Sunday, August 25, 2013

SPECTRE RISING - Chapter Two


R-2901
Four Months Later

            “Rattler 21, Thunder 11 checking in as fragged, ready for words,” the metallic voice said over the Harris PRC-117F Manpack Radio.  The dismounted radio, called a manpack, served as a multi-band, multimode radio that covered the gamut of waveforms.  Frequencies covered included VHF, UHF, and UHF SATCOM radio.  The unit was also compatible with the Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System, an Army system.  It served as a lifeline for any JTAC to support assets in the air.
            “Roger Thunder 11, Rattler has you loud and clear, situation is as follows: we have several wounded friendly forces holed up in the urban village.  They are unable to move at this time and are surrounded by multiple hostiles in pickup trucks,” he replied looking up at the jets circling over their position.  From his observation position, he could barely hear the two F-16s in a right hand orbit high above, but with the overcast sky, he could clearly see two dark specks speeding across the clouds like ants on a blanket.
            The two men were set up on the roof of a metal building overlooking a series of tin buildings just a quarter mile away.  The terrain was relatively flat, and from atop the two-story building, they had a relatively unobstructed view of the village.  Even for a village, it wasn’t much.  A dirt road running north from their observation position was split by fifteen tin buildings before intersecting another dirt road that led out to a narrow tree line. 
            “Do you recognize the voice?” he asked, turning to the man standing next to him.  The man was about six feet tall with a narrow frame and muscular build.  He wore khaki 5.11 Tactical pants with a black Survival Krav Maga t-shirt.  Oakley Half Jacket mirror tinted sunglasses masked his deep set, blue-gray eyes, and a desert camouflage boonie hat covered his light brown hair.  His square jaw clenched as he pondered the question.
            “C’mon Joe, you know I don’t fly with those assholes anymore,” the man replied with a grin. 
Tech Sergeant Joe Carpenter laughed and turned back to his Toughbook Laptop and PRC-117 radio.  He was wearing the standard issue Air Force ABU digital camouflage uniform complete with flak vest and ballistic helmet.  A former Army Ranger, he had been a JTAC for three years after going Green to Blue in search of a more aviation-oriented career.  Unable to fly because of a color vision test, his search landed him right back with the Army, as an embedded JTAC.
            Perhaps one of the most physically demanding jobs in the Air Force, JTACs were frontline battlefield airmen.  They were embedded with ground forces to advise the ground commander on Air Force air power capabilities, and in the heat of battle, to control aircraft during close air support scenarios.  Of course, it was just Carpenter’s luck that he’d get out of the Army just to go right back in a new uniform, but he didn’t mind, he was at the tip of the spear and he loved it.
            To Carpenter, though, the best thing about working for Mother Blue was the toys.  He knew the Army had the same technology and capabilities, but in the Air Force, he always seemed to have the latest and greatest at his fingertips.  At the moment, the latest and greatest happened to be his Toughbook Laptop equipped with the newest Precision Strike Suite for Special Operation Forces software – PSS-SOF.  With PSS-SOF, he could pass airborne operators high fidelity GPS coordinates of his own position or the enemy from the comfort of whatever foxhole he happened to be operating out of. 
            “Damn Spectre, still no love for the Gators?”  Carpenter asked sarcastically.  The Gators were the 39th Fighter Squadron stationed out of Homestead Air Reserve Base in Southern Florida.  One of only two fighter squadrons remaining under the Air Force Reserve Command, the Gators had been Spectre’s squadron until the aftermath of his final flight that night in the skies over Iraq. 
            “None.  Don’t you think you should pass them a nine line and get this party started?”  Spectre was never known for his tact.  It was one of many reasons he and Carpenter got along so well.
            Carpenter nodded and keyed the microphone as he read from his Toughbook, “Thunder 41, nine line is as follows: items one through three are NA, line four: one hundred twenty feet, line five: group of trucks, line six: One Six Romeo Mike Lima Nine Three Eight Four Four Eight Zero Six, line 7 NA, Line 8: five hundred meters southeast, line 9 as required, remarks:  final attack heading 270 plus or minus 10 degrees.  Call in with final attack heading and expect clearance on final.  Read back lines 4, 6, and restrictions.” 
            The fighter repeated the 9-line perfectly as the F-16s maneuvered into position overhead.  By using the standard 9-Line format, Carpenter had given the fighters all the information they needed to take out the target, including elevation, coordinates formatted in Military Grid Reference System, distance from friendly positions and restrictions on attack direction.  
            “It’s Magic,” Spectre muttered.
            Carpenter turned and gave Spectre a puzzled look.
            “Magic?  No man, it’s science.  We give them the coordinates of the bad guys with this fancy laptop, they plug it into their system, and the bad guys go boom.” 
            “No shit smartass, I mean the guy flying.  It’s Magic Manny,” Spectre fired back.  Lt Col Steve “Magic” Manny was the Director of Operations for the Gators.
            Carpenter picked up his binoculars with one hand and the handset of his radio in the other as he watched the F-16 roll in on its target.
            “Thunder 11, in heading 275,” announced the tinny voice of Magic over the PRC-117.
            “You’re cleared hot,” Carpenter replied, clearing the pilot to employ ordnance while ensuring that the fighter’s nose was pointing at the right target. 
            Spectre watched as the F-16 rolled in and hurled itself toward the ground.  Seconds later, two objects fell as the jet turned back skyward.  He winced in anticipation of the impact only to be greeted by two barely audible thuds.
            “Good hits!  Good bombs!”  Carpenter exclaimed on the radio.
            “Inerts are so anticlimactic,” Spectre sighed. 
            “What do you expect?  They drop two five hundred pound pieces of concrete that are shaped to look like real bombs.  It’s way better than when they roll in and just ‘simulate’ without anything coming off the jet.  Now that is boring.”  Carpenter always had a way of putting a positive spin on things.
            Just as Spectre was about to explain the merits of training without any ordnance on the aircraft, his cell phone rang.  It was his boss.
            “I have to go Joe, thanks for letting me spot for you,” he said as he hung up the phone.
            Carpenter gave him a nod and turned back to the target.  He had invited Spectre to make the drive from Homestead to Avon Park to catch up and observe the Forward Air Controller side of Close Air Support.  They had been friends since college, but aside from an e-mail or phone call here and there, they rarely got to see each other nearly ten years later. 
            Spectre picked up his backpack and climbed down the connex container to begin the mile hike back to his truck.  His boss had been brief but the sense of urgency was apparent in his voice.  It was time to quit playing and get back to the office – something new had come up.
With the boss as vague as he was, Spectre was forced to wonder what could be going on until completing the three-hour drive back to Homestead to find out.  Was the store finally going to be bought out by a bigger chain?  Did some new, rare find show up that needed an immediate appraisal?  These were the new questions that weighed heavily on his mind since his transition to civilian life.
            It wasn’t a very easy transition to make.  When Spectre was told by his superiors upon returning from Iraq that he’d never fly an Air Force Reserve aircraft again, he refused the non-flying staff job they tried to force on him.  For him, flying the F-16 hadn’t been about the adrenaline rush or the need for speed.  It was about serving a higher purpose.  In the current world climate, that meant providing close air support for boots on the ground.  When the powers that be decided he was no longer fit to do that, he decided his services could be better used elsewhere.
            Unfortunately for Spectre, the economy he escaped to wasn’t conducive to his unique skill sets.  And after several rejected applications to a myriad of three letter agencies and private contractors, he found himself quickly burning through his savings.
            That was until he met Marcus Anderson.  The gruff Mr. Anderson had been a classmate of Spectre’s in their Survival Krav Maga class.  And although Marcus was nearly twenty years his senior, the two became fierce sparring partners.  The former Marine versus the former fighter pilot, each did a good job of keeping the other on his toes.  A black belt himself, Marcus had helped Spectre earn his black belt in Krav Maga.
            Through their training and constant ribbing, the two became good friends.  And when Marcus learned that Spectre was down on his luck, he didn’t hesitate to bring him in on the family business. 
            Anderson Police Supply in Florida City, FL was established in 1981 by the late John Anderson.  A former Miami-Dade County detective, John Anderson had retired to the more rural Florida City to escape the explosive expansion of Miami and Ft Lauderdale, while still being close enough to visit.  What originally started as a hobby of collecting rare and unique guns soon became a fairly lucrative business for John.  His buddies from the force appreciated the discounts on firearms and supplies, while the locals enjoyed having a full service firearms dealer with a huge inventory right down the street.
            After returning home a decorated Marine Recon Sniper in 1999, Marcus decided to leave the Corps and join his father in running the store.  By the time his father passed away in 2001, Marcus had watched the store grow from the back corner of a bait and tackle shop to a 20,000 square foot facility equipped with an indoor shooting range and a fully configurable electronic shoot house. 
            When Marcus learned that Spectre had a business degree and extensive web design experience from college, he didn’t feel so bad about giving Spectre a chance.  And after only a year, Anderson Police Supply had become one of the foremost online dealers for firearms and tactical gear.  
            Spectre arrived at the store well after business hours, but the parking lot was still full.  Something must really be going on, he thought.  He had spent the three-hour drive going over the possibilities in his head, but none of them seemed likely enough to cause Marcus to be so tight lipped.  He really had no idea what to expect.
            He swiped his access card and opened the heavy metal door as the lock clicked open.  The access control system had been installed shortly after the latest renovations, allowing better control and tracking of those employees who were able to access the building after hours.  He then proceeded inside the large showroom, complete with multiple glass showcases.  Handguns of all calibers and types were proudly on display inside each case, organized by manufacturer.  Rifles of varying calibers and sizes were mounted behind each of showcases on the wall.  It was a gun lover’s heaven.
            Specter noticed the staff crowded around the range rental counter of the store.  He could barely make out Marcus’ gray hair standing behind it, apparently talking to the staff.  He threw his backpack on one of the showcases without slowing down and continued to where the others were gathered around.
            “No, it does not mean you’ll lose your job,” Marcus continued, apparently already midway through his speech.  He paused and nodded as he noticed Spectre join the crowd. 
            “Then what does it mean?”  one of the junior salesmen asked.
            “Would you let me finish?  Do you think I won’t tell you?”  Marcus barked.  The junior salesman retreated, his face red.  Spectre chuckled.  That was Marcus.  Patience and diplomacy would never be his legacy.
            “What’s going on?”  Spectre whispered to the girl next to him.  She was barely five feet tall with long brown hair and bright blue eyes.  To Spectre, and most of the males in the store, she was probably the most attractive girl there.  Were it not for his pending engagement, he might have made a move on her.  Perhaps even more successfully than the hundreds of guys that were being shot down on a daily basis.
            “The boss just announced that the store is downsizing,” she replied.
            “Downsizing how?”
            She replied with a finger to her mouth and pointed to Marcus who was still staring down the junior salesman.  Even at 5’9” and just over 170 lbs, Marcus was an expert in creating the fear of God in just about anyone.
            “As I was saying,” he continued, “we’re not downsizing staff for now.  We’re going to move a lot of the floor salesmen... err... salespeople to the corporate accounts, internet sales, and range.  We’re also going to be cutting back on the store hours.  I don’t want to have to let people go, but you’re all going to have to work with me.  This is the best I can do with the shit sandwich we’ve been given.”
            Marcus made a point to make eye contact with every man and woman standing around that counter as if he were readying the troops for a final charge into battle.  To Marcus, that wasn’t that far from the truth.  For his business, this was do or die time.  They had to either pull themselves out of the red and adapt to a changing economy, or face extinction.
            “That’s all I can say for now, folks.  Just know that we’re going to work together and pull this through.  Cal, can I talk to you in private?”
            Spectre nodded and walked behind the counter.  He followed Marcus into his office and closed the door behind them.  Marcus collapsed into his big leather chair and rubbed his temples.
            “Nice speech, boss.  The troops are ready for war,” Spectre poked with a grin.
            “War is a lot easier than this shit.  Way easier.  You have a target.  You have an objective.  You kill him.  This?  This is a cluster fuck.”
            “What’s going on?  When I left yesterday, things weren’t so doom and gloom.  Sure we had a bad quarter, but nothing we haven’t seen before,” Spectre replied.  He was referring to the quarterly financial reports their accounting staff had put together the day prior.  As expected, gun sales were down across the board.  The only thing doing well was the internet sales department. 
            “We were doing fine.  Until this morning, and I got this,” he said as he handed Spectre a letter.
            Spectre took the letter and started reading.  He couldn’t believe it.  It was non-renewal notice from the local Customs and Border Protection branch.  One of their largest government contracts for supplying firearms, ammunition, and tactical gear was being terminated.
            “I’ve got a buddy at CBP; I’ll ask what’s going on.”
            “Don’t bother, I already talked to the Air and Marine Branch Chief in Homestead,” Marcus said, eyes closed as if what he was saying was also physically painful, “the President has cut funding to all Customs Air and Marine branches nationwide.  He thinks this one might be closing altogether.”
            “It can’t be!  This is one of the busiest branches in the country!”  Spectre was beside himself.  The Homestead Air and Marine Interdiction branch of CBP was the front line in the country’s battle against smugglers, drug runners, illegals, and terrorists.  With a fleet of Blackhawk helicopters, ASTARS helicopters, Dash-8 surveillance aircraft, and trained interdiction agents, it was second only to the Tucson branch in activity.
                “I know.  Fucking Democrats.”  Marcus sighed.   

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Prequel Series - Victor Alvarez: "New Friends"

Miami, FL
2007

“You’re much better than he is,” she said, rubbing his chest.
            Victor Alvarez sat up and swung his feet over the side of the bed.  He looked over at her.  She was laying there naked and sweating from their second lovemaking session of the evening.  Her long, dark brown hair just barely covered her exposed breasts.
            “We’ve got time for one more,” she said as she sat up and kissed his neck.
            Victor rubbed is hands through his jet black hair.  These women always seemed to get so clingy.  “What time will he be home?”
            “It’s Thursday night.  Jay goes to the track on Thursday nights,” she said as she caressed his back.  
            “There will be more time for us later,” he said as he turned to kiss her.  She grabbed his face and kissed him sensually.
            “When are we going to run away together like you promised?  I’ve already started talking to divorce lawyers,” she said.  Her brown eyes were deep with concern.  He had been working her for the past two months.
            “Soon, my love,” he said, kissing her forehead, “but for now, I should go so as not to make a scene when he returns.”
            Victor stood, grabbing his pants and shirt from the foot of the bed.  The woman crawled out of bed behind him.  He took a moment to take in her toned body and caramel skin.  He loved this job so much. 
            “Give me a moment and I’ll walk you out,” she said as she grabbed wrapped her robe around her. 
            Victor smiled as he continued putting on his clothes.  As she walked into the bathroom, he slowly eased toward the dresser.  Next to it sat a dirty clothes bin.  When she was safely out of view, he carefully searched the drawers.  Nothing.  He looked into the dirty clothes and found a pair of men’s slacks.  He picked them up and dug through the pockets, pulling out two pieces of paper.
            Victor glanced back to the bathroom as he opened the two crumpled pieces of paper.  The first was an ATM receipt.  Nothing unusual - just a one hundred dollar transfer.  The second was a betting slip for the Flagler Greyhound Track in Miami. 
            Victor smiled as he stuffed the papers back in the pants and then put them back into the clothes bin.    He had what he needed.
*****
            “Rubio says this guy is ten grand in the hole,” the man said as he sat next to Alvarez.  It was Jose Herrera, his most trusted asset in Miami.  Jose was a native of Miami.  His parents had set their roots in Hialeah in the late sixties after fleeing Cuba, and although he didn’t officially work for the Cuban DGI, he was very much on their payrolls.
            The Dirección General de Inteligencia was the main state intelligence agency of Cuba.  Since opening for business in late 1961, the DGI had been involved in intelligence and espionage operations across the globe.  They had been involved in aiding leftist revolutionary movements in Africa, the Middle East, and mostly Latin America.  In the United States, the DGI had been heavily involved with international drug trade, assisting homegrown terrorist cells, and intelligence gathering operations for third party countries. 
            “Total?” Alvarez asked as he watched the greyhounds speed by on the track.  He was wearing a white button down shirt and straw fedora with khaki slacks.
            “This month,” Jose replied.
            Alvarez put down his binoculars and looked at Jose.  He had been using them to search for his target in the opposite stands.  He knew the man would be there.  It was Thursday night, after all.
            “Rubio must appreciate that,” Victor replied.  Juan Rubio was one of the most vicious bookies in South Florida.  He was known for extracting money from his clients at any cost and with his ties to the Latin Kings gang, he was immune from retribution or prosecution.  No one dared to cross him.
            “He already owes Rubio five grand,” Jose said, lowering his voice, “he’s giving this guy just enough rope to hang himself.”
            Alvarez chuckled as he went back to his binoculars.  He scanned the crowd in the stands across from them looking for his target.
            “So he has the same plan we do,” Victor said as he watched the man wearing shorts and a blue polo shirt.  It was Special Agent Jay Leon, the new agent assigned to the Foreign Intelligence/Espionage desk of the Miami Field Office of the FBI. 
            Jose shrugged, “Do you want me to talk to him, boss?”
            “See how much money it will take to buy him out,” Alvarez responded.  “I’m going to have a chat with our new friend.”


*****
            Victor Alvarez waited patiently in the dark corner of the VIP room of the club.  Strip clubs were ideal for meetings like this, especially the VIP room.  The loud music and dark rooms made it harder for people to eavesdrop.  People rarely paid attention to anything but the girls, and no one gave a second glance to suspicious activity. 
            But Victor’s target had no idea they were meeting.  His presence in the corner of the little strip club was the culmination of months of work spent selecting the target, working his way in, and finding his leverage.
            A mid-level agent in the DGI, Victor Alvarez had spent his entire career working South Florida.  He had served his country through building a network of intelligence assets throughout the local community.  If a foreign country had an operation in Miami, he was their man.  He was proud of the work he had done and was known as one of the agency’s most effective operatives, especially when it came to developing assets in government organizations.  His superiors were always impressed at how he managed to turn even the most difficult targets into productive intelligence assets.
            Special Agent Jay Leon was a project Victor’s own government had given him.  They had control of most of the local police departments, but their presence with the local feds was minimalist at best.  They only had low level analysts who could feed them information if they happened upon it.   They needed someone with a hand in it.  The man would be their eyes and ears, and if necessary, divert attention from whatever operations they were working. 
            So when Victor learned that the Foreign Intelligence desk of the FBI was going to a new transfer originally from the area, he knew he would have his opportunity.   Leon’s father still lived in Cuba.  He could be used as leverage if necessary, Victor had thought.
            It hadn’t been necessary.  Victor worked it the best way he knew how – in the bedroom.  He watched Leon and his wife over the course of several weeks.  They had no kids.  She was a bored housewife following her husband from assignment to assignment.  He could work with that.
            And he did.  Over and over again.  He promised her adventure and excitement.  He promised her a new life and a romantic getaway.  It was all a lie, of course, but it had gotten him close enough to get the information he needed.  He didn’t feel bad.  She could do better than Leon anyway.  Leon apparently had a gambling problem, and judging by his frequent trips to the establishment Victor was sitting in, a fidelity problem as well. 
            Victor sat back as he watched a stripper guide Leon up the stairs and onto one of the couches.  She kissed his cheek and walked away, promising that his girl would be up shortly.
            Leon looked around for a second, and then began to unzip his pants.
            “Keep your pants on,” Alvarez said from the corner.
            Startled, Leon jumped up, holding his pants. 
            “Who the fuck are you?” he demanded.  “Where’s Candy?”
            “Prostitution is illegal in Florida, Mr. Leon,” Alvarez said smoothly.
            “I said who the fuck are you?” Leon demanded, zipping his pants.  “How do you know my name?”
            “I know everything about you, Special Agent Leon.  Please sit down.  Let’s chat.”
            Alvarez sat patiently as Leon approached.  “That’s right, asshole.  Special Agent.  Now tell me what the fuck you’re doing here before I arrest you.”
            “If you want to continue being ‘Special Agent’ Leon, I suggest you sit down, please,” Alvarez said.  “Does the Bureau know about your gambling problem?”
            Leon stopped in his tracks as Alvarez tossed a set of large photo prints on the table in front of him.  “Look familiar?” Alvarez asked.
            Leon picked up the pictures and studied them.  They were pictures of him sitting in the stands at the track. 
            “So what?” Leon asked indignantly.  “Are you trying to blackmail me?  Going to the track isn’t illegal.”
            Alvarez said nothing as he tossed two more pictures on the table.  In them, Leon was giving cash to Rubio. 
            “So tell on me, I don’t fucking care.  They’ll slap me on the wrist and make me get counseling.  Big deal.”  Leon was playing it off pretty well.  Alvarez had to give it to him.
            “I understand,” Alvarez said as he tossed two more pictures on the table.  This time, the pictures were black and white and of him with a naked woman on top.  “That doesn’t look like your wife.”
            “I’m sure that bitch is cheating on me anyway, and you can’t prove this is illegal,” Leon replied, tossing the pictures back at Alvarez.  “Now if you’ll get the fuck out of here, I’ve got an appointment.”
            Alvarez smiled as Leon mentioned his cheating wife.  If he only knew.
            “About that gambling thing,” Alvarez said, pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket.  “Ten thousand dollars in the hole this month.  Ten thousand last month.  Five thousand dollar debt to Juan Rubio at 60% interest.   Twenty one hundred dollars left to your name.   I don’t think Mr. Rubio or his associates will accept Gamblers Anonymous as payment, Agent Leon.”
            Leon stumbled back and sat back down on the couch.  “Who are you? What do you want?”
            “My name is Victor,” Alvarez responded.  “And I would like to make all your problems go away.”
            “I’m listening,” Leon said, cautiously leaning forward.
            Alvarez tossed a black duffle bag to Leon’s feet.  He waited as Leon unzipped the top and pulled out a stack of neatly packaged $100 bills.
            “There’s one hundred thousand dollars in cash in that bag, Agent Leon,” Alvarez said as he sat back and crossed his legs.  “You can use that to pay off your debt to Mr. Rubio.  After that, you are done with that track.  You will then receive ten thousand dollars per month.  All cash, of course.”
            “In exchange for what? Why would you do this?” Leon asked, thumbing through the bills.
            “Friendship.”
            “Friendship?”
            Alvarez stood and extended his hand to Leon.  “I would like your friendship, Special Agent.  That is all.”
            Leon stared at the outstretched hand.  He considered it for a moment, and then grabbed Victor’s hand, shaking it as he stood.  Alvarez seemed to tower over the short little man.
            “To friendship,” Leon said with a crooked smile.
            “You’ve made the right choice,” Alvarez responded, patting Leon on the shoulder with his free hand.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Prequel Series - Spectre: "First Impressions"


Warning Area 465
Over the Atlantic Ocean

“Gator 11 is ready.”
“Gator 12 is ready.”
“Gators, check forty five right.”
            First Lieutenant Cal Martin’s heart was racing as he maneuvered his F-16 into position behind his flight lead as they made a forty five degree check turn.  It was his first flight with his new squadron, and he wanted to make a good impression.  A Reservist, Martin was the first Gator hired off the street to make it through the training pipeline in over ten years.  Aside from the active duty pilots assigned to the 39th Fighter Squadron, Martin was the most inexperienced pilot in a squadron full of thousand plus hour combat veterans.
            “One point nine,” Martin called over the radio as he took a radar lock.  They were doing an offensive 9K as part of his first Mission Qualification Training upgrade flight.  His flight lead would give him the initial advantage from a perch setup and his job was to maneuver from a mile and a half behind his flight lead into a position to get a guns kill. 
            His flight lead reversed the direction of the turn to set up the appropriate aspect angle.  With perch setups, Martin had been taught that the initial parameters were the most important.  It was essential for both aircraft to be at the same airspeed, altitude, and aspect angle to ensure the right sight picture for follow on maneuvering.  It was part of a building block approach to move from canned, controlled setups to more dynamic high aspect dogfighting where the student could then apply the sight pictures he had seen before.
            “One point eight,” Martin said as he watched the range count down in his Head Up Display.  Martin was nervous.  He was flying with the squadron’s weapons officer, Major “Magic” Manny.  A good gradesheet from Magic would set the tone for the rest of his Mission Qualification Upgrade Training.  A busted flight or “Below Average” would set him up for more scrutiny from other Instructor Pilots.  It was time to show off what he learned in the F-16 Basic Course at Luke AFB.
            “One point seven.”  He wiggled his fingers and toes, trying to relax and concentrate on keeping his flight lead’s F-16 under the boresight cross in the HUD.  At a range of a mile and a half, he was starting the fight outside the other aircraft’s turn circle.  He would have to roll out, recognize the turn circle entry cues he had been taught, and then successfully enter the imaginary turn circle the other aircraft traced across the sky.  Enter too early, and his attacker would create too many angles for him to solve and eventually neutralize him.  Enter too late, and he would go from offensive to neutral or even defensive as the attacker reversed. 
            “One point six.”
            “Fight’s on!” Martin said as the range reached 1.5nm in the HUD. 
            Martin rolled wings level and selected full afterburner as he watched Magic’s F-16 enter its defensive break turn and pop out flares.  Martin drove straight ahead as he looked for his turn circle entry cues –  at first Magic’s jet would look like it was just rotating in space, and then it would suddenly go from rotational to translational motion as it zipped past.  Just before that, his instructors had told him, he needed to be rolling and pulling while starting his Anti-G Straining Maneuver.
            As Martin neared that point, he cross checked his airspeed.  He was going way faster than he wanted to.  He had flown heavier F-16 Block 42s with smaller engines in school, but this Block 30 F-16 was a hotrod.  Its thrust to weight ratio easily exceeded 1:1 in its current configuration, and the big General Electric engine had no trouble accelerating the slick F-16 through 500 knots – way too fast.
            Martin tried cycling the throttle from full afterburner back to military power, but it was too late.  He had to start his turn in that instant or he’d fly right out the back of Magic’s turn circle and he’d be defensive.  Martin took a deep breath as he prepared for the onset of G-forces and squeezed his abs and legs.
            As Martin started his pull, the jet stabilized in the turn at a sustained 9G pull.  He was now feeling the force of nine times his bodyweight pressing against him, pulling the blood from his brain into his feet as his G-suit inflated against his legs and torso.  Martin strained against the G-forces as he took short breaths every three seconds.  If he exhaled completely, he wouldn’t be able to get air back in his lungs, and would eventually starve of oxygen.  He strained as hard as he could as the G-forces caused his vision to tunnel slightly.
            Magic reoriented from slightly nose low to a more oblique turn as Martin continued his turn.  Martin tried to maintain his position of advantage as Magic spiraled toward the crystal blue Atlantic Ocean below them in an attempt to shrink his turn circle and keep Martin from being able to employ weapons. 
            As Magic neared their training floor of ten thousand feet, Martin maintained an altitude advantage, waiting for Magic’s turn circle to open back up as he could no longer go downhill.  Once Martin had his attack cues, he traded his altitude advantage and saddled in behind Magic.  As they transitioned to the floor, the G-forces subsided and Martin focused on his gun employment.
            Martin pulled his nose around to put the computed gun pipper on Magic.  Seeing that Martin was in a gun employment zone, Manny immediately rolled into a tuck under jink, forcing Martin to reposition before he could saddle in and shoot.   As Magic rolled out, Martin squeezed the trigger and watched as the imaginary bullets went through the fuselage of Magic’s aircraft.
            “Gator 12, kill Viper left hand turn,” Martin said over their fight frequency.
            “Copy kill, Gators knock it off, Gator 11 knock it off,” Magic replied, signaling that the set was over.
            “Gator 12, knock it off,” Martin responded as he repositioned his aircraft in a loose formation behind Magic.
            As they climbed back up to their starting altitude for the next set, Magic did a fuel check over the radio and set them up for another fight.
            “Not too bad,” Magic said, offering a real time assessment of the previous set, “just a little slow to get to a guns track, and a slightly late turn circle entry.” 
            “2,” Martin replied sharply.  It was not a discussion.
            “You’re going to want to get the quickest kill possible, in case the bandit’s buddies are in the area,” Magic continued.
            “2!”
            “Let’s try it again, any questions?” Magic asked as he gave Martin the visual signal to move out to a tactical formation.
            “Negative,” Martin replied.  He was determined to make it right.  He had to show Magic that he could get the quick kill.  He wouldn’t screw it up this time.
            Once they reached the appropriate altitude, they each called ready as before and Magic called the check turn.  Magic reversed his turn as Martin started calling down ranges.
            “Fight’s on!” Martin called as he reached a mile and a half.   He lit the afterburner and rolled out as he drove toward Magic’s turn circle, but this time he started a shallow climb and checked away to slow his acceleration.
            The sight picture was just different.  As Magic continued his break turn, Martin rolled into a descending turn and sliced back toward him.  The visual cues were different than what he was expecting, but almost immediately he saw what he thought to be attack cues – Magic’s airplane was nearly as long as it was wide.
            Martin continued to pull Magic’s F-16 toward his HUD.  It was going to be a high aspect gun shot.  He had one chance to get it right before Magic could reverse, but with the higher aspect angle, Martin had more of Magic’s aircraft available to shoot. 
            Martin pulled with everything he had and tried to stabilize Magic in the HUD.  He squeezed the trigger, raking the pipper through Magic’s jet as it screamed by him.  Once he let off the trigger, he tried to pull up to maintain his advantage, but Magic had already capitalized and the two were now side by side jockeying for position.
            “Gator knock it off, Gator 11 knock it off,” Magic said over the radio.
            “Gator 12 knock it off,” Martin echoed. 
            “We can talk about that one on the ground, let’s move on to the next set,” Magic said after confirming their fuel state.  Martin’s face felt flush.  He wasn’t sure if he had gotten enough of a stable track to count as a kill, so he hadn’t called it.  Either way, he was afraid Magic now thought he was terrible for not maintaining the offensive.  So much for making a good first impression.

******
            “Questions on the brief?” Magic asked as he stood in front of the white board in the small briefing room. 
            “None,” Martin responded. 
            “Questions on the motherhood?” Magic asked, referring to the administrative portion of the mission getting to and from the airspace to fight.
            “No, sir,” Martin replied.  He was still thinking about the first two sets.   He had done fine in the subsequent short range 6K and 3K sets, but he feared that the first two would be enough to give him his first bust as a Gator.  Not a good way to shine as a new wingman.
            Magic laughed.  “Don’t call me ‘Sir.’  This is a Reserve squadron, we’re all bros here.”
            “Yes, sir,” Martin replied.  “Dammit, sorry!”
            “Ok, let’s take a look at the tapes,” Magic said as he pulled up the computer debriefing program.  The “tapes” had long since been replaced by Digital Video Recorders, but years later, people were still calling them tapes. 
            As they watched the first set, Magic paused the DVR as he watched Martin accelerate toward the turn circle.  “You see your airspeed?  You’re way too fast here.  That’s why it takes so long.  You’re not getting a good rate and your turn circle is huge.”
            Martin nodded and took notes as Magic hit PLAY again.
            “And that’s why you’re sustaining 9Gs for so long.  That had to hurt,” Magic said, wincing.
            Martin looked at his forearms.  The tiny ruptured capillaries, or G-easles as they were known, that peppered his arm were evidence of that. 
            They continued watching the fight as Magic gave Martin pointers on how to fix it properly. 
            “Any questions on that set?” Magic asked after confirming that Martin’s guns track was valid and sufficient to call a kill.
            “None.”
            “Ok, let’s watch the second one,” Magic said with a frown.  He advanced the DVR to the start of the second set. 
           
            “Your parameters look good at the start, but why the climb?” Magic said as he paused the DVR.  The HUD showed Martin ten degrees nose high.
            “I was afraid to get fast again, I wasn’t really thinking,” Martin replied flatly.  He didn’t want to make excuses.  Good wingman didn’t make excuses or try to explain what they were thinking.
            “Copy.  Try modulating the throttle or speedbrakes next time,” Magic said as he hit PLAY again.
            Magic let the DVR play through as Martin went from nose high to slicing back down toward Magic’s jet.  As Martin pulled Magic’s jet into the HUD, Magic stopped the DVR.
            “Straight to the HUD, huh?  Did you have your attack cues met?” Magic asked.
            Martin shook his head without saying anything.  It looked right in the air, but he couldn’t say that.  The book answer was that he did not have the appropriate cues to execute an attack.  The cues were specific and definable.  Gut feelings were not.
            “This will lead to the ninety-degree off overshoot and subsequent reversal,” Magic said as he hit PLAY again.
            They watched in silence as Martin stabilized Magic’s aircraft in the HUD and the display showed the simulated bullets hitting Magic’s aircraft. 
            “Wait, you tried to shoot here?” Magic said, pausing the footage and rewinding.
            Martin said nothing as Magic hit the rewind button.  He stopped as the green dots simulating bullets started to hit his fuselage, then started advancing the footage frame by frame to count bullets.
            As he reached twenty five, he stopped the DVR, staring at it.  Martin had more than exceeded the required number of frames to call a kill. 
            “You gunned me off the perch in a 9K set,” Magic said, stunned.  “Wow, kid.”
            Martin looked up from his notes.  He had been wincing as Magic slowly went through the gunshot.  He knew that this was a pretty big make or break moment for him.
            “I’ve only known a few people that could pull that off,” Magic said, “and none of them were brand new lieutenants.”
            Martin tried not to smile as he realized the compliment.  It was a pretty big deal to hear that from the squadron weapons officer.
            “Were you trying to do that?” Magic asked.  “Or was it luck?”
            “I guess it was just luck,” Martin said humbly, “I just did what looked right.”
            Magic considered the statement for a moment, creating an uncomfortable silence as he seemed to look Martin up and down.
            “Well, luck or not, it was a good shot.  But I wouldn’t make a habit of it.  We teach lag BFM for a reason.  We want results you can replicate over and over, not lucky shots. This is a bit too aggressive. If you miss a shot like this in combat, you’re dead.”
            Martin nodded. 
            After asking if Martin had any further questions, he advanced to the next set.   They debriefed the final four shorter range sets the same as the first two, and then Magic sat down across the debriefing table from Martin after recapping their objectives.
            “Overall, I’d say you did a good job today.  Definitely above average,” Magic said leaning back in the chair.
            Martin exhaled as the words “Above Average” hung in the air.  He had been worried during the entire debrief that he might have to refly the flight.  He definitely wasn’t expecting such praise.
            “You’ve got good hands and a good attitude.  I saw your pilot training gradebooks.  You’ve done well.  You might be a little too aggressive, and that could get you in trouble, but I can work with aggressive.  It’s way easier to throttle someone back than try to make them more aggressive.”
            Martin nodded sheepishly.  He didn’t know how to respond to such high praise.
            “Has the boss talked to you yet?”
            “About what?” Martin asked, tilting his head to the side.
            Magic looked at his watch and said, “About why it’s six o clock and there’s no fucking popcorn yet.”
            Martin’s faced reddened.  As the most junior guy in the squadron, his additional duty was to keep the squadron bar cleaned and stocked with beer and snacks, and ensure fresh jalapeno popcorn was ready every evening.
            “No excuse,” Martin said stoically.
             “I’m just giving you shit!” Magic busted out laughing.  “I meant about the F-22 thing.”
            Martin gave him a confused look.
            “I guess not.  Well, don’t be surprised if the boss talks to you about it.  I know you just got here and everything, but the Reserves are standing up their F-22 associate program and looking for a young wingman with good hands to be the first young Reserve guy in the community.  Think you might be interested?”
            “Hell yes!” Martin replied.  His stoic demeanor was replaced by a childish enthusiasm.  He couldn’t contain himself.
            “Keep doing what you’re doing, and you might just be that guy,” Magic replied.
            Martin was grinning ear to ear.  This squadron was awesome.  He couldn’t wait for his next flight.

            “Now go make some popcorn!” Magic barked.

Friday, August 2, 2013

About SPECTRE RISING

ABOUT SPECTRE RISING


After being told he would never fly an F-16 again following a combat incident in Iraq, Captain Cal "Spectre" Martin made an abrupt transition to civilian life early in his career.  

Years later, Spectre had finally adjusted to civilian life.  He had found happiness despite losing his dream job. He had a stable civilian job and his fiancee, an F-16 pilot in the unit that had grounded him, was his best friend and lover.  Spectre was finally happy again.

A sudden breakup thrusts Spectre's newfound happy life into chaos.  His world is turned upside down.  Two weeks later, his fiancee goes missing in an F-16 during a night training exercise off the Florida Coast.

Spectre Rising is the story of Spectre's search for answers.  As Spectre digs deeper into the incident, he uncovers a deadly international conspiracy that leads him to a daring final mission.  

Check out these sample chapters!




Spectre Series

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