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Deep in the frozen Siberian wastes, last-ditch elements of the Evil Empire plan to annihilate the Free World in one final rain of thermonuclear death. Flying a massive B-1B supersonic bomber, Hawk Hunter embarks on an impossible mission into the enemy's heartland to save his country from extinction!
The strange-looking aircraft skimmed over the steel-blue surface of the Atlantic Ocean, intently hurtling toward its destination.
The craft was a curious hybrid—part helicopter and part fixed-wing cargo plane. Its stubby fuselage hung under a wing section that, though thin, supported two huge turbine engines. Like a conventional airplane, these engines drove massive propellers that sped the craft through the air at a respectable speed.
But this airplane had a hidden talent....
Its engines, encased in bulbous nacelles on each wingtip, could be rotated a full ninety degrees. Once done, this action would almost magically transform the oversize propellers into overhead rotors. Thus, the airplane was able to take off and land vertically like a helicopter.
It was officially known as the MV-22 Osprey. The amazing tilt-rotor aircraft had been designed to be the close air support mainstay for US Marine Corps amphibious assault operations. Like the seagoing bird of prey it was named after, the Osprey was built to skim the waves and strike swiftly, delivering Marines and material to the battle. At one time, before World War II, hundreds of them had seen service around the globe.
Now there was only one....
Major Hawk Hunter, the man behind the airplane's controls, was concentrating on keeping the green-and-gray camouflaged plane as close as possible to the tops of the ocean swells. Adjusting the control surfaces with the barest flick of a wrist or the slightest pressure on a rudder pedal, he found himself continually compensating for unseen turbulence in the heavy, pre-dawn salt air. Every few seconds his eyes darted about the airplane's cockpit console, quickly monitoring its gauges. Then he would look up and, by adjusting his helmet's infra-red sighting goggles, scan the thin line of the horizon, searching for the point of land in the distance that was his destination.
Hunter had flown hundreds of combat missions in every type of aircraft, in every corner of the globe—his virtually undisputed reputation as the best fighter pilot who had ever lived led to his being known as The Wingman.
But this mission was like no other....
In the Osprey's squat fuselage behind Hunter there were twenty-four commandos, all of them tensely gripping their weapons as they sat facing each other in the cramped cargo cabin. Rocking with the aircraft's motion, the soldiers—members of the elite Football City Special Forces Rangers—stared down at the floor, or up at the overhead compartments, or simply sat with their eyes closed. For them, the time before combat was always reserved for private thoughts. It would be no different on this day.
For Hunter, too, it was a time for reflection. Even as he was manipulating the controls and reviewing the mission plan, another part of him was reliving a bad-dream memory that was still as painful as if it had happened the day before.
Actually it might as well have been a lifetime ago....
The nightmare started with the outbreak of World War III. Lulled by several years of glasnost-era peace, the world exploded in war after a massive Soviet attack—launched in complete surprise on Christmas Eve—killed millions of West Europeans, not by nuclear holocaust, but by nerve gas. A massive Soviet invasion of Western Europe followed. Eventually, China was nuked and suddenly, any country who had a dispute with its neighbor decided to have it out.
The Free World struck back. After much suffering and misery, the US and NATO forces had cleverly won the final battle of the war, soundly defeating an overwhelming Soviet war machine—and all without using nuclear weapons. Moscow pleaded for an armistice. Magnanimously, the West agreed. But then, just as it seemed that peace was at hand, the Soviets launched another devastating attack—this one a nuclear strike at the heart of the American continent. All of the country's ICBMs were destroyed in their silos, and its remaining nuclear arsenal rendered useless. Now the nation's heartland was a desolate wasteland—an ugly, festering scar that stretched from the Dakotas down to the northern border of Texas.
Now, the once-fertile fields of America's breadbasket were a nightmarish radioactive moonscape called the Badlands.
Only later was it learned that the Soviets had been aided by a traitorous "mole" in the US Government. Someone, who, as part of a sinister plot, arranged to have the US President, his family and his cabinet assassinated just after the armistice was declared.
Suddenly shattered and leaderless, the US had little choice but to accept the harsh terms of the Soviet "victors," a mockery of justice known as the New Order. Under this decree, the United States of America ceased to exist. Instead, the nation was carved up into a patchwork of territories, free states, and independent republics, most led by criminal puppets of the Soviets. No sooner had the New Order been declared when these mini-countries began fighting each other, further increasing the instability of the American continent.
But the darkness of these times had not totally consumed Hunter. In the handful of years that followed, and through several full-scale wars and dozens of major battles, he and his allies—known collectively as the United American Army—had fought back to reclaim their country and secure its borders.
Months before, these democratic forces had soundly defeated the Soviet-sponsored Circle Army in a battle for control of lands east of the Mississippi. More recently, another major engagement had wrested control of the Panama Canal from a group of fanatical, nuclear-armed neo-Nazis.
Yet despite these successes, Hunter knew the battle was far from over. In fact, he believed the most difficult tasks lay ahead.
But the United Americans had gained the momentum. At the present time they controlled most of the continent's major cities, and for the first time since the Big War, its borders were relatively well-guarded.
And as such, they knew now was the time to go after the traitor.
"There it is, Hawk, dead ahead...."
The words from his co-pilot—and close friend—JT Toomey shook him out of his trance.
Toomey was pointing directly to a small speck of green up ahead that was just barely visible in the pre-dawn darkness. Hunter's infra-red enhanced eyes darted to the island on the horizon, then to the instrument console and then to his watch.
They were still on schedule.
He flicked the intercom switch on his cockpit control panel.
"Bermuda now in sight," he called back to the assault team in the cabin. "Time to put the rosaries away...."
The island—their target—had served as headquarters for the notoriously corrupt "New Order" gang since the end of World War III.
Nominally headed by the traitor himself, the group of international criminals had used the lush resort as a stronghold from which to enforce the harsh tenets of the New Order. At the time of its imposition, these rules restricted virtually all forms of open communications and personal freedoms. They also forbade the display of any symbol of US patriotism—such as the national anthem and the pledge of allegiance—and even outlawed the mention of the term "United States of America."
And for anyone foolhardy enough to display the red, white and blue banner that had been the nation's flag, the penalty was death.
Hunter had made up his mind very soon after learning of the New Order's rules that he would never submit to them. Instead he vowed that he would fight back whenever and wherever he could, until he had defeated the tyranny or it defeated him. He had kept that vow throughout the darkest days of the terrible struggle, in dozens of battles on a hundred shores.
Never was the dream of America far from his thoughts.
And now he was on the verge of striking at the very heart of the beast that had terrorized his nation for so long. He felt gallons of adrenaline pumping through him at the mere thought of it. How sweet is thy nectar, the wine of revenge!
"I read ten minutes before we enter their airspace, Hawk," JT said, once again piercing his thoughts.
"Roger, ten minutes," Hunter acknowledged. "Better start cranking the ECM."
As he heard the reassuring whir of the Osprey's electronic counter-measures package begin transmitting, his thoughts narrowed to the mission ahead.
Even the Soviets did not evoke the same contempt Hunter had for this ex-American traitor and his thugs. During World War III and since, the Soviets had been the major enemy—he had fought them as a soldier, giving no mercy and expecting none. But the treachery and deceit of the turncoat had summoned a fury in him that had been boiling for years. He knew it would not subside until the betrayer was brought to justice.
And that was the object of this mission.
The real planning had started shortly after they found the Osprey.
When the United American Army reclaimed the southeastern coastal states from the hands of The Circle, they discovered most of the former US military installations in the area had been looted or destroyed. The military hardware was long gone—most of it sold on a thriving New Order American black market. There, anything capable of being fired was quickly snapped up by the members of the many free-lance armies that served the two dozen or so nation-states now residing on the North American continent.
But near the former US Marine base at Cherry Point, North Carolina, the Circle had overlooked a creaking container ship that had been beached on the sandy banks of the Pamlico Sound. Whether it was a supply ship on its way to the European battlefront that never left port, or a luckless privateer washed ashore as he tried to run the Circle blockade was never known. But inside its rusty hold lay the sixty-foot tilt-rotor Osprey aircraft, still packed in its factory grease.
The United Americans quickly assembled the Osprey and Hunter had flight-tested it himself shortly after returning from the campaign against the Canal Nazis down in Panama. For most pilots, it would have taken hundreds of flight hours to learn the secrets of tricky vertical takeoffs and landings, rotating engines, and combined complexities of helicopter and fixed-wing flight.
Hunter had it mastered in an afternoon.
Once their transportation had been secured, the meticulous planning for the raid on Bermuda began in earnest. Primary and secondary means of ingress and egress were evaluated. Maps were drawn up. Intangibles like weather and tides were checked. Most important, several teams of United American undercover agents were dropped on the island, spies specially trained to mix in with the Bermudan population.
Training for the strike team itself had been done quickly and secretly. The Special Forces Rangers—being the protective force for the continent's gambling mecca, Football City, formerly known as St. Louis—were everyone's first choice to carry out the strike. And there was never any question that Hunter would be the mission commander.
There were many long days and sleepless nights leading up to the mission. As D-Day approached, Hunter and the other members of the United American top echelon found themselves immersed in a myriad of last-minute details. Air cover. Refueling. SAM suppression. Landing sites. MedEvac. The inevitable unexpected contingencies.
Despite the avalanche of concerns, they were ready to go in less than three weeks....
At 3AM on the morning of D-Day, the team had taken off from the short field at Cherry Point. Hidden in the darkness, at first they flew southeast, away from the primary target of Bermuda.
The odd flight plan was necessary because, first and foremost, the Osprey needed a disguise. This is where the American intelligence operatives came in. The spies had discovered that the Cuban Air Force routinely flew a supply mission to deliver food, fuel, and ammunition from Havana to the New Order ministers. Using a battered Soviet AN-12 Cub turboprop cargo plane, the weekly flight had been "requested" of the Cubans years before by the very mysterious military clique that had run the Kremlin since the war.
Far from an inconvenience, the weekly milk run to Bermuda was considered a plum assignment by the Cuban pilots who flew it—neither the United Americans nor the renegade Yankee air pirates had ever bothered these flights before.
On this day, however, the Cubans discovered that there was a first time for everything.
They had been 250 miles from their destination when the Cuban pilots first spotted the Osprey.
It was as if it had appeared out of nowhere, popping up from the hazy sea with its twin rotors tilted up, positioning itself just a quarter mile off the cargo plane's port side. Before the Cubans could react, a Stinger anti-aircraft missile—fired by one of the commandos stationed on the Osprey's side gunner's station—flashed in on them.
At that range, the sophisticated weapon couldn't miss. The Cuban pilot was too stunned to even key his radio before the American missile's guidance system drove its warhead home, smashing deep into the hot exhaust of the cargo plane's portside outer engine. Within seconds, a mushroom of orange flame engulfed the plane. Then there was a powerful explosion ...
There was no need to confirm the kill—aside from a scattering of wreckage and an oil slick bobbing on the ocean surface, nothing remained of the Cuban aircraft.
The lightning-quick action had been needed to provide their disguise—the Osprey's radar signature resembled that of the Cuban cargo plane, and if all went well, it would be interpreted as such by enemy radar operators.
That had been an hour ago. Now as they closed in on the island, JT leaned over and yelled to Hunter.
"We're in their SAM envelope," he reported. "About five minutes to landfall."
Taking the Toomey's cue, Hunter quickly scanned two screens in front of him, hoping he would not see the tell-tale blips indicating that hostile radars were locking in on them. At the moment, there was nothing.
So far, the disguise was working.
Hunter was glad to see the weather was cooperating—at that moment, the weather around the usually pleasant island was miserable. Low-hanging clouds, fairly high winds, and a moderate rain had been the forecast and the United American meteorologists had been correct again.
Using a thick cloud layer to hide themselves, they were skirting the island's southernmost tip a few minutes later.
There was still no sign of alarm on the ground, at least none observable from the air. Using the NightScope goggles, Hunter could see that there was a large cluster of military vehicles at a tiny airport about six miles to their west. He could also make out an assortment of cargo and combat aircraft bearing Cuban, Soviet, and commercial insignia. Although heat images indicating ground personnel were evident around the base, none of the airport's intercept airplanes appeared to be on alert.
And, best of all, not a single one of the anti-aircraft batteries was manned.
Hunter took another deep gulp of oxygen from his mask, a small celebration of relief. Their intelligence proved correct once again: It appeared as if complacency had become the norm on the New Order's island headquarters, at least in the early morning hours.
Once they were beyond the radar sweep emanating from the airbase, Hunter knew that if they continued to be lucky, few of those awake on the ground would give the lone plane flying above the heavy layer of clouds a second thought. Upon hearing the high whine of the Osprey's engines, those in the know would just assume it was the routine "crack o'dawn" supply flight coming in from Cuba and heading for the island's only other aircraft facility, a small grass strip on the northeastern shoulder of the island.
Skirting the island to the far eastern side, Hunter decreased the Osprey's speed to a near-hovering crawl. His electronically assisted vision scanned the hilly contours that curved down to meet the ocean on this, the island's rocky side. He was looking for one patch of ground in particular—its form was emblazoned in his memory via a high altitude recon photo taken of the island just a week before. The place was ideal for their mission—it was isolated, fairly well-hidden and provided a flat place to set the Osprey down.
He checked his watch again—it was just 0600. The sun was coming up and eventually, it would burn off the inclement weather. He knew that quick action was crucial now. Although they had successfully pierced the enemy's airspace, there would be trouble if just one of the island's radar operators suddenly became alert while the strike force was still airborne.
"There it is ..." Hunter called over to JT.
Excerpted from Wingman by Mack Maloney. Copyright © 1989 Mack Maloney. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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