out of sheer surprise, stepped back and screamed. Quinn’s actions caused Mort to misjudge the distance, and thus he fell short, banging his head on the floor of his office, which, while carpeted, was still hard enough to draw blood, thus slurring his voice even more prominently.

“YOU TURN ME DOWN! YOU, YOU NO TALENT ASSISTANT WHO COULDN’T GET WORK AT THE VILLAGE VOICE TURNED ME DOWN!” roared Mort.

Quinn trembled a bit at first, she was worried about keeping her job, but she soon realized, Why the hell do I have to take this? He’s just a coked out jerk. No, it’s time I told him to go to hell.

“Mort, with all due respect, and that means absolutely none.” Quinn said in an icy tone, ”Screw you. I don’t sleep with men whose equipment is made by ERTL. You know, just like the real thing, only smaller? And Mort? I. Don’t. Need. You. I quit. You understand? I quit! If the nukes are coming? I want to die with my family. Not with a coke addicted narcissistic asshole! Oh, and one more thing Mort? The military you like to make jokes about so much? One of those people is my sister. She’s in England, waiting for what comes next. I’ve been a **** sister to her, at one point pretending she wasn’t even my kin. But that changes, today! She’d have simply kicked your ass. I guess I am going to settle for telling you off. Bye Mort.”

Quinn then turned on her heel, opened the door, and walked out, slamming the door as hard as she could behind her. What came next was a massive surprise.

She came out to applause. All 20 or so staff members of Fierce were there and they were clapping with yells of “Alright” and “Way to go Quinn!”

Glayds ran over and hugged her. “Quinn honey, let’s you, me and some of the girls go take a long brunch. On his dime! Creep!” Gladys shouted the last in the direction of Mort’s office.

Quinn looked at her quizzically.

“Dearie, Mel in accounting controls all the petty cash, and she’s been waiting for a moment like this for eight years!”

Quinn nodded in understanding, then she threw back her head and laughed. What the hell? Things are insane enough already!

The present

Quinn listened to the music of a city in the depths of apocalyptic panic. “Gee, the President calls for calm, and half the city thinks: ‘Ok, let’s panic! Somebody needs to pass the memo on what calm means ’” she muttered under her breath.

On a good day it was tough trying to get a cab at the corner of her building, but today, it was as if half of New York’s cabbies had called in sick, then again, so had a lot of other folks, the press was calling it the “nuke flu.” Quinn shook her head, perhaps it was time to head south to her place on East 20th Street on foot, happily, all the danger was uptown, and most of the muggers were probably preoccupied with getting out of the Big Apple before the Russians caramelized it.

She sighed, and looked down at the Minolos she wore, They’re my faves, but fact is, they won’t hold up under a 30 block walk…and let’s face it, what the hell can I trade them for at a time like this, can’t eat them, and they won’t get you out of town. Plus, they’re a gift from Mort…Quinn shuddered at that last thought. Half of her current professional wardrobe was gifts from Mort. She resolved to leave it behind, considering NYC probably would be a heap of rubble before too long, what was the point of taking such impractical crap with her?

Quinn quickly went through her box, grabbing a six-pack of Tab and tossing it in her oversized purse.It ought to have some heft to club the crap out of a mugger anyhow now, learned that from that stupid prison movie my ex made me watch. Then again, there was something fishy about him. The good ones, they’re always married or gay. Quinn shrugged as she rifled through her bag, throwing her office supplies and useless knickknacks back into the box, and retaining only an extra set of hose, some handkerchiefs and a spare blouse, along with the aforementioned Tab, and a roll of subway tokens just in case she did manage to get to a station or find a southbound bus, the rest was put back into the box, and unceremoniously dumped into the wastebasket at the corner.

Quinn then smiled and rubbed her hands together, washing her hands of the past, and she mentally figured she could make it home by about 3 or 4. After that, pack what she could into one suitcase, and call a cab, negotiate a fare to get her across the river to Newark and catch a plane or train to Baltimore Penn Station or BWI, and rent a car home from there. That’s of course hoping the authorities haven’t limited all travel, or that there’s even seats available. Quinn felt the nervous bile rising as she set out south, One step at a time Morgendorffer, One step at a-

It was then that Quinn’s reverie was disrupted by a very loud horn, one that could only come from one of the older Checker cabs…and sure enough, one block away, off to the Quinn’s right, was a Checker cab, with a very animated gentleman, his distinctive yellow hat perched on a head full of grey hair, and his glasses taking up much of his face, waving furiously at Quinn, as he hit the horn again!

“Hey Lady!” he screamed, “Get off the streets! Somebody will mug you or worse in times like these!” His accent was pure gravelly New York, and could only belong to somebody who’d been a hack all his life.

Quinn was bewildered, she pointed to herself in the classic “Who me?” gesture.

“Yeah you!” he replied. “Get in the cab before something happens to you!”

Quinn shrugged, then ran across the nearly empty intersection to 5th Avenue and got into the cab. A white and brown patch of living fur that purred contentedly immediately assaulted her and jumped in her lap.

The cabbie noticed Quinn’s shock at being assaulted by the cat. “Oh crap, I’m sorry, that’s Baron, he means well, he just forgets not everybody wants 20lbs of purring cat in their lap as a way of saying hello, then again, if he does that, it means he likes you. And Baron is an excellent judge of character.” The driver wasted little time in pulling away from the curb and making his way in the direction of the West Side Highway.

Quinn smiled as she absentmindedly stroked Baron’s fur behind the ear, to which Baron responded by purring even louder. “Yeah, he really likes you. Anyhow, my name is Murray Cohen. Been a cabbie for almost 40 years since the war ended. And god willing, there’s gonna be a New York to come back to so I can drive for another ten or twenty years. But right now, I am getting the hell out of here. If it’s the end, lady? I am going to meet it with my daughter and her family in Maryland.”

Quinn’s eyes lit up with joy at the good news in front of her. “Um, Mr. Cohen, I hate to ask, but where in Maryland are you headed?”

“What’s it to ya?”

“I got family near Baltimore. I can pay!”

“Oh, well then in that case, guess I lucked out. We can work out a fare when we get down there; you got an apartment near here? Someplace you might wanna pack a few things?”

“I’m down on East 20th Street, 620 to be exact.”

“Oh Thank God! I thought you were going to say some artsy fartsy place north of Harlem. I ain’t going up there today.”

“This is gonna sound silly, but can we even get out of New York?” Quinn asked

“We’ll manage. The trick is, when we get to your place, you gotta pack fast, no more than two suitcases. We’ll put em up front with me. As for getting out, we can roll the dice with the tunnels, it might be our best bet. Just so you know, we’re not stopping for food till we get to Jersey. And if something happens, and I don’t usually tell passengers this..but I got a .38 in the glovebox with a dozen extra shells.”

Quinn’s jaw dropped “Why are you telling me?”

“You’re a nice lady, and there’s been some real animals running around on the streets the last couple of days…a lot of cops are getting recalled into the Army.”

“****. It’s really hit the fan, huh? Quinn asked, her voice almost a whisper.

“Yeah, it has, young lady. And I know you’re a member of the tribe, like me, and I am not leaving a fellow Jew to die here if I can help it. My Rachel, God Rest her Soul, would kick my ass if I did. You got any family in the military?”

“My Sister, she’s a fighter pilot.”

“No kidding, my son’s some sort of intelligence guy in the army. Haven’t heard a damn thing from him in the last two days. You hear a thing from your sister?”

Quinn shook her head vigorously no.

“Was afraid of that, when I was in the Army, they’d hold up the mail when something big was up. Lady, I think we’re going to war, and I think those in the know are pretty convinced of it. Speaking of which, you mind if I put on the news?”

“Go ahead, doubt much has changed…”

“True, but it doesn’t hurt.” Murray offered.

The old radio went on with an audible click and came to life immediately.

“1010 WINS NEWSHOUR, The time is 1:20 and we’ll give you the world! Our top story is the deteriorating situation between the superpowers.” We go now to our Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schaeffer,

“Good evening, Katie, In the morning press briefing at the White House, Spokesman Larry Speaks denied any rumors that the United States and NATO had forsworn further negotiation with the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact during today’s Press Briefing:”

‘The President has said, and we will reiterate, we are willing to negotiate, anytime, anywhere. But we cannot simply accept the terms laid out by the Soviets during the General Secretary’s speech. Accepting those terms would be tantamount to the surrender of NATO and the free world.’

“Further comments by unnamed Pentagon and White House officials have stated little hope for a diplomatic solution, noting increasing signs that the Soviets have begun total mobilization of their armed forces, and while some hope this is simply brinkmanship, many are not very confident that this can be resolved short of armed conflict. Back to you in New York, Katie.”

“We go now to CBS’s Special Correspondent, Bob Simon, who is currently, somewhere in Germany”

“We’ve been asked not to mention where we are, as preparations for war are going on unabated here and nobody here wants to give Soviet intelligence any favors. I took a ride to the border with NATO troops, I can’t say with whom exactly. They are backing up the West German border troops currently, and the feeling here is that war is pretty much inevitable, and more than one soldier here is feeling as if they’d rather get it over with than waiting, and worrying. One West German border police officer sticks out in my mind, when I asked him what would he do if and when the Russians came. He told me, ‘Make their lives as miserable as we can.’ He told me further that he hadn’t seen any Russians, but he’d heard tank engines and helicopters across the border at night, and that his East German counterparts were taking up the border minefields. According to many I have spoken to, it’s a sure sign that the Russians are coming. Back to you, Katie.”

“In local news tonight, there is both calm and panic as the news becomes seemingly more grim by the hour, as just about every house of worship in town is full, with many parishioners praying for peace. The riots in Bedford-Stuyversant and Harlem continue tonight, with appeals for calm from the mayor and governor falling on deaf ears. Other protests have broken out at the UN and the headquarters of the Communist Party of the United States on 25th Street in the wake of an FBI raid. Almost all routes out of town are gridlocked, with traffic moving very slowly, officials are calling for patience, and stating that if matters continue, they will implement a system rationing travel outside the city.”

“I want people to know the NYPD is doing all it can in this moment of crisis to help the citizens we protect. We have to do the job with a third of the officers we’d usually have, as many of my officers were reservists and they have been called up. We need you, the citizen, to stay calm, stay home except when necessary, and don’t pass rumors. One of those rumors started the riot in Bed-Stuy right now. We’re New Yorkers, we’re better than this.”

“That was NYPD Commissioner Ben Ward at the Mayor’s press conference this morning. We’ll stay with the top story 24 hours a day to keep you informed during this time of crisis. This is 1010 WINS, we’re now taking a break for station identification…”

Quinn looked out the window as the cab made its way down the grey streets, the sky darkening as a portent of a summer thunderstorm, but also as a foreshadow of what was coming.

“Whole city’s gone nuts, Well, At least those communists can’t slink off in the middle of the night. Serves the bastards right.” Murray intoned. “I remember listening to the radio and remembering how it sounded the last time.”

“Was it anything like this?”

“This time is worse, I didn’t grow up under the threat of being annihilated.”

Neither said a word to the other till they got to Quinn’s apartment on 20th Street. Only Baron’s purring and the hard taps of a summer thunderstorm filled the taxi.


**************************

Chapter 6


US Mission, Berlin
CIA Deputy Station Chief’s Office
West Berlin
August 2nd, 1985
0730 Local/0530 ZULU

Harrison Grey had had a lot of crappy duties to perform in his three years as part of US Mission Berlin (often called USBER), but this took the cake. Things had been tense in West Berlin as the superpowers seemed to inexorably slide towards war, the East German border guards at the Wall were a lot less friendly to him, and he’d gotten roughed up a few times, even with his diplomatic cover credentials.

The other intel the other assets in the Berlin area had developed was frightening. The US Military Liaison Mission or USMLM had reported the movement of 20-30 trainloads of Soviet troops overnight through the Berlin area, as well as the movement of large numbers of East German Volkspolizei or VoPo and Battalions of the Working Class units moving closer to the Wall from all directions. The land corridors had been cut last night, and word was, the air corridors were probably going to be cut this morning.

Yesterday’s news about a Navy EP-3 being shot down 100 miles north of Kola by Soviet fighters and a West German Atlantique being gunned down by a MiG-23 over the Baltic hadn’t improved the overall mood either. And now, somebody, probably the East Germans, were performing low-level recon flights over West Berlin seemingly every few hours, low enough that the West Berlin police were getting some fierce complaints about more than a few broken windows. Finally, in the last six hours, the ABC news people in Berlin had confided in him that none of the news services had heard from any of their Eastern bloc based reporters for the last day and a half. Christ, they know what kind of intelligence indicators these all signify. They wouldn’t do this unless…unless they were serious.

The East Germans, however, had pulled a new stunt in the last two hours that pretty much made up Langley’s mind about it being time to get out of the pool. The trouble was, in Harrison’s mind, who the hell was going to convince Amy Barksdale of this?

Meanwhile, Amy was simply concentrating on getting a few Z’s. She had been running nonstop on coffee and nerves for the last 36 hours trying to get a coherent picture of what the hell was going on in Berlin. Her boss had simply vanished after getting word a high-ranking East German official had wanted to defect, the source was a local, who had provided good product in the past, and the fellow had been careful, and worked for money, rather than ideology, which all was good signs. Trouble was, Arthur had been gone for 12 hours now, and Amy’s fitful sleep was a sign she was beginning to worry. It wasn’t like Arthur not to check in, not after that long in the East.

She was just beginning to fall asleep when…there was an insistent knock at the door. Damn, just as I was getting some damn sleep. Turning 50 last month sucks. Why did I put in for Berlin? I could have taken that middle management training position back at Langley, but nooo, I had to go back to Berlin. I had to prove I still had it. ****.

“ENTER!” Amy barked, the lack of sleep making it sound a lot meaner than she intended, as she vigorously rubbed the sleep from her eyes, while suppressing a yawn, and failing as it escaped in a muffled form.

Grey entered the office with a yellow message flimsy stamped multiple times FLASH in red. Such messages rarely failed to be important, nor were they ever good news. Amy shook her head, and wordlessly took the message flimsy from Grey. The message was short, and to the point, but said all it really needed to say:

FROM: LANGLEY CENTER
TO; CHIEF OF AGENCY MISSION, USBER
SUBJ; SECOND KNIGHT

UPON RECIEPT THIS MESSAGE, YOU ARE TO HEREBY EXECUTE SECOND KNIGHT NLT 1300 YOUR TIME TODAY. INTELLIGENCE HERE SUGGESTS WP INVASION FRG WILL COMMENCE SOMETIME IN THE NEXT 48-72 HOURS. ACK THIS MESSAGE IMMEDIATELY UPON RECIEPT.


Amy looked up in horror. “This for real? You know what this means, right?”

Grey nodded. “Yeah, I do. We ran it through the decoder twice, and asked for confirmation. It’s real.”

SECOND KNIGHT’s orders were simple, destroy all documents and sensitive equipment both in the CIA station, and as part of USBER, and then evacuate all CIA and State Department personnel from USBER via Gatow Airfield and report to Bonn for further orders. Some, the Special Activities Division paramilitaries, had their own orders, which even Amy didn’t know, but they’d disappeared three days ago in some “sterile” Trabants with very heavy suitcases for parts unknown. Probably full of money and guns, but damned if I really want to know.

“There’s more boss. Arthur got grabbed last night, all went down around 11:30 or so. The defector wasn’t legit. One of my sources in the West Berlin Police said they saw half a dozen guys, Stasi from the looks of them. Well it looks like they grabbed him from a café on the west side of the Fredrichstrasse, maybe, three or four hundred meters from Checkpoint Charlie. They shot their way past the checkpoint with the East German border guards providing cover for the whole damn thing.”

Amy couldn’t believe it. The Stasi never did that. Grabbing people on the wrong side of the Wall was a good way to start a really nasty incident. But that wouldn’t matter if the Soviets had already made the decision that the Warsaw Pact was going to war. And, they’d already had Arthur for two hours. At the end of six, we’ve got to assume he’s spilled his guts. Who’d blame him really? She exhaled in frustration. There was only one reason to grab Arthur, war was coming, and they needed to know 1) Where in the building was the CIA offices so they could grab the intel first? 2) Who were the others they wanted to roll up in the East? 3) Who were the Americans they wanted to grab? It’s time to go, Barksdale. Long past time.

“Grey, get the folks in the message center started on smashing the crypto machines and pull the extra shredder from storage, we’ll need a bigger burn area, so grab a couple of the wheeled trash bins..and make sure we do a solid job. I don’t want a shred of paper left for those Stasi bastards.”

Grey nodded in understanding “And you?”

“I am going to put the recall order out to our boys and girls in the field, as well as our local assets, before they get rolled by the Stasi, assuming they get the message in time. After that, I am then going to do some therapeutic sledge hammering downstairs to help out the State Department guys with their crypto gear. By the way, isn’t it your birthday today, Grey?”

Harrison nodded, “Some birthday gift, huh?”

“We’re alive, and we’re going to stay that way, Mr. Grey. Now, get the hell going, sooner we get this done, sooner we are on our way. Your go bag packed?”

“You know it is.”

“Good, now scram!” Amy barked

As Grey ran out of the office, slamming the door behind him and raising a ruckus as he ran down to the crypto room, making sure everyone in the six person station knew to enact their portion of the destruction bill, Amy looked wistfully around at her office, full of mementos of a life of secrets and quiet service to her country. Crap, some Stasi or KGB jerk’s going to take this all as a frigging trophy, ah hell can’t be helped. We’ve got just enough time to smash and burn the important stuff! She did spy her prized “Caraville Hotel-Welcome to the Saigon Bar” emblazoned coaster…Screw you Ivan, you don’t get that! She paused, and grabbed the small cork square, stuffing it awkwardly into a back pocket.

Amy shook her head as she reached into a side closet and fished out a 12lb sledge hammer, then turned to her left and made he way down the hall, shaking her head and hoping against hope Langley’s timetable was close to right. Yeah, they really got it right in Iran, didn’t they?



Hotel Mercure Wien Westbahnhof
Vienna, Austria
August 2nd, 1985
0825 Local/0625 ZULU


Brittany Taylor was rather pleased with herself. She’d gotten pretty good grades for the first time in her life, while at Great Prairie State, she’d actually applied herself, and found that she had a talent for Sports Medicine of all things, and had graduated there with a 3.35 GPA, which had led her into pursing her Masters in the subject at USC. It had been a tough two years, but she’d managed to graduate with a 3.15 and a job as an assistant trainer with the Lakers Cheerleaders, of all things. Since she wasn’t due to start for a few months, she’d turned to her housemates, whom had also graduated USC and had said, “Let’s hike through Europe!”

The plan, of course, was modified a bit, hike through Italy, into Austria, and then take a Danube cruise into Germany and a flight home. One of the conditions of the trip? No listening to the news, something that had driven Allison, a small, perky girl of Italian extraction who had a job on the Hill waiting for her when they got back. She was the poly sci major and news junkie and the rule had driven her to absolute distraction. They were here to get away from it all, weren’t they? Not obsess over something happening so far away, right?

Brittany had come downstairs to avail herself of the free continental breakfast bar in the dining room. Her roommates were still fast asleep, as they had checked into the hotel darn near close to midnight. Early bird gets something, right? Wasn’t it a worm or something?..Jeez who the hell wants a worm? They’re like gross! Now if they have cappuccinos like what we got in Italy? Now that’s what mama needs right now.

Brittany walked on through the quiet hotel lobby towards the dining room, making as grand an entrance as an American girl, newly liberated from grad student status could afford to make, and then it hit her. There was practically nobody in the dining room, just an elderly hotel employee and a rather rotund, balding gentleman who was picking like a bird at his eggs benedict.

What in the world is going on? There’s no line, no screaming kids. I should be fighting to get a plate like that place in Milan? Where are all the tourists? At that moment, a feeling like a cool breeze went up Brittany’s spine, and she shuddered involuntarily. Something wasn’t normal. Her friends were due to be down in 20 minutes, so she figured she’d grab an empty table and load up on breakfast rolls and a bit of coffee in the meanwhile and take in the Viennese ambiance, though she wasn’t too sure what in the world was so great about that.

As she sat down, she smiled and made herself comfortable, flagging down a waiter and placing an order for scrambled eggs and coffee (to which the waiter almost rolled his eyes at how American it was) with the help of an English-German phrase book. Her accent was atrocious and it made it plainly obvious that she was an American. He told her in very good English that the kitchen was understaffed and it would take 10 minutes to fill her order, and inquired if she was checking out today?

“Why in the world we be checking out today, sir? We just got here.” Brittany inquired.

The waiter turned a shade of deathly pale, and snapped his fingers to get the attention of the older hotel employee dining on some porridge two tables over. This also got the attention of the balding gentleman as well, who suddenly looked up with the rapidity of a prairie dog.

The elderly gentleman rose, and made his way far more quickly than his apparent age would have suggested. When he arrived he grabbed the waiter by the arm and a very animated discussion between the two in rapid-fire German ensued. Brittany was so captivated by what was going on, she missed the arrival of her friends in their pajamas and slippers; Did I do something that’s going to get this fellow fired? Uh-Oh. The older gent also brushed himself off, and made his way into the conversation, as well, and soon all three were speaking very rapid-fire German, with the balding fellow being very insistent and pointing right at Brittany and her friends: Great, he hates Americans.

Finally, the participants of the conversation all turned to look at Brittany and her two friends, Michelle, who was a sports medicine major like Brittany, and Allison. The balding gentleman spoke first, “Excuse me,” he said, with a Bostonian accent “You three girls wouldn’t happen to be Americans, would you?”

“Um, yes,” Allison answered, while glaring at Brittany “Um, did Brittany do something to offend you, sir? We’re willing to-“

The balding gentleman laughed, shook his head and muttered “There’s always someone who doesn’t get the word.” He then looked at the girls again. “Ladies, my name is James Lettinger, and I work for the US Embassy here in Vienna, and you are all damn lucky I like this hotel’s breakfast spread. Right now, Europe is on the edge of war and you people were ordered out days ago.”

The girls looked at each other in shock, and all exploded with questions at once.

“Wait a sec, war?”
“You gotta be kidding-“
“How come we didn’t hear a thing about this?”

Lettinger raised his hands and whistled, loud to bring some order to the chaos. “Ladies, I understand you have a ton of questions, but we don’t have much time. Right now, there’s probably a quarter-million Soviet and Hungarian troops right across the border, which incidentally is about fifty kilometers from here. Say, an hour’s drive in real terms. And if and when it starts, we’re already in range of their artillery. This will not be a safe place to be.”

Brittany looked Lettinger in the eyes; history and political science were not her strong suits. Ask her to tape a knee; sure, she could handle that. But this? “Um, Mr. Lettinger, we’d still be safe here, I mean, we’re Americans, right?”

Allison and Michelle replied to the question with mutual forehead slaps and groans.

Lettinger exhaled, and looked at the elderly hotel worker with a pleading look, who spoke excellent, if accented English.

“Ms. Taylor, I am Egon, the night manager here, I would not place much faith in that fact, First, your nation and the Soviets will be at war if that occurs, and Austria is going to be invaded simply because she is in the way. The last time, during the last war, when the Red Army came to Vienna, I was an Oberleutnant in the Wehrmacht, we resisted as long as we could, but when we surrendered, it was a damn ugly sight. I won’t mince words, ladies. They killed people for no other reason than they wanted something; they raped girls and women from 8 to 80 and not just in groups of one or two, but in bands of at least 8-10 at a time. Each of you, as lovely as you are, would have an entire Soviet platoon to “entertain.”

Brittany’s stomach soon somersaulted at the very idea of being potentially raped by the Red Army, and her friends did not particularly love the idea either. Allison spoke up next. “Ok, we get it, war is coming and it’s time to go. We can be packed in twenty minutes, but where in the hell are we going?”

Lettinger smiled “That I can help you with, Vienna’s grounded all flights, and the river traffic north along the Danube’s being heavily screened, but the last train to Geneva’s leaving the train station here in a couple of hours. And yes, I will get you three on it. I do work for the State Department. Along with a letter of introduction to our embassy in Switzerland, you guys should be alright for the duration.”

That seemed to calm down the trio, but Michelle asked Egon. “What will you do, Sir.”

“Once you leave, dear Fraulein, we are closing the hotel, not many employees left, most of them have been called up into the Army, and the guests have all left. So, I shall help close the hotel. Then, I am getting my old shotgun and wait here for the Russians. This time I do not intend to be a guest of the Soviet Union, 5 years in Siberia was bad enough.”

Egon snapped his fingers again to break the spell, “Meanwhile, ladies, let’s get you upstairs and pack, and don’t worry about the condition of the room. I doubt anyone’s going to be here to give it much thought for a time to come.”

As they all rose to get the girls on the train, a sound, not unlike thunder built in intensity from the south..it became a rising crescendo that swayed the chandeliers and made the wine glasses rattle as it became closer. The thunder soon gave way to an animal-like scream, as the unmistakable sound of a jet engine, from an aircraft that had to be very low, roared over the hotel and broke several of the glasses and caused at least one chandelier in the dining room to actually fall.

Allison ran out through the lobby, running outside into the street entrance of the hotel, the aircraft had by then, circled around for another run. This time it came head on towards the hotel, passing three hundred or so feet over Allison’s head as she stood transfixed in the entryway. Oh My God, this is really happening. She ran inside, and grabbed her friends roughly towards the stairs. “No time guys, we need to leave, now.”

Brittany was nonplussed “Why, what did you see? Allison, stop spazzing and tell me what you saw?”

“The airplane, it had red stars on the damn wings…it had red stars.”

Egon nodded “Reconnaissance flight most likely. This is just the preliminaries, you do not want to be here for the main event, ladies.”

Four Hours Later

The trio had found little problem booking tickets to Geneva, it was the only open destination for trains leaving Vienna, and there were few foreigners left taking up seats on anything leaving anyhow. As it was, they were the last people buying tickets on the last train out. It was, suffice to say, quite dramatic.

“Brittany, next time you say ‘no paying attention to the news on vacation!’ I am gonna kill you.” Allison complained.

“No ****, Brit, we’re about to be in a war zone, if we don’t get to Geneva!” Michelle added.

They entered their compartment and put their bags up, finding themselves in the typical European rail compartment, with an older couple already having made themselves comfortable. One could not help but overhear their conversation.

“Oh Georgine, why does this always happen to us when we go abroad?” the gentleman said in a distinctive Canadian accent?

“Alfie, we just have bad luck, I mean, you took that sales job in ’75 in Beiruit, and we weren’t in the country a year before we had to run like hell, same with Tehran in ’79. Then there was our Caribbean vacation in Grenada two years ago. And now this, our retirement gift, I must say, we’re just cursed with bad luck.”

The girls listened in shock at the litany of this couple’s close shaves. “Um, excuse me mam,” Allison ventured, “You say you were in Lebanon in ’75, Iran in ’79 and Grenada two years ago?”

The couple looked at each other and laughed, then Alfred replied, “Oh yes young lady, those American Marines are so nice, I’d say for a war breaking out, we had a lovely vacation! Much better than the brochures said! And now, there is this for a retirement present? I tell you, Georgine and I are just feeling alive with excitement!”

All three of the girls looked at each other in shock, Oh dear god, we’re fleeing a potential Soviet invasion with a pair of certifiable lunatics.


492nd Tactical Fighter Squadron Ready Room
RAF Lakenheath
Lakenheath, England
August 2nd 1985
1437 Local/1437 ZULU

Daria and Jane had been sequestered onto the base since the 30th of July, along with all the other flight crews and just about everybody else. They’d also sealed off the base to just about everyone, and a incident where an RAF Regiment member had shot an overeager peace protester who had been attempting to break through the fence had made that point all too well.

Jesus, Daria’s mind reported is this really happening? Thus far, there had been little to do by fly occasional training sorties, catch up on paperwork, memorize their target folders, and wait.

It was the waiting that was the worst. It allowed the mind to keep playing scenarios that could happen. Would they get off the ground? Would it go nuclear from the start? Would they even manage to get to the target? There were too many variables…and too much time to consider them. And all of them were Daria’s responsibility as aircraft commander. All Jane had to do was know the steers to the target, the radar images, and what the bombing tables were. Daria had a lot more, what routes to take, and when? What were the defenses; both on the ingress and egress? And how alert was the target going to be? ****, this is going to make all the stories the old-timers told us about Hanoi look like a damn picnic.

The TV had been on constantly, with the sound on low, but the words “ABC SPECIAL REPORT” flashed onto the screen on a black background. Somebody lunged for the TV; nobody had to scream, “Turn it up.” As the news had gotten worse, the raucous atmosphere usually found in the squadron ready room had vanished faster than squirrels in the face of winter.

“Hello, this is Peter Jennings in New York, and we’ve got unconfirmed word that the Soviet delegation to what are some are calling “last ditch” talks in Geneva between Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko and US Secretary of State George Schultz has walked out. I repeat, there is unconfirmed word that the Soviet delegation has walked out of the talks…Wait, I am getting word we are going live to a press conference being held by Secretary of State Schultz.”

The screen quickly shifted to a view of an empty podium, where a face well known to just about everyone who followed politics soon strode to and adjusted the microphoneslightly. Schultz’s forehead was a sheen of sweat, and his eyes were downcast, like a child who had just committed an unforgivable sin. The klieg lights made his drawn features look even moreso. He took a deep breath, “Ladies and gentlemen of the press, I have a short statement to make, I will not be accepting any questions afterwards, as I must immediately depart for Washington.”

“I and my staff had come to Geneva, with the hopes of the United States, and the Free World, to see if, even at this late hour, we could somehow pull the dove of peace from the bloody jaws of war. I regret to report that this effort has failed. It has failed ladies and gentlemen, due to the singular intransigence and obstinacy of the Soviet Government, as personified by the Soviet Foreign Minister.”

Schultz paused, took a drink of water, and then continued. “I came to Geneva, prepared to talk frankly, behind closed doors where we could both discuss a wide range of issues in a quiet and secluded environment. I came with no accusations, and no preconceptions. The Soviets, however, did not. Instead, I was treated to a twenty-minute tirade from Mr. Gromyko over every perceived and actual failing of US foreign policy from the last 40 years. This then culminated with a series of demands that you are all familiar with; they are the same demands that the Soviets have repeatedly made in the wake of the General Secretary’s speech of a week ago. The US position on those demands is well known, and I will not reiterate it here, except to say this; we will not repeat the mistakes of Munich.”

“After I informed the Foreign Minister of this, and the stance of the US and her allies, he proceeded to refer to the President with a few words I won’t repeat here, as well as to insult me personally, then he turned and walked out, his delegation right behind him. I do not know if the Foreign Minister has left Geneva, but we have been informed through a third party that there is no intention on the Soviets to restart the talks. Therefore, I have felt it best to return to Washington. I am sorry, ladies and gentlemen, I have failed you and I wish I could say we managed to secure peace at a late hour. I cannot say that. What I will say is this. Sometimes, peace is tantamount to surrender. The peace that was demanded of me by the Soviet Foreign Minister was just that. It is not a peace that neither the United States, nor her NATO allies will ever agree to. I implore the Soviet Union and her Warsaw Pact allies to back away from the abyss, to reconsider the actions they are committing themselves to, and to come back to the table. Even now, it is not too late and we are willing to talk, frankly, honestly and earnestly. This concludes my remarks, thank you ladies and gentlemen.”


The squadron ready room was as quiet as a pin. Daria and Jane looked at each other, the looks in their eyes said it, but Jane was the first to verbalize it.

“Game time.”

_________________
In the Soviet Union, fun is outlawed as a capitalist plot against the glorious revolution and Mother Russia. State Security will talk to you about this so called “fun.” - Jemhouston


Last edited by Jason on Tue Aug 27, 2013 2:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 27, 2013 1:18 pm 
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Glad to see this here! Well done, my friend.

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PostPosted: Tue Aug 27, 2013 2:25 pm 
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Oh wow that was rather good nice work!


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 27, 2013 3:38 pm 
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Loved it!

Dare I ask if this is continued?


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 27, 2013 4:20 pm 
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You may and it is ongoing!

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In the Soviet Union, fun is outlawed as a capitalist plot against the glorious revolution and Mother Russia. State Security will talk to you about this so called “fun.” - Jemhouston


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PostPosted: Tue Aug 27, 2013 4:59 pm 
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1. Bravo, great writing!

2. More please!

From the dates, I guess this one is referencing the Gen Sir John Hackett timeline for WW3?

Edit - The Yugoslavia confrontation is in there, so it is :)

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Gen Sir John Hackett? I have that book, wonder if i can find it to read now!


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This is GREAT! BZ!

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Wow.

Is Lisa Cunningham any relation to General "Sundown" Cunningham?

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PostPosted: Wed Aug 28, 2013 6:22 am 
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Cihatari wrote:
From the dates, I guess this one is referencing the Gen Sir John Hackett timeline for WW3?

Edit - The Yugoslavia confrontation is in there, so it is :)


It was what I thought as soon as I read the bit about Yugoslavia. In The Untold Story he also has female combat aircrew (a B-52 mission to bomb a Soviet base in Conakry is lead by a female Major). I wonder if the US putting women into combat 'planes would have an influence on the rest of NATO to do the same thing earlier than in @?

Excellent writing, well done.

EDIT: I know that the New York Army National Guard may be unavailable, but what about the New York Guard? I'm also going to make sure I avoid Birmingham and Minsk. ;)

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PostPosted: Thu Aug 29, 2013 8:34 pm 
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...Well done! More, please......


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PostPosted: Fri Aug 30, 2013 12:03 pm 
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most excellent...tensions ratcheted up very fast, on par for our modern times...lessee, I'd have been at Dover at that time trying to become a C-5 flight engineer about half way through my training. I still have both books The Third World War and the followup...and Team Yankee.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 31, 2013 2:34 pm 
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Couple of extra things to add. The main gate of RAF Lakenheath buts up at right angles to a major road (I've driven down it), so I can only imagine the massive traffic jams that a VCP would cause. Also when it becomes clear that war is inevitable every RAF air station is going to be surrounded by a Ground Defence Area so that no 'peace' protesters would get within a mile, or two of the perimeter fence.

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 31, 2013 5:55 pm 
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Oh, this looks deliriously promising :) .

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 03, 2013 3:10 pm 
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Wonderfully tense beginning. It's frightening how inevitable it all seems when one side decides to be utterly intractible. One wonders just how far the old men of the politburo are willing to go. Strategic forces are quiet for now, but the willingness to go to this extreme suggests that they don't know when to stop. If NATO is too successful, might they initiate a tactical nuclear exchange? Or would they try the "Hackett Gambit?"

I await further installments with great anticipation.

One minor nit: The CBS newsradio affiliate in NY is (and was) WCBS Newsradio 88. WINS 1010 was unaffiliated at that time. While it is understandable that the news outlets are sharing Bob Simon's embedded CBS reporting, Bob Schieffer (not Schaeffer) became the CBS Chief Washington Correspondent in 1982 and would not likely have been heard on WINS.


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PostPosted: Tue Sep 03, 2013 3:16 pm 
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Whoops, I'll fix that on a later draft. Probably make it News Radio 88 (My grandfather listened to them both).

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 04, 2013 7:41 am 
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More soon? :D

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 04, 2013 8:28 am 
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shermpotter wrote:
More soon? :D


I'll start Chapter 7 in a few days. A professional gig of mine just got more active and I want to put something out for that as well.

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PostPosted: Fri Oct 11, 2013 9:36 am 
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2/3rds of the way through Chapter 7, it needs some cleanup and it should be out in time for Mon-Tues.

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 17, 2013 11:17 am 
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Warning...this is a long chapter

'Warsaw Pact attacks Allied Command Europe. Heavy conventional air and missile attack underway. Soviet ground forces have begun to cross Inner German and Czech borders. Situation confused. MFL.'

Communiqué from SACEUR HQ to news services and all commands, sent in the clear, issued 0401 Zulu, 4 August 1985


The White House
Washington, D.C.
3 August 1985
2140 Local/0340 Zulu


President Reagan was in the Situation Room again, in what had become a nightly ritual. Now, there were four meetings daily, more than JFK ever had during the Missiles of October, but then again, JFK didn't have to go to war. The President had known for over a week that NATO and the Warsaw Pact would be going to war, the only question was when.

Due to the deteriorating situation, the Secret Service had asked the President and the First Lady to move into the Presidential Emergency Facility next to the Situation Room, underground. Private quarters with bath and shower were available, and meals could still come down from the White House kitchen above. Concern that a Soviet agent, or a Spetsnatz sniper, might take a shot at the President in the Oval Office, or the Residence, had precipitated the move, though the President resolved that if events proved the concern unwarranted, he'd go back “above.”

Now, his National Security Team was going over events world-wide. The Norwegians had reported that the Soviet Red Banner Northern Fleet had engaged in a major sortie, with surface ships and an amphibious force, and it was obvious that there would be an amphibious landing somewhere on the Norwegian coast. Just as worrisome, a report relayed from the Naval Attache in Stockholm reported a large Soviet-led amphibious force had left Baltic ports, headed west. They could only have one destination: Denmark, and an operation to force open the Baltic exits for the Soviet Baltic Fleet. Similar reports of Soviet naval movements were coming in from the Turks, and from both the Japanese and South Koreans: the Soviet Navy was coming out.

“Mr. President,” Gen. John Vessey, the Chairman of the JCS was saying, “NATO forces-air and ground-are on full alert. All Allied forces are locked and cocked. They're as ready as they can be.”

“And REFORGER?” The President asked.

“Nearly complete. Now, some service and support units for III Corps and V Corps haven't closed up yet, but other than that, all of REFORGER is in place. The Brits' II Corps is also in place, and the Canadians have brought a second brigade in-they now have a division in Germany, under VII Corps.” Vessey reported.

Reagan nodded. “All right, best guess, General. What's your take on holding them conventionally?”

That was a question on everyone's mind. And the rest of the National Security Team turned to the Chairman.

“Mr. President, I can't give any guarantees-nobody can.”

“Then what can you give?” Secretary of State Schultz asked.

“My best guess-and this is SACEUR's as well: seventy percent chance, we can do it. That includes chemicals if necessary,” Vessey responded.

Reagan nodded. Then he turned to the CIA Director, Bill Casey. “Director?”

“CIA concurs on holding them conventionally, but our take is sixty-five percent, give or take. But yes, we can do it.” Casey responded.

“When are they coming?” Don Regan, the White House Chief of Staff asked.

“Soon. Sometime in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours,” Casey responded.

Nodding the President went on. “Naval situation?”

“The CNO says that everything that can go to sea is at sea,” Weinberger reported. “Strike Fleet Atlantic is four hundred miles south of Iceland, with the amphibious forces for Norway right behind them. Sixth Fleet in the Med is reporting heavy Soviet ECM activity, but Coral Sea has joined up with Forrestal and John F. Kennedy, with Saratoga a day out of Gibraltar. The French have Foch joining up with Coral Sea, and the Italians and Spanish have their ASW carriers also at sea. We're ready there. Enterprise is in the IO, and ready to pounce on the Soviet IO Squadron and then Aden, while Constellation left Subic Bay this morning, our time. She's getting in strike range of Cam Ranh Bay and the Minsk group. Midway has joined up with Ranger and Carl Vinson east of Japan, and Kitty Hawk has left Pearl Harbor.”

“Good. The Air Force is ready in Europe-and in the Far East, correct?” Reagan asked, and he saw Vessey nod.

Weinberger nodded as well, then added. “Mr. President, CINC-SAC has been asking all day for permission to disperse his bombers and institute an airborne alert.”

Reagan looked at his CIA director. “Any signs of a Soviet Strategic Forces alert?”

“No, Mr. President,” Casey reported. “Some of their Bears appear to be on a ground alert status, but no sign of bombers moving to their Arctic Staging Bases. No SS-20s out of garrison, though they have put their missile subs into the bastions, as we expected.”

“All right, then.” Reagan looked at Weinberger. “Unless there's signs of a Soviet strategic alert, SAC stays as they are. Understood?”

“Understood, Mr. President.”

“Good.” Reagan looked at his advisors. “Now, it's been a long day. Unless something happens, I suggest you all go and get some rest. Be back here at 6:00 tomorrow morning.” The President said as he got up to leave.

Heads nodded, and Regan said, “Yes, Mr. President. “

The President had just gotten up when an aide picked up a teletype message. “Sir, this is from Embassy Bonn. They report air raid sirens sounding in the city.”

“What?” Admiral John Poindexter, the National Security Advisor, said. “A false alarm?”

“Nothing further, Sir,” the aide replied.

Another aide came into the room and handed another message to Secretary Schultz. “Mr. President, this is from Embassy Copenhagen. They report air raid sirens sounding, and explosions coming from the direction of the International Airport.”

“Explosions, George?” A voice on a speakerphone said. That was Vice President Bush from Camp David. He had been sent there to ensure that at least one Presidential Successor was out of Washington at all times.

“That's what they're saying.”

Then a military aide came into the room and handed a message to General Vessey. He showed it to Secretary Weinberger, who nodded. “Mr. President, FLASH traffic from SACEUR to all concerned. It’s also going out over the wire services.”

“Read it, General,” Reagan said.

“Message reads: 'Warsaw Pact attacks Allied Command Europe. Heavy conventional air and missile attack underway. Soviet ground forces have begun to cross Inner German and Czech borders. Situation confused. MFL.'” Vessey paused. “Your orders, Mr. President?”

Reagan looked at the clock that showed GMT, or Zulu, Time. It read 0403. The clock for Moscow read 0603. “That's it, then. They're coming. All right, SAC and NORAD stay at DEFCON 3. Everyone else, all the way up to DEFCON 1. Full engagement permission for conventional forces worldwide.”

Weinberger turned to Vessey and nodded. The CJCS picked up a phone and relayed the order….

The die had now been cast; it was all in SACEUR’s hands now.

West Perimeter Fence
RAF Lakenheath
4 August 1985
0339 Local/0339 Zulu


Captain Marko Zlobiev was a six-year veteran of GRU Spetsnaz. He had movie star good looks, his chiseled face framed by frost blue eyes and dirty blond hair. But, his physique was seemingly average, though through his cover as an employee at the American Base PX as “George Bailford,” he’d been able to get a pretty good idea as to the layout of Lakenheath.

He didn’t trust the morons back at the Defense Ministry, their satellites and agent reports hadn’t helped him at all back in Afghanistan against the dushmen in Afghanistan. Now, now he wasn’t against some blissful delight tribesman with a battered Chinese-made AK. No, he was up against NATO, and he’d gotten his eleven men this far through two hours of painstaking infiltration through the RAF Regiment ground defense zone that extended 2 miles outward from the base. His men had had to kill three of the “rockapes” with knives, happily, they’d stayed quiet while dying, but every minute was another chance the bodies would be discovered and all hell broke loose.

And other than knowing where the blissful delight igloos are, I haven’t a clue as to what the actual defenses of the base are. Sergeant Delkin didn’t return from that reconnaissance two days ago, and the press is full of a “peace protester” being shot trying to enter the base. I can only assume that was Delkin.

Unlike most of his work since arriving in Britain, this time, they’d stopped to put their uniforms on. If they were to be captured, Zlobiev wanted his people treated like POWs, not shot out of hand if things went wrong, so here he was, wearing his KMLK green and olive camo suit over his khaki brown uniform, his Addidas sneakers being the only concession to his comfort, another habit Zlobiev had cultivated in Afghanistan.

He was crouching near the perimeter fence, facing outward towards the gloomy dark with his AKSU, while two of his eleven men carefully cut the fence, while holding the fence firmly to make sure the vibration either didn’t make any noise, or set off any motion detectors.

So far, so good, but the fact remains, all it’s going to take is one damn British soldier or American Security Policeman with a starlight scope, or just someone who manages to cry out before we slit his throat, and it will be all over. Ground’s all wrong for this, no cover and it’s too damn flat. Thank god it’s so dark.

The mission of Zlobiev’s team was simple, and stereotypical Spetsnaz mission, they were to gain access to the base, hit the “igloos” where the tactical nuclear weapons were stored, disable them by any means required, except their detonation or any method that resulted in a release of radioactivity, the orders had been very specific on that requirement. They were then to gain access to the “Victor Alert” area, kill as many aircrew and ground crew as possible, destroy or disable nuclear-armed aircraft and disable any onboard nuclear weapons. After that, they were to egress from the base as quickly as possible.

I doubt any of us will live long enough to egress, the Americans and British will be on us like flies on **** once the first gunshot or explosion occurs. After that, the rest will be academic. But, I have my duty, and I will do it.

It wasn’t long before the fence was cut through enough for the team to proceed one at a time. It was time. Speed and silence was key. There was simply too much open ground around the airfield, especially around the igloos. Anything could blow the operation, anything.

There was no talking by the team; they’d rehearsed things on a mockup in the countryside, well away from anyone, using sticks for their weapons, but it wasn’t much of a rehearsal, but Zlobiev had a good team, he knew them well, and they knew him. As they proceeded through the fence, each went prone, covering a sector on the far side of the fence. As the last man came through, he slapped Zlobiev’s left sneaker, the minor sound booming like a cannon. Zlobiev knew this was just jitters, but sound was their enemy.

As soon as his sneaker was slapped, Zlobiev rose, and touched the shoulders of the two nearest men, who transmitted the gesture down the lines of their fellows in the semi-circle, rising to one knee as they did. They awaited Zlobiev to start moving, and as he did, they followed, at a brisk jog, each man watching a sector of the strangely quiet airbase.

Usually, the team would move by bounds in such a situation, but the terrain was such that it was probably best to sacrifice overwatch for speed. It had been figured out back at the team’s hide that they probably had 2-3 minutes to hit their first target, another 90 seconds or so at the second and then had to be out in under a total of 4-5 minutes before the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) showed up and overwhelmed them. There just was not time for subtlety.

Slowly, the distance to the well-lit igloos in the distance shrank, 500 meters, 400, 300, 200, and then..it happened. Failure was given form in the shrill honk of a flock of angry geese. Oh sensually caress. Zlobiev’s mind swore. NATO had been using geese in the anti-infiltrator role for a year, especially to protect nuclear facilities. It seemed their sense of smell and territorial nature made them better than guard dogs in certain roles…and one of his men some 30 meters to his left had just strolled through a gaggle of them, and the damned birds were pecking the hell out of him.

The team went prone as one, crawling towards each other to form a circle for an all-around defense. It wasn’t long before the honking attracted attention. They heard the British soldiers before they saw them, muffled boot steps and shouted commands, with an occasional squelched response on a radio.

Zlobiev knew just by the number of voices it would be too many to kill silently. No, this would have to be done the hard way. He looked at the men nearest him. Their camouflaged faces belied their eyes, warring between fear and world-weariness. But they trusted Zlobiev. Those eyes said it all: We know we’re pleasured to mindless excess boss, but let’s play this out, we’ve been in worse **** than this. Combat is a strange mélange of skill and luck, and for Spetsnaz team 1245, it seemed that luck had run out. But if you had asked any member of the team where would they rather be, the answer is with their comrades, even at a moment like this.

Zlobiev took a deep breath, sighted the AKSU in the general direction of the voices and footsteps, flicked off his safety on his weapon, and let the breath out slowly, squeezing the trigger….

Hardened Aircraft Shelter 2-North
RAF Lakenheath
4 August 1985
0341 Local/0341 Zulu


1st Lieutenant, Jane Lane, USAF, was not having a good sleep, she’d woken up at least three times that night, of course, sleeping in their flight gear on a cot in a damp, concrete aircraft shelter, one room away from their aircraft didn’t help matters. Damn chill in the room, the issue blankets are more of a suggestion anyhow.

She rose and smiled wanly at the ceiling, exhaling in frustration of ever getting a decent night’s sleep. “Might as well get the day started,” she muttered. There was plenty of reports and requisitions to get done anyhow…having just gotten chewed out by the Squadron Ops Officer for having let my ground duties slip.He does realize we’re on the damn brink of war, and the kids have gone home, so making sure all the Little League athletic equipment has been accounted for is a little insane, right?

She turned to look at Daria, or more correctly, her head just peaking out of the blanket she had buried herself into. Daria had a useful gift, she could sleep anywhere, anytime, something Jane simply had not mastered. She was practically cocooned in the issue blanket and all Jane could do was smile and shake her head. Ah, Daria, you aren’t careful, somebody from a Mexican restaurant is going to serve you up for the breakfast crowd. Jane decided against waking Daria, as aircrew were, unless they were on Victor alert, under orders to get as much sleep as possible, and Jane figured. It’s going to happen sooner or later, It just is. Might as well let her get as many Z’s as she can.

Jane walked over to the open doors of the Hardened Aircraft Shelter, or HAS, as they were commonly called, she noticed their crew chief, Master Sergeant Jim Broadley. Jim was a “lifer” as many people remarked, with a lanky body and a craggy ebon face that had been in too many bar fights and other rough places. His once close-cropped hair was thinning rapidly, and graying in far too many places for his taste. He’d come up through the Security Forces in Vietnam, but after Tet, and a few close calls, decided fixing airplanes was far safer and smarter. Master Sergeant Broadley, for all of his “good ol boy” façade (which for a black man from rural Mississippi, was outright odd), was a proud graduate of Delta State University’s Aviation Program, and had undergrad and graduate degrees to prove it. Right now, he was standing outside the red circle that denoted the area one wasn’t supposed to have an open flame near the aircraft, enjoying a highly illegal, but wonderful Cuban cohiba. The curls of smoke were simply hypnotic to watch, and Jane had to keep blinking to keep from falling asleep on the open tarmac.

He noticed Jane’s approach, and simply nodded, his rich Mississippi baritone booming out, even if he was just attempting to whisper “’Morning mam, I think today’s the goddamned day.”

Jane nodded in return, remaining silent as she noticed Broadley also had a slung M-16, and was wearing a cartridge belt, with ammunition pouches.

“Ya think, Master Sergeant? Where’s the rest of the crew?”

“Half are sleeping on the other side of the shelter, the other half, getting themselves breakfast. I got them also picking it up for you and the other half of the ground crew. Don’t worry mam, this ain’t my first rodeo. You and Lieutenant Morgendorffer don’t break my airplane,” he said, pointing with the cigar at the F-111 for emphasis “Ya hear?”

Jane nodded. We’ll do our best, Master Sergeant, but I think fate and Soviet Frontal Aviation get a vote.

“Don’t worry mam, I pre-flighted her myself, all you got to do is get in, put your helmets on, and wait for the starter cart, then execute a crash start. You’ll be gone inside of two minutes tops. That’s assuming the runways don’t get blocked up by somebody.” Broadley drawled as he exhaled more cigar smoke.

Jane smiled. “Hope we don’t have to.”

“Amen to that, but when you been to one rodeo? You figure out when another one’s coming.”

It was just then that the two heard an unfamiliar high-pitched pop-crack in the distance, then a series of more familiar pop-cracks in return. Did somebody just take a damn shot at the rockapes? That wasn’t smart! Then a loud WHUMPF threw both Broadley and Jane to the ground, That came from the main gate, what the hell is going on…wait, no, omigod, it’s happening. The series of pop-cracks had escalated into a full-blown firefight, no, two firefights. Someone ran by screaming “Sappers in the Wire, Sappers in the Wire!” as he ran past, wearing a older-style steel pot, flak jacket and ALICE gear, carrying a M-16 at high port, running full out towards the main gate. Three others attired just as he was were close behind.

Seconds later, the ground defense alarm finally went off, and Jane was now shocked into action as Broadley ran to wake up his people, moving faster than his age would have suggested he was capable he was. He pulled Jane to her feet, “Time to go, Mam” he shouted, trying to be heard over the klaxon now mournfully announcing the war they’d all feared had come.

Daria had sprung awake already. She was sitting on her cot as she was throwing on her survival vest and slammed her .45 into the holster of the vest. As she rose to her feet, she screamed, “Damn you Lane and your prescience!” They then ran to their F-111, with Jane running around the nose of the aircraft to her position in the left seat.

Jane and Daria quickly strapped themselves into the aircraft with practiced ease. It was something they had done a million times before in practice scrambles, but this time, with the firefights ringing in their ears and now two klaxons, both the ground defense and the scramble horns going of, it was a horrible cacophony that brought it home to everyone. War had come, and it was time to do what they had trained for.

The starter cart sputtered to life, providing needed power to the F-111 to start the engines and with a flip of the switch on Daria’s side of the instrument panel, they came alive with a rumble, it was a shallow one, indicating the fact that the engines did not have enough power to move the aircraft. Their helmets flooded to life with radio traffic from other F-111s relaying orders and announcing they were ready to taxi. But soon, a single message cut through the confusion.

ALL CALLSIGNS EXCEPT VICTOR CALLSIGNS, THIS IS LAKENHEATH TOWER; THIS IS A SCRAMBLE, SCRAMBLE, SCRAMBLE. THIS IS NOT AN EXERCISE. EXCECUTE INSTRUCTIONS IN YOUR TARGET FOLDERS. USE FIRST AVAILABLE RUNWAY FOR TAKEOFF. WINDS ARE OUT OF THE EAST AT 5. VISIBILITY IS 2/3rd TO FIFTY THOUSAND FEET. WATCH FOR OTHER TRAFFIC AND STRAY FIRE FROM THE FIREFIGHTS IN PROGRESS AROUND THE AIRFIELD. SQUAWK 1935 UNTIL CLEARED UK AIRSPACE. COMBAT DEPARTURES ARE AUTHORIZED; GROUND ABORTS CLEAR THE RUNWAY AS SOON AS YOU CAN AND TAXT TO THE EAST END OF THE FIELD. THERE IS AN ACTIVE MANPAD THREAT. GOOD LUCK AND GOD SPEED.

Daria and Jane grabbed their sides of the open canopy and closed them, shutting out all outside noises except the engines themselves. Broadley himself gingerly pulled the chocks, and gave a big thumbs up to both Daria and Jane.

Daria returned the gesture. They’d violated about a dozen safety regs getting the aircraft by Daria’s own count getting the F-111 ready to taxi, but this was go time, and they didn’t have time to make sure every last ribbon and pin was pulled from the aircraft. She turned to Jane. It was business time.

“Good engine start, prepare to taxi, Sundance, watch the right side for traffic.”

“Roger that, let’s do this.” Jane said with a wan smile.

Both took a second to buckle on their oxygen masks and took test breaths to make sure the oxygen was flowing. It was. Broadley's pre-flight had been flawless.

Daria slowly applied power and taxied the aircraft gingerly out of the shelter, turning left to the active runway, where there was already a line of aircraft, two abreast waiting their turn to execute a minimum interval take off or MITO as it was known, with aircraft taking off two at a time, every twelve to fifteen seconds. The aircraft would actually be taking off from both sides of the runway, alternating which end would take off first, to say this was dangerous, well, that was an understatement. But, like the crash starts, it was something Daria and Jane had practiced many times.

As they taxied to the runway behind another pair taking off, Daria noticed one aircraft nearly get hit by a flash of moving light. ****, MANPADS, her mind reported.

Daria looked at Jane and sucked in some air as it came to be their turn. “Here we go, ‘Miga. Punch out a few flares as we go, if there’s MANPADs out there…”

Jane nodded as she set up the flare program to punch out three flares 15 seconds from now.

“Pilot ready”

“WSO ready” Jane answered, both their voices muffled by their oxygen masks, now buckled tightly into their helmets, and against their faces.

Daria advanced the throttles to the stops, triggering the afterburner and the aircraft thundered to life. It rolled down the runway a little sluggish as the aircraft was loaded nearly to the gills with ordinance and fuel, but she didn’t even reach the 2/3rds mark of the runway before she lept into the air, her engines thundering to life with flame extending well behind the aircraft as it chunked out a line of three protective flares. Daria then turned their F-111 towards the rally point, an arbitrary point on a map some 150km from the British coast over the North Sea.

Daria throttled back to full military power and climbed to 10,000 feet. The air traffic control frequencies were bedlam, and in any event, their mission had a script she intended to follow, as long as it didn’t interfere with the safe operation of her aircraft and crew. Meanwhile, all she had to do was watch for traffic, friendly and enemy as well as watch her fuel state.

Meanwhile, the auxiliary radio receiver was tuned into the UK Air Defense frequency, and the picture it was painting was a fearsome one, as Daria and Jane groped their aircraft through the now-violent darkness, punctuated by the flashes of detonating missiles and bombs in the distance.

FOXCHASE THREE-ZERO TO STARLIGHT 11, VECTOR TO RAID TWENTY? I LOST HIM IN THE CLOUDS TEN MILES SOUTH OF BIGGIN HILL…

CADILLAC 32, GOOD KILL, GOOD KILL!

THIS IS ARCHER 35, I AM ON FIRE, PUNCHING OUT NOW 25 MILES WEST SOUTH WEST OF DOVER, AND SOMEBODY CALL THE PJs.

And so it went, as men killed other men and sometimes women in the dark. Most of them never seeing the other, except as a blip on a radar screen.

The join-up with the rest of her flight was uneventful, Daria slid the aircraft flawlessly into the number 2 slot, left of her flight leader’s aircraft, flashing her formation lights twice, then keeping them off. Any light in the pre-dawn skies over the North Sea was liable to have a missile launched at them on the simple principle of “better safe than sorry.”

Daria’s primary radio crackled to life, it was their flight lead. Major Allan Frampwell. Frampwell had been their flight leader since their arrival in England. He was competent, and while he’d missed Vietnam by a year as he was commissioned in 1974, he knew his trade and people trusted him. He was a tall, lanky fellow from Minnesota, who was married to a British girl he’d met on leave during his first tour at Lakenheath in 1979. Daria and Jane knew the kids equally well; they’d babysat for them on a number of occasions. Jane’s cartoons adorned the kids’ walls of the playroom their father had built for them.

But this night, it wasn’t about any of that.

SLEDGEHAMMER LEAD TO ALL SLEDGEHAMMER CALLSIGNS, WE’VE PRACTISED THIS, WE KNOW WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST, AND SLEDGEHAMMER TWO-THREE, YOU’VE DONE THIS BEFORE. YES, IT’S THE FIRST TEAM. GUESS WHAT, SO ARE WE. DO YOUR JOBS, REMEMBER YOUR TRAINING AND YOU’VE GOT A GOOD CHANCE OF LIVING TO BITCH ABOUT HOW BAD THE VA IS. LET’S GET IT DONE FOLKS.


Daria looked at Jane, all they could see was each other’s eyes with the helmet and the oxygen masks blocking most of their faces.

“Miga, if we buy it…glad it was with you.” Jane whispered.

“Thanks, but let’s hope it’s somebody else’s night.” Daria shrugged.

With that thought, Daria waited for the break call, and when it came, applied right aileron and dove for the deck, maintaining good formation all the way down.

Once they were down to 1000 feet over the North Sea, the flight of four aircraft went to full military power and turned to the northeast, towards Denmark, and the Baltic Sea.


Two Hours Later

It had been mostly a quiet ingress over Denmark and the Baltic, as both side’s naval assets had been too busy shooting the hell out of each other, and the Danish Air Force was reportedly too busy shooting up a convoy of Soviet transports filled with paratroopers headed for Jutland. Radio’s bedlam anyhow, I couldn’t get a coherent picture if I tried. Daria shook her head, the weight of the helmet she’d been wearing for hours, coupled with the intense concentration she’d had to exercise just to keep the aircraft from slamming into something some 300 feet off the deck was a bit tiring, to say the least. The sky to the east began to lighten ever so slightly as twilight peaked out from the cover of night. Daria prayed they’d get their run completed before the sun was up. Daylight bombing wasn't a fun prospect for anyone.

She suppressed a yawn and kept her eye on the formation low-light strips of the lead aircraft to her right, as well as constantly asking Jane for terrain updates. Jane herself was very busy, dividing her time between the RWR, the radar and checking her sector of the aircraft for traffic, enemy or otherwise. She also took a quick glance at the altimeter, hoping the aircraft didn’t fly itself into the water, or as they crossed the beach, the ground. Thankfully, the Baltic had very little of that, as well as northern East Germany, but complacency had killed it’s measure of military aviators. If tonight’s the night I die, I at least want to drop some bombs first? Daria’s mind drolled on, her inner voice in a tone she hadn’t heard come out of her mouth since high school.I guess being on the edge of death does make you blasé, eh?

The F-111’s TFR was set on HARD and as usual, was living up to the billing, as it bucked Daria and Jane around like balls in a pinball machine while attempting to use what terrain it could find along the Baltic coast of East Germany for cover. Surprisingly, there has been little reaction from anyone on the ground as they crossed the coast, just some search pings from some air defense and guidance radars, and as time passed, this continued. It seemed the Soviets were content to not bother with them…or hopefully, their SAM and AAA guys think we’re theirs. How they can with our IFF off is interesting, but why complain? Something’s working in our favor.

The flight continued to be uneventful, one would be lulled into thinking it was another training exercise, if it wasn’t for the distant flashes off to the right…signifying the sound and fury that had begun some 4 hours ago.

“How we doing on terrain?”

“Good, no terrain of any note, really, this part of Germany’s pretty flat anyhow, and the only power lines we’re supposed to run into is the ones coming off the target.”

“Yeah…you might wanna remind me of those.”

“Seriously, Butch, you forgot?” Jane said, a note of alarm in her voice.

“Um, we’re deep in East Germany, about to drop the first bombs of the Third World War, wondering why one of the densest air defense systems in the world hasn’t done a damn thing to us, except sweep us with radar, and you’re worried about power lines?”

“Yeah, they can kill us just as dead!”

“Ok, ok, I get it, focus Morgendorffer.”

Jane chuckled. “It’s getting to me too, Daria.”

“Time to IP”

“12 minutes, then we make the southwest turn, then after our run, we turn south and parallel the power lines for three miles to this little burg called Preistwitz, then dog leg to the north, follow the Elbe, try not to get shot down by every Russian mother’s son with an AK or an SA-7 and egress out through the Kiel Canal over Hamburg and out into the the North Sea, where we rejoin the flight. Who the hell came up with this egress plan?” Jane intoned with a tone of mirth in her voice, knowing very well it was half her idea.

Daria chuckled softly, “The two trained monkeys flying this 30 million dollar piece of hardware?”

“Nervous?”

“Bet your ass, but I am mostly nervous about us missing the target, if you can believe it?”

Jane shrugged. “Me too.”

The next twelve minutes vanished into routine, the night was still quiet as they passed to the east of Berlin, where it was lit up like a nightmarish Fourth of July display, with red and green tracer lighting the sky for miles around, and explosions flashing in the dark. But yet, even with being within 20 miles of the embattled city, nobody fired on the fourship of F-111s as they passed to the south. Their IP or Initial Point, where they began their bomb run, was over the small town of Schraden, which was of little significance to noone except the people who lived there, and the exasperated Soviet traffic controllers who were trying to direct elements of the Polish army which comprised the 2nd echelon of the Soviet advance into West Germany, the trouble was, unfamiliar routes, the crash call up the Polish army and the rest of the Warsaw Pact had endured, not to mention language difficulties and NATO “bandits” had done a good job of screwing up most of the highway signage in East Germany within 20 miles of the Polish border. There was now a 30 mile long traffic jam of three Polish divisions and the headquarters of 2nd Polish Army was caught in it while the Soviets and Poles argued which way the Poles were supposed to proceed. Such things attracted airstrikes, and a logjam this long was certainly going to get a visit from someone.

But none of this mattered to Daria and Jane; they had other things on their mind. The target for now was an airfield right on the outskirts of Grossenhain. It was seemingly unassuming, but the airfield was the home to the 497th Light Bomber Regiment, which flew SU-24s. They were the Soviet analogue of the F-111, and as such, had to be put out of action as long as possible. The idea of the strike was to pound the single runway with enough Durandals and CBUs to put the airfield out of action for 48-72 hours. To make sure of it, some RAF Tornados with JP-233 cratering munitions were 2 minutes behind Daria and Jane’s flight, just to make sure of matters. Getting at the aircraft was unlikely, as they were either a) bombing NATO bases just like Daria and Jane were, or b) safely in their shelters, but if they couldn’t get off the ground…

A pair of clicks came over the radio; it was the signal to make the turn for the final run. Wordlessly, each aircraft answered with a single click of their own on their mic, and then turned to line up individually for their run into the target. Once their bombs were dropped, they would each make their way out individually, on the theory you could only catch so many hares in one go. They were to meet up some 65 miles north northwest of Cuxhaven over the North Sea, meet a tanker there, who would refuel them for the trip back to Lakenheath. Two hours rest, and then do it all over again to someone else.

It was all business now. Jane wordlessly slid a transparency into her radar hood, flipped a few switches, and both pilot and WSO grabbed their Bomb Run (Conventional) checklists, going through the forty steps with practiced ease. The aircraft had a good radar return on the runway, visual bombing in the inky twilight would have been easier at night; visibility in the predawn skies was iffy at best. But the radar return was clear; Jane could easily make out the 2200-meter long runway.

“Acquired target, good return. Computer has it locked and we’re good to go.” Jane robotically intoned, her training kicking in.

Ten miles, eight miles, six miles. At four miles, Jane took a laser reading from the Pave Tack pod to get ranging for the computer. It fed the data in to improve the accuracy of when to calculate the release point. On the FLIR display in the center cockpit panel, the buildings of the Soviet airbase became clearer. It looked normal, it was blacked out, for sure, but there didn’t seem to be any urgency below. Daria watched the airplane, being ready to take control of the airplane just in case anything went wrong, this part was mostly Jane’s show now.

A “release” light came on, stating the computer had calculated a release point, and adjusted the aircraft’s direction a few degrees to the left to ensure the bomb release was on target. Jane did a final radar check, adjusted the salvo controls to make sure all the bombs released, and then pressed a button, giving final release authority to the computer.

The F-111s approached the airfield line abreast. By this point, the Soviet traffic control and air defense radars had certainly noticed them, especially as they were neither swanking their IFF nor responding to calls from the tower.

The ring of SA-3 sites were too close to the NATO aircraft to do very much about them, and stood by impotently as the F-111s passed right over them, the first bombs being released over their heads and drifting towards the airfield, but the sirens rang out from Grossenhein, too late to do much more than give a few minutes time to find shelter from the oncoming storm.

“Ok, Sundance, begin the count.”

Jane watched the bombing computer display, and kept one eye on the Pave Tack display as well, ready to take over with a manual run if the computer failed. “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and HACK!”

As Jane shouted HACK, Daria smashed her thumb on the “pickle button” making sure that if the automatic release failed on the bombs, the manual release would surely trigger the bombs off the rail. But, this time, it was simply redundant. The aircraft rose a few feet as multiple THUMPS were heard, signifying the release of the Durandals being carried on the wings. As that happened, Daria took the aircraft to full military power and began to apply random left and right rudder to throw off any gunners who might now be racing for their guns.

The 36 BLU-107 Durandals fell in a line from northeast to southwest across the runway, each bomb sprouting a small parachute from the rear. When the angle of each bomb reached 50 degrees, a rocket motor fired, flinging the bomb like a spear into the surface of the runway. As soon as the bomb penetrated the surface of the runway, a 220lb charge detonated, which then forced a 33lb secondary charge deeper into the ground. Some of those detonated after a one second delay. Some had been set to delay going off for hours after the raid. This would complicate the Soviet efforts to repair both the grass and tarmac fields. Each detonation left a 6ft by 16ft crater and disturbed the concrete for as much as 50ft from the initial detonation, meaning that that concrete had to be dug up and replaced as well. But for all this, and for a RAF raid that was 2 minutes behind the F-111s that had just hit Grossenhein, it would only shut the base down for a 24-hour period as the Soviets had pre-positioned their engineering assets for just such an eventuality.

Meanwhile, the Soviets shook off their stupor within seconds of the bombs being released and the skies around Grossenhein lit up like the ninth circle of hell. Red balls of tracer leapt into the night sky, reaching out like fingers of death, seeking lives and airplanes to destroy.

Daria and Jane were buffeted around as the shells exploded and the deafening sound of the Soviet anti-aircraft fire roared out.

“****, their radar came on line.” Jane exclaimed, “They won’t be so blind now.”

“Run the countermeasures program, hope that gets them shooting at the chaff instead of us.”

Jane shrugged and flipped a switch, telling the aircraft to shovel chaff and flares out like hay, as there had to be somebody out there with a MANPADS.

Daria was about to tell Jane to hang on, as she was thinking of making the jinking harder to try and throw off the gunners aim some more, when a large flash and a loud bang off to the left buffeted the aircraft, tossing it around like a toy in a chid’s bathtup for a few seconds.

“What the hell was that?” Jane intoned.

“Dunno, it was on my side of the aircraft though, call it 10:30 or so, at this point, who the hell cares, let’s just get out of here.”

The jinking and countermeasures seemed to work, as the fire lessened and then dropped off once they cleared the target.

“Well, here’s to smooth sailing back to the North Sea?” Jane offered.

“From your mouth to God’s ears, Sundance.” Daria muttered.


25 minutes later, 8,000ft above the Elbe, east of Bittkau, DDR

Hauptmann Marcus Krenz, of the LSK’s JG-9 was having a lousy war thus far. Though his MiG-23ML (known to NATO as a Flogger-G) was “supposedly” an improvement from the MiG-21 he used to fly, the fact was, the aircraft had done a level job of trying to kill him since he’d begun flying the type two years ago. He’d had to keep one eye firmly on the instruments, and another on the sky around him. One also had to remember what wing setting to keep the aircraft in, even with the improved engine and airframe, that particular problem had killed a lot of rookie MiG-23 pilots.

For Krenz, this was the least of his problems it seemed, the liberation of the West had begun and what was he doing? Flying up and down the goddamned Elbe looking for NATO aircraft trying to use it to make a run out of the DDR into the North Sea. He’d already missed being hit by his own side’s missiles twice, probably SAMs from god knew where, and the last time, the aircraft had almost gone into an unrecoverable spin. His wingman had not been so lucky. The young man hadn’t even seen the missile that had killed him. That alone had sent Krenz into a near fury.

Considering his father had been a 12-victory ace in the last war against the Americans over the vaterland, including several of the “Boeings” that had been laying waste to German cities by day. Nein, there was no threatening Dad’s record this time around. He hadn’t seen a single NATO aircraft below him, either on radar, or in the increasing light of the rising sun. It was simply frustrating, to say the least. And then there was the political officer who was sure to harangue him over the fact he was coming back with loaded missile racks and loaded charges of treason.

Krenz shook his head in frustration, and banked his jet to the right to get a better look at the Elbe below. There’d been a GCI (Ground Control Intercept) report of a low-level contact somewhere east of Stendal. Krenz had been running the river north to south according to instructions from GCI but had seen nothing on either his radar (which was an unreadable hash with all the damn jamming from both sides) and visually, which was still kind of murky, even with the improving morning light.

As he made to level out the aircraft, he took one last look, and there…there it was. It was moving fast against the terrain. Yes..it..it was. As Krenz continued to look, the shape took form. It was an American F-111 using the river valley as a highway out towards the North Sea. He was good, and used the cover of the valley well, but this would be a simple kill, the F-111 was only rated to 5Gs, she couldn’t hope to maneuver with Krenz’s MiG-23 and her rear visibility was non-existent. The American would never see him, he’d simply slip right in and put two R-60s up this American’s ass and be home in time for breakfast. Kranz smiled as he adjusted the sweep of his wings and dove like a falcon spying a rodent for dinner.
________________________________________________________________

Thus far, Daria and Jane’s egress had been rather uneventful, they’d had to decoy a few SA-7s, and there had been some random fire at them, but nothing serious. Nothing to suggest there was a concerted effort at trying to kill them. It had gone, well, pretty much according to plan. Jane was busy figuring out their position along their strip map, along with estimating fuel states, while Daria flew the airplane.

Jane was reaching back to get her calculator stowed behind the seat and there it was, at 5 o’clock high. It was a glint of light on metal. Jane’s blood went cold and she reached for the binoculars. She’d had some trouble focusing on the fast moving object, but one look was all she needed. “Daria, we gotta go, and go now! There’s a Flogger on our ass, 5 o’clock high, call it 4 and a half miles and he’s seen us!”

Daria muttered some curses as she advanced the throttles to full military power and ran like hell, while Jane ran the “panic” program they had in the countermeasures system that dumped every flare in the airplane so to interfere with IR missiles. The thinking was, if he had seen them far off enough to fire a radar-guided missile at them, the MiG would have done it by now. Daria also began her “Luke Skywalker” jinking and looking for something to throw this guy off. As Daria’s maneuvers increased in intensity, the aircraft began to protest. Meanwhile, sweat began to pour into her eyes and pool in her flight gloves. Don’t let me overstress or CFIT the airplane now! Oh yeah, and don’t let that MiG kill me either.

Jane continued to look for him, but lost him as he settled into the six o’ clock position, high and behind the F-111.


Krenz was frustrated, the damned R-60 refused to lock on, distracted by the veritable hail of magnesium flares pouring from the rear of the F-111 in two second intervals. Verdamt NATO equipment, it’s always better than ours! He quickly gave up on the idea and decided he’d try for a guns shot. It was risky, but the F-111 was too damn good to give him a decent missile shot. And that pilot’s too damn smart, but I can still maneuver harder than he can.

He dove a bit lower and cut his throttle, then lined the F-111 up in the pipper of the gunsight..and he tightened his finger on the trigger, One second, one second is all I need you Ami bastard. But just as he squeezed the trigger, the aircraft had flown through the gunsight. Krenz in his frenzy for his first kill had forgotten to apply the lead on target. The shells behind and to the left of the F-111. Schiesse! He adjusted his lead and this time tightened on the trigger again, letting go a long burst…and missed again, this time the shells impacted in front of the F-111, as it banked hard to the right to avoid a tree lined island in the river.

Damn, I won’t miss a third time, you bastard. Krenz’s blood was up, and he didn’t hear the aircraft’s warning tones telling him he was low on fuel, and that he should pull up. Instead he roared, “Shut the hell up, bitch! I know how to fly an airplane!”


Daria was wringing the F-111 out, and her luck was probably running not too far behind, either she’d overstress the airplane or she’d fly into significant terrain. Daria also knew that Flogger driver wasn’t going to miss a third time, either way, Daria did not fancy trying to eject from a F-111 going 650 miles an hour at 300 feet over the Elbe, even with an ejection capsule.

“Sundance, is there significant terrain we can loose this asshole?”

“Um, now that you mention it, yeah! There’s a big, and I mean big bridge just north of us. Call it 2 miles or so. You thinking what I am thinking boss?”

“You gonna hate me?”

“Later, if we live. Get on that radar, and help me thread the needle.”

Jane shook her head We’re about to do something insane and stupid.

Daria kicked in her afterburners and made for the dubious safety of the bridge, hoping against hope they could pull this insane scheme off.



Krenz smiled. This will not help you, Ami. I can more than outrun you. He increased his own throttles to military power, and swept his wings back to full sweep. As soon as he increased power, the aircraft began to let go with a torrent of warnings in a female voice, too low, too fast, low fuel. All of it was getting very distracting. “Shut up you bitch, I know how to fly an airplane!” he roared again. Krenz figured he could always put the aircraft down at the Soviet field at Stendal if he got short. That was assuming the borcht chewing bastards could tell him from a NATO aircraft. He’d been hearing radio calls all morning of friendly fire, with mostly Soviet units being responsible. Probably was a Russian SAM gunner who killed my wingman.

The F-111 kept going straight and level, it was almost too easy, but the suspension bridge that bridged the Elbe east of Stendal began to loom in his vision, and the closure rates began to become too fast. He’d have to pull up and try again, his professional side told him, but the personal side, the prideful side that had lost his wingman and hadn’t scored a kill yet, it was in control, and it was going to kill this F-111. And in the end…it was that refusal to listen to his professional side that killed him. Suddenly, the F-111 chopped its power and flew under the bridge!

Krenz spent his last few moments frozen in shock..until the tail of his MiG-23 clipped the bridge at some 670 miles per hour, and ripped the tail off of the airplane, then plowed like a missile into the water. Krenz didn’t even have time to scream.


Daria advanced the throttle past the stops and increased altitude to 500 feet. She was drenched in sweat and her breathing was ragged. She tore off her oxygen mask, and smiled a wan smile of exhausted victory.

Jane turned to Daria with a smoldering look of anger in her eyes. “Butch. Never. Ever. Do. That. Again. I’d rather eject first.”

Daria never took her eyes off the front of the airplane and flying, but she shrugged and said “Him or us, Sundance, him or us. Stupid bastard should have broke off when he had the chance. Either he did, and decided to call it a day, or he didn’t and he’s one with the Elbe right now. Either way, I don’t give a damn. How much further to home?”

“Call it another half hour before we’re over the North Sea, then 45 minutes flight time for the tanker.”

“Might wanna run the fuel figures again. I am sure all that ‘Death Star Trench’ **** probably screwed around with the fuel state.”

“Doing that now, looks as if we will get once chance at tanking, we screw that up, we’re going to have just enough fuel to make Wilhelmshaven or Cuxhaven, with no reserve for a missed approach.”

“Goody.”

35 minutes later, 30,000 feet over the North Sea

Exxon station was little more than a random point on a map generated by a computer as a good place to have a KC-135 orbit to refuel strike aircraft on their way home from strikes on East Germany, and in some cases, Poland. Daria and Jane were no exception, as they were on fumes when they got there and linked up with their flight. They were the last to arrive, as the dots in the distance resolved themselves into the distinctive shapes of aircraft.

The F-15s escorting the tankers hailed from Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, they were part of the 49th Fighter Wing, and had forward deployed to England as the crisis deepened, and now, they were doing what F-15s were pretty much designed to do, kill MiGs. And, from the looks of the empty missile racks on some of the F-15s, they had been busy.

As Daria tuned into the tanker frequency to get clearance and instructions for refuel, her alternate radio receiver came to life.

VARK TO MY 9 O CLOCK, HOW IS IT OVER INDIAN COUNTRY? OVER?

Daria tuned into the GUARD channel and replied:

EAGLE ON MY 3 O CLOCK, THIS IS SLEDGEHAMMER TWO-TWO, IT’S AS BAD AS THEY TOLD US. WE HAD TO GET A MANUVERING KILL ON A FLOGGER JUST TO GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE. THEN THE WEST GERMANS ALMOST KILLED US OVER BREMERHAVEN. NOT FUN AT ALL, BUT THE RUSSIANS JUST GOT A CALLING CARD THEY WON’T SOON FORGET. BY THE WAY, NOTICED THE MISSILE RACKS, SEE YOU HAVE BEEN BUSY. OVER.

The radio crackled to life in return, and the voice replied.

ROGER THAT, SLEDGEHAMMER TWO-TWO, THIS IS CHEVY FOUR-SIX. NICE WORK ON THAT FLOGGER. I WILL REMIND SOME OF MY GUYS THAT VARKS CAN SCORE KILLS AS WELL AS EAGLES WHEN THEY HAVE A HOT STICK. AND YES, YES WE HAVE, I HAVE THREE RED STARS TO PAINT ON THE SIDE OF THE NOSE WHEN I LAND IN THREE MORE HOURS. THAT’S ASSUMING I AM NOT WINCHESTER FIRST. GOTTA GO, FOUR-SIX OUT.

Daria smiled in spite of herself, the flight back had been uneventful until they had run across Bremerhaven. It seemed the folks there had been unable to tell the difference between a F-111 and an SU-24 and had acted accordingly, lighting up the sky like the 4th of July. Happily, their aim was as bad as their recognition skills, but it had added a lively moment to the egress, not that Daria nor Jane had particularly needed it.

As she rendezvoused with her flight and prepared to check in with the flight lead, she noticed something. The flight lead’s aircraft was missing. Why she had not noticed before was a bit disconcerting. Tired I guess. She tuned the radio to the flight frequency and chimed in:

SLEDGEHAMMER TWO-THREE, TWO-TWO HERE, WHERE’S LEAD, OVER?

TWO-THREE TO TWO-TWO. HE BOUGHT IT OVER THE TARGET. DIDN’T YOU SEE AN EXPLOSION TO YOUR TEN THIRTY, SAY ABOUT A MILE, MILE AND A HALF? OVER?

YEAH TWO-THREE, WE DID, ARE WE SURE IT WAS HIM? OVER?

TWO-TWO, IT WAS. HE CUT OFF IN MID-TRANSMISSION ABOUT A TRIPLE-A WARNING AND IT WAS HIM. NO BEEPER OR CHUTE FROM HIM OR HIS WSO. HE’S GONE TWO-TWO. WON’T BE THE LAST ONE WE LOSE. SEEN IT BEFORE. OUT.

Daria turned off the radio for a moment, and then stripped off her mask, slowly. She was in shock. It happened so quickly, no scream, no prayer, no nothing. Here one minute, gone the next.

“Butch? You ok?” Jane asked, a note of concern in her voice.

“Yeah,” Daria exhaled “that explosion on the egress? That was lead.”

Jane muttered softly “****. We babysat his kids, you know?”

“Yeah, I don’t wanna think about that right now.” Daria whispered.

“We painted their rooms! I mean, ****? Why him, or his WSO, he was engaged to some local girl and-“ Jane babbled.

“Because I don’t want to think about it! We have to tank, and then get the bird home! I can’t think about it. We knew this could happen. We’ve lost friends before! So just shut up, OK?!”

Jane shut up; there was a pregnant silence in the aircraft. Daria had come down harder on Jane than she had wanted to, but from a professional standpoint, she was right. But she was also hiding the fact that, while she knew it intellectually, it was another thing to actually see someone disintegrate in front of you due to enemy fire. I’ll mourn later. Daria resolved.

Daria turned the radio back on, and radioed the tanker:

COORS 34, THIS IS SLEDGEHAMMER TWO-TWO, WE ARE AT YOUR SEVEN-THIRTY, FIVE HUNDERED FEET BELOW, PERMISSION TO TANK, OVER…


On Final Approach to Runway 06
RAF Lakenheath
4 August 1985
0641 Local/0641 Zulu



“Roger tower, this is Sledgehammer 22, understand we are number four for landing, will watch right side of field and understand Runway 24 is shutdown for the next four hours. Thanks and good day, Out.”

Daria looked over the field as they orbited in the downleg pattern of the final approach, awaiting their turn to land. She idly looked around, seeing smoke rising from some of the unhardened hangars, the admin and living blocks, as well as a couple of craters from Runway 24. It seemed there was also a wrecked Soviet aircraft right in the middle of Runway 24, burning brightly and occasionally cooking off. Looks like they had the same idea we did.

Jane had not said a word to Daria since their exchange over the loss of the flight lead, she had her binoculars out and was scanning the sky, making sure they didn’t blunder into anyone, as well as one eye on the Radar Warning Receiver. The greeting the West Germans had given them had made her a little paranoid, and she sincerely hoped the Rockapes could tell an F-111 from a Sukhoi-24. But she was prepared in-case they didn’t. As it was, the IFF was on, and she hoped it was squawking for all it was worth.

Daria flew casually, adjusting the throttle and stick more by feel than actual conscious thought, as she had done this landing hundreds of times. Her mind was mostly numb. Her first combat mission was something of a blur, a blur of sensations and impressions. She knew when she got the plane on the ground and taxied back to the HAS, it was going to be an effort to stay awake through the intelligence interrogation. All she wanted to do was catch an hour or an hour and a half’s worth of sleep. The thought of going again in two hours seemed more than a little daunting. But, she had to act as if that wasn’t the case. She was the aircraft commander, and as a wise man had once said, “Command is a very lonely affair.” Her instructors had never told her just how lonely.

Jane was alone with her own thoughts, chewing her lip as they slowly orbited down to line up with the runway. There was a slight crosswind from the West, about 2-3 knots, and visibility was near perfect. It didn’t get much better for a landing. You could see traffic for miles, and the tower was running like it was peacetime. Other than the occasional emergency call on the Guard channel, it really did seem like peacetime, like the combat mission was just a bad dream.

As Daria lined up the aircraft and she and Jane went through the landing checklist, they were both acting on simple training. The excitement and adrenalin was gone, and the reason for all the rote training was clear. The aircraft had come through with flying colors. No faults, no mechanical failures and no battle damage. All in all, they’d been lucky. Luckier than their flight lead. But now was about getting the airplane on the ground.

The aircraft drew nearer; with Daria using the throttle to control altitude, and the landing was gentle, almost textbook, except for a slight porpoise after the initial strike of the rear wheels. They announced contact with the runway with a loud squeal of the brakes, applied by Daria just in case something untoward happened. She applied full power to flare out, and the nose came down effortlessly. They were down. They were home. All that was required now was to get some breakfast, failing that, some coffee, talk to the intelligence guys, and then get some rest to prep to do it all again in two hours.

That first day, Daria and Jane flew four sorties.

_________________
In the Soviet Union, fun is outlawed as a capitalist plot against the glorious revolution and Mother Russia. State Security will talk to you about this so called “fun.” - Jemhouston


Last edited by Jason on Mon Oct 21, 2013 12:41 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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