New Horizons Air Service: Mission #7(ish) – The Best Laid Plans…

11 April, 1970

Draco

“There’s no reason a man over the age of twenty-five should consume more muchaiwa than their own body weight…”. 

Da’veed had dropped this knowledge nugget on Doug during the American’s first few days in Rhodesia, which Doug had scoffed at initially. “Man, I cut my teeth drinking unregulated soju in booze huts and trailers, how bad can this be?”

And then Santa arrived with his initial delivery of Draco’s A-37B Dragonfly, after which the Canadian had properly educated Draco on just how potent the local homebrew could be. How the American had made it back to his bunk, he’d had no idea at the time, but judging on how even Shu was laughing at him the next morning, Doug assessed that it wasn’t gracefully. 

Once again, the sound of Aadi taxiing out stirred Draco from his intoxicated slumber, but this time drew a long groan from his core. “How…how can such an old bastard drink so much?!”

Peering out of his single window that looked out across the runway and into infinite plains, he was surprised to see that Santa’s King Air had already departed. “Asshole better be picking up more ammo…”

Doug rolled back over, feeling blindly around the small nightstand next to his head for a glass of once-cool water and a full bottle of whatever passed for aspirin in these parts. As the tiny tablets ran down his throat, the door to his hovel creaked open and in came a pot of something warm and something encased in bread. “Thanks, Chanda.”

“No problem, bossman. You had rough day yesterday.”

Draco nodded, downing the remaining water without thinking.  “Yeah…that hasn’t happened since ‘53”

“Bad day all around, bossman. Russian also got shot at yesterday.”

Doug shot to his feet and spun, looking next door to where the FISHBED slumbered. It looked more or less intact, though even head-on, he could tell that Pavel’s ground-crew had pulled the engine out for an in-depth look.

“Musta run hard yesterday, did he say who he was hitting?” Doug queried his crew chief.

Chanda shook his head, “Not bombing, bossman. He took missiles yesterday. Came back with ‘em, too.”

Doug gulped down a mouthful of carbs and fat-soaked vegetables, letting his mind sit on that for a moment. “What about the local guys? I ran into a CSAR patrol yesterday.”

“Yeah, woupombwe snakes caught one of the C-47s yesterday from New Sarum. Heard it went nose-in. No survivors.”

The American suppressed a ‘hiss’. Means a loss of control from either the cockpit or the tail, and any heavy flyer worth his salt can at least line up a belly landing most of the time. “Anyone see what happened?”

Chanda shook his head, which didn’t surprise Draco. The American patted his Rhodesian companion on the back. “Well, if she got taken down, I’m sure we’ll be bombing those woupombwe back to their ancestors here real soon.”

The mechanic nodded, though didn’t appear encouraged by that. 

Seeing the need to change topics, Doug nodded over to the red phone. “Did I miss anything?”

“No, but…” Chanda started, before the screeching whine of the Jastreb’s Viper Mk 531 engine cut the maintainer off. Doug headed over to the entryway of the Dragonfly’s hanger, peeking outside just enough that the sun didn’t try drilling too deeply into his eyeballs. Sure enough, the Israeli’s J-21 was beginning its takeoff-checkout. Its wings were laden to their maximum with high-explosive rockets and cluster bombs. Da’veed’s favorite loadout…must be some dug-in guerillas.

“That was fast, the Skymaster just left!” Chanda pointed out, at which Draco nodded. “Yeah, so Aadi didn’t find them. Must be a hot tip out there.” A hot tip trying to rip my brain out of my skull!

“You gonna check in with the tower, bossman?”

Doug shook his head, finishing off the vital nourishment needed to soak up all the booze. “Maybe later. But I’m sure that Israeli will tell me all about it when he’s waving his payout in my face again.”

*

Sword

11 April, 1970

It was indeed a hot tip, just not one announced on the red phone. When he’d come back from his information drop the previous night, Lior had brought Yousef a folded up square of paper and a photograph in a folder. The picture itself was nondescript, a building like any other anywhere, so it was useless on its own. But pairing it with the note told Yousef that an active Rhodesian Marxist gathering was meeting up outside Beria to the east in Mozambique, and they’d managed to get their hands on a T-34-85 tank. The mass of armor and death was now waiting next to the building in the photograph, carefully hidden under netting and tarp, but Yousef had seen enough Egyptian and Syrian machines to know its form even among the shifting sands. 

How one sneaks a Soviet war machine into East Africa, I can only imagine, but God’s will wants it removed, and so it shall be done. After he’d committed the latitude & longitude of the note to memory, he had Lior toss both the documents in a drum and melt them with an acetylene torch. After that, Yousef looked at his map to calculate how much armament he could ferry for the roughly hour-long flight to target and then scramble back.  

Of course, simply keeping the objective committed to memory wasn’t the main problem with this current assignment. If retention were an issue, Yousef was sure he’d be filing papers somewhere in a basement in Tel Aviv. A little border violation in the middle of a civil war can be a delicate issue, he let himself ponder. Especially when the Portuguese Air Force had a rather capable all-weather fighter in the Fiat G.91R. Naturally, a full squadron of these sat alert at the Aeroporto Internacional da Beira, right where the Israeli flyer needed to end up. If the Portuguese decided that Yousef was interfering in their goals, he had little doubt his Jastreb wouldn’t survive.  Reading the observations is one thing, but how good is the man at the yoke?

Once he was generally comfortable in his measurements and track, Yousef had ordered Lior to fetch him a sadza from their favorite shanty. Which in reality meant that Yousef was ready for Lior to falsify the mission assignment on the wire so Chetting would see why the Israeli was taking off. The fake target assignment would show why Da’veed was heading east from their airbase, but not how far he was going. So far, even this simple deception had kept the wool over the control tower’s eyes, but Yousef knew it would not last forever. 

But such was a problem for later on, and his eventual departure from Station Diana would be handled by pre-arranged Mossad elements, so Yousef turned his attention back to the hornet’s nest he was embarking toward. Even as the J-21 chattered down New Diana’s runway and lifted off, Yousef still rehearsed the mock engagement in his mind over and over.  In a clear sky, the Israeli would swoop in like a majestic osprey and erase the Soviet tank from existence. But such a textbook attack meant Yousef would be dead either well before or immediately after the raid. “And I’m not letting Lior gloat over my grave, at least not today.”

Weighing the Jastreb down with ordnance also limited its maximum altitude, which was usually not a concern of Yousef’s anyway.  Even free and under full power, the J-21 could not match the G.91 in speed or flight ceiling. So the Israeli often borrowed the American’s playbook and planned on ambushing his target at or below five-thousand feet. If he was low enough on approach, the simple camouflage paint scheme painted on his back could be just enough to trick the Portuguese fliers, while the ground clutter played havoc with any ground radar tracking. 

But as Doug had found out yesterday, that low-altitude hunt left Yousef pime for a Strela or other shoulder-launched missile to rip his wings clean off. Such was part of the gamble, And those in our trade gamble every time we ascend to the clouds.

A sudden slam of crosswind pushed the Jastreb south as if it were skating on oil, forcing Yousef to abandon such musings. He pulled the aircraft’s nose back on its straight path, pushing the right rudder pedal down as hard as possible to keep it straight, hearing as much as feeling the drag such a gale pulled on all the instruments of death on his wings. The Israeli cursed himself for not adequately factoring in the day’s forecast when choosing his flight path and payload, which was now stacking the chips against him at gravity’s roulette table. For a split-second, Yousef fervently wished that this mission had come in on the red phone so Draco would’ve answered, only to remember the sad state of stupor that Santa had stumbled back in. Even floating in unregulated brew up to his beard, the Candian still retained enough sense to drag Doug back to their base and toss him into his hanger. All those layers of blubber must be slick with toxins by now… Yousef had wondered as he’d watched this helpless scene unfold.

“No help from the Americans this time!” Yousef growled into his control stick, countering each bubble and surge of air pressure with both hands desperately trying to keep the J-21 from hopping itself into the many hills below. The battle for control ran somewhere between a minute and a year, but eventually airspeed and purpose won out, leaving the Israeli pilot already sweating before he even reached the Mozambique border. “God tests the faithful with the most dire challenges, does He not?” he wondered aloud, looking up at the wisps of white and grey being pulled along the sky above him. 

Only for that look to reveal a reflection of sunlight of shining metallic gray seemingly waiting to pounce on him from above. On instinct, the Israeli let the Jastreb fall from its previous altitude to one-thousand feet. Without his own radar, or the ability to radio Station Diana for confirmation, Yousef had only his eyes to guide him. Eyes that widened a little when the distant blur canted its larger wings to reveal a pair of large turboprop engines as opposed to the single turbojet the G.91R carried. 

“A transport? Out here?” he muttered to himself, hastily marking on his knee-strapped map roughly where this unknown was. Another question for Lior to seek answers on. Or another answer he could pull out of Chetting with gin-covered pliers, it didn’t matter. His cover demanded no less than the answer, since now there was something else in the sky to challenge him, even indirectly. 

Cautiously, the Israeli flyer pulled into a slow turn, to keep the glinting shine on his shoulder. Much to his shock, the reflection also turned, but it then started to grow larger. Whatever it was, it had found Yousef, and this was an unacceptable risk. Which meant he’d need to explain his sudden return to the airspace controllers back at base. 

“Delta-Zero-One, this is Sword. Mission scrubbed, will reacquire.” He was careful to add a hint of irritation and strain in his call back to Station Diana, to reflect Da’veed’s facade of frustration at not being able to earn his primary mission’s cut.
Time for the secondary mission: find some rebels and erase them…provided enough fuel remains.

The Jarstreb rattled and shook as it re-entered the maelstrom of pressure differences, putting the stalking aircraft to its tail. As he’d gambled, it did not follow him into Rhodesia. “I didn’t know I wanted Portuguese food tonight, but there we are…”

Once clear of the grip-testing gales, he pulled the J-21 to an easy ten-thousand feet. Gentler winds rocked the aircraft in a much more dulcet manner, allowing Yousef to breathe. “Saadhuk, this is Sword. Are we hunting yet?”

“Abhee nahin, not yet. I’m just hitting Gerwu-One now! You left so soon?” Aadi posed in response. 

“Yes, my friend. Was sent east for tagging mission, but the herd was uncooperative.” Da’veed replied, signaling his failure to complete the strike. Come on, give me something! All these rockets are too expensive to just toss away so I can get back…

“How are you on fuel? You cover west past Gerwu-Eleven and I’ll hit east?” 

“Acknowledge, Saadhuk, Sword will take the western grid while you cover east. Should have about half tanks left once I clear local airspace.” Da’veed confirmed, actually pleased to receive the dull assignment of burning holes in the sky looking for what probably wasn’t there. “Good thing this contract pays by the flight hour, eh?”

The Indian pilot chucked something Yousf couldn’t quite make out in the comms, but the line ended after that, which was good enough as confirmation for him. Now, before hitting the geographical landmark to turn back to Station Diana, Yousef pushed father west. 

Once the collection of hovels and shanties known as Gerwu was behind his shoulder, he turned his attention beyond the wingtanks keeping the Jastreb asloft, to the surface below. Gently continuing his tracking west, he was torn between wanting a sudden  thrill like Doug or Pavel had had yesterday, or returning with a full load for a change. While the swaths of road cut into the wasteland were wide, few were the travelers that came or went on the path that connected the outpost town to the flatlands that spanned the horizon.

So when a trail of dust sprayed by a fast moving line of heavy trucks caught his gaze, Yousef had little to do but bank his wings and point his nose at them. As he approached from a decent altitude, the convoy suddenly veered off the flattened path, barreling toward the Vungu riverbed with full abandon. For Yousef, that was an unusual move, until he put both his intelligence and his pilot roles together and focus not on the waterway, but the thick treelines on either side. “Trying to hide, are we? Not today, I think.”

Sure enough, the haulers swerved again to dive under an exceptionally thick thacket of branches and tree trunks. Have you seen me? What do you hide? Yousef wondered as he canted his wing to circle around alertly. Only then did he spot the second and third convoys of vehicles and men already concealed in the foliage. Quickly, a dozen others spilled out of the lead vehicle Yousef had followed and they started busying themselves with the labor of transferring massive iron drums. 

While the Israeli had little doubt this was activity most nefarious, there was little he could do about it as things stood. Smuggling is the government’s responsibility, unless we’re paid otherwise.

Coming around so that nothing stood between the Jastreb and the great blue beyond behind him, Yousef caught the spark of a smoketrail and the blur of something racing up to try and catch him. Yousef had an educated guess what it was when it failed to reach him so high up and vanished without its motor to push it forward.

Da’veed wanted to smile, for now there was work to do, but Yousef simply clenched his jaw as the J-21 pulled into a reversing turn as tight as it could manage. Once his nose was to the treeline, the pilot could make out dozens of figures racing to cover or into the riverbed to use its bank as cover. 

“If I were Draco, maybe you’d be safe.” he muttered, clicking his master-arm switch on for the VRZ-157 rockets. Using only his eyesight and angle measurement off his nose, Yousef squeezed the trigger deliberately six times, while also stomping the right rudder pedal to the floor to sweep his gaze along the horizon as best he could manage. 

Each rocket screamed off his wings in their own pillar of fire, caring little for anything but the spot they were aimed at. Two-hundred seventy pounds of high explosive slammed into the earth in close proximity, ripping flesh, steel, and baobab wood apart. At least one large truck tried to escape the carnage, only to plow nose-first into the mud and sludge of the Vungu. 

The choking black smoke washed over the Jastreb as Yousef flew on by, observing the waste he’d laid into the ground below. The few things left moving did so with horrendous anguish, or because they choked on the dust and debris. Yet much to the Israeli’s surprise, out of the carnage sprang two off-road jalopies, racing with all their might towards the northeast and back to Gerwu. But in their desperation, they moved together, as one target. 

Or perhaps that was the trap they were now trying to lay for the Israeli, for when the J-21 put its nose to their path, the two fleeing vehicles smartly swerved away from each other. Still, each driver matched the moves of the other, unwilling to completely abandon whatever il-conceived escape they’d been forced into. 

This did, however, prevent Yousef from switching over his cluster bombs, as the munitions were far too expensive to use without a more cooperative target. “So I shoot retreating fish in an infinite barrel.” The J-21 wailed like a wildcat as he pushed the throttle to near maximum power, letting gravity and thrust build up his speed. Almost simultaneously, Yousef came under a thousand feet, and the escaping vehicles split their paths again. But this time, the Israeli clenched the trigger for a full second, and a shower of .50 caliber rounds shredded most of the trail escapee into a fiery mist.

Now alone and frightened beyond logic, the second vehicle slowed, then stopped. From the cabin, a driver emerged with hands raised, before lowering something to the ground. Out the back of the truck came another three petrified souls, also with hands raised and rifles lowered. They pointed at Yousef and waved desperately.

“Surrender accepted, dreks. It should only take you a day or so to walk home.” the pilot acknowledged, lining up one final pass. Yousef let the submitting men freeze in terror or sprint away from the truck as fast as humanly possible before he pulled the trigger for one more twitch. Six rounds plowed through the transport from hood to cabin to bed, viciously dissecting it and setting it ablaze. 

Part of him wondered if he could actually hear the men below screaming up at him, or if that was Da’veed, inside his mind and rejoicing at the prospect of getting payment. Yousef could feel his blood racing through his knuckles and calves, but the wreckage behind him gave him little joy. The Isareli had little doubt that from this collection of slain guerillas, others would rise and take up arms in the name of the cause. “The Arabs taught us that lesson well, fighting hearts and minds is something you either commit to fully, or not at all. And this contract isn’t built for a victory.”

******

The next(?) installment of the New Horizons air mercenaries and our favorite spy-turned-pilot.

Why label it Mission 7? Mainly because I’m still not sure about one of my original characters as I’d originally wrote them. But maybe you’ll see them later on.

I hope you all enjoy.

2 thoughts on “New Horizons Air Service: Mission #7(ish) – The Best Laid Plans…

  1. Mayumi-H says:

    I like the first part with Draco (Doug?); it gives the piece a nice grounding point. In a larger, collected story, it might serve as its own standalone small chapter, though, since most of the conflict and action are with Sword. I will have to go back and reread (or maybe read; I may have missed them the first time around, for which I apologize) the earlier parts, to get a better handle on who’s who.

    Aside from my confusion there, there’s a lot of easy action in this one. I especially liked the conflict with the guerillas. While there’s a fair amount going on, the scene is easy to picture. In fact, everything that kicks in after “So when a trail of dust…” reads very quickly and with plenty of appropriate tension.

    I’m not sure who to be rooting for, though. Which may be the point of them being air mercenaries? They “feel” different from the Soviet characters across the way – less team-like, more individualistic. That’s totally fine, by the way! These are different characters, with different motivations. They just feel…nastier than some of your other casts. Of course, nasty can be a lot of fun, too. 🙂

    Nice work!

    • Thank you so much, Mayumi!

      This story has been an interesting challenge, with the multiple, and largely separate, POV characters. Doug is kind of the central character, as most of my outline is from his view, but that can always change!

      I’m glad you enjoyed the rush of action! It was just as much fun for me to imagine and work my mind through (with plenty of hand motions and sound effects)

      You’d be right in that just because they’re the focus of the story, these mercenaries aren’t necessarily ‘good’ guys. In fact, the one I’ve gone back-and-forth on the most is also the most selfish and merciless one, which I hope adds more to the story. Very nasty, but also very cathartic to write at times.

      I’m always happy to hear your feedback, and hope to bring you more soon!

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