Book should be available now so this is the final snippet.
Out Of The Dark – Snippet 21
Well, either way, it wasn’t going to be his problem. The infantry might usually get to have the fun dirt- side, but at least shuttle pilots got to sleep in nice, clean bunks every night. And they had access to hot showers, too, for that matter. Of course, he was going to be too busy to be enjoying his bunk or any hot showers anytime soon. There were never enough Starlanders, especially during the initial phases of a landing. At the moment, he and the rest of the 9th Heavy Transport Group’s triple-twelve of shuttles — almost a full twelfth-part of the fleet’s heavy lift landing capability — were headed for a preselected landing zone west of what had once been the capital of something called the United States. They were bringing in the first half of Ground Base Two, tasked with establishing control of the eastern seacoast of this continent. Ground Base One, with overall responsibility for the entire continent, was being landed by the 11th Heavy Transport, much farther west. In something called the “state of Iowa,” by the locals.
Fardahm grimaced at the bizarre-sounding words. He was glad he wasn’t going to have to learn “English.” Even if his vocal apparatus had been designed for making such peculiar sounds, it seemed to him that it was a very strange language. For that matter, if these creatures — these “humans” — were going to have planet-wide communications, why in Dainthar’s name couldn’t they have settled on a single language? Was that really asking too much? Just one language, and one that didn’t have so many sounds that sounded just like other sounds. It was a good thing their personal comps were going to be able to handle the translation for anyone who actually had to communicate with them. Which, praise Dainthar, he wasn’t!
He checked his position again. About another tenth of a segment. Of course, he was sixteenth in the landing queue, so —
Shuttle Commander Fardahm’s thoughts were interrupted with shocking suddenness as an AIM-120-D Advanced-Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile’s forty-pound blast-fragmentation warhead detonated less than five feet from his shuttle’s fuselage.
Alarm systems howled, onboard fire alarms shrieked, lights began to flash all over his cockpit, and crimson danger signals appeared on his cornea projected HUD.
None of them did Fardahm any good at all. He was already reaching for the ejection button when the entire shuttle blew up in midair.
Eat your heart out out, Will Smith!
Despite everything, “Longbow” Torino felt his lips curling up in enormous smile. These alien shuttles obviously didn’t have any force fields protecting them. Not only that, but they clearly hadn’t had a clue what was heading for them. His four fighters had launched twenty-four Slammers, and their missiles’ performance had done Raytheon proud. Twenty of them had scored clean hits or detonated within lethal distance of their targets, and each of them was a hard kill.
He heard someone else — “Killer” Cunningham, he thought — howling in triumph. The same savage, vengeful satisfaction flamed through his own veins, but it was a cold, burning fire, not hot, and his brain ticked like an icy machine.
The range was down to fifty miles, still dropping at better than ten miles a minute, and there was no sign of any defensive fire. For that matter, there weren’t even any decoys or flares.
“Flight, Longbow,” he said flatly. “Sidewinders.”
The Shongair formation disintegrated in confusion and wild panic. No Shongair shuttle had ever been downed by hostile fire — not even a Deathwing, which routinely provided close support, far less one of the Starlanders! — and the pilots had no idea what to do. They’d never been trained in combat techniques, because there’d never been any need for them. They were transport pilots, and their shuttles were transport vehicles, optimized for maximum cargo capacity. The Starlander was better than six hundred and forty feet long, a variable geometry design capable of relatively high Mach numbers on a reentry profile but designed for economic, subsonic flight in atmosphere. It was capable of vertical takeoff and landing operation on counter-grav but used conventional air-breathing engines in actual flight, and its designers had never intended for it to stray into reach of any armed opponent. And for all its size, it was fragile. Tough-skinned enough to resist muscle-powered projectiles, perhaps, it didn’t respond well when the warheads of vastly more sophisticated weapons tore holes in that same skin or white-hot fragments of those same warheads were thrown into its completely unarmored fuel system.
The survivors watched in horrified shock as twenty of their fellows plunged down to catastrophic rendezvous with the ground below, and they didn’t even know who was shooting at them! Lockheed Martin had described the F-22s’ radar cross-section as “the size of a steel marble,” which was a remarkable achievement, but this time it didn’t really matter. Not as far as the Starlanders were concerned. Their air-to-air radar was designed primarily to avoid aerial collisions between aircraft with transponders — aircraft which wanted to be seen — not to locate highly stealthy, heavily armed fighters less than a tenth their own size. Nor had it ever occurred to anyone to fit rear-area cargo-haulers intended for operations against crossbow-armed adversaries with radar warning devices. They were literally blind, totally unable to see Torino’s small flight as the four Raptors streaked in behind them.
“Fox two! Fox two!” Major Torino snapped as the two AIM-9X all-aspect Sidewinders popped out of their briefly opened weapons bay doors. The shorter-ranged heat- seeking weapons streaked away, guiding on the brilliant thermal beacons of the alien shuttles’ engines, and he watched them racing in on their targets.
All four F-22s launched within seconds of one another, sending eight more missiles into the chaos of the disintegrating Shongair formation. Two of them were targeted on the same victim; within minutes, four more of the big shuttles were plunging to the earth in flames while another three staggered onward with heavy damage. One of the wounded craft trailed a broad ribbon of smoke, and even as Torino looked in its direction, he saw a river of fire joining the smoke.
“Flight, go guns!” he snarled.
It was a nightmare.
Of the thirty-six Starlanders transporting Ground Base Two, twenty-four had been destroyed and three more were going down. The pilots of the nine undamaged survivors had only a single thought: escape. Unfortunately, they’d never been trained for this situation. It wasn’t supposed to arise. They were on their own, with no evasive doctrine or tactics to call upon, and almost in unison, they swept their wings and went to full power, accelerating to just over the speed of sound and bolting straight ahead.
The Raptors were out of missiles.
Each of them mounted a single twenty-millimeter M61A2 Vulcan Gatling gun in its starboard wing root, normally concealed by a carefully faired popout door to preserve the smoothness stealth required. It was intended solely as a last-ditch weapon, with only four hundred and eighty rounds of ammunition — enough for no more than five seconds of sustained maximum rate fire. Neither Torino nor any of his other pilots had ever really expected to go guns in air-to-air combat, but now that the opportunity was here….
The Starlanders never had a chance.
At their best air-breathing speed, they were barely half as fast as the Raptors in dry thrust. Worse, they were huge targets, unarmored, unarmed, and little more maneuverable — even with counter-grav — than a human-designed heavy transport aircraft. The vectored-thrust F-22s, on the other hand, had been designed for high-gravity agility second to none, and they slashed in on their huge targets like barracuda attacking whales. They fired in short, mercilessly accurate bursts, ripping the shuttles’ fuselages open, butchering the construction troops and base admin personnel in their passenger bays, spilling heavy construction equipment over the Virginia countryside.
It was over in less than six minutes.
“Flight, Longbow.” Torino’s voice sounded drained, even to him. “Go home.”
The acknowledgments came back again, and the four Raptors turned away from the funeral pyres of their victims. Now if only Plattsburgh would still be there when they got there.