In the fifth instalment of our story, Sean finally arrives at his new assignment, and gets to see who - and what - he'll be working with. Hints are made at the true nature of their missions and goals, and he gets to meet some new personnel, as well as getting closer to those he's already met.
All isn't roses though, as the enemy are digging in, and preparing an ambush for the heroes when they make their move, using the intel captured earlier on.
The tension builds in this instalment, heading for more excitement further down the line!
By Stephen Doyle
Lajes Air Force Base
Terceira Island, Azores
The summer sunshine turned the blue sea below around the island to shining glass. Terceira was a lush green and brown blanket laid out on that mirror. Soft wisps of cloud hung around the slopes of the Cume Mountain, and drifting over the western areas of the island, where the green forest prevailed.
The C-130J Hercules transport banked into a gently descending turn, lining up on the long runway at Lajes, the only airport on the island, shared between civilian traffic and the military.
Aboard the turboprop cargo carrier, Sean looked out of the cockpit windows as the blunt nose of the transport swung around and aimed at the long rectangle of black below.
"Time to strap in, major," said the pilot of the RAF plane. Sean clapped him on the shoulder, and half-limped, half-walked back to the cargo bay, which was loaded with pallets of supplies for the base.
The remainder of his stay at the hospital had been much better. After speaking with Rebecca, and his decision to join up with Avalon, he had been in much higher spirits, which had helped his recovery. The doctors and nurses had been impressed and pleased by the speed of his recovery, and had been able to transfer him to quarters after only a couple of days. He'd had time to read up on the materials sent to him by Rebecca, and to send and receive e-mail with Taia and the others after that, which had lead to more excitement.
He'd been able to easily arrange his affairs with the USAF with the help of Colonel Carson, who had been happy to expedite things for him. Sean had been able to claim the back-pay he'd been owed, and transfer all the details across to Avalon with no real hitches, leaving only the minutiae to be sorted out once he made it to their base; where they were about to land now. Finding out that Avalon was headquartered in the Azores was another benefit - almost year-round sunshine and warm temperatures were something he could definitely get behind.
He adjusted his belt as he heard the pitch of the turboprop engines change, the vibration rumbling through the planes' fuselage and the cargo bay, along with the thundering rush of air. The fox sat straight in the seat, and listened to the sound of the big transport plane landing. There was little change in the sound, aside from a slight drop in the rumble of the engines as the crew throttled back, and then a sharp thump as the four-wheeled main gear hit the tarmac runway. He felt the body of the plane tilt, and then the nosewheel hit with a much gentler thud. The engines slowed, and then rumbled into reverse, growling as the g-force gently pressed against him, and then gently let go, and the engines slowed to a consistent hum. He unfastened his belt as the loadmaster climbed down the stairs, and nodded to him.
"Almost ready, sir," he said with a smile, yelling over the noise. "Just taxiing to the parking area now, so you'd better make sure you've got all your gear".
"Thanks!" he answered in an equally loud voice, and bent to gather his things. A single backpack and a large sports-style 'kit bag' held most of his items - changes of clothes, personal 'gadgets' and effects, books, toiletries, and all the mundanity of everyday life was packed into those bags. Everything else he'd either sold, put into storage, or had shipped ahead, anticipating his new billet on the island.
The engines roared one last time, and he stepped to one of the small porthole windows in the side of the Hercules' fuselage to take a look outside. The field of view was limited, but good enough to see a large blacktop aircraft parking area stretching away, and above it an expanse of glorious blue sky. Further from that were the airbases' buildings, which, rather than being the concrete, flat-roofed constructions he expected, were instead charming brick-built buildings with pointed, red-tiled roofs that gave the whole place a much more pleasant and welcoming air than any base he'd been to previously.
The engines wound down, and Sean moved away from the window, sidling around the cargo pallets to stand alongside the loadmaster as the ramp at the rear of the aircrafts' bay powered open with a whine of electronic motors and hydraulics. The breeze that hit them in the face was tinged with the smells of baking tarmac, twinges of burning jet fuel and rubber, and above those strong, industrial smells floated the scent of the briny sea, and of exotic plants, luring the fox halfway down the ramp, and to step off of the steel tongue and onto the blistering hot tarmac.
The sun beat down on him, and the brightness was a shock - especially with only one eye - and he lift one arm to cover his face. Almost immediately, he was reminded of his ordeal in the desert. But the distant hiss of the waves and the cool wisps of sea breeze coiling through his fur and over his face bought him back to the island, and the airfield; the drowsy warmth promising of long, hot days, and luxurious warm evenings with a drink in one hand.
Unable to keep a smile off of his face at the thought, he turned back to wave to the loadmaster, who gave him a short wave back, grinning. Sean grinned back and turned to look out across the tarmac. In the distance, across the other side of the runway, stood the civilian air terminal, where airliners were stood in rows outside with buses ferrying people back and forth between the buildings and the airplanes. As he watched, a twin-engined airbus made a racing takeoff roll, howling along the runway and leaping into the air, its metallic body shining in the sun.
He turned back as the airliner climbed away and looked over the military side of things again. The Hercules stood in the middle of apron, one of only a few planes in the vicinity. A Lockheed P-3 Orion anti-submarine and maritime patrol plane stood not far off, being refuelled and crew members standing nearby in conversation. A VIP transport of some kind, a business jet he didn't recognise was further off, and if he squinted, he could see fighters - F-16's, he thought - parked outside a hangar.
The grinding rumble of a car engine came from behind him, and Sean looked to see an open-topped Hummvee in a shade of light, neutral grey roll up behind him. He stepped back as the four-wheel drive vehicle pulled to a gentle stop, and Rebecca, wearing a T-shirt and cargo pants much more suited to the climate, waved at him from the front seat.
"Hi!" she called over the noise of aircraft all around them, and the general noise of the airport. "Climb in, and bring your stuff - I'll take you for the grand tour before we check in!"
Sean slung the heavy bag into the rear seat of the hummer and followed it up with his backpack, and then climbed into the front seat. Rebecca gave him a warm smile, which he returned, leaning one arm on the door after buckling his seatbelt.
"So, how was your flight?" she called out as the vehicle pulled away, grumbling across the tarmac and away from the flightline. "Not too tedious, I hope? Must've been a bit of a change flying as a passenger instead of a pilot this time".
"It's not the first time," he said back, raising his voice over the sound of the vehicles engine. "It was nice to relax a bit, but I couldn't wait to get here. I think the Hercules crew were glad when they could throw me off of the plane. I must've been driving them mad".
"Well, don't worry," she said back, guiding the hummer off of one of the taxiways, and onto a road that lead further away from the aircraft facilities, and into the back roads of the base. "We'll get you in the air soon enough. But we need to get you settled in first".
"Where are we heading first?" he asked, as the noise faded away, the streets they were heading down much quieter now they were away from the aircraft. Residential and administrative blocks had begun to fill the roads around them, laid out in a typical military fashion. Most of the buildings looked well-used, and the roads likewise.
"This section of the base is used by the USAF people here, and the Portuguese Air Force still. There are a couple of hundred people still housed here, mainly looking after operations from the base, and keeping it running. But after some of the reductions and closures a few years ago, the US hasn't had as many people here. We've taken over most of their quarters and facilities since then though, and done them up a bit to make 'em a bit fancier, since we've had more money to spend on it. We built our own facilities on some of the derelict areas of the base, too, and took over some of the former military facilities in the harbour as well".
"So there's a big operation here, then? This is the HQ for Avalon?"
"Yeah, this is where we make all the magic happen!"
She took a left turn, slowing the Hummer down as they entered a cul-de-sac, which had several wide, low houses with the white walls common to Mediterranean architecture, and earthen-red tiled roofs. She switched the engine off, and tossed the fox a set of keys, which - to his embarrassment - he fumbled catching.
"House keys?" he said in a confusion, looking at her, and then around at the seven houses in the cul-de-sac. "One of these is going to be my place then? Which one?"
"As hilarious as I'd find it to let you go door-to-door trying the keys, I don't think we have that kind of time. So I'll help you out"
She thumbed towards the door of the nearest house, which was on the Hummers' left side. The driveway was bare for now, and the shutters on the windows hooked back, with light drifting into the interior of the building. Sean didn't hesitate any further, and climbed out of the seat, hoisting the kitbag out of the back and taking the steps to the front porch two at a time as he went to the front door. He flicked through the keys in hand, and slotted the most accurate one into the lock, turning it with a click, and pushing the door open.
Inside, the hall stretched back to a kitchen, and visible through open doors off to each side were a huge master bedroom, which after investigating had its' own en suite bathroom. A smaller guest bedroom was also present. On the other side of the hall there was a spacious lounge with plenty of windows to let in light. Doors in there lead off to a small office space, and a small set of stairs down to the garage and a utility room. Big picture doors at the rear opened into a somewhat dry and dusty, but struggling garden. Returning to the kitchen, Sean was pleased to find it was large, clean, and modern, with another door out to the garden to boot. As he turned to head back into the hall, Rebecca stood in the front door, leaning against the frame.
"Will it do?" she asked with a small smile on her lips, the sunglasses hanging from the neckline of her T-shirt.
Sean raised an eyebrow, stepping into the bedroom - which, thank god, already had a double bed - and slung the kitbag and backpack onto the bed for the meantime.
"Well," he said after a moment, stepping back into the hall. "It's a bit basic, and doesn't nearly compare to your standard USAF billet, but I think I'll make do somehow. Just as an aside; is there somewhere to get furnishings and electronics in this place?"
Rebecca laughed and nodded, gesturing back to the outside and leading down the porch steps as Sean locked the door behind them.
"Yes, don't worry about that - Once you've got introduced and signed up, we can help you sort that kind of thing out. The base support staff has all sorts of info about the local area - it's a nice place to live, really".
Rebecca started the hummers' engine again, the machine grumbling to life once more, as Sean climbed into the seat again, already feeling happy about the reassignment. Getting a decent house out of the deal wasn't something he'd expected, but he was happy to have it. If anything else was this good, then he'd be over the moon.
The rough collie guided the hummer back out of the street, and onto the main road, heading more or less back the way they'd came. They didn't turn onto the apron again and instead continued past, heading past more aircraft taxiways and support facilities. Following one of the wide, reinforced roads, the collie pulled them up outside a modern-looking glass fronted building, low and close to the ground. With its' slanted walls, recessed doorways, and faired-in chimneys and vents, it looked modern and stylish rather than the normal functional, brutal style of airbase architecture.
"Welcome to the Avalon Foundation HQ," she said, as she switched off the engine and climbed out of the car. "Let's get you put to work".
Sean gave a wry smile at the comment, and hauled himself out of the vehicle, following in Rebecca's wake as they entered the building. Inside, it was cool and spacious, decorated in welcoming colours and styles, and with plenty of decorations and plants to hide the functional nature and parts of the facility. Security personnel sat behind a large desk off to one side, making a trio of receptionists the welcoming group - but he didn't fail to notice that both groups were equipped with monitors and panic buttons, and that the Security staff had holsters on their hips, and lockers behind their desk.
"Major Blade," said one of the reception team, a weasel, as they approached. "Welcome to the Avalon Foundation. We're pleased you joined us. Is agent Stewart making you feel welcome so far?"
Sean was taken aback by the greeting, as pleasant as it was. "Wait a sec," he said after a moment. "You knew I was coming, and what I look like. I mean, after all, this is a military-run facility, and I had to have clearance-"
"In part," weasel said with a grin that suited his species. "The base security system also has a facial recognition system that matches everyone to a database. We have your photographic records passed across from the USAF, so the central system - we call it Merlin - can recognise you. Since you're not on the system, it notified me of you, after matching you with the records we have imported."
"Since I have a pass card ID already," said Rebecca, tapping the card in a holder on her belt, "I already get identified. The card has an RF tag in it that identifies me to building security, along with the cameras identifying me through my biometrics - my height, weight, eye, fur and hair colour, and so on. Once you're all registered, it'll do the same for you too".
"But in the meantime, here's a temporary pass - it'll take a day or so to get your details registered," finished the weasel, passing him a security card. Sean hooked it onto his belt, after looking over it. It was blank, aside from the embedded gold 'chip' on the surface.
"So, I don't have to wave it about or anything? It'll just work automatically?"
"Exactly - if you're allowed into a room or area, the doors will be unlocked automatically. If they're not private ones already, that is. And if you're not, then they'll be locked. Try and open too many doors, and someone from security will come to investigate. There'll be a full briefing on your security status in your welcome information on the local network".
"Local network? I don't even have a computer yet!"
Rebecca grinned. "Something else that we'll take care of shortly, major. Come on, let's get moving".
She lead the way again, and Sean left the reception team with a short wave and a nod, which they returned with amused smiles. He got the feeling they'd seen the same whirlwind tour plenty of times, with the collie as a leader.
The rest of the afternoon was spent with the tour, and the essentials of signing up for the new facility. Sean was weighed, measured, finger printed and retina scanned, before being issued a high-end company laptop, as well as a smartphone that was almost as powerful as the laptop, and had a vast array of secondary functions - some of which were almost to military levels. Rebecca told him that they phone was actually considered part of his flight kit. He was also signed off to carry firearms on his person around the base, and given a short briefing on emergency procedures, as well as a half-dozen other PowerPoint briefings on base operations, disaster preparedness, and other specifics. By the end of it, he was feeling the tiredness from the flight and the running around, and was ready to knock things off for the day.
As they retired into the Hummer for the last time, Sean let out a long yawning groan and Rebecca glanced across at him, shifting in her seat and stifling a yawn of her own.
"Hope you're not too tired, sir," she said as she put the vehicle into motion, driving away from the base operations building and down a different road to the one they'd arrived on. "We've got one more stop to make before we can call it a night".
"As long as it's more exciting than that PowerPoint film festival you put me through," he groused, rubbing the heels of his hands against his eyes, the left one pressing against the black leather patch he'd taken to wearing over his ruined left eye. "I don't think I can sit through another three riveting hours of information like the first".
She laughed softly at his comment, her eyes on the road. "Yeah, sorry about that -Unfortunately there's still some things that are the same as the military or any other civilian job. But hopefully we'll make up for it with this".
She pulled the hummer into a left turn, driving down a wide access road that lead to one of the more remote hangars on the base. Immediately, Sean sat a little straighter in the seat. The hangar was already starting to look interesting to him - especially as it had been modified with new equipment grafted onto the sides and the building given a new coat of paint all over. The one neighbouring it had also been similarly modified, and both stood with their rolling doors ajar, and the burning lights inside spilling out through the open doors into the slowly dimming warm evening.
"Saving the best for last?" he asked with a raised eyebrow. Rebecca simply gave a quiet smile, and parked the vehicle outside the doors. She turned off the engine and climbed out, walking to the door as he followed. She stopped a moment outside, and looked back over her shoulder before stepping in. Sean shook his head and rolled his eye at her theatrical display, before stepping into the brightly lit space inside.
And he stopped as soon as he did so.
The fox was taken aback as his eye was riveted to the aircraft inside the cavernous space. He recognised their lines, the flow and sweep of their shapes and angles. But there were differences, alterations. Improvements, he thought, letting his eyes rove over the planes.
Around them, teams of ground personnel, dressed both in lab coats and in working overalls busied themselves at technical equipment hooked into the various open access panels across all three of the planes in the hangar. Others worked with tools at open access points and panels, adjusting components and systems. His gaze moved across them, and then he froze again, before his muzzle spread into a wide grin as he recognised a pair of faces amongst the personnel. A moment later the looks were returned as they noticed him and bubbling laughter and cheers erupted from them. Sean jogged toward the pair, as they did the same, Taia reaching him and meeting him halfway, the pair enfolding each other in a warm hug before drawing back and looking at each other with smiles - before Max wrapped a burly arm around Sean's shoulders in a second huge hug, before thumping him squarely on the arm and grinning hugely.
"Blade!" said Taia with excitement in her voice, still holding one of his hands and squeezing it gently. "You're here, at last. And in one piece, too, which is even better". Her expression changed to one of concern as she looked at his face, her hand almost touching his eye patch, but pausing just short. "Your eye..." she said simply, before Max filled in the moment with another grin. "But if you're here, then the gang's all together again!"
"And not a moment too soon either," replied the fox. "Especially since you promised me bourbon and a cigar as well, Ice. And I can't get them too soon...!"
"Are we invited to that party?" asked a female voice with an Australian accent - and Sean's ears pricked and he stepped back, looking past his wingmen to find the speaker. Taia and Max exchanged a glance and the cougar smiled a knowing smile.
"Sean, this is Dart and Devil - the Royal Australian Air Force crew we helped out back in the sand pit".
Sean nodded silently, a smile on his face as he offered a hand to the kangaroo first, who took it in a firm grip, shaking warmly and grinning.
"Cheers fella," he said in a thickly accented voice. "I've been looking forward to meeting you properly for a while now. Haven't had a chance to thank you in person for what you did. Like I said on the note - beers are on me, when we get the chance. And I'm lookin' forward to working with you an' all".
"You too, Devil," said Sean with an equal smile. "Hope I can join you in the air though. If what Agent Stewart says is true, then I'll be up there with you".
"I hope so," said Nina, finally adding her voice to the conversation with a warm smile. "Especially after everything you've already done to help us out. It'd be a shame for you to be grounded after everything, and after coming here too. And," she said, gesturing to the planes that dominated the hangar space, "I don't think you'd want to miss out on those sweet rides either, eh?"
Sean's muzzle moved as he made to answer her - but the fox couldn't keep his eyes off of her. The long auburn hair, the dusky grey, snow white and deep brown of her fur all complimented each other perfectly, and the bright green of her eyes stood out stunningly against that. And all of that was on top of the figure she had. She wasn't thin, and was probably not even strictly in shape enough to be a fighter pilot. But the curves she had just made her that much more real, that much more unique and attractive. She had the figure of a healthy, fertile, happy woman. Her hips and her bust were gentle, generous curves, all poured lovingly into a flight-suit that left little to the imagination; but just enough to make things interesting.
"A nice-looking ride" he managed to get out a moment later, his eyes still on her. A moment later, his mind informed him what he'd said, and felt heat enough to fry eggs flush the insides of his ears and his fur fluff out. Hearing her voice over the radio hadn't really prepared him for meeting her, he realised, and especially looking as good as she did. Stumbling over his words, he tried to catch up "I mean," he said a moment later, speaking too fast. "The planes are a nice looking ride, yeah. I'd hate to miss out on flying with you. Especially after uh, seeing you in action and all," he smiled sheepishly, stuttering over his words, "I uh, wanted to say thanks for the letter," he added, leaning a little closer to her. "It really helped me get up and around, and get healing. I wanted to get here so I could thank you in person, too".
"That's sweet," she said with a shy smile back. "I was looking forward to meeting you as well; Especially after what you did for us, and coming back safely from being shot down, and all that too. I um, hope you're feeling better now?"
"Much," he said with a smile, forcing himself to relax, and stop being such a teenager. It wasn't like it was the first time he'd spoken to a beautiful woman. "Everything's starting to feel a bit better, and starting to work properly again, so I'm getting back to normal. For the most part, anyway," he gestured vaguely to his patched-over eye, his face falling slightly. "I don't think this will ever be coming back"
"Well," interrupted Rebecca, returning to the group. "We'll see about that tomorrow. Like I told you before - there are things we can do, and we will get you flying again, major. I guarantee that! In the meantime though, why don't you look over the aircraft?"
"Sounds good to me," he said with a nod, looking eagerly towards the planes. "I can't wait to see what I'll be working with".
"Allow me," said Nina quickly, raising a hand. "I'd love to show you around," she said with a grin, and a voice that stirred something inside him. He gestured for her to lead on, and ignored his comrades smirking faces and half-spoken wolf-whistles and catcalls, all of which Nina seemed impervious to. Sean gave them the finger behind his back as he followed the hyena, which was met with a few laughs.
He made to catch up to her - and was distracted a moment by the view from behind, as her tail curled saucily from side to side over the rounded pulchritude of her rear. Rolling his single eye skyward, he strode up to her side, and nodded in greeting.
"Hey," he said, nodding. "So, what've we got to see?"
"Hi," she said with a soft smile, and then gestured ahead. "Something I'm sure you'll approve of," she said, gesturing broadly to the aircraft ahead.
He followed her gesture, and looked at the plane ahead. Immediately, he recognised the profile and shape of it, almost as much as he recognised his own in the mirror. The pointed nose, the tall front landing gear, and the sweeping dome of the almost frameless cockpit that lead back on either side to the hulking jet engine intakes. The boxy body blended into the large, triangular wings and beyond them the tall twin rudders. All of which were the unmistakable features of an F-15, the aircraft he had spent over ten years of his life flying, and had learned to love and hate, respect and fear.
But as much as he recognised it, it was also vastly different from the Eagles and Strike Eagles he'd piloted. The skin of the aircraft was a dark, almost black grey overall, with only warning markers breaking up the colour. And as well as that, all the edges of the panels, normally straight lines, had been reworked with zigzag 'sawtooth' edges, like those on the former F-117A Nighthawk or the F-22 Raptor stealth aircraft, and employed on the F/A-18 Super Hornet naval fighter. The change of shape from straight lines reduced the radar return of the aircraft, adding to its' stealthy characteristics. Similar changes had been made all across the aircraft. The intakes had been reshaped with sloping angles instead of the plain rectangles they had been before, to reflect more radar energy away from the plane. Likewise, the wings had been reshaped on their trailing edges, resembling the wings of the F-22 Raptor much more than the original F-15. And the rudders and horizontal tails had been angled outwards and downwards, respectively, forming an 'X' Shape at the rear of the plane.
Sean was taken aback and enthralled as he walked around the aircraft, viewing it from different angles. As he examined it further, under Nina's amused and entertained eye, he took in the two smaller control surfaces - canards - at the top of the plane, ahead of the wing. Right now, they were tilted fully forward, as an engineer worked on the controlling motors and hydraulics. The rear engine nozzles, as he moved around to look at them, had also been replaced with thrust-vectoring nozzles that could move in addition to the normal flight control surfaces, making the plane manoeuvre with much greater agility and speed than any stock F-15. It reminded him of the F-15 ACTIVE test vehicle that NASA had flown back in the eighties and early nineties, although that hadn't been combat capable. On this plane, he could see the muzzle of the Vulcan cannon still in place on the left root of the wing - despite the canard being in place. Finally, he couldn't contain the questions boiling over inside any longer.
"What... is it?" he said to Nina, a mix of amazement and wonder on his face. "Is it a test plane, or some kind of mock-up - what is it for?"
"From what Professor Sorenson told me, it's-" she cleared her throat "-a multi-role advanced tactical aircraft, capable of precision, deep-penetration strikes, both alone and acting as the spear-point of a conventional force, utilising advanced technologies, concepts, and a number of off-the-shelf components to enhance the role of a battle-proven design".
Sean laughed at her word-perfect recital, and she grinned back, joining in the laughter, as they both turned back to the plane. He could see another one the same beyond it, coloured instead in a striking white scheme. Concentration coloured his face, as he looked over the aircraft in more detail. The black plane was a one-seater, the white built for two.
"So what are all the mods made to them? And who are we going after - are we going off to stop the war?"
"I don't think so," she replied, folding her arms and shaking her head, her tail curling gently. "I think there's something else in mind, something using these babies to their fullest. I think we might be going after whoever was behind that Raptor... and I think there's something else too - but you haven't been fully briefed yet, so I'll leave that up to the Prof, Rebecca, and co."
Sean nodded thoughtfully, still enamoured by the plane - although, it was hard not to get distracted by Nina standing so close, and watching his movements and expressions.
"Why use an F-15," he said after a moment, "why not a use Raptor, or an F-35 or some other more modern airplane as a basis, instead of a design that's like, thirty-something years old?"
"Perhaps I can explain that," sounded a clear, strong voice with a hint of an accent not far from his Georgia twang. He looked and saw a black-haired, red-furred vixen wearing a lab coat over a sweater and pencil skirt step out from around the banks of support equipment. She cut a striking, professional appearance, businesslike and intelligent. Although, the outfit also showed the curve of her legs, and with the tight, form-hugging sweater, made it all the more obvious just how well-endowed she was. And she was very well-endowed indeed. So much so Sean faltered for a moment before speaking.
"Professor Sorenson?" he asked, already guessing from what Nina had said. The red vixen raised an eyebrow, and nodded, while Nina stifled a chuckle at the foxes' reaction.
"Yes, that's right. And you're Major Blade, at last". She tucked a clipboard under one arm, and extended a white-furred hand, which he took in his own, shaking it firmly. She sniffed softly and nodded after looking him up and down, as if evaluating.
"About what I expected," she said, and neither Sean nor Nina were sure exactly who the comment was addressed to. Neither of them had a chance to ask before she carried on, speaking in precise, measured words.
"To answer your question, major, I chose the F-15 Eagle airframe - amongst a couple of others - because it has been combat-proven, as well as used as an extensive test platform for a wide variety of experimental concepts. Not to mention, a lot of research done on the aircraft that was not put into service, but thoroughly researched and verified. In addition, using an aircraft like the F-15 means that there are copious amounts of spares for the aircraft that aren't diverting from front-line fighters, as well as large numbers of air frames that aren't being used; some of them with very few flying hours on them. The F-15 has also been tested and operated with, quite frankly, almost every weapon in the USAF arsenal, and those of about a half-dozen other countries besides".
"Good enough answer for me," replied the fox, scratching at the back of his neck. The scientist had answered the question vastly more comprehensively than he'd imagined. He was almost tempted to ask about what modifications had been made, but feared the vastness of the answer, almost. Something she'd said intrigued him too much to let go though, and he spoke up.
"You mentioned other airframes, Professor?"
She gave an exasperated sign, and rolled her eyes behind her glasses, at which Nina couldn't help grinning.
"Rachel, if you please," she said smartly. "Professor makes me sound old".
Sean continued to look baffled, but gestured for her to continue, as she lead them onward. He shook his head at Nina, who grinned and winked at him, patting him on the shoulder - which was easy, as the hyena as a little taller than he was. He chuckled, and she grinned back - and her hand brushed his as she let it fall back to her side. A sideways glance showed a coy smile on her face, but no look back.
Then the vixen ahead stepped around a moveable partition in the hangar, which lead to two more aircraft, that again left him feeling awestruck and amazed.
Again, he recognised them both. Both were distinctive in their shape, size, and layout. One was large than even the sizeable F-15's he'd been standing beside moments ago. The other was much, much smaller. But both had been extensively modified, with many of the same tweaks as the two Eagles he'd just seen.
Both planes had had the reprofiling applied to the panel edges, with the 'sawtooth' patterns, along with the reshaped jet intakes. Both also had the vectored-thrust panels applied to their jet exhausts as well, adding to their manoeuvrability. But the changes after that were very different between the two planes.
The larger one was instantly recognisable to him - as in his last flight, he'd seen one up close. In fact, as he looked, he gave a surprised look to Nina.
"Wait a second - this F-111, isn't it-"
"Yep, that's my baby. They're slowly, but surely, dragging her into the 21st century. Updating everything - flight controls are going fly-by-light, helmet mounted targeting, upgraded weapon systems. Rachel said they're going to stick AESA radar on her, and then integrate me up with some AMRAAMS and ASRAAMS, GPS-guided bombs, a proper internal gun instead of eating half the bomb-bay, and god only knows what else too".
"I'm thinking of anything I can get my hands on," added the scientist, watching with a slight smile on her muzzle. "More than anything, I want to do it just to show that I can do it, and make the plane workable, and lethally effective into the twenty-first century. I think all of these planes have got plenty of life left in them".
"So what's the plan with the F-111? Is it the heavy-hitter when the F-15's are the fast-and-quick?"
"Partly," replied the vixen, pushing her glasses back up the bridge of her muzzle. "I also have plans to integrate greater capabilities for reconnaissance and electronic warfare than on a stock F-111, or even an RF-111 can manage. With miniaturisation of electronics over the intervening time, there'll be space enough in the airframe. It'll make the F-111 into a very capable combat platform, as well as serving as an effective platform for command and co-ordination in the air over an operational area".
"Kickass," replied Sean with a grin. "I like where this is going. I've always had a fondness for the 'Aardvark', and thought it had a lot of life left in it". He gave a sidelong glance to the hyena, who looked back, arms folded and a grin on her face.
"One of the things I always like about the Australian Air Force... though I'm finding out a few more," he continued with a wink at her once more.
"Indeed," added the professor with a smile of her own, and a raised eyebrow. "It's a lot further from being finished than the F-15's, but then I've had it to work on for less time, as the Lieutenant and her WSO only arrived here a week ago. However, our other aircraft is the most complete of all".
Sean turned his attention to the small plane. It was very, very distinctive indeed, and instantly recognizable. One of only a small handful of aircraft in the world had forward-swept wings, their tips pointing to the nose of the plane, instead of raked back toward the tail. Those wings were set at the back of the narrow fuselage with a single large engine exhaust, with three thrust vectoring 'petals' on it A single rudder stood tall atop the fuselage. Canards at the front added control, and then the plane flowed into a long, pointed nose.
The only other plane of the same type had been the experimental Grumman X-29, a test aircraft developed from the F-5 Tiger, and components from other planes. But the barrels of cannon visible on top of the nose, and the hardpoints for weapons hanging under the wings, along with the low-visibility paint-scheme, and the various antennae across the fuselage showed that this was a plane meant for action, not tests.
"It looks like an X-29," he remarked after a moment, "but it looks like it's made for business and dangerous business at that"
"Oh yes," replied Rachel, her smile growing a little bigger, and her tail wagging slowly. "I took the basic concepts, and theories, and reworked them with modern materials and components, and then rebuilt an existing surplus F-5 Tiger into this 'F-29'. Agent Stewart has been acting as the pilot, as she's flown the F-5 in a number of variants, for a number of air forces. Although that's something she can tell you about, rather than I. This plane has also acted as a 'functional testbed' for the technologies we've applied to the other aircraft; although it has somewhat less ability than the F-15s or the F-111. It is still quite... potent, though".
"I can imagine," murmured the fox, stepping closer and placing one hand on the F-29's smooth skin. It was cool to the touch, but as the pads on his palm made contact with the cool skin, it was as if a gentle surge of electricity moved between him and the plane, pulsing in time with his heartbeat. He could almost feel the potential in the plane, waiting to be unleashed. It was intoxicating, and made the blood rush in his ears, and a fire rise in his belly at the thrill of flying again, and taking any one of these magnificent machines into the air. It was intense, more intense than any urge he'd felt before to do the same thing. And more - he felt instinctively that he could manipulate the aircraft, fly it and control it, take it to its' limits and truly use its' fantastic systems to their utmost.
And that was utter nonsense, as before now, he'd never had the opportunity to fly any variant of the F-5, let alone the X-29, or this upgraded, reworked 'F-29'. He pulled his hand away from the smooth, now warm, skin of the plane and looked at his hand in wonder, slowly opening and closing it, as he felt tingling pins-and-needles prickling through the appendage. Turning his head, he looked back at Rachel and Nina, both of whom were watching him closely, as if expecting some kind of reaction. As he met their eyes, both looked away. Rachel returned to her notes, as Sean stepped across to where Nina stood.
"What was that?" he asked her, his single eye looking over her face, trying to work out what she was hiding. The hyena brushed a stray lock of her auburn hair aside from her soft face and a brief frown crossed her features.
"It's... hard to explain. If you haven't been briefed, or had it... shown to you, I guess. But, the aircraft, they're enhanced with some... exotic technology, as well as the more down-to-earth components and technologies. I had the same experience too..." she paused, and put one hand to her chest, pressing down the fabric of her black T-shirt to outline the pendant hanging between her large breasts. "When I touched the F-29, this had a reaction. It... Well, it didn't 'spark', but it felt like it did. It's had other reactions too..."
Sean was speechless, his eyes on the pendant - and not on its lovely resting place - and then matched eyes with her, before tugging his own pendant free of his shirt. Like her, his had had a reaction when his hand met the surface of the jet. As the hyena had said, it felt like a shock had run through him. And now, this close to Nina and her pendant, it was positively vibrating off of his chest. It was even humming, softly, at a barely audible level, and was colder than normal to the touch.
"You have one too..." she said softly and in wonder, her eyes drawn to the object. She drew her pendant out of her shirt, almost hypnotised by it, and held it close to his - and the two pulled against their hands as they were inches apart, knocking together with a whine, the metal scratching slightly between them. Alarmed, the pair stepped back, and the objects fell back to their normal positions.
"Holy shit," exclaimed Nina in a rushing breath, her bright green eyes wide. "What the fuck was that?!"
"I... have no idea," he said a moment later, working his jaw. "Maybe... they're part of the same thing? Magnetic, or... something?"
"Part of the same civilization," said Rachel, having moved closer as she saw the pendants, and then focused on the reaction with genuine interest. "Part of the same civilization that provided the technology for-"
Nina shot her a sharp glance, and the vixen stopped mid-sentence and gave a frustrated huff, as Sean looked between the two of them, but knowing the score from many years of military service; whatever they were talking about, it was classified.
"Don't worry," he said, breaking the frosty pause. "I'm sure it'll be part of my briefing tomorrow. In the meantime, it can remain as an, um, curiosity. Something between us three", he finished, with a wink at the two women. Nina grinned and nodded firmly, patting her chest, while Rachel sighed, shook her head, and eventually gave a reluctant smile.
The pair headed out of the hangar, walking alongside the taxiway in the warm equatorial evening. The air wasn't thick with humidity, and was instead comfortably warm, with the cool sea breeze keeping the air fresh as they walked alongside each other. Sean cast a look towards the hangar neighbouring that with the fighters in, trying to get a glimpse inside from the roadside as they walked.
"Trying to get a sneak preview?" asked the Hyena, noticing his actions and giving an amused smile, her large ears flicking, and her tail twitching. His ears drooped in embarrassment at being caught in the act, and he gave a sheepish grin.
"...yeah, you caught me on that one. Too curious for my own good, I guess; especially after what I've already seen".
"Well, I'll tell you it's not as exciting for free. But it is still pretty cool, and pretty useful to boot. You'll see soon enough, I guess. Especially once we're flying".
They both fell silent as they ambled alongside the runway, stopping to watch as an airliner soared into the sky from the runway, lights blazing like some kind of UFO in the dusky evening. As they stood, Sean felt Nina lean against him lightly, and he felt a shiver of excitement run through his body at the soft touch, and the weight of her against him. He leaned back, gently, and was quietly pleased as he felt, rather than saw, her tail wag slowly, and she smiled at him, which he returned.
As the plane sailed into the sky, they returned slowly to walking along the side of the tarmac strip, their pace leisurely. They didn't say much - but it wasn't the kind of walk where there was much to say, and more to enjoy the moment.
As they ambled on, Sean found his voice and began to speak, simply wanting to say something as they walked together.
"I know we haven't really spent any time together. Other than this, I mean; but still - I'm glad someone I 'know' is here. Some people I can speak to, and work with. Otherwise, I dunno. Maybe I'd be wondering what I'm doing here already, or why I decided to say yes to this invitation to join up with these people... Although-"
"Sean," she said, looking across at him with a gentle smile, "do yourself a favour, and stop thinking about it so hard. Avalon is working with the USAF, remember? And with NATO and the UN too - so you're still working for the same things. And you're right, too. We're all here to help you", she looked into his face, the starlight gleaming in her green eyes, and the dusky light adding almost a halo to her. At that moment, he probably would've believed anything she said, she looked so beautiful. "All of us," she added, taking his hand. "And I'm looking forward to getting to know you, Sean. To find out how you work and what motivates you. What makes you fly". She stretched their hands together into the sky, their interlaced fingers pointing toward the stars. "Up there, and inside, too".
"I know," he said softly, his breath almost catching in his throat. "We'll all work together. And I can't wait to find out what makes you fly, too", he replied, looking into her eyes and smiling back, feeling happy about the decision, and finally, beginning to feel like he was in the right place. Their hands slowly fell back between them, and they walked on, hand in hand, towards the residential area.
The rest of the walk was full of small talk, and shared jokes and laughs about their life and times in their respective air forces. Until finally, they realised they'd walked all the way back to the little Cul-de-sac that was their quarters. The pair hesitated at the end of the foxes' drive, suddenly finding it hard to look at each other, and wanting to look everywhere else. Finally, they both made to speak at the same time, laughed abruptly and then fell silent.
"Yeah, me too; it's late. And we've got plenty to do tomorrow..."
The words fell away, and there was a moment of silence again. Sean hesitated, but then found himself embraced in her arms, and returned the hug, his arms around her tightly, resting his head on her shoulder, inhaling her scent, and feeling her warmth and softness against him. But the moment was over as she pulled away, him doing the same. She waved quickly, and then walked off hesitantly. He walked up the path to his porch, dragging his feet to watch as she crossed the street, before turning around and slotting the key into the lock.
He looked back one last time - and shook his head with a smile as he saw curtains twitch across the way, in one of the other houses. And so the rumours begin, he thought with a wry smile, his tail waving slowly, as he stepped in.
The fox locked the door behind him, and walked slowly down the hall, a smile lingering on his muzzle at the thoughts of the evening, and his mind flying off into delicious thoughts and fantasy, before he reined it in, dropping back to earth as he looked around the house with the sudden realisation he had no food in the kitchen, no TV or furniture in the lounge, and not even any sheets on the bed.
Giving a grumbling sigh, he flopped onto the bed anyway, and quickly found his smile returning as he curled onto the soft, clean mattress, sleep creeping into his pleasant thoughts, one hand curling around the pendant on his chest.
Little did he know that across the street, Nina had locked the door, and leaned back against it, biting her lower lip gently, before she too tipped herself into bed, thinking over the events of that evening, and feeling a smile creep onto her muzzle. She was excited to have met Sean face to face; and to already have found so much out about him, and to have grown so close to him in such a short time. She giggled to herself softly, as she felt the thrill deep inside that came from something new and exciting. It was interesting, and exciting to be at the stage of getting to know someone, getting to find out what made they tick, and to get closer to them and discover all the new moments with them that were to come.
She almost rolled her eyes at herself as she thought about her reactions right now - she was a fighter pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force. And she'd seen combat, more than once. And on the ground too - something that still gave her cold sweats - and here she was, having dreamy school girl thoughts about a man. It was... silly.
Huffing at herself, but still not quite chasing the smile off of her muzzle, she picked herself up, and made herself ready for bed, slipping under the covers, and shifting into a comfy position, yawning softly as she felt fatigue catch up with her from the exciting day, and her lovely evening.
Like Sean, her hand crept up to her chest, searching out her pendant through her PJ top, and her hand curling around it softly as she felt herself slipping into a comfortable slumber.
[250 miles west of Easter Island]
Zachary stood with his arms folded, his large, triangular ears twitching with every sound as he listened to the movement of the sea and the distant calls of animals in the night. And, further off, the shouts of men as they moved equipment into position, working under the harsh glare of spotlights in the warm pacific air.
He'd bargained for his plan with King, and eventually even Bishop - the bitch she was - had come around to his corner, and backed his idea. And so, he'd been granted the resources and equipment necessary to carry out his plan to deal with whatever action would result from the intelligence that had been captured by the impressively resourceful downed pilot in Tajikistan.
Allowing himself a small smile, he turned around to look at the scene. The long runway on the island, which filled the majority of the small outcropping of land, was still lit by its' landing lights. Around it, in the clustered 1940's era buildings burned a few outdated electrical lamps, casting islands of light amongst the darkness and starlight.
But around the runway, and in the distance toward the small hills and outcroppings, were the spotlights. Working under them were groups of men and women. Some were working with shovels and picks, digging out pits and positions, while engineers and crew chiefs moved their equipment into position and checked its readiness, performing self-tests and debugging software.
The ambush, he had to sadly admit to himself, wasn't an especially original idea. Even using the Surface-to-Air Missiles that he'd requisitioned wasn't even a new twist. But his plan came from using new sensor systems. Ordinarily, it would be easy for an attacking force to avoid the SAM systems by detecting their search radars, or their target acquisition radars, and then using those to bomb the crap out of the launchers, or by using the radar signals to fire homing anti-radar missiles to put them out of the fight.
But using alternative targeting systems could easily point out incoming planes. There were many other ways to detect an incoming target other than radar. And he was planning to take advantage of them to stage a trap for his enemy, and put a sharp, sudden stop their attempts to disrupt or disable all the work that had already been done.
As well as the engineering teams at work on the missiles and their launchers, other groups worked further out, away from the island. He could see distant lights floating on the water as the boat teams set up the floating buoys in calculated positions that would split up the approaches to the island and its' runway into sectors. Laser emitters on the buoys would fire their beams at intervals of only a few seconds into the sky, and detect any incoming aircraft. Anything not showing an IFF transponder tag registered on a database would immediately be passed along to the SA-15 SAM batteries for targeting and, allowing for any unexpected problems, destruction.
But that was only the first layer. He'd also revived an older weapon system for use as well. The missiles would form a first stage of defence, and were expected to be destroyed. But once the aircraft assumed a patrol overhead and believed the airfield was secure - or, even more so, if they tried to land personnel or cargo - then the second part of his plan would spring into action, once they had let down their guard.
The buildings and structures on the island had multiplied over the last few days. New wooden structures had been added to those already in place, blended in. They looked real enough from the outside, but in reality they were camouflage for BRAMS anti-aircraft gun systems. The ultra-modern gun systems would be able to engage aircraft at ultra-close range, and with high speed and precision.
He gave a vicious grin, eager to see his plan in action. He had face to regain after the disaster in Tajikistan, which had, he was ready to admit, been his fault. But the plan he'd concocted had a good chance of success, what with all the layers of redundancy built into it.
Even aside from the anti-aircraft defences, he had even more in store. Should the enemy manage to get onto the island and uncover its' true nature, then they would be sadly disappointed - his people had already moved all the relevant information off the island, using ships instead of aircraft, shipping the crates of artefacts and materials to South America, where there were - if the information they'd decoded and translated was correct - there would be more information to gather and interpret, and allow them to ascend higher toward their appointed destinies.
The remainder of the site they had left behind would form the last leg of the trap, consigning their dogged pursuers to a slow death under the earth, on this remote rock of an island.
And if anyone missed them, or looked into the situation, then well - it wouldn't matter much. Because soon, they would have to stop hiding, soon, they would emerge to take control.
His muzzle split into a ecstatic grin as he imagined the New Order taking hold, the fruition of all of the plans and meetings in back rooms becoming a reality. Order and control imposed once more, and the truly worthy, those descended from the Chosen Few, the Pure, would take control of the masses and guide them, shape them, and stream them back into the once-magnificent people they had once been.
His blood pounded in excitement, and he felt the curling thrill of excitement rising in his veins, heat rising in him. He took deep breaths and calmed himself, trying to regain control of his wildly raging emotions, the feeling of power exciting and arousing. He tugged at the collar of his flight suit, and turned sharply on his heel, striding away into the cool breeze and turning his mind to more rational, logical things, and away from base desires. He had to be above such things for the moment, and take control of the situation. There would be time to... indulge... his drives later on.
TO BE CONTINUED
AESA: Active Electronically Scanned Array. An advanced type of radar that uses solid-state components, and transmits on frequencies to make the radar transmissions harder to detect against background noise; this enables the transmitting aircraft to remain stealthier than traditional radar arrays.
ASRAAM: Advanced Short-range Air to Air Missile. An advanced heat-seeking short-range missile developed to supplement and provide an alternative to the AIM-9 Sidewinder missile. Capable of extreme manoeuvrability, and with excellent target-seeking qualities, the ASRAAM is in use with many forces around the world.
BRAMS: An advanced self-propelled anti-aircraft system, using a rapid-firing twin-barrelled 30mm cannon that fires high-explosive rounds, guided by an electro-optical sensor. The system also has four SAMs attached to the turret. The turret is mounted on an 8 X 8 off-road truck chassis to allow great mobility. The optical targeting system means that the BRAMS is protected against radar-seeking missiles and ECM systems.
F-5 Tiger: A lightweight fighter, designed in the late 1950's to provide a cheap fighter for export to allied nations. Continuously upgraded with new systems to keep it current for the worldwide forces that use the F-5, it can be equipped for both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. Various models of it are also used to train new pilots.
F-15 ACTIVE: A one-off variant of the F-15 Eagle, used by NASA to research flight dynamics and characteristics. Modified with vectored thrust engines and canard winglets, as well as an advanced fly-by-wire system, the ACTIVE was also developed into the MTD, which continued the same experiments.
Neither aircraft was mass-produced for combat, but both developed and demonstrated technologies that could be applied to production aircraft.
F-117A Nighthawk: The 'Stealth Fighter' as known to the public. Developed in the 1970's and first flown in the 1980's, the F-117 used carefully calculated angles to reflect radar waves away from the aircraft. It also had no radar, to further avoid detection.
Not especially fast or manoeuvrable, it operated under the cover of darkness, and carried only a pair of hard-hitting air-to-ground weapons in an internal bay for attacking high-value targets in heavily defended areas, early on in a war to hamper the enemies' actions.
F/A-18E Superhornet: An advanced variant of the F/A-18 Hornet multi-role fighter. Originally designed as a carrier-based aircraft, it has also been adapted for use by many land-based forces. Able to carry a wide variety of weapons for both air-to-air and air-to-ground combat, the Super Hornet variant includes new sensor systems, and design features to promote stealth.
IFF: Identification Friend or Foe. A system of radio beacons and transponder signals used to identify friendly aircraft to other friendly forces.
P-3 Orion: A propeller-driven anti-submarine aircraft. Developed from a 1950's-60's era airliner, the Orion is a large, 4-engined plane with a long, straight wing and a cylindrical fuselage. Able to carry anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons in a large bay on the body or on wing hardpoints, it can also carry sophisticated sensors for detecting submerged submarines.
The P-3 is used by a large number of nations across the world.
Tor-M1: A Russian designed and built SAM system. Consisting of a battery of (normally) radar-guided missiles on a tracked vehicle chassis in a turret, it launches it's missiles vertically at a hostile target after locking onto it. The vertical storage allows for the missiles to be protected by armour, and for more to be stored ready for firing.
X-29: A flight-testing aircraft, developed to test flight characteristics, using revolutionary design features, such as forward-swept wings, canards, fly-by-wire flight controls, and composite materials in its' construction. Never designed to be a combat aircraft, the X-29 nonetheless showed extreme agility and manoeuvrability throughout its' service.