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A space-borne superweapon rains death down on an American small town, and Blaine McCracken races to learn who pulled the trigger before the fearsome beam turns on Washington
In the last years of the Cold War, policy and trust for the Russians have led to disarmament treaties and hope for a new beginning. But peace is not yet within grasp. An entire American town has been wiped off the map: not by nuclear strike, but rather a space-borne particle cannon capable of reducing the ...
A space-borne superweapon rains death down on an American small town, and Blaine McCracken races to learn who pulled the trigger before the fearsome beam turns on Washington
In the last years of the Cold War, policy and trust for the Russians have led to disarmament treaties and hope for a new beginning. But peace is not yet within grasp. An entire American town has been wiped off the map: not by nuclear strike, but rather a space-borne particle cannon capable of reducing the entire nation to dust in hours. But who pulled the trigger? Was it the Russians, making a final bid for world domination? Or was it a third power—some aspiring conqueror hoping to pit the superpowers against each other? It’s up to Blaine McCracken to find out. An old flame has contacted the rogue op, begging for help protecting her father, a jeweler who has just been robbed of five rare stones—five rubies that could mean life or death for the United States. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Jon Land including rare photos from the author’s personal collection.
"LIEUTENANT ORTIZ IS HERE, Major Paz," shouted the young soldier as he ran down the runway. "He's just been checked through the gate."
"Hurry him up, then," ordered Guillermo Paz. "And be quick about it."
The young Nicaraguan stopped long enough to make a semblance of a salute and ran back in the other direction.
Major Guillermo Paz too was a native Nicaraguan but no longer felt it. He had spent his late teens in the hell of the Samoza dictatorship and had seen his father tortured and killed. He had become one of many Sandinista rebel leaders, and when the revolution was over, Soviet advisers picked him out to go to Moscow to master the rudiments of true soldiering, killing, and leading. He became, in effect, a troubleshooter for them, a spy in his own country—though that was not how he saw it. Three years in the Soviet Union with some of the best military minds in the world had spoiled him. Sent back here to command a crucial air base on the Lago de Nicaragua just south of Acoyapa, Paz realized all at once how backward and infantile his country was. The soldiers were inept and unreliable. If not for the even greater ineptitude on the part of the Contras, the present government would have gone the way of the last.
Major Paz stood rigidly as the jeep carrying the latest Soviet-trained pilot approached. Although Paz was of average height, he was of anything-but-average build. A near-lifetime of weightlifting, which started with his hoisting feed onto trucks as a boy, had given him a midsection that was essentially a single solid block. He had no neck to speak of, and a tremendous chest made him an impossible fit for standard-issue uniforms. He wore his black hair never more than a quarter-inch long, in a stubble cut that showed off the thick scar which ran across the right side of his scalp. The only luxury Paz allowed himself was the thick mustache he groomed twice daily and stroked constantly. He was stroking it now as the jeep's brakes squealed before him.
The Acoyapa base was important for its new supply of fifteen Soviet-made Hind-D helicopters, the most awesome warships in the world of guerrilla fighting. The general consensus in Moscow was that twenty Hinds could do more damage to the Contras' jungle strongholds than twenty thousand Soviet troops. Each ship was fitted for 128 27-millimeter unguided rockets and six laser-guided antitank missiles. Add to this the six machine-gun cannons perched beneath both of the strangely curved wings, aimed by sights located in the pilot's helmet, and the result was a truly incredible fighting machine.
Paz could never help but gawk when his eyes fell upon one of his Hinds. Its ponderous-looking, squat frame gave the ship a slow, lumbering appearance—a hulking, overloaded menace which in reality was a quick and agile flying tank. Armor plating rendered it safe from anything but a perfectly placed missile. Its handling was so precise that any decent pilot could slide it between a pair of trees with only inches to spare. Its navigational system was laser-based and its turbo boosters could achieve speeds exceeding 250 knots. All this considered, Paz supposed the best thing about the Hind-D was that the Americans had nothing like it and desperately sought a prototype to copy. There were even rumors afloat that a million-dollar bounty had been offered to any man who could bring one back to the United States intact. But outside of Russia the only fifteen in existence were right here on this base, and the security employed by Paz day and night made theft or even approach impossible. Even Cuba was without the warships. Paz was not about to disappoint the Soviet "advisers" who had arranged this command for him.
The latest pilot climbed down from the back of the jeep dressed in full flying gear and approached Paz directly.
"Manuel Ortiz reporting for duty, sir."
Paz returned his salute. "You're late."
"Rebels blew up another bridge. Traffic had to be rerouted."
Paz grunted his displeasure.
Ortiz looked at him dutifully. "I could take her out over their camps if you wish," he offered, gazing over the major's shoulder at the Hind.
"Who's to know?" Ortiz returned with enough seriousness to make Paz smile with pride. There was something about this man he liked. Dedication. Professionalism. Qualities the major had seen all too infrequently since his return to Nicaragua. And this pilot was a cut above the regular troops in appearance as well. Older to start with, easily over six feet and well muscled. His beard was neatly trimmed and speckled with gray. His worn features were framed by rather long brown hair. His face was ruddy, creased, and punctuated with scars, the most prominent of which ran through his left eyebrow. Ortiz was obviously a veteran of several wars previous; maybe he was even a native Soviet. He certainly had the eyes for it: black, piercing, and empty like those of a shark. Paz looked into them and saw enough of himself to be content.
"Stick to the flight plan," Paz instructed.
"It would be an honor to have you join me, Major."
"Regulations insist I remain on the base for the duration of your test flight."
Ortiz smiled warmly, standing at ease. "There was a time, sir, when we fought without regulations. Survival was all that mattered, rules no more than what our hearts told us were right for the time."
"You're a poet as well as a pilot, Lieutenant."
"Late nights in the jungles, Major, make our thoughts turn inward."
"Yes," Paz agreed easily. Give him another hundred men like Ortiz and he'd have the rebel bastards whipped in no time.
"I'd better get moving," said Ortiz, starting for the Hind's cockpit ladder after another salute.
"You know the reporting procedure," Paz advised. "Take good care of her."
Ortiz saluted yet again. "Like a virgin on her wedding night, Major."
Paz watched Ortiz climb into the cockpit and fire up the jet-powered engines. Seconds later, the Hind lifted gracefully, straight up with a slight list to the right. Paz held the green cap over his stubble-covered head as the ship's huge propellers sliced through the wind, driving it straight forward. Ortiz steadied her fifty feet up and headed out over the airfield as he climbed gracefully on his planned northeasterly course.
Paz was still watching the Hind's shrinking shape vanish in the distance when a jeep pulled up alongside him. Its single passenger, garbed in flight gear, emerged from the backseat.
"Lieutenant Manuel Ortiz, sir, reporting for flight duty," the man announced, saluting.
The major's mouth dropped as he looked back once more at the horizon where the Hind had already disappeared.
Blaine McCracken cut in the turbo boosters and watched the Hind-D's airspeed indicator climb toward 250 knots. The cockpit was still strange to him. He had spent several weeks drilling on the basics of the mission, from perfecting his Spanish to mastering the Hind's elaborate control panel from reconstructed pictures.
Damn Russians, though, didn't know when to leave well enough alone. The control panel he was facing now was altogether different from the one he had drilled on, which wouldn't have been so bad if not for the fact that all labels and instructions were in Russian. He had already lost critical time trying to pick up airspeed while keeping his altitude low to avoid being tracked on radar. The plan was intricate, the timing much too fine to lose even a second.
"Move it, girl," he said under his breath, "or I'll have to pinch your behind."
Blaine checked his coordinates: an hour of flying time to the landing site where he would be meeting his partner on the mission, Johnny Wareagle. Blaine was heading fast for the Tuma Grande River when a warning panel he recognized as the intruder alert screen flashed with three green blips.
"Well, girl," he said softly, "looks like we got company." "Red leader to base. Red leader to base."
"This is base," returned Guillermo Paz.
"We have the enemy in our sights. Repeat, the enemy is in our sights. Should we engage?"
"Negative, Red leader. I will have Green, Blue, and Yellow units rendezvous in your sector immediately. Stay on his tail. Repeat, stay on his tail."
Paz gave the appropriate instructions to the rest of his units and breathed easier. Imagine losing a Hind.... His career would be ruined. He had resisted the initial temptation to stalk the stolen Hind with more of her sisters, opting instead for four units of three standard helicopter gunships each. Certainly they would be sufficient to get the job done in this case. After all, where did the thief plan to fly the stolen Hind? There was no possible way he could get out of the country, none at all. Paz reminded himself that he must remain calm. If need be, he could still order his gunships to destroy the Hind and then fabricate a story to cover the truth. Accidents did happen.
Paz stroked his mustache and dialed up a fresh frequency. "Acoyapa base to Falcon One," he said to the man piloting the Hind. "Surrender or die."
McCracken did not acknowledge the warning. The three choppers were holding their positions behind him as he expected they would, waiting for others to mass from different directions to box him into a forced landing. He had no chance of reaching his destination. Unless....
Blaine turned his eyes to the targeting controls, range finders, and dual joystick handles. Thankfully, the weapons systems' positioning remained just as he had studied it. He switched on the AUTO switch and practiced rotating his head. Beneath the wings the air cannons turned with him. His 128 unguided missiles were laser-aimed and made for airto-air combat. Comfortable with the control panel, Blaine took a deep breath and brought the big agile bird around.
"Red leader to base! Falcon One has turned and is coming at us in an attack run. Repeat, attack run!"
Paz slammed his callused hand down on the desktop. This thief was surely insane. What could he possibly hope to gain from such a display? Reenforcements would be closing by now. The thief would know that. An act of desperation obviously. Well, Paz would just have to stop him here.
"Destroy him, Red Unit," Paz ordered. "Repeat, destroy Falcon One."
The three choppers had moved into an attack spread when Blaine locked the middle one into the firing grid sketched over his face mask. Blaine fired a burst from his wing-mounted air cannons; the chopper exploded into a jet of orange flames as the remaining two converged on him from opposing angles, guns clacking. It would take a perfect shot, however, to disable the heavily armored Hind. Blaine could feel the bullets banging off the ship's steel hull, but he knew they were merely distractions to allow the smaller ships to draw close enough to achieve sure hits with their missiles.
The strategy was wise. Each carried two missiles and only one of the four would have to impact to force the Hind-D into an unscheduled landing or worse.
The choppers whirled closer.
Blaine could take one out easily, but in the impossibly short period of time for a man unfamiliar with the controls, two seemed a long shot. But there was a chance.
McCracken dipped evasively to buy the time he needed, swinging round to the north once more. The choppers corrected their attack angle and started in again.
Blaine went into his swing. It was not something an intelligent pilot would have done, but then Blaine was hardly a pilot at all. Gnashing his teeth from the G-forces, he somehow kept both thumbs poised on the firing buttons of his twin cannons, sending a non-stop barrage that scarred the sky as Blaine circled around behind his targets.
Blaine could only hope he had figured the remaining choppers' positions properly. An explosion pounded his eardrums and shook him forward against the safety straps. He felt the Hind whirling out of control, and when the second explosion came it was all he could do to keep his hands on the navigational stick. His trembling hands held on to it desperately as the Hind swooned lower, treetops directly beneath him now, a vast green blanket into which he seemed sure to be wrapped.
Guillermo Paz sat anxiously by the radio. Over one minute had passed since Red Unit's last report, an eternity in battle. Already he was dreading the call he would have to make to Managua if the impossible happened and the bastard somehow got away. More than his career was at stake.
Crackle, crackle, crackle....
"Base, do you read?" came a garbled voice through the static.
"This is Base," Paz returned, squeezing the microphone's base.
"He's down, Base. We got him. Down ourselves but...."
"Where? Request coordinates."
"North of ... north ..." crackle ... "of Santo Domingo...."
It was enough to go on, plenty. Somewhere north of the town of Santo Domingo. The rest of Paz's fleet was already in the area. He might be able to salvage this mess after all.
The Green Unit leader saw the white wing protruding from the ground brush and radioed in.
"We've got him, sir. Down in the brush, two miles north of Santo Domingo."
"Land and report."
Six of the nine choppers landed in an open field eighty yards from the brush that concealed the stolen Hind's carcass. The soldiers grouped together and approached, warily, with leveled guns.
The Hind's wing sharpened as they drew closer, poking up from the thick brush where the rest of its corpse must have been scattered in the crash. Strange there was no smoke, the leader reckoned, nor any evidence of explosion or smell of fuel. It was not until he came upon the wing that he realized why.
"Por Dios," he muttered, touching it. "It's made of wood!"
It had been nearly an hour since Blaine had passed over the Ditch Point after issuing the report of his own demise. The static had been the touch that clinched the authenticity of his words, he figured, managed through a means no more elaborate than crumpling sections of navigational maps one after the other. Johnny Wareagle had planted the fake wing at the Ditch Point, the idea being that in case of an emergency, the wing would distract pursuers long enough to allow Blaine to reach the border. Things hadn't gone exactly as planned, but they had gone well enough.
McCracken didn't need any of his crumpled maps to tell him he was coming up on Honduras and the landing site just west of Bocay where the rest of his team had established a small camp and had a Hercules transport waiting. He landed the Hind next to the Hercules without further incident and waited for Johnny, who would be making his way here by jeep from the Ditch Point.
Two hours later, a huge figure appeared in the opening of the small tent where Blaine was resting. He gazed up into the eyes of the giant Indian.
"Musta drove pretty damn fast, Indian."
"Speed is relative, Blainey. For some a mile is the same as a step. For others ..."
Blaine nodded his understanding, still gazing up. Wareagle admitted to seven feet and might have easily exceeded that by an inch or two. His hair was tied in a ponytail, and his flesh was baked bronze by years of living in the outdoors following four tours of duty in Nam in Captain Blaine McCracken's commando unit. For the first time since those years, Wareagle was garbed in a set of camouflage fatigues.
"The uniform suits you, Johnny."
"A reminder of the hellfire. In the jungle today it tried to come back to me until the spirits chased it away."
"I figure those same spirits moved the Honduras border a bit to make life easy for me in the end."
"It would not be beyond them."
McCracken nodded at that. He had seen Johnny's mystical powers at work too often to challenge them, first in Nam and then much later on a snow-swept night in Maine when the fate of the country had hung in the balance.
"What next, Blainey?" the big Indian wondered.
"First off, I'm going to make sure that Hind-D gets delivered safely to Ben Metcalf in Colorado Springs. I didn't spend two months of my life preparing for this to see it get fucked up somehow. I like seeing things through to the end."
Wareagle nodded knowingly. "Sometimes the ends are not ours to control, Blainey. Man is a creature of constant beginnings. Your constant obsession with finishing leads you on an empty journey that can never end. We are nothing more than creatures of our destinies unless the spirits guide us."
"You sound like a travel agent for the soul."
"The spirits are the agents. I am just the interpreter."
"They furnish your words concerning me this time?"
"They furnish all." Wareagle hesitated. "I worry for you still, Blainey. So restless is your manitou. So driven are you to pursue that which you cannot identify."
"But we have identified it, Indian; it's what lured you out of your retirement villa up in Maine and got me away from sorting paper clips in France: the world's gone nuts. Innocent people are dropping dead all the time. The madmen are taking over and there are only a few of us left to keep the balance straight."
"You did not throw it off by yourself, Blainey," Wareagle told him. "And yet that is how you seek to restore it. Ever since the hellfire ..."
"The real hellfire was the five years I was out, Indian. Now I'm back but I'm doing things my way, on my terms. Ben wanted a Hind. I owed him. Straight and simple." He paused. "Hope I didn't forget to tell you how great it is working with you again. No one else could have pulled off that trick with the fake wing."
Excerpted from The Alpha Deception by Jon Land. Copyright © 1988 Jon Land. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted July 3, 2011
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