Short teaser for the fourth in my upcoming series of novels. This one is a romantic political action thriller, with maybe a bit of erotica here and there.
Without warning something streaked across the sky before us, and the world turned upside down.
One second whatever-it-was emerged from the haze and clutter at the horizon, a foreshortened dot glimpsed at about three o'clock in my peripheral vision, then before I could turn my head or begin to react, it grew, arrived, and screamed past like an angry meteor.
The distinctive sound of a jet engine running full reheat drowned out all other noises for a moment, and our plane bucked like a bronco as a furious blast of tortured air hit us; composed in equal parts of wing-tip vortices and the jet-wash from a military turbine running flat out.
Tennyson reacted instantly of course. Seeking airspeed to avoid a stall she jammed the little Cessna's throttle all the way forwards, (for all the good that would do,) and wrenched us wing-over to point the nose at the grey sea a scant thousand feet below.
Over the years I've almost got used to it, but it never ceases to amaze me the way she is able to react instinctively to the unexpected almost as if she'd been expecting it.
“Jesus!” she swore.
I was still speechless, and a few seconds passed as Ten pulled us gently out of the dive to skim the wave-tops at just under a hundred feet.
“I thought it was too good to last.” she commented wryly.
“What was that?”
She turned quizzically towards me, as if she couldn't believe the stupidity of the question.
“Obviously a jet.” I clarified, not actually being an idiot, “Not a freight train, despite appearances.”
“Yes.” her glance softened, “Freight trains don't often hang about over the North Sea.”
“It was hardly hanging about!” I pointed out, “but I suppose freight trains don't habitually do Mach 2 either.”
“Oh, he was 'hanging about' all right. Not much over five hundred knots at a guess.”
“Huh, how can you tell?”
“We're still here.” she replied with an ironic grin,“If he had been supersonic the shock-wave would have torn both our wings off, and we'd be in the drink by now.”
“Fair enough,” I allowed. “But the question stands; what the hell was it?”
We were back on the level now, and I scanned the sky for the jet in what I judged was roughly the direction it had departed. I couldn't see a thing.
“Try behind,” Tennyson advised, “He'll keep his closing speed down for the next pass.”
“You're sure there's going to be a next pass?”
I craned my neck round to the south east.
“F16.” Tennyson finally answered the question, “Single engine, intake underneath. I didn't get a proper look though, so I can't tell you who's it was.”
I was amazed she'd seen that much in the split second available, but then she always seems to know exactly what she's looking for.
Tennyson's calm tone was having a positive effect on me, my heart rate was slowing already and my brain was starting to function properly again. I looked hard for the F16, but the horizon was clear all around us.
“So you reckon he's going to come round and try again.” I made that a statement rather than a question.
“Do you think he'll try the same thing again?”
“Probably, but let's think this through.” Ten looked pensive.
“OK, so where do we start?” I asked, “Apart from the obvious, 'he's trying to kill us' that is.”
“Well he was running full reheat, I caught a glimpse of the diamonds, but he was only doing about five hundred knots, what does that tell you?”
Ten put on her patient face, “That tells you that either he'd been running with the air-brakes out, or he'd only just throttled up.”
“OK.” I was sure she was right about that, “Why though?
“To maximize the jet-wash at a guess, hoping he'd break something or put us in a stall.”
“So why not a bit faster then? You said the shock-wave would be deadly.”
“Good question.” Tennyson frowned and thought for a few moments, and a few moments more.
I scanned the horizon again, still no sign of the F16, but it couldn't be long now if she was right.
“Got it!” Ten announced triumphantly. I looked at her and noticed her frown had faded a bit, and a hint of a grim smile was beginning to grace her lips. I hadn't seen her looking optimistic since Antwerp so I regarded it as a good sign, but I still failed to see any reason for optimism. I raised an eyebrow.
“Don't you get it?” She asked.
I shook my head.
“The RAF aren't in the game, silly!”
“Subsonic!” she stated, as if that explained everything.
“We're over half way across.”
“And that means...?”
“If our lot was in on it they'd have been supersonic, and would have downed with the first pass. Even more importantly they'd have intercepted faster and caught us fifteen minutes ago in Dutch waters. Well off the shipping lanes”
“There is nothing more noticeable, or more distinctive, than a sonic boom, and it can be heard over a big area. Remember the fuss when one fighter went supersonic over East Anglia a few years ago?”
I recalled the incident, indeed I'd heard the boom myself as it happened, and I distinctly remembered the furore in the national press for days afterwards. There may not be that many people on the North Sea at any given time, but you could bet there would be enough it would make the papers. I was beginning to understand, but let Tennyson continue.
“So we can infer, from the fact he was flying so low and wasn't supersonic, that he really doesn't want to be noticed.”
“If our lot were in on it, they'd either have been in a position to cover it up, or they'd have tasked the RAF with the job of knocking us down in the first place.”
I thought about that for a moment. That all made sense, but I really didn't see how that was going to help us.
“So what's he going to do?”
“Same again probably, though probably from behind now he's found us. When that doesn't work he'll probably opt for guns.”
“You don't reckon he'll just haul off a bit and lob a missile at us?”
“No he won't.” she looked at me emphatically.
I raised an eyebrow.
“They usually carry a couple of Sidewinders, which are heat-seekers so won't even see this crate, and he wouldn't have had time to rearm before take-off.”
“Well yes, but even if he's carrying something radar guided, most likely Sparrows, he won't be about to use them.”
“You sure about that?”
“Yes, for a couple of reasons. One; we're so low and slow the seeker won't be able to pick us out of the surface clutter, and two;” and at this point she grinned, “They're big and go about Mach four. Anything doing that over the North Sea would set off every alarm on the east coast, never mind the AWACs.”
“So we're going to be shot rather than blown up, that makes me feel so much better.”
“Possible, but its got to be Belgian or Dutch. They don't train for anything but missile engagements so they're nothing like experts with the guns. I'd still better make us a harder target though.”
Tennyson took us lower still, until a slight shudder suggested we'd clipped a wave-top with the undercarriage. Discretion being the better part of valour, she took us back up to about fifty feet.
“OK, I'll grant your logic.” I replied, “But we're still a long way from home out here. This little crate isn't either fast or armed, and a state-of-the-art warplane is flying around here somewhere intending to bring us down in the sea. I mean I believe in taking an optimistic approach to life, but I really don't see how we're going to get out of this.....”
I noticed the frown clearing from Ten's face again, to be replaced with a rather predatory smile. She reached for the throttle and pulled it back, reducing our airspeed from its usual amble to a positive crawl.
“Oh, that's easy,” Tennyson said at last, with a smug look.
“We're just going to have to bring him down first.”
© Marcus Brook 2016