Catch A Falling Starfighter
by Dan L.
A Tom Darby Story
"Ever hear of a 'fate worse than death?' Welcome to the big leagues, kid..."—
Berlin was a totalitarian paradise. Everyone was controlled. Any act of
rebellion or independence was answered with instant execution or imprisonment.
Case in point, when I was assigned to a batch of spooks in East Germany in the
‘60s. Must have been early ‘60s ‘cause JFK was still alive. I didn’t even know
what the team was after. I was just their extraction pilot, not a real spook.
Never even figured out why I was ground-side with them instead of just meeting
them on some back road somewhere with a plane big enough for all six of them
Six weeks on the
outskirts of Berlin and the entire team had either been captured, killed, or
shipped off to Moscow to be tried in some kind of kangaroo court. Somehow, I’d
evaded capture. But I was on my own, alone, behind the Iron Curtain. I had to
get out of there before anyone on the team got tortured enough to give me up in
order to make the pain stop.
Now look, I’ve
been tortured by amateurs and experts alike. Once somebody reaches a certain
point—different for everyone, I’m sure—they’d sell their own mothers or
children to try and put a stop to it. I understand. Hell, I saw Mickey get
picked up by a patrol as I was on my way to meet up with him. Right there on
the street, in front of the café where we were supposed to meet. He was the
last member of the team to be captured. Bobby was first, but he got off easy,
they just shot him dead right there in that park we used for dead-drops. Well,
he dropped dead all right. 7.63 Mauser bullet, right through his head. Buncha
guys in heavy, gray coats dropped him, and then toted him off like a sack of
rotted potatoes. Brenda and Elsa were
next—they just vanished. They were locals the team recruited, so I never found
out if they just ran or got caught. Mack, Darren, Chuck, Artie, and Simon
vanished in short order. Artie got in a hit-and-run with a black sedan. Kinda
odd since he was on a freaking SIDEWALK at the time. Darren was poisoned—Simon
told me there was a dart in his neck when he died. Then Simon got arrested half
an hour after we’d last talked. Mack and Chuck just disappeared. Never did find
out what happened to them. Just, poof, and gone.
So, I’m alone
behind the Wall. Matter of time before I get picked up or assassinated. And the
only thing I could do was pray the Commies didn’t know I was part of their, my
friend’s, team—yet. Only a matter of time. My advantages were pretty damn few.
I knew where the team had stashed some gear they couldn’t afford to carry
around with them. My German and Russian language skills were the best I could
manage, and I’d been assigned a different hotel than they had in order to
distance myself from them. I knew the checkpoints across the border were
impossible for a lone man. I’d been assigned some dinky Russian pistol instead
of the Colt I favored—as part of my disguise. Wasn’t a bad pistol, just really
small. I had documents that purported to show that I was a German National, or
a Russian for that matter, but I decided to toss the Russian papers in a trash
can ‘cause their records wouldn’t have me in them under that name at all. I
turned my hat brim down and flipped my raincoat collar up because of the light,
spitting rain and plodded back towards my hotel at a nice, easy, totally
unsuspicious pace. I stepped into a coffee house for a cup of something hot and
black and warming that wasn’t entirely disgusting for European coffee. Once the
rain slacked off to almost nothing, I left and wandered around at
random—checking to see if I had picked up a tail. I didn’t see anyone following
me, so I went to a nightclub for a touch of the cheapest liquid courage my
disguise would allow. Rotgut, really. But my language skills got polished as a
side effect. A couple of hookers took an interest in me, but I told them I was
broke and down on my luck, so eventually they went off in search of more
suitable prey. Once I was sure no one was following me, I went back to my hotel
to think. I hoped I could come up with a plan.
I sat there
reading newspapers for two days. Only times I left the room was to get a meal
and keep my disguise current by sticking to the routine I’d established for the
past few weeks. I went to a couple of clubs, the regular café I’d been
frequenting, an opera once although I slept through most of it, and kept up
appearances as best I could.
I was scared to
death the whole time. I mean, seriously, I’d much rather have been in a fighter
jet getting shot at in a dogfight than walk those streets. But I had an act to
perform. Any deviation from the identity I’d adopted could give me away. It was
a really frightening time, Sport. I hate working for spooks. I sincerely hate
working for spooks. But there’s nothing better for focusing the mind than being
hyperaware of just how narrow a tightrope I’d been walking.
In my room, on
the third day after the team had been “ghosted,” I read about something in one
of the newspapers that gave me a glimmer of hope. Something about extra
security at a nearby airport. I wondered why. So I dug a bit deeper and found
out that something weird was going on there. Some West German pilot had been
forced down and his plane was forbidden for the locals to go see. Seems it was
an American-designed plane, a single-seater fighter jet, no less. It was only
in one early edition of one single paper. No later edition mentioned it, and
neither did any other paper. That told me that the Iron Curtain had come down
well and truly hard on something the Russians didn’t want the German public to
know about. The game, as the saying goes, was afoot.
The next day I
risked going to the old warehouse the team had stored their gear in. The stuff
they couldn’t afford to be caught with, I mean, and once I was sure no one was
watching it, I broke in and grabbed a few choice items. I could only risk being
seen with the briefcase my disguise had become known for, but I packed that
sucker with everything I could stuff into it. My raincoat pockets, too. I even
stashed a couple of packets of plastique under my hat. When I got back to my
hotel room, I had three pistols within reach at all times. On my way up I had
told the desk clerk and all the bellhops that I felt like I was coming down
with something—from the rain and chill weather. I ordered some kind of hot soup
from room service that night, and had coated my lips with beeswax and practiced
a fairly convincing cough to make it look like I was sick and feverish. I gave
my performance one more day, and then left without checking out. I’d spent the
night making little “flash-bangs” out of the plastique and some pull-string detonators,
as well as a couple of really sizable charges—for just in case. I went so far
as to line the inside of my hat’s sweat band with enough explosives to blow my
head off if I were to be captured. I had that dream about Korea again when I
slept that night. All three pistols were under my coat, fully loaded, with one
in the chamber, when I left the hotel.
I didn’t chance
Once again it
was misting rain as I walked across the city towards the airport where the
newspaper said the jet was sitting, under guard. I didn’t really have that far
to walk. About five miles. I bought a couple of newspapers along the way,
looking for any mention it had been moved. I even stopped for an hour at a
museum to check for tails, as well as window shopping so I could check the storefront
reflections for signs of pursuit. Nothing, at least, nothing I could see. After
I left the museum, I dropped packets of plastique in random trashcans—all set
to go off at the same time.
When I reached
the airport, I bought a ticket for a flight West—I don’t remember to where.
Hungary, maybe Czechoslovakia. Wasn’t important, but it used up almost all my
German cash. In a restroom at the airport I got a moment alone by hovering in a
toilet until I couldn’t hear anyone else in the room, then I dropped an
incendiary charge into a trashcan as I dried my hands. The timer was set for
half an hour. Almost the same time I’d set for everything else.
On my way
through the airport terminal, I managed to lose my coat. There was enough
plastique in its pockets to make another nice little distraction. Its timers
were both set to go off five minutes after the fire in the restroom. I kinda
felt sorry for everyone at the airport, but I’d spread the plastique out thinly
enough so that no one would be seriously injured, just scared shitless and
running panicked. I really just wanted to get to the plane on the tarmac
without getting shot, you know?
About the time
I’d gotten to an exit that led directly out onto the airfield, I heard fire and
ambulance sirens leaving towards town. I devoutly prayed that I hadn’t killed
anyone with my bombs. Then the fire alarm went off. My former presence in the
bathroom had activated. It was time for another brief performance.
I knew that the
bombs in my coat would only be five minutes behind, so I dashed for the doors.
A soldier even held the door for me when I shouted “Brand! Feuer! Das Gebäude brennt!“
He released the door after I got out and then heroically
ran deeper into the building towards the little blaze I had caused. Knowing I had,
at the most, three minutes before my other little surprize packages exploded, I
took off my hat and pulled the pin on the detenator inside. Tossing it at the
closed door I’d just exited, I ran like a frightened rabbit towards the
American jet plane I could see in the near distance. I unfastened the clasp of
my briefcase as I ran.
I could see the airplane clearly now. I even recognized
"Oh hell," I said. "It’s a Starfighter. I’m gonna die.“
Then I noticed
that someone was shooting at me. Sparks leapt off the tarmac as bullets hit the
gravel. I looked around quickly as I pulled the little Russian pistol and
squeezed off a few rounds in their general direction, once I knew where they
were, I mean.
I grabbed a
bomb out of my briefcase after I’d emptied the Russian pistol, pulled the
improvised detonator string with my teeth as I tossed the empty gun to the
ground, I lobbed it in the general direction of the Russian guards who were
shooting at me. How did I know they were Russian instead of Germans? They wore
Russian uniforms. Four other, small improvised grenades followed the first as I
ran towards the jet.
is open!“ I shouted as I ran. I tossed the rest of my little home-made grenades
as far as I could towards everyone who was shooting at me.
“God help me
if it hasn’t been fueled! I haven’t got time for this!“
I pulled and
emptied the other two pistols as I ran. I threw them down as soon as they were
empty. I was almost there!
When I reached
the plane I swarmed up the ladder as if a swarm of angry hornets were right
behind me. I pulled the cords on my improvised detonaters on the last three
large bombs I’d made, then threw the ladder off the side of the plane, slammed
the cockpit closed, and fired that mother up.
I rejoiced as the instrument panel came alive. I shoved the throttle home and
prayed I wouldn’t stall the engine out as it warmed up. It slowly began to taxi
down the runway and I heard the first explosion of my homemade bombs going off.
There was smoke and confusion behind me and open runway in front to me. Agnonizingly
slowly, the damned Widowmaker built up speed as it crawled along the runway. I
must have had all of 20 feet of runway left before that monster got up to speed.
I pulled the stick back and let it climb for all it was worth. At 1500 MPH the
bugger climbed as far as it could go. That took a minute and 12 seconds. At
50,000 feet I leveled out and headed West. Damn thing was shaking like Granny’s
old washing machine. My teeth were rattling.
I got all the
systems online and checked for any kind of pursuit. I didn’t like the readouts.
I’d redlined everything and it hadn’t had enough warm-up time. But nothing was
on the radar for at least ten minutes worth of distance.
That was about
the time the first air-to-air missile detonated off my left side.
was not polite!“ I said as I pulled hard on the stick to go further towards the
left—expecting my attacker to be trying to herd me into an easy target position
on my right. I put the nose into a dive as I just barely sensed the explosion of
the second missile on my right. But I had played this game in Korea. I dropped
down like an express elevator and then faked to the right and left just baely
above the treetops of some forest in West Germany at Mach 2—or as close as this
particular Widowmaker could get. I vaguely heard other explosions behind me as
my attacker, or attackers, totally failed to guess what I was going to do next.
I was burning fuel as if it were prayer candles, or incense. If I were at
altitude and a simple crusing speed, I might have been able to make 1500
miles on the amount of fuel I had at take-off. With these evasive manovers, I’d
be lucky to get 700 miles.
And that’s about
the time I chcked the readouts for the weapons systems. That didn’t take long. There
weren’t weren’t any. Oh, the systems were there, but nothing had been loaded
while the Widowmaker had been siting as a captive at that airport in Berlin.
“OK, either I
fly my way out of this, or this is gonna be a real short ride,“ I said. Along
with a colorful collection of words my Granny would have whooped me for
that time I saw a missile climb above me, from where I was headed! I must have
been well over France by then.
“I believe the
Cavelry has arrived, Tonto,“ I said to the shuddering and overheating peice of
crap this plane was. My teeth were still rattling from the shaking it was
giving me, and I hoped that I would be able to convince the bugger to fully
unfold its landing gear when I had a chance to set down. More missiles launched
from planes I couldn’t see even on the radar because of the gyrations of this
murderous, jinxy jet. Suddenly, Paris was in front of me and everything behind
me became less important than getting this hunk of junk back on the ground in
on piece. I pulled the throttle back, aimed at the nearest long runway, and
hoped the air traffic controllers could hear me when I asked for emergency
landing clearance. The radio died. Kaput. I lined the Widowmaker up on the
first long runway I could see and flipped the switch for the landing gear.
I guess I‘d earned
at least one more miracle. I managed to land it safely.
No more damn
Spooks, I thought as
the jet rolled to a stop on the runway.
Of course, I
was wrong. Those buggers weren’t finished with me yet. The Cold War went on for
To Be Continued…
© 2019 Dan L Hollifield
Bio: Dan L. Hollifield
has been the Senior Editor and
Publisher of Aphelion Webzine since its inception in 1997. His short
story collection "Tales From The Mare Inebrium" was nominated for the
J.W. Campbell Award upon its release in 2014. His early online work has
appeared in several, now defunct, websites such as Dragon's Lair, Steel
Caves, Titanzine, and The Writer's Workshop. One of his steampunk short
stories, "Her Magesty's Gift" appears in the POD collection "Flash Of
Aphelion," and "The Dark Side of Diablo Canyon" appears in Horrified
Press' collection "Steam-Powered Dream Engines." He regularly attends
the Chattanooga TN convention LibertyCon and recently became the
Literary Track Director for the Atlanta GA convention AnachroCon. He is
currently 61 years old, married to his beloved Lindsey Burt-Hollifield,
and lives in the howling wastelands of Northeast Georgia, USA, outside
of Athens GA. They have five children between their serial marriages
and more grandchildren and great-grandchildren than modern mathematics
is able to enumerate. They also are owned by a multitude of cats, and
very spoiled dog...
E-mail: Dan L.
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