Captain Langdon, North Point One
“North Point One, wind is two two one at three one. Runway two three, cleared for takeoff.”
“Cleared for takeoff, North Point One. Thank you, San Salvacion.” I advance the throttles to full and start the 767 on its acceleration down the runway at San Profetta airport. The plane lifts off the runway and the ground shrinks below us as we reach our assigned cruising altitude of 36,000 feet. Once there, we perform checklists and flip switches to ensure that the aircraft is capable of maintaining this altitude safely. Finally, we call San Salvacion to verify that we are at cruising altitude. My co-pilot in the cushy seat to my right calls our fighter escort:
“Dagger One, Dagger Two, North Point One. Everything’s good on our end.”
“Copy that, North Point One. We’ve got you covered.”
“North Point One copies all. Thanks.”
With that, our jobs are reduced to babysitting the autopilot. I turn on lights on the flight deck, and around the aircraft interior. Taking off my harnesses and my headset, I give control of the aircraft to the co-pilot. I stand up and leave the cockpit. Immediately I look for the aircraft commander.
“Sir, the aircraft is in a normal state. We’re at flight level three six zero, bearing three zero five, airspeed four zero five knots. We should be in Oured around eighteen hundred local. Daggers One and Two are covering us.”
“Thank you, Captain. Good work.”
Leaving him, I go to the lav outside the cockpit and take a short pee break before making coffee and returning to the cockpit.
Outside, the ground turns from San Salvacion soil to Delarussian soil. The clouds pull in with their rolls and their dips, providing a white ground just below us. The sun is low, and the sky becomes a fiery shade of orange.
But you wouldn’t know that from looking inside the plane. The white lights and walls and carpet and lamps and seats and screens make this aircraft seem like a giant floating city. Which it is. It’s the temporary residence of William Hunt, the President of North Point. Here is his command center, the home for his family, his war room, his office, and his transport. Which I fly.
I enter the cockpit and sit down, handing the coffee to my copilot. I check the instruments. The engines, fuel, and mechanical systems look good. The lights are on appropriately, the autopilot is holding the attitude well, and the radios and navigation are well tuned. I have nothing to do but to sit here while the aircraft follows the pre-programmed course to Oured.
In forty-five minutes, the sun has set and we are handed off to Erusean air traffic controllers. My co-pilot goes on his break, informing the commander of the aircraft’s state. Meanwhile, I turn off the lights on the flight deck only.
The sky outside, instead of being simply a black reflection of the aircraft’s interior, takes on a third dimension turns into a dark blue with a white glow. The ground is clearly visible now; we’ve passed the earlier storm system. Inside the cockpit, the navigation, attitude, and engineering screens cast a dull light against everything else. It makes me feel like my corner of the aircraft is bigger than it really is.
My co-pilot comes back.
“Hey, Langdon. How are things?”
“Same as earlier, only now we’ve just entered the Strait. We’re still on Wielvakian ACC now, and Dagger flight is still with us.”
“Cool,” he says lazily as he shuffles back into his seat.
The radio comes to life.
“Unidentified aircraft in the vicinity of waypoint GEFEE, change course immediately. You are approaching North Point air force aircrafts and you will be shpt down if you do not comply.”
The cockpit telephone rings. Nick answers it.
“Cockpit…yeah, we just heard on radios, what do you suggest we do…heading to two seven zero, climb to flight level four zero zero. Thanks.” He hangs up. “Well, Captain, we’re getting bounced by two unidentified bogeys closing fast from the north. They want us to turn to two seven zero and climb to flight level four zero zero while Dagger One engages.”
On cue, the escort pilot to our right flies his F-15 into the night. Nick adjusts our heading and altitude.
I hear a gunshot outside the cockpit, then a brief firefight. Another gunshot finds its mark outside our door. I can hear our security guard collapse.
My pulse rises as I hear the radio again, this time from Dagger One. He is shot down. Dagger Two breaks formation and goes to engage the fighters.
I stand up and follow procedures to barricade the cockpit. My hand shakes, as I make sure the door is locked.
Too late. The lock is shot and the door flies open, revealing a team of three armed men wearing combat fatigues. My legs feel weak, and I feel out of breath.
The one furthest back raises a suppressed pistol to eye level
Wielvakian Air Force Observation Post, Alterra, Wielvakia
Wielvakian Area Control Center (Major Charles Whitman): …And once you reach flight level two four zero, contact Brunies Center on one three five decimal six. Take care, sir. North Point One, Wielvakian ACC. Squawk ident.
Belkair 2921: One three five point six, Belkair twenty-nine twenty-one. Thank you.
Wielvakian ACC (Maj. Whitman): North Point One, hello? Wielvakian ACC. Squawk ident if you can hear me.
Air Wielvakia 6775: Wielvakian ACC, Air Wielvakia six seven seven five with you, climbing to flight level one eight zero.
Wielvakian ACC (Maj. Whitman): North Point One, do you read me? Air Wielvakia six seven seven five, hello. Climb and maintain flight level two four zero, caution the Boeing seven three seven at your…twelve o’clock high one five miles. North Point One, if you can hear me on this frequency, squawk ident.
Colonel Wilson Scott (walking over to Whitman’s scope): Hey Whitman, what’s goin’ on over here?
Maj. Whitman: North Point One just fell off my radar.
Col. Scott: Oh really? What happened?
Maj. Whitman: It was there one second and gone the next. I don’t…I can’t contact it on this frequency. I’m gonna try the emergency frequencies. (changes two switches on his console)
Wielvakian ACC (Maj. Whitman): North Point One, if you can hear me on this frequency, squawk seven six zero zero ident and contact me on one one niner decimal niner two five. This is Wielvakian ACC.
Col. Scott: Come on, man, come on…
Wielvakian ACC (Maj. Whitman): *sigh* Osea West seven eighty-six, Wielvakian ACC.
Osea West 786: Osea West seven eighty-six here. Go ahead.
Wielvakian ACC (Maj. Whitman): Osea West seven eighty-six, do you have visual on any traffic anywhere between your…twelve o’clock to your three o’clock?
Osea West 786: Wielvakian ACC, stand by. (pause) Osea West seven eighty-six, we have a traffic quite a ways away at our… two o’clock, he’s higher than us.
Wielvakian ACC (Maj. Whitman): Roger, and about how far is “quite a ways away”?
Osea West 786: Uh, I’d say about – fifteen to twenty miles.
Wielvakian ACC (Maj. Whitman): Osea West seven eighty-six, Wielvakian ACC. Thank you. Air Wielvakia six seven seven one – excuse me, six seven seven five, climb and maintain flight level three zero zero. Thanks.
Col. Scott: What are we going to do now?
Maj. Whitman: I’m going to keep verifying that that’s where North Point One is, then I’ll call Percy and see what he wants to do.
Col. Scott: Ok. Let me know if you need anything. (Walks away)
Maj. Whitman: Mm-hmm… (picks up telephone beside his console, dials a number and waits) This is Major Charles Whitman from the Wielvakian Air Force Observation Post in Alterra, Wielvakia. Am I speaking to the Lightfoot?
Lieutenant Carter Benson (OMDF Lightfoot): Yes, this is the Lightfoot. What did you need, Major?
Maj. Whitman: Lieutenant, I need to speak with the Captain. It’s an emergency.
Lt. Benson: Roger, sir, one moment please, sir… (picks up another telephone) Captain, I’ve got a Wielvakian Air Force Major who says he needs to talk with you urgently.
Captain Alexander Breckenridge: Go ahead… (his telephone rings) This is Captain Breckenridge of the OMDF Lightfoot.
Maj. Whitman: Cap’n Breckenridge, this is Major Charles Whitman of the Wielvakian Air Force Observation Post in Alterra, Wielvakia. I need you to do me a favor. The North Point Air Force craft North Point One has disappeared off of my radar in your approximate location and isn’t responding. I need you to check to see if there’s any Boeing seven six sevens in your area around thirty-six thousand feet. If you find one, please notify me as well as your superiors, please.
Capt. Breckenridge: Will do, Major. Thank you very much.
Maj. Whitman: I’m sending a callback number to you, keep calling us with updates. Thanks. (Hangs up, then dials another number) General Percy?
General Walter Percy: Yes? What is it?
Maj. Whitman: General Percy, North Point One just fell off my radar. Stopped squawking, isn’t replying to verbal. I can’t find it, but a pilot in the area has a visual on him. I’ve also got an Osean Maritime Defense Force submarine in the area looking for it, they’ll call us – Oh wait, General, we’ve got ACARS data on the plane, it’s heading North, in the approximate location of the sub.
Gen. Percy: This isn’t good. How long has it been missing?
Maj. Whitman: About ten minutes now.
Gen. Percy: What’s this business about an Osean sub?
Maj. Whitman: The Osean Maritime Defense Force submarine Lightfoot was in the area, I called them to see if either they or the OADF could track it for us. They said they’ll keep calling us with updates.
Gen. Percy: Ok, thank you, Whitman. Keep me updated on everything that’s going on down there, I’ll call Northern and scramble some interceptors.
Colonel Jack "Odysseus" Cotton, War Eagle One
I’m showerin’ in my room when someone knocks at the door. Why the hell would you knock now, can’t you hear I’m in the shower? I shut the water off, then dry myself with a towel.
“Odysseus, you in there?”
It’s my wingman, Donny Browning. He’s calling me by my TAC name. What does he want?
“Yeah! What’s going on, Thorsten?” I call him by his TAC name.
“General’s orders. We have to intercept a North Point jet ASAP.”
Finally, we’ve got some action. I’m sick and tired of hanging around on the ground or taking nuggets up for training. I want to fight something.
It’s a damn good thing I was done with my shower, because I suit up and grab my helmet and gear from my room, leaving in a record-breaking five minutes. I run along the hallways, out the barracks door, and to the hangar where my plane and Thorsten’s plane live. The home of the mighty thirty-fifth fighter squadron. General Sand is standing beside a bulletin board that’s pulled up beside my plane’s nose. Him, Thorsten, and a few other guys are standing there.
When I stroll up, Sand begins talking.
“All right, let’s get started. We’re pressed for time, so listen up. The North Point One carrying the President of North Point went missing about twenty minutes ago north northwest of waypoint GEFEE, here. Now, transponders on the aircraft are off, and neither the aircraft itself nor its fighter escort is responding to voice calls or cockpit calls. We believe that the fighters were splashed by someone or something, so be careful out there. The Alterra control center pulled some strings, and a passenger liner in the area had a visual on it for a while. An Osean sub, the Lightfoot, also tracked it briefly heading north at forty angels. Your objective is to establish contact with the North Point One and escort it back here for landing. You will be in communications primarily with the Lightfoot, but use the ACARS protocol to communicate messages back here. Any aircraft out there that’s not the North Point One or any other passenger liner is fair game unless they declare their safe intentions. Any questions?”
“None.” Thorsten says.
“All right, guys. Wheels up in twenty, try to intercept it before it gets too far. You’re under VFR as soon as you’re wheels up.”
With that, he leaves, and we get a brief report from the crew chief. We’ve been given five hundred rounds of ammo as well as four missiles: two radar-guided, and two heat seekers. We also have six hours’ fuel for a three hour mission. Well, that’s stupid, the extra weight would slow us down. The Chief argues that the flight out would consume fuel at high speeds.
Thorsten and I don our helmets just as the sun sets. We fist bump each other, then climb into our individual cockpits. I get seated in the space and close the canopy. I’ll be in this cockpit for the next three hours. I freaken love it in here. This is my room, and I don’t mind that others might find it cramped. I know where everything is, and I enjoy feeling the control I have over the aircraft all the time. I get harnessed and begin takeoff checklists. Mechanically, I make sure the batteries and screen are on, the lights are set appropriately, and the engines are ready to start. Instrumentally, I set the autopilot, navigation, and radios. I lower takeoff flaps and then test my ammo.
“Radio check, War Falcon One to War Falcon Two. You online yet?”
“Roger, War Falcon One. All set to start up engines here.”
“Roger. I’ll get clearance.” I switch to the Ground radio. “Northern Ground, War Falcon flight, requesting engine startup and taxi to the active with Oscar.”
“War Falcon One, Northern Ground, good evening. Establish ACARS link, cleared to start up, taxi to and hold short of runway two seven via taxiway alpha alpha one. Contact Tower one one niner four five when ready.”
“Cleared to taxi to the active, two seven, via alpha alpha one. Tower on one one niner four five when ready. War Falcon One.
“Thorsten, you’re in charge of ACARS. Start up, taxi to two seven as normal. Tower on one one niner four five, as normal.”
“Roger, Odysseus. Thorsten copies all.”
I start the engines and throttle forward to the ramp, then make my way to the taxiway. Thorsten follows me to the runway from there.
“Northern Tower, War Falcon flight holding short two seven, with Oscar.”
“War Falcon flight, wind two two three at five. Runway two seven, cleared for takeoff. You’re VFR as soon as you’re wheels up. Be safe.”
“Cleared for takeoff, War Falcon flight. Thanks…Thorsten, let’s go.”
I push the throttles to full forward and the afterburners connect. My plane accelerates down the runway, and I’m pushed back into my seat. I hope Thorsten’s still following me. Once my speed hits one seventy, I pull back on the stick and keep pitching until I am at forty-five degrees of pitch. I pull up the gear and flaps, and the plane seems to agree with me that we are now in kill mode.
“Northern Tower, be advised. War Falcon flight is shutting off transponders and lights for stealthy approach,” I say.
“War Falcon flight, Northern Tower. Stealth mode approved. Frequency change approved. Careful of the ADEZ, we can’t ID you as a friendly.”
“War Falcon flight copies all. See you in a bit…Thorsten, you know the drill.”
“Roger, Odysseus. Let’s do this.”
With our lights and radar off, we climb to an altitude of sixty angels. As if I didn’t already love this jet, it’s built to hunt and kill at such altitudes. The best part is knowing that I’m a pilot built the same way. Same with Thorsten. I think we’re about the closest team at Northern, if not the entire Air Force. We were together all throughout the War, and it seems that we’re finally back in it together again.
At sixty thousand feet, we can’t go quite as fast as we could at lower altitudes, but we do get traffic free skies and zero radar detection from any country we fly through. We also get a cruising time of an hour in dark cockpits over Nordland and Fato before we finally make it to sea.
“Thorsten, feet wet.”
“Roger, feet wet. ACARS transmission one.”
“Oh man, I forgot you were still doing that.”
“I know. So did I.” He pauses. “What do you think happened?”
“It sounds like an obvious hijacking, with some unknown fighters guarding our prize. But what country or terrorist organization would do something like this, I wonder. Falcons of Dawn? World With No Boundaries?”
“I don’t think it’s a country. No one’s got bad blood with North Point. Must be terrorists. But who has fighters?”
“Must be something Usean, because I don’t think they’d be able to launch fighters otherwise.”
“You ready for some tango?”
“I’m ALWAYS ready to tango. I’m afraid for you, old man. You haven’t been sharp since the War.”
That little prick.
“Ah, and that’s where you’re wrong. I’m sharp as a tack. How about a competition?”
“No need to get divisive, Cotton. I think we work better as one flight than two separate pilots.”
“That we agree on. All right.”
I check the plane, the entire world of the plane’s systems, residing on the panel a forearm’s length away from me. Everything’s right where I left it. The world outside, however, is dark and dead.
“Odysseus, got an ACARS from base. They want you to contact the Lightfoot on one two zero decimal one.”
“Roger. Thanks.” I dial the frequency into my radio, and talk to the Lightfoot.
“Osean Maritime Defense Force submarine Lightfoot, this is War Falcon One of the Wielvakian Air Force thirty-fifth fighter squadron, checking in.”
“War Falcon One, Lightfoot. We’re not tracking you.”
“Yeah, we’re going for a stealthy interception and we’d rather not disclose where we are. Where’s the North Point One?”
“War Falcon One, the North Point One is twenty miles north of FJORD at flight level four zero zero. We’re expecting it to be flanked by two MiG-29’s on either side. Expect no friendly intentions from any aircraft.”
“War Falcon One copies all. Keep us updated. Thanks.”
“Ok, Thorsten. Here’s the plan. My guess is that if they wanted to kill the President, they’d have just crashed the plane already. But this seems like they intend to keep him as a hostage. The MiGs are the trigger-happy armed guards. We need to draw them away first. I think we’d have a chance if we establish superiority over them at our current altitude. We’ll have the altitude advantage, and they’ll be at our mercy.”
“So how do we draw them away?”
“Hopefully we’ll make one of ‘em nervous, and have ourselves a little two on one if one of them falls behind. We should also turn on transponders at that point to alert the Lightfoot of our location, since the fighters will already know we’re on top of ‘em by then.”
“What happens if they kill North Point One?”
“Then we make a mess of ‘em. The idea is to remain dominant and in control of the situation until the fighters peel off. If not, we’ll kill ‘em from up here and force the North Point One to land somewhere else.”
“I don’t know, this seems like we’re avoiding direct confrontation. But I guess if there’s hostages involved, there isn’t another choice. I’ll follow your lead, but don’t prove me right.”
“Roger.” I ready the plane for action, making sure the missiles are ready and the radar is all-seeing. In twenty minutes, we get a radar tally-ho on the three of them, and a visual five minutes later.
“Thorsten, get on ACARS, tell them we’re engaging.” I switch frequencies. “Lightfoot, War Falcon One, we have visual. Will relay position to you in ten minutes.”
“Roger, War Falcon One.”
Right on time, one of the contacts on radar breaks off and turns around to engage us. The poor sod.
“Thorsten, you seeing this?”
“Yeah, man. Do we dump him?”
“Hang on.” Using the emergency frequency, I get out a surrender request.
“Unidentified aircraft in the vicinity of waypoint DYSTO, you are trespassing. Change course to one eight zero and turn your lights off if you comply.”
No response. No lights off. The MiG gets closer.
“This is the Wielvakian Air Force, issuing your last warning. Failure to comply will result in the use of deadly force.”
No response. Oh yeah, it’s go time!
“War Falcon Two, permission to fire. Let’s see if you’re as sharp as you say you are.”
“War Falcon Two, fox three.”
I turn around in my seat and look at his plane. His missile drops off of his wing and rockets away from him, down to the MiG. I see the missile contact the MiG and leave a brilliant ball of light.
“Thorsten, splash one.”
“Kill confirmed. Yee haw!”
The dumb bastard MiG pilot that was covering the North Point One breaks off and turns to engage us. He could have just ended it there, but I guess that’s his mistake. The skies belong to the strong.
“Odysseus, I’ve got another tango heading towards us. I’ll move up to cover the North Point One, you waste this guy.”
Thorsten’s plane slips ahead of mine, and he descends to meet with the North Point One.
I arm a radar-guided missile and line up my mark to the radar signature of the MiG. He’s got no clue what he’s flying into.
The missile lock-on sound goes off in my helmet, and I release the missile from its captive bonds. It rushes ahead and down, right into the engines of my adversary. His plane is trashed, but he bails out.
“Odysseus, splash one. But the guy bailed out.” Switch of the frequencies. “Lightfoot, War Falcon One. Two enemy MiG-29’s destroyed, one downed enemy airman. Turning on transponders now.”
I turn on my transponder, and Thorsten follows ten seconds later.
“Lightfoot copies all. Thank you, War Falcon. A bit of news for you, the Belkan Air Force thirteenth fighter squadron has mobilized and are heading towards you. They’re going to negotiate a landing at Port Autumn Air Force Base in Wellow. You are ordered to escort.”
“Roger, Lightfoot, does my CO know about this?”
“War Falcon One.”
I descend to forty thousand feet, and the Boeing 767 gets bigger in my canopy. I flank its left side, and attempt to establish communication with the pilot via radio and visual Morse code. No response. I edge my plane a bit close to the cockpit, and I can just about read what brand headset he’s wearing and who manufactured the machine gun he’s holding. He looks at me with an angered expression. I send the only signal I have left, the most universal of them all: a middle finger.
“Sent via ACARS that we’ve intercepted. They’ve told us to join the Belkans in escorting it to Port Autumn AFB. Not that we didn’t already know.”
“Yeah. The pilot’s not responding to me at all, but I gave him The Bird from about twenty-five yards away.”
“God damn it. They’ll reprimand you for that, you know.”
“No, they won’t”.
“Yeah, they really won’t.”
I turn back to my plane, my room, my world. It’s dark, but the light from the navigation panel and radar panel gives me enough light to see. I’ve got enough fuel to make it to Port Autumn. Engines look good, as with generators, battery, and avionics. The avionics themselves also look good. The radios are split into a secure frequency for Thorsten and me, or a frequency with the Lightfoot. I’m holding altitude at forty angels and four hundred knots, but I’ll have to reprogram a course for Port Autumn. The external lights and transponders are on, but my cockpit lights remain off. It helps me see better at night. Outside, the noises of six engines pierce the otherwise calm black night and green sea.
The course is reprogrammed and the aircraft begins to fly itself. I have nothing to do but babysit the autopilot.
In thirty-seven minutes, two Belkan Eurofighters show up on my radar to my eight o’clock. They form up on our six and greet us in English. They sound like nice guys, but I have a feeling we’re not the ones in command anymore.
We’ve lost contact with the Lightfoot, but the Belkans are still in contact with their base, and they relay comms on our behalf. We have our ACARS link to Northern, but there’s not much need for that anymore. To my surprise, the Belkans are able to establish radio contact with the North Point One. The President’s still alive, thank God. They negotiate the landing of North Point One at Port Autumn, and more negotiations upon release of the President. The North Point One is surprisingly compliant.
“Odysseus, Thorston. You really think it’s that easy?”
“Not a chance in hell. They’ve probably got something up their sleeves. I also think that the Belkans will just breach the aircraft after they release the President. Nobody’s getting any demands met.”
“Why would they just give up after getting this far?”
“Well, maybe it’s cause they’re surrounded by four heavily armed, high performance fighters that want to kill them.”
Except for the roaring engine noise in my cockpit, we fly on in silence. The Belkans are under orders to send up a tanker for all of us, which is good. My needles are droppin’. The scenery outside my canopy changes. The ocean has some scattered icebergs around, and everybody seems to have their cabin lights on except me. The North Point One has all of its windows closed, and the only thing distinguishing it against the black night sky is the white paint and the anti-collision lights.
Wellow gets closer first on the GPS display, and then soon I can see it as a giant solid white mass below my HUD. I’m amazed that this corner of the world actually exists, that I’m seeing it, and not just as a drawing on a map. The Belkans announce to the North Point One that it’s time for it to descend, and gives instructions. Thorsten and I are told to remain at this altitude until the North Point One has reached an approach altitude, then to drop altitude and join up with them. Good idea, covering the plane like that.
Once the North Point One has reached the altitude, we follow. Forming up, I can see the Belkan Air Force Base Port Autumn to my two o’clock, about 16 miles. It’s surprisingly good weather for a midnight landing.
“Odysseus, Thorsten. Just to fill you in, I’ve sent the ACARS to base and told them we’re at Port Autumn and that we’ll refuel with Belkan tankers.”
“Odysseus copies.” I take off my oxygen mask and look around. The North Point One has lowered its flaps and gear and is on final approach to Port Autumn. In a few minutes, we’ll receive landing clearance. It’s almost over.
Belkan Air Force Control Tower, Port Autumn, Wellow
North Point One: Port Autumn Control Tower, this is Colonel Filipovich, commanding the North Point One. We are inbound for landing.
Lieutenant Roth: North Point One, good evening. Cleared for ILS approach runway three one. Maintain five thousand, eight hundred feet until established on the localizer. Altimeter two niner niner zero.
North Point One: ILS runway three one, maintaining five thousand eight hundred…are your people prepared?
Lt. Roth: We are…North Point One, make straight in runway three one. Wind three three zero at five, cleared to land.
North Point One: North Point One, cleared to land.
Lt. Roth: North Point One, lower your altitude, you’ll miss the runway at that height…
Colonel Muller: Messer One, we’ve got visual on him…- bastard! North Point One, take the landing!
Lt. Roth: North Point One, land or your demands will not be met!
Colonel Cotton: War Falcon One, I see him folding up his gear and flaps.
North Point One: You fools don’t think I recognize a Special Operations Pave Hawk when I see it? You’ll acquiesce to my terms, on my grounds!
Col. Cotton: He’s pulled up to five thousand, and jacked his velocity up! Thorsten! Get on his six! This asshole’s not getting away from us!
Colonel Jack "Odysseus" Cotton, War Eagle One
I wasn’t mad at him to begin with. To me, Colonel Filipovich was just a radicalized bastard bent on some idealized world domination scheme. He was the one who was stupid enough to hijack a big, slow, unarmed plane while holding the President of North Point as a hostage. He was the one who made the mistake of incurring the wrath of basically the most well trained, well equipped military powers in the region. He might have even been able to get away with some of it, too. But, the poor SOB decided that he was too good to land in Wellow. Too bad for him.
We’ve since refueled, climbed, and sped up to follow him. Our orders are still to cover him; the chain of command is all confused. There was a bit of an episode where we lost him for about five minutes after his botched landing. Thorsten found him again, climbing out of twenty thousand feet, north of Port Autumn. The four of us all teamed up on the North Point One, and we’ve followed him for about two hours. The tanker showed up an hour ago and refueled us four fighters, but the North Point One couldn’t refuel for obvious reasons.
Now it’s midnight, and we’re well north of Wellow, about two hundred miles from the North Pole. My plane, despite operating for about five hours now, is still in prime condition. I’m always impressed at its capabilities. It’s not a machine that breaks down at the first sign of trouble; even during the war, it proved itself as one that was built for endurance and performance. Much like myself. Aside from boredom, sweat around my pants and back, a need to pee, and a building pile of water bottles and snack wrappers, I’m just hanging in there, waiting for my orders or for Filipovich to mess up.
At zero zero forty hours, we’re at thirty thousand feet, heading south towards the Nordennavik coastline. The dark sea below looks like it’s cold and dead enough to kill a person on contact. The sky above is as clear as I’ve ever seen a night sky. My cockpit is cold, and I’m pretty sure the plane is on the outside too. I’ve turned on the de-ice switch, but I’m not sure how well it’ll hold up. Aside from that, all the avionics, hydraulics, mechanics, and weapons systems work well. Thorsten keeps sending ACARS messages to Northern every half hour, and they keep telling us to hang on, cooperate with the Belkans, and that they’re working with different governments to figure out what to do about our friend Filipovich.
The Osean Air Force, thinking that somehow every problem is their problem, has taken it upon themselves to dispatch some of their forces our way. And by forces, I really mean force. A lone OADF F/A-22 has joined us at the North Pole. I mean, it’s great that they have Raptors, and are flexing some military muscle, but why only one? He arrives, and makes radio contact with us first, then the Belkans. I think Thorsten and I have befriended the Belkans, because the consensus among the four of us is that there are no official plans from any of the higher-ups. We tell him that he could just form up any ol’ way he wanted, and he takes up a six o’clock high position and settles in.
Twenty minutes later, two Emmerian Air Force F/A-18’s join in, forming up on the rear quarters of the plane. Jesus, at this point we only need the Yuktobanians and the Eruseans.
At one point, I can see some brightening on the horizon, but then it fades to black again. It must be that we’re leaving the higher latitudes.
The Belkans inform us that North Point has intercepted a message from onboard the North Point One that’s not Filipovich. They’re pretty sure that it came from one of the surviving guards, because it says that the President and his family are safe in the rear of the plane, and most of the diplomatic staff is alive. However, the aircrew and some of the President’s staff had been killed. I’m a bit burnt out, but the good news comforts me and wakes me up. It’s good to know that we’re not the only ones fighting out here. It probably also means that none of us will be able to fire on the North Point One, since there are still innocents on board. Guess we’ll just have to keep following it.
As we cross the Arctic Circle, I can see the island chain of Nordennavik float into my canopy. Since Wellow three hours ago, this is the first land we’ve flown across.
My radio crackles to life.
“Belkan aircraft…Wielvakian aircraft…can you hear me? You know who I am. You know what I want. You know what I have. I’ve got your plane, I’ve got your President.”
He says something I can’t translate quickly enough, then there’s a pause. A different voice comes on.
“This is President Hunt of North Point. I am safe onboard, and so’s my family. Colonel Filipovich has me sitting in the Captain’s seat now, and he’s got a pistol at my head. He asks that the Government of Osea release Yuktobanian Army Major Krishchenko and Belkan Army Colonel Lenthoff from prison, and transfer five million zollars to a bank account in three hours. If all goes well, he’ll land the plane in Ortara.”
It’s silent again for a second, and then Filipovich is back on. From where I am, I can see all the activities in the cockpit. President Hunt is indeed alive, and they escort him from the cockpit back to where he was.
“Do you hear me, Belkans? You have three hours to tell the Oseans to meet my demands. If not, President Hunt will be the first to die.”
The radio goes silent, and I can see Filipovich taking his place again in the Captain’s seat.
Immediately I get on the radio.
“War Falcon One to all Belkan, Osean, Wielvakian, and Emmerian planes. I can indeed verify that President Hunt is still alive. I saw the bastards parade him in and out of the cockpit.”
“Messer One here, Belka does not negotiate with terrorists.”
“Boxer two oh seven here, all aircraft please stand by. I’ll contact my superiors and get some orders.”
A long pause. I use this opportunity to talk to Thorsten on a different frequency.
“Thorsten, Odysseus. How ya feelin’?”
“I’m feelin’ like this bastard Filipovich messed with the wrong guys for too long. The Government’s patience may be long, but mine ain’t.”
“Listen, why don’t you get on ACARS and tell Northern what’s going on. See what they tell us.”
We get orders from Northern right about the same time Osean raptor Boxer 207 gives us a sitrep. Both of them tell us that we are to inform Filipovich that the money would transfer now, but the prisoners would be released upon the landing in Ortara. Emmerian Special Forces will storm the aircraft then. We are under strict orders not to fire on the North Point One or even act threatening.
I think, at this point, the Belkans are ready to send this dude into the ocean. Not out of anger, but out of impatience. I can’t blame them; they’ve been following the North Point One for damn near six hours now. Thorsten and I have been following for seven, and I feel like he’s about ready to crack soon. The others haven’t been here long enough to matter. For my own part, I guess I’d be trigger happy right about now, but I’ve been on longer missions that were worse than this.
None of that matters right now though, because the Belkans get on the radio with Filipovich.
“North Point One, Messer One. We’ve contacted the Osean government. The money is being transferred, but the prisoners will be freed later. Allow us to escort you to Ortara. Is your fuel low, or can you make it to Ortara?”
“…Our fuel is enough for Ortara.”
“Messer One copies all. Thank you.”
“Messer One, War Falcon Two. This guy has been flying for about nine hours now, I doubt he’s telling the truth. His altitude has dropped ever since he left Wellow.”
“Messer Two here, I agree. He’s probably stretching his fuel. Maybe he only has enough to make it to Ortara without diverting.”
“Hammer One here, we’ve also got diverts at Goose Bay and Silvat. We’d have no trouble getting SF out to those places.”
“Well,” Boxer 207 says, “It’s not like it’s up to us. We’re just babysitters. But I think we’re being too lenient with Filipovich. He could divert the course of the plane right now and we’d have no choice but to follow him.”
“Boxer two oh seven, War Falcon Two. That’s exactly what he did three hours ago in Wellow. He knows we can’t do anything.”
“Nothing legal, anyway,” Messer One says. We all laugh. I’m actually kind of shocked. Out of all of us here, I would think that the Belkans would be the most professional.
We cross the Northern Emmerian coast in an uninhabited area. I look down and see a land empty of people, filled only with a forest. Anybody who gets shot down or goes down here would probably have quite the time trying to survive before they’d get rescued.
I check my aircraft again for what must be the fifteenth time this mission. I take a scan of the instrument panels, and then a look around. The North Point One is still huge and still next to me. Beyond that is Thorsten. The Belkans flank the plane on either side to the plane’s front, while the Emmerians flank both sides to the plane’s tail. The Osean raptor, Boxer 207, takes up the perfect kill position at the plane’s six o’clock high.
I see the co-pilot of the North Point One stand up out of his seat and raise his pistol to take aim at something behind the cockpit.
“…Oh shit…YO THORSTEN!” I say to Thorsten.
“Yeah, I see it!”
The co-pilot is shot in the head, and another terrorist is also killed by bullets being fired from somewhere behind the cockpit.
Hells yes! Someone on board’s fighting back!
“All aircraft, War Falcon Two! There’s a fight on board! Repeat, there’s a firefight on board!”
I’m just mesmerized. I’ve never even seen anything like this. During the war, all the enemy pilots I bounced either just sat still and complied or moved only their joysticks. This is so surreal, like watching neighbors fight in an adjacent building.
“Odysseus, I’m getting on the ACARS!”
Filipovich isn’t having it. He fires back two bursts, and then dodges some bullets as he hides behind his seat. He squeezes off two more bursts before he remembers that he still has the plane.
He turns around and disables the autopilot, pushing the control stick down. The nose dips below the horizontal, and the plane follows.
Goddamn it, how much lower can you go from here?!
I turn off the autopilot and follow. No way he’s getting away from me. The nose reaches about twenty degrees below horizontal before Filipovich loses control. Not of the plane, but of his body. A guard slides into the cockpit and puts two or three bullets into Filipovich’s head.
President Hunt slides in and gets into the co-pilot’s seat. The guard gets into the left seat and levels the plane after it has fallen from twenty thousand feet down to thirteen thousand.
“North Point One, War Falcon One, what the hell’s going on over there?” I ask.
“War Falcon One, North Point One. This is Special Agent Albanus. The President is safe, Filipovich is dead, and I have control of the aircraft.”
“War Falcon One. Verify your intentions by sliding open all window shutters, turning on all external aircraft lights, and rocking your wings back and forth.”
“Roger, War Falcon One. Stand by.”
“War Falcon One, Messer One. What’s the sitrep?”
“War Falcon One to all aircraft. A fight has broken out onboard. Filipovich has been killed, uh, a guard by the name of Albanus has taken control of the craft, and the President is in the co-pilot’s seat. Notify your governments. Uh, I’m awaiting authentication…”
I look back at the plane. All the lights are on, and the rear half of the plane has their window shutters open. I am watching the window shutters steadily open a path to the cockpit.
The wings rock.
“War Falcon One, to North Point One. Is the President safe and secure?”
The President gets on the radio.
“This is President Hunt. I am indeed safe and secure.”
The radio goes crazy as all the pilots hit the transmit switch and scream in victory.
“Roger, good to hear that, sir!” I say. “Is the aircraft safe and secure?”
“War Falcon One, the North Point One is safe and secure.”
Because I’m not a rude bastard, I unkey the radio before I scream. My scream is contained inside the cockpit.
The North Point One continues.
“All terrorists have been killed. There are six friendly casualties on board, and two wounded. We need an immediate divert.”
“North Point One, Hammer One. Divert to Silvat Air Force Base. All aircraft contact your governments. Then switch to Silvat ACC on one three zero point zero zero zero.”
I switch the frequencies, where I, along with all of my wingmen, am greeted with hospitality by the controller. It’s a good thing that it’s a quiet night in Silvat. This guy’s gonna have a lot of planes to vector. We all descend to an approach altitude outside Silvat.
“Odysseus, this is Thorsten. How ya doing, man?”
“I’ll be fine if I could land this plane in Silvat. I don’t wanna stay here any longer.”
“Me too, buddy. I’ll talk to Northern about it.”
The Emmerian Air Force orders that Thorsten and I land first, followed by the Emmerians. Following them is the North Point One, then the Belkans, and finally the Osean. I am about to object until I hear Thorsten tell me that the Air Force is OK with one of their squadrons overnighting in Emmeria.
The controller vectors us to lower altitudes, then to holding positions while we queue for landing. The guard onboard the North Point One handles the plane surprisingly well.
I prepare the cockpit for landing. I slow the aircraft, lower its altitude, open gear and flaps, resetting and disabling the autopilot, turning on lights, and stowing everything else in either an ‘OFF’ or ‘STANDBY’ mode.
Thorsten follows behind me as I line the plane up on runway nine at Silvat. The runway lights look like they’re welcoming me to a home in Silvat I didn’t even know I had.
“War Falcon One, Silvat tower. Wind zero. Cleared to land runway niner.”
“War Falcon One, cleared to land. Thanks.”
I ease the plane down. The rear wheels hit the ground a bit harder than I would have liked, but they don’t bounce off. I lower the nose, which also hits hard. I brake the aircraft to a nice, steady pace of twenty miles per hour.
“War Falcon One, welcome to Silvat. Taxi off the runway at the next taxiway, Bravo thirteen. Hold after for your wingman, then contact ground on one two three point two two five.”
“Taxi via Bravo thirteen, hold for wingman, ground on one two three two two five, War Falcon One. Thanks.”
I wait for Thorsten, and we follow an Emmerian ground vehicle to a hangar, where we park our aircraft and shut them off. I always linger a bit longer in my cockpit, even after the engines and avionics are off, just to marvel at my plane and thank it for keeping me alive. I also enjoy the silence and the calm of not having to hear the engines and not having to kill anyone or perform a checklist.
After lingering, I gather all the trash in the cockpit, from all of my snacks and drinks, and remove my helmet and my harness. My ears hurt from wearing my flight helmet.
I open the canopy and stand up, stretching my legs for the first time in God only knows how long.
Getting off, I shake hands with Donald “Thorsten” Browning, and we watch the North Point One land safely in Silvat, followed by the Belkans and the Osean. They offload the President, but also some bodies and some wounded.
The nine of us – Thorsten, myself, the pilot from Messer One, the pilot from Messer Two, the two pilots from Hammer One and the two from Hammer Two, as well as the pilot from Boxer 207, are debriefed for four hours; separately at first, but then together at the end. We mingle for an hour afterwards, congratulating each other and eating. I take this opportunity to go pee. Lord yes, the relief! Some journalist takes a picture of us after, and then we are assigned rooms.
I throw away my trash in my room, then take off my flight suit and crash on the bed. My spine, exhausted from constantly sitting, decompresses against the bed. I feel like the whole room’s bouncing from turbulence. Thankfully, there’s no more engine noise, no more HUD, no more dials, or radio, or oxygen mask, or tasks or bogies. It’s just me and a dark, quiet, fading world. It’s been a long nineteen hours. I guess tomorrow Thorsten and I’ll have to fly all the way back to Northern. But at least there’ll be a party waiting for us on the ground…