Edge of Apocalypse: pages 2-7 (Chapter One)
There is a scene cut to the command center for spy planes:
“‘HQ Foxfire, this is Looking Glass, over … HQ Foxfire, this is Looking Glass, do you read me, over.’ The voice of Captain Louder crackled over the speakers in the Tactical Communications Bunker at Osan Air Base, just forty-eight miles south of the DMZ.”
This sets the stage for Wing Commander Charles Stamper (a well-chosen name, incidentally, evoking a military air) noting that there are strict orders to maintain radio silence.
Amidst his chewing of Nicorette gum, we hear variations of this radio message, leading up to the following:
“Commander Stamper bit his tongue accidentally. The orders were explicit. No radio contact with planes over the DMZ. But he knew Captain Louder personally, probably owed him a few bucks from a poker game or two, and he knew he wouldn’t break radio silence unless he had to. He also knew the captain wouldn’t want to give out too much information over the radio. They both knew that the North Korean military, known as the Korean People’s Army, or the KPA, was always listening, looking to turn every situation to their advantage. But still. Captain Louder was listening to music in the cockpit. Country music. Was that code for something? He wracked his brain but came up with nothing.”
While the tongue biting thing probably sounded nice in LaHaye and Parshall’s initial write-up it seems to not add much verisimilitude.
I’m also surprised that the US military doesn’t have various procedures in place to deal with officers who break radio silence during intelligence/surveillance missions. Surely they have some kind of coded message/response system? Like “An eagle flew past me at 230 degrees” or some nonsense message which actually means, “HELP I NEED TO LAND SOMEWHERE BECAUSE MY ENGINES ALL FAILED NOW DAMN IT”?
Also, sending that message three times? Captain Louder has probably sent enough messages to allow the KPA to triangulate his position with some margin of error, and send planes in for the kill. A single point flashing would only give a location in space. Three gives distances, times, and approximate velocities.
I feel like maybe I’m being excessively nitpicky and that I could be totally wrong and these sorts of scenes are routine phenomena in the real-world military. But surely the more often you send a distress signal in hostile territory, the more chances you give someone else to find you?
“‘Give them a couple clicks of the hand mic to let them know we heard.’ The commander turned to his flight officer. ‘Send up a couple fighters to check it out. Tell them to stay high and out of sight. Make visual contact if they can, but no radio under any circumstances.’
He’d picked a bad week to give up smoking.”
The microphone clicking thing makes sense, but would the crew on the disabled airplane hear it? It doesn’t look like they do, as we see on the next page.
“Captain Louder knew from the silence on the radio that he was on his own–at least until he cleared the DMZ. His flight plan called for him to stay on this heading until he reached international waters over the Sea of Japan, but he didn’t think his plane had enough in her to get that far. Whatever had attacked the electronics had done a number on the systems. Nothing was responding. It was like being back in an old T-2 Buckeye trainer where muscle and moxie were as important as avionics. Strictly stick-and-rudder stuff now.”
The captain decides to glide the plane in, but unfortunately:
“Captain Louder saw them first–two North Korean fighters coming directly out of the rising sun at Mach 2.
‘We got company, and they don’t look happy to see us.’
The two North Korean birds streaked past and started a long loop to maneuver behind the crippled American plane.”
The crew detects that the North Korean planes have gotten a radar fix and are launching missiles. They launch countermeasures to attempt to redirect the missiles, then Louder drops altitude as fast as he can, then tries something:
“‘Shutting down engines!’ It was a highly risky maneuver–he may never get them started again–but he was running out of options.
‘Just a few more seconds…’ The captain wrenched back on the rudder trying to pull the plane out of its headlong nosedive. ‘I need some flaps; I need power!'”
Literary nitpick: I don’t like it when stories use the word “may” when it would be far preferable to use “might”, especially when the narrative tense used is not the present.
Unfortunately, the plane is damaged during the shutdown-and-restart: one engine is now on fire, and they must evacuate.
“‘How’s our altitude?’
‘We’re not going straight down anymore, if that’s what you mean, sir,’ said Lieutenant Milius with his characteristic dry West Texas drawl. ‘I guess that’s a plus, sir.’
Captain Louder looked at his crew. All eyes were on him waiting for inspiration. But he had none to give. He’d never lost a plane before, and he wasn’t too happy about the prospect of losing this one.”
They hit upon the plan of using a HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile) to try and attack the jamming station, and here we switch to the flyers of the other American aircraft.
“‘Mayday! Mayday!’ Captain Louder’s voice crackled over the Navy fighter jets’ radios; then one, two, three parachutes blossomed out from the cockpit of the crippled Prowler and floated slowly to earth.
Half a mile away, the fighter pilots looked at each other over the narrow space of air that separated their two Lightning Stealth fighters. Where was the fourth parachute? Where was the pilot?”
Then, right after that, they see the North Korean MiGs and destroy them. Captain Louder, in the last part of this chapter, launches the HARM then ejects, seeing his plane crash somewhere.
Obviously, this chapter is intended to set the stage for the upcoming international conflict: other such wars and battles have no doubt started this way. So points for that.
However, I’m not sure how real-life it is for fighter pilots to be able to look at each other at wingtip distance and make out expressions. Also, why did Capt. Louder not give the Mayday distress signal well before he actually did? There are one or two prior occasions on which he could have given it, especially since once they visually encountered the North Korean fighters there was no reason to observe radio silence.
A few other incongruities no doubt will pop up for those who have read the book and/or the excerpts I have quoted here.
As far as the overall literary sense of this goes, it’s definitely more gripping than the Left Behind initial pages, which had more implausible reactions among the focus characters.
North Korea as international villain of the day isn’t a bad idea. In the old days it would have been the Soviet Union, of course, or in the 1990s perhaps a shadowy cabal of international terrorists.
Definitely today’s headlines. 🙂
Not much to say in the way of other commentary, but after the initial business with the names, the only real things to comment on is how realistic things feel.
A final note: I’ve found the setting to disable me needing to moderate all comments. I still reserve the right to delete any offensive and/or spam comments. Cheers!