Night of the Superforts

Nightingale Island, September 2, 1944 - 1200 hours

"General's time, sir." said the young private at the entrance
to Andrews' office.

"All right. Let's go."

Several minutes later, Andrews was in the back of a jeep driving down the
seemingly endless runways of Nightingale Island. A year ago, all of this
had been nothing but wilderness, and of course, a small Draka outpost,
but that was before the US Navy had come in and wiped them out, first
with airstrikes, and then with Marine landings that had rooted out the
last diehards.

Then came the SeaBees, and well, here was the fruits of their labors -
half the island was literally pavement, and the other half was the support
structures for the 21st and 30th Bomb Wings. Every square inch of
Nightingale was devoted to the needs of those two hundred and seventy
Superforts and the twelve thousand men needed to fly and maintain them.

Over on the nearby Inaccessible Island, the 59th and 71st Bomb Wings
resided. Today, America would throw over five hundred Superforts into
the night skies over Cape Town. Today, was the day the Eighth Air Force
went to War.

As his driver took him towards the Command hut for the lead bomb group
for tonight's strikes, Andrews watched as the four one-ton bombs each
B-29D was going to carry for tonight's strike were winched into the
waiting bomb bays of the Superforts along the service road they
were travelling down.

Andrews couldn't help but grimace. Normally, the plan was for each Superfort
to carry twelve 500-pounders, but the boffins had said no. They had waved
reports in his face that showed that the most precise and efficient way to
destroy factories and machine tools, was not with 500 pounders, but with
thousand pound and above bombs.

At least the new D models would help a lot tonight. The Ds were so much
better than the first Superforts which had rolled off the Wichita lines a
few years ago. They had the new R-4360-35 Wasp Majors putting out
3,500 horses, compared to the old R-3350-41 Cyclones which could
only do 2,200 horses.

All of the armament had been removed except for the tail gun, which was
aimed and fired from the pilot's compartment by the tail gunner. The empty
space freed up by removing that redunant pressurized compartment had
gone towards a new fuselage fuel tank giving the Ds the range to reach
most of western Africa from their bases in the St. Helena chain.

The jeep finally squealed to a stop outside the command hut. Andrews
nodded in thanks towards his driver, and got off. Opening the door, he
smelt the familiar smell of leather flying jackets, sweat, and cigarette

Inside sitting on rows of fold up chairs, were the flight crews for the 102st
Very Heavy Bomb Group, the 495 men who had been chosen to lead
America's first strike on the Draka homeland.

Walking through the corridor between the chairs, Andrews saw the eagerness
etched on the faces of the men. They were all raring to go, to find the Draka,
and kick them in the balls. Well, tonight, they'd get their wish.

Climbing onto the podium in front of the Map, he looked over the sea of
faces before turning to the piece of rope next to the curtain behind him, and
pulled it, revealing the Map, and the piece of red string laid across it showing
their flight path for today, from the Trio all the way to Cape Town.

A rowdy cheer swept the room. "We're going to Cape Town tonight boys!"
shouted Andrews, to even greater cheers and whooping.

Once the cheering had died down, Andrews was all business.

"All right. The plan is we take off, and form up in a general very loose
formation headed along 280 degrees. Don't even bother keeping
tight formation, it's not going to matter much by the time we get feet dry."

"Keep an eye out for people suffering engine problems, and let us
know back here if anyone is forced to ditch. We'll have the Dumbos
out looking for them."

The Dumbos were old B-29As, with fuel tanks replacing much of their
fuselage interiors, and several life boats carried in their bomb bays
to be dropped onto crews adrift on the high seas to increase their
chances of survival until rescue forces could arrive.

"The EB-29Bs took off a few hours ago, so they should be reaching
optimal position to jam the Draka radars by the time you're close enough
to be picked up on their radar sets."

"Once you're over land, begin warming up your K-5s. Each of your
bombardiers has been supplied with a complete sheaf of radar pictures
of important targets over Cape Town. I'm not going to tell you exactly what
you need to hit, it's going to be mighty confusing over there tonight. Just
hit *something*, and we'll consider it a successful mission, boys."

Andrews paused for a moment before continuing.

"Godspeed to you all."

As the sound of chairs squeaking and shuffling filled the room as the
crews rose to leave, Andrews felt his eyes filling with tears. God, he felt
so proud to be here at this moment in time, with these boys of his.

One hour later

The sounds of radial engines washed all over the trio of islands
as thousands of Wasp Majors idled, waiting for the signal to go.

On the main runway on Nightingale, a Captain walked out from the
control tower, and lifted a flare gun into the air. With a hiss, the
flare shot forth, sending a bright blue ball of light into the skies.

The signal was given; the mission was a Go.

Immediately, the first Superfort began to roll forward as it's parking
brakes were released. On the side of it's fuselage was a painting
of Betty Grable in a lacy outfit, and the words "Lady Lace". As it
rumbled down the runway, it began to build up speed, until it
was roaring down at over a hundred miles an hour, devouring
the runway like a monster.

On board Lady Lace, Captain James Howard lifted his yoke back
as the airspeed hit 110 knots, and over forty tons of alumunium,
flesh, fuel and bombs smoothly rotated on it's axis as the nosewheel
went up.

As Lady Lace slowly gained altitude and began to retract her landing
gear, the next Superfort in line was already rolling down the runway,
and gaining speed.

From his spot in the control tower, Andrews watched with pride as
Superfort after Superfort clawed it's way into the bright blue skies,
each laden with four tons of destruction to deliver to Cape Town.

Now began the hardest part. The waiting.

Castle Tarleton - Archona

Arch-Strategos Karl von Shrakenberg sat in his chair on the floor
overlooking the projacmap below, and tried to avoid burying his
face in his arms as he looked upon the seemingly endless lines
of Red, Grey, and Green colored symbols opposing the Draka
forces fighting for their lives in Romania.

"Do you remember back in 1940, when we invaded Russia?" asked
one of his fellow Arch-Strategos, a thin faced man by the name
of Hermann Lemp.

"They said that the Russians would collapse, that they would break
like endless rows of wheat to be harvested before our forces. That
the campaign would be over in six months."

Lemp paused to take another drag from his ever-present cigar that
defined him. "But that was before two whole legions of Airborne
troops were butchered in the drop on the Caucasus."

Shrakenburg cocked an eye towards Lemp. "Now, don't be so hard on
the Archon, no one could have predicted that the Russians would have
strung piano wire from virtually every tree in the area, and armed the
civilian population to the teeth."

Inwardly, Karl von Shrakenburg shuddered. It had been only sheer luck
that his son, Eric, had escaped that butchery with all of his body, except
for his right foot. Far too many other Drakas had not been so lucky.

Lemp was continuing his monologue still, and Shrakenburg turned his
attention back to his fellow Arch-Strategos.

" I was saying, what kind of blithering fool thought that airborne
troops would be ideally suited for mountain operations? Or that
six thousand tanks and twenty thousand mechanized vehicles were
an ideal force for attacking a mountainous region?"

Lemp rolled his eyes in silent contempt at that, before continuing.

"Ninety thousand Draka paid for that mistake with their lives, Karl. Ninety
*thousand*, before I took over from that fool Ramonos."

No one mentioned the omission of the Janissary losses, which had reached
two hundred thousand by this point in the Caucasus front, and were
still climbing. To the Draka, Jannisaries were merely non-entities unworthy
of notice, except when they fouled up and required the Citizen Force to
fix their fuckups.

It was at this point that Cohortarch Sannie van Reenan interrupted.

"Are you sure that we have enough Draka left behind in the Caucasus
to keep the Janissaries in line? My section has been continuing to
get disturbing reports from the frontlines on the moral fitness of
the Janissaries. Apparently that hydrophobic fool Krasnov's rants
about the proletariat and world revolution are too damned tempting
to the Janissaries."

At this Lemp rolled his eyes. "Cohortarch, be quiet. No one cares what
the hell happens with the Janissaries in the Caucasus. They're all low
grade retards. All the good ones are in the Ukraine. Just tell your Krypteria
to start stepping on them harder. If it wasn't for me, we'd still be bleeding
dry in those damned mountains."

Reenan's face reddened, but she kept her emotions under control. Eventually
Lemp would fuck up, and then he would be hers...

Lemp, however knew when he was right, and he kept on with his line
of thought.

"You all laughed at me, said I was a fool, a traitor to his kind, when I pulled
back and terminated all offensive operations in the Caucasus. It was
precisely because of my actions that we've been able to advance so
far into the Ukraine with those six million troops that I freed up by
going to the defensive and digging down in the Caucasus."

Sammie could no longer keep her emotions under check, and at that,
she burst out; "You ABANDONED the land that we had conquered for,
fought for, DIED for! You're a dishonor to your family!"

Lemp slammed his fist down, rattling the table. Below them, several
young centurions looked up at the circle of Arch Strategos' above them
briefly, before returning to their task of updating the projacmap.

Before Lemp could begin his response, an alarm began to sound,
silencing what he was going to say forever.

"What's going on?" shouted Shrakenburg to the Centurions manning
the projacmap below them.

"Sir, we have an air raid warning over the western coast of the Domination.'

"Air raid? What type? Airships or Aeroplanes? How many?" said Lemp.

"Sir, we just don't know. Our radar installations report that they are picking
up very large concentrations of aircraft, but we can't tell how fast they're
coming in, nor how many, or their altitude. The operators describe it as
a 'giant blob on the scopes'."

"What's causing this?" ordered Shrakenburg.

"Sir, we don't know. The only thing that comes to mind is an intensely
powerful radar system transmitting on our own radar wavelengths."

EB-29B Short Circuit - 20,000 feet over the Atlantic

Major Charles Whidbey looked out of the glass-covered nose of his
EB-29 towards the beautiful sunset that was spreading across the Atlantic
ocean as his ship cruised at a steady 20,000 feet, the crew clothed not
in the bulky electrically heated suits that the old B-24s needed, but in
their summer uniforms. Around their necks hung oxygen masks in case
they lost cabin pressurization due to a malfunction or battle damage.

The EB-29s were modifications of the B-29 that carried all the defensive
firepower of the original, but replaced the forward bomb bay with a
pressurized compartment containing electronic warfare gear, while the
aft bomb bay was replaced with an integral fuel tank, allowing much
longer periods in the air than the stock B-29.

Their smooth skin was disrupted all over by odd bulges and protusions
that concealed the antennas and recievers that made them worthy weapons
of war in their own right.

"Sir, fuel consumption is right on the mark, we've got another three hours
on station before we need to turn back," said Lieutenant Jumper, the "Short
Circuit's" flight engineer, who actually controlled the bomber's engines from
his massive control panel covered in dials and switches while in flight; the
pilot and co-pilot only controlled the engines during take off, landing, or in

Whidbey did some quick calculations in his head, three hours should
give them just enough time in the air to cover the bombers as they went
in, and to keep Drakan air defenses confused while they flew around
the interior, and to keep them safe as they once again crossed the
coastline and went feet wet.

"I really wish we could go in ourselves and fly escort on the bombers, it
doesn't feel right to be boring holes in the sky while they go through
hell, Chuck." said his Co-Pilot, Lieutenant Jim Nelson.

"Well, Jim, orders from the brass. We don't want any of the toys back
there getting into the hands of the Draka."

Everyone on the EB-29s knew the orders that had been given to them
before they took off well ahead of the bombers; if you were damaged,
turn away at once, towards the Triple Islands, and under no circumstances
were you to allow the plane to crash on land or in water less than five
hundred feet.

And under no circumstances, to parachute out within 1,000 miles of Draka
controlled territory; the secrets of the Sparkies were more important than
the lives of the men who flew them.

"How're things going back there, boys?" asked Whidbey.

"Things're going great, sir, We're detecting no less than ten radar sites
within our range, and we're jamming three of them. I've talked with the guys
on 'Angel Eyes', 'Malicious Intentions', and 'Sparky the Bandit', and
we're going to split them all up so we can cover them all." came the
replies from the Electronics Warfare compartment.

124nd Coastal Defense Merarchy

"Any luck getting through this infernal garbage?" asked the Merarch
who commanded the 124nd CD Merarchy, which was tasked with defending
the approaches to the western coastline of Drakia.

"No, sir. It's like someone's throwing garbage all over our screens, so we
can't get through. I can give you a general location simply by giving you
the center of this blob, but I can't give you speed, altitude, or precise range
figures." replied the decurion who was manning one of the consoles.

"Have you tried shifting the frequencies?"

"Yes, each time I do it, it clears up for a second, and then it craps out again."

"Keep trying. I'm scrambling the Interceptor squadrons now."

[Ferguson Airfield, 25th Air Legion (Interceptor)]

The Eagle heavy fighters screamed into the air, their turbo-compound engines
roaring, lifting them into the rapidly darkening skies, towards the strange
electronic phenemonae now occuring off their coastline.

[EB-29B "Short Circuit" - 20,000 Feet over the Atlantic]

"Enemy fighters taking off from airfields along the coast! Apparently Eagles,
sir, estimated time to intercept 50 minutes." came the cry from the EW

Whidbey swore. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but he was hoping
that the Draka hadn't chosen his own particular flight of EB-29Bs to pick on.

"Don't worry about it, Boss, by the time they get here, it'll be dark as hell,
and we've got flame dampers fitted to all of our engines, and of course
radar-guided tail guns," Nelson said with a feral grin that was infectious.

[B-29D "Lady Lace" - 22,000 feet over the Atlantic]

"Reports coming in from the Sparkies, sir, Eagles are coming up to intercept

"Don't worry. They'll have a hard enough time finding them, much less us,
by the time we're there, it'll be dark. Speaking of that, it's time to descend to
penetration altitude." replied Captain Howard as he turned to his co-pilot for
acknowledgement. The other man nodded, and together, they slowly
pushed their yokes down, sending the big Boeing into a shallow dive that
would level off with them at just 11,000 feet.

Outside the greenhouse nose, they could see the other Superforts that
had followed them in a loose ragged formation from Nightingale
and Inaccessible splitting off to follow their navigator's and bombardier's
own ideas of the best path to penetrate Drakian air defenses and hit
Cape Town.

[Castle Tarleton - Archona]

"Sir, the Eagles from the 25th Legion should be reaching the location of
the phenemonon shortly," said one of the Centurions in the Pit.

"Put the transmissions from them over the speakers," ordered Shrakenburg.

A sharp electronic squeal filled the room, before being replaced with
a low droning noise; the sound of turbo-compound engines.

"This is Tetrarch DeFelice, I regret to report that my A/S radar set is
useless, there's nothing on it but a giant blob according to my

"Keep going towards the center of the blob, Tetrarch. You'll find
what ever's causing it there." came the order from the Merarch in
charge of the 124th CD Merarchy.

[EB-29B "Short Circuit" - 20,000 Feet over the Atlantic]

"Roger, am proceeding towards the blob," came the heavily
accented voice over the headsets of the crew of 'Short Circuit'.

"Is he getting close?" asked Whidbey.

"Yessir, we estimate he'll be within two miles in ten minutes,"
came the response.

Whidbey thought for a moment before replying.

"What's his vector?"

Upon recieving the answer, Whidbey began to turn the Electrofortress
in a shallow turn away from the vector that the enemy fighters were
approaching from, bringing the tail guns to bear.

[Castle Tarleton - Archona]

"Blue Five, you are very close to the center of the emissions, do you
see anything?"

"Negative, it's pitch black out here sir."

"Wait, I think I see somethin......"

Suddenly, a roar filled the speakers, followed by silence.

Shrakenburg rubbed the bridge of his nose, and asked for
an attendant to bring him some food. It was going to be
a long night, from the looks of it.

[EB-29B "Short Circuit" - 20,000 Feet over the Atlantic]

The flaming wreckage of the Eagle splashed into the Atlantic
far behind Short Circuit. In the gunner's compartment, a loud
series of cheers and whoops were being shouted forth.

"Did you see that? Fucker walked right into our guns!"

"Gentlemen, the APQ-10 has spoken, and I LIKE IT!"

Whidbey let the gunners ham it up for a few more seconds,
before raising his voice. "Alright boys, that's enough fun
for now. There'll be others. Whatever happened to his

"He broke off, sir, after we pasted him."

There was a silence as the radarmen checked their scopes,
and then the reply came. "Sir, he's five thousand feet below
us, heading away from us."

Immedately after the muzzle flash of the guns and the flare of the
burning Eagle had died from the night, Whidbey had put 'Short Circuit'
into a steep banking turn, changing their vector sharply away from what
it was before. Now they were headed away from Drakia, and it was now
impossible for the wingman of the destroyed fighter to figure out where
the enemy was now visually. All by the book, of course.

[B-29D "Lady Lace", 11,000 feet over the Atlantic]

Captain Howard held the mighty Superfort steady as the miles
to Drakia wore down, devoured by Lady Lace's four mighty
Wasp Majors, and the call that he had been waiting for finally
came from the bombardier, who was also the radar navigator
due to the way the K-Series bombsights were integrated into
the APQ-24 radar system that each Superfort held in a ventral
bulge replacing the ventral turret forward.

"Coastline coming ahead, sir, twenty miles dead ahead."

Howard did the math in his head. At 390 MPH, they'd be
feet dry in a little over three minutes. And then the moment
they'd trained so hard for in the heat of Alabama and the
freezing temperatures in the old B-24s over the Caucasus
mountains would be here.

Minutes later, the cry came from Lieutenant Emerson, their
bombardier, "We're feet dry, repeat, feet dry!"

Howard cleared his throat, and began to read from a
prepared statement that the President of the United
States had written to be read out to every bomber crew
the moment they went feet dry over Drakia.

"Airmen of the Eighth Air Force!"

"This nation has placed its destiny in your hands, along with
it's faith in freedom. Tonight, you and your Superfortresses
will strike at the heart of tyranny on behalf of those enslaved
millions who have no voice."

"Godspeed to you all!"

"Franklin Delano Roosevelt."

[Castle Tarleton - Archona]

A voice from the pit cried out, "Sir, we're finally getting some
concrete numbers!"

"It's about damned time," muttered Lemp.

"We're picking up hundreds of large targets approaching at varying
altitudes, from 2,700 meters to 3,300 meters, speed, wait, this can't
be right, in excess of six hundred kilometers per hour."

"Schiesse," muttered Shrakenburg in his anecestral language. "That's
cutting the margin of error that our Eagles have from an advantage of
nearly a hundred kph to only thirty."

[B-29D "Lady Lace", 9,000 feet above Drakia]

"Coming up on the waypoint, five miles dead ahead," came the
voice of Lt. Emerson, who was huddled over the phosporescent
radar screen that was before him.

He didn't know where the Army had gotten the information that he was
now referring to to help him navigate his way towards Cape Town in pitch
blackness, guided only by the phosporescent glow of electrons on a scope,
but it seemed accurate enough. Rumor had it that OSS had flown civilian
airliners over all the major cities of the Domination in the pre-war period to
get the radar pictures; at least that was how one story he'd heard put it.

Suddenly, the cockpit of Lady Lace, which had previously only been lit
by the lumeniscent glow of radium dials and shielded red lights, lit up
like daytime as an explosion occured off their starboard bow. Looking
to the right, Howard saw a flaming Superfortress plunging towards earth.

"Any sight of fighters?" shouted Howard.

"No Sir!" came the cry from the gunners' compartment. "It must be anti-aircraft,
I'm picking up radar signals consistent with the Fire Can radar they use for
their antiaircraft guns!"

[45th Anti-Aircraft Merarchy, outskirts of Cape Town]

Merarch Leeds watched as the fireball plunged through the night sky,
before impacting on a hillside some ten clicks away in an earthshaking

Turning away from the blazing wreck, he looked down the firing line, and
watched as his men manned and fired the 120mm automatic anti-airship
guns that could reach up to 40,000 feet to kill airships.

The men were stuffing shells into the revolving cylinders as fast as they
could, and the radars were just good enough to track the bombers, but
the damned mounts were too slow! They had been designed for use against
airships at 16,000 meters and 200 kph, not bombers coming in at
3,000 meters and at 600 kph!

Leeds hated to admit it, but that bomber they'd hit had been a sheer
fluke of luck, rather than due to the efficiency of his Merarchy.

[B-29D "Lady Lace", 6,400 feet above Drakia]

Howards had taken his ship down to a blistering 6,400 feet. It was insanity,
going down this low at night, but his radarman was keeping him apprised of
any sudden rises in the ground ahead of them.

Ahead of them, on the horizon, they saw a bright glow, that only grew stronger
as they sped towards it. According to Emerson, that was Cape Town.

"Jesus look at that, the whole damn city is lit up like a Christmas tree!" shouted
Lieutenant Lang, his co-pilot.

Howard peered out at the bright city. "Arrogant little bastards aren't they?"
He grabbed his speaker and began to send a message to his crew. "When I was
a little un' back in Old Mexico we used to kill rattlesnakes and fry'em over the camp
fire," a big wolfish grin spread over his face "Well gentlemen, I'm proud to say that
good times are back again!"

Then it was all business. Behind them, Emerson was beginning the process
of programming in the variables for the K-5. Bending over, he peered into
the radarscope, looking for a distinctive shape. Then he saw it. The unmistakable
outline of the Ferrous Metals Combine complex in Cape Town.

"Pilot, come to bearing oh-five-niner. Hold your altitude steady at six-five
hundred," ordered Emerson as he began to lay in the procedures for the
drop. Everything, the deaths of the Marines to seize the Island Trio, the
massive construction program, all of it was leading to this point in time.

Up front, the glow of the city was filling the entire compartment through the
greenhouse, but Emerson didn't notice it. He was bent over in his seat,
looking through the eyepiece of the K-5. There it was, they were only
fifteen miles from the target.

The last six hours had been the reason for this, now Emerson only had
two and a half minutes to do his job. His fingers ran over the control panel
for the K-5, switching the interferometer knob to "reference", and with
his other hand, he hit the bomb-bay switch.

The distinctive snap-hiss of the pneumatic doors echoed through Lady Lace
as the forward bomb bay doors flew open in seconds, rather than the slow
agonizing crawl with the hydraulics on the old A models.

The moment the green light indicating an open bomb bay glowed, Emerson
hit the bomb release switch. A tremor ran through the ship as the single
one-ton bomb fell from Lady Lace, the all-seeing eye of the APQ-24
tracking it all the way, calculating its drift and the wind speed.

A green light snapped on one of the panels. Now the K-5 was primed with
the proper wind speed and bomb drift for the target. Emerson quickly
moved the interferometer knob from "reference" to "50 foot". Now
when he pushed down on the bomb release switch, the rest of the
bombs would spew forth in a rain of one ton casings carrying death
in fifty foot intervals.

Slowly, the radar crosshairs in his scope moved closer to the distinctive
shape of buildings that was the Ferrous Metals Combine complex. When
the crosshairs crossed over the edge of the first building, Emerson mashed
the switch, and felt Lucky Lace shudder as three tons of explosives poured
from her belly.

The first two-thousand pounder buried itself in a street between buildings
and then detonated; the shock wave breaking every window in the complex,
and creating a crater 30 feet wide, ripping the walls on each side of it down.

The second slammed through the roof of the main tank production
building, and detonated, ripping through the jigs needed to produce the
turrets, destroying all but a few of them.

The third hit the administration building, vaporizing several tons of paperwork in
a fireball, and killing several engineer-citizens who had stayed late to work on
the Hond IV design.

As flames and smoke began to belch into the air from the Ferrous Metals
Combine complex, 'Lady Lace' roared away, as more explosions began
to rock the night sky over Cape Town as the Superforts laid down their bombs.

"All right men, we've done our job for Uncle Sam, it's time to go home,"
Houston said as he banked Lady Lace into a shallow banking turn that
would take them to the north, away from Cape Town. No sense in going back
the way they had come, the enemy there was already alerted.

[Castle Tarleton - Archona]

Shrakenburg, Lemp, and Reenan listened in stony silence as the reports of damage
began to come in over the wires and the airwaves from Cape Town. Apparently there
were large fires burning in the Ferrous Metals Combine factory there, and more reports
of explosions were coming in by the minute.

"This is unforgivable!" shouted von Reenan as she listened to the reports. "Absolutely

Lemp sighed. It was going to be a long night.

[B-29D "Lady Lace", 3,000 feet above the South Atlantic Ocean - Three hours later]

Captain Howard moved through his ship for the last time, making sure
that everything vital had been destroyed, and that all the classified papers
had been thrown overboard in sacks weighted down with the vital parts
of the K-5 system. He looked forward to the shattered wreckage of the
nose, and tried not to wince at what was left of his co-pilot.

Damn it, they were so close to safety, and then the damned Draka had
to come out of nowhere with one of their night-capable Eagles and chewed
up their ship. Number two was dead, it's prop windmilling in the slipstream,
and the rudder controls were apparently shot away.

All in all, not a good way to end their night. Howard gave Lieutenant Bell
one last salute before he stepped out into the slipstream, being the last
man to leave the Superfort. He counted off a few seconds, and then pulled
the ripcord. The canopy blossomed above him and moments later he was
yanked up into the sky hard as the canopy bit into the air.

As he recovered from the shock, he saw the first faint traces of dawn
breaking on the horizon, and reaching into his parachute harness, activicated
the SAR beacon, a simple radio that simply sent pulses over a specific
band for rescue forces to home in onto. Howard hoped that the squids were
on the ball today, he'd heard that at least a dozen damaged Superforts
or more had gone down, including now, the late 'Lady Lace'.

[KB-29 "Service with a Smile", 10,000 feet over the Atlantic - Two hours later]

"My god, Captain White, you've got to see this." came the strangled
reply from the boom operator's position, which was where the tail
gunner used to be.

Behind "Service With a Smile", a heavily smoking B-29 was struggling
to hold position long enough to tank up with just enough precious
gasoline to make it to Nightingale island. One of the engines was...
just gone, torn off by a direct flak hit, and the other engine on that
wing was sputtering heavily. The fuselage was covered in holes
from the exploding flak shell, the boom operator didn't want to
think what the flying fragments had done inside the plane.

[B-29D "Angel Eyes" 10,000 feet over the Atlantic]

Colonel Cunningham's arms were tired, so tired. He and his co-pilot had
spent the last several hours fighting the leaden controls, trying to get them
to respond, ever since almost all hydraulic pressure had been lost following
the flak hit. Now they were here, and if they didn't get this bird hooked up to
the gas, they'd all betaking a swim quite soon.

"Flight Engineer, I need more power!" he shouted. All of his strength and
his co-pilot's as well was needed just to move the big control surfaces
without the hydraulic system.

Behind the co-pilot, the flight engineer nodded and increased the power to
the starboard engines, and slowly worked the port outboard engine up
just a notch.

Cunningham felt the plane start to edge off to the left, from the unbalanced thrust
coming from the engines, and countered with an appropriate amount of rudder.

Slowly, the refuelling boom grew ever larger, until at the last moment, it slid
into it's socket on the top of the fuselage, where it replaced the dorsal turret.

Cunningham and his co-pilot let out a sigh of relief as the flight engineer
announced that the fuel was flowing now. "Remember, don't take on a lot,
just enough to get us back home, we don't want thousands of gallons of
this crap sloshing around if we have to do a forced landing."

Once several hundred gallons of the precious fluid had been taken aboard,
Cunningham signaled to the boom operator to disconnect. With a hiss, the
boom retracted from the receptacle and 'Angel Eyes' continued on towards
Nightingale Island, now with enough fuel to make it. Behind 'Angel Eyes',
were several other Superforts, none of them as damaged or as fuel critical
as 'Angel Eyes' had been, and they began to slot into position one at a time
behind the KB-29 for the fuel to make it home.

[Nightingale Island]

General Andrews watched from his vantage point on the airfield control tower as
one after another, the black-painted Superforts landed after their four-thousand
mile trip. Immediately upon landing, they taxied off towards their hardstands,
where their ground crews would check them out for damage and ready them
for their next mission.

Those that were too badly damaged were towed instead to the repair depots
on the southern side of the airfield complex for repair or cannibilization for spare
parts to keep the other B-29s flying.

Unfortunately, some weren't that lucky, there already had been crashes. The latest
one was a burning pyre on the airfield, only two men out of a crew of six had made
it out. Right now the crash crew was putting out the flames with foam, and a bulldozer
was standing by to clear the runway once the fire was out.

Picking up a pair of binoculars, he watched as the crew of a Superfort parked their
aircraft and upon exiting it, dropped onto the pavement, bone-tired after over ten
hours in the air. Mentally, Andrews made a note to get some of those little trucks that
General LeMay had gotten for his 30th Bomb Wing. His crews were going to need them,
from the looks of it, simply to get to their barracks after a flight.

Damnitinhell, why hadn't he thought of that first? LeMay was going to go far in this
man's Army, thought Andrews as he resumed his vigil of counting the aircraft of
his bomb wing that were returning...or weren't.

[The Nambib Desert, 600 miles north-west of Cape Town]

The sun shone harshly over the Namib desert, and the air shimmered with
heat as if it was a living creature rising from the sands. Other than the tough
scrub plants and the odd scampering creature, there was not a single living
being for miles around.

Then in the distance, there appeared several large enclosed autosteamers,
rough six wheeled vehicles painted in desert camouflage, and capable of
traversing any ground. They were prenaturally silent untill they began to
draw near, then the slight bubbling sound of the steamer engines and the
crunching of sand under the wheels became audible.

Drawing nearer, the curious observer would see that the windows were
rolled open, but this did not seem to be of much comfort to the men inside
the autosteamers, beads of sweat ran down their white faces.

In the distance, two plumes of black smoke were rising up behind the sand dunes.

"Well John, looks like you were right anyway," the leader said. He was wearing a
widebrimmed hat with leopard skin running around the brim. All of them wore the
same khaki outfits with widebrimmed hats, leather boots, and large foot-long
bushknives hanging from their sides.

All of them were white, the only man that wasn't stood out not only because he was
black, but he was also unarmed, and wearing decisively lower quality clothing.

"Yes Massah, John tells Massah the truth" the black man replied obsequiteously,
"I sees it over there, come down with a big boom, Massah."

He pointed his finger in the direction of the rising black plumes, and the party began
to drive up the side of the dune.

As the autosteamers crested the dune, Michel deMontagne looked at the sight
before him, and cursed.

"Loki's prick up Freya's arse!"

He didn't say more out of worry for seeming weak before a serf, but he did get outside
of his steamer, taking with him his T-6 rifle, chambering a round as he did so. The rest
of his group did the same.

They spread out, the dozen or so Drakan Citizens with about half as many serfs
carrying huge backpacks filled with various items that had been deemed useful
for the investigation.

They walked down to the crashsite and looked on it with awe, the Drakans maintained
their emotionless exterior, but the serfs openly gawked and looked at it, shading
their eyes with their hands. "Stop the gawking you lot, bring out the cameras,"
Michel called out, and was glad to see that he was immediately obeyed.

But what he saw, it was too big, too damned big, and the white stars painted on the tail
and wings left no doubt about it's origin. "Damn Yankee," he muttered bitterly. "Lance,
hold the position on the crest. Kreutzler, check the tail, and I'll check the pilot section
in front, let's move!"

"Right", the Stick leaders replied, moving out with the practised ease of a local citizen
force that had trained together for years. Michel walked down towards the front, noticing
that the serf photographers were doing their work, on the side of the airplane there was
a pinup picture painted some half naked woman.

"Dankyankee puritans," he added.

"Don't even have the balls to show any pussy," Yvette Maison, one of his underlings,
commented, causing laughter among the other members of the Stick, laughter that was
sorely needed because one of them had burst out earlier, "If this ain't the biggest
damned airplane I ever saw, then I'm the biggest liar since Jefferson!"

DeMontagne moved forward, using the butt of his rifle to clear away the broken glass
around the nose of the airplane. He looked down the dark body of the airplane, then
he whistled loudly and cried "Front clear!".

The shout "Tail clear!" came back from Kreutzler.

Michel nodded. It was time to start clearing this big Yankee mother.

Slowly, DeMontagne began pushing his way into the airplane, and found that in what looked
like a pilot's position, a dead man was strapped into his seat, the entire front of his face
was gone, and his chest was shredded, his intestines were hanging out limply, and the
stench was horrible.

Wrinkling his nose, he continued on, and found the flight engineer's station, which
he knew it was, by it's veritable array of instruments, row after row of them, along
with the simple fact that on the top of the massive panel was the text

He walked further back into the plane, holding his weapon ready. He silently cursed himself
for having brought the T-6 instead of a S-2 Submachine gun, but he figured his Pankrateon
would let him handle any scrawny Yank.

The final compartment was empty of corpses, but it was filled with all kinds of radios and
other electronic equipment, and as a seeming afterthought, a table covered with maps.

DeMontagne was curious, so he gingerly walked over to the radio and began working
the dials and controls. It still worked fine, and he could hear Yankee channels, but not
too overly well. They must be too far away for good reception.

That was as far back as he could get, the next section of the bomber was the
bomb compartment, and he didn't seem to be able to get in there. Casually, he
began to round up the documents, this was too important for serfs to handle.

He turned around and handed the huge unwieldy bundle full of papers to Yvette.
"Take these outside, carry 'em off in case this bastard blows."

"No problem," she said as she left.

Still curious, he began to twist the frequency dial of the radio, listening in on the
transmissions, the radio was a damn slight more powerful than anything he'd had
lately and he wondered what the damnyankees were saying.

"My fellow Americans, yesterday is a day that will go down in history, a day that will
live on in the memory of our nation and in the memory of free people everywhere.
The Draka have long thought themselves the masters of war, the masters of all that
they survey, the conquerors striding over the debris of vanquished nations, and
yet they thought themselves inviolable at home."

"Yesterday this belief was forever shattered, several months ago I authorised..."

DeMontagne turned the radio off with disgust.

"Gloating damnyankee cripple," he snarled. By Freya, he wished he had the damned
cripple here so that he could teach him a few things or two...he'd be crawling at his
feet in no time. He swallowed in anger and gave the bulkhead between the cabin
and the bomb bay a hard blow with his rifle.

This time it opened up, revealing the bay. When he saw the size of it, his eyes widened.

"Sif, Freya and Thor," he muttered. The biggest Drakan bombers could fit
INSIDE that bay if you removed the wings.

Kreutzler apparently had found his own way in from a tear in the side, and now they
could see each other, light pouring in from the same tear in the belly of the metal beast,
and gleaming off the now-empty shackles which hung limply from the top of the bay.

"Any alive?" yelled Kreutzler. "No, one dead guy here, rest must have bailed." replied

"Damn," he muttered as he left the plane in a bad mood, rushing towards the
autosteamers. While on the way to the steamers, he heard one of the serfs
blurt out, "Lookie, that thing is as big as an airship..." He wasted no time cuffing
the serf in the mouth. "Shaddup boy, get back to work!"

Once in the autosteamer, he began to radio back his initial report back to HQ,
asking for a bigger clean up crew, and some camel patrols to scout the area
for any parachuted survivors that might be lurking about. Last thing they needed
was some damnyankees wandering about the police zone.

[The South Atlantic Ocean - at the same time]

Howard watched as the grey ship came to a halt and began to lower boats into
the water. From it's mast fluttered the Stars and Stripes. Apparently their beacons
had been heard by the Search and Rescue screen of ships deployed all along
the coastline of Drakia, and this destroyer had been sent to rescue them.

As the survivors of "Lady Lace" were manhandled into the boats by sweating sailors,
Howard asked one of the sailors what ship it was.

"Sir, this here is the Robert E. Lee, the best damned fighting ship in the Atlantic Fleet!"
was the reply from the Chief Petty Officer who commanded the boat that he'd been
hauled into.

[Hours later - The Nambib Desert]

A huge tent had been raised over the remains of the B-29, covering it completely
and allowing the recovery team to examine the minute parts of the airplane at their
leisure. Inside were tables filled with airplane parts and pinned up to the sides of
the tent were the documents recovered from the bomber as the experts moved
to and fro trying to make sense out of things.

Kerosene lamps provided the necessary light, as well as some heat as nightfall
made temperatures drop precipitously. Serfs press-ganged from the local plantations
provided raw muscle and cooked the food.

One of the experts in aeronautics who had been flown up here by a fast courier plane
remarked, "This thing is too big...even the largest projected British and Soviet airplanes
could at most carry a third of this airplane's projected payload, and of course, if they
did so, their range would be drastically reduced."

"Too big or not, it's there," the local Cohortach commented, as he put down the radio
headset that linked him to the Regional Command in Cape Town. "Shit, would you
mind confirming the measurements?"

"Confirm them? Why?" asked the expert in a befuddled tone of voice.

The Cohortach looked at the airplane, then he sighed.

"They don't believe it in Archona. They flat out think that the reported size of the
damned plane is a mirage of some sort, and that the real measurements must
be much smaller."

Cape Town - two days later

The new room was much different from the desert. It was an old overbuilt stadium
that was about to be condemned for a new one going up soon, and here the B-29
had been reassembled after being taken apart in the desert and moved to an
undisclosed location.

The airframe itself now lay on the grass lawn inside the stadium, having been
repaired somewhat it looked almost as new, spread around it were large
fragments recovered from other B-29s none of whom were in nearly the
same good shape as this one.

Victor Finnbogson cursed softly as he examined the massive engine that
rested on top of the reinforced steel table, then he began to disassemble it.

It was a slow task but with the aid of skilled serf mechanics to help him and
to photograph every part and meticulously note where it had been and how
it had been attached, they slowly managed to get the measure of this engine.

Using a big caliper, he quickly measured the cylinder sizing, the size of various
other parts, counted the cylinders, then he flipped out his slipstick and quickly
ran the numbers.

Afterwards, he pulled out pen and paper and did it the hard way - long hand.
The result was the same.

"Taking care?" Senior Cohartarch Mendelsohn asked in his usual annoying voice.

Finnbogason looked at him with the suffering expression of the martyr before he
held up the sheets. "Well this thing is very impressive, it uses standard pistons
at levels of strength beyond anything I've seen before, even our turbo-compound
engines cannot match this...I would estimate around three thousand five hundred

Mendelsohn raised an eyebrow. Draka did not show emotion, and this was a rare
break in their normally iron-hard discipline. "Are you certain, Finnbogason?"

"I'm not running a fever, if that's what you're implying Senior Cohortarch." snapped

"No, no, these things work according to certain formulae, and this..." he tapped the
engine parts with his ruler, "Is one of four 3,500 horsepower engines, which by
the way, is less than this behemoth needs to fly."


"How? There's nothing unique with the mechanical parts...the bombsight and radar,
at least what's left of them, are.....strange, but this, this is what we have, it's just
bigger, much bigger."

"It's an engineering task, that's all." he added hastily.

"How long till we can retrofit one then?" Mendelsohn asked coolly.

"Three years, with luck."

It was good that Draka didn't show their feelings, because Mendelsohn's were rather
unpleasant. Victor Finnbogson thought that it was never good to be the bearer of
bad news, but quite frankly he couldn't really fathom the engineering involved with
this thing.

There were over twenty miles of wiring inside this thing by their last rough estimate.
It would take an engineering task beyond anything the Domination had to not only
design something like this, but to build them in large quantities.

[Archona - The Archonal Palace - One Day Later, 8 AM]

Arch-Strategos Julian Werner stood before the Archon, armed
with the latest information they had pieced together from the
American raids three days ago. It was his unfortunate job to
explain to the Archon exactly why their air defenses couldn't
destroy the Americans' B-29s.

"So, explain to me, Arch-Strategos, why our vaunted air defenses
couldn't destroy these....Superfortresses." snarled Archon Olufa Palme
in a very unpleasant voice.

Werner gulped mentally and took a moment to compose himself before replying.

"Archon, our entire air defense network was designed to oppose enemy airship
strikes, as you well know, it has been the Council of Strategos' belief that heavier
than air craft cannot carry a reasonable bombload to inflict damage, nor the range
to reach any targets of strategic significance in the Domination."

"Yet they did it, Arch-Strategos. How?"

Taking out a folder which he had prepared with the revelant facts, Werner removed
one of the sheets and began summarizing the details.

"Archon, Dr. Finnbogson of the Air Ministry has examined the wreckage we have
recovered from the B-29s that crashed on our territory and has come to the conclusion
that the Americans have perfected aircraft piston engines in the three thousand five
hundred horsepower range. By comparison, our most powerful turbo-compound engines
only put out fifteen hundred horsepower."

"How have they managed to leap ahead of us, Arch-Strategos? This is clearly
unacceptable." replied Palme acidly.

"My lord, according to Doctor Finnbogson, the Air Ministry had considered several years
ago this type of aircraft engine layout, known as a 'radial engine', but had rejected it as
being too unaerodynamic and compliciated compared to refining our existing liquid-cooled
engines and adding turbo-compounding to them. At the time, it appeared the correct
choice, as we were able to increase our engine output from six hundred horsepower to
well over a thousand with little changes to existing designs."

Palme nodded, before moving onto the next point of contention. "Reports say that each
of these bombers was only carrying four tons of bombs, from analysis of the blast points
and fragments from each bomb. Yet they inflicted near catastrophic pinpoint damage
on several targets. Clearly the laws of physics cannot be repealed, Arch-Strategos.
Everyone knows that you need ten tons of bombs to get a ton of bombs onto target."

"That's the rule of thumb with airships bombing from twelve thousand meters, but
the Americans came in low, at only three thousand meters. Also, analysis from their
crashed bombers indicate that they're equipped with sophisticated radar systems,
which would aid their bombing accuracy."

"Enough, I have no wish to hear more."

With that, Werner saluted and turned around, leaving the Archon's office.

Behind him, the Archon's advisers began to huddle around, suggesting actions to
take to counter this.

[The Domination War Museum - Central Archona - 9 AM]

Karl von Shrakenburg sat on a bench inside the museum, next to Lemp.
"Damned nasty business, that raid."

"You know the Americans will be back soon. Which is why we have to
stop fucking around with all these pie in the sky plans and knock the
Slavs out of this damned war." replied Lemp.

Shrakenburg took a look at the tank before them, one of the T-34s
that had been captured in the early days of the advance on the Caucasus
before it had all bogged down in grinding positional warfare.

"It's funny, they never show any of the damned KS-2s at all, just these
LTs and T-34s in the newsreels or museums."

"That's no mistake, my dear Shrakenburg. Admitting that the Slavs have
moved ahead of us in tank design would be an unforgivable sin for the

Hence why we must keep the existence of those damned Slav Heavies
a secret. It wouldn't do good for us to be revealed as less than the
masters of all domination. The Serfs would get strange ideas."

[DeBriers Boarding School - 11:00 AM, 90 miles from Archona]

The Draka youth were out like they always were, playing soldier in the fields
with their wooden rifles. Soon, they would soon graduate to the real thing,
ancient T-4 bolt-action rifles with live ammuntion. There would be losses
of course, some people wouldn't be going home at the end of this semester,
but then that was the way of things, wasn't it, the *weak* were always weeded
out, leaving only the strong, the fit, behind.

So it wasn't with concern that the boys listened to the sound of aircraft engines
in the distance. Probably a bunch of flyboys from the 90th and 56th Air Defense
(Interceptor) Legions out practicing their skills.

"Something's not right." said one of the boys, a fair-haired youth of just

"Shaddup, do you want to be in the Box tonight?" whispered his friend, a red-haired
boy of six.

"No, listen. Those aren't turbocompounds. I don't know what they are." persisted the

The friend stood and listend. It was faint, but it was there, a sort of throaty
rumble, rather than the steady drone of the turbocompounds the Draka used
for their aircraft.

"What's the meaning of this? Why aren't you practicing?" came the sharp
cry of their headmaster.

Ohhhhhshit, they were in for it now, thought the red-headed youth. His friend
was still too engrossed in listening to the sound of the engines.

The headmaster raised his hand to strike the impudent youth, and that was
when it happened. The low rumble became nothing less than a sheer throaty
roar that shook the ground, and made the windowpanes rattle.

Before the entire class' shocked faces, dozens of unfamiliar airplanes popped
up over the horizon, and as they whipped past the Boarding School, everyone
saw the sea-blue fuselages with gull-white underfuselages, and of course
the damned yankee star on the side.

But that was not all. More and more planes roared past, some of their pilots
taking quick snap-glances at the shocked people standing in the fields below

It was like a never ending nightmare for the children. Wave after wave of white-starred
planes roaring over the school, and then they saw them.

A lower pitched rumble filled their eardrums, the sound of massive aircraft
radials laboring mightily, and then they saw them moments later; ugly aircraft,
flying much slower than the previous aircraft, their bellies all but obscured by
the obscene bombloads they carried.

The headmaster finally regained his wits and ran towards the boarding house;
Archona had to be warned of this, and right away.

[F6F Hellcat "Chainsaw"]

Lieutentant Tony Evans watched the boarding school unspool under his wings,
he wished that he could break off and put a couple bursts of 20mm into the
damned place, but orders were orders; save your cannon and jelly gas for

A few years ago, all the US Navy had were a few tired old F4F Wildcats. Then
someone at Grumman had the bright idea to invite one Kurt Tank over to take
a look-see at their drawing boards. The result was the F6F Hellcat, some
2,500 hp of pure power. It was a shame though, about the Goodyear.

It had looked like a promising airplane, and shared an engine with just about
everything the US was building these days, but the fixes needed to squeeze
the maximum speed out of the tired old Corsair airframe were just too
much for the demands of wartime production, so in went the F6F instead.

Still, Tony didn't mind that much, he had plane that was almost all engine
wrapped around him, and he was going downtown to give the Draka some
payback for his brother, who hadn't made it out of Rome back in 1940.

Ahead of him, he saw his flight leader peel off, he'd spotted the A-43
highway that lead straight to Archona. The plan was not to do any complicated
navigation, just follow the roads to Archona, bomb the shit out of anything
that moved, and then go home.

Along the road, he saw a steamer driving towards him, and he couldnt
resist the urge to dip his nose just a tad and squeeze the trigger.
Chainsaw shuddered under the impact of her four wing-mounted
Hispano 20mms firing, and below, he saw puffs of smoke surround
the steamer, followed by the cab of the steamer exploding as a 20mm
HE round stuck it.

"That's one, for you, Joe," murmured Tony. The retribution had at long
last begun.

[The Domination War Museum - Central Archona - 1 PM]

Shrakenburg stood on one of the balconies overlooking downtown
Archona, his face a stony facade, but inside, he was weeping as
he watched the American planes swarming all over downtown Archona
like deadly hornets. Even from here, he could smell the stench of napalm
and hear the low thumping of their cannon.

The Air Defense legions had tried their best, but they had been blotted out
of the sky by those damned American fighters, the ones that manuevered
like the Devil itself, making the Drakan fighters look like they were flying
in molasses. And then they had dumped Napalm onto the few air defense
sites in Archona designed for intercepting low-flying aircraft; most of them
were the big 155mm autoloading cannons for stopping airships, not
the fast turning 30mms needed for this kind of threat, and now those were
gone, burned by the damned Americans.

As he watched, he saw one of the slow flying American attack craft
roll into a dive over what appeared to be the Archonal palace. From
the heavily laden wings of the craft came a virtual torrent of bombs,
a seemingly neverending stream of them. Shrakenburg was only
dimly aware as the bombs slammed into the palace, blowing it apart in
a spray of masonry.

[Ferguson Boulevard]

The street named after the founder of Drakia was a charnel house, crammed
full of burnt out vehicles, after the damned Americans had dropped napalm
onto a bustling street. And then followed it up with 20mm. What kind of
monsters were those Americans? Serfs deserved this kind of treatment, not
citizens, thought Eugene DeBeers as he made his way through the street,
checking each car for victims. Those with Serfs in them were ignored, those
with citizens got a check up. Alas, the dead greatly outnumbered the living.

And it was still going on. Even as he was working, he could hear the roar
of the engines and the thumping of their cannons. Damn it, how many
shells could those damned Americans have in their aircraft?

F6F Hellcat Chainsaw 3,000 feet over Archona

Lt. Evans watched as VF-33 "Fighting Bastards" rolled in onto the
Trevithick Autosteam Combine, to strafe it after the Adies of VA-44 had
dropped their entire loads onto it. The entire factory complex was wreathed
in smoke and flame, and he watched with grim satisfaction as the Fightin'
Bastards tore into the panicked crowds escaping the factories with their
quad 20mms.

Looking to his right, he saw the funeral pyre of a Hellcat burning in the
street. The pilot had been trapped in it after it crashlanded on the street
after it's engine had been shot to pieces by a lucky Drakan 30mm piece
that had died moments later in a hail of cannonfire. He couldn't reach his
suicide pill, so his wingmate had to do the honors, strafing his friend's
aircraft with 20mm shells. Everyone knew what happened to those the
Draka captured. Death was preferable to life under their Yoke.

A red light on his panel brought his attention to the fuel guage. It was
time to turn back for home, along with everyone else. The Adies could
stay on station for hours more, but that'd be condemning them to death
without adequate fighter escort, so they too, turned back home.

As the three hundred Hellcats and Skyraiders of Task Force 72's carriers
turned for home, they left behind a city wreathed in smoke and flame.

[USS Appomatox, CVB-56, 150 miles off the eastern coast of Drakia]

Admiral Gillis watched as the last of the Able Dogs landed on board,
they had remained to circle in a holding pattern for the last forty five
minutes while the Hellcats landed after taking on fuel from the orbiting
AD-1s acting as tankers; some of the Hellcats were running on empty
literally when they had hooked up to the tankers. A few had gone into the
drink, and the destroyers were already manuevering in to pick up the

The next raid would either need bigger drop tanks or for him to take his
Task Force in closer. Even with the battle line of battleships and CLAAs
escorting his four Gettysburg-class carriers, Gillis still felt uneasy about
taking his carriers any closer to Drakia.

[VF-23 "Raidin' Maidens" Ready Room USS Antietam, CVB-54]

William Drieser looked at the haggard young men streaming into the
air-conditioned ready room after their mission, and watched as they began
to recreate the air battles they had fought over Archona.

"Yeah, that bahhstid in that Falcon thought he had me, but he didn't count
on me outturning him," drawled one of the pilots, while he illustrated him
turning inside the Falcon with his hands.

Buttonholing one of the young men, Dreiser began to ask him questions.

"How was the flight there?"

The tired youngster merely shrugged. "Easy. We only had to shoot down
five snakes on the way there."

"Any trouble from ground fire?"

"Naw, all the stuff around their capital was the big stuff, the one fifties and
above, they only had a few thirties and twenties, and they died pretty quick."

"How would you rate our aircraft and weapons against theirs?"

"Oh, man, like night and day, their Eagles and Falcons move like paralyzed
cripples compared to our Hellcats, and of course, we all love the smell of
napalm in the morning."

Dreiser smiled weakly at that. All the damned pilots were saying that; some
damnfool had said that in that movie "The Fightin' Wildcats of the Navy", and
now every damn pilot he talked to kept finding some way to use that line,

Dreiser paused as he thought about what to ask next, then he had it.

"Say, when you were flying over Archona, did you see a big square where the
two main roads meet?"

"Naw, no wait, yeah, I sure saw that, one hell of a big target with some kind of
statue in it."

"Anyone hit that one?"

"No Sahr, no one hit it that I could see, but of course I wasn't really watching
the statue, how come you want to know?"

"It's their victory monument, ugly as hell, looks like a supersized KKK
nicknack, hoped someone had wiped that eyesore from the earth."

The pilot thought about that for a moment, before replying. "I'll ask around to see
if anyone in the Task Force got it."

"If not, we can always go back," finished the man with an evil grin.

[Hangar Deck, USS Antietam, CVB-54 - three hours later]

Dreiser watched as a plane, it's navigational lights blinking, hurtled off the deck of
the "Shiloh" a mile distant as what was the word...Night Combat Air Patrol...took
station over the task force to protect it from night-time intruders.

He remembered the first time he had seen the Task Force in it's entirety from
the window of the plane he and the rest of the newsies assigned to the Task Force
by the Navy were arriving in.

It had been an awe-inspiring sight, half a dozen carriers, almost a dozen heavy capital
ships, and countless more destroyers and cargo ships moving at twenty knots into
the wind.

"At least we're seeing some action." came the voice from behind him. Dreiser turned
around to see a fresh-faced Ensign with the name Koons stencilled onto his flight jacket.

"Name's Koons, Ray Koons. I fly one of the Adies for VA-15."

"Action, you say?" replied Dreiser somewhat dubiously.

"Yeah, those poor bastards with Nimitz and Task Force 70 out of Vladviostock don't
get to see much action, just laying mines all around the Jap homeland and sinking
anyone stupid enough to put to sea. Last I heard, the Japs were down to just
destroyer escorts and they were eating each other."

"Nosir, I'd rather be here with Admiral Gillis and old TF Seventy-two than out there,
watching the slant-eyes eat each other."

Dreiser eyed the gung-ho Ensign for several seconds. "Any idea what we're doing
next, by the way? Flag Plot," was that the right word, thought Dreiser; "ain't telling
me shit."

"Oh man, if you thought today was fun, just wait till Thursday, cause then we're
meeting up with Spruance's Task Force Sixty Five, and double teamin Shahnapur,
after we're done with them, nothing larger than a fishing boat is gonna be built there."
replied Koons, his eyes gleaming with the enthuaism of the young and immortal.

[Ruins of the Archonal Palace - Archona - Midnight]

The fires were still burning beyond control, even now, some twelve hours after the
attack, and from time to time, dull booms rocked the city as delayed-action bombs'
timers ran out and they exploded, wreaking havoc amongst the rescue brigades, who
were working to save the Citizens trapped in the burning buildings, or under rubble.

Right now, an impromptu war council was being held in a room that had been cleared
of rubble, between the Archon and her Arch-Strategos, over what to do next. The opinion
was split between calling up the next few classes of serfs and mounting a fresh offensive
from Romania and into the Ukraine, to erase the Allied gains of the summer.

"Who would have believed that the Americans were simply bluffing, showing us only
one hand with their single Army Group in Russia, while they built up such an overwhelming
force to strike at our homeland?" muttered one of the Arch-Strategos, an old man who
had fought in the bloody campaigns to take Alma-Aty in the late 1910s and early 1920s.

One of the newer Arch-Strategos, a young man of only fifty, saw his chance and
stood up. "I told you repeatedly over and over, Archon, what the Americans are
capable of; my family and so many others in the War of Northern Aggression
saw the savagery and cruelty that one American could inflict on another American,
simply because they lived south or north of an arbitrary line drawn by a pair of men
called Mason and Dixon."

"The General Staff dismissed the battles of Sharpsburg and Pittsburg Landing as
mere 'mobs clashing', that they were nothing but children floundering around in a
larger world beyond their comprehension."

"The Americans do not go to war very often, not because they are cowards, but
because when they do so, they do it with a savagery unequalled by any other country
in the world. Six hours, Archon, Six hours was all it took the Yanks and the Rebs
to slaughter six thousand of each other at Sharpsburg."

"That was with breech loading blackpowder rifles. Now they have aircraft with cannon
and bombs. And they won't be stopped by such things as mere casualties. If we hurt them
badly, they won't keep coming at us in endless waves, swamping us with bodies like the
Russians do, they'll instead hit us somewhere else, with twice as much force as they
did before."

He paused for effect, and also to catch his breath, before continuing. "Independence
Day for America - the Fourth of July, was the beginning of the end for the Domination.
You doomed us all the day you goaded the Americans into attacking us to defend
themselves against strategic encirclement with your ill-considered letter to the
American ambassador warning of a Drakan alliance with the Empire of Nippon back
in '41."

"Enough!" snapped Palme. "What's done is done. We can't change the past. But we
can change our future! Arch-Strategos Shrakenburg, do you have the latest reports
on our losses from the Allied summer offensive in the Ukraine?"

Shrakenburg nodded, and began to read from a prepared paper that was to have
been delivered in a much more pleasant environment. "Archon, currently, the Allied
forces have suceeded in pushing us from the Ukraine, and have pushed well over
a hundred kilometers into Romania."

"Losses have been catastrophic, unfortunately. The Ninth Citizen Army was encircled
early on by the American 1st and 3rd Armies, and totally destroyed, with the loss of
some 150,000 Citizens. Only a small percentage of Citizens managed to make it out
of that encirclement; we also lost the 50th Janissary Group too, some 400,000 serfs
dead, captured, or turned."

"Fortunately, in the other areas of the Ukraine, we were able to re-orient our Citizen Forces
away from possible encirclements and to utilize our large Janissary forces in the area to
hold off the German and Russians long enough for the Fourth and Seventh Citizen Armies
to retreat past the Prut into Romania."

"We paid a price for saving our remaining Citizen Forces in the Ukraine, though. The
low-end casualty estimates the General Staff are putting out estimate that we lost
just under a million and a half Janissaries. Worse still, are that they were the last vestiges
of our pre-war 'trusted stock'. Any further recruitments to fill our ranks out will have to
come from sections of the serfdom who are considered at best, unreliable by the
Security directorate."

"Our lines are holding now, just barely, and we have laid them out in a way such as to
prevent another catastrophic encirclement, with the Citizen Forces well behind the
front lines, and two layers of Janissary forces in between them and the enemy; if
they want to encircle our citizens again, they will have to fight through the Janissaries
and then cross a hundred fifty klicks of ground before they reach them."

"Good, Good. When can we go on the offensive again?" asked Palme, causing
Shrakenburg to almost gape at her in shock. Surely the Archon couldn't be this

"Archon," he replied in his most diplomatic voice, "We have suffered two point
six million Citizen casualties, and fifteen point seven million Janissary casualties
in this war to date. We have used up the last of our pre-war trusted stock as
I pointed out earlier, and if we want to make good our losses from the Ukraine,
we will have to arm certain sections of serfdom whom the Security Directorate
feels are...problematic, and they will have to be of course...properly broken
first, to accept orders without question from their superiors."

"This will take time. I suggest instead of counter-attacking, we withdraw from
Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, this will free up about seven hundred thousand
Janissaries and two hundred fifty thousand Citizens from what is essentially
an unwinnable guerilla war in Afghanistan, and from a strategically useless
area which costs us most of our heavy airship lifting capacity to keep our
troops supplied in Kazahkstan."

The Archon as well as most everyone stared at him in shock. Surely
a *Shrakenburg* couldn't have been infected with the same defeatism
as poor old Lemp?

"Denied," came the reply from Palme. "I'm ordering you and the General Staff
to begin planning for Operation Voël, the re-conquest of the Ukraine. I'm sure
that the Allied Armies are severely overstretched following their rapid advance,
and that a single hammerblow by our Citizens will throw them back. Dismissed."

As the meeting began to break up, Shrakenburg couldn't shake the feeling of
doom he felt. He knew that yes, if the Domination massed a majority Citizen
army in Romania, they could throw the Allies back across the Prut, and reach
as far as Kiev again, but there it was, the acceptable casualty ratio. After
four years of unrelenting warfare in Russia, the Draka were reaching their
limits, and the only way out of this war was to extend it, prolong it so long that
their enemies tired of losing men, and sued for peace.

Operation Voël could only end one way for the Domination; badly. And the
Domination now faced war on multiple fronts; Italy, Kazakhstan, the Caucasus,
the Balkans, and now from across the Seas.