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Dale Brown's Dreamland: End Game
By Dale Brown
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Dale Brown
All right reserved.
Gulf of Aden,
off the coast of Somalia
5 January 1998
The darkness had erased the line between heaven and earth, and even with his infrared glasses Captain Val Muhammad Ben Sattari had trouble finding the quartet of small aircraft as they approached the oil tanker. Built as civilian pleasure craft by a Russian company, the two-engined Sparrows were relatively quiet, their twin piston engines producing a soft hum rather than the loud drone generally associated with military aircraft. By the time the Iranian captain finally found them, the lead airplane was less than three hundred meters away, its hull planing through the water. The other three amphibious aircraft were in line behind it, ugly ducklings heading toward their rendezvous.
Four or five years ago Sattari might have looked on the tiny airplanes with amusement or even disdain. He was a fighter pilot by training and inclination, one of Iran's best--when it still had an air force, before the black robes had run it into the ground. But with his new perspective and responsibilities, he saw the value of small, simple aircraft.
Sattari tucked the glasses into their waterproof pouch inside his tac vest and pulled the brim of his campaign cap down. Much depended on thenight's mission. It would test all of the components of the force he had built, putting them all in action to test their strengths, but also their weaknesses. For among the many hard lessons Captain Sattari had learned was that there were always weaknesses. Success required finding them before the enemy could.
Success also required the respect and unquestioning trust of the men who followed him. Both of which he would earn tonight.
Or die trying.
"We're ready to go, Captain," said Sergeant Ahmed Ibn, holding the captain's AK-47 out to him. The ranking noncommissioned officer of the commando unit, Ibn's skeptical sneer was as obvious and comfortable as his wet suit; with every glance he implied that at thirty-nine, the ex-fighter pilot was both too old and too soft to lead a team of young commandos.
Sattari checked the gun and slung it over his shoulder. "Let's go then."
Aboard DD(L) 01 Abner Read,
off the coast of Somalia
Lieutenant Kirk "Starship" Andrews stared at the green-hued shadow near the lip of the Gulf of Aden. The shadow belonged to a boat seven miles away. It measured no more than thirty feet, with a low cabin toward the bow and a flat, probably open stern. Under other circumstances Starship might have thought it was a small fishing vessel or a pleasure boat. But no one sailed the Gulf of Aden for pleasure these days, and it was a rare fisherman who went out this late at night, let alone plied these waters near the tanker routes from the Persian Gulf.
Which meant the shadow was either a smuggler or a pirate.
Starship thought the former much more likely. He knew from experience that pirates tended to move in packs, with at least three and often as many as a dozen small boats.
"Werewolf One to Tac Command, I have the subject in sight."
"Tac. Clear to proceed."
Starship leaned toward the screen as he pushed his hand against the Werewolf's throttle bar. The procedure for checking out suspicious ships was straightforward: a high-speed run at low altitude, stem to stern (or vice versa), allowing the sensors aboard the Werewolf to get a good look at the target. After the first flyover the images were analyzed by specialists in Tac--officially, the Tactical Warfare Center, the nerve center of the Abner Read--who passed the information on to the tactical commander and the ship's captain, who would then tell Starship what to do next. The Abner Read was about twenty-five miles to the southeast. Depending on what Starship saw, the ship's captain would decide whether it was worth bothering to pursue.
The Werewolf was a UAV, or unmanned aerial vehicle, which Starship flew from a station in a corner of the Tac Center. Combining the agility and vertical maneuvering capability of a helicopter with some of the speed of a conventional plane, it looked something like a downsized Kamov Ka-50. It had diminutive wing-mounted jet engines and a tail to go with the two counterrotating rotors at the top. Its top speed, which Starship himself had never reached, was around 400 knots, more than a hundred knots faster than most helicopters.
The Werewolf was not a Navy aircraft, nor was Starship a sailor. Both the robot and Starship had been shanghaied from Dreamland two months before, following attacks by pirates in the Gulf of Aden. Easy to fly and versatile, the Werewolf had been pressed into service as a replacement for a Navy UAV that was at least a year behind schedule. The Dreamland craft had done such a good job that everyone from the ship's captain to the Navy secretary sang its praises.
The same could not be said for Starship. He'd gotten this gig by being the right man in the wrong place. Already an accomplished Flighthawk pilot, he had made the mistake of cross-training in the Werewolf program so he could help out as a relief pilot during the testing program, which used mostly civilian jocks. When the Werewolves were rushed into duty with Xray Pop, Starship suddenly found himself the only military officer both qualified to teach others how to fly the craft and available for temporary duty aboard the Abner Read. Originally scheduled to last two weeks, the assignment was nearly six weeks old and showed no sign of ending soon. The Navy people rode him unmercifully, then turned around and claimed he was indispensable.
As the only Air Force officer aboard the Abner Read, he would have felt out of place in any event. But he particularly disliked the ship's captain, whom in his more charitable moments he thought of as a blowhard. The tactical commander and ship's executive officer, Lt. Commander Jack "Eyes" Eisenberg, was nearly as bad.
Excerpted from Dale Brown's Dreamland: End Game by Dale Brown Copyright © 2006 by Dale Brown. Excerpted by permission.
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