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Dale Brown's DreamlandNever Center
By Dale Brown
Berkley Publishing GroupCopyright © 2002 Dale Brown
All right reserved.
Bright Memorial Hospital, Honolulu
3 September 1997
0302 (all times local)
It looked like an arrow as she turned to get away from it. Breanna pushed hard on her control stick, but the plane barely responded. Caught with little forward momentum, the Megafortress waddled in the air, finally managing to jerk its nose back to the right just in time to avoid the missile.
A second and third homed in. Breanna Stockard put her hand on the throttle slide, desperate to get more speed from the power plants.
It was too late. She could see one of the missiles coming at her right wing, riding the air like a hawk. Bree had ECMs, flares, tinsel - every defensive measure the experienced Megafortress pilot could muster was in play, and still the hawk came on, talons out.
And then, just as it was about to strike the fuselage in front of the starboard wing root, it changed. The slim body of the Russian-designed Alamo missile thickened. Wings grew from the middle, and the steering fins at the rear changed shape. Breanna was being tracked by an American Flighthawk, not a missile. For a moment, she felt relief.
Then the robot plane slammed into the wing.
Breanna shook herself awake. The pale green light of the hospital room threw ghost shadows across her face; she could hear the machine monitoring her heartbeat stuttering.
"Damn drugs," she said.
They'd given her a sedative to help her sleep, fearful that her injuries would keep her from resting for yet another night. Breanna had bruised ribs, a concussion, a sprained knee, and a twisted neck; she was also suffering from dehydration and the effects of more than twelve hours exposure to a bitter Pacific storm. But the physical injuries paled beside what really ached inside her - the loss of four members of her crew, including her longtime copilot Chris Ferris and Dreamland's number two Flighthawk pilot, Kevin Fentress.
Breanna rolled onto her back and shoved her elbows under her to sit up in the bed. She was angry with herself for not flying better, for not avoiding the Chinese missile that had taken her down. The fact that she had sacrificed her plane to rescue others was besides the point. The fact that the Piranha mission had been a stunning success, averting war between China and India, mattered nothing to her, at least not now, not in the room lit only by hospital monitors.
She should've saved her people.
Her father would have. Her husband would have.
She ached to have them both here with her. But her father, Colonel Tecumseh "Dog" Bastian, and her husband, Major Jeff "Zen" Stockard, had been called back to Dreamland, to deal with problems brewing there. She was sentenced to sit in this bed until her injuries healed.
"Damn drugs," she muttered again, reaching for the control at the side of the bed to raise it.
What the hell had that stupid dream been about? She'd been taken down by a missile, not a Flighthawk. The Flighthawks were U.S. weapons, not Chinese.
But as they were going down, before she gave the order to abandon ship, Torbin Dolk had said something about a Flighthawk. What the hell had he said?
"I have a U/MF at long range."
Those were his words, but they had to be wrong. Their own Flighthawks had been lost, and there were no other Megafortresses with their robot scout fighters nearby.
What the hell did he say? Had she got it wrong?
The confusion and static and storm of the shoot-down returned. She closed her eyes, wishing she hadn't failed.
"Damn drugs," she said, playing with the bed control in a fruitless effort to make herself more comfortable.
Outside Taipei, Taiwan
Chen Lee waited until the chime of the antique grandfather clock at the far end of his office ended, then rose slowly from his desk, following a ritual he had started many years before. His movements were weighted by eighty years of exertion, and so it took longer for him to cross the large office than it once had, but the familiarity of the afternoon ritual filled him with pleasure. He had long ago realized that, no matter how much wealth one had - and he had a great deal - the more important things, the things that gave life meaning and value, were less tangible: family affection and respect, dreams and ambitions, ritual.
Chen Lee went to the chest at the right side of his large office and took the bottle from the top, carefully pouring two fingers' worth of Scotch in the glass tumbler. He had developed a taste for single-malt Scotch as a young man during the last days of the war with the communists when he'd been sent to London as part of a delegation working to persuade the Western allies that Mao must be stopped at all costs. The mission had been a failure; worn out by the World War, the British couldn't stop their own empire from slipping through their fingers, let alone send an army to help Chiang Kai-shek and the rightful rulers of the great Chinese nation. Not even the Americans were willing to help them until the communist treachery was made obvious in Korea. Even then, the only assistance they would begrudgingly afford was to prevent the invasion of Taiwan by the mongrel bastards who had marched among the peasants, pretending moral superiority when all along practicing opportunism.
The tingle of Scotch as he took his first sip reminded Chen Lee of his bitterness, and he welcomed it wholeheartedly. For it was only by acknowledging the past that he could look toward the future.
Much had changed in the nearly fifty years that had passed since his stay in London. Chen Lee had left the government to become a man of business ...
Excerpted from Dale Brown's Dreamland by Dale Brown Copyright © 2002 by Dale Brown. Excerpted by permission.
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