Almost 99K words. Jaeger is still alive, but he’s not flown into orbit yet. Getting close. I’m getting better at this the more I write, I think. Experience is supposed to be a good thing, right?
Archive for October, 2009
Free wireless internet in the Jackson Airport! And it’s pretty fast! I posted Chapter 14 after doing some editing on it. I continue to catch things, typos, places where I think the phrasing is unclear, etc.
Friday night I added about a thousand words.I find the sub-plot – if that’s what it is – about Al’s dilemma concerning keeping himself out of harm’s way and being the test pilot he knows it is his destiny to be is some of the most difficult writing I have to do. The technical stuff I have worked out pretty well – it’s the characters that will make or break the book, and I’m not real happy with them yet.
I like Nate Stoddard. He’s a secondary, but very important character and he served as a similar level of character in Stirling’s novels. In my case, he’s the outsider who needs the technical stuff explained to him, making it easier for the reader to follow. Nate’s a prickly New Englander, very old-school, and an intelligence agent as well. Putting him out at the flight test center with the hotshot pilots and the crazy German engineers makes for a more interesting mix.
I decided to roll some of the Orion stuff into the end of this book, as I mentioned before. In our timeline the Orion work was being done in the late 1950s, so this might be developing a little late in the Drakaworld, but these guys have started to bend tin and launch some test flights. I assume that the Alliance will never engage in the kinds of detente our government began to engage in post-Vietnam. This is an Alliance that doesn’t second guess itself. We were saved in the Cold war because our adversaries had an obviously inferior economic system (but try telling Obama that) and we could out-produce and out-innovate the. They were not stupid (well,. maybe, in economics) and they were generally pretty-well motivated. We were slowly losing our national resolve until Reagan came into office, but the effects of the Reagan spine-stiffening seems to be draining out of our culture once again right now.
The Draka economy, odd and creaky as it was, seemed to be working. A very singleminded ruling aristocracy is a dangerous adversary. The Draka are that, despite their internal political squabbles. Those are more as to how and when to effect a Final Solution, not if. The Draka future society of the beginning of Drakon existed because of timely discovery and invention in biotech and genetics. If those developments were arrived at a generation later, or if destruction of the Alliance could not be accomplished in a short time frame, the Draka way of life could collapse.
Back to the writing – I still have a few hours before my plane leaves for Chicago!
The Righteous Stuff
by Jeffrey D. Waggoner
based on characters and situations in the
“Domination of the Draka” novels written by S.M. Stirling
US OFFICE OF STRATEGIC SERVICES
US FEDERAL DISTRICT, NEW YORK CITY
“Nate, how are you?” The front-office liaison, an Army lieutenant, stood up quickly from behind his desk and held out his hand, a wide smile on his face.
Nathaniel Stoddard was not willing to waste time on pleasantries with a glorified secretary. He ignored the hand, and kept moving toward the right side office door. “Is the Boss in? This can’t wait!” He already had his hand on the doorknob.
“Well, yes, but he’s on the phone with…” The lieutenant barely could get the word out before Stoddard was through the door and had slammed it behind him. The lieutenant slumped down into his chair. We really need better security in this place, he thought, even if it is to protect us from our own people.
“Bob, this is completely unacceptable!” Stoddard was obviously angry, and that was not something most people wanted to see twice. Normally his New England upbringing gave him an air of reticence, if anything. Angry shouting was not something Stoddard was known for. He stopped just short of the expansive oak desk of his superior officer.
Robert Amory was nominally a Lieutenant Colonel, with degrees from Harvard, including Harvard Law, class of ‘38. His commission and rank was necessary to his position as the final evaluator of intelligence in the OSS. He was not a military man, not in the spit-and-polish department, but he was a lawyer, and he had found it necessary to “handle” Stoddard before.
“Sit down, Major, before you burst a blood vessel. Take a deep breath, then tell me what your problem is. And by the way, Lieutenant Andrews is not just there for show, you know. You could have called.”
Stoddard dropped his rangy body into the chair. He was still obviously angry, though some of the fire was out of his face. “It’s just that, well…you can’t stick me out there! You can’t!”
Amory leaned back in his chair, crossing his legs and regarding his visitor with a level gaze. “I certainly can, Nate. I have the authority, of course. I’d rather that you were happy with it. But before you get ready to go to Donovan, you know I rarely make capricious decisions. Would you care at all to hear my reasoning?”
“I suppose so.”
He’s not giving in much, Amory thought. You better be good at this, Bob.
“First, you know that that facility sits in the middle of a bunch of dry lake beds in the high desert. Second, you know at least that we are testing all sorts of new, well, unorthodox, aircraft out there. With me so far?”
“What most people even in the government don’t know is that we are testing some stuff out there that is, shall we say, a little more unorthodox than people expect?”
“I don’t get it. And how does that apply to me?”
“This is Top Secret-clearance information, maybe higher than that. Our friends in the Alliance have no knowledge of what I am about to tell you – at least we don’t think they do – and I don’t know of more than six or seven elected officials who have any information about this.” He leaned forward, elbows on the desk, hands folded in front of his chin.
“A few years ago there was a crash of a vehicle in the desert Southwest. Luckily, it happened near one of our missile testing stations, White Sands, so we were able to get the remains of the vehicle under cover quickly, without civilian interference. This vehicle was not from this planet.”
Stoddard looked incredulous. “Bob, you can’t be serious. You’re sending me–one of your best field agents–out to the California desert because you have alien problems!” He started to laugh, then stopped when he saw that Amory had not changed expression.
“I’m serious, Nate. We don’t know who they were, or where they were from. We think they had mechanical problems. Some of the more, flexible, minds we can hire are still working on this, almost five years later. There are a lot of unanswered questions.”
Amory leaned back again, and looked out the window at Washington Park. The leaves on the oaks and maples outside the windows had begun to turn. He made a mental note to replace the trees with evergreens. No one should be able to look directly into the office window of the Deputy Director for Intelligence, especially not from a park. “And…there are a few answered ones. We’ve successfully reverse-engineered a few things. Are you familiar with cermets?”
“Ceramic-metallic mixtures. Able to withstand extremely high heat, with high strength and lighter than nickel-steel by more than half. We’re using various forms of cermets now on high-performance aircraft.”
“Are you trying to tell me that aliens, little green guys, brought us aircraft technology?”
“Gray, actually, but yes. I don’t have time to persuade you now. Frankly, I didn’t need to tell you that much. Suffice to say that we have very exotic technologies at work out there, and the Snakes would love to get their hands on it. And…,” he turned, and leveled his eyes at Stoddard. “These technologies are vital to producing an orbital spaceplane. Some folks at Bell Aircraft, our tame former Nazis, tell us that without such materials we could never build a plane that could fly into orbit. Traditional materials like steel and aluminum, and even titanium, just won’t cut it.”
“So we have the stuff of science fiction at work in California. What about me?” Stoddard still appeared unconvinced.
“No one knows better that you do what a security problem the Snakes are. We can’t tell who’s a Snake spy nearly as easily as they can detect us. Everybody out there is short-haired, and as physically fit as the Air Force can make them. And some of those guys have started to imitate this one hotshot pilot, a guy from Sequoyah, Jack Ridley, so they all affect a drawl now. You know that’s candy for a Snake.”
Stoddard nodded. It was always hard for him to sound like a Draka, with his New England clipped diction. Lots of old Southerners, like guys he knew from Georgia, for example, tried to eliminate their traditional drawl. It made them sound too much like the way a Draka villain was portrayed in the cinema. Those from farther west didn’t feel the same way, and didn’t seem to care how they spoke. Stoddard supposed it was like those folks who put away their Confederate flags because the neighbors didn’t like it. “It’s a tough problem. But I’m a field agent, or I train and run field agents. I’m not a security chief. What good can I do there? Can’t the Air Force security people do their own jobs?”
“You know what to look for. Subtle stuff: body carriage, vocabulary, stuff like that. This is important, Major Stoddard. It may be the most important thing you’ve ever done – even more so than what you did off the French coast during the war. The Air Force has convinced Donovan of one thing, and that is that whoever owns the ultimate High Ground – the low Earth orbital zone – will have the upper hand here on Earth. If we get there first, and the Snakes have to follow, we still have an advantage. If the Snakes get there first, well, you know what happens then. Game over.”
Stoddard sighed, looked down at his hands. “I understand how important the orbital race is. I know your boys in the desert have some fancy stuff we can’t let the Draka know about. But Bob, you know I’m not cut out to be a paper-shuffling security man.”
“We’re not going to make you a security chief. You’re a covert operative. You’re just covert in your own country. How much do you know about aircraft maintenance?”
This is worse, thought Stoddard. Now I’m a damned mechanic. Great.
Nathaniel Stoddard sat down on a bench in Washington Park to think. He knew, deep down, that this was an important mission. He understood completely the difficulties the young Alliance had, and particularly that the United States had, in hunting down Draka infiltrators. Not that we’ve had nearly so much luck on the other side, he thought. The Draka culture was so different, the Security Directorate so pervasive, that infiltration took years to accomplish, often with very limited results. Stoddard himself had run several such operations, one in particular right after the war that had, almost literally, blown up in his face. His team dead, the only decent intelligence asset a mentally-unstable French serf…not a particularly good operation for his record. His people did manage to destroy a family cache of atomic weapons—wasn’t that a horrible thought, families with their own personal atomic weapons—but Kustaa didn’t come back. And LeFarge…how much good was she, anyway? A fragile, Draka–hating Communist was not as unusual as you might thing in the US, but she hadn’t been in the Household as a serf long enough and hadn’t been focused enough to collect decent information. Stoddard looked in on the twins, of course; they were the result of LeFarge’s rape by a Draka “owner,” though they would never know that, if they were lucky. Nice kids. A little quiet and serious-minded, maybe. In fact, he should check in on them now that he was in New York for a bit…
Still, the California desert operation nagged at him. First, he’d be away from home for what could be a very long time. Second, it could be a wild goose chase of the first order. There was apparently no evidence of Draka infiltration, so he would be insurance, or a sort. He could spend the next year, or more, chasing spies who weren’t there.
“What are they building out there?” Stoddard asked himself. He had heard rumors, and he knew his country and the Draka were both racing to get something into low Earth orbit. Several high–ranking military men had made the point, a little too publicly for Stoddard, this notion that Earth orbit was the ultimate “high ground.” Whoever owned space would own the Earth, and in the case of the Draka, that was quite a literal statement.
Each country had spirited away – basically kidnapped – as many German rocket scientists as they could find before the war wound down or before they could be killed in the rains of nuclear fire. Stoddard had been briefed on some of that. A few were even considered upstanding public citizens, now, despite the fact that a very few years ago they were creating the means to drop atomic weapons on New York and Boston. Most of those men seemed obsessed with space, and the idea of travel in it. They were the ultimate mercenaries, seeking to achieve their own ends by signing on to any government that would fund their research. Stoddard doubted they had any idea what uses the governments would find for their spacecraft, and he guessed they didn’t care too much about that. After all, they were Nazi officers, most of them.
Stoddard expected he would find American engineers and scientists who had similar views out there. They probably need someone like me, he thought. Someone really paranoid. But is it paranoia when they really are out to get you?
The Righteous Stuff
by Jeffrey D. Waggoner
based on characters and situations in the
“Domination of the Draka” novels written by S.M. Stirling
USAF AIRCRAFT TEST FACILITY
RODRIGUEZ DRY LAKE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
The X-6 was a silver cigar-shaped tube, with a sharply-raked delta wing, a huge box below the fuselage, and tiny ruddlerlets at the wingtips. It hung from the underside of the bomber’s wing, steaming gently as the sun came up. Jack Ridley walked out of the Bell Aircraft hangar wearing the tight elastic pressure suit, carrying his heavy white helmet. He noted that the wing of the B-25 actually deflected, bending toward the ground a little. The X-6 was as light as it could be, but three sets of engines made it almost too heavy for the big plane to carry. The next generation of test plane would surely need to be mounted on top of the aircraft, or a whole new plane would have to be built to carry them.
He walked around the plane one more time as the technicians completed disconnecting the hoses labeled LMETH and then reconnected the auxiliary power cables. One of the technicians looked up. “Ready to go, Ridley? I think this little bird is about ready for you.”
“Yep. I reckon I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” the pilot said in his usual calm, flat Sequoyah drawl. Ridley ran his hand over the silvery skin of the scramjet. He could feel the silky smoothness through his flight glove. It didn’t feel like metal, although he knew there were metal particles of several varieties in the ceramic-carbon fiber matrix. Knowing what was in it and believing it were two different things, that was for sure. Jack Ridley was an engineer as well as a pilot he and took pride in knowing everything about the planes he flew. This plane was different, though. “You know, Larry, this baby is still just damn spooky, if you asked me. I swear it feels alive. I’m not flying this one–I’m ridin’ it, like a horse with a lot o’ spirit.”
The technician grunted. “Whatever works, Ridley. I just know that this little one is full of JP-1, lox and liquid methane, and I hope it’s enough to keep you cool up there, buddy.”
“No problem, man, no problem. Goin’ into town tonight?”
The tech grunted and stood up, stretching. “Naw, not tonight. Last week, I went down to Pancho’s instead and had a couple extra beers, banged up the steamer findin’ a joshua tree on the way home. Millie’s pretty mad, and when she’s mad, you stay home for a while. Sure would like to, though. I hear the rebop band at Andy’s is blowin’ up a storm.”
“Never liked that stuff much myself, ’cept when Bird plays with the strings and stuff.” Ridley finished his walkaround, satisfied that everything on the outside of this bird was in order as well. “I’m more of a swing band guy, myself, Sweet bands, even, sometimes. Miller toured the Pacific when I was out there, did you know that? Damn fine band, better than what he’s got now, what with all the rebopper bands stealin’ the good players!”
“Maybeso, but I do like Dizzy and the boys. And that young Getz character, Millie thinks he’s the best.” Good luck to you, Jack. She’s a sweet little bird, and she’ll take good care of you.”
“Thanks, Larry, but luck’s got nothin’ to do with it…hey, got any Beeman’s?”
The tech smiled at the now-ancient ritual. “Yeah, I reckon I got a stick,” he replied with a grin, as he pulled the stick of gum out of his pocket and handed it to Jack.
Ridley climbed into the belly of the bomber as the sun made its way just over the horizon. It was still dry and clear, unusual for the high desert this late in the year. If the test wasn’t successful today, they might have to wait a couple of months, until the rains were gone and the lake bed was once again dry and hard as asphalt. “Come on, boys,” he called to the pilot and copilot, as the jet engines of the big plane wound up. “Let’s get up there and light this candle!”
“Drop in five–four–three–two…drop and away!” Ridley heard the bomber pilot through the headphones in his helmet. He punched the button to fire the explosive bolts to detach the scramjet from the bomber, but the automatics beat him to it, as always. His stomach lurched as the plane fell away, and he put it into a gentle dive, watching the airspeed indicator.
“Six hundred, six twenty-five, six-fifty, priming ram now.” Ridley punched the green RMJT INJ button and felt the explosion in the engine that told him the kerosene was injected into the ram and was starting to burn. At least it was supposed to start.
“No start! Repeat, no start on the ram! Will attempt another start.” He jabbed the button again, felt more than heard the bang beneath him. There was no consistent pressure that told him he was under thrust, though, and he was starting to actually get a little concerned. I may have the righteous stuff, but it sure as hell isn’t helpin’ right now, he thought. Just run the checklist.
“Ripley, abort the mission now. Repeat, abort now! We’ll give you a landing glide path in a minute or so.” The tower controller sounded a little more urgent than Ridley expected. Must be brass in the booth today.
“Uh, negative on the abort, Flight, I think I can get it started if I can just get enough airspeed.” The plane was still in a dive, and Ridley brought the nose even lower, increasing his airspeed. He pushed the MPH/MACH button, and the display switched to Mach numbers. 0.88, 0.90, 0.91… He was running out of altitude, though. Let’s go, baby, fire up this time, OK?
0.94 Mach, and the X-6 was bucking and trying to go transonic on him, as he increased his angle of dive attack in an act of desperation. Without power going supersonic was very unlikely, but he could come close, if he could just hold it steady and find the right angle of attack…there! He punched the injector button one more time and this time was rewarded with the bang-roar of the ramjet and the kick in the seat of his pants that said the damn thing stayed lit.
“We have ram function, Flight! Increasing attitude,” Ripley muttered into his microphone as he fought to bring the plane’s nose up. The ram was roaring and the nose was trying to pitch down, but the hydraulics helped him ever so slowly bring the nose back up. Finally he was in level flight, and gave himself the satisfaction of checking the altimeter. The display read 22,000 feet, which was better than he expected, after all the dive time he had used up in trying to start the ram.
Suddenly the ride smoothed out. The familiar supersonic control feel was a tremendous relief. The plane was just barely capable of enough lift to maintain control at subsonic speeds, even without the usual transonic turbulence. Once past the sound barrier, the increase in speed was tremendous. Ridley was thrust back into the seat as the ramjet blazed into the sky.
“Flight, coming up on two point zero Mach…two point zero and climbing. She’s flying smooth as glass, now. Tell Dornberger so far, so good.” The acceleration was powerful now, as the ram increased efficiency as the air density decreased. The ram’s design was optimized for speeds above Mach 3, and Ridley was surprised how quickly the plane was reaching that point.
“We’re receiving good data, Jack. Increase angle of attack to six degrees.” The flight controller sounded much more calm than he did earlier. Ridley also noted that nothing more was said about aborting the flight. He figured he wouldn’t hear any more about it unless he screwed the pooch on this one. Independent decisions by pilots weren’t completely outlawed yet. He glanced at the machmeter—just over Mach 3.5.
“Roger, six degrees. Coming up on Mach four, boys.” Ridley pulled back on the controller stick, watching the meter. He was over 50,000 feet now, and the ram was getting more efficient all the time.
“Affirmative, Jack. Coming up on scram prestart,” the flight controller responded.
“Mach four point zero. Initiating scram prestart now.” Ridley pressed the SCR INJ button, and could feel more than hear the whine of the liquid methane pumps as they filled the cooling baffles surrounding the boxlike experimental scramjet engine enclosure. Without the methane for cooling, even the demonic material this airframe was made of would melt down. The pilot watched the temperature indicators, waiting for the numbers to turn green and tell him it was safe to attempt to fire the scramjet.
“Making the turn over the ocean. Scramjet in ten seconds.” Ridley banked left in a wide arc. In case of problems, the scramjet testing would be done over the Pacific. There goes my chance at surviving this crash, he thought. No way to land this baby now.
“Three, two, one…scram start.” The world was a single button, marked SCR INIT. Ridley took as deep a breath as he could, then stabbed the button. As it changed to red, a tremendous roar, a sound that made the ram’s sound disappear, screamed through his helmet. The acceleration was so sudden it threw him back into the seat.
“Whoa! That was some kick, boys! Mach four point five, and increasing! The scram is running fine! Level flight at sixty thousand. Cutting out the ram now!” Ridley leaned forward against the acceleration and tapped the RMJT CUT button. The RP-1 supply was cut off to the ramjet almost immediately, and Jack could feel the Gs drop off somewhat.
“The ram’s off, Flight. I can feel a difference, but the scramjet is running so hard, it could pick up the slack in no time. I’m only at 55 per cent on the scram throttle, and we’re at mach five point zero now.”
“Time to try the turn, Jack. Turn to one-eighty degrees as soon as you can.”
“Affirmative, Flight, turning to one-eighty degrees.” Ridley ever-so-gently kicked the controller to the left and the plane responded immediately, slamming his helmet into the canopy. He shook his head, but gently. Turning at three thousand knots! I must be nuts! “The controls are definitely a little touchy, flight. There’s a slight tendency to overcontrol.” “Slight tendency,” hell! Almost put her into a spin.
“How’s your methane level, Jack?” the flight controller asked.
“Hmm…about fifty-six per cent, looks like. When do you want me to start turning back, Flight?” Jack could see Baja California on his left and figured it was about time to head home.
“About now, Ridley. The California ED stations show you clearly. They say you’re at six point three Mach right now! Looks like a new record, man!”
“Got you, Flight, I’m gonna make this turn as gentle as I can. This is one high-performance airchine, boys!” He tapped the controller as lightly as he could, with the palm of his right hand, bracing with his left for the slap that he expected as the rudderlets tried to turn the plane.
Damn! The ’chine almost skidded sideways in the turn! Ridley didn’t smack his head this time, because he was ready for the jolt, but it was still so quick, and so severe, he hoped he could do this one more time safely. “Uh, Flight, how about if I dial this down a bit? The controls are a little touchy, you know?”
The controller sounded concerned. “Just a minute, Jack…let me check with the engineers.” The plane was over land again, and moving fast. Normally at high altitudes you would have to watch a specific landmark for a while to really get an impression of your speed. At this speed you could see the terrain move below you!
What’s going on down there? “Flight, do you have a revision for me? I’m gonna be in Texas in a couple of minutes!”
“Here you go, Jack. Decrease throttle to forty percent, then start the turn to ten degrees.”
“Roger, Flight, throttle to forty…now waiting for the airspeed to decrease. Uh, Flight, what’s my airspeed for the turn?”
Another pause. “Jack, we’re not quite sure where your lower airspeed limit is before the scramjet flames out. We think you can keep it going at Mach three, but below that is anybody’s guess.”
“I’m at three point five now, and slowing. Decreasing throttle to thirty per cent.” Ridley knew he couldn’t keep this up forever. If the scramjet flamed out too soon, he would run out of altitude on the glide before he got to the runway. “I’m making the turn now, guys!”
That turn was ’way more controllable, Jack thought. He was trying to find landmarks through the small quartz windows. I wish I could pitch the nose down. Can’t see a thing.
“Any idea where I am, Flight? Havin’ a little trouble with visibility.” Ridley kept his voice on the level. Can’t overshoot the runway. Or the state of California!
“You’re about four hundred miles south of us, Jack. Make a turn to three fifty-five degrees as soon as you can, and we’ll talk you in. We’ll want you to cut the scram off in about fifteen seconds.”
“Roger, three fifty-five. Cutting throttle to twenty per cent.”
Bang. Ridley was thrown into the straps of his restraint harness, and his neck cracked as his helmet was thrown forward. Jack shook himself, then checked the instrument panel. The scram must have flamed out, at Mach 3.2. That’s not good!
“Jack! Your airspeed is dropping too fast! What happened?”
“The scram is out, Flight. Better start workin’ up that data.” Ridley punched the SCR CUT button, just in case the methane flow hadn’t automatically stopped.
“Can you restart the ram?”
“Flight…remember the problems we had before? I think I’ll let this baby glide in. Let’s have some numbers!”
Yet another pause. Can’t these guys get this going? How many brains does it take? Jack didn’t know. He was riding in the world’s fastest glider, but it wasn’t a very good glider. It was designed to be powered above Mach one, and yet it was rushed into testing before the designers and engineers found a good way to bring the ramjet back online at high speeds. You could start it around Mach one, but to start it in the air, at over Mach two, was considered impossible.
Ridley knew there were at least ten guys in the control tower. Probably they were all yelling at once, right about now. He’d been there himself when all hell had broken loose, and this was one of those times. The engineers were great at analyzing data about the engine after the flight was over, but they weren’t really trained to respond in an emergency. This should have been a contingency plan. Why did we dismiss the possibility of the scram flaming out early?
“Jack, we have some numbers for you. Here they are…” The flight controller gave him the data for the experimental autopilot. Yet another part of the test, the autopilot has been tested on previous flights, but not at such a high speed and not in an emergency.
Ridley pushed the ACCEPT button on the autopilot and the nose came up a little as the computer took over. The plane banked to the right, then to the left. Ridley kept his hand lightly on the controller, still looking for landmarks. All of the desert looked the same from up here.
“Hey Jack, how you doin’?” a familiar voice drawled over the radio.
“Captain Kincheloe, how you doin’?” Jack mimicked him. Iven Kincheloe was one of the best test pilots out there, but he wasn’t scheduled to fly chase today. He was much farther away from the base than he would have been unless he took off before the flameout even occurred.. Good old Iven, Jack thought. Just the guy to watch your back, even if he was a little too perfect.
“Just flyin’ around son, and thought I’d look in on you. The ’chine is lookin’ real good, from here.”
“Good to know that. The computer’s doin’ all the work now. I’m just enjoyin’ the ride.”
The regular chase planes picked up the two as they dropped below Mach one, and the four planes came into the lake bed runway as smoothly as any other landing. As they touched down, the twenty-five engineers and flight controllers in the tower exploded into cheers. They were crammed almost elbow to elbow, and all of them had been necessary to calculate the numbers that brought the X-6 back in safely.
“Tank you, gentlemen,” Dornberger said as he dismissed them, his German accent more evident than usual. “Your help today was vital to de success of de mission. I salute you for your excellent work under pressure. Tomorrow ve vill analyze de scramjet fault.” He stumped out of the room and down the stairs. As the door closed, one engineer muttered to another, “Damn. A ‘tanks’ from Dornberger. This must have been more serious than I thought!”
On the runway, Ridley climbed out of the cockpit and dropped to the ground. Kincheloe met him next to the plane, which was still radiating heat from its composite skin.
“You had us worried for a minute, Jack. That engine was not supposed to cut out like that. All the wind tunnel and computer testing…”
“Don’t I know it,” Jack interrupted. “There’s an airflow problem, that’s a fact. She kicked a little hard when she cut out.” He smiled at the blond pilot. “But, hey, that’s why we’re test pilots, right?” He slapped Kincheloe on the back, laughing.
Dornberger watched the two men walk back to the hangar, shaking his head. “De tink de live forever,” he muttered to himself. “De tink dey are invincible. If dey didn’t, ve vould be in big trouble right now.” Still shaking his head, he went back to his office. He didn’t have to understand them, just give them planes to fly, faster and faster planes.
Slow going right now. Busy, so less time to write, but also I’ve been having to reread stuff I read a couple of years ago. Specifically, it’s the George Dyson “Project Orion” book I’ve had to go back to right now. I recommend it highly, by the way. What a great time i their lives it must have been for those guys, in 1958 and ’59, working out the physics of travel around the solar system with spaceships that could lift 4,000 tons. They had a brand-new research facility in a gorgeous location, excellent leadership, and a million dollars from the US Government to “think about stuff.” They came up with incredible ideas – and many of those are still classified today!
The Draka version is a bit different, of course. In our world, nuclear test ban treaties shut Orion down before it ever had a real chance to be built. I don’t think the Alliance for Democracy would ever agree to a nuclear test ban with the Domination! Besides, the Alliance owned the Pacific, giving them ample opportunity to launch big stuff from small, remote islands if the desert southwest of the US got too crowded.
My first test of a sub-sized prototype Orion takes place at Jackass Flats, of course. It was actually a test site used by General Atomics, as well as a place where the prototype nuclearramjet engine was tested for Project Pluto. (Now there was a scary piece of hardware!)
The Righteous Stuff
by Jeffrey D. Waggoner
based on characters and situations in the
“Domination of the Draka” novels written by S.M. Stirling
ODENATHUS FLIGHT TESTING FACILITY
DOMINATION OF THE DRAKA
The horizon was spinning dizzily, and Jaeger had to force himself to watch his instruments instead. The centrifugal force caused by the roll was trying to force him to push the sidestick to the right; he physically had to pull it back at the same time as he was trying to stay oriented. So far the roll was along the long axis of the aircraft – if other oscillations started to show up, Jaeger figured he would not even know it. He fully expected the plane to disintegrate at that point. All that liquid oxygen behind him would make for a spectacular explosion, if nothing else.
Jaeger fought to focus on the altimeter. He thought it said 8,000 meters and dropping, but he couldn’t be sure. The needle was spinning awfully fast. The roll was clockwise, and it was taking everything he had to hold the stick as far left as he could. Why couldn’t he pull out of the spin? It was as if the control surfaces were having practically no effect.
The roll had started so fast that Jaeger had no idea what caused it. One second the plane was climbing at full throttle at about 15 degrees, then the plane snapped into the roll and Jaeger instinctively slammed the throttle back. The plane arced over but if anything the spin increased, even with no power.
By now Jaeger’s vision was graying out. The altimeter showed under five thousand meters and the plane had to be diving almost straight down. Jaeger knew he should eject before he lost consciousness, but the unwritten rule of “save the aircraft” was a part of his life, and he was convinced the plane should be coming out of the spin at any moment.
Three thousand meters, two thousand nine hundred… Maybe it was time. Almost no strength left. Jaeger reached above his head and pulled the canopy eject lever. With a roar, the slipstream caught him and slammed his head back into the headrest. With the last bit of strength he had, Jaeger reached down and pulled as hard as he could on the ejection seat handle.
Almost every test pilot had spent some time in the hospital, and most of them had one of two similar stories. They were dragged from an aircraft smoking in pieces on the ground, or they awoke in a hospital bed, with absolutely no idea how they got there.
This time Jaeger opened his eyes in a typical military-issue hospital room that could have been anywhere in the Domination. He had no earthly idea why he was there until he tried to turn his head. The pain in his neck was so severe he almost lost consciousness. He tried to groan, but was rewarded with only a weak, guttural growl. He faded out again.
The next time he awoke it seemed every muscle in his body was on fire. This time the groan was much more satisfying. He remembered enough that he didn’t even try to turn his head.
A couple of minutes later a serf nurse came in, smiling brightly. “Waal, Cohotarch, it’s lookin’ like y’all might live.” She was middle-aged and more matronly than a Draka female would be, and she moved purposefully around the room, adjusting equipment out of Jaeger’s view and talking to him as she went. “Youse was pretty busted up when they dragged yo’ sorry ass in heah. Concussion, bruises everwheres, busted ribs – but no major broken bones, and yo’ spleen shoulda been turned to jelly, but it’s not. Youse one lucky boyo, you is.”
“How…long?” Jaeger squeezed out of his throat.
“How long ya been heah? Three days, or thereabouts, since y’all made a big ole smokin’ crater in the desert outa that-there airplane. We kept y’all under for a couple days so you wouldn’t try to run around.”
Jaeger groaned again. And the airplane? Which airplane? He had no idea what had happened. The last thing he remembered was…well, what did he remember before this? He really wasn’t sure. He had memories, sure, but they seemed completely disjointed. Growing up, flying, the War, the wedding…Freya, he had a wife! Did she know he was OK? And what was her name? He could picture her face, smiling from the back of a horse, but her name was gone.
The nurse was making notes on a chart. She looked up, surprised. “Sweet l’il piece o’ meat like you is married? I don’ know if she was called or not. You stay right here, I’ll go check.”
Jaeger would have chuckled if the painkillers weren’t knocking him out again. You stay right here. Sure.
The Technical Directorate team was a humorless bunch. Four of them sat in Jaeger’s hospital room, making notes and firing questions at him. He still couldn’t move much, and every movement sent fire through his limbs, but he could talk, after a fashion.
“So, Cohotarch, could you describe to us one mo’ time what the flight conditions were before the roll started?” The Tech Directorate investigator furthest on Jaeger’s right was speaking. He seemed to ask more questions than the other three put together. They had been at it over an hour as it was, and the truth was, he could barely remember anything at all. They didn’t seem to care, and just seemed to enjoy asking him the questions, the same damn questions, over and over again.
“Tole ya. Normal. No problems. Normal climb. Been ovah this b’fore.” Jaeger’s throat was sore. “Tele-telemetry?”
Tech boy #1 was obviously unhappy. “Nothin’ there. Seemed normal ta’ us, too.” He frowned even deeper. “And y’all din’ leave us with much to look at. Freya-damned thing is bein’ picked up with a spoon.” He held up an twenty-by-twenty five centimeter glossy photo.
It showed a crater and not much else. There were five technicians in the photo, so Jaeger figured the blast area was over fifteen meters in diameter. He suspected there was some fuel, and maybe liquid oxygen left in the tanks when the plane hit. There were bits of metal lying around, most of them unrecognizable.
Jaeger took as deep a breath as he could. “Taiil? Miss-sing?”
Tech boy #2 spoke up. ‘We was hopin’ yah could tell us about that. We can’t find it – any of it. It wasn’t blown clear. Pieces of the engine should be there.”
At least that explained why Jaeger couldn’t pull out of the roll. Maybe the entire back half of the plane had come off. But if it did, why wasn’t there an explosion? That much liquid oxygen should have made a huge fireball.
“Well, Cohotarch, you were a lucky so-an’-so,” the man Jaeger was thinking of now as Senior Technician said the next day.
Jaeger was a little more alert. “I know, but specifically, how so?”
“We foun’ the tail. It was four an’a half klicks away…smashed up, but mos’ly intact.” He handed over a photograph.
“Sheee-it.” The tail was recognizable but mangled like a giant had taken it in two hands and twisted. “It didn’t just fall off, did it?”
“No, Cohotarch, it surely did not. It looked like three of the main fuselage spars snapped – and they shouldn’t have. Somethin’ makes me think they had a little help.”
Jaeger sat up straighter in the hospital bed despite the pain. “Sabotage? Here?” It wasn’t unheard of, of course…but out here, away from everyone and everything, with all the precautions and security checks…it would be highly unlikely.”
The tech smiled. “Now, don’t be lookin’ foah Yankees unda’ every bush! It had to be done when the plane was bein’ built, an’ that wasn’t heah. We reported it to the Security Directorate and they will be investigatin’ back Egypt ’way.”
“The very same, “the tech agreed. They’ve been buildin’ aircraft for years down there, an’ doin’ some of their own testin’. Since the irrigation system got finished the sandstorms are a thing of the past.” He stood. “Anyways, Ah’m sure you are happy to know it wasn’t one of your own people.”
Jaeger frowned. “My own people? Pilots?”
“A competitive bunch. Ah would not be surprised. Not that Citizen murderin’ Citizen is unheard of…but it is rare, and usually is a crime of passion or revenge.” And with that thought, Cohotarch, Ah bid you good day.”
Jaeger closed his eyes. I never though about sabotage by my fellow pilots. I just assumed we all felt the same about flyin’…I suppose one of us could want it so much as to kill for it. Could I kill another pilot if he or she stood in my way?
I’m at 92K words with about five or so major scenes yet to do. Being this close also makes the structure of the second book clearer. Yes, there may be a second book – if I can sell the first one. I really have three books in mind, encompassing the years 1950 to 2000, all from the US viewpoint rather than that of the Draka. I’m on Chapter 42 of probably 50 or so. More to write this weekend!