Out Of The Dark – Snippet 20

He shook the thought aside and looked out through the superb vision of his one-piece bubble canopy. The F-22 had been designed for stealth from the ground up, and external fuel tanks were about as unstealthy as aircraft got. Nonetheless, they’d left Plattsburgh carrying four of them each, extending their operational range. They’d dropped them over Randolph, New York, three hundred and twenty miles from takeoff, which gave them roughly another thousand miles on internal fuel. If Robinson’s prediction was on the money, that would be all the range they’d ever need.

Now, looking out, he could see the other three fighters holding formation on him, and he found himself wishing they had AWACS support. They didn’t, but at least they did have the F-22’s AN/APG-77 active electronically scanned array radar, which was the next best thing. With a range of two hundred fifty miles in the current upgrade, it offered superb threat detection and identification capabilities. It was capable of tracking multiple targets simultaneously and allowing its pilot to “manage” the battle space as no previous fighter aircraft had ever allowed, and it was a low probability of intercept system, practically impossible for conventional radar warning receivers to detect. Unfortunately, he had no idea whether that would hold true for aliens capable of interstellar flight. Somehow, he wasn’t filled with optimism.

They were on their own now, although he’d managed to set up a data link with Robinson. He hadn’t brought it online yet, but the people who’d been so busy blowing up cities and air bases hadn’t bothered with taking out any of the communication and GPS satellites . . . yet, at least. It was loss of ground stations — the physical destruction of bases — which had torn such holes in the communications net, so he was confident Robinson would be there whenever he brought the link online.

Assuming, of course, that he survived long enough to do anything of the sort. Then again —

He stiffened as a spray of icons appeared suddenly on his heads-up display.

“Flight, Longbow,” he said over the multifunction advanced data link, using the call sign he’d been assigned when his flight school instructors discovered he’d been on his high school archery team. “Acquisition. We go as planned.”

Brief acknowledgments came back. The MADL had been specifically designed to allow stealth aircraft to communicate and share data without compromising their stealthiness. It combined latency and frequency-hopping through array antenna assemblies that sent tightly directed radio signals between platforms. Hopefully, the bad guys — whoever or whatever the hell they were — weren’t going to pick it up. Or, looked at another way, Torino supposed, if the bad guys were going to pick it up, then his four fighters were already toast.

He looked out at the other planes. They were spreading farther apart, settling into their preplanned approach, and he returned his attention to the HUD’s icons.

There were thirty-six of them, each indicating an airborne target moving at just under six hundred miles per hour, two hundred miles in front of his fighters. Their targets were moving roughly southeast, crossing their range, and he watched the displays projecting the target envelope of the six AIM-120-D AMRAAM “Slammers” nestled in his aircraft’s internal weapons bays. The geometry meant he and his flight were closing the range at a shade better than seven hundred miles per hour — call it twelve miles per minute — with a range basket for the Slammers of better than a hundred miles. Of course, the closer he got, the higher his probability of kill became, which made it a trade-off between launch point and the point at which his aircraft could be detected, and he didn’t know damn-all about the systems which might do that detecting….

He thought about that for a few moments, trying to weigh and balance factors when he knew nothing at all about the opposition’s capabilities. Then he decided.

“Flight, Longbow. Launch in ten mikes from… mark.”

His left hand was busy, and target designations appeared on his HUD as his onboard computers handed them off to the rest of the flight. They continued
arrowing straight towards their targets . . . who ambled along, apparently without a care in the world even as the range dropped to less than a hundred miles. The alien shuttles simply flew onward in their neat formation, stacked in twelve triangular flights of three, and Torino found himself shaking his head.

Well, he thought, that answers one question. They can’t pick up our radar.


Shuttle Commander Fardahm checked his instruments and flexed his ears in satisfaction.

Fardahm had always secretly envied his fellow pilots who’d been assigned to command the Deathwing assault shuttles. They were the ones who saw all the excitement, got to deliver the troops close to the action, even got to join the hunt when air support was called in. Pilots like Fardahm didn’t. Most of the time, at least; there were exceptions. This was his third deployment, and his Starlander-class shuttle had been tasked to deliver an entire infantry battalion behind an enemy position to cut off retreat as part of a major attack on his last one.

Normally, though, that wasn’t what Starlanders were for. They were the heavy-lift shuttles, designed to transport armored vehicles, construction equipment, large numbers of passengers, and general supplies rather than the combat infantry the Deathwings normally hauled around. They were also unarmed and a good twenty percent slower than the supersonic assault shuttles which were designed to provide ground support for their troops. “Trash haulers,” the Deathwing pilots called them, and Fardahm had to admit that sometimes it rankled. Not that he intended ever to admit it to a living soul.

Well, they can call us what they like, but they’d play hell getting anything bigger than a foot-slogger down on this ball of dirt without us! Yeah, and who hauls most of the ammunition those hotshots get to shoot off? Not to mention the food they stuff into their faces!

His ears twitched in derisive amusement, but he had to confess — to himself, at least — that he was more nervous than usual about this op. A Level Two civilization was a hell of a lot more advanced than the primitives they’d been up against in his previous two deployments. He’d watched the long-range imagery of the kinetic strikes going in, taking out the locals’ military infrastructure, and been frankly delighted to see it. The night-side strikes had been especially impressive, but what had most impressed Fardahm was the knowledge that each of those pinprick boils of light had been blotting away creatures with far better ability to kill Shongair infantry troopers than any other species the Empire had ever conquered. Personally, though he hadn’t mentioned it to anyone, he didn’t envy the foot-sloggers, this time around. Usually, they got to have all the fun — not to mention the choicer cuts of any local prey — but this time they might just find themselves up against adversaries with real firearms, and that could be nasty.

On the other hand, these critters do have a fairly advanced communications ability, he reflected. That means all of them are going to know we’ve already kicked Cainharn’s own hells out of them. We’re not going to have to physically march all over the entire damned planet to get that message across to every isolated little group of primitives. So it’s probably actually going to be easier for the grunts this time, now that I think about it.