10 April 1970
The benefit of this ragtag crew of mercenaries was that they had built themselves an operational pattern. A routine that was track-able, measurable and that revealed the needs of the independent government. And breaks in that routine would be of interest, even if it was a day of complete doldrums. A mercenary idle is a sinkhole, a mercenary dead is a tax write-off.
And such predictably was a banquet of intelligence for him to collect.
Yousef’s morning had begun like it always had; before anyone else’s. The dim hours before the sun were a good time for his Krav Maga sparring practice with his crew-chief, a fellow Israeli named Lior. Unlike Yousef, the shorter man had come to Rhodesia back when it was still the British Southern Rhodesia, and had been useful to his homeland in monitoring the goings-on of the civil unrest and whispers of rebellion. But when Yousef was deployed, that had changed overnight, and now Lior was a mechanic. Daily, the demoted Lior protested this in some form, but he’d taken to the work decently enough not to kill Yousef.
Still, the time prior had been well spent, and Lior had established several pipelines and secured information connections back to the homeland and Mossad, Israel’s main foreign intelligence organization. Their home organization was very interested in how and why both Eastern and Western pilots were now flying in defense of an illegitimate national government. This also meant Lior was Yousef’s main connection back home, so the pilot was often relegated to inspecting his own J-21 Jastreb and reading the few Hebrew books he could get his hands on.
Yousef paid little mind to Aadi’s takeoff. That was as routine as the sunrise by now, and watching Draco head out for the day’s first combat mission was also of no surprise. Besides the American, Yousef had the best aircraft to pound anti-government rebels back into the savanna. Shu and her CF-5 could do a mission adequately, but the Chinese pilot’s aircraft would take at least the day to put back together. Aadi carried only a couple small bombs on his Skymaster, so that left Pavel and himself.
Another constant of any given day was that the Russian would run his laps. Yet the MiG-21 was the next to emerge from its hanger, and loaded with its finest air-air missiles, a move which gave Yousef pause. Sitting up from his hammock, the Israeli snapped his fingers, signaling his crew-chief to come running. “What do you make of that?”
Lior scowled his normal grimace, “Not sure, we haven’t been called yet.”
Yousef nodded, setting his book down to watch Pavel’s takeoff. In a display of the interceptor’s sheer power, the FISHBED stood on its tail and raced almost straight up into the sky. Someone’s either nervous or anxious…a dangerous mix when you tow air-air missiles around. He watched Pavel for as long as he could make out the sleek lines of the Russian, before losing it to distance, its path starting to turn southeast.
“What do you think?” Lior asked as the echoing thunder of Pavel’s thunderous liftoff died away.
“I think a nice sabich is in order. Go to the deli and see if they have anything, I’m going to pay Chetting a visit.” Yousef replied, nodding toward the airstrip’s control tower.
Lior nodded his understanding of Yousef’s masked instructions to get in touch with their home office in Tel Aviv and find out what their employer had told the Russian. A request that would take the crew-chief a good portion of the day, leaving Yousef time to check on their air controller and see where both of his comrades had been sent off to today. Pavel’s rare flights took him beyond the reach of the local airspace, but Yousef made note to at least see where the Russian flyer was heading.
The air traffic control tower was much like the rest of the buildings on Station Diana, made of scraps and whatever rubbish Rhodesia’s Special Air Service had been willing to spare. How the bulbous observation and radar control deck didn’t collapse on the myriad of shipping containers serving as its support legs, Yousef had no idea. But the structure had stood tall and weathered storms, occasional gunfire and the very rare bush elephant charge.
Shelving his pilot training for the moment to prepare his primary role, Yousef simply waited in his hammock to let both his fellow pilots get closer to their day’s quarries. Only when he found a good stopping point in his current book did the Israeli head towards the control tower. Ascending the stairs, Yousef let each steady breath coach him back into his role. You are Da’veed Alon, veteran of the Six-Day War and one who flies for money… he let the voice of his case officer repeat in his mind on a loop until Da’veed opened the door.
The smell of cheap cigarettes and gin assaulted his nose as the Israeli entered, followed quickly by the pompous sounds of London as the main airspace controller raised a glass to him. “Well look who decided to pop ‘round! Care of a taste of Her Majesty’s lifeblood?” Pembroke Chetting asked, not waiting for an answer to pour the second glass.
Da’veed took the drink with a smirk, “Starting early, aren’t we? It’s not even noon yet.”
A remark the Englishman chuffed at and brushed aside, “What, are you my mum now? Come to make me eat my veg and all that?”
“No, I just finished giving her a proper fuck, maybe make you a sibling,” the Israeli chided, causing more than a few of the air controllers and radio operators to burst out laughing while Chetting just flipped him off, “Such a fucking twat, you are.”
It only took a moment, but a moment was all Yousef needed. When Pembroke leaned down to tap the dead ash off his smoke, the Mossad agent was given a clear view at the main radar scope. Aadi was slowly making his slow trail up to the city of Lusulu.The American was coming around in a right turn over some point deep in the Sikumbi Forest. I knew these anti-colonial fighters weren’t done yet…
And then there was the Russian, making a bee-line due southwest and out of the country. It wouldn’t have surprised Yousef in the slightest if the red bastard were doing the same thing he did to get here; running away from the fight. But the lack of panic and chaos in the tower told him that this was different. “Where is dear comrade going?” Da’veed asked.
The Englishman shrugged, which was partly expected. To maintain security, the air controllers only get a two line fax from Salisbury on a specially-maintained machine on the far side of the room. Normally, just thanks to the speed of bureaucracy, the pilots were firing up their engines before the tower received the notice that a mission was underway, which didn’t help the case of absolute professionalism that was Pembroke Chetting. It hadn’t taken Yousef long to figure out their British overseer, but it was an avenue left unexploited for now. A fly in my web best saved for later.
At the moment, Da’veed took a sip of the acrid liquor before helping himself to an open pack of unguarded cigarettes as his target took a long drag, a sign Chetting was getting ready to rant. “Like those crown-licking twats in the capital tell us anything. Oh sure, ‘defend the land and secure prosperity’ and all that trite, but fuck all what that actually means!…”
Da’veed sat back to let the Englishman vent, which was thankfully cut short when a black phone rang by one of the forward radio operators calling in a launch from New Saram Air Base. This time, Da’veed was free to ask. “Another round of bush-wacking from the locals today?”
Chetting nodded, flicking his lighter open and closed, as he did when he couldn’t meddle in things. “Probably off to find whatever it was that came across our scope last night, half-past midnight. Something slow and low, maybe another caravan of Santa’s goods.”
More like another gift from the Soviets to these ‘poor, oppressed revolutionaries’, Yousef concluded himself, thinking back to the message stuffed inside the falafel Lior brought back last night from Redcliff. Whether it was advisors or hardware, he didn’t know, but both were dangerous in their own rights.
“Why not look for it last night?” Da’veed asked. A simple question keeping in cover, since Yousef already knew the answer.
Chetting waved with his smoking hand over at the surrounding windows, “Some of these twats can barely fly in good weather! And you expect ‘em to fly and night and NOT hit a zebra or some other rubbish?” The airboss polished off his glass in one seamless swish. “You should be worried about gettin’ some flight time yourself today, or else the Yank’s gonna have your number!”
This time, Da’veed waved nonchalantly. “They’ll call if he needs backup, he’s run dry on the big payloads anyway.”
“You always countin’ other people’s bombs, Alon? Or just his?” Chetting barbed. To which the Israeli chuckled, “Know your competition, and you’ll know when to expect work. Not that anyone else wants your job, Pembroke.”
Suddenly, one of the junior air controllers shot up from his seat like it had bitten him. The poor young man went pale and sprinted across the room to the jabbering mess that was the data line tied into the main Rhodesian Air Force monitoring system.. “Begging your pardon, sir! But the Air Force is calling SOS and scrambling! Sounds like a Dakota went down!”
Slightly more sober than he was a moment before, Chetting scrambled over an obstructing coffee table to take the call, snapping at the radio controller next to him to take action. That was Da’veed’s cue to leave, but not before noting the four new blips coming out of nearby Thornhill Air Base, fast and angry. You don’t send fighters on search and rescue unless you have no choice…or unless someone’s looking to finish their kill.
Leaving the commotion of the tower behind, Yousef checked his watch and smiled. Only a few more minutes until Santa arrives, if Lior read right.
A few minutes later, waiting for his counterpart to return, Yousef heard the faint echo of constant thunder rumbling over him. But we’re not on the civil air traffic path… he looked up with caution. Almost imperceptible, two metallic stars raced across the sky from the southwest, and the Israeli’s jaw locked.
Even back at his parking spot, he could hear people yelling inside the tower, which was magnified when the door opened to let Chetting and others outside to see what had so easily invaded their territory. Yousef watched in horrified awe as the two blurs simply continued on their way. He didn’t doubt the Rhodesians were screaming up at them, but the pair simply kept flying unperturbed.
“Looks like I’m getting a sabich later tonight as well…”
Part 3 of a somewhat–stalled NaNo project, but one I definitely had fun writing. Historical fiction is hard, especially trying to avoid the anachronisms of technology levels in a short-lived post-colonial power WHILE trying to accurately depict the cultural norms of the time. Should I be more liberal with the setting for the sake of writing the story? Or stick more with the historical accuracy if possible and likely alienate some readers….hoo boy
I hope you all enjoy.