2.Burpleson Air Force Base.
Closing down the computer room, Group Captain Mandrake turned off the last few monitors. The room wasn’t needed now, all command functions had been transferred to the Command Bunker and anyway all the tech staff had been given rifles and sent off to help defend the base. Picking up the folder containing the mission briefings and code words for Plan ‘R’, Mandrake glanced around at the silent computers before walking briskly to the door.
At the door he paused again, looking around one last time he saw that the room was completely deserted. Turning once more he switched off the lights before leaving the room and going into the computer room annex. Here he stopped to check on something that one of the printers was printing out. Glancing at the sheets of paper as they slid from the machine he saw it was nothing important. Switching off the printer, Mandrake was just about to walk away when he saw something almost hidden under a pile of paper lying next the printer.
Picking up the little radio, Mandrake smiled. It was a retro model designed to look like something from the 1960’s, something that his father or mother might have owned in fact. Mindful that all communication devices were supposed to be handed in to the Air Police, he took the radio with every intention of handing it over. Somehow his thumb fell upon the on/off switch and turned the little dial. The radio burst into life its tiny speaker blaring discordant jazz music into the quiet of the room.
Frowning, Mandrake looked at the radio, this couldn’t be right, he told himself. If the country was under some sort of attack surely they wouldn’t be still be broadcasting jazz music, would they? Turning the dial, Mandrake found that other local stations were continuing with their normal broadcasting.
“Bloody odd,” he muttered to himself as he found what sounded like a talk radio station, he listened intently.
The ‘host’ of the radio show sounded like he was having a heated argument with a caller about which books the local school-board should put in its libraries. The host appeared be supporting the First Amendment, while the caller was advocating book burning. Getting slightly lost in the finer points of the argument, Mandrake forgot for a moment what he was supposed to be doing. He only returned to the here and now when the station broke for some messages from their sponsors. It was then that Mandrake realised that something had gone terribly wrong.
“Oh bloody hell!” he cried as he headed on out of the annex and down the corridor towards the stairs that would lead him up to General Ripper’s office.
While a local radio station might keep broadcasting, even during a dire emergency, Mandrake felt sure they wouldn’t be talking about the contents of school libraries and they certainly wouldn’t be taking ad breaks. The alert had to be some kind of drill; only then did a frightening thought enter Mandrake’s mind. What if this wasn’t a drill, what if it was some sort of enemy trick designed to make the United States launch a nuclear strike against a perceived enemy. Whatever the truth, the Wing must be turned back or returned to their Failsafe points; the General needed to know.0=0=0=0Lima One-Nine, somewhere over the continental United States.
Standing next to the short ladder that led up to the flightdeck, Staff Sergeant Scott (Loadmaster of Lima one-nine) eyed the female, army, Warrant Officer as she sat all alone in the cargo bay surrounded by her gear. He wondered why she was so important that his aircraft should be diverted to Fort Drum and why they had to fly her almost half way across the country. Shifting slightly into a more comfortable position Scott had to admit that the woman had to be the most attractive Warrant Officer, Army or otherwise, he’d ever seen. Although she couldn’t be more than about five-six, he guessed her uniform must hide some major muscles. When she’d come aboard she’d lifted all her combat gear effortlessly into the aircraft without his help.
Wherever she was going she was sure expecting trouble; she carried her helmet, body armour, M4 rifle and pistol plus a full load of ammo and grenades. This woman was looking for trouble, so why was she heading for some out of the way one horse town like Springfield up near the Canadian border? A nasty thought came to Scott’s mind; Springfield was near Burpleson Air Force Base, one of the last SAC airbases in this part of the country. He also remembered the navigator talking to the skipper about not landing at Burpleson AFB. They’d been ordered to land a Springfield civilian airport.
“Oh shit,” Scott gasped quietly as he added two and two together and came up with the worst possible scenario.
What if something ‘bad’ had gone down at Burpleson, what if this, oh so sexy looking army woman had been sent to ‘deal’ with some sort of ‘situation’? His eyes fell on the Ranger tabs on the woman’s shoulder, next they moved to the rifle lying on the seat next to her. Lastly his eyes flicked back to the weird unit patch just under the Ranger tabs. He’d caught a glimpse of it as she’d climbed aboard; it had looked like some sort of demonic head with a red ‘not allowed’ symbol superimposed on it.
Still puzzling over what the hell was going on, Scott’s thoughts were interrupted by Lima One-Nine’s second in command calling to him over his headsets. Gulping down the lump that had suddenly appeared in his throat and trying to still his rapidly beating heart, Scott listened to what the Lieutenant had to say. Nodding his head and giving a quiet ‘Roger’, Scott started to make his way down the length of the aircraft to where the female ranger sat.
“Ma’am?” Scott touched Faith on the shoulder to attract her attention.
“What ya want, Sergeant?” Faith looked up at the man.
“Message from the Skipper ma’am,” Scott swallowed finding his mouth suddenly dry, “all US forces have been put on Defcon Two, Fast Pace, and we’re ten minutes out from Springfield.”
“Thank-you, Sergeant,” Faith nodded as she started to check her gear one last time before they landed.
“Excuse me ma’am,” Scott hadn’t gone back to his spot over by the flightdeck, he still stood over Faith a worried expression on his face.
“What’s up?” Faith asked keeping her face neutral.
“Do you know what the hell’s going on?” Scott asked as he gestured with one hand to the world in general. “Defcon Two? It’s like something outta a spy movie.”
“How the hell should I know, Sergeant?” Faith shrugged and gave the man a weak smile, “I just go where they tell me an’ do what I’m told.”
“Yeah, ma’am, right,” somehow Scott didn’t feel that reassured by Faith’s answer; he turned and made his way back to the front of the aircraft.
Sitting in her uncomfortable nylon web seat, Faith glanced at her watch, corrected it for the local time zone and looked at it again. Sighing she thanked whoever for giving her super-powers and the ability to get by on a couple of hours sleep a night…a couple of hours sleep preceded by some pretty frantic love making. Once again Faith remembered the sad, worried look on Willow’s face as she’d jumped out of bed and hurriedly put on her clothes.
Thankfully, Willow hadn’t made a fuss; she hadn’t demanded to know why their first real break together was being interrupted. She’d not wanted to know where Faith was going or when she’d be back, she’s seemed to know that Faith wouldn’t be able to tell her. Only…only when they had parted, Willow had held her like they were never going to see each other again, like she knew Faith wasn’t coming back. The redhead had tried to hide her tears but Faith had seen them glittering in the soft glow of the room’s lights. When she’d boarded the chopper in the parking lot that would take her back to Fort Drum, Faith had looked back to search out the window of their room. There she’d seen the silhouette of Willows upper body against the light of the room, Faith had waved and seen Willow wave back. Then she was in the Blackhawk and being whisked up into the air and away from her lover…perhaps forever.
Cocking her head at the change in tone of the aircraft’s engines Faith felt the transport start its decent towards Springfield. Picking up her rifle she pulled back the charging handle and checked that the breach was empty, next she let her fingers run over her equipment harness. All the pouches were full of spare magazines and grenades, all were secured so that when she jumped from the back of the aircraft nothing would go flying. That had happened to her once before, she’d jumped down from a truck, hit the ground and the magazines from one of her pouches had bounced out and onto the ground. She’d spent an embarrassing couple of minutes collecting her spilt gear under the watchful and unforgiving eye of her instructor; she wasn’t about to let that happen again.
Reaching inside her body armour, Faith’s fingers came into contact with the envelope containing her orders. They were quite simple; she was to gain access to Burpleson Air Force Base and retrieve the Recall Codes for the 843rd Bomber Wing that was even now speeding towards their targets in China, Russia and the Middle East. She was to do this by any means necessary and to help her she had an entire battalion of the National Guard to persuade the local Air Force types to let her through. But the icing on the cake, in fact the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake and the reason that the Pentagon had sent her instead of an entire brigade of paratroopers was that the base commander, General Jack D Ripper (an unfortunate name if Faith had ever heard one) was believed to have been possessed by a demon. This made it the 613th’s area of responsibility, which made it Faith’s responsibility. To be honest she could well do without all this responsibility, thank-you very much.
Hearing an indistinct cry over the sound of the aircraft’s engines, Faith looked up at the Loadmaster; he held up five fingers. Five minutes before touch down, sighing Faith started to check her gear one more time.0=0=0=0Burpleson Air Force Base.
“Excuse me sir,” Mandrake burst into General Ripper’s office without knocking, “something rather interesting’s turned up. Listen to this,” he held up the little radio for the General to hear the voices issuing from its speaker. “Civilian broadcasting, I think those chaps at the Pentagon have given us some sort of exercise to test our readiness.” Mandrake switched off the radio having got the General’s attention, “Personally, I think its taking things too far; our chaps will be inside Russian radar cover in about twenty minutes.”
“Mandrake,” the General sounded very tired, he looked over to where Colonel Reed stood by the windows as if seeking reassurance.
“Yes sir?” Mandrake replied still not realising there was something more than an exercise going on.
“I thought I issued instructions for all communications devices on base to be impounded.” Ripper looked up at Mandrake as he felt the presence of Reed standing right behind his chair; standing up slowly he made his way across the room to his office door and locked it. Putting the key into his trouser pocket he went back to stand behind his desk.
“Yes, you did sir and I was in the process of impounding this very one when I happened to switch it on.” Mandrake frowned at his commanding officer; he was just starting to get an inkling of something very strange going on here. “I thought to myself,” Mandrake continued doggedly, “what with our chaps hitting Russian radar cover soon and then dropping all their stuff, I thought I'd better tell you, because if they do, it'll cause a bit of a stink, won't it?”
“Group Captain,” Ripper sat back down in his chair, he could feel the headache coming back, “the officer exchange program doesn’t give you any special prerogatives to question my orders.”
“No, I realize that sir,” Mandrake replied, he’d had no intention of questioning the general’s orders; he just wanted to make sure that he was in possession of all the relevant facts, “but I thought you'd be rather pleased to hear the news. I mean after all, let's face it we don't want to start a nuclear war unless we really have to, do we?”
“Please sit down,” General Ripper gestured to the chair in front of his desk.
Colonel Reed bent down to whisper in the General’s ear, “You’re going to have to kill him, General.”
The demonic Colonel was worried about Mandrake, in her time on base she’d had no success either controlling or even making herself visible to the Group Captain. This failure worried her, the simplest solution would be to get the general to kill Mandrake, but General Ripper’s mind had always been resistant to the idea.
“Yes sir,” Mandrake sat down, by now he’d realised that something was very wrong, very wrong indeed, “Erm, what about the planes, sir? Surely we should issue the recall code immediately.”
“Group Captain,” the General sighed sadly, “the planes are not going to be recalled. My attack orders have been issued and those orders stand.”
“Well,” Mandrake gulped rather loudly at this news, “if you'll excuse me for saying so, sir. That would be, to my way of thinking, rather an odd way of looking at it.” Mandrake was still convinced that there’d been a mistake and if he could make the General see sense they could avert catastrophe, “You see, if an enemy attack was in progress we’d certainly not be hearing civilian broadcasting.”
“Are you certain of that, Mandrake?” General Ripper raised an quizzical eyebrow.
“Yes Sir, I'm absolutely positive about that,” Mandrake nodded his head firmly.
“And what if it’s true?” General Ripper asked reasonably.
“I'm afraid I'm still not with you, sir. Because, I mean, if an enemy attack was not in progress then your use of Plan ‘R’, in fact your orders to the entire wing...oh…” The penny slowly dropped as Mandrake realised that General Ripper had gone completely and utterly insane, “Well I would say, sir, that there was something dreadfully wrong somewhere.”
“Now, why don't you just take it easy, Group Captain,” General Ripper smiled reassuringly, “and please make me a drink of grain alcohol and rain water,” he gestured to the drinks cabinet next to the wall opposite the windows, “and help yourself to whatever you'd like.”
“General Ripper, sir,” Mandrake got to his feet, pulled his uniform straight and came to attention before saluting the General, “as an officer in Her Majesty's Air Force, it’s my clear duty, under the present circumstances, to issue the recall code upon my own authority. If you'll excuse me sir,” Mandrake turned and walked over to the door only to find it locked, returning to face the general, Mandrake held out his hand, “I'm afraid sir, I must ask you for the key and the recall code. Have you got them handy sir?”
“I told you to take it easy, Group Captain,” General Ripper smiled lazily the headache had retreated to the back of his mind again, “There's nothing anybody can do about this thing now. I'm the only person who knows the three letter code group.”
“Then I must insist, sir,” Mandrake replied trying to stifle his feelings of growing panic, “that you give them to me.”
Not replying directly, General Ripper lifted a folder from his desk to reveal a pearl handled Colt .45 automatic pistol. Just for a moment Reed thought that the General was actually going to kill Mandrake, she smiled with relief.
“Do I take it, sir,” Mandrake swallowed the lump in his throat, “that you are threatening a brother officer with a gun?”
“Mandrake,” the General sighed once more as he dropped the folder onto his desk next to the pistol, “I suppose it never occurred to you that while we're chatting here so enjoyably, a decision is being made by the President and the Joint Chiefs in the war room at the Pentagon. When they realize there is no possibility of recalling the wing, there will be only one course of action open: total commitment.” The general sounded frighteningly sane as he glanced around to receive an encouraging smile from Colonel Reed, “Mandrake, do you recall what Clemenzo once said about war?”
“No, sir,” Mandrake followed the general’s gaze but couldn’t see what he was looking at, “I don't think I do.”
“He said war was too important to be left to the Generals,” General Ripper explained, “When he said that, ninety years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They’ve neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought. I can no longer sit back and allow Marxist infiltration, Marxist indoctrination, Marxist subversion, and the international Marxist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.”0=0=0=0Author’s Note:
‘Marxism’…a bit dated I know, in the film they actually said ‘Communism’ after all the film was made in the sixties. I used ‘Marxism’ because I thought someone might ‘get upset’ if I used the word I wanted to use.