Flight of Shadows -1-

I was all alone nearly 10 miles above the Earth.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. None of the characters, places, or anything else is meant to be represented by anything in reality. Duh! Fiction, get it? I the author reserve the rights, so please don't go posting this anyplace else without my permission. A very special thanks goes out to Cathy for making this story readable. Another round of thanks goes out to all the others out there in BCTS land who have encouraged and inspired me to write and keep writing. Any remaining mistakes are all mine.

Chapter One

I was all alone nearly 10 miles above the Earth. It was absurdly ironic that I rode the most advanced aircraft the US Air Force had ever developed, and it was completely electrical free. No smart multifunction screens or so much as a battery powered light rode on this bird. My instruments would've been right at home in the old fabric covered biplanes if they hadn't, like everything else on this bird, been stripped of anything metallic or radar reflective and made as light as possible.

On the other hand, a Shadow Flyer wasn't unpowered for all it resembled a glider. Most certainly it was underpowered using a compressed air-driven shrouded impeller, but it did have power. Hell, it even had a small compressor powered by my body heat, by way of a low compression sterling engine, to refill the air-tanks. Needless to say it was a slow process, but it worked. Besides the cutting edge materials of my flight/pressure suit that harnessed that heat kept me from freezing this far above Mother Earth.

I'm told my grandparent's generation laughed when the Chinese launched their first rockets into space. They even have a space program? However, my fellow Colorado Springs Cadets wondered and worried when the first Chinese Space Stations were put up and became even more concerned when their space to Earth power-sats went on line.

After Hawaii, no one is laughing.

Nothing that could produce any kind of electrical or magnetic field could be chanced on-board this bird. That was why a good old fashioned human being was behind the stick and rudder of this flying bomb instead of a computer or data-link from the ground. What little heat and detectable emanations I produced were carefully shielded by the small cramped cockpit.

Taking a star reading, I checked my maps and charts by glow stick. I'd drifted a little off course, but that was easily fixed. I was 'feet dry,' over land and officially in Injun Country. Glancing down at Red China, I had to smirk that it didn't look red. Even though the US, Korea, Japan and Taiwan were officially at war with the People's Republic of China, the PRC hadn't even bothered with blackouts. I could see their cities lit up far down below.

I suppose after destroying the US 7th Fleet and having troops on the ground in Taiwan, they felt like they'd already won. South Korea and Japan, which were still major US Allies, technically remained at at war with them, but were under an informal ceasefire. Japan, with all of its volcanoes, was spooked as hell that they would be the next Hawaii. I can't blame them too much since the resulting tsunami from Hawaii had been as bad as the one from that bad quake they had a few years before. South Korea couldn't forget that their unstable northern neighbor, North Korea with its massive army, was still allied with Red China.

My chronometer and airspeed indicator gave me the numbers I needed, two more hours. The rubbery taste from the air mask was becoming as annoying as being nearly being unable to move in the tight space. Our trainers had briefed us on the fighter pilots of WWII over Europe and the long extended missions they used to fly in much the same conditions.

This mission was just as long as any of theirs and certainly more dangerous. It was no lie when I said I'd signed up for a suicide flight. Oh, sure we had a chance to make it back, but really, on foot in China with only the contents of one small bag?

The odds were not good.

Most of us privately decided to make damn sure our payload had active terminal guidance all the way to the target if you know what I mean. It would be a ride into glory like no other just like Slim Pickens' riding his H-bomb to heaven or hell.

At first I'd agreed with the majority, but had changed my mind after a lot of soul searching and thought. My entire family was gone. There might be some very extended cousins out there somewhere, but nobody I knew or personally cared for. What changed my mind was the very fact that I was the last. I knew they would want me to go on no matter how much my very blood boiled in anger.

Honestly, I can't say my plan was any less nuts than suicide, but I think it was outside of the box. The very reason I'd been selected, besides having the necessary skills to do the job and being able fit in the cramped cockpit, was because I wasn't Chinese.

Well, really I was, sorta, but after spending generations in the US and a couple of intermarriages, I looked ambiguous at best. I appeared just as Hispanic as I did Asian and honestly my facial features just didn't pass. Just as telling was, while I understood Chinese fairly well, I was a very long ways from being fluent. All I would have to do was open my mouth and the jig would be up.

However, Chinese-Americans were under a great deal of suspicion given the War. Just like with Japanese-Americans during WWII we weren't trusted. The only reason even I with my remote Chinese heritage had been considered was just because of Hawaii. There wasn't a single soul in China that could be held hostage against me or anywhere else for that matter. They were all gone.

Looking down, I checked my course again. Everything was good, but I was losing a little altitude. Checking the pressure of my compressed-air fuel, I dared run the impeller for 20 minutes to gain what height I'd lost and a little more besides. The barely audible slow thump of the Sterling engine as it refilled the reservoir was reassuring. I should have full tanks of air by the time I hit the target area.

The fact I was still alive said I had been undetected. The Chinese had proved once again that he who held the high ground had a decisive advantage. That just meant you had to be really, really sneaky.

Looking literally though my Shadow Flyer wing, I grinned behind my air mask. The entire thing was a specially developed areogel like material, but it also was much stronger and more flexible than the usual brittle Styrofoam like gels.

Most aerogels were a transparent smoky blue, but this one was actually clearer than any glass. Closeup your eyes had to take time to figure just what they were looking at. At a distance, say 10 miles up, it was about as invisible as they came. Wonder Woman's Invisible Jet, it wasn't, but besides the carefully camouflaged cockpit assembly the whole thing was like a giant see-though model.

Honestly, I knew only generalities about it all just in case I was captured. No one expected our enemies to abide by Prisoner Of War conventions. There was a reason why so many of my fellow Shadow Flyer pilots opted for the stay-on-target 'glory' route.

However, back to my point, I'd performed the most dangerous part of the flight, running the motor, and I was still alive. Sure it was non-metallic and radar transparent as well as producing no heat except for air friction, but you couldn't be too careful.

The whole B-2 Stealth fleet had been decimated by the Chinese orbital defenses and intercepting fighters. Stealthy yes, but the new Chinese advances had enabled them to be found anyways. It was that high-ground thing again with their space stations and satellites being devilishly effective.

But no, wait! There aren't any weapons involved with our space program and our power-sats are strictly for civilian purposes. Like right. The real problem had always been targeting and once they beat that, it was easy to use them as weapons. Power-sats don't need to actively maneuver at a moments notice, but weapons do in order to be aimed.

Carefully surveying my data and maps, I was finally approaching Fusang One, the ground station and receiving dish for the Tiangong 5, their primary space station and power-sat relay. That was the other thing that got me into the Program. If I might say so myself, I was a very good old fashioned traditional navigator. Sure I have computer generated maps, charts and graphics to help me on my way but there wasn't any GPS anymore. Zap, the Hou-Yi satellites took them right out. So it was just me and that was it.

Since they used microwaves to beam the power down, there wasn't a glowing beam or anything like to mark the spot. There was the big receiving rectenna farm visible even as far away as I was.

It was time.

Going over the checklist strapped to my thigh, I went down the list. Maps and charts were secured in their special compartment ensuring their destruction and preventing the enemy from backtracking my flight. Visual scan of the cockpit to check for foreign objects which might interfere with my ejection. A double check of my survival kit to make damn sure it was secure and in place.

Lastly I took my voder off. I really hadn't needed it for this flight, but it was there just in case. My handlers had insisted upon it after they heard my insane plan. It went into the same box as the maps to make certain it was destroyed.

I pushed the stick over.

It felt damn weird after stately gliding along for so long. Flying so high the sensation of speed was negligible. Suddenly it felt like I was zipping madly forward, but I knew that was most definitely an illusion. At the most, a Shadow Flyer could make perhaps 300 mph and that was on a really good day in the steepest dive. Speed wasn't what they were designed for.

The altimeter was winding down fast and still no reactions from space, air or ground. That was a good thing all considered. You see, a Shadow Flyer had another very special property. The aerogel of which it was constructed was also a highly condensed super-powerful explosive. It was like piloting an aircraft made out of nitrocellulose or plastic explosives. It takes a very specific set of circumstances to trigger it, so it was mostly safe until needed … mostly.

Hey, I admit the entire Project was insane, but as others have learned you put the US's back to the wall and we can get ... creative. Hell, I'll freely admit I haven't a clue as to who fired the first shot in this mess. You get a lot of people and hardware in each others' faces and something is going to happen. However, the People's Republic was definitely the primary pusher in their drive to occupy Taiwan. They clearly started this.

They were also the ones to put the 7th Fleet at the bottom of the Philippine Sea for their declaration of war. Hawaii, I'm not going to talk about.

Markings on my canopy helped me calculate the correct glide path as I swooped down on my target. After hours of doing nothing, here were the moments of stark terror my veteran combat instructors at the Air Force Academy had promised me.

How strange that I felt so calm.

Instead of my life flashing before my eyes, I saw instead my family; Grandfather Feng, one of most gentle people I've ever known; Grandmother Hui always with a gentle smile and out with her flowers; Little Sister Kelly, the Goth who often forgot she was supposed to be dark and brooding; Father and his mischievous eyes always with some secret behind them; and my Mother who had resisted my application to the Academy, but who'd supported me anyways.

Somehow I knew they didn't want me to die, and were with me to help me live.

The rectenna filled the windscreen. I waited until the inscribed target square on the canopy was filled and waited a very long One Mississippi. Shadow Flyers being mostly gliders were very stable flight platforms and the rectenna was very big.

Time to leave.

One handle locked the stick and rudder in place while the last used the compressed air that ran the impeller to blow the canopy and blast my ejection seat out into the early cold winter's morning.

It reminded me of being body slammed by Max, my arch wrestling nemesis back in high school in Hilo. However the whirling, twisting jerk as my chute opened was unique to itself. Knowing I should turn my head away, instead I had to look.

Fusang One had what we hoped was a design flaw. Rather then being flat the Rectenna receiving site was dish shaped to protect the surrounding area from any possible dangers from the microwaves being beamed down. Tiangong 5 was directly over it in a geostationary orbit. Additionally, there was the nearby vast transformer farm from hell. If you could deliver a big enough boom you could channel it all straight back up … in theory.

The unbelievably concentrated explosive power of my Shadow Flyer entered the beam. It was equivalent to tens of tons of normal TNT. The shock wave threw my chute away like a tissue in a tornado.

Waking in a dangerously leaning tree, icy fluid ran though my veins. How much time had passed? Crap!

I knew how I would be treated if found, and who knew how much time I'd wasted being unconscious. Silly thought I know, but that is how I felt. A quick function check told me I was mostly unhurt. Battered as hell, but everything worked.

Using my panic, I managed to yank down the remains of my chute and bury it. Next came my flight suit and helmet. In the freezing morning air, I dressed in the clothing I'd brought with me. My special accessories went inside my jacket. It was time to run!

Getting some distance was a good thing and besides with the rectenna being hidden in a valley I couldn't see just how much payback I'd manged to dish out. The sun was rising too which meant Tiangong 5 was hidden from sight too.

No, it was time to worry about getting Tommy's ass out of China. In no time at all I was dirty from falling and, along with my bruises, I hoped I would fit the part I needed to play.

One thing was for sure, it'd been one hell of a blast. I'd traveled miles and still I was passing half uprooted trees. Despite the survival and evasion training all of us Shadow Fliers had undergone, I was feeling the stress of flying a very long mission, ejecting, and being knocked unconscious.

My handlers had been surprised at my plan, but had helped me refine it. As one had said it was drastic, but so was Doolittle's Raid and some of the other wild things war had forced people to do.

I was near a town, and that meant people. It was time. Slipping out my special package, I unwrapped the mask. I'd shaved my head in preparation for this, but I still needed the cream I'd been given to slide it on. Warmed by my body heat it wasn't too bad an ordeal smearing it all over my head.

We all knew our handlers had to be CIA, but even I was surprised when mine arrived with this mask after telling them my plan. Perhaps I shouldn't have been given that movie Argo, but it did settle one worry. Others who tried using masks in the past to commit crimes or other mischief had been caught because the makers recognized their work and kept records of their sales. This one was a one of a kind made just for me so no such worries.

Seating the mask, I took a deep breath. Staying in character meant life or death now. Hobbling over to the road, I stumped slowly into the town that clearly showed it'd been damaged by my attack on Fusang One.

I truly hoped no one here had been hurt. They weren't to blame for their government and military's policies. On the other hand, my grief and anger still burned strong so I didn't regret my actions one damn bit. Maybe some day I would, but it wouldn't be soon.

People were busy dealing with the broken glass from the shock wave and other minor damage. All were much too engaged in their own problems to worry about me. Additionally, I looked just like them. Dirty and disheveled from the unpleasant wake-up call, they weren't at their best.

I'd gotten maybe halfway though town before I was stopped the very first time. The good news was I didn't have to fake just how bone deep weary I felt.

The Chinese military SUV looked a lot like a Jeep Cherokee to my American eyes, but the guys in the green Peoples Armed Police uniforms were anything but. Carrying bull-pup QBZ-95 assault rifles they were stirred up and ready for bear.

The leader, a Shao Xiao, equivalent to a major, demanded my identification.

Looking miserable, I copied the gesture I'd been taught by my handlers. Think of patting your pockets to show you didn’t have them on you.

Of course he got in my face, so I flinched back and didn't answer.

Two of the Special policemen got off the truck to grab me.

That's when I opened my mouth to show the stump of my tongue and toothless mouth.

Astonished, they backed off and after a moment the officer commanded them to let me go.

“I apologize Grandmother. Be on your way.” He said, in Chinese of course.

I don't suppose he thought that an American Pilot would go to such lengths to avoid capture. He didn't know me very well did he, to paraphrase a certain cartoon character from my youth. To be sure, my handlers had grudgingly admitted it might work.

True, I had fake ID cards, but I didn't want anyone to look too closely at them. Anyone running one though the system would know immediately. My best defense was appearing as the last possible person anyone would think of as an American Air Force pilot.

If I made it home, new regeneration technology could rebuild my tongue and even implant teeth. It made it better that it was going to be on Uncle Sugar's dime. That's if I made it. Trust me! I knew just how big an if that was. No bookie would dare take on those odds.

Slowly continuing on my way, I headed into the rising sun. It was going to be a very long walk home.

To be continued

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