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From the narrow window of the tower, the woman could see for miles across the soaring, snow-covered peaks of the Canadian Rockies.
The sun was just beginning to set, and its warm, reddish hue seemed to give everything—the trees, the snow-caps, the mountains themselves—a sparkling, jeweled quality.
But the spectacular vista did nothing to bolster the woman's spirits. In fact, having all of that vast space and freedom just beyond her reach only heightened her despair.
Bravely fighting back a tear, she turned away from the window.
In stark contrast to the glimmering mountaintops and the lush forests at their feet, the woman's cell was barren. Except for a dirty, ripped mattress and a small wooden bench that held a cracked pitcher of murky water, the tiny room was empty. On the opposite wall from the small window was a heavy wooden door, held from the outside by a thick steel bar. This little piece of hell had been her prison for what seemed like an eternity.
She slumped to the floor and finally released the tears she'd been holding back.
How long can this go on? she wondered sadly.
Just then the cell door burst open and a tall woman dressed in army fatigues walked in.
The size seven, well-tailored combat jumpsuit did little to disguise the ripe curves of this woman's body. Bleached blonde, and looking better than a whiskey bottle at midnight, the female guard's well-cultivated Amazon look was working—all the way down to the two heavy ammunition belts that crisscrossed her full breasts. Her faddishly worn-down cap was made of the same leather as her meticulously polished boots. The buttons were cast of the same silver as her three bracelets and the ring in her right ear. Everything matched.
The overall fashion statement was topped off by an AK-47 automatic rifle rakishly slung over her shoulder.
She was carrying a bowl filled with a brownish, watery substance masquerading as soup, which she immediately banged down onto the bench. Then she walked over to the tormented woman on the cell floor.
"Not hungry?" the guard asked sarcastically, placing the barrel of the AK-47 directly onto the woman's right breast. "I can't imagine why ..."
The guard then laughed, and quickly left the cell, the door closing with a loud thump behind her.
The lovely prisoner slowly lifted her head and leaned back against the stone wall. Even streaked with dirt and tears, her face was stunning: glistening dark eyes, perfectly shaped nose, full, rich lips, a younger reflection of the 1950s French film siren Brigitte Bardot.
Add the luxurious (and natural) blond hair, the creamy skin, the sensually subtle figure and made-for-black-nylons legs and the sum equaled an astonishing Gallic beauty.
Her name was Dominique.
The already-teetering world had turned completely upside down in the days following World War III. America alone had seen almost nonstop military action, including two major wars. Yet by some accounts, this was relatively calm compared to what was happening in nearly every other part of the globe.
It was in the midst of the battles that were fought for control of the American continent that soldiers on both sides first came to know Dominique.
It all started when a crazed, superterrorist named Viktor Robotov (alias Lucifer) kidnapped her prior to the outbreak of the first campaign for control of the American continent, a titanic struggle that came to be called the first Circle War. By distributing hypnotic, quasi-X-rated photos of Dominique, he did nothing less than entice an entire army to do his bidding.
Such was her allure and beauty.
Even in the three and a half years since this catastrophic civil war, her photos were treasured by those lucky enough to have them. Squirreled away and fought over, it was as if they were made of pure gold.
So it was no exaggeration to say that millions of men loved her. Dreamed of her. Prayed to her.
But there was only one man in her thoughts, prayers, and dreams: Major Hawk Hunter, the man the world knew as the Wingman.
Often, to escape for a least a few moments from the crushing reality of her damp confinement, she would let her mind wander back to those times ... those few precious, incredibly exciting times that she had spent with Hunter.
It seemed like an eternity had passed since they had first met in that abandoned farmhouse on the French coast in those turbulent days following the Big War in Europe. The attraction between them had been immediate, intense, and by all means, predestined.
But in the years since, fate had been cruel, allowing them only a few, isolated liaisons, then tearing them apart again.
Dominique wiped the stream of tears from her face and took a long, deep breath. She was in love with him and she was sure he loved her. She also knew that there was more to it than fate. That was the problem. Hunter could not escape his destiny because it was intertwined with the destiny of his country. More than any man alive, it was Hunter who had been responsible for rekindling the spirit and the courage of the once-proud United States, and this was no light cross to bear.
In fact, it had been a monumental task, one that seemed to battle against the entire cosmos itself.
Freedom had been very unlucky in the past five and a half years. America and her NATO allies had been on the brink of winning the savage, conventionally fought World War III when at the very last minute, a fanatical anti-glasnost clique within the Soviet Union, aided by the traitorous US vice president, unleashed a sneak nuclear attack that devastated the center of the American continent. With much of the country in shambles, a repressive regime known as the New Order took over and chopped the United States into dozens of strife-torn independently run yet virtually lawless states, countries, and "free" territories.
It took two years, but out of the resulting chaos emerged the New Democratic freedom fighters, led by Hunter and his allies. Determined to regain control of and reunite the American continent, these democratic forces assembled small but well-equipped armies and took on the New Order. After a series of hard-fought and bloody wars, democracy prevailed. America finally was reunited.
Yet no sooner had this been done when another threat arose.
Taking advantage of the instability that still gripped the Western Hemisphere as well as the rest of the world, a group of neo-Nazis appropriately known as the Twisted Cross seized control of the Panama Canal. Another bloody confrontation followed in which the Americans invaded Panama for at least the second time in history. It was a hard-fought battle: but eventually the newly united Americans emerged triumphant.
With the Twisted Cross defeated, the Americans turned their attention toward rebuilding their shattered continent, not just physically, but spiritually as well. The first act was played out when the traitorous vice president was brought back to America to stand trial for his crimes. He was eventually convicted of high treason and, after surviving a bizarre assassination attempt, was imprisoned for life.
In the meantime, the major cities on both American coasts began working together to resurrect the war-ravaged east and midsections of the country. By year five, life was actually beginning to take on a semblance of pre-World War III normalcy.
Then another threat arose to challenge to the United American cause.
A huge army of outlaws, mercenaries, and Nazi Twisted Cross survivors banded together under the guiding hand of a racist white supremacist drug addict named Duke Devillian and attempted to establish control over the devastated southwest heartland of the nation. Hunter and his allies met this challenge, too—unexpectedly, as it turned out—while driving a twelve-locomotive, heavily armed, miles-long rolling fortress called the Freedom Express through the disputed section of the country via the last remaining rail from the old AMTRAK days.
Though heavily outgunned and facing odds of more than a hundred to one, the United Americans used cunning and even a dose of mysticism to crush Devillian's forces in a climactic battle in the Grand Canyon. Though Devillian himself escaped, the Freedom Express rolled triumphantly into Los Angeles, a dramatic symbol of the reunification of the nation.
But vital as they were, these victories over the enemies of his country had taken a tremendous personal toll on Hunter. Not in his flying skills—which were still unequaled—nor in his ability to use his incredibly advanced personalized form of ESP. No—the toll had been one of the heart and soul. Fighting the battles of his country had kept him from Dominique, by his own admission, the only woman he had ever truly loved.
But the long years of war for him were ones of waiting and wondering and worrying for her. Finally, they had taken their toll on her, too—as a human being and as a woman.
The last time they'd seen each other was on a fog-shrouded airfield somewhere near the border of Free Canada and the Free Territory of New York. It was in the midst of the second Circle War, and the meeting was painfully and uncomfortably brief. Although she ached to hold him again, to tell him that she was willing to continue her vigil while he continued the swashbuckling struggle to restore the freedom and dignity of his country, the words never came out. She turned away from him instead, her pride blinding her, her broken heart making her mute.
After leaving him standing alone at that gloomy airfield, her life had become a blur. Unbeknownst to her, someone started spiking her food with a very low-impact but highly addictive drug called Percodex. At some point—she really couldn't remember exactly when, due to the insidious drugging scheme—she had been spirited away again, this time by an organization secretly led by the beautiful but evil Elizabeth Sandlake, the same person who tried to kill the traitorous ex-vice president.
And now for the last several weeks—or was it actually the last several months?— she had been locked up in this bleak tower somewhere in the wilderness of western Canada, held for no single logical reason, just a million and a half illogical ones.
Dominique's eyes were now wet with dirty tears. She was convinced she would die in this place, guilty of the twin sins of pride and stubbornness. Oddly enough she found herself strangely resigned to it.
But ... if only she could see Hunter again, just for a few minutes, to finally say the words that she had failed to say on that foggy airfield.
She knew she would never have that chance, though. For her captors were so conniving, and their hideout so isolated that she had come to believe that even Hunter couldn't find her now.
She stumbled back to the window for a final glimpse of the mountains and the blue sky beyond before the sun set.
In the dull red and darkening sky she saw the contrails of an airplane cut across the distant horizon. It wasn't unusual to see airplanes flying over the desolate part of Free Canada, lonely contrails of cross-country long-range cargo craft, flying way up at forty-five thousand feet and higher, some of them going directly right over her head.
So this, the new plane and the trail of ice particles its engine was leaving behind, held her interest only briefly. She started to turn away from the window ...
But then something made her glance up a final time.
Suddenly she saw the airplane turn sharply into a zigzag pattern. Then it began sculpting a sky-writing pattern with ice crystals from its tail.
Puzzled, she watched as slowly but steadily, the white- and red-tinged streaks left by the jet formed a giant "W" in the sky.CHAPTER 2
Like a column of ghosts, the small band of soldiers moved silently through the deepening gloom of the forest.
Although the men were weighted down with assault weapons and heavy backpacks, their footsteps made no sounds on the soft yet crusty snow-covered forest floor. Steadily, purposefully, they advanced through the growing darkness.
They reached the edge of a small clearing and the group's leader held up his hand. The men behind him froze in place. Looming in front of them, in the center of the frozen glade, lay the huge, battered fuselage of a C-141 Starlifter.
"I'll be damned," the group's leader, a Free Canadian Air Force major named Frost said. "It does exist ..."
His second in command was up and beside him in a second.
"That definitely looks like our C-141, Major," the lieutenant said, pulling a small notebook from his uniform pocket. "Serial two-three-four-double zero-five?"
Frost confirmed the same numbers were painted on the twisted, ice-encrusted tail section of the wrecked cargo plane.
"The big question is," he went on, "how in hell did it get here?"
It was a question right out of a bad sci-fi movie script: Gigantic Air Force cargo plane found sitting in the middle of a small field that was bordered on four sides by tall pine trees that, judging from their height, had sprouted about the time of Columbus.
Frost pulled out a small, infrared camera and quickly snapped off a dozen shots.
"There's one thing for damn sure," he whispered loudly to the lieutenant. "This bird didn't land here ..."
"Not unless it came straight down," the younger officer agreed.
Frost refilled the camera with a fresh roll of film and began shooting again.
"Well, someone knows how it was done," he said, clicking the camera's shutter as fast as he could. "Someone up there ..."
He nodded toward the mountain on the far side of the clearing. Several hundred feet above the timberline, barely visible in the rapidly fleeing twilight, was a Gothiclike structure perched on the side of the mountain. It was large enough by far to qualify as a castle, but its position looked so unnatural that it appeared as if it had been carelessly tossed there by a giant hand and just happened to stick.
As such, the fortress managed to look both precarious and impenetrable at the same time.
Frost turned back to the C-141 resting in the clearing, then called up his squad leaders.
"This is it, guys," he said, pointing to the haunting, abandoned aircraft. "Not a peep from now on in."
The word was passed down the line and, then, with Frost and his lieutenant leading the way, the unit silently crossed the darkened field and climbed into the C-141's bent fuselage.
Though cramped and gloomily enveloped in ice, the insides of the odd aircraft were reasonably clear of any sharp debris. Frost knew this was a good sign.
Each of the eighty-five heavily armed Free Canadian Rangers found a reasonably smooth place to sit. Then, with not a word among them, they began the anxious wait for the night to pass.
A few miles to the east, another group of soldiers was advancing stealthily toward the same mountain.
There were one hundred and twenty of them in all, the majority of whom carried high-powered assault rifles, ammunition belts, grenades, and a full assortment of mountain-climbing gear.
This contingent—known as Blue Force—was led by a tall black man named Major Lamont "Catfish" Johnson. Formerly second-in-command of the famed US Marine 7th Cavalry, Johnson now was one of the United Americans' most highly decorated officers. His most recent assignment had been as commander of the troops aboard the Freedom Express, the train that had blazed a path through the southwest Badlands. Before that, he had played a major role in the successful invasion of Nazi-controlled Panama.
About half the men with Johnson were also veterans of the old 7th Cavalry, a misnamed unit that was now part of the crack 1st United American Airborne Division. The other half of the column were members of the Football City Special Forces Rangers, the ultra-elite fighting force whose support had helped the United Americans achieve many of their key victories in the recent past.
Combined, they made up a group of professional soldiers that had no rivals on the American continent, and quite possibly in the entire world.
As darkness fell, Johnson led his men to a particularly secluded spot in the midst of a thick grove of towering pines and then checked his map.
"We're here," he said simply to his second officer.
Rapidly and silently the news passed among the men.
"Find a dry place," the second officer called back down the line. "Cover up, check your equipment, and then chow pack number two."
Within a few minutes, all of the men had settled in for the evening, thankful to be at the end of the tortuous fifty-mile trek into the barren territory, yet anxious for morning to come so they could get on with the mission.
Excerpted from Wingman by Mack Maloney. Copyright © 1990 Mack Maloney. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted August 19, 2013