FALCON DRIVER LIEUTENANT COLONEL Caroline “Kitty” Edwards had to double check her targeting computer. Just a moment ago she had delivered a 1000 pound JDAM on a Russian BTR. The doomed vehicle had made its way toward one of a string of Army observation outposts along the Hudson River. As she pulled up and away from the river and looped around to the west, the targeting computer chirped to tell her that all targets had vanished.
She ignored the dizzying blur of roads, trees, and buildings outside her canopy as she rolled the powerful single engine ground attack fighter into a hard right-banking turn.
There you are… She had no trouble spotting the burned-out husk of the BTR belching black smoke into the crisp autumn sky. Likewise, the remains of two transport trucks parked next to the wrecked personnel carrier were easy to see. She glanced down at the blank HUD.
“What the hell?” She tried to lock-on manually but the damn computer fought her—it insisted there was nothing there to target.
“Joker Lead, this is Four—I just lost my targeting computer!” said the voice of her wing man, Captain Tom Rivers, callsign “Geek”.
“Lead, this is Six—I got a glimpse of some funky interference or something before mine crapped out, too…”
“Lead copies all—Jokers, try to lock on manually,” Edwards commanded. In frustration, she snapped her F-16E into a hard roll and roared over the Hudson, drawing some small arms fire in the process. She hoped someone down there would target her plane, so the computer would have to recognize a threat.
“Joker Lead, Two, we still got tone up here,” said the voice of her squadron XO, Major Wally Hendricks. Wally’s six Falcons were operating north of her position, trying to counteract the Russian advance.
On their way into the fight, Edwards had seen the Russians pouring out of tunnels halfway up Manhattan island. She knew the main force of Americans was anchored at the Holland tunnel where General Stapleton had set up his HQ. She had split her fighter-wing and sent half with Wally. She tasked Wally with stopping the Russian flanking maneuver and protecting the flank of the American ground troops along the Hudson. Her planes would attempt to defend General Stapleton’s HQ.
“Copy that Hangman,” she grunted. She rolled her fighter to the left. She switched frequencies to contact the American ground forces and glanced down at the scrambling Russians below.
“Army, this is Joker Lead—all our targeting computers just tanked. I think the Russians just applied some jamming gear…”
Before she heard a reply, the digital instrument displays in the cockpit blinked and jiggled before restarting. Every alarm in her cockpit went off, creating a confusing symphony of electronic wails and whistles. “What the hell?” she said.
“Geek! What happened? My screens are all—” a sickening fear settled in her stomach as she pushed the stick hard over and the plane did not respond. One of the louder alarms alerted her to the fact that the powerful General Electric F110 turbo fan engine that propelled her fighter through the skies had flamed out. Without the computer guidance and electronic control system, without the power generated by the engine, she had no way to control speeding fighter. Her ailerons and flaps were all control electronically—Edwards’ F-16 took on the flying characteristics a large gray brick.
She fought the rising panic that was welling up inside her as the plane began to wobble in its flight path. She kept trying to restart the engine and the targeting computer. All the while she frantically called out over the radio for anyone who could hear: “This is Joker Lead, I’ve lost all power, lost all electronics, lost all controls. I’m going in! Mayday, mayday, mayday!”
Edwards knew by the stunning silence that either her radio was not transmitting or she was not able to hear the replies of her fellow pilots. Either way, a cold, calculating part of her brain—well-trained over her long distinguished career as a pilot—told her that she only had a few seconds before she had to pull the ring and eject.
Her crippled F-16 started to roll to the left and sailed over the Hudson River, heading downtown. The moment before she looked down at her dead instruments for the final time, she saw something odd sticking off the top of a skyscraper. It looked like the biggest radio tower she’d ever seen. There were all kinds of equipment and people swarming around its base. It looked like it had been slapped on top of the building—recently. The jet wobbled in the air as her computer’s oddly accented female voice whined, “Pull up, pull up, pull up, pull up…”
She tore her eyes off the strange radio tower and tried one more time to start the engine. A gust of wind buffeted the dying aircraft and it began a slow steady spiral down towards the ground. Instinct told her now was her last chance. She reached down between her legs and grabbed the divided yellow-black metal ring. She pulled up and back as hard as she could.
Edwards felt more than heard a series of loud bangs. There was a bright flash on both sides of her peripheral vision. The next thing she knew she felt the cold wind outside her aircraft slap her in the face.
Edwards felt like her entire body was being pressed down through the seat of her flight suit as her back took the brunt of the force involved in the ejection process. She watched in disbelief as the cockpit fell away from her in a heartbeat and then all she heard was the roar of the wind rushing past her helmet. For a split second she was completely weightless, suspended at the top of her ejection arc, yet not quite falling. The seat flew off, pulled by its own parachute. Her parachute opened and after a smooth jerk, she found herself drifting over the surreal landscape below. Her back throbbed and her neck felt like she’d been in a car accident, but she was alive. The same could not be said for her plane.
Edwards gasped as the bitter wind abused her face. The parachute twisted and she was able to see the burning ruins of what was once the picturesque New York City skyline. The blanket of smoke hanging over the city went straight up and then ballooned out in all directions. Looking down, she saw tiny Russians on the eastern bank of the Hudson scrambling to get out of the way as her plane careened down towards their position uncontrolled. She smiled, secure in the knowledge that even though she’d lost her plane, she would at least take out another vehicle that belong to the Russian invaders.
Drifting east through the smoke of a city on fire, she could see that odd radio tower again. It looked so out of place. There were definitely people scurrying around the base and even more down on the street. She could see several military vehicles down there. What the hell is that? Is that what killed my bird?
A shot rang out from the streets below and her heart skipped a beat. She glanced down over the tops of her boots at the ground a few hundred feet below. She was going to land in Russian occupied territory. There were several figures milling about, watching her descent with some excitement. From her vantage point, she could tell they were all armed with rifles. Spotlights lit up the smoke around her as she drifted into the noxious clouds swirling through the concrete canyon of downtown Manhattan.
“Oh, this is not good…”
GENERAL STAPLETON STOOD ON the embankment with his hands on his hips and surveyed the damage caused by the repulse of the first Russian attack. His command center had barely survived. His headquarters was in a smoldering ruins, he had lost about 20 good men, and the Holland Tunnel entrance was completely destroyed. While that prohibited the Russians for making another assault in this direction, it also stopped him from launching his own planned assault on downtown New York City.
The Air National Guard had done one thing and that had been to put an effective and immediate stop to the first Russian advance on his position. After that, it turned into a comedy of errors.
One of the F-16s had soared over the Russian lines blowing up vehicles and dispersing troops. As it lined up for another attack, however, its wings had started to wobble, flares started spitting out the things ass and then it slowly started to spiral in towards the Russian position like a wounded duck. General Stapleton assumed at first it was just the pilot showing off. He was, after all, a simple infantryman at heart.
The maneuver certainly looked fancy enough to be some sort of stunt, to his eyes. He saw the pilot eject and watched as the airplane soared straight down and crashed into the Russian lines. He knew then something had gone terribly wrong, because it wasn’t the only airplane to do that. He’d watched in horror as three of the six F-16s fell out of the sky. It was as if they had suddenly given up the will to fly. Almost as soon as the airstrike had begun, it was over.
The remaining three F-16s circled well west of the Hudson and one of the pilots had explained they’d lost all contact with the other fighters after electronics failures had been reported. The last thing Stapleton had heard, the lead pilot—the first to go down—had radioed in some kind of strange Russian jamming that not only affected radar, but the planes electronics as well.
“That’s one hell of a jamming device, to be able to the knock planes out of the sky like that…” he muttered to himself. Over his shoulder, he called, “I saw a parachute in the smoke over there. We get the pilot back?”
He heard the major radio that question up to the remaining F-16s that were circling the Hudson like angry hornets. One of their own had gone down—their squadron leader, no less—into enemy held territory. General Stapleton knew exactly how he’d feel under the same circumstances. Something had to be done. Now.
He focused his binoculars across the river to the two ferries and a handful of smaller boats that were lined up on the docks on the far side. It looked to him like the Russians were preparing to cross the river. Damn fools.
“Now that,” said Colonel Vinsen as he crested the top of the embankment, “is just plain crazy.” He stood next to Stapleton looking across the river with his own binoculars. “It’s suicidal. They know we hold this bank. Why the hell are they trying to send infantry across? They have no air support.”
“It may not matter,” muttered Stapleton, eyes still on the boats across the river. He could just barely make out the figures milling around on the docks. “Whatever knocked our planes out of the sky, the Air Force hasn’t been able to get past the river. If our planes can’t get in there, we may as well not even have them.”
“I’ll have the men deploy at the positions you marked out,” said Vinsen. He lowered his field glasses. “Armor should be returning soon. I’ll have them positioned back across the interstate and out of range of anything Ivan might have.”
“Poor man’s artillery,” grunted Stapleton.
Stapleton nodded his consent. “Well, let’s bring the division up and prepare for the assault. I want the bulk of our forces to the north. We lost three outposts up there—I’m not in a mood to let the sons of bitches get away with it.”
“Yes, sir. I’ve already dispatched the cavalry. They’ll loop around to the west and come in from behind to secure what’s left of those tunnels the Russians used earlier.”
“Very well.” Stapleton lowered his own field glasses and turned to climb down off of the embankment. “Have our top recon squad form up by the tunnel entrance.” He glanced up at the smoke filled sky. “Those pilots saved our asses—the least we can do is go rescue…” he turned around. “Who was in that plane?”
“Uh,” said Major Winston. She looked at a sheet of paper in her hands, smeared with blood. “Lieutenant Colonel Caroline Edwards. Fifteen-year veteran, three tours in the Sandbox. She’s decorated, sir.”
“Jesus H. Christ,” muttered the general. “We’re sure as hell not letting her stay over there.”
“No, sir,” growled the Colonel. “I know just who to send.”
“Do it. I want us in and out, clear? We’ll hit ‘em with the tanks and make a fine diversion.” He handed the field glasses off to one of his staff and then called out, “Lieutenant, get me NORAD on the line. I need to talk to the President.”
There was a good chance, he worried, that if the Russians somehow managed to break through his lines, they’d pour into eastern New York and have free reign in the state. He’d been out of the loop for too long and didn’t know how many—if any—units had arrived from overseas. He also didn’t know who the hell was in charge and who would be sending reinforcements his way. However, he knew that he had to swallow his pride and contact that S.O.B. claiming to be the president if he was going to get anything else done offensively.
Damn all politicians, he thought to himself darkly.
As the lieutenant returned with a sat phone in hand, a shout went up from one of the sentries on top of the embankment.
“Ships! We got us a fleet, out there, sir!”
“Of course we do,” Stapleton growled. He remounted the embankment grumbling about old soldiers and bad knees. Slightly winded but standing astride the top of the river wall once more, he looked in the direction that the soldier was pointing. Sure enough, off in the distance on the horizon several shapes appeared. Big ships.
The question was, whose were they? Stapleton grabbed his field glasses again and focused. They were definitely warships, he could tell by the silhouettes. Those were no commercial vessels. They were long, lean, and looked menacing. The distance was still too great for him to be able to tell what flag they flew. He hadn’t heard anything about any Navy assets arriving on scene, but then again, he hadn’t really had very meaningful conversations with the man claiming to be president, either.
Stapleton chewed his cigar. “Anybody see any flags?”
A half dozen or so soldiers that were standing on top of the embankment responded in the negative. “They’re still too far out, sir.”
Behind him on the ground behind the embankment, the major’s response wafted up. “Yes, sir?”
“Scrounge up some radio gear, I don’t care how you find it—we got us a fleet of about ten… no, twelve ships out there on the horizon. South-southeast. See if you can raise them.” He chewed his unlit cigar in silence for another few moments. “And while you’re at it, see if find out if we have any other friends in the area available to assist us. Air Force, Navy, Marines… Hell, I’ll even take a Coast Guard cutter at this point!”
“Understood, sir.” Winston replied.
Stapleton focused his attention on the largest of the vessels on the horizon. It had to be one big son of a bitch. For the first time in his professional life, General Thaddeus Stapleton prayed to God the Navy was on the way.