Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Sample: Volume 4 'Crossing the Rubicon'



Sample: Volume 4

RAAF Pearce, nr Perth: Western Australia: Same time.

It was warm and sunny, far too nice to be in school on a day like today. The heavy old wall clock ticked away hypnotically as Nikki and the rest of Miss Goldmeyer’s second grade class cast longing looks out of the window. 
After a long and bitter winter the spring was here at last.
Chalk scratched upon the slate blackboard as Miss Goldmeyer hurried to write out their assignment before the lunchtime bell sounded its gentle chimes.
   “NBC RED ONE!…STATION SCRAMBLE!...NBC RED ONE!...STATION SCRAMBLE!”
Miss Goldmeyer placed down her chalk and turned to face the room full of six year olds.
   “Girls, quickly and quietly now, open your desks, put away your books and man your aircraft!”
With a jolt Nikki came awake, the klaxon screaming in between the tannoy's order for a general scramble, to get all serviceable aircraft off the ground and warning of a suspected incoming nuclear, biological or chemical weapon attack.
   “NBC RED ONE!…STATION SCRAMBLE!...NBC RED ONE!...STATION SCRAMBLE!”
Candice was fighting with the zipper on her sleeping bag as Nikki rolled free of hers, tugging hard she released her RIO and grabbed her helmet before sprinted for the door.
   In the corridor she was shocked to see two armed personnel, ‘Adgies’, Air Defence Guards in full nuclear biological and chemical warfare suits with respirators and helmets, looking like bipedal insects with torches gesturing at them to go left, not right, down the central corridor of the accommodation block. Panting she burst through the doors at the far end to see an open back four ton truck, its canvas removed and with its tailgate down just starting to pull away, it was almost full. Aircrew from a half dozen different nationalities were stood holding on to the tubular frame meant to support the missing canvas roof and sides.
1 Squadron RAAFs flight of F/A 18Fs attached to Peerce tore down the runway in pairs, a perfect minimum interval take-off, and Nikki found the need to scream at the top of her voice in order to be heard over the Super Hornets.
   “WAIT!”
The truck did not stop but the driver was keeping the speed right down as he watched them in his wing mirror, and the two USN aviators sprinted after it.
Hands reached down, Nikki tossed her helmet into one helpful pair of hands and grasped another, being hauled physically aboard where Candice joined her a moment later.
Someone pounded on the truck cabs roof and the driver floored the accelerator.
Several of the other passengers were pulling on NBC suits one handed, hanging onto the trucks roof frame with the other; others were in various stages of donning theirs. Neither Nikki nor Candice had been issued that item. Theirs was in the stores aboard the Nimitz awaiting their collection, and their signature for them of course.
An already suited RAAF squadron leader had a mobile pressed to one ear and his other arm looped around the roof frame with the palm pressed hard against the other ear, trying to listen.
   “Is this a drill?” Candice asked.
   “Hell no.” a voice answered. “The bastards nuked Sydney.”
   “But our ship is there!” She blurted.
   “Not any more it’s not, darlin’.”
   “Fuck!” exploded Nikki angrily. “That’s the second time.”
Someone shone a penlight at the name-tag on her flight suit.
   “Oh, you’re that Pelham!” another faceless voice said, with a little bit of awe.
   “No such thing as too many veterans in the ranks, welcome aboard Lieutenant Commander.” said another.
The truck held Australians, New Zealanders, Taiwanese, Singaporeans, Filipino’s, Japanese and Americans. Nikki was unique in being the only American present to have seen air combat in World War Three, but the Asiatic crews on the truck had all lost that particular cherry.
The Anzacs still had that bitter-sweet, and terrifying experience to come.
   The truck went onto two wheels as it made the turn towards the dispersal, the driver working the gears but barely coming off the gas as he applied the clutch. The tailgate rose and fell with a crash, bouncing open and closed, dangerously unrestrained, the locking pins and chains whipping against the paintwork. No one was going to risk broken fingers and other bodily harm by capturing the tailgate, so a clear space existed where the whipping chains held sway, the crewmen and women pressing together defensively back towards the cab.
   “Brace! Brace!”
The driver made no attempt to slow for the speed ramp but steered so that the front wheels took it square together. First the front wheels left the tarmac and then the rear axle, Candice screamed as the truck became briefly airborne before slamming down hard on the front axle and bouncing wildly.
   “God, but it’ll be a relief to get off this truck and back into combat!” Nikki said with feeling and the laughter erupted, a nervous release for some of the other passengers.
   They were not the only vehicle delivering pilots to the flight lines and Nikki could even see crew on push bikes pedalling furiously.
Shouted conversations were taking place around Nikki during the breakneck ride, but these were drowned out by Pratt & Whitney turbofans and General Electric turbojets.
   The first aircraft to release their parking brakes were Australia’s last pair of F111Cs, leaving their camouflage net ‘hangars’ and taxiing at high speed, anti-shipping ordnance in the shape of four AGM-84 Harpoons each carried on under-wing pylons. Right behind the F111s were a trio of Republic of Singapore F5 Tigers with a mixed AA and anti-radiation load-out.
   As soon as he could be heard the Australian squadron leader shouted for attention, putting away the mobile phone he had been pressing to his ear.
   “Listen up, we’re doing this one on the hoof so I’ll keep it simple. RV for everyone is 100 miles due West at Angels fifteen. ‘Barrier Reef’ is the call-sign for AWACS on this and they are working on an anti-shipping strike so keep your ears to your radio but no speaking unless first spoken to. Radio silence people, let’s not give the bastards advance warning we are on the way!”
No writing was required and no questions were asked.
   “Any Navy here?”
Only Nikki and Candice qualified there.
   “Can you Elephant Walk?”
   “Yessir, I flew Tornado’s on attachment with the RAF in Germany.” Nikki replied, but Candice looked blank.
The squadron leader nodded, satisfied and address everyone present.
   “Once again, observe radio silence until you are called by Barrier Reef.” He paused for emphasis. “Watch the Marshals', keep it tight and we’ll all get off the ground and get a shot at payback!”
   As the truck reached the dispersed aircraft it slowed but did not stop and aircrew dropped over its sides, rolling as they hit the ground only to rise and sprint to their charges.
Nikki leaped out, landing and rolling before running the remaining distance. She couldn't find the damn entrance under the camouflage netting at first and was cursing as it was hauled up by rope from inside.
However long she had been asleep had been enough time for the ground crew to fuel and arm their Tomcat. Two AIM-7 Sparrows, four AIM-9 Sidewinders and a pair of AIM-54 Phoenix sat on the pylons.
   “What’s an Elephant Walk, sir?” shouted Candice to the Australian squadron leader as they both landed on the grass and arose.
   “About fifty miles a day, lieutenant.”

   The ground crew, suited up already in the charcoal impregnated trousers and smocks but without gas-masks on, had already started up their F14 and the crew chief held up for her the weapons safety pins that had been removed. The aircraft was hers and ready for combat. Nikki was lowering herself into her seat as Candice climbed the ladder.
   Candice fumbled with straps.
   “Relax Ma’am.” A technician shouted and deftly connected radio jacks, oxygen and her flight-suits air bladders.
   “First time?” meaning her first for real mission with war shots.
She nodded.
   “You’ll do just fine!” he yelled over the engine noise.
A ground marshal’s illuminated wands signalled them forwards urgently and a moment later Nikki got the thumbs up that all personnel and equipment were now clear.
   She released the parking brake.

The marshals were linked together on a stand-alone radio channel, working in unison.
   “What’s an Elephant Walk, Nikki?” asked Candice.
   “This.” Nikki replied simply.
The marshal waved them forward with both wands before pointing one wand angled down to their right wheel and the other moving up and back.
   The Tomcat left the ‘hangar’ behind and turned right onto the taxiway.
Candice twisted around, looking at aircraft of all types that had appeared in front and behind.
   “You've seen pictures of herds of elephants walking one behind the other, holding the tail of the elephant in front with their trunks?”
   “Sure?”
   “That’s how this procedure got its name. It’s the fastest way to get everyone off the ground but its kinda tricky.” Just as if to highlight the point the jet blast from the F16 ahead of them caused the Tomcat to rock violently.
   “I guess we don’t do this that much in the navy?”
   “Not until they build a carrier the size of an airbase, no.”
It was like a conveyor belt; the line of aircraft moved steadily on and as they reached the end of the taxiway the aircraft immediately turned onto the runway where scant seconds later, when the preceding aircraft were only a couple of hundred yards down the tarmac they received clearance to take off.
Every airworthy aircraft on the base was on the taxiways or hurtling down the runway.

   The marshals’ job now was to keep an eye on the interval between each aircraft to avoid collisions or aircraft being flipped over by jet blast. The marshals had their respirators still in pouches around their waists and ear defenders on their heads instead.  
   Nikki and Candice had their oxygen masks unsecured.
Eventually they were near the end of the taxiway in third place, a marshal signalling the two F-16s ahead of them to turn onto the runway and run up their engines

   A flash overhead made them look up sharply through the canopy but there was nothing to see and it was not repeated.
The marshal pointed the illuminated wands sharply down the runway and hunkered down in a squat, clear of wings and the ordnance hung off the F16s hardpoint’s.
The Falcon’s pilots opened the throttles and the two aircraft powered down the runway.
   “Our turn now.” Nikki said, looking at the crouching marshal.
He did not rise and the glow of the F16s engines got further and further away. As they lifted skywards Nikki frowned.
   “What’s the delay?” Candice asked, puzzled.
A cold shiver ran down Nikki’s spine.
   “Put your mask on Candy!” she hurriedly clipped hers in place and ensured the oxygen was flowing.
   “What?”
   “Mask on, do it now!” she ordered.
The marshal remained squatting on the edge of the runway, his back to them. 

Had an aircraft been making an emergency landing he would have signalled them to hold, but he had not moved a muscle.
Nikki came off the brakes and the Tomcat turned left onto the runway, but Nikki did not wait for the marshal, she immediately pushed the throttles forward to full military power, the afterburner kicking in.
   “What about the marshal?” an alarmed Candice exclaimed.
   “He's dead, Candice.”

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