So back in the dark ages, when the Bear roamed the Earth and the world stood on the brink of nuclear annihilation, Tom Clancy came out with a book called Red Storm Rising.  I’m not ashamed to say, I read the (hard)covers off that thing.  Tanks, fighters, bombers, anti-ship missiles…this was like a dream for me as a kid.  (I, um, may have had a childhood that was interesting.)
Shortly before Tom Clancy came out with his book, Sir John Hackett had published The Third World War: The Untold Story.  As a kid, I thought it was awesome that our small local library had both The Untold Story and it’s predecessor, The Third World War: August 1985.  (Why yes, I do have both of those on my shelf as primary sources for my dissertation.  Shush.)  As an adult, I realize it was our proximity to Whiteman Air Force Base that led to the military science and history section being a lot denser than those in your average town of 20,000 people.
In any case, I basically created an entire World War III.  That’s right, hours upon hours spent wargaming out an entire military conflict using various tools at hand.  Then typing it up on either Mom’s word processor (go lawyers!) or the computer we had with Wordperfect.  I was on my way…I was going to be a contender…my books were going to sell.  Well, until two things happened:

  1. The Wall came down.
  2. My sister decided to delete all the files on the Word Processor disks because, well, “I needed the space and it’s not like they would have gotten published anyway.”  (Forgiveness…can you imagine…forgiveness.  Yes, that’s a Hamilton reference, and yes I have forgiven my sister.  When someone lets you stay in their guest bedroom despite the fact you walked in with what was likely the flu, they get a pass.)

So, long story short, I only have a few of my World War III files.  Despite my sister’s claim, I did make some money off two of the short stories.  One took third place at the Central Missouri State University Fiction Open with a prize of a whopping $5.  That I promptly spent the evening I received going to Taco Bell and the movies.  (Once upon a time it was possible to do that with $5.)  My mother has never let me hear the end of that, by the way.  For some reason parents want to do things like frame “The first money my child ever made writing.”
The second story?  Well it won me third at the West Point Fiction Contest put on by the English Department when I was a plebe.  That prize was a little bit better–$75.  Can’t tell you what I did with that…oh, wait, I can.  It became several Battletech sourcebooks.  Which are now downstairs in the basement.  Hmm, maybe if I’d invested that in Microsoft…meh.  What’s done is done, and you can’t put a price on hours of entertainment monkey stomping various people in a boardgame.
At any rate, I’ll start off with the middle chapter of the very first book I ever finished.  Long story short, the USN’s Seventh Fleet got its behind handed to it north of Wake Island in the first month of the war.  As a result, several characters from the fighting in Europe have been temporarily shifted to the Far East.  Yeah, I didn’t say it had to make sense (see the category).  However, if you think about pilots like James Howard in World War II, it’s basically the same mindset.  I can’t even remember what I called the book now, but for blog purposes we’ll just call it That Vladivostok Thing.
Note: There are some serious technological errors.  Mainly I assumed certain things, like at some point Congress would force the Air Force and Navy to go to a common refueling system.  Ha!  Sometimes being young and hopeful is amusing.  Also this was originally done in Wordperfect…then uploaded to Word 2.0…then Word 97…then Word 2010.  In other words, it’s not formatted, and the italicization is kind of sketchy.  But, hey, free chicken is free chicken.
Isaac Young was not a man known for boasting.  All present were aware of this.  If he said it, he had to be pretty sure of it.
“I knew about the general opinion that the Fulcrum could outturn an Eagle.  But I was too low to pitch out or anything else.  So I turned after the bitch.  I cut inside her at about five hundred feet’s range and gave her a snap burst.  Blew the hell out of her cockpit, and she spun into the ground.”  Isaac’s mind stepped briefly back to that frantic battle over Mirlow’s runway.  It had been a battle and a half, and not all the Allied fighters had made it back.
“Perhaps that is true, Colonel Young.  But one of our Eagles is meat on the table for a Fulcrum.”
Isaac’s watch began beeping before he could get off a reply.
“Hate to be rude, but the movie we are going to see starts in about five minutes,” Isaac said.
“It was enjoyable, Colonel,” Tarbiwi said with a smile.  Isaac made a polite bow and then extended his hand for a shake.  The two men shook, and Patricia and he began heading for the movie theater.
Pat was uncharacteristically silent.  Isaac could see that she was obviously lost in thought.
“A penny for your thoughts,” he said, gazing at her.
“Only a penny?”
“Okay, a dime.”
“I was just thinking about what you admitted to doing back there.”
“It had to be done.”
“It just seems to be dishonorable.  I know, I know, the old fighter pilot’s saying: ‘chivalry is dead and so are you if you believe in it,’ but I still think that mission was bullshit.”
“That woman was cutting us to shreds.  Hell, she only flew three sorties and she had those eleven kills.  Someone had to take her ass out.  Max and I were sent to do it.  It’s not like I enjoyed it,” Isaac said.
“I don’t know.  I guess my vision of fighter pilots is that we’re the last of the knights in armor or the samurai, not ninjas.”
Isaac grew silent, looking out towards the base’s runway where three Japanese F-4s were landing.  He turned back around and continued walking, thinking.
“What are you thinking?!” Patricia asked, exasperated.
“Just disagreeing with you silently.”
“I’m sorry.  I don’t think any less of you as a person or a pilot for it.  I just don’t think it’s right is all.”
“I respect your opinion.  I just think it’s wrong.”
Isaac looked over at her, expecting a blow up.  Patricia was kind of a legend back in Europe for her fiery temper.
The brunette gazed back at him, her green eyes totally calm.
“I’m glad you’re so honest.”
“I try to be.”
“Let’s change the subject.”
“Good idea.  We deal with war for a job.  Why should we talk about it when we’re not flying?”
“You’ve got a point there.”
The two of them stopped and looked at each other, both silent.  It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence, it was just a silence.  Isaac’s hand bumped Patricia’s.  She was almost as shocked as he when she took it.
H.M.S. Illustrious
Indian Ocean
2000 hours local
September 20
Jack gently extricated himself from the Harrier’s cockpit.  He had slipped on the nonskid surface and tore his leg open the other day.  It was still tender, and the little half hour patrol he had been on didn’t help any.
The British task force was off the coast of Indonesia. So far they remained undetected.  The Illustrious and Invincible were both preparing to fly off a minor nuisance raid.
The Nassau was still in accompaniment, her fighters ready to make good losses.  This mission wasn’t exactly in the script, but Jack and his comrades weren’t going to complain.  They had been inactive for too long, and were getting cagey.
Jack’s Harrier was struck below for servicing.  He was headed for the ready room to receive his briefing.  It looked as if things were about to pick up.
The pilots of 809 Squadron were all present when Jack arrived.  He took the sole remaining seat at the rear of the room, wincing as the skin on his leg was pulled.
“Your leg still hurting?” his wingman, Flight Officer Dave Edmonton, asked.
“Yes.  Hell, I wasn’t running that fast when I tripped.  It shouldn’t be hurting this bad.”
“Oh well, it’ll soon be the least of your worries.”
The commander of 809 Squadron chose that moment to enter the room.  The officer walked to the podium, testing the mike.  Jack was not exactly fond of the man.  He seemed to think that service in the Falklands and Operation Desert Storm had suddenly given him a divine right to lead.  The only reason, in Jack’s opinion, that he still had a job was the rash of retirements of Fleet Air Arm officers.  This had been during the 1993 budget cuts.  Jack hoped those idiots in Parliament realized how bad they had botched the job when they had done this idiotic deed.
“Gentlemen, you and I are about to enter the arena of combat.  Now, as a veteran myself, I realize some of you may be nervous.  I assure you, opposition is expected to be light.  This is simply a baptism of fire, not a major operation.  Therefore, there is no real reason for you to be nervous.”
Jack felt the urge to strangle the man.
“Now, our target is the harbor of Balikpapan and all shipping inside of it.  You will each be carrying two one thousand pound armor-piercing bombs and two Sidewinder missiles in addition to your fuel tanks.  Each flight will attack just one target.  Our objective is to sink a few rather than cripple many, so make sure your original target is sinking before you shift to another,” the commander said.
Thank you, but we already knew that, Jack seethed silently.  The fool was truly incompetent.  They had all practiced anti-shipping strikes, and knew the ideal was to sink a few important ships with as few bombs as possible.
“There are two anti-aircraft gunboats stationed at the north end of this harbor, by the tanker terminal.  These may pose a problem if 812 Squadron does not get to them.
Jack knew the men of 812 Squadron off Illustrious would take care of the two vessels, so let that part of the briefing pass through his head.
“More important are the ground based defenses surrounding our targets.  Unlike the Americans, we don’t have enough aircraft to devote any to simply taking these out.  A pair of 812’s aircraft are carrying ALARM missiles, and will kill those systems that are the greatest threat.  The rest will just have to be avoided through luck,” the officer finished.
“That is all, gentlemen.  Godspeed.”
Jack got up and headed for the exit.  He felt like he was going to be sick.
Their Harriers were being prepped on the flight deck.  Jack’s was already prepared, and he boarded her.
The armament crews removed the fuses from his two 1,000lb bombs, dancing out from under the aircraft and holding these aloft.  Jack saluted, then began taxiing for his takeoff position.
The first Harrier taxied into position on the catapult, the deck crew hooking it into position.  The British pilot closed the canopy, preparing for launch.
The shooter depressed his button, and the steam catapult fired.  The Harrier moved down the deck and off the ski jump bow, winging its way into the air.
All six of Illustrious’s Harriers took off without mishap, joining up and passing back over the task force.
Jack settled back into the seat, checking all of the gauges and armament switches.  It wouldn’t be a good thing to have his bombs not release because some stupid switch decided not to work.  That would mean he had braved the fire of the harbor for nothing.
Two hundred miles from their target they dived to the wavetops.  Jack and his wingman slid to the outside of the formation, dropping back slightly.  They would be the last to attack their targets.
812 Squadron chose that moment to join up, coming in from the port side.  The eight Harriers passed overhead in perfect formation, engines screaming.  They waggled their wings as they headed towards the target.
Jack checked all of his systems one more time.  He was only a little nervous, his training kicking in.
I hope there aren’t any fighter’s up, he thought to himself.  The Harrier was a great dogfighter when it wasn’t encumbered by bombs, but it flew like a truck when heavily armed like they were.
“Tallyho!” his headset crackled, the harbor of Balikpapan coming into sight.
“The gates to Olympus are open,” the leader of 812 Squadron called out.  This was the signal that there were no fighters airborne above the harbor.  812’s first flight would simply expend their ordnance on known SAM and AAA sites, then fly as CAP.  If the Harriers moved quickly enough they would be in and out before the Indonesians scrambled.
Movement from his left suddenly caught his attention.  Jack saw a fast moving group of dots headed towards the harbor at high speed.  No Harrier moved that fast on an attack run.
“Bogeys, eight o’clock!” Jack shouted
“Shit!  Jettison bombs!” the squadron commander shouted, panic in his voice.  The man reefed his fighter around, trying to turn sharply with his bombs and drop tanks.  Unfortunately for him the Harrier did not have enough lift to pull off the turn.
The plane spun into the ocean, exploding.
“BELAY THAT ORDER!” Jack barked.  He recognized the incoming aircraft now.
“Aircraft are F-111Cs,” he said a couple of seconds later.  Obviously the commander hadn’t faced aerial attack in his ‘many’ combat experiences.  Jack just wished his original opinion of the man hadn’t been vindicated by the loss of a plane.
“Follow me,” Jack ordered, turning towards the harbor again and climbing.
Smoke was rising from the destroyer that had been guarding the entrance.  812 Squadron had put two 1,000lb bombs into the ship’s stern, opening it to the sea.  It appeared that the crew was abandoning ship.
The F-111s had continued inland, turning towards the airport.  Jack keyed his mike, an idea occurring to him.
“Section Two and aircraft Two, go after that large merchantman to the north of the harbor.  Dave, follow me,” he said, turning towards a supertanker parked at the oiling terminal.
Gunfire rattled up towards them, the tracers floating at first then suddenly hurtling by.  Jack skidded, bringing his nose on line.  The gunners began throwing up a barrage in front of them, the flak burst jolting their planes.
Jack ignored the AA fire and concentrated on his bombsight.  The little circle was hurtling across the harbor towards the tanker.  He could see men rushing back and forth across the decks, scrambling to find their weapons.  Jack resisted the urge to switch on his 30mm cannon and strafe the tanker’s decks.
A man on the bridge suddenly held up a long tube.
“SAM!  SAM!  SAM!” sprung from his lips.  Dave and he began jettisoning flares, slowly weaving.
With a puff of smoke the SA-7 sprung from its tube.  It instantly went after a flare, having no head-on engagement facilities.  The missile exploded below, as the bombsight centered on the tanker’s waterline.  Jack squeezed the release, feeling his Harrier suddenly get a ton lighter.  He brought his nose back online, overflying the tanker and beginning his turn over the terminal.
The Snakeye retarded bombs deployed their fins, slowing their speed in order to allow their fuses to arm.  The armor-piercing weapons punched into the tanker’s fourth hold, lodging in the aviation gas there.  They had a time delay of five minutes.
Dave released also.  One bomb was short, but the other was a beautiful shot just above the waterline.  He began turning to join Jack.
The Indonesian gunner knew he was dead.  As soon as the two bombs went off there would be a huge secondary explosion, annihilating his tanker and more than likely the refinery beside it.  So, if he was going to die, he was going to take his assailants with him.  All of this was decided in milliseconds.
Knowledge of death made for wonderful concentration.
He pulled the triggers on the quad .50 calibers he controlled.  The four weapons spat a stream that met the Harrier four hundred feet above the harbor.  The slugs punched through the Harrier’s fuselage to the engine.  The gunner realized he had made a good hit when the fighter began smoking heavily.
“I’m hit, I’m hit,” Dave said calmly.  “Am preparing to eject.”
Jack had seen the burst catch Dave’s fighter.  It was obvious that the fighter wasn’t making it back to Illustrious.  It remained to be seen if it would make it far enough away from the shore.
“I don’t think it’s immediately fatal,” Dave said, bringing the fighter level.
“Get yourself out to sea.  Hold on,” Jack said.  He switched frequencies and began talking.  “This is Hermes, Section Three.  Apollo’s hit.  We’re going to need a rescue chopper.”
“Uh, roger that Hermes.  Where is your present position?”
“Three miles off of target, over,” Jack replied.
“Roger that.  We’ve got an Aussie lost three miles closer to Big Mama from your current position,” the controller replied.  “Try to make it to his position.”
“Uh, this thing’s not holding together much longer.  I’m going to have to leave it here pretty quick.”
“Okay Apollo.  Did you hear that Big Mama?”
“Yes, we did.  Ride it as long as you can, Apollo.”
“Uh, time’s up, I’ve got a big fire indicator,” Dave said.  Jack turned just in time to see his friend punch out of the now burning Harrier.  He saw the parachute open and began turning to orbit, checking his fuel state.
“Okay, we’ve got a good chute.  I’m circling.”
“Roger that.  Be advised Sea King will be awhile.”
A flash appeared on the horizon.  Jack saw the beginnings of a smoke cloud spiralling up towards the sky.  Something big had just gone up in a major way.  It would be interesting to see what the post-strike pictures showed.
Dave hit the water.  Jack turned back again, making sure that Dave got out of his chute.
The bright orange of his dinghy stood out on the ocean.  Dave began to climb into it.
Suddenly he shot into the air, thrashing.  He then disappeared under the surface of the water.
“Oh my God!  Big Mama, Big Mama, Apollo has just disappeared!” he shouted into his mike, diving towards the surface of the water.
Dave’s arm came up, waving frantically.
Jack saw the large shark come up and engulf his friend.
“NOOOO!” he shouted, pounding his instrument panel.  He began screaming, cursing the rescue crews over the net.
It would take the shipboard flight surgeon several glasses of brandy and a gentle talking too to make Jack sleep that night.
Hahn AFB
1200 hours local
September 21
The man standing on the runway was the deadliest all-round fighter pilot in the free world.  Thirty-nine Russian aircraft had fallen before his missiles and guns.  More than 350 billion rubles worth of ships, tanks, and artillery had been destroyed by him alone.  And, as if that was not bad enough, he had an entire squadron under his command.  The Russians had a reward of twenty thousand rubles and a promotion of two grades in rank for any pilot who shot him down.  This was the man that had masterminded the assassination of General Stefhan Gorikov, commander of the Polish Army.
He was now looking at an ops order telling him to designate four pilots for a mission in the Far East.  Colonel Max Loftman didn’t like the sounds of this.  No one was telling him anything.  From the sounds of his immediate superior, Brigadier General Roland Tight, the pilots might not be coming back.
Max was waiting for an escort flight to return from one of its missions.  He had already been instructed that he couldn’t go on the mission.  Therefore, he had decided to send the next best thing.
They had launched six F-16s on the interdiction mission.  Four, one smoking, were coming back.  The Allies may have turned the tide on the ground, but the air war was still quite dangerous.  His squadron had been taking fearsome losses ever since the first day.  Thirty-three percent on this mission was pretty good, considering the target had three batteries of ZSU-30-2s guarding it alone.
The damaged F-16 came in to land first.  Max winced.  That meant the pilot was already injured.  Not good.  Not good at all.
The rescue crews were already driving swiftly towards the end of the runway.  The F-16 had already deployed its arrester hook, this fact signalling that it did not have brakes.  Max noted the absence of two Sidewinders, shaking his head.  Obviously his first choice hadn’t changed her habit of getting in an aerial fight every time they returned from a mission.
The F-16 landed without mishap, the hook catching the wire and slowing it down.  The rescue crews immediately rushed it, spraying it with foam as soon as it stopped.  The crash crews leaped up into the cockpit, jettisoning it with the rescue charges.  The group of four men gently lifted the pilot from his seat, lying him on a stretcher.  Paramedics quickly ripped open his flight suit, grabbing bandages and beginning to patch him up.  The man was in an ambulance headed for the hospital in under three minutes.  Hahn’s crews had become quite efficient.
The next fighter in was the flight leader’s.  Max hopped in his jeep and began driving towards the hardened aircraft shelters.  He was about to inform Major Wallace of her new transfer.
The Falcon stopped, shutting down just outside its shelter.
Major Wallace was a stocky, broad-shouldered woman with soft brown eyes and about average looks.  She was only an inch shorter than Max’s own six foot two.  She took off her helmet, shaking her brown hair loose.
“What happened to Lieutenant Ryan?!” Max shouted, hoping his voice carried over the scream of jet engines.
“He wasn’t watching his six close enough.  MiG-21 got his wingman with an AA-8 and nailed him with its cannon.  Guess he shouldn’t have celebrated after scoring his kill.  They traded us even, two of theirs for one of ours, and a probable.”
“How’d you get a probable?” Max asked.
“It wasn’t me.  I ended up zipping for today.  Captain Fredericks fired a Sidewinder after one of the bastards as they were leaving.  Last time we saw missile and aircraft, they were headed into a cloud.
“Oh.  You and I need to talk,” Max said.
“Okay.  Where at?”
“Ready room.  You’re off flight status as of now.”  Max saw her about to begin complaining and held up his hand.  “You’re not in trouble, it just concerns a mission.
“Oh.  Is this another ‘Ramilles’ mission?” Major Wallace asked.
“Would I put you through another one of those?” Max asked.  The look he got assured him he would.
“Okay, I assure you it’s not another airborne assassination.”
“Then let’s get to the ready room.  I’m starved.
Misawa AFB
2100 local
Isaac was covered in sweat, the liquid covering him in a fine sheen.  He jerked the stick over, wrenching the F-15E in a tight turn, the simulator cockpit tilting crazily.
“Grill Pan!” Todd shouted over the intercom.  The SA-12’s fire-control radar was very dangerous indeed.
“Shotgun!” came the cry from his wingman.  The F-15 launched a HARM, the missile zipping towards its prey.  It slammed into the radar, blasting it apart.
“Yeeehaaa.  Popping up!” Isaac shouted.  The Giant site had been the last defense that they knew of before the bridge.
“ZOOOO!” Todd shouted.  It was too late.  Their cockpit went dark, signalling that they had been killed instantly.  What was maddening was still listening to the battle.  Tyrone took instant command, ordering Captain Jack Thomas to begin his run.  The pilot was carrying two AGM-130 rocket-propelled guided weapons.  His wingman came up and fired off three Maverick missiles first.  The missiles were capable of picking out the heat of a vehicle and homing on autonomously.  Two killed the gun vehicle that had nailed Isaac.  The other killed a SA-13 ‘Gopher’ vehicle.
Captain Thomas popped up and released both weapons at his target and promptly exploded, the victim of an air-to-air missile.  Six MiG-29 Fulcrums dropped in on the party, a vicious dogfight ensuing.
At the end of the melee, Isaac’s twenty aircraft squadron had been reduced to eight.  A bitter taste was filling his mouth, as he popped the canopy.  The first face he saw was that of Commander Dereth.
“I hope your losses aren’t that heavy in the real thing,” he said, shaking his head.
“You and I both,” Isaac replied.
“Hey, at least it happened here and not there.”
“If it had happened there I’d be a corpse right now,” Isaac replied.  He was not happy about getting smoked by a gun vehicle, feeling like it was the highest form of dishonor.
“Well, it’s my turn to get killed now,” Dereth said, noting that the simulator’s programming disks had been changed.  All of the aircrews were being cycled through the simulators, the high command wanting the mission to be as familiar as possible when it was actually flown.  There would be no Torpedo Squadron Eight’s on this mission.  The Allies could not afford it.
Isaac’s headed out for the door, wanting to get away from flying or even thinking about flying for awhile.
A pair of arms wrapped around him from behind, squeezing him.
“You don’t look happy,” Patricia said into his back.
“You’re holding a very fresh cadaver,” Isaac said.
Patricia turned him around, standing on her tiptoes to kiss him.  It was the first time they had kissed and it surprised the hell out of Isaac.  It was just a light kiss on the mouth.
“You feel pretty warm for a cadaver,” she said, still standing close to him.
Isaac was still stunned.
“Let’s get out of here,” she said, taking his hand and starting to pull him behind her.  Isaac followed her to a Hummer, hopping in beside her.
They headed back towards the billet.
“So why are we in such a chipper mood?” Isaac asked.
“I have no idea.  I just suddenly got happy.”
“Oookay.  I guess this is one of those things men aren’t supposed to understand.”
“No, it has nothing to do with being a woman.  I’m just happy for some reason.  Enjoy it while it lasts.”
“I think I’ll take your advice,” Isaac said as the jeep came to a stop.  They were about to get out when he put his hand on her shoulder, turning her towards him.  This time neither one of them were surprised by the kiss.
0400 hours local
September 22
The teletype aboard the Kirov-class cruiser Andropov began chattering incredibly fast.  As de facto flagship of the Soviet Pacific Fleet, many messages came directly to this vessel.
Gregory had been staging a surprise late night inspection of the vessel.  As soon as it was realized that the message carried a ‘FOR ADMIRAL’S EYES ONLY’ opening prefix the captain called him to the bridge.
Gregory was handed the sealed in an envelop message.  He took it to the captain’s stateroom, pulling out his letter opener and slitting the envelope open.


The message was short and succinct, but carried great implications.  Gregory only wished they had told him what kind of attack it would be.  He couldn’t guard against everything at once.
At least he had been warned.  He would now take the proper precautions.  He left the captain’s stateroom, walking swiftly to the CIC.
“Captain Gremenko, let me see your radio phone.”
“Sir,” the captain replied, saluting and handing his admiral the phone.  Gregory signalled for the operator to call HQ.  He swiftly barked his orders to the captain at the answering desk.  The standing CAP was to be doubled, and all SAM batteries were to be put on standby.  A second Il-76 Mainstay would be sent up into the air with the stronger CAP.
Gregory knew this would do for a short time until he could get more reinforcements from commander of the Far East TVE.
Someone in the Allied hierarchy had screwed up.  It was up to Gregory to capitalize on it.  He’d have to make Vladivostok as much of a fortress as possible.
Yokota AFB
0900 hours local
The four F-16s had just finished taxiing to their shelters when Amee Wallace heard her name.
She turned towards the sound, surprised that she would recognize anyone here.
That’s when she saw a tall and muscular shape standing in the doorway to the hangar.
Captain Dodd Jackson had been a fellow classmate in flight school.  He had always struck Amee as a bit of a showoff and arrogant son-of-a-bitch.  She had been strongly attracted to him but had always decided she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of know this.
She hadn’t known he was assigned to Yokota.  She hopped out of her fighter, walking over towards the man and extending her hand.
“Hello, Dodd,” she said.
“Hello, Amee.”
The two stared at each other for several long seconds.
“I heard that you’re ruling the skies over in Europe.  I suppose you’ve been assigned to this little shing ding also.”
“Yep.  I guess they figured I needed to come over here and kick some Asian ass,” she said, walking with the pilot towards the operations room.
“You always were the confident one,” Dodd said, smiling.
“My record, dear, speaks for itself.”
“True.  Unfortunately, some of us haven’t been as fortunate.”
“Do you have any kills yet?”
“A pair of MiG-23s.”
“Yeah, I guess that would be small change to you,” Dodd said with a trace of bitterness, turning to walk away.
Amee stopped him with a hand on her arm.
“Hey, I didn’t mean it like that.  We’ve got a lot of pilots without any kills.  Don’t fret,” Amee said.
“I just feel so inferior to you,” Dodd said.
A few years ago prior, Amee Wallace would have rubbed it in.  She had matured greatly since the last time they had met.  She pondered what to say.
“You shouldn’t.  A lot of it’s luck.  We also have more opportunities in Europe.  How many missions have you flown?”
“Around sixty-eight.”
“I’m coming up on the three century mark right now.  That averages out to a kill every twenty sorties.  At that average, you’re only one kill under the average.  Don’t worry, you’ll get yours.”
“What are you doing right now?” Dodd asked.
“Reporting in then heading for the simulators.”
“How about having a drink with me at 1800 hours.”
“All right.”
Dodd nodded and got on his way.
Amee walked into the operations room, looking for the commander of the base.  A captain was sitting at the reception desk.
“Major Wallace and flight reporting.”
“General Callahan is right inside,” the captain replied.
Amee walked in, stopping at the door and saluting.
“Have a seat, Major Wallace.  I’m so glad we could get you on loan from Europe.  You and your flight are just in time for our diversionary mission.”
“Sir?” Amee asked, surprised.  Her flight had just staged all the way from Europe with only a little break at Hawaii.  To expect them to fly a mission right away was insane.
“Don’t worry, Major, you’ll have plenty of time to rest.”
“Yes sir.”
“As a matter of fact, there’s a hummer waiting to take you over to the billets now.”
“Well then, sir, I shall take my leave of you.”  Amee salute once again, about-facing and heading outside.
The Humvee picked them up and took them over to the officers’ quarters.  The flight was given a room to share, gear being loaned to them from the base exchange.
Misawa AFB
1000 local
Isaac woke up slowly, his mind coming out of the fog of a deep sleep.  He rolled onto his side, throwing his arm over.
It touched someone.  He snapped awake, sitting up and pushing the covers off of himself.  He looked over to his right.
Patricia’s face was the picture of contentment as she slept.
The night came back to him now.  They both had ended up in his bed.  What had seemed like a good idea the night before now loomed as the stupidest move he could make.  He wasn’t even sure he had used a condom.
Oh fuck, he thought.  This was most definitely against rules and regulations for starters.  Second, it wasn’t where he had wanted Patricia and him to end up.  Third, no one knew if they were going to survive the next day or not.  This was a hell of a setup to get emotionally hurt.
Patricia woke up, stretching.  She opened her eyes and looked right into Isaac’s.  They got as wide as saucers and she snatched the covers up to cover herself.
“What the hell are you doing in my room?!” she asked fiercely.
“I’m not in yours.  It appears we crashed in mine last night,” Isaac said drily.  Patricia looked at him, shocked.  She suddenly got up and started dressing, moving quickly.
Isaac looked on in wonderment for only a second.
“Wait a second!  Where are you going?” he asked, standing up.
“Somewhere,” she said sharply, putting on her flight suit and walking out the door.
Isaac sat down on the bed, wondering what he did wrong.
There was a knock at his door.
“Wait a second!”  He put on his underwear and a pair of pants, walking to the door and opening it.
Todd was standing there, a bemused smile on his face.
“I suppose there’s a perfectly good reason I came back to the room last night and found you sleeping with Major Wilkes,” he said with a huge grin.  Isaac shot him a look, motioning for him to come in.  Isaac then turned and went into the kitchenette section of the hotel room.
“What’s the matter champ?  You scored, didn’t you?” Todd asked, shocked by his friend’s strange behavior.  Isaac wasn’t much of a smooth talker with the ladies (said it ran in his family), so Todd had figured he would be overjoyed to have slept with as good a looker as Major Wilkes.
Isaac finished fixing himself a cup of coffee, pouring in extra milk.  He leaned back against the counter and took a couple of sips.
“I didn’t want to sleep with Patricia,” he said finally.
“Why not?!  You’re not turning funny on me, are you?”
“Remember when you first met Tonya?  Did you want to sleep with her first thing?”
“Hell yeah.  As I recall, I did.  It was great.  The love came later,” Todd replied.
“My God you’re insufferable sometimes Todd,” Isaac snorted.
“Sit down you lovestruck idiot.  I see that you really care about her.”
Isaac sat down by his friend and compatriot.
“So what is the matter?”
“She seemed shocked that she had slept with me, like I had trapped her or something.  I hope she doesn’t think that was all that I was out for,” Isaac said.
“I don’t know if he still respects me,” Patricia was saying.
The phone line back to the States was quiet.  Patricia knew her big sister was mulling over what she had just been told.
“Well Pat, I don’t know what to tell you.  Did he act like he didn’t respect you?”
“I don’t know, I didn’t stay around long enough.”
“That wasn’t real smart Pat.  You need to talk to him.  Tell him how you’re feeling.  Running away is just going to leave you both confused.”
“There’s another problem.”
“Oh Pat, no.  Don’t tell me you guys didn’t use a condom.”
“Fine, I won’t tell you.”
“Shit.  Alright, I guess you won’t know for a few days no matter what.  Just keep flying like you normally do.  And do me a favor.”
“What Joan?”
“Next time make sure he wears a condom.  Geez, I’ve got high school students who at least do that.  You’re the top female ace in the nation and should know better.”
“I know, Joan.  I didn’t even plan to sleep with him.”
“What’s he like?”
“He’s about six foot, but not quite.  He’s got a large, muscular build.  His personality’s not too shabby either.  I’ve only known him about a week but it seems so much longer,” Patricia said.
“That doesn’t tell me much.  What color hair does he have?  What color are his eyes?  Come on Pat, you’ve got to tell your big sister everything.”
“He’s black.”
“I said, ‘he’s black.'”
Silence once again rode the phonelines.
“That’s a mild shock,” Joan said finally.
“I never thought you’d be shocked by that.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Pat.  I’m not saying it’s wrong…”
“Good, because I’d hate to never talk to you again,” Patricia interrupted.
“You’re just the last person I expected to do that.  I thought Mom and Dad had a stronger influence on you than they did me.”
“Just because Mom and Dad were bigots doesn’t mean they raised me to be one.  I was slightly smarter than that.”
“True.  Look sis, this is going to run up your calling card.  Call me back later, wherever you may be.”
“Big roger on that one, little sister.”
Patricia hung up the phone, opening the phone booth and starting to step out.  She slammed right into a large bulk and looked up into a pair of brown eyes.
“We need to talk,” Isaac said.
“Do we ever,” she replied.
“Where do you want to go?” he asked.
“Someplace quiet.”
“Lead the way, you know this place better than I do,” Isaac said.
U.S.S. Chicago
Pacific Ocean
1300 hours local
“Take her up to fifty feet,” Commander Tim Ryan, leading submarine captain of the NATO alliance, ordered.  The submarine gently began rising towards the surface from her deep, dark position.  She was holding at a point one hundred and fifty miles from Vladivostok.  Her crew were all at battlestations, waiting tensely.
“Do we have a fix on the Helena yet?” he asked.
“No, sir.  The last time we had a fix on her was when we went up for the satellite communication.”
“Okay, that’s not my problem.  If we get a submerged contract, kill it.”
“Aye, sir.”
“Okay, raise the ECM antennae.”
The crew responded, raising the sensitive wire.  The antenna would pick up any ships or aircraft that were radiating with their radars.  The screen showed no targets.
“Ready all missile tubes.”
The Chicago‘s mission was twofold.  The first part was to test the defenses of Vladivostok.  The second was to destroy the Backfire regiments based at Vladivostok East.  The submarine would launch fifteen Tomahawk land attack missiles at this target.  Each missile carried a cluster warhead, the bomblets designed to crater the runway if they did not hit an aircraft.  The missiles were being launched this close so that some of their jet fuel would be left.  These would lead to a very merry blaze, tough to put out except with the most sophisticated fire-fighting equipment.  With a few of the missiles’ bomblets being delayed-action and/or land mines, it would be difficult for these types of firefighters to get close enough to the conflagration.
Three other submarines were participating in this attack.  The four subs were working in two submarine pairs.  A total of fifty-one Tomahawks would target the enemy harbor of Vladivostok.
Delta One-One
North Pacific Ocean
1325 hours
The pilot of the C-130 Hercules was not exactly happy flying just fifty feet above the water eighty miles from the largest enemy base in the Far East.  If they were detected by any radar, they were dead.  The C-130 was nothing but a big fat target if enemy fighters started coming in.  The four F-14C Tomcats grouped around it didn’t comfort the pilot any.  If the Soviets detected his large aircraft, they’d scramble alot more than four fighters.
“Five minutes until drone launch,” his flight engineer informed him.
“Great.  Five more minutes of this damn orbiting.  Any second now that Mainstay’s gonna find us,” the pilot muttered.  So far they hadn’t been warned of incoming fighters by the E-2C Hawkeye circling one hundred miles to their rear.  The silent jamming being provided by two EF-111 Ravens couldn’t work forever.
The transport carried two unmanned recon drones.  These had a range of more than seven hundred miles and were packed with passive sensors.  They would record the signals sent out by the enemy SAM and AAA radars, and also get their locations.  The guidance computer’s program would then turn them back out to sea, where they would crash and float.  A Japanese diesel submarine would recover their tapes for later analysis.  This was a vital part of Operation Apache.  The attack force would be decimated if it was forced to fly into the harbor without knowing where the enemy defenses were.
“MARK!” the flight engineer roared in his headset.
“Drones away,” the pilot replied, releasing both unmanned aircraft.
“Shit!  We’ve got a failure!”
“Well, I didn’t bring a spare.  Let’s get out of here,” the pilot said, turning his transport.
Pacific Ocean
1345 hours
Forty-seven of the fifty-one missiles launched successfully, arrowing high into the sky atop their rocket boosters.  A few moments into launch they jettisoned these, their winglets unfolding and the jet engines starting.
The alarm was raised almost instantly by an anti-submarine frigate that was only ten miles away from the Chicago.  The ship radioed off a frantic warning and attempted to engage the Tomahawks as she steamed towards the American sub.
Ryan had been expecting a barrier patrol ship.  The Chicago‘s torpedo tubes had been loaded with two Mk-48 torpedoes and two Harpoon anti-ship missiles.  The experienced attack crew of the submarine did not hesitate.  The Harpoon sprang from the sea and hit the frigate before it even had time to react.  The 488lb warhead exploded in the ship’s engineering spaces.  Its blast warhead killed the engineers instantly, and the engine room began to flood.  The wound was fatal, adding yet another ship to the Chicago‘s growing toll.
The Tomahawks were detected by actual ground-defense radars when they were fifty miles out.  The first missile battery to attempt an engagement was an SA-11 Gadfly unit.  The battery launched eight missiles in rapid succession, claiming two Tomahawks.  Then the remainder of the defenses opened fire, raising a dense curtain of shells, fragments, and missiles.  The Tomahawks made a feint towards the harbor, causing the ships to open fire.  The shellfire carried all across the little inlet, slamming into other ships.
The first missile plunged into a hardened aircraft shelter at Vladivostok East.  The missile’s blast warhead obliterated the bunker and the Tu-26 Backfire inside of it.  The bomber had been ready loaded with three ‘Kingfish’ anti-ship missiles, and these added their warheads to the terrible secondary blasts of the bomber’s fuel tanks.
The Tomahawk strike accounted for the better part of two regiments and put Vladivostok East out of action for sixteen hours.  Even after the runway was repaired, the base continued to be a very dangerous place, as delayed action bomblets and landmines cooked off the rest of the night.
Pacific Squadron HQ
1700 hours
Gregory was still in a rage.  His orders were given sharply and performed rapidly with the epitome of military discipline.
He could not believe that almost all of his assigned striking power had been destroyed in one swoop.  Now he would have to explain to the Politburo what the aircraft had been doing on the ground and why he hadn’t taken better precautions.
Well, it appeared the American attack had taken place.  He supposed that the United States Navy believed he would not risk his surface fleet without Backfire support.  Well, they were wrong.  He would sortie with the entire Pacific Squadron and force the decisive battle.  But first, first he would have to neutralize the Japanese.
The first part of this mission would start that day.  Six squadrons of Su-24 Fencer ground attack aircraft with an eight squadron-strong escort of Su-27 Flankers.  The targets would be the bases of Yokota, Misawa, and Chitose, with two squadrons almost ensuring airfield destruction.  The heavy fighter escort would hopefully destroy the aircraft that got into the air.
Gregory had instructed his strike and fighter commanders that this would take place whenever the United States Navy sortied.  Until then, they were to maintain their squadrons at the ready.  All leaves were cancelled as of the next day.
He’d be damned if the enemy would reinforce Korea.
Misawa AFB
0950 hours
September 23
“Well I’ll be damned,” Isaac said slowly, looking across the tarmac.
“More than likely.  What’s the matter?” Patricia asked, squeezing his arm and looking towards where Isaac was staring.
“Goblins,” he said.
Patricia saw them now.  The F-117A Stealth Fighter was arguably one of the deadliest strike platforms ever conceived.  It wasn’t extraordinarily fast or able to carry a large bombload, but it had one prime advantage over all other strike aircraft in the Allies’ arsenals:  It was invisible to most types of radar.  It could sneak in and drop its two one-ton bombs on a dime if need be, using its extensive precision weapon guidance suite.
“I wonder what they’re here for?” Patricia said quietly.
“Probably to make the Soviets think they’re our main attack.”  Isaac leaned back, looking up towards the sky.
The couple had grabbed a couple of hours away from duty and decided to have a picnic.  They were now sitting on a grassy knoll two miles from the runway, eating a lunch of sandwiches and listening to the radio.  They hadn’t really said much, having had a long heart-to-heart the night before.  Patricia had slept in his room, even though they had not made love.
Isaac turned down to look at this beauty that had seemingly dropped into his lap.   He must’ve done something good for the man upstairs to bless him so.  Having had this thought, he sent a silent prayer of thanks.
“What are you thinking?” Patricia asked, snuggling up closer to him.
“How lucky I am to have found you,” Isaac said simply.  Patricia looked up, expecting to see a sparkle in his eye.  She saw that he was serious and was taken aback.  Isaac cursed inside, thinking he had said too much.
“I think that has to be the sweetest thing said to me by any man ever.  Thank you, Isaac Young,” she said.  With that, she leaned up and kissed him.  Isaac, surprised at first, kind of clumsily put his arms around her towards the end of it.  Patricia chuckled deep in her throat and disengaged.
“Now, let’s try that again while you’re prepared for it,” she said lightly.  Isaac leaned down to kiss her, wrapping his arms gently around her.  This encounter was having definite potential before Isaac’s beeper went off.
“Shit.  This can’t be good,” Isaac said, releasing her.  He stood up and started gathering their picnic stuff.  Patricia scooped up the blanket and radio, putting both in the Hummer and hopping in the driver’s seat.
“Wait a second.  I’ll drive,” Isaac said.
“You move mud for a living.  I fly fast fighters at high speed.  Who do you think has better reflexes?” Patricia asked, starting the jeep and shifting into reverse.  Isaac jumped in, getting swayed into Patricia by the force of their start.  Pat backed up onto the access road and then put it in drive, accelerating up to forty-five miles an hour and heading directly for the aircraft shelters.
Todd was waiting for them when they pulled up, both of their flight suits in his hand.
“What’s up, doc?” Isaac asked.
“We just got tapped for the mission from Hell.  Four Strike Eagles, eight mere mortals.”
“Where are we going?”
“Subic Bay, Philippines,” Todd said calmly.
“You’ve got to be shitting me,” Isaac said.
“No, but I wish I was,” Todd said.
“Just what I need, to fly two thousand miles one way just to hit some small target,” Isaac said.
“Well Rumbler, far be it from me to complain, but if you wanted to avoid missions such as this you should’ve signed up for the mortals.”
“At least then I’d have a big watch and a cheap airplane,” Isaac said, baiting Patricia.
“And you wouldn’t have so much mud on you all the time,” Patricia replied.
“Go to hell, Pat.”
“More than likely.”
“Alright, let’s get boarded up.  What are we going after?”
“What’s left of that invasion force. It’s sitting nice and pretty in Subic, hasn’t moved since July.  Our priority targets are the two Sovremenny and one Udaloy-class destroyers that accompanied this strike.  After that we’re on our own.”
“Why couldn’t the Navy boys handle this?”
“Because they would’ve needed double the escort.”
“Oh.  And, since we’re supposedely self-escorting, we can fly this with less support.”
“You’re pretty quick boss,” Todd said sarcastically.
“What’s the mission load?”
“Four one-ton bombs each on two birds, Weasel layout on the others.”
“FAST packs?”
“Of course.  We’re meeting six KC-10s fifteen hundred miles off the coast.  That should get us there and part of the way back.  Our ETA should be 1345 hours.  I’ve got Tyrone, Josh, and Jake flying the other three birds.”
“Might as well have our best, huh?”
“Jake’s got HARMs in place of his AMRAAM’s, so don’t really count on him if the shit hits the fan.”
“Any info on what we can expect in the way of opposition?”
“A few captured F-5s and a squadron of Floggers.”
“F-5s as in Tiger IIs?” Patricia asked, checking to make sure her hearing wasn’t going.
“Yes.  After the fall of South Vietnam back in 1975, the North Vietmanese trained some of their pilots on captured Freedom Fighters.  The Filippinos didn’t blow up all of their stored fighters when they left.  Special ops forces that stayed behind report that the Viets are flying the jets.  Go figure.”
“At least we know how to beat F-5s,” Todd said.
“Yeah, kill ’em with an AMRAAM at thirty miles and dogfight the Floggers,” Patricia cut in.
They were all dressed and ready to go.  Isaac shook his head and started towards their jets.
“Why don’t they use the damn Goblins?” he thought to ask.
“They’re here if we miss.”
“Just wonderful.”
They boarded their aircraft, going through the normal startup procedures.  Takeoff went without a hitch.
“So how’d it go sport?”
“Fairly well, before we were so rudely interrupted.”
“Sorry, but I had orders from higher up to find you and Major Wilkes.”
“Well you could’ve took your time with it.”
“Yeah, and got all of us thrown in the brig.”
“I think I love her.”
“I always figured your luck would change eventually.”
“Thanks for everything, Todd.”
“Hey, someone had to set you straight.  Now let’s get a move on.  We’ve got a bomb drop to keep.”
Yokota AFB
1000 hours
Isaac and his strike force were not the only warriors preparing for a strike.
Dodd caught the tossed helmet from his crew chief, putting it in his lap for the moment.
“It’s showtime,” he said, strapping in.  He looked briefly to his left, seeing Amee buckling into her own steed.  She flashed him the thumbs up, smiling across at him.
In order to maintain a normal tempo and direction of operations, the Fifth Air Force was still flying strikes against the North Korean infrastructure.  The only difference was that the fighter aircraft that were on loan from Europe were put into the rotation.  This greatly reduced crew and aircraft fatigue.
Amee had been tapped for one of these missions.  Since her flight did not know the area or enemy well, she had asked that Dodd’s section be assigned in order to fly lead.
It was Dodd’s favorite type of mission, a fighter sweep at medium altitude loaded for bear.  The twelve aircraft mission would test the North Korean and Chinese pilots up towards the Yalu river.  They would refuel on the way back.  Four F-4EJs were flying Wild Weasel support.  It promised to be an interesting mission.  Dodd had told Amee several stories of the almost fanatical zeal of the North Korean pilots in defending their airspace.  The pilots of the Fifth had nothing but respect for their foes.  The kill ratio to date was around three to one in the favor of the Fifth.  This was much lower than it had been in the Korean War, and the training of the United States pilots hadn’t been as intense then.  The North Korean Air Force and their Chinese allies had stepped up to the level of their probable competition.
“This is Cobra Leader to tower, asking permission to taxi,” Dodd said.
“Go for it, Cobra,” came the reply.  Dodd started up his engine, lowering his own canopy.  His crew chief saluted smartly, stepping away from the Fighting Falcon.  Dodd began taxiing, rolling at thirty miles an hour.  His wingman pulled out from the hardened shelter to his right, falling in behind.  The twelve sharklike fighters began rolling hot, trundling down the runway.
Amee cleared her mind, preparing for a hard combat.  The fact that she was far away from the more familiar Europe did not bother her; the aircraft and enemy’s training was basically the same.  What bothered her was that she was flying with eight men that she didn’t know and was not familiar with.  She had come to know her squadronmates in Europe, even the new guys, quite well in the past three months.  The three men loaned to the Fifth with her had flown into the gates of hell at her side in Europe.  She knew how good they were.  These Pacific pilots hadn’t been through the same testing fire in her book.  Dodd’s low number of sorties convinced her, more than anything else, of their lower quality.  She just hoped it didn’t lead to her or her men getting killed.
Four AMRAAM and two Sidewinder missiles were mounted on her aircraft.  She liked this particular armament, since it gave her the ability to kill the majority of her enemies at long range.  The other three aircraft of her flight were similarly armed.
Dodd’s two flights had a different weapons outfit.  They were only carrying four Sidewinders, having made a habit of leaving the AMRAAMs for F-15 units.  To Amee this was insanity.
Dodd and his wingman lined up for a section takeoff.  At a nod from Dodd, both trundled down the runway at full military power.  The two Falcons looked very much like their namesakes taking flight, their undercarriages beginning to be tucked away.
Amee shook her head at the sharp takeoff.  She shoved the throttles forward gradually, wanting to use every bit of runway to achieve rotation.  This would greatly conserve fuel that might be needed later.
“Let the games begin,” she whispered to herself, pulling the stick back and letting her little fighter soar into the air.  The group joined up quickly in flights of four.  Dodd looked over both of his shoulders, checking to make sure that they had enough aircraft.  He then put his plane into a turn, heading for the North Korean coast.  Amee followed, sliding into an echelon formation with her flight.  She looked over the Pacific units, checking out their formations.
“At least they haven’t lost their training edge,” Amee said to herself.  The Pacific aircraft were flying beautiful formations,  the wingmen following their section leaders with great skill.  Dodd had told her that these were the best pilots in the wing, and she now saw why he felt that way.
The flight across the Sea of Japan was quick and uneventful.  As they began approaching the North Korean coast, Amee armed her AMRAAM, cuing them up for first shot.
“Second Flight, head for the waves.  Major Wallace, go high,” Dodd ordered, deploying the forces for maximum coverage.
“Tallyho!  I’ve got bogeys on my radar, eight angels coming to meet us,” Amee’s wingman said.
“Roger that, Zulu Two.  Cobra Leader, Zulu Flight is engaging,” Amee said.  Dodd’s reply was garbled and unintelligible.
“Shit.  We’re being jammed,” she said, quickly turning her upper body to the left.  Her wingman was already looking towards her, waiting for her signal.  Max Loftman had trained them all in what to do in case of jamming, having had a very bad experience the first day of the war.  Her flight responded without a second thought, breaking into their sections.
Their radar screens suddenly went white.
“Cub,” Amee thought to herself, using the NATO designation for the converted ECM aircraft that was a favorite of Soviet-equipped services.  Zulu Flight had a strategy for this also.  Amee switched on her self-protection jammers and dived, heading away from the last known enemy position.
The glimmer of sun off a canopy alerted her to the incoming enemy fighters.  Zulu Three and Four broke off, turning towards the enemy.  Amee hoped they could delay the enemy long enough for her to find and kill the enemy ECM aircraft.  She levelled out of her dive at less than a hundred feet, hiding down in the ground clutter.  Her radar continued to be whited out, and visibility down at this low level was getting down to two miles.
A fighter sprung out of the mist in front of her.  The MiG-21 pilot was obviously looking for her, for he suddenly cut back, turning towards Amee and her wingman.
“I’ve got lead,” Amee said, turning towards the enemy fighter.  She brought the nose of the Falcon around, pulling six Gs.  The North Korean pilot had been making a lazy turn, and she rapidly gained ground on him.  The gunsight centered just aft of the cockpit, but she heard no tone.
“Lockon dammit,” she said sharply.  Then it hit her that she hadn’t switched back to Sidewinder from her AMRAAM.
Just as her thumb was reaching forward to switch the button over, the MiG pilot sighted her.  He reversed, lighting afterburners to try and turn away from her.  Amee kicked the rudder pedals, turning hard after the Fishbed.  The North Korean pilot pulled up into a tight turn, corkscrewing away from her fighter.  Amee lit her afterburners and followed, throttle shoved forward to the max.
The MiG pilot then made a fatal mistake:  He tried to level off and turn.  Amee pitched her nose up and went into the vertical to turn inside of him.  She came off her high arc and levelled off just above and behind the enemy fighter.  Her thumb switched the weapons to guns, and she squeezed the trigger.
Two hundred rounds spat from the M-61A1 gatling in her port wing.  The 20mm shells ripped into the delta-winged fighter at the wing root and snapped the port wing off.
“Scratch one,” she said, pulling up and doing a quick tail check.  The only thing there was Zulu Two.
Her radar suddenly came online, the jamming disappearing.
“Wild Weasels must’ve got her,” she said over her net to Two, pulling up to two hundred feet.  Three blips were coming at a high speed from on her nose.  She switched back to AMRAAM, locking up the three enemy aircraft and calling out a warning to Zulu Two.
Her own radar warning receivers came alive at that instant.  She began jinking, waiting for the range to close to twenty miles.  Two had not acknowledged the warning, but it was past time to worry about that.
“Fox Three!” she shouted, firing the four AMRAAM missiles.  The four AIM-120 missiles dropped off their racks, engines igniting.  One went ballistic, arcing into the wild blue yonder.    The enemy’s volley arrived without warning.  Amee was surprised by the detonation of two missiles on false images that her centreline ECM pod was putting out.  Another was thrown off by her jinking.
Two was not so lucky.  Two AA-10s impacted his aircraft, turning it into a fireball that slammed into the North Korean countryside.  Amee listened intently for the sound of an emergency radio, knowing in her heart that she wouldn’t hear it.
The seven AMRAAM that had guided had killed all three aircraft.  Amee turned back towards the Sea of Japan, puzzled by the silence on the net.
“This is Zulu Leader to Cobra.  Where’s the party?” she said into her mike.  There was utter silence on the net.
“Okay, my com is obviously out,” she thought to herself, turning towards the Sea of Japan.  Her radar picked up three bogeys to her port, range twenty miles.  She shoved her throttle forward, her IFF querying the targets.
Two were unfriendly.  Amee lit her afterburners, running to the aid of the friendly pilot.  Her eyes detected the three aircraft dogfighting.  The Falcon was outmaneuvering its two Su-27 Flanker opponents, but couldn’t get a true advantage.
Amee announced herself with a long-range Sidewinder shot, the missile shooting off her starboard wing and zipping right after its prey.  The Chinese pilot never knew what happened, having his eyes focused on the Falcon in front of him.  The AIM-9L shot right into the twin Saturn/Lyulka afterburning engines.  The fighter pitched crazily, going into a flat spin.
“See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya,” Amee said joyfully, turning after the startled wingman.  The pilot knew a hopeless situation when he saw one, and dived for the ocean.  Amee, looking at her fuel state, let him go.  She joined up on the F-16, indicating her radio was out.  The pilot nodded, turning towards their rendezvous point.
The KC-10 was orbiting two hundred and fifty miles off the coast of Japan, four F-15Cs and two EF-111 Raven electronics craft orbiting it.  An F-16 was circling a little further off in the distance, obviously counting heads.  Amee slid in behind the KC-10, extending the Falcon‘s new air-to-air refuelling probe.
“Some Pentagon regular sure made a smart decision when they standardized refuelling methods,” she said to herself.  She wasn’t sure they would’ve had time to refuel both fighters by the old boom and receptacle method.  Her own low fuel light had begun blinking just moments ago.  She joined up, feeling a reassuring contact between the probe and drogue.  Fuel began pumping into her tanks, making her fighter slightly heavier.  She took on half tanks and released her fighter from under the tanker.  The other Falcon followed suit, and they headed for Japan.
The flight in was uneventful, and Amee was almost amazed to find herself raising the canopy and taking off her helmet.
The other two members of her flight came dashing up, the concern on their faces evident.
“What took you so long?” the pair asked in unison.
“How long you guys been down?” she asked.
“Around ten minutes.  We killed two of that flight of MiG-29s that tried to bounce us under EMCON,” Captain Bob Knight, Zulu Three, said.
“Not bad.  What happened to the other two?”
“They got the hint that we don’t like party crashers and turned away to find someone else.”
“I bet some officer’s not going to be happy about that,” Amee said happily.
“Where’s Checkmate?”
Amee’s face said it all.
“Did he get out?” Bob asked.
“No.  I think he had a multi-strike, because that was a very large fireball.  I don’t think he even knew what happened, because I never got a change in lockon tone to warn us that we had incoming.  My whole commo set is screwed, because I never heard anything.  I had to land zip lip just a few seconds ago,” Amee said.
“Damn.  Tramp was a great guy,” Bob said.  If so many hadn’t already fallen in this war, he might’ve actually cried.  It was somewhat fortunate but also frightening that their emotions had grown over with scar tissue.
“I’m going to have to get off a line to Max about it.  You know he feels that he must write the family.  We’ll also need a replacement,” she said.
“We’ll probably be incorporated into the squadron here.  They took some pretty stiff losses.  It was the first time a Cub’s ever been used against them.
“Damn.  I’m just glad Max took the time to train us in zip lip during that momentary lull after Hamburg.”
“No doubt.”
“Well, I’d better go find Captain Jackson.  He’s not used to seeing this much death among his friends,” Amee said, resting her helmet on the cockpit’s edge.
“Major, haven’t you heard?” Bob asked.
“No, I haven’t.  What happened to Dodd?”
“Ma’am, Captain Jackson was hit by cannon fire from an Su-27 Flanker.  Before his fighter exploded, he rammed the Cub.  I’ve already recommended him to his commanding officer for the Medal of Honor, posthumously.  He concurred with my opinion, and several other pilots signed the document,” Bob replied.  “That’s too bad, because he had just scored a triple kill.”
Amee felt a great emptiness inside of her.  Dodd had truly been a great guy.  For a moment, she felt like she was almost going to cry.
But then her cold side took over.  Checkmate had been a good guy also.  War was impartial.
Pacific Ocean
1330 hours
“Holy shit,” Todd said from the backseat.
“I’ve got a damn Mainstay radiating, dead ahead, at two hundred and twenty miles.  He just came active, and he’s swept over us,” Todd said.
“Shit!  Shit!  Well, we’re blown,” he said over the intercom, then pressed the com button.  “Eagle One, we’ve got problems.  We’ve just been lit up by a Alpha Five Zero Mainstay.  We’re going to top speed.  Run interference for us,” Isaac said, pulling up even further and shoving the throttle forward.  They would need a tanker alot closer than originally planned.  He concentrated on checking over the fighter while Todd got on the horn to PACAF HQ.
“We’ll have to toss the suckers,” Todd said.
“Roger that.  But first, we’ve got to get past whatever’s up here with the Mainstay.”
“Tallyho!  We’ve got ten bogeys on us, Mudmover!  Am engaging,” Patrica said into her mike.
A small bit of fear clenched Isaac’s stomach.
“Roger that, Eagle,” he said over the net.  He looked out into the wild blue yonder.  “Keep yourself safe, Patricia,” he whispered softly.
The airfield at Subic Bay was bedlam.  Two squadrons of MiG-23 pilots began running towards their aircraft, shouting to each other, faces set and grim.  It looked like the Allies had finally got around to doing something about the Chicom presence at Subic.
Eight F-5Es were taking off to fly point defense on the airfield, their pilots scanning the skies around them.
In the harbor, the Udaloy and Sovremenny-class destroyers went to red alert.  Everyone aboard both ships knewt that they would be prime targets, being very dangerous weapons platforms. They began radiating, their radars seeking a target.
“We’re going to have to do an electronics dump,” Isaac said.  An electronics dump was where a type of radar was selected as a target for the aircraft’s weapons.  The attack computer would then steer the fighter towards that point.
“Forget it, we’re going in for a controlled drop,” Isaac said, hating to make the decision.
“I was afraid you were going to say that,” Todd replied, continuing to watch their air-to-air radar.
Patricia armed her AMRAAM, readying the four missiles for firing.  Eight MiG-23 Floggers had been circling the AWACS aircraft, and they were now coming out to play.  Her pilots had a slight range advantage over these older aircraft, but Patricia also knew there were plenty more were that came from.
“One through four only!” she barked over the net.  There was no need to await confirmation, because all her pilots knew what she meant.  Only the first four Eagles would fire missiles.
“Three and four half?” her section asked.
“Roger!” she answered tersely, laying off the throttle.  The Floggers crossed the imaginary line in the sky and she fired, spreading her missiles over the first four of the enemy fighters.  Her flight got off twelve missiles without a single failure.  The eight MiG-23s never really had a chance, the AIM-120s hitting all eight and blasting them apart.
“Gotcha,” Patricia said to herself, the rush of combat heightening her senses.
“Second flight has the Mainstay!” the second flight leader barked, accelerating and turning away from Patricia and her flight.  The radar craft had a close escort of four MiGs, but these were like pigeons before the hawks.  The four Eagles killed the Mainstay with ease, the flight leader putting one Sidewinder into the craft.
Patricia saw her radar screen painting several targets approaching at high speed and high altitude.  The fighter pilot’s calm came over her.  It was time for battle, and it wasn’t looking like her flight would have the numbers.
Isaac levelled off just above the waters of the Pacific Ocean, Josh flying just off his wing.  Tyrone and Jake had broken off to come in from a different direction.  Isaac had already decreed that he would get the Udaloy while Tyrone dropped on the Sovremenny.
The 2,000-lb bombs were FLIR guided.  That meant they could lock them on with their sensor suite, drop them, and get the hell out of Dodge.  Jake and Josh would run interference with their HARMs and cluster bombs first, then Isaac and Tyrone would make their runs.
The sun was glaring nice and hot into their cockpit, warming it like a greenhouse.  Isaac felt the sweat trickling off his forehead, drawing a ticklish path down his nose.
Todd was making sure everything was going to work as advertised, briefly checking the radar to see if they had any uninvited North Vietmanese guests dropping in.  So far, after the death of the Mainstay, the enemy had been busy with Patricia and her pilots.  Isaac hoped that his love was still safe.
Patricia wrenched the stick over and down, bending the Eagle into the vertical plane for her turn.  Flares dropped under her aircraft, putting out a nice hot target for the AA-8 Aphid.  The missile was fooled by the highly sophisticated flares, exploding close to one.
“Bad news buddy,” she said, rolling inverted and pulling back on the stick to tighten her dive into a loop.  The Gs were brutal, but she had been pulling Gs forever it seemed.
The Lucky Sevens were ruling the skies, having cut their teeth on enemies much more dangerous than these MiG-23s.  It looked like their only limits on kills were going to be fuel and ammo, the first before the other.  Only one F-15 had bought it in the furball, the victim of an unseen assailant.
Patricia came around on the clumsier Flogger, the enemy pilot desperately trying to gain seperation.  She cut the enemy fighter no mercy, pushing the throttle forward to gain more power and energy.  Her turn tightened, and the reticle crept just forward of the extended wings of the MiG.  She flicked to guns and fired a long burst.
The MiG burst into flames from the cockpit aft.
“That’s another crispy critter,” she said to herself, rolling away and finding her wingman’s aircraft.  The pilot had been busy blowing the MiG’s wingman off her tail.  Now he was ready to find himself another kill.
Patricia took a look at their fuel state and shook her head.
“We’ve got to go, Sevens.  We’ve done all we can here,” she said.
The Eagles seperated from their prey with almost practiced ease.  A lucky AA-7 lob from a pursuing MiG-23 caught one of her Eagles, damaging it.  The pilot reported that he had fire lights all across the boards.
“Get out of there then.  We’ll call Air/Sea,” she said.  The pilot nodded, reaching down and pulling his toggles.  The rest of the flight joined up and climbed out, heading for altitude and Japan.
“Shotgun!” Josh shouted, triggering off two HARM missiles.  The AGM-88s shot out from under his aircraft, heading off towards the horizon and their targets, two SA-6 sites placed at the entrance to the bay.
“We’ve got F-5s playing goalkeeper!” Todd shouted in warning.
“Lock ’em up!” Isaac replied.
“Fox Three!”
Four F-5Es had been vectored towards Subic, the ground radars having got a glimmer of something.  Todd had called out the bogeys, so Isaac would fire first.  What his AMRAAM’s missed, Tyrone’s would get.
The four missiles dropped away, four engines lighting.  Isaac knew that they had a good shoot, and concentrated on guiding the missiles while Todd made sure they didn’t get killed by some ground-based threat.  That would suck royally.
Josh and Jake accelerated smoothly, passing them on their way into the bay.  They had done this drill hundreds of times, having popped dozens of radars in Europe.  Missiles rose into the air after them, but they were all early model SAMs that they knew how to avoid.  Jake began looking for ZSU units to shoot with his six Mavericks.  He found one parked on the helicopter pad of the Udaloy.  He locked on the IR warhead of the missile, and depressed the firing trigger.
It was as if that shot had opened the shooting gallery.  Every gun with a line of sight to his aircraft or the front of the bay opened fire.  Men were on the dock pointing up towards his aircraft.  He saw some with tubes mounted on their shoulders.
“Strelas on the ramps, boss,” he said, rolling in on the largest group of men.  Tracers and shellbursts rocked his fighter, as he gently moved the throttle forward to full military power.  His backseater, 2nd Lieutenant Daniel “Zeppelin” Hedger, armed the cluster bombs, punching the attack run into the automatic bomb computer.  They pulled up and tossed the weapons, Jake pitching away from the harbor as soon as the bombs had thumped off the Strike Eagle.
“Tigers high!” Josh shouted.  The first four Tiger IIs had been blown out of the sky by Isaac’s medium-range missiles.  Six others had taken their place, having sneaked in low and popped up to find their prey.
Two of them promptly disappeared in dirty brown fireballs.  It didn’t pay to appear in the reticle of an itchy-fingered SAM commander, especially when you were flying commandeered enemy aircraft.
“I hear that.  Don’t worry about them, Spic,” Isaac said calmly.
“Watch it, Warrior!  You’ve got one diving in you!” Todd warned.  Jake had already seen the diving Tiger and its wingman.  He turned into the attack, the two fighters crossing his nose.  The craft split, one of them going to the left, the other going right.
“I’ve got the left one,” Josh intoned, turning his big fighter after the little jet.  The Vietmanese pilot never saw him coming, as he continued to turn after Jake.  Josh fired off one Sidewinder, watching it find a home in the Tiger’s two engines.  The fighter cartwheeled into the sea.
Isaac rolled in, not trusting the attack computer.  Todd was taking careful aim with the FLIR unit, as they approached the edge of the toss envelope.
Isaac saw Tyrone circling in for his run out of the corner of his eye.  The flak was thick, but not well aimed.  Todd locked on the two bombs, aiming towards the destroyer’s stern.  The computer plotted their pull up point, which was three miles from the ship.  The heavy shellfire from the shore and the two destroyers continued to impact all around them.  Isaac checked the skies once to make sure they weren’t getting jumped, then advanced the throttles full forward.  The Udaloy‘s bow was one bright flash, as its two 3.9-inch main guns blazed away.
“SAM!  SAM!  SAM!” Todd shouted.  Isaac saw the missile coming from the Sovremenny and fought the urge to juke or jink.  He simply punched the chaff button, skidding slightly.  The missile, already partially confused due to his extremely low altitude, went after the metallic strips and hit the sea behind them.
The Strike Eagle rose up sharply.  At the apex of its climb, all four bombs seperated from the aircraft.  Isaac continued pulling over on their back, rolling back level as he did so.
A bright flash and pall of smoke made him look towards the Sovremenny.  He turned just in time to see two bombs piercing the ship’s pristine hull, the other two bombs having been detonated by the CIWS systems.  The bombs had twenty second delay fuses.  Isaac wanted to get a bomb report, so he cirled to starboard to keep the ship visible through the top of his canopy.
Their four bombs had their number thinned by three.  One of the bombs did a horrendous amount of damage as it was detonated, the fragments and blast clearing the Udaloy‘s decks and superstructure.  Circuit breakers were blown from their mountings by this same blast.  The last bomb hit and pierced to the engine room of the vessel.
Tyrone’s two bombs exploded with a roar.  The twin explosions were followed by an even larger one, as the bunkerage of the Sovremenny exploded in flames.  The vessel began to list, her magazines beginning to vent themselves in the great heat.  The missiles and shells arced off over the base, impacting in what was left of the red light districts and bars that served the United States sailors and soldiers that had been stationed at the once great naval base.
“Break Rumbler!” his earphones crackled.  Isaac didn’t hesitate, wracking the fighter over on its wing and pulling the stick back towards his gut.  The Tiger II that had been about to kill him suddenly found itself without a target.  The Vietmanese pilot was a pro, realizing that somebody had obviously warned Isaac and that somebody was probably about to cancel his check.  He turned towards land and lit his afterburners, deciding discretion was definitely the better part of valor.
Tyrone let him go, joining up on Isaac’s wing.
It was at that moment that the sole bomb to hit the Udaloy detonated.  It was a massive detonation, the large amount of explosives buckling the keel.  The ship began to settle with its broken back.
“Gotcha,” Isaac said.  It had been a nice surgical strike, and it looked as if they were getting away with no losses, Jake and Josh forming up behind them.
“Bogeys at angels twenty, closing fast!” Todd said.  Isaac shook his head at himself.  He should’ve know that the enemy would appear as soon as he started thinking they had pulled the mission off.
“I’ve got all four of my AIM-120s,” Tyrone informed him.
“Roger that,” Isaac said with a clipped voice.  Their Eagles wer grossly outnumbered, the odds looking to be sixteen to four.  Things promised to get real interesting, real quick.
“It is with great pleasure that I introduce the United States Naval Air Arm into this little shingding,” a voice filled with grimness said over the radio.  The screen did a little dance, as a cloud of missiles took out their would be assailants.
“What in the hell?” Isaac asked, starting to climb.
“I’m Lt. Josh Harris, of Fighter Squadron Two, the “Bounty Hunters”.  It is with great pleasure that I save some Air Force rear, sir,” the jubilant pilot continued on.  Isaac wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth, or even ask who had sent the F-14s out to save their butts.  He simply thanked his lucky stars and began climbing to stretch what fuel he had.  He hoped the gas cans were fairly close, or he was going to need a towel along with the trip to the bathroom that was beginning to make itself felt.  It was going to be great to kick back with a couple of guys and drink this one away.
1500 hours
Amee continued to pack Dodd’s stuff, trying hard to keep her emotions in check.  It would not do for her to break down in front of these pilots who had just found out that she was now their commanding officer.  Amee picked up a photo that had been lying in the bottom of his footlocker.  She flipped it over, looking at the front.
It was her own graduation picture.  She had looked so happy then.
The pain and remorse came rushing back at her relentlessly.  She turned and quickly walked out, the tears brimming at her eyes.
The sky was beginning to grow overcast, the wind getting slightly chilly.  Amee walked listlessly, without purpose, tears streaming from her eyes.
Her feet led her to a bansai park.  Here she sat down, and began sobbing.
She couldn’t believe that Dodd’s death was affecting her so.  It had to be the cumulative effects of all the deaths since the war’s beginning.  Dodd hadn’t mattered that much to her.  Had he?
The sound of soft footfalls made her turn to look towards the entrance of the small park.  Bob was walking towards her, moving at his normal pace.  Amee could see the concern on his face.
“Are you going to be alright, Virgin?” he asked, sitting beside her and wrapping an arm protectively around her.
“I don’t know what happened to me back there.  Just seeing that picture and realizing he had kept it all this time.  It hit me.  It really hit me right here,” Amee said, pointing to her chest.
“There’s nothing wrong with that, ma’am.  Just proves that we’re all still a little human.  If you didn’t feel some loss, this war wouldn’t be worth fighting.  We might as well have given up,” Bob said.
“I guess it was Captain Jackson and Checkmate both in the same day that got me.”
“I understand.  You forget, I’ve been in for six years.  I understand what it feels like when a good buddy buys it,” Bob replied.  Amee nodded.  Bob had been with the 86th TFW since before the start of the war.  Only twenty-eight of the seventy-six pilots on the roster could claim this distinction.  Amee was one of these, but not in the fullest sense.  She had arrived at Hahn just two weeks before the war started.  At first she hadn’t felt the same sense of loss that the others had when one of the Hahn Hackers’s pilots had been hit and killed.  This had lasted until the death of one of the replacement pilots and her good friend, Captain Jackie Schaefer.
Recent events had just reminded her how close to the heart war could strike.
Misawa AFB
1815 hours
The Eagle’s tires kiss the ground.  The fighter settled down and began decelerating, Isaac playing the brakes with the skill of a concert violinist.  The fighter slowed to taxiing speed, and Isaac turned it down the taxiway.  He breathed out a long sigh, finally glad to have his feet back on the ground.
“I hear you,” Todd replied.  Isaac unsealed the canopy, letting the wind blow into their face.
“Next time High Command calls us up for something…”
“Forget you ever took the call,” Isaac said.
“Is that a direct order?”
“No, it’s a very well concealed threat from me.  I don’t think I’m going to sit down again the rest of the day,” Isaac said.
“Sleep always sounded good to me,” Todd said.  “Especially if I had Major Wilkes to keep me company.”
Isaac simply smiled under his mask at that.
A jeep was waiting for them when they pulled into their hardened shelter.  Isaac stopped the jet and simply lay limp in the seat, taking deep breaths.
“Never again, Todd.  Never again.”
“I hear you.  I hear you.”
“Come on you lazy bums, get the hell out of that jet!” someone shouted from below them.
“Fuuck you,” Isaac and Todd said in unison.
“Come on, you mudmovers, we’ve got a debriefing session to attend.  Headquarters wants to make sure you hit the target,” Patricia continued, coming up the ladder.
“Headquarters can get in this jet and fly out there if they’re that concerned.  I’m headed for the nearest bunk that’s open,” Isaac replied.
“We’ve got orders to report immediately,” Patricia said.  Isaac could see that she hadn’t even changed out of her own flight suit, and she and her squadronmates had been down a full twenty minutes more than Isaac and company.
Isaac got up out of the seat slowly, stretching.  He set his helmet and all other extraneous gear in the cockpit.  Patricia was waiting for him as soon as his feet hit the ground.
“Anyone watching, Todd?” she asked.
“No ma’am,” Todd replied from his perch up in the cockpit.  Isaac didn’t even have time to ready himself for the embrace, Patricia wrapping her arms tight around him.  She then proceeded to kiss him, a fierce brief joining.  The seperated and stepped back from each other.
“Let’s get out of here, Colonel Young and Captain Wilkes,” she said.  Todd joined them, dropping down behind Isaac.  They started walking out towards the Hummer, all three starting to show signs of fatigue.
The drive over to the base headquarters was quiet and short.  Isaac hauled his tired body out of the HUMVEE, stretching his legs once again.
The front door to the headquarters building opened, and out stepped a major.  He stood at attention and saluted all three of them.  All three of them returned the salute, and looked on in amazement as the major opened the door.
“If you would follow me, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, stepping in and starting to stride out in front of them.
“Uh, Major Corbett, what exactly is going on?” Isaac asked.
“Sir, General Kern is here to present you with a Silver Star.  A satellite pass over the Philippines an hour and a half ago confirmed that both vessels are disabled for a very long time.  The Udaloy-class ship has settled to the bottom on its side.  The other vessel is still ablaze, and does not appear to be salvageable.  Major and Captain Wilkes will be given the Distinguished Flying Cross.”
Isaac could not believe what Corbett had just told him.  This would be the eighth award for gallantry he had been awarded.  The only major award he did not have now was the Medal of Honor.  He was still in his state of shock when they arrived at General Kern’s office.  Major Corbett preceded them, entering and announcing, “Colonel Isaac Young, Major Patricia Wilkes, and Captain Todd Wilkes.”
Isaac stepped into the office and immediately braced to attention, his arm snapping up in salute.
“At ease, Colonel Young,” General Kern said, returning his salute.  “You act like you’re here to get a reprimand instead of an award,” the General said good-naturedely.
Isaac never had gotten used to being around brass.  His eight years in the Air Force had been spent flying and nothing else.  It was kind of fortunate that the war had come along, since he had been slated for a ground assignment within the next couple of months.  Isaac could not stand being grounded.  Nick Loftman had called him the ‘last of the true warriors’.  All I care about is flying and fighting.  He paused for a second, glancing sideways at the brunette to his left.  And a certain young woman.  He was in the good company of fellow warriors.
Patricia let her shoulders fall down from the attention position, standing at parade rest in her flight suit.  She just hoped no one would notice that she was shaking.  She would rather have faced ever anti-aircraft gun in the enemy’s arsenal than this group of generals, colonels, and press reporters.  She didn’t belong here.  She was just a lucky pilot, not a good one.  There were plenty of pilots better than her in the Sevens.  Hell, there were better pilots than her even in her squadron.  Why was she standing in this general’s office about to receive a medal?
She started to dig her nails into her palm, not noticing the pain in her nervousness.
A glance out of the side of her eye showed Isaac standing there, as still as a rock.  His face was relaxed, showing no tension.  It totally amazed her that he could be so calm.
Yeah, but he’s got plenty of awards under his belt, she thought.  He doesn’t need to be worried.  All of her awards had been presented to her by the commanding officer of the 777th, Sheen Loftman.  It was quite easy to face him.
She felt a calming effect come over her.  Hell, she must belong here if she was in the office with Isaac and Todd.
“Colonel Young, I have become quite familiar with your exploits of the past three months.  I realize that you are no stranger to medals by now, so I won’t bore you with some long flowery speech.  I will simply present you with this medal,” Kern said, stepping up and pinning the Silver Star on Isaac’s chest.
“Thank you, General Kern,” Isaac said, as the four reporters in the room took numerous pictures.  The story would have to be kept under wraps until after Operation Apache, but it would still make a good human interest story.
“Now then, to Major Wilkes.  I must say that your beauty matches your fighting skills, Major.  It is my pleasure to present this medal to you,” Kern said.
“Thank you, sir.”
“And now you, Captain Wilkes.  From what I understand, you are the best thing that ever happened to Colonel Young.  From the third day of the war when you were both teamed up, you have done nothing but cost our enemies death and destruction.  I feel that you yourself are often underrated by everyone except Colonel Young.  I am pleased to present you this medal, in appreciation for what you and your pilot have done.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The General stepped back and saluted.  All three of them returned the salute in unison.
“I think you all want to get some rest, unless I am mistaken.  I dismiss you,” the General said.
“Thank you, sir,” Isaac replied, saluting once again.  Kern returned it, and Isaac about-faced and walked out of the room.  Patricia and Todd followed.
They were silent until they got into the Hummer.
“Where the hell are we going now?” Patricia asked.
“Anywhere but here,” Todd replied tiredely.
“The barracks it is,” Patricia said.
“I’ll be glad when this is over,” Isaac said.
“You’re not the only one.”

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