"Dad! 7 just went haywire!"
"I'm coming. Hit the kill switch."
"Tom, why don't you call it a day. Go get the dogs out of the shop and set them up on the strip. I want the blue one. Pick any other for yourself. Also, make sure the monitors in the stations are on."
Vladymir was trying to figure out what could have caused the flux on number 7. 7 had been acting up on and off for over a week. He was uncertain as to whether or not he would have to track the wiring all the way down to box 7 or not. He had checked the junction panel in the lab the day before, but he didn't want to have to open up the crawl space to check all the wiring down to the boxes. Well, enough of worrying about it for today. The launch would just have to wait till he figured out what was wrong with number 7.
Flying always alleviated stress. And he hadn't done any in a while, so he decided he and Tom should relax and have some fun trying to 'shoot each other down'. Of course, they didn't actually have firearms on the planes, just paint-ball guns. The paint cleaned up easily, and didn't ruin the models. Vlady's favorite dog-fighter was a blue 1/5 scale P-38 Lightning he had built shortly after graduating from the University of St Petersburg. He had built it while on an exchange program in America. Immediately after he graduated, he moved to America so that the communist regime wouldn't draft him into their service.
As Vladymir strolled out towards the field, he was deep in thought about how well refueling would work. The computer models said it should be easy, but he would still have to very accurately position the carrier in the Indian Ocean. He'd also have to place the tankers in the right orbit near the coastline of Pakistan. In all likelihood, he would lose one of his aircraft in this mission, but he was determined to go through with it anyway. The carrier was nearly finished, and the manufacture of the fuel cells to produce the necessary electrical power for both the planes and the carrier was well under way. Except for the part box 7 was monitoring. The trial runs he had made with each box had gone smoothly, but now that the real thing was in there and not just plastic, it wasn't working right. Oh well, he thought, he'd worry about that after his last dogfight of the month with his son.
"Dad, I have the planes all fueled and the electrical power is on for the cameras. Both monitoring stations are up and running, but there seems to be a crack in the Lexan window on station 2."
"OK. I'll stick some saran wrap over the crack and replace it next weekend.
"Let's get going, it's getting late and your mother will be calling us for dinner soon."
With that, Vladymir's P-38 and Tom's Zero took to the skies. They immediately stepped into the monitoring stations to watch the video feed from the two aircraft. There was a forward-looking camera mounted in the cockpit of each aircraft, a camera in each wing pointing downward that could be aimed like binoculars for bombing runs, and there was an aft-facing camera in the tail of each aircraft. Because of the twin-tail arrangement on Vladymir's P-38, he actually had two cameras facing aft, so he had a slight advantage over Tom, but his son had slightly better reflexes than he did, so it came out even.
Tom decided to come at his father from the northwest, much like the Japanese had done at Pearl Harbor, which was what they were partially simulating today. Vlady kept his airplane in orbit around the landing field as that was his object, to defend the airfield. Suddenly, Vlady got a small black blip on his screen; Tom was coming at him from the right side. Immediately he swung his Lightning around to the right to meet the attack. As he did so, he climbed to get a better shot at his son. Tom was flying low and fast towards the airfield. His objective was to drop his paint bomb near the middle of the strip, and get back out again without taking any hits in the cockpit or engine intake areas.
The Lightning swooped down sharply towards the oncoming Zero, and Vlady took aim. He let off a quick burst of his guns and watched what Tom would do. Tom acquired the P-38 because of the swishing by of the paintballs to his rear. He banked hard left, and rose 500 feet, still flying fast toward the strip. As he did so, Vlady dove at him and came up on his rear. Tom's plane kept going in a near beeline for the field; Vlady had to do something quick. He let off another burst just as Tom turned sharp left, the shots flying harmlessly by. The P-38 picked up speed as Vlady shoved the throttle control forward. He was closing quickly now. He got within 75 feet and let off a long squeeze on the guns, wagging the plane left and right, up and down as he did so.
There! He scored a direct hit on the exhaust of the Zero. Tom acceded the loss by shaking his wings, and coming in for a soft landing.
"Supper... Time for supper," Vlady heard his wife call out.
"OK, Tom. Good job. Let's go eat and stick these things away afterwards."
"Alright, Dad. That was fun, I thought I was gonna make it in this time. Oh well."
In the morning, Tom and Vladymir went back to work in the labs. Vlady started the laborious process of tracking the monitoring cables all the way back to the boxes in the sub-basement crawl space. Everything was fine down to there. Then he noticed that number 7's case was partially open.
"How bizarre," he thought. The case was supposed to be sealed tightly against the elements, not that were all that many down here, but the moisture could affect the boxes. He opened the case fully and inspected in carefully. Nothing was missing or miswired, so he shut the case and locked it into place.
When he got back up to the lab, he turned on all the monitors, and started the machines down in the shop's basement on manufacturing the parts for the fuel cells again.
Later that afternoon, the monitors reported that the first fuel cell's integral parts were done. Vlady marched down to the shop, went through the security air chamber, and found himself in his machine room. After donning rubber gloves and a facemask, he gathered each part together and started assembling them at the bench. When he had completed the first assembly, he decided to go topside and try it out.
After carefully filling the fuel bladder with methanol, he flipped the switch to start the electrical-generation process. It worked like a charm.
"Yes! Full production can start now," he thought.
"I need for you to go into town and pick up a couple gallons of isopropyl alcohol. If you can get gallon containers, it would be ideal."
"I'll be back in a bit with the alcohol."
Methanol was a good fuel for the cell, but isopropyl was cheaper. And it produced almost as much electricity as using methanol.
Now that the fuel cells could be produced without worry, Vlady turned his attention towards finishing the naval fleet he was working on. He had yet to install the flight deck on the carriers, and he still had to put the propulsion systems into his two submarines. But that would have to come after more fuel cells were produced. The submarines each required 4 cells to guarantee redundancy, and each carrier was going to need 10. And he also had to finish the catapults for each carrier. That's what he focused his energy towards while he started another fuel cell through the machining process.
The cats had to be as efficient as he could make them because the carriers were not huge. They were only about 50 feet long. That was big for a model, but for a working model, it was a bit small. A piston driven by steam powered each catapult. He had already installed the steam generators onboard, so all that was left was mounting the steam piston, and the actual cats on the flight deck. The pistons loaded smoothly and easily into the milled grooves on both inside walls of the ship. The cats themselves were a bit harder. They had to be carefully aligned with the launch track and secured against coming out when they reached the end. Each cat took Vlady about 4 hours to install, so when he had finished the first carrier it was time for dinner.
Tom arrived back just in time to eat. He had been successful on his trip into town, but it took the hobby-store owner almost 2 hours to find the alcohol and other items in the back storeroom. After dinner, the whole family sat down and watched a baseball game on TV.
The next morning, Vlady finished up the second carrier's launchers while Tom assembled fuel cells in the machine room. By the end of the day, the fuel cells necessary for the subs' operation were completed and installed. Now the conning tower could be attached. They worked right through dinner this evening to finish up the subs by bedtime.
A few weeks passed, and Vladymir was finally satisfied that everything was in working order for his mission. He just needed to load the carriers and subs into an aircraft to get them over to the Indian Ocean, and then he would be set. He had done a lot of practicing with mid-air refuelings, and thought that he was prepared for anything. He would load the two fighters and tankers into a separate aircraft and fly them to the Lakshadweep islands at the same time as he was launching the boats. Tom would have to accompany the fighters to Lakshadweep, and make sure the authorities didn't confiscate them.
A week later they were in the air. Tom en route to Lakshadweep, and his father to Socotra. Vladymir would land first and deploy the two submarines on Wednesday. Following them would be the launch of the two carriers Saturday night. Then on the next Thursday, Tom would fly the two fighters across the sea to his father. He would keep the tankers with him, waiting for the prearranged signal form his father to launch them. It was possible that they would have to land the tankers in Pakistan, but it would be ugly trying to get them back out.
When Vlady received the fighters, he would re-outfit them with their payloads, and fill every fuel bladder onboard he could. He had to remove the paint-ball guns from the fuselage to fit more fuel on them. The last thing he would add would be the re-fueling socket valves. They had been removed for the flight to Lakshadweep to protect them, and ensure the most secrecy about his mission. Without the refueling valve installed, each fighter had a much more limited range than when it was installed.
The excitement over his mission kept Vladymir Illych Groshnikov antsy throughout the flight. First, the subs were launched the night he arrived. They would be the electronic eyes and ears of the mission while the fighters were over the sea. Saturday night came and the carriers slipped gently into the calm waters near the airstrip. Steadily steaming towards Pakistan, the carriers disappeared into the night.
Tom called his father late Wednesday night and made sure everything was a go.
"Should the flock migrate?"
"Let them go."
And with that Tom's job had truly begun. He set the two fighters out on the small airstrip they had purchased on the island, and set them into motion with a flick of a switch. Gently they taxied down the field, turning to face Tom at the end. With a swiftly rushing whoosh, they took off. Tom promptly made his way into the primary control station to monitor the progress of the flights. A small computer was controlling the flight path, so all Tom had to do was watch to make sure the computer didn't screw up and be ready to jump for the controls if it did.
The flight was totally uneventful, but did prove that the aircraft could easily handle such a long flight. When the fighters touched down at Vladymir's side of the sea, there was still enough fuel into the planes to go another 35-40 miles.
Vlady thought that would be plenty of safety-margin.
Thursday night, Vladymir refueled the planes and removed the guns. With the two refueling stops each way, he was confident the fighters would make it back to him. After he refueled the planes, he installed the refueling valve in each.
"It is done. It is ready for the flight!"
Before dawn broke over the eastern coast of Lakshadweep, Tom finalized his pre-flight check of the tankers. Everything seemed to be in order. At 0515, the phone in his pocket rang.
"Is your bladder full?"
"I'll be ready to take a leak after breakfast."
Tom flicked the first tanker on and set it into motion. It was already facing the correct direction, so with a firm push on the throttle, Tom started its takeoff roll. Two hours and forty-five minutes later, the second tanker rose gracefully into the morning air.
At 0615, Vladymir flipped both fighters on and made sure they were in position. With a resounding rush, they were off. Now Vladymir could only hope that nothing set any of his planes off their courses.
Two hours later, the western sub picked up the two fighters on its little radar and beamed the location back to Vlady. Twenty minutes later, the east-ern sub picked up the formation as it flew overhead, and beamed that information back to Vladymir too. By 10 o'clock, the fighters were within 5 miles of Pakistani airspace, where they met up with the first tanker. Here Vlady and Tom had to work together. As soon as Tom picked up the movement to the rear of the southern tanker, he called his father.
"I have a visual."
"Me too. Let's do it"
In under 10 minutes, both fighters had been topped off. Tom set the tanker back into a gentle orbit at max conserve airspeed, and Vlady flew the fighters on.
A little after noon, as Vlady was nearing the northern border of Pakistan, they went through the re-fueling procedure again. Vlady crossed into Afghanistan at exactly 1215. An hour after that, with his little fighters flying at a bit above max conserve speed, he was a mere 30 minutes from his target.
Now that the target was fairly close, Vlady turned on both the down-looking and rear-facing cameras, watching for any signs of trouble. At 1340, he began to intensely search the ground ahead of him for his target. Three minutes passed with no signs of it anywhere. Had this whole thing been a loss? A waste of time? Just an arduous practice run? Wait! There it was! The facility he was going to deliver his message to.
Banking to the right, Vladymir pulled both fighters into a gentle climb, leveling out at 2500 feet. He continued towards the target now at full attack speed. When he was almost right over it, he pushed the fighters into a 55 degree dive. At 500 feet, he unlocked the payload from under each wing and flung out the airbrakes. At 350 feet he banked hard left and pulled up as sharply as he dared, pulling the airbrakes back in. By the time he had made it back to 400 feet, the 4 small containers had impacted the ground and burst. There was no explosion, just a splattering of liquid all over the middle square of the compound, some even splashing the walls of the facility.
Five minutes later, both fighters were screaming towards the Afghani-Pakistani border at full throttle, all worries about conserving fuel gone now.
Inside 40 minutes, the fighters had again regained Pakistani airspace. Now Vlady thought he could rest from the rush of dropping the containers. He called up his son to find out where the northern tanker was. He only had about 50 miles worth of fuel onboard. He needed to refuel soon. Tom told him he was about 12 miles from the tanker, and that he should drop to max conserve and let the tanker come to him. Four minutes later, Tom picked up the lead fighter on his screen, and started to direct his father into the refueling boom.
He carefully lowered the boom, letting the computer fly the plane while he flew the boom. The lead fighter nosed its way towards the boom, and 30 seconds later had clicked in. Tom only let his father have half of the fuel on-board, even though the fighter wanted to slurp up more. He still had to refuel the next fighter. As the first one dropped out of its air berth, Tom directed the tail fighter into position. Vlady was getting worried as he pushed his way towards the tanker because he only had about a mile's worth of fuel left. With a reassuring thunk, the fighter locked into the boom, and began gulping fuel down the little boom.
When the tanker ran dry, Tom disengaged the boom, raising back up to lock into place at the back of the tanker, and started the long flight home. Vlady pushed his little fighters to 60% power, and flew on a constant course for the next tanker, where he knew he could again gulp down the precious fluid into his thirsty aircraft.
The rear- and down-looking cameras had now served their purpose, so Vladymir shut them off. All he needed now was the camera on the cockpit to be sure of where he was going.
Just under 2 hours after he left the first tanker, he acquired the second on his screen. It was about 500 yards in front of him, and about 75 feet higher. He again called his son to be ready to dispense fuel to the fighters.
As soon as that was done, Tom swung the refueling boom back up into the normal flight position, and turned the tanker towards Lakshadweep. Vlady brought the fighters down to 1000 feet, and continued onwards to find the carriers. Soon, the eastern sub picked up the lead fighter on its radar, but not the second, because Vlady had banked the second off to the west to bring them home separately. Shortly after the first fighter was picked up on radar, the second was spotted by the western sub, and Vlady knew how long he would have to wait to get his beloved fighters back again.
Ten minutes later, he flicked the down-looking cameras back on to search for the carriers. It would be very difficult, as he had painted them to carefully blend in with the ocean. He then turned on the low-power transmitter on the carriers, which each fighter and sub immediately picked up. Based on what the subs were sending back to him, and on what the small GPS units onboard the planes were transmitting, he should be within a half mile of them. He dropped down to 250 feet to search better for them. Just when he was getting ready to flip the rear cameras on to see if maybe he had passed over them already, he saw a glint in the water that could only be metal.
He had found them. Now he could bring the subs and carriers back to Socotra, without having needed to use the carriers. He now flipped the rotating camera on each carrier on, as well as the forward-facing camera to watch for other craft that might be in the water. When he satisfied himself that there were none, he pushed the carriers' power up to all ahead full. He still had some power he could squeeze out if he needed it, but it didn't look like he would.
In mid-twilight, the fighters appeared on the horizon. He could actually see the building he was standing in before he spotted the aircraft because the cameras were still on. As the fighters finally neared the end of their trip, the lead fighter suddenly started to spin out of control towards the ground!
Vladymir jumped for the controls, trying to regain control of his bird. Scant feet above the ground, he finally got it leveled off, and he landed it right there. The second fighter had no trouble at all, and the computer landed that one without a glitch.
At the same time, the 2nd tanker was landing in Lakshadweep. Tom's job was now basically done. The tankers were back, so he taxied the 2nd into the hangar to join its twin, and locked down the doors.
At the Socotra field, Vlady was busy trying to figure out what happened to the fighter. After a few minutes he found the dual causes. There were feathers stuck in the tail. Apparently a bird had flown into the plane as it was getting close to home. Because of the safety switch installed in the plane, the tiny onboard computer had killed the fuel line from the back of the plane. This caused an immediate imbalance onboard, which greatly intensified the feather problem.
Early the next week, Vlady picked up the carriers with his binoculars coming straight into port. Slowing them down to 1/3 ahead, he watched them approach the docks. When they were about 150 yards off, he moved the motors to 1/3 back to slow the ships down even more. They came to a near halt about 25 feet from the mooring points. He slid them back into idle forward, letting them creep up to the docks so they weren't damaged.
The radar onboard the subs began picking up the coastline the next day, and by that evening, all the vehicles Vlady had released into the water were back to him. Now he could begin the laborious process of loading them into the cargo plane again and flying them home.
The next morning, Vlady remembered that he still had the fighters! He had to fly them back to Tom so they could arrive safely home. He went out to the hangar and filled the planes up to the brim, reinstalled the guns, and taxied them out to the runway. Then he called Tom to let him know that they were coming. After acknowledgement from Tom, Vlady set the fighters into their take-off roll and they were airborne. He switched control over to Tom's monitoring station, and climbed into the cargo plane.
He waited in the plane for almost 6 hours before Tom called him with the news that all the planes were loaded into the big plane on Lakshadweep, and that he was about to takeoff. That was all Vladymir needed. He went through his pre-flight check again, turned the engines on, ramped them up and started his take-off. Before the runway was 2/3 over, he was airborne and headed home.
When Vladymir and Tom got home the next day, it was all over the news. Some form of low-end biological attack hit a small KGB facility in Afghanistan. Almost the whole population of the base was vomiting.
Vlady was happy. The liquid he had dropped into the base wouldn't kill anybody, but it caused intense vomiting, and when it decomposed it made an ideal growing base for all sorts of lovely bacteria and other viruses. Vladymir expected the whole base's population would have to be evacuated, and the place sanitized before anyone could work there again.
Fortunately, Tom didn't know why they were over in that part of the world. If he did, Vlady didn't think Tom would have joined his father. Maybe, but he was unsure.
Vlady knew that he would have to act quickly if he wanted to get his sister out of the base's miniature jail. He phoned the friendly folks at Delta and arranged for a trip to Pakistan. From there he would rent a car, drive to the border of Afghanistan, cross the border on foot, take a donkey ride up to close to the base, and then hike the rest of the way in. The flight was confirmed for the next morning.
Vladymir deplaned from the Boeing 747 in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. He went over to the rental counter, picked out a small car, and drove northwest to the border. Parking the car back about a mile and off the road a ways, he walked up to the border, and crossed over without incident. In the first town he came to, he bought a donkey for his trip.
As he left the town headed north, a slight northerly breeze picked up, giving him some nominal respite from the heat.
The next morning, he was about 10 miles from the base. This was as close as he dared go with the donkey. He lashed the animal to a tree, leaving enough rein to eat and get to the small stream nearby, and proceeded on foot to the facility.
Four hours later, he arrived at the base. Dressed in his formal Russian uniform, he marched up to the front gate and entered. He greeted the guard who only moaned his acknowledgement of his presence. He walked over to the single cell, and demanded that the prisoner be set free. He had proper authorization papers, so she was released to him.
When they got to the front gate, the guard wanted to see the papers again to make sure they were real. He examined them closely, and decided they were, so he let them pass.
The road leading away from the base was twisty and after the 4th bend, Vladymir whisked his sister into the woods. He had stashed a new set of clothing, a passport, and proper papers for her to use so they could leave the country together. He went off a little ways and changed back into the clothes he wore into the country. When they had both finished the change, Vlady lit the clothes they had changed out of on fire and let them burn in a small clearing in a swampy area. They worked their way down to the donkey, and arrived there at sunset. The drop he had made had weakened his sister, Natalia. She was more than happy to sleep on the donkey as they headed back south.
Natalia had been locked up for so-called dissent. She had been watching a CNN broadcast on the base TV, and was locked up for it. She had been able to get word to her brother several months before, and that was when the plan had formulated in his mind.
Now that they were headed back to civilization, Vlady and his sister could relax.
When they got near the border, Vlady hopped off the animal, helped Natalia off, and shooed the donkey away. It had served its purpose.
They crossed the border with no problems, and found the car waiting for them right where Vlady had left it. When they arrived in Islamabad, he took her to a hospital where she could get some treatment so the flight home could proceed.
The next afternoon they boarded their flight to America and said
good-bye to Russia forever.