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The Final Countdown (Version 1.0)


Volume II




by Amerigo Vespucci







Chapter 12: The Enemy of my Enemy

February 19, 1942
Tokyo, Japan

The job was getting to Admiral Mineichi Koga. It wasn’t the long hours, the impossible workload, or even the difficulties of dealing with intransigent Army officers. Those factors could be handled with enough effort and tolerance. After all, hadn’t he been able to deal with impatient generals in China? Yes, they hadn’t been as entrenched in their ways as the impossible generals of the IJA, but they still thought the same — victory above all, preferably a victory that cast themselves in the best possible light.

There had been plenty of those in the first days of the war — the successes in Malaya, the landings in the Philippines and the Dutch territories, even the capture of Hong Kong. Koga’s reassignment away from that battle had allowed the Army to take most of the credit for the battle, which ended on Christmas Day as the city fell to forces advancing from the north.

But things had slowed to a crawl for both branches of the service. Confirmation of Koga’s theory about the destruction of the First Expeditionary Force had come through translated American papers. That had been a small victory, one that mattered only due to the lack of success on the battlefield. The Philippines had largely fallen, but American forces still held out in force, tying down Gen. Homma’s troops. Homma needed reinforcements, Koga knew, but was too proud to ask. In any event, there were no major formations available to reinforce him, particularly with the damnable Nimitz roaming the Pacific, possibly striking at any time.

The troops that could have otherwise gone to Homma — those of General Yamashita in Malaya — were tied down fighting British forces that, if the American papers didn’t lie, should have already surrendered. Their continued resistance was frustrating for the Army, and it had made its commanders even more intractable. He sighed, then had an idea. He scribbled quickly on a sheet of paper, trying to get the idea down before it vanished from his mind. Many orders had to be written for what he had in mind, and he called in several lesser officers to assist with the maps and drafting needed for the plan.

Time went by as they scribbled while he directed, consulting an enormous map of the Pacific that had been brought in. "Sir?" He looked up to see one of his aides with a folder in his hand. "Admiral, it is time for your appointment with the German ambassador." Damnation, he thought, was it four o’ clock already? Extracting his watch from the uniform coat’s pocket, he saw that it was indeed 1545, almost time for the meeting. With a grumble, he extracted himself from the discussions with his aides, heading upstairs from the concrete-walled basement offices of the Naval Ministry.

The meeting was to take place in one of the opulent upstairs meeting rooms that were built for important negotiations. It was a risk, Koga knew, going outside of the regular channels. The foreign minister hadn’t been consulted for the conference, Koga preferring to meet with the ambassador with limited interference. If things went well, they could bring in the Minister at a later date. There would be a flunky there to represent the Foreign Ministry, someone friendly to the Navy, and who incidentally didn’t speak German. Neither did Koga, but there would be a translator there as well. He arrived in the office and began reading his briefing papers.

Captain Yushida, the man he had set on solving the problem of the Nimitz, had arranged for the meeting. He had been following up on Koga’s orders to discover the capabilities of the devil-ship and determine a way to defeat it. Yushida had been from one end of Japan to the other, trying to find a program in Japan’s arsenal of weapons that could have any bearing on how and why the Americans had been able to find and destroy the First Expeditionary Force with such ease. The captain had interviewed the few scarred survivors of the Fleet and tried to match what they said with the dreams of engineers across Japan. And dreams they would be, if the American newspaper reports were accurate. A few damn fools in the Army still didn’t believe the stories, but the disasters at Pearl Harbour and Kwajelain had been enough to convince almost everyone.

Ironically, the news reports from America had been their best leads, giving information that Naval intelligence and the secret police hadn’t been able to dig up before America’s Japanese population had been interned. Naval intelligence had been particularly disappointed at the removal of the Japanese population from the Hawaiian Islands. That had broken several vital surveillance rings, he saw in the briefing forms. Translations of the American articles were included in the folder as well. He’d already read most of them separately, but it was nice to have a refresher before meeting with the Germans. He made a mental note to commend Yushida for his thoroughness.

The meeting itself had come about when Yushida, having exhausted his sources of inquiry within Japan, had begun inquiring among foreign attaches for any sort of lead. The result had been this meeting. Koga hoped it would be fruitful.

There was a knock at the door of the room. "Come in."

"Admiral, Captain Yushida is here with Ambassador Ott and Herr Stahmer."

"Very well, show them in." Koga noticed the aide hadn’t mentioned the man from the Foreign Ministry. He evidently didn’t think any higher of the man than Koga did.

Eugen Ott, Koga saw, was a fairly unremarkable man for someone who held the rank of major general. The briefing file had included a short biography of both Ott and Heinrich Stahmer, the German military attaché. Ott had arrived in Tokyo in the mid-‘30s to serve as military attaché, taking over as ambassador in 1938. He had been instrumental in the negotiations that made Japan a member of the Tripartite Pact, and was currently working with the Foreign Ministry to negotiate a technology-sharing arrangement. While that would be nice, under the new circumstances, the Army would be sure to dominate the partnership with Germany.

"Good afternoon, Herr Ambassador," Koga said through Yushida. "Please take a seat. I hope your trip across town was not too stressful."

That was an opening for small talk, the bread and butter of any diplomatic discussion. Koga personally detested it. China had been far simpler — negotiations with Army commanders about their naval support on the rivers and along the coastlines had been quick and polite, if not friendly. Gruff men dealing with other gruff men didn’t have time for the niceties of diplomatic negotiation. It was all done over a bottle of sake at dinner, usually. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be the case here.

And it wasn’t. After about an hour of discussing topics as inconsequential as the weather, fishing, and the latest sumo competition — about which Ott was surprisingly knowledgeable — Koga was growing impatient, and the Foreign Ministry representative had fallen asleep in a back corner of the office. "I believe it is time we begin discussing what we came here to discuss."

Yushida translated quickly for Ott and Stahmer, then turned back to Koga. "Admiral, with your permission, I would like to explain. The Germans have come up with what they believe is an explanation for some of the American weapons." He paused as Ott said something. "Sir, the Germans have a way to reveal ships and aircraft at a distance. They have been experimenting with it for several years now. They call it RADAR." That last word was by necessity not translated. He then launched into a complicated explanation that Koga largely didn’t understand.

Despite that, Koga nodded sagely when Yushida finished. "So we cannot hope to duplicate this system?"

"No, Admiral. I have spoken with our best radio engineers. They have heard of such a system, but no more. We would require detailed research in order to deploy one RADAR unit. We could ask the Germans for assistance, sir." Koga pretended to think it over.

"That would be a matter for the technology negotiations. We need results sooner, however. Is there a way to fight this RADAR, or at the very least detect its use? We must be able to at least detect when the Nimitz is near!" He pounded his fist on the desk for emphasis. "If we do not, we may as well give up the war now. The Americans will be able to strike at will and be gone before we can react."

Yushida paled at the demonstration of Koga’s temper and the plain announcement of the possibility of failure. Yushida had never heard an Admiral speak in such plain tones. Such things were only talked about with close friends, and only after a large bottle of rice wine. Despite his shock, Yushida translated. The reply was long, and Yushida had to ask for the meanings of words several times. His grasp of German didn’t extend easily to some of the scientific terms.

"Herr Stahmer says there are possibilities, including jammers not dissimilar to the ones used to block radio transmissions. He suggests that it may be difficult to jam such signals without knowledge of the theory used to create them. In addition, forty years of progress may create an advantage impossible to overcome. He does suggest some possibilities for detection, however. RADAR simply consists of radio signals altered to reflect off objects, like light reflecting off a mirror. Herr Ott has observed that RADAR signals can be detected by an ordinary radio attuned to the correct frequency. Enough radios scanning frequencies will pick up a distinct noise. Interestingly enough, Herr Stahmer has said that in German experiments, the signal can be picked up at far longer distances than the RADAR itself works."

"And what of the drawbacks of such a system?"

Yushida hesitated. "Searching for the signal will not be easy. It would require dozens, if not hundreds of radios, scanning frequencies for days at a time. If the radios failed to pick up the signal, it wouldn’t necessarily mean that the RADAR isn’t there… only that we were looking in the wrong frequency."

Koga sighed. Such a system would be extremely costly to operate, and the Imperial Navy didn’t have many radios to spare. The Japanese electronics industry did not have the capability to produce many radios, and those it could produce were generally less efficient than those of the Western nations. Still, it was better than nothing. "Thank them for their help, Captain. I will begin arranging for such a system to be developed. They will be more than welcome to any results we obtain. Now, let us discuss the American aircraft."

The discussion would stretch for several more hours, as Koga, Yushida, and the Germans discussed the American carrier and tactics to learn more about it and eventually defeat it. The Germans learned much about the capabilities of the American carrier, almost as much as the Japanese did about how it was able to accomplish its destruction. As the clock turned to midnight, both sides agreed to adjourn, an agreement in hand. In exchange for German technical assistance in setting up the RADAR detector, Koga agreed to release what information the IJN had on the Nimitz and its aircraft, including samples of the materials taken from the crashed aircraft. Those would be loaded on a U-boat and taken to Europe. Further cooperation could be arranged by the Foreign Ministry in its technology treaty.

Ott and Stahmer walked out of the building into the cold night pleased with what they accomplished. Stahmer agreed to radio Berlin as soon as they returned to the embassy. The new codes, replacements for the broken Enigma ones — revealed in an American newspaper report — had only recently arrived, and they should be secure, both men agreed. Berlin had instructed both men to obtain as much information about the American carrier as possible, and letting a few technical secrets go to an ally was a small price to pay for invaluable knowledge of the future. Ott made a mental note to talk with his friend Richard Sorge. As an Abwehr agent, Sorge would have contacts in Japan, ones who could keep track of what the Japanese were up to. But for now, it was time to sleep. The morning would bring something interesting, he was sure.


Chapter 13: Manoeuvring for Position

February 24, 1942
Washington, D.C.

"Are we all here? Good. We have a lot to discuss."

And so they did. The leaders of the Republican party had gathered in the Washington office building to determine the future of their party, and just possibly the nation. They had an opportunity, many of them felt, one that couldn’t be wasted. Four weeks earlier, the Roosevelt administration and the Democrats had been as solid as ever, holding the White House and solid majorities in both the House and Senate. The Democrats had been a monolith, but that had now changed. They were showing cracks, cracks that perhaps could be widened and exploited, necessitating a strategy meeting with the Party’s best.

"We’ve all been a part of Wallace’s impeachment hearings … there’s no need to dwell on that matter," began Senator Robert Taft. A Senator from Ohio, Taft was one of the longest-serving Republicans still in the Senate. Typically on the conservative side of the party, he had worked to reduce the power of unions in his state while fighting the influence of the Klan. He had called the meeting, gathering the leaders of both the conservative and liberal wings of the Party together with the goal of formulating a coherent strategy.

"I disagree," countered Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, the Republican Senator from Massachusetts. One of the new breed of Senators, Lodge had been elected as part of the reaction against Roosevelt’s policies. A die-hard anti-Communist, Lodge wanted to exploit the connections between Roosevelt and the Soviet Union. "We should be expounding upon this in the press. I agree with the Senator, however," he said, nodding to Taft, "that we probably will not be able to secure a conviction in the hearings. This does not mean we can count them as a failure, however. With pressure, we should be able to force Wallace to resign from his position. That will give us an enormous advantage in November … something we can exploit."

There were nods around the table at that, but Arthur Kapper, the elder Senator from Kansas, shook his head. "Son, there’s one thing you haven’t learned. Sometimes it’s best to leave an opponent’s weak spot alone, for when you really need it. Wallace would be far more useful for us if we don’t pressure him into leaving. For all his faults, Roosevelt’s no fool. If we force Wallace out, he’s liable to replace him with someone capable, like that Truman the future men and papers have been talking about."

Even Lodge had to nod at that. The truth was too obvious to deny. "And that is why we don’t need to be discussing it," remarked Taft. There were a few chuckles at that. "What we need to be focusing on is this Negro question. The futurites have clearly set the stage for us and for the Democrats. The future is clear, gentlemen. We must make our claim or we will be pushed aside like we were in the history of the future, a broken party, forced to rely on brigands of the likes of this Nixon."

There were nods around the table at that. "Gentlemen and Senators do not raid each others’ officers like common criminals. We have already seen the beginnings of that path — in the last election, the northern Negroes largely for Roosevelt. How soon they forget our fathers’ sacrifices." Or, in the case of the younger men, their grandfathers. Still, it made sense. High words and thoughts were one thing … living in the present was entirely another.

"And what, pray tell would we in the West receive in return? It’s one thing for us to talk about high morals and seizing the future, but what use is it if we trade away the past? The workers in my state are terrified of losing their jobs to Negro workers if an equal rights bill is passed. If we support such a bill, I’m in danger of being turned out in November." That came from further down the table, and several other Senators voiced similar opinions.

"Gentlemen, please… look at the situation as it stands. With the draft running full-tilt, most of those men will shortly be inducted into the Army, or will be promoted by factories starved for labour. Any Negro workers would be entering those factories at basic positions. Besides, which would you rather have — Negro workers, or women? We the manpower situation we are facing, those are the two options. I understand your concerns, but there is really no choice." Now that Taft had used the club, he was prepared with a carrot.

"That does not mean I’m unprepared to compromise, however. If we wish to capitalize on the Democrats’ current weakness, we must hit them where it hurts — on the Communism front. Many of them are half-Red anyhow. It shouldn’t be any problem to pass an amendment to the Lend-Lease Act, prohibiting the Soviets from receiving any of that aid."

The reaction to that was one of general uproar. The Senators seemed to be divided into three camps: those who simply nodded at the announcement, those who yelled in objection, and those who yelled in objection to the objections. Taft nodded to the Republican senator from Michigan, Arthur Vandenberg.

"Robert," he began calmly, trying to restrain his inner fury, "if we abandon the Soviets, there’s a damn good chance they’ll fall to the Nazis, and then where will we be?" He didn’t wait for an answer to the question, instead pressing on. "We’ll be up shit creek, that’s where. Whether we like it or not, the Soviets are doing damn good work against the Germans, and we need them to hold the line until we can get in to the fighting. One war at a time, Senator."

Other Senators voiced their objections as well, most giving standard replies of not wanting to hurt the war effort, but several others raised questions about hurting factory sales. If the government stopped buying weapons for Soviet Lend-Lease, their states would potentially lose tens of millions of dollars in tax money and jobs by the thousands.

"I suggest a compromise," offered Senator McNary of Oregon. "We would be shooting ourselves in the foot by cutting off all aid to the Soviets. As Senator Vandenberg said, we would hurt the war effort as well as our factory-owning friends." He paused for emphasis before continuing. "Rather than cutting off all aid to the Soviets, I suggest only eliminating non-military aid from the Lend-Lease shipments to the Soviet Union. This will provide us with a solid compromise that punishes the Soviets, showing we are hard on Communism, while not hurting their war effort against the Germans." He extended his hands in a calming gesture. "Additionally, we’ll find an easier time of gaining support from our friends across the aisle than if we were cutting off all aid. Not that they’ll be able to muster much opposition anyhow, thanks to Wallace’s blunderings."

Discussion on the matter went on for several more hours, but eventually a consensus was reached. In exchange for supporting Senator Lafollette’s Civil Rights bill, a motion would be introduced to restrict Lend-Lease aid to the Soviet Union. Only weapons and food would be transported — no commercial goods, raw materials, or any non-military materiel. Allowing food had been thrown in as a sop to Midwestern support.

The debates about the Lend-Lease Act would be pro-forma at best in both the House and the Senate. Many Democrats, eager to disassociate themselves from Wallace’s seeming-Communist associations were only too eager to jump on the bandwagon and pass the motion. Across the country, business went on in usual — only the buyers changed. There was a war on, after all, and virtually everything was in demand. The supplies that would have gone to the Soviet Union were quickly routed to the all-consuming war effort or sent off to other, more worthy countries.

The debate about the Lafollette Civil Rights Act wouldn’t be nearly so smooth, and would be changed irrevocably by events five thousand miles away.


Chapter 14: For King, Country, and All That Jazz

A little something for our friends on the other side of the Atlantic.

February 28, 1942
Liverpool, England

It was only a freighter, an ordinary, rust-streaked commercial ship of the type that sailed every ocean in the world. But at that moment, it was quite possibly the most important ship in England.

Well, not in England, not quite yet, thought Lieutenant Commander Bret Stovali. Still, they had passed the harbour mouth, so they could technically be considered in the city of Liverpool. Not to mention the fact that the commotion in the harbour was a damn sight… nearly as busy as the streets of New York had been when they’d left.

The harbour was buzzing, like a small airstrip he knew in Florida … well, had known. Tugs were going back and forth, nudging the convoy’s other ships into their respective docks. The destroyers and cruisers that had escorted the convoy had either peeled off at the harbour entrance or were heading to what appeared to be the naval station. His ship and eleven other freighters also seemed to be heading that way. Only made sense, given what was in their holds. Smaller ships, motorboats really, dodged between the ships, like gnats around a dirty dog. Overhead, Spitfires flew in formation, as they had for most of the last day before they’d made port. The enormous crowd of pleasure boats and the fireboats spraying water in celebration meant only one thing — word had gotten out about their arrival.

Probably a good thing they were heading to the military docks, then. So much for operational security. Well, it was the first really big convoy to make England since the news of the Nimitz broke in the press. 120 ships in all, it had been a really quiet trip, all things considered.

He’d laid awake in his stateroom at night, worried sick that a German wolfpack would somehow find and intercept the convoy, sinking the twelve ships that carried the aircraft, men, and supplies of his squadron, the VA-15 Valions. But his worrying had been all for naught. He’d only been awoken once by explosions in the night, and that — after a panic-stricken run to the bridge — had turned out to be a destroyer holding night time gunnery practice. From the radio reports they’d received, it looked like they’d lucked out, catching the Germans as they surged their U-boats to the American coast. In their hurry to hit coastal shipping, they’d clean missed the convoy. That wasn’t going to be a help to the ships being sunk all along the East Coast, he thought glumly while crowds cheered on the Liverpool dockside.

A stream of cursing interrupted by retching interrupted his thoughts. He turned to see Lieutenant Dee Kitel bent over the railing, squeezing out swear words between bouts of vomiting. Poor guy. He’d been sick all the way over, even in the calm harbours of New York, and now Liverpool. It was funny if you looked at it from a distance. None of his pilots could afford to get airsickness, but put Kitel on a boat, and he’d be puking the whole way across. Some of the other men had had it worse, though — a petty officer on another ship had needed an IV to stay hydrated from all the vomiting. Kitel wasn’t that bad… just sicker than eight dogs.

"Thank God it’s almost over," he managed to get out between bouts of nausea.

"Over?" Stovali was surprised. "Kitty, it hasn’t even started yet."

And so it hadn’t. The rusting freighter and its eleven sister ships took their sweet time to tie up to the Liverpool docks, but the quickness with which they were overrun by British seamen made up for it. Most of the enlisted men immediately began unloading the ships’ valuable cargo, but a few officers made a beeline for Stovali.

"Commander Stovali?" The officer in the lead, a captain, spoke in a soft accent. "If you could come with us, please. The lieutenant will get your bags. Please, sir. The Prime Minister is waiting."

Stovali was startled at that last part, but went along willingly, the wooden gangplank rattling under his feet. He wished he’d worn his dress uniform rather than his work khakis. He hoped Churchill wouldn’t mind. God… Churchill… the thought of meeting the man made him feel like, well, like puking as much as Kitel.

The officers led him down to the car, a waiting Rolls Royce, which he didn’t notice. He was still trying to keep his stomach under control. One of the officers got in the front seat and started it up. Stovali and the other two men climbed in the back. That was interesting… no enlisted driver. Well, maybe for security.

"Please keep your windows up, Commander. The crowds are somewhat rowdy, and there may be German spies about. Don’t worry — the car is armoured." That was the captain again.


"Oh yes, the Ministry of Information felt your arrival would provide a powerful morale boost, and published it in the papers. While it does make our task somewhat more difficult, the decision had been made without our approval. Hence the crowds." The captain stopped, leaning forward to get a look out of the car’s windshield. "We’re almost to the gate now."

He leaned back, settling into the leather upholstery of the back seat. "But I am getting ahead of myself, I’m afraid. Captain Reginald Barclay, Royal Air Corps," the captain said, extending a hand. Stovali took and shook it. "I have been assigned as the liaison officer for your group. Although your aircraft are officially under our ownership, we will allow you to continue flying our aircraft until sufficient of our pilots have been trained in the new techniques."

"Wait, so —"

"Oh, don’t fret commander. It will be several months, if not longer until pilots can be trained on your aircraft. I personally don’t find it likely that we will train replacements before they are grounded for lack of spare parts, but it is a political matter. I simply salute and move on." The white of his smile flickered though his greying moustache.

"Have you been briefed about your situation?"

"Hell no. They didn’t tell us crap before we flew off the Nimitz and got loaded on to trains before coming out this way. We didn’t even know we were heading to your neck of the woods until we hit Brooklyn. We’re more than happy to do our jobs, though. Just give us the gas and the bombs, and we’ll hit the Nazis from one end to the other." Outside the car, the chain-link gate that separated the naval docks from the city opened. There was only a small crowd waiting outside, but it was only small when compared with the crowds at the civilian docks. Their roar was still loud enough to be heard through the thick glass of the car’s windows.

"Aren’t you all worried about the Germans coming by and blasting them?" Stovali asked, waving a hand at the crowd. His parents had used to joke that the easiest way to get him to be quiet when he was little was to tie his hands up. That had been before they’d been thrown back, of course. He hadn’t been able to get in touch with his parents, even through the Office of Future Affairs’s program for it.

Captain Barclay didn’t notice the change in Stovali’s expression. "Of course we are, commander. Hence the Spitfires." He seemed to like that word, Stovali noticed. "But this isn’t 1940. We can protect ourselves now." There was a grim smile at that. "The Germans know better than to try anything in the daytime. We’ve bloodied their noses enough times that even people as stubborn as they could get the message. Of course, Hitler’s antics in the east have been a help as well. The Soviets may not be good fighters individually, but the Red Air Force is large enough to force Goring to shift his forces. We do the rest."

He pulled a crystal bottle and two glasses from the sideboard of the car, and poured one neatly, despite the bumps. "Care for some?" He handed the glass over to Stovali, who took a cautious sip. It wasn’t the gin or vodka he was expecting, but instead simple water. He chuckled. You could only take the hard-drinking forties stereotype so far.

Barclay took a generous gulp and returned the glass to a holder on the sideboard. "Now, back to your previous comment. You’ll be receiving a more detailed briefing when you arrive at RAF Harwell. It’s a small Lancaster base west of London. It just had three nice long concrete runways laid in last November, and should be perfect for operations. The Corsairs should have no problem reaching as far as Berlin, and the location puts you outside the range of most German raids. For the immediate future, you’ll be serving as part of Bomber Command."

"So no air-to-air for us, then." It wasn’t a question, but Barclay answered anyway.

"Certainly not. You’re far too valuable to risk in dogfighting, and your missiles are more important to us intact than destroying ten German bombers. The Corsairs can target German bunkers with precision that our Lancasters cannot match. They are practically untouchable by German defences. You will be flying higher, further, and faster than anything the Germans can put up."

"How’s our supply? We’re not going to win the war single-handedly, you know, even if we get all the bombs and gas we need."

"Supply concerns should be non-extant, excepting spare parts, of course. We have three refineries producing fuel for your aircraft. Fortunately someone had the foresight to relay the formula from your production facilities in California, and your standard 2,000-pound bombs and 20mm cannon shells are standard enough that we able to begin production without much difficulty. Naturally, we cannot yet produce your Walleyes or Mavericks, but we have hopes for the future. Two Corsairs will be detached for examination by authorities in the aircraft industry, I’m afraid."

"Two — We’re going to lose two Corsairs!?"

"Necessary casualties, I’m afraid. The Supermarine and Gloucester officials were most insistent, and it will only be for a short period. Some disassembly will be involved, so I would recommend selecting your two most troublesome aircraft for detachment. They will provide a larger pool of spare parts in any event." Stovali sighed. He would’ve given anything at that moment to be back on the Nimitz right then. He’d probably be up in the air, hitting some Japanese island base in the central Pacific, instead of sitting in England, dealing with British officials.

The car came to a halt, having left the crowds of cheering spectators behind. The train station they arrived at appeared to have suffered some bomb damage at some time in the not-too-distant past. It was surrounded by fierce-looking soldiers in sandbagged machine-gun emplacements. "Well, here we are. The Prime Minister is eager to meet with you on the trip to London, after which you will be wined and dined by the finest in high society."

Captain Barclay opened the door, climbing out. Stovali followed close behind. "I envy you. I’m afraid I have to stay here for the time being. While you enjoy Churchill’s company, I will be managing the transport of your men and aircraft to Harwell. Sacrifices must be made… the war and all that." A uniformed sergeant came up to them, and asked Stovali to follow him.

"Good luck, Commander. By the time you arrive at Harwell, we will be ready."


Chapter 15

March 4, 1942
Washington, D.C.

"God damn it!" A book flew across the office, crashing into the opposite wall.

"God damn you, Roosevelt!" Another followed on the same course, pages fluttering as it flew through the air. In the office’s vestibule, Senator Chapman’s aides shared a look.
He’d been on the warpath since the Republican Senator Lafollette had introduced a Civil Rights bill, one that was remarkably similar to the one Chapman had held back for nearly a month. It was sitting on his desk now. Back in the office, Chapman had it in his hands, and was reading over it, sadly. "You’ve killed us, Roosevelt," he muttered under his breath, breathing heavily from his exertions.

Slowly, he tore the papers into small pieces, dropping them into his trash can. It was pointless now. The Republican bill was damn near identical to his own bill. If he hadn’t known better, he would have thought that it had been copied and altered from his own records. But that wasn’t the case — well, probably not, he allowed. The Republicans had the same access to the Office of Future Affairs’ files that he had. Owens was nothing if not even-handed, for all his other faults.

But damn it, it wasn’t fair! He’d been working on it since the beginning — nearly since he stepped foot off the Nimitz. It was clear as crystal what needed to be done, but other people had seen the same thing. And now his campaigning was going to go for the other side. He’d done too good a job convincing the other Democratic senators that there was a need for a Civil Rights bill. He’d done the groundwork for it, laying the foundation that was now going to be used by the Republicans. It made him sick.

He could try to organize opposition to the bill, but it’d torpedo any chance the party had to keep the Negro vote. The best they could hope for now was a stalemate, with both parties supporting the bill and splitting the Negro vote come November. That’d still be a net loss for them, though. Holding things as they were left the Republicans with an advantage, especially when one considered the fact that the southern states wouldn’t be able to deny blacks the vote anymore. That would hurt, if the bill got passed in time.

If it got passed in time… yes, that was the solution! If they could delay the bill long enough, it wouldn’t be able to affect the election. They’d still lose seats, yes, but maybe not as many without the bill. It’d also give Roosevelt time to do what he had promised, to start winning battles and take away much of the reason for the bill. If they could delay it long enough, and the Nimitz defeated the Japanese… well, it would still be an issue. But maybe it could turn into an issue they could fight on their own terms, without shooting themselves in the foot.

He stopped his pacing and walked back to his desk and picked up the phone. "Operator, please get me Senator Wigfall." He wouldn’t be able to defeat or even delay the bill too much in the Senate — his campaigning had been too good for that, he thought with ironic pride — but maybe there was some hope to delay its passage in the House. It was going to be a battle.

150 Miles West of Guam

Just another day at work. Lieutenant Jeremaiah Greenberg adjusted his restraints, saluted, and was thrown in the air. Amidst the roar of his twin jet engines and the chattering of his bombardier, he raised his landing gear, adjusted the throttles, and pulled back the flightstick. They were airborne. He sighed. It was becoming all too boring.

He’d never thought that there could be such a thing as too much flight time, but it was rapidly becoming true, not just for him, but for pretty much every airman on the Nimitz. It wasn’t so much the flying — if you didn’t love to fly, you didn’t join the Navy as a pilot, after all. He’d joined the Navy as a kid from the Lower East Side, trying to escape the crowded corridors of Manhattan for the Wild Blue Yonder.

Instead of becoming the fighter pilot he’d dreamed of being, he was instead assigned to the A-6 Intruder, the bomb-hauling workhorse of the fleet. And that was where the problem lay. Pretty much every aircraft on the Nimitz had become a bomb-hauling workhorse over the last month. It seemed that they’d been tasked to blast every Japanese base from Honolulu to Manila, and they’d been doing it for almost that entire month. That wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t gotten so damn routine. It had become easier than the training missions they’d done back in the eighties. Simply take your cat shot, fly off, drop your bombs as instructed by the computer, and fly back to the carrier. That part never got routine, at least. Landing on a bucking postage stamp of flight deck would never get boring.

The same couldn’t be said for the other parts of the mission, he thought idly, adjusting some controls. Even the Tomcat pilots had gotten bored. The few times the Japanese had bothered to be caught in the air, they had been dispatched quickly and at long range by a quick trigger pull and a few Sparrows or Sidewinders. The rest of the mission would proceed as normal, flying at high altitude and dropping plain vanilla 2,000-pound bombs. Japanese flak couldn’t hit them up at 40,000 feet, and fortunately the Nimitz had the computer tapes for the Pacific islands. Japan might be interesting if they ever got up that way, but from the looks of things, it wasn’t going to happen.

The admirals seemed to have their blinders on, focused only on the Philippines and clearing the supply routes needed to reach them, hence the need to blast all the Japanese island bases. The strike they were on now was going to be the last one until they reached the Philippines — orders had come down to blast the last Japanese airbases in the Marianas. And so here they were, running missions on autopilot, slowly burning through their stocks of spare parts and munitions.

At least they’d had the sense to save the last of the Walleyes for the inevitable fight with the Japanese fleet. Now that’d be a fight to be a part of. His A-6 was already painted with an obscene number of bomb, ship, and aircraft markings, but it’d be nice to get a few more. If, of course, the plane’d hold together long enough to let him be a part of it. One of the squadron’s A-6s had already been grounded as unsafe, bringing their strength down to an even ten aircraft. A few more aircraft from the Nimitz’s other remaining squadrons — particularly the helos — had been similarly afflicted. Spare parts, most of them. Ordinarily, they could count on the ship’s machine shops to help, but the numbnuts back at Pearl had offloaded a lot of the tools they’d otherwise be using to manufacture what spares they could.

Even if they’d had the machines to do the job, they probably wouldn’t have the men who knew how to take advantage of the tools. He wasn’t the only one who’d thought that the Navy had swapped out way too many forties sailors for those from the Nimitz’s complement. They were good guys, most of ‘em, but they were just plain … weird. One thing — they were all short, well, most of them. Hardly a guy over six foot. They talked pretty slow most of the time, too, what his aunt Rita woulda called slowtalkers. They weren’t stupid, just different. Unfortunately, a lot of the Nimitz’s sailors thought they were stupid, simply because they didn’t know a lot of the stuff aboard the ship and had to be taught. That had caused a lot of the guys to talk down to them, and that had started a couple of fights.

Scuttlebutt had it that a lot of the guys on the other ships in the fleet felt a lot of the same. The Nimitz was out there killing Japanese, and all they were doing was sailing along for the ride. That, in addition to a lot of the Nimitz’s arrogance, wasn’t helping things. Time would fix that, though. It’d only been a month since they’d left Pearl. The new guys didn’t know everything yet. But for now, he had a mission to run.

"Jelly, we’re coming up on the island. You ready for your ten-second ration of excitement?"

"You betcha, Iceberg. I’ve been ready for the last two hours. Computer’s online, radar’s painted the targets, and everything’s plugged in. Japs won’t know what hit ‘em."

Sixty seconds passed as the aircraft closed the distance to the island. "So what’s this island that we’re hitting, Iceberg?" That was Jelly, always asking questions while he worked. When he wasn’t working, he could be quiet as a mouse, but when he worked, you couldn’t shut the man up.

"Tin-something, I think. Does it really matter?"

"Nah, not really. Just thought it’d be nice to find out the name of the place we’re blowing to hell." Jelly flipped switches, arming the bombs under the wings. "Weapons hot. Computer has release." He kept his hands near the manual release in case something went wrong. It hadn’t yet, but you could never tell with computers. They’d once been on a training flight, ready to drop their junk, and suffered a complete electrical failure right over the target. They’d had to turn around and make another pass on that one, earning them a righteous chewing out from the commander until he learned what had happened.

"Roger that. No tree-scraper this time," Greenberg said with a smile. That was a running joke among the pilots. Rumour had it that one crew, in an effort to break up the monotony, had gone in to the target at 200 feet, instead of the planned 40,000 feet. That had earned them an awesome chewing-out, according to the story, as well as a few souvenirs courtesy of Japanese guns. No one had stepped forward to take credit, which made Greenberg believe it hadn’t really happened. If he had done it, he would’ve made sure he got the credit to make up for getting busted by the commander. It might’ve even been worth it. Not this time, though.

"Heh. Just let me know if you change your mind. Ten seconds to drop." The computer beeped, indicating the weapons had dropped. The A-6 lurched in the air, jumping upward as the airplane suddenly became nine tons lighter. "Computer worked this time. All free and clear. No hang-ups."

That had happened once or twice, too. Some forties sailor shackling the bomb wrong, getting it stuck on the rack. Even a manual release hadn’t jarred it out, and that crew had had to jettison the entire pylon. No one was going to risk a landing with a bomb that might jar loose at any time. "Good impacts, looks like." Jelly, looking out of the side of the canopy bubble, could see the explosions, even from 40,000 feet up. He turned back to Greenberg. "Let’s head home."

"Copy that." Greenberg pulled the stick to the left, putting them on a course back to the Nimitz. The Philippines awaited. "Lets just hope none of those forties guys drops a bomb on his foot."

"Yeah, that’d be bad."

The rest of the trip back was uneventful.


Chapter 16

March 12, 1942
Somewhere in New Mexico

"An electric guitar?"


"Someone really requested an electric guitar?"

"Yes, sir. According to the release form, the Gibson guitar company is interested in developing a line of electrical musical instruments." Owens’s assistant paused, dark eyes beneath a tan porkpie hat scanning the sheet of paper. "According to this, they had read about it in the Astounding Science Fiction issue, and are interested in production. The report says they already have several clients requesting such an instrument."

"I can’t imagine why." That was said deadpan. Eighties music had gotten out in dribs and drabs, despite the attempts of the Technology Control Board to curtail the release of anything that might damage the American advantage in eighties equipment and knowledge. Bootleg third, fourth, fifth, and even sixth-hand recordings of music played by Nimitz sailors in Pearl Harbour had made their way to the Mainland, and achieved a measure of popularity among a public eager for anything claiming to be from the "future." Nothing official had been released, but that didn’t stop people from looking.

"Well, forward it on to the board. They’ll probably reject it, but it’s worth a shot. I can’t imagine what reason they’ll give for rejecting it, but it’s worth trying anyway."

Owens wasn’t happy about the Technology Board, though he supposed it had been too much to hope that he’d be given free reign over the Office of Future Affairs and thus every bit of eighties technology, priceless to the companies and leaders of the 1940s. Everyone had wanted to get their hands on it, and so in order to keep vital military secrets from making their way out to the general public, the President had ordered the creation of the Board. Anyone with an interest in eighties technology — and that meant everyone — had scrambled for a seat on the Board, which oversaw the release of the new information and materiel to private companies.

Only a unanimous decision by the twelve men on the board could allow something like an electric guitar to be released to a private company. Military technology had priority, of course, released primarily to those companies who had friends on the Board. Yes, the Army and Navy had representatives on the board — two each — but that left eight other seats to be given away as politics demanded, and any one of them could block a release. He sighed. It was so much easier when he only had a single air wing to worry about.

"I imagine that they’ll simply say that all effort should be focused on the war effort, sir. No room for anything as inconsequential as a musical instrument."

"Probably. I knew I hired you for a reason, Mister Bradbury."

"I try, sir." That last was said with a small, somewhat uncertain smile before the man returned to his paperwork. It took more than a few trees to do the work required of the Assistant to the Director of Future Affairs.

It was a good idea to get away from Washington for a while, Owens thought, turning his attention away from the man sharing the car with him and to the scenery streaming by outside the train car’s window. The excuse of taking a fact-finding trip to the major sites receiving eighties technology was simply convenient. The fact of the matter was that he would’ve gone crazy if he’d been cooped up in Washington too much longer. Dealing with politics was never fun, but dealing with the politics involved in setting up a whole new government office was even less fun.

It couldn’t have been easy for the people setting up the War Production Board, the War Manpower Board, or any of a dozen other boards involved in the war effort, but at least they’d had the experience of forties politics.

He hadn’t had that luxury. He’d been forced to hire advisors and assistants of all kinds, giving him help ranging from negotiations with politicians to the metallurgical technology of the 1940s. He’d also taken more than a few men from the Nimitz, knowledgeable experts who weren’t quite the best in their fields — those people had been assigned to projects nationwide — but who knew enough to get the job done in Washington. One of the men he’d taken from the Nimitz had recommended that his former commander look into hiring someone who might be more … flexible when it came to thinking about the future.

That flexibility couldn’t be found in the typical Washington assistant, and so the young man — a lieutenant j.g. assigned to the missile project — had suggested looking at science fiction authors. Owens had initially scoffed at the idea, but after the young man had left Washington on his assignment and Owens’s search for an assistant became a drudge’s trawl, the former CAG had taken a second look at the idea. An exchange of telegrams had created a short list of possible candidates, based on the man’s seemingly-encyclopaedic knowledge of science fiction.

About the same time, Astounding Science Fiction had released its February issue. Under the direction of John Campbell, that particular issue was intended to be an expose about "life in the future. Double the magazine’s normal length, and colourfully illustrated with stories and pictures based on the limited information that had been released by the OFA and other government sources. The issue had been by far the most popular in Astounding’s history, necessitating several reprints. Several stories had even been reprinted in both Life and Look magazines, generating massive publicity for the magazine and science fiction in general.

That publicity also gave credit to Owens’s search for an assistant. Government officials who had been completely against the idea, hampering security checks and interviews, became slightly less so as the magazine spread. Still, it wasn’t easy. Several of the men Lieutenant Sisko suggested in his telegram were eliminated on security grounds. Most had some sort of leftist affiliation that knocked them off the list. Coming off the Soviet Spy furore that surrounded Vice President Wallace and Washington in general, anyone with even the slightest hint of pink was automatically disqualified.

Fortunately, there had been nothing of the sort with the young man he had eventually hired. Ray Bradbury had simply been a young man born in Illinois and living in Los Angeles, trying to make ends meet. The thing that had impressed Owens the most was the man’s intensity. He could sit at a typewriter for hours at a time, the machine clattering away until the job was done. That, plus the fact that virtually every other choice had been looked at — and the fact that he’d been working for nearly a month and a half without an assistant with work piling up — made the choice clear.

His new assistant had been eager to get to work, and had cut a swath through both the piles of paperwork and the secretaries in the new department — if the rumours were to be believed. He’d almost gotten Owens caught up on all the bureaucratic essentials before they’d had to board the train to take them out of Washington. Of course, now that they were spending two whole weeks on the rails — admittedly, the loaner train car Washington had loaned OFA was pretty boss, but that didn’t take care of the paperwork that would be piling up on his desk in the rented D.C. office building.
"At least the weather’s good."


"The weather. At least we don’t have to deal with that snow from up north. Gives me a chance to actually break out the shades." The fact that his enormous gold-rimmed aviator sunglasses clashed horribly with the 1942 suit didn’t bother Owens in the least. He was going to enjoy his creature comforts while he could. The war would take away most of them, soon enough.

"Well, I wouldn’t know much about that, sir. We don’t get much snow in Los Angeles."

"You know, Ray, you don’t need to call me ‘sir’ all the time. They made me resign my commission — I’m not in the Navy anymore. Feel free to call me Dick."

"I’m … not sure I’d feel comfortable doing that, s-." The last word was cut off mid-way. "You’re a government executive and the boss, after all."

Well, clearly the kid didn’t feel quite comfortable yet. Give it time, maybe. He’d only been on the job for four weeks, and those kind of things took time. He’d learned that often enough breaking in a new squadron after being transferred. Still, that was something he’d noticed a lot here in the forties. The formality. Everyone seemed like they were at a command ceremony or a dinner party. From the dress down on to the way people walked … it just didn’t jive with the way he felt. On the street, he felt as if he were moving a half-step out from everyone else. He’d felt it especially when he’d gone ‘home’ for Christmas. Some things just weren’t worth thinking about.

"Well, if I can’t break you out of your ‘sir’-ing me every time, we might as well get some work done before we hit the station. We’ve got an hour, so deal me in with the scoop on the missile project. Right now I pretty much know zip about it, except that Lieutenant Sisko and a couple other folks were assigned there."

Bradbury turned in the brass-riveted leather swivel chair to grab a stack of papers. "I assume you want the short version, sir?"

"Enlighten me."

Owens’s assistant took that as an invitation to continue. "The new program is being run in conjunction with a group out of Caltech. They’re supposed to be working on rocket pods to help aircraft take off on short runways, but there’s been a lot of talk between that group and our group. The rockets they’re working on are similar enough to the attack rocket designs to allow for some overlap."

"Good to see someone working around security hold-ups." Owens waved for Bradbury to continue.

"Right now, our program is being administered by Lieutenant Sisko, but Doctor Goddard is the scientific head of the program. They’re currently working on a liquid-fuelled ballistic missile in addition to the air-launched missile and rocket programs that the Army Air Corps is funding." Bradbury flipped through the document.

"Progress appears to be good on the ground-attack rockets, but the other two projects are lagging behind. Sisko reports that they’ve had difficulty with quality control — missiles keep exploding due to imperfections in the materials — and the heaviness of the guidance systems. They’ve put in a request to be granted access to the Bell transistor group. They seem to feel that transistors might provide a lighter approach to the guidance hardware."

Owens nodded, his hand running across his face. "Step back a second. You said they’re working on a ballistic missile?"

Bradbury flipped through the report to get to the relevant section. "Yes, sir. According to this, they’re modelling it on the V-2. Doctor Goddard seems to think that the government might be interested in a larger version that could carry a satellite to orbit." That information was enclosed in an addendum signed by Goddard. Sisko hadn’t signed that portion of the report.

"That seems pretty ambitious… how much work have they done?"

"It seems to be mostly in the pre-planning stage, based on their reports. Virtually all of the work along those lines has been directed toward the V-2 look-alike. They’re calling it the Lulu." He smiled at that.

Owens paused. "Oh, lulu like ‘that’s a real lulu of a hit.’ Fine by me. They can name it whatever they want, as far as I’m concerned." He collected his thoughts. "Okay, how does this group from California work in?"

"Since the air-launched missiles and the rocket-assisted takeoff programs are both solid-fuel engines, I imagine that the security people didn’t think much of two groups working on virtually the same program and sharing information."

"I’ve seen worse-organized programs back in the eighties. At least people still know how to get things done without eight tons of paperwork." Owens felt the train begin to slow. "Feels like we’re almost there." He turned in his chair to look out the window. "Looks like it, too."

It took time for the train to come to a stop at the dusty, weather-beaten New Mexico whistle-stop. It wasn’t even worth that little recognition, thought Owens and Bradbury both. The dusty, bleached planks of the train platform and a few worn adobe buildings were about the only things in sight. The train backed on to a siding and detached the car they were using. Another train would be by in 24 hours to take them on to the West Coast. Their former locomotive pulled away with a gust of steam. If it hadn’t been for Owens and Bradbury, it probably wouldn’t have stopped at the desolate station at all.

The two men grabbed their suitcases and climbed out of the train car and into the sun. Owens hastily donned his sunglasses, while Bradbury set his hat firmly on his head. It wasn’t hot, but the bright, cloud-free sky made the March day seem warmer than it actually was.

"Commander! Hey, commander!" A thin black man wearing enormous glasses and a naval uniform ran towards them, waving wildly.

"Duane! Great to see you again." Owens returned the wave, albeit in a much more restrained fashion. Lieutenant Duane Sisko saluted Owens, but Owens waved it off. "I’m retired now, Lieut— Congratulations! I hadn’t heard you’d been promoted."

"Yeah, commander, I guess they figured an important project deserved an important rank." Sisko rolled his eyes at that. "Doesn’t mean much here in glorious Carrizozo, New Mexico."

He didn’t have much respect for military organization, but the skill with which he had serviced the Nimitz’s missiles had been far too obvious to let that hold him back. Besides, he was young, Owens thought. There was more than enough time for him to change, if one of the big weapons companies didn’t cherry pick him from the Navy. Well, that was a different time. Maybe he’d stay in.

"Commander, this is ensign Robert Truax." Owens blinked. He hadn’t seen the kid — he looked like he couldn’t have been more than thirteen — in the forties naval uniform behind Duane. "He’s a real wiz with the rockets, and he just got out of Annapolis. Doc Goddard says he’s got some real talent, and I’ve got to agree." They shared a grin at that remark.

"Pleased to meet you, ensign."

"Likewise, commander." His handshake and bearing were both firm, and that definitely was an Academy ring he was wearing. Looks could be deceiving, Owens thought silently, and this was definitely one of those cases.

"Well, we’d better get to the car, commander. We’ve got a few little demonstration shots laid on for you this afternoon, and we’d better get rolling if we want to get to the moonbase before it gets too late."

Sisko grabbed Owens’s suitcase, and began lugging it to the waiting green government-issue sedan. "Moonbase?"

"Yeah, you’ll see why when we get out there. Takes forever to get there, and it looks like the fucking surface of the moon. Nothing but rocks and dust and mountains. It’s about a three-hour drive west, and nothing but dirt roads all the way."


The train car had been luxuriously appointed, but it had still been a train ride, meaning being locked in a small room for a couple hours. That, plus the three hour ride over roads that resembled goat tracks ensured that Owens was thoroughly sick of travelling by the time they arrived at Moonbase Alpha.

"There she is, our work away from home," said Sisko.

It wasn’t as bad as Sisko had described at the train station, but only just. The rusted Quonset huts and wooden buildings of the base were nestled in a wide, sandy valley. The road they had come in on came in from the south. To the north was only rolling hills for forty miles until you hit the highway. Beyond that was nothing but open terrain. There was a little vegetation, but it was all scrub brush and a few cacti.

"We get most of our supplies by air," gestured Truax, taking a hand off the steering wheel. The dirt landing strip was unremarkable, except for a wooden landing tower with a light on top and a dusty C-47 with some sort of structure on the underside of its fuselage. "The rest comes in by that road. The heavy stuff had to come in on trucks."

"That couldn’t have been fun. I’ll have to keep that strip in mind for next time … I don’t think I could do that road again."

The car pulled up to one of the wooden buildings. Owens and the rest of the men got out of the car, stretching from the long and bumpy ride. Bradbury got the bags as Sisko led the way inside what Owens soon saw was the base’s administration centre. The clattering of typewriters stopped as the men walked through the door. Sisko made the introductions.

"Commander, this is Doctor Goddard, the brains of the outfit. Without him, we all probably wouldn’t be here today."

Goddard clearly still wasn’t used to the Lieutenant’s praise. "Please, Duane, I am just a simple professor trying to make my way through — and out of this world." The hand he extended to Owens was weak, but his eyes showed there was still intelligence and life left in the man.

Other introductions followed — professors, graduate students, and military men from around the country, gathered to recreate work they had done forty years ago from Owens’s point of view. It beyond him most of what they did — he simply needed to know that it worked and how to make it work. They could figure out the rest.

After a quick tour of the small base, Sisko led the party — now larger with the addition of many of the base’s workers — to the only completed concrete building on the base.

"That’s quite a missile you have in the production building, Duane."

"Thanks, commander. It’s not done yet, though," the lieutenant said, frowning. "We’ve only got the one, right now, and it still needs to be tested. We think it’ll work, but we haven’t come up with a way to get it to track targets without manually guiding it in, and that simply won’t work if we use it air to air. It won’t be manoeuvrable or responsive enough to hit a fighter if we have to fit a TV camera in it. They’re simply too heavy here and now. It might work against a bomber, but bombers aren’t a problem, really. And there’s still the problem of the cable connection — cable’s too damn expensive to use up like that."

"I’m sure you’ll get it worked out, eventually. I’ll make sure the Bell transistor group is an option for you."

"What about one of the Apples? It’d really help us if we could use one of the computers to run some numbers and eliminate some designs."

"Unfortunately, that probably isn’t an option right now. I’ll ask one of the computing groups for you, though." The six Apple II computers that had been taken off of the Nimitz were perhaps the most valuable things on the face of the Earth at that time. There were only six of them: two in D.C., one at Harvard, two assigned to the Mercury Project, and one in California, where the aircraft companies were making use of it. All of them were running 24 hours a day, and there was a real danger that any or all of them could break at any time.

"What I am really interested in seeing, Duane, is this Lulu I’ve heard so much about."

"That’s where we’re heading now."

Truax led the way, rolling up the garage door of the concrete building to reveal a hive of activity. Men were swarming around a deuce-and-a-half, tying down what appeared to be an enormous rocket engine.

"That’s her, or at least her heart. We’ve been looking forward to the first static test for some time now — the Doctor’s been working his ass off to build it. Fortunately, he had most of the designs worked out before the project got off the ground." Sisko smiled at the pun. "He was just waiting for the money to build it, and we gave him that. Now we get to see if it works."

The truck rumbled to life, slowly rolling through the building’s opening. Owens, Truax, Bradbury, and Sisko walked to the car, and followed it into the desert. The testing stand was nearly a mile away, sufficient distance, Truax explained, for safety back at the base should anything go wrong.

A sturdy concrete blockhouse would serve as the monitoring centre for the test. Clearly unfinished, there were only a few dials and controls on the forward wall. Wires protruded from gaps in the console where other instruments would eventually be installed. While workers struggled to bolt the unwieldy engine to its concrete and steel mounts, Goddard, who had arrived before them, explained the test to Owens and Bradbury.

"Today’s test is only the first of what will be many before we can mass-produce a rocket. It will be un-throttled, flat out to see if the design can hold up. There should be no problems, but we test all the same. Temperature leads are installed across the engine," he said, pointing at a row of gauges with pen-marked inscriptions.

"We will only run for fifteen seconds today."

"That’s because of the fuel problems, commander," interjected the young lieutenant. "Out here in the boonies, it’s tough to get any fuel at all, at least until the plants get going back at the base. Plus, it gives us time to build other stuff while we finalize our designs. Moonbase wasn’t built in a day, after all," he concluded with an excited grin.

After an hour, the engine was ready to go. Owens was glad — as interesting as it might have been, the air inside the sun-heated bunker had become uncomfortable, and it was getting on towards dark. His legs were hurting from the long trip and the fact that the bunker didn’t have any seats.

"Places, gentlemen!" Goddard yelled out of the bunker. Workers walked back to the bunker, two dozen men cramming into its confines before the steel door shut. Goddard, seeing that everything was secure, readied the launch box. A simple device, it only had two switches and one button. He flipped the two switches, and after a quick look inside the bunker to ensure everyone was inside, pressed the button.

Owens was almost blinded by the light of the ignited engine as it streamed through the thick glass of the blockhouse’s narrow viewports. The enormous roar shook the entire bunker with its bass rumble. Goddard stared out, shielding his eyes with one hand. The rest of the bunker joined him, clustering around the front of the bunker. Truax was alone in not looking at the spectacle, instead watching the temperature and fuel gauges and the sheet of monitoring paper that came across the rollers, marked by the swivel arms of the moving pens.

"Doc—" was all the ensign managed to get out before the bunker was rocked by an enormous explosion. The men inside flinched, ducking despite the protection of the sturdy walls. Afterwards, Owens couldn’t decide whether or not he had seen the mount move before the explosion, but either way, it was gone now. That was even more clear when the smoke cleared and he could see it with his own eyes. Where the engine and stand had been was only charred concrete and rendered steel. The remnants of the rocket fuel burned off from broken pipes as the flames died. Small favours.

Next to him, a stunned Lieutenant Sisko could only get out a few quiet words. "Back to the drawing board, I guess…"


Chapter 17

March 14, 1942
RAF Harwell, England

"So much for a fuckin’ week till we fight."

"So what’re you gonna do, Kitty? Flap your arms and shit on the Nazis?"

"Aw, shut your yap, Marco. Stovali told us a week, and it’s been double. When are these Brits going to move off their asses?"

"What’re you in a hurry for, anyway? Afraid someone’ll kill all the Nazis before the Kitty can claw them? Besides, they needed to interview us and everything, do a little brain squeeze to get all that juice out."

"Yeah, like you got anything to squeeze out."

"What’s wrong?" That last comment hadn’t been given jokingly — there’d been real heat behind it, out of place for a bunkroom bull session.

"Forget it."

"Naw, really. What’s up with you? You’ve been coked up since we got here. I could understand a little bit, specially since you were feedin’ the whales all the way across, but—"

"Hey guys," a new voice interjected into the conversation between fellow pilots. Lieutenants Dee Kitel and Marco Drake looked up from their tabletop talk, startled.

"What’s up, Mike?"

"Stovali’s called a briefing, wants everyone in the ready room in five minutes."

"Nice of him to give us advance notice," Drake said sarcastically. "We’ll be there." Drake stood and stretched, then grabbed the basketball that had been sitting on the table. "For three," he screeched, hurling it toward the hoop on the far wall of the Quonset— no, they called them something different here, didn’t they?

"Nothing but air," came the reply from the seated Kitel.

"So what’s up with you, Kitty," asked Drake, turning around after the missed shot. "Miss out on some British poon or something?"

"Go fuck yourself, Drake." Kitel stormed out of the room, chair clattering to the floor behind him.

Lieutenant Marco Drake shrugged and followed Kitel up the steps to the outside world. The buildings on the RAF base were almost all partially dug into the ground, the better to resist bomb damage, though they hadn’t seen any raids or even any German recon flights since arriving at Harwell. The RAF was doing their job well, Drake had to admit.

All the Brit flyers he’d met since getting off the boat hadn’t been anything else than completely professional. Deadly serious, but they’d loosened up a bit when they got into the bar — pubs, they called ‘em here. Some of the stories they’d told… well, it was enough for serious shrinkage. Big-time blood and guts, more than anything the guys who’d been through Vietnam had told.

The few times they’d been in London for meetings or parties or whatever, they’d been able to see some of what those guys had talked about. Here in the countryside, you couldn’t even tell there was a war on, a lot of the time. There in the city, there was still plenty of bomb damage, and the Germans still came over every once in a while, despite RADAR and the guys telling the stories. Well, maybe they’d get the chance to tell some of their own pretty soon, if the briefing Stovali had called was what he thought.

He walked across the grassy spaces of the base, boots sinking into the soft ground. The guys had taken to wearing their flight suits and boots full time; civvies didn’t feel right, and most only had one or two uniforms, irreplaceable when you considered the fact that the forties navy hadn’t mandated a uniform change for eighties sailors yet. It’d be coming, though. Just took time, time like waiting for a mission.

He clambered down the dirty wooden steps of the hut, into the waiting darkness of the squadron’s new ready room. The curved corrugated walls of the hut were lined with maps and paintings of Spitfires, Wellingtons, and — that was new — a picture of an A-7 in its covered revetment.

"Glad you finally decided to join us, Lieutenant Drake. I guess we can get started now that His Majesty has decided to grace us with his presence."

Marco was startled away from his look at the picture. He hadn’t even noticed Lieutenant Commander Stovali at the front of the room next to a lighted map of Germany. "Sorry, sir." He hurriedly sat in the last of the three rows of seats.

"Now, as I was saying," Stovali continued, "We’ve finally got the all-clear from the British to go ahead with a strike. Quinn and Omar were the hold-up…. for some reason, they didn’t want to give up their planes." There some grins at that, but not too many. No one liked seeing friends be separated from their aircraft, especially when those aircraft represented one of the last pieces of home.

"Thanks to them, we’ll be going on a rotating flight schedule beginning with the second mission." There were some headshakes at that, but nothing aloud. No one wanted to deny the two pilots the chance to fly. "Every one of us deserves the chance to fly. The British needed two aircraft, it was just luck of the draw. I’m sorry, guys," he concluded, nodding at the two men who sat with arms crossed over their chests.

"Before that, however, we have this mission." He brought up a long pointer, gesturing at five long red arrows that stretched across the map of Germany, reaching from RAF Harwell to various targets in Germany. With the way he flung that pointer around, Drake thought, it was lucky the guys in the front row didn’t lose an eye. "We’re going to run five two-ship formations, hitting high-value command and control locations throughout the country. The idea is going to be to disrupt German air defences and their command structure as much as possible for future strikes. Group Captain Barclay will explain more."

The British officer they’d all come to know and like over the last two weeks stepped forward. He’d treated them pretty well, all things considered. He’d fixed it up with the local pub, the Blue Dragon, and had arranged for the trips to London. A pretty groovy guy was the consensus among the pilots. The ground crews, who he’d ridden somewhat harder getting the base set up, had a somewhat different and less-favourable opinion of him.

"Gentlemen, as your commander indicated, the targets you will be hitting tonight are extraordinarily important for all of us. You will be opening the door for further strikes by both yourselves and Bomber Command. You will be an important part of our escalating bomber offensive against Germany. Already, German forces are in retreat across the deserts of Libya. Though Singapore has fallen, we will prevail in the end. You need only open the door a crack. We will kick it down." He paused for emphasis, looking each pilot in the face before continuing.

"You will not be alone tonight. Right now, five hundred bombers are assembling across Britain. Their mission tonight is to be nothing more than a decoy for you. They will strike Hamburg, in conjunction with a flight of Mosquitoes that will drop ‘chaff’ at high altitudes on the approaches to France. With luck, these two assaults will open the door for your aircraft. The floor is yours, commander."

"Thank you, Group Captain. We’ll be mounting Walleyes tonight, folks, so be careful with what you target. We’ve only got a handful on this side of the Atlantic, and they’re all going to be gone after tonight. Since we don’t have guidance tapes for European terrain, you’re going to be forced to use your radar to navigate." There were some rumbles at that. Everyone knew they didn’t have the tapes — after all, what was the point of loading European computer tapes on a ship based in Pearl Harbour, but saying it out loud only made it worse for men who had been trained to rarely, if ever use their radar in combat. It was just a big flashlight that let the enemy know where you were, as far as Lieutenant Drake was concerned.

Maybe that wouldn’t be a problem, though. The Germans didn’t know about their radar, didn’t know the frequencies it operated on. They’d be all right. "You’ll be going in at high altitude, angels forty plus. That means you won’t have to worry about following terrain."

"What about the Germans?" That question came from Omar. He wasn’t flying tonight, but his concern forced him to ask.

"I’ll answer that one, if you don’t mind, Commander Stovali." Stovali nodded to Group Captain Barclay, who was better qualified to answer the question, anyway.

"The Germans only have an extraordinarily few aircraft that can reach, let alone fight at the altitude at which you will be flying. Your main threat, if it appears at all, will come from the few advanced 88mm flak guns we have been able to identify. According to our sources, there are fewer than two hundred antiaircraft guns in the whole of Germany that have the capability of reaching your height. The aircraft that can climb to your height consist of purely observational aircraft, the Junkers 86 in particular. These you will be able to shoot down, if found."

"That answer your question, Omar?"

"So two hundred versus the ten of us? That sounds fair."

"Omar, if all two hundred of those guns are in your flight path, you have my official permission to come back to England." There were some laughs at that.

"If there’s no more questions, I have your assignments." Stovali proceeded to assign five targets, two Corsairs to each. As always, Lieutenants "Pirate" Drake and "Kitty" Kitel were paired up. Their assignment was to hit Luftwaffe Air Defense Headquarters in Erfurt. The other four pairs were assigned to hit the German Army Headquarters in Zossen, Hitler’s bunker — that was Stovali and Louis’s assignment — in Berlin, and assorted other defence headquarters. Drake would’ve preferred knocking out Gestapo HQ instead of letting Sam and Jacob do it, but he’d take what he was assigned. Hitting the air defence HQ would make things a bit easier on future runs, and he was sure they’d get the chance to blast the Nazis a few more times before they surrendered.

"I make the time as 1630 hours. Wheels up in two hours. Good luck, pilots."


The gearing up and dressing was done mostly in silence. The pilots of VA-15 were consumed with their own thoughts about the upcoming mission. They were confident that they could do it, but there was always that chance, the possibility that one of them might not come home. The overriding concern wasn’t that, though. It was about hitting the right target, getting it done.

They were cynical about the Group Captain’s words, joking about "the future of Britain is in your hands, butterfingers," but most of the jokes rang hollow. It wasn’t going to be a typical mission either way. "Did I ever tell you I had an aunt and uncle in the concentration camps, Marco?"

"What’s that, Kitty?" Marco Drake was startled up from his checklists of survival gear and putting on his G-suit.

"They’re there now… just got a letter from my grandparents." He stopped, a distant look on his face. "They’re going to die… again. And there’s not a damn thing I can do about it," he concluded fiercely, fist pounding the table where his gear was laid out.

"Dee, I’m going to level with you." Kitel’s face came up to look at Marco’s. "The best thing you can do for them is to do your mission. Drop your load and get home, man. Every mission we run is one closer to getting this war over and getting them home. By the book. Just run the mission."

"Yeah… drop ‘em and get home."

They walked out of the prep building together in silence. The roar of jet engines greeted them as they walked across the concrete of the runways and taxiways. Their aircraft were in covered revetments dug in slightly. The aircraft would have to taxi up a short ramp in order to reach the runway and take off. Until then, the A-7s were kept in open-ended corrugated iron shelters that protected them from observation and from the elements. It was a far cry from the sheltered hangar deck of the Nimitz or even a proper hangar, but it was the best that could be done under the circumstances. There hadn’t been enough time to build regular hangars, which were still more than a month away from being complete.

"She’s lookin’ real good, lieutenant," was the line that greeted Marco Drake when he ducked into his A-7’s lighted hangar.

"Thanks, Duke. We good to do a walkaround?" Marco’s crew chief nodded, and together they went around the aircraft, checking everything from the engines to the control surfaces to the tires. You never took chances when you flew, especially so when you were heading into combat. Duke Barry was a great mechanic, but you didn’t take chances. As good as the squadron mechanics were, there was still that nagging doubt until you saw it with your own eyes and signed off on the aircraft.

"All looks pretty good, Duke. You guys are as good as ever."

"No thanks to that limey captain. He’s had us runnin’ through hoops since we got here. Hell, he didn’t have the place in line for us when we got here… had to spend a week getting’ everything together."

"Well, it looks great now," Lieutenant Drake answered, climbing the ladder into the cockpit.

He flipped switches, made final checks, then took his hands off the controls, holding them up in the air as crewmen crouched under the aircraft, pulling arming pins from the Walleyes he’d be taking to Germany. After that was done, he went through a test of the control surfaces, moving the stick through all nine points of movement before returning it back to neutral. He closed the canopy, moved the throttles forward, and the plane began to move under its own power, taxiing up the ramp and out to the runway.

Ahead, double roars signalled the takeoff of each pair of A-7s. Those that had the furthest to go took off first, rapidly climbing to 42,000 feet and heading southwest. Their flight was second to last, and Marco hated every bit of the wait. It was like waiting for the kick-off of a football game — there weren’t butterflies so much as sparrows flying around in his stomach. But you had to get over that. Fortunately, they didn’t have to fly under radio silence. As far as anyone knew, there wasn’t a radio in Germany that could tune to the 225-400 MHz bands that the A-7s used. The British only had one radio that could communicate with the American aircraft, and that one had been brought across the Atlantic on one of the freighters.

His radio crackled in his helmeted ears. "Lion seven, you are cleared for departure."

"Roger, tower. Throttling up."

Acceleration pushed him back in his seat as the Corsair gained speed, rolling down the runway. At least it was cool this late in the day, he thought. It made the takeoff rolls that much shorter. He pulled the nose of the aircraft up, facing the wide-mouthed air scoop to the sky.

He orbited the base, waiting for Lion 8, piloted by Dee Kitel, to form up before heading out.

"Took you long enough, Dee. Leave something behind?"

All business, Kitel replied. "Seven, this is Eight, requesting permission to fire a missile up your tailpipe."

"Permission denied, Kitty."

They flew high and fast, over Belgium, Luxembourg, and crossed the Rhine into Germany in the pitch blackness of night. High above, stars twinkled in the sky. There wasn’t a moon, probably the reason that night had been chosen for their first mission, thought Marco Drake.

"Eight, this is Seven, coming up on final now. Time to arm ‘em up." It was a little out of the ordinary to do a radar drop and manual release, but at least with the Walleyes, you could guide them in on TV and not have to worry about missing. It’d be a problem after this mission, when they switched over to the bombs the British had produced, but it wasn’t as if they hadn’t trained on no-computer radar drops.

That was odd. He hadn’t heard Kitty’s reply. "Kitty, this is Gold. Time to arm weapons. Acknowledge."

Still nothing. Fuck. "This is Lieutenant Marco Elias Drake calling Lieutenant Dee Jeremiah Kitel… quit fucking around and acknowledge, Kitty. Target’s coming up."

Nothing. Crap, his radio’s out. What a time for that to happen. He’d tear someone a new one when they got back. He pulled the throttle back slightly, intending to make a visual check. What the fuck… Kitty wasn’t there.

He looked down at his radar. Kitty was off course… pretty badly off course. They’d have to made a different approach than they’d planned, maybe even come in at it from the east. If this was a joke, he’d fucking kill Kitty. He pushed the throttles forward, and pushed the stick to meet up with Kitel’s aircraft.

It looked fine when he pulled alongside. That was a relief. He’d been scared that it had been hit or damaged, but everything looked fine visually. "Kitty, this is Gold. If you can hear me, wag your wings." Still nothing. Well, it wasn’t a transmitter problem, then. He pulled a bit more forward. He couldn’t tell if Kitel was fine or not in the darkness. He could just make out the shape of a white helmet in the cockpit. It didn’t look like it was bent over or anything. That was good.

Drake waggled his wings, trying to get Kitty’s attention. Nothing happened— no, wait, there was a crackle there. "Stay away, Marco."

"Kitty, what’s up? You malfed or something?"

"I’m not going to let them do it, Marco. I’m not going to let them."

"Kitty, who do what? You’re freaking me out here, man. We’ve got a mission to do. You can fuck around when we get back to England."

"This is my mission, Marco." Two white shapes dropped from Kitel’s aircraft into the darkness.

"What the fuck did you do, Dee? What’d you just drop on?"

"Buchenwald, Marco. Buchenwald. They’re not going to kill my family again. I’ll see those Nazi bastards in hell first."

Oh, shit.


The trip back was a busy one. Marco hurriedly turned back west, dropping his Walleyes on the Luftwaffe bunker. It was the first time he’d ever wished the bombs would drop faster — normally, he didn’t have enough time to get them as on target as he wanted to. Not this time.

He contacted Stovali, who was on the return leg of his mission to Berlin. The squadron commander couldn’t believe it, had thought it was a joke at first. Meanwhile, Kitel had turned back, toward England. That was one weight off his mind. Standing orders were to completely destroy any aircraft that went down over Germany. Any downed aircraft, regardless of whether or not the pilot might have survived, were supposed to get a bomb, or at least several strafing runs to deny the Germans as much as possible.

But Kitel had turned back. That meant he wasn’t completely crazy, right? Stovali radioed ahead to England for instructions. When Kitel landed, his aircraft was met by a truckload of British soldiers with weapons drawn.

In the interrogation that followed, he didn’t offer any excuses for his actions. He simply repeated one phrase quietly, over and over again. "I didn’t want them to die. I didn’t want them to die."

Lieutenant Dee Jeremiah Kitel never flew again.


Chapter 18

March 20, 1942
Mount Natib, The Philippines

Dawn was coming, and the American lines were in trouble. The pre-dawn darkness and mist hid them, but Lieutenant A.J. Hunter knew the Japanese were coming. From his company’s position near the peak of Mount Natib at the centre of the defensive front, he could see the glimmer of Manila Bay in the east and the South China Sea to the west. The fact that it was ‘his’ company was testament to the intense fighting of the previous weeks.

When they’d been called up from watching the coast at Lamao, the whole regiment had thought it was a fool’s errand. After all, there wasn’t any chance the Japs would be able to scale the mountain’s heights. It was the second-highest mountain on the whole peninsula, and most of them had figured they’d be missing out on the fighting, the chance to save something from what had been up until now nothing but an endless series of defeats. His company hadn’t been any different, grousing about missing out on the action.

They’d been wrong, of course. A few days after closing along the entire length of the defensive line, the Japanese had come at the company in force. Both sides had been surprised by the contact, but the American forces, thanks to the advantage of position, had forced the Japanese back. If the regiment hadn’t been there, the whole position might’ve collapsed. Hunter’s battalion had been hit hard, losing its commander in the first Japanese attack, courtesy of a shell fragment. Six times the Japanese had come at them, and six times they’d beaten the Japs back. It had been a battle worthy of the stories his grandfather had told back on the reservation in South Dakota.

But now it looked to be over soon, just like his grandfather’s stories. The U.S. Army had beaten the Sioux, sending them to live on empty reservations, and here he was, fighting for that same army. He shook his head. It was enough to make a man crazy. It wouldn’t be the end of everything, of course. There was still another line in back of this one to fall back to. They probably wouldn’t make it, though. The position at the summit of Natib was too valuable to fall into Japanese hands. They’d be able to direct fire on his retreating friends all the way back to the next line, located just north of Mount Bataan. That wasn’t going to happen as long as they were around to hold the summit and allow the retreat.

That wouldn’t be too much longer, though. The Japanese had been moving up men and guns for a whole week, getting ready for the seventh, and presumably final assault on the lines. The sixth assault had taken the north slope of Natib, the saddle between it and Santa Rosa, putting the Japanese within shouting distance of Hunter’s lines on the reverse slope of the mountain. His captain had died trying to organize a counterattack to push them back down the mountain. That loss had put him — the senior man in the company — in charge of the few battered platoons that remained. He was almost more terrified of that fact than he was of the Japanese — almost.

Of course, the fact that he was the new company commander meant he got to hear a bit more of the intelligence that was sent up by regimental and divisional command. It was mostly wild-assed guesses about what the Japs might be up to, thanks to the fact that the Philippine Air Force had been virtually wiped from the sky, worn down over the four months since the Japanese had first attacked. Intermixed with the shallow rumours came news from the outside — bad news, most of it. The surrender of Singapore, the Battle of the Java Sea, the fall of Leyte, Mindanao, and the collapse of most of the Dutch East Indies… it meant that there wouldn’t be any help coming soon. Sure, there were reports that a rescue mission was on the way, but they were just that, rumours. Hunter took even less stock in the rumours that the force was being led by a super-carrier the Navy had built in secret. Just a bunch of bullshit designed to keep them fighting. It was fucking insulting, the line they were being fed about secret aircraft that shot death rays.


Hunter was startled away from his panoramic view. He hadn’t heard the man come up from behind him. "Jesus Christ! You scared the piss out of me, Robertson!" He didn’t yell — that might’ve given the Japanese a better idea where they were — and besides, the darkness made a whisper seem more appropriate. It was as fierce a whisper as he could make it.

"Sorry to startle you sir, but you’d better know that one of the listening posts heard something. Sounds like the Japanese are moving up." Damn. That was news. Not unexpected, but still bad.

"Thanks for letting me know. Which one was it?

"Two, sir. Sanders and Balmore." That made things even more serious. Those two were some of the better men left in the company. They were all honed to a sharp edge after several months of fighting, but a few always rose to the top. Sanders, at least, had shown a remarkable ability to keep that edge despite the ever-smaller rations and supply shortages. Since they were on the front line, the company got the best of what was lurking in the Mariveles supply depots, but more and more, the best was proving to be inadequate.

"All right. I’ll go check it out. Start waking people up and putting them on guard. I think we’ll be having action sooner, rather than later, and we don’t want to be late to the party." The man saluted and moved off. Hunter picked up his Garand from the ground and set his helmet firmly on his head. The listening post was on the side of the mountain facing the Japanese, and snipers were always a possibility.

As he climbed up from his vantage point, the previously-resting men of the company began to stir. Though you could never completely fall asleep with the Japanese just over the ridge, the exertions of the last few weeks had been exhausting, and most of the men had fallen into a deep sleep when granted a chance to rest. They pulled on helmets, checked weapons, and stretched and yawned. A few opened cans of C-Rations, something they’d gotten fewer of than usual lately. Hunter would have to look into that when he had a chance — if he had the chance.

It was getting lighter, Hunter noticed. Hell, here at the summit, it was practically light already. Down in the valley below, it was still dark, but six thousand feet above sea level, the sun was peeking above the horizon. He moved low, bent almost double. Moving quickly, he almost stumbled into the camouflaged listening post, and found two muzzles staring him in the face.

"Jeezus, lieutenant, we thought ya wuz one o’ them Japs."

"No Japanese here, private," Hunter smiled. "What’s going on down there?"

"See fo’ yo’self, lieutenant," Saunders said, gesturing with his rifle. Hunter looked cautiously. Bastards the Japanese might’ve been, but some of them were damn good shots, despite rifles a kid wouldn’t be caught dead with on the reservation.

Far below, he saw movement. The light was too dim and the distance too far to make out individual Japanese, but there was definitely something going on down there. "They’ve just started doin’ that about a half hour ago. What’cha want us to do, suh?"

Shit. This was the kind of thing he hated. You could let them stay put — he’d be able to get info if the Japanese started to move, but it left the two men incredibly exposed when the Japanese started shelling. Saunders and Balmore would have to navigate the rocky and shell-blasted front of the mountain while avoiding Japanese artillery and small arms. It wasn’t an easy climb, even without the Japanese. The dust and small rocks made footing unstable, and there were enough boulders to create big clouds of splinters when a shell hit. Of course, if he pulled them back now, he wouldn’t be able to see what the Japanese were doing, and intelligence, as his captain had pressed into him before he was killed, was life. "Suh? What’cha want us to do," Saunders repeated.

"Okay, guys. I want you to keep an eye on the Japs for now. If they decide to get their shit together and start moving up, I want you to pull back to the ridge. I’m going to move the company up to give you some cover. When you get back, we’ll pour it on them from up there. If it gets too hot, we can pull back to last night’s holes." The two men nodded in understanding. Hunter took one last look through his binoculars, raising the dusty instrument with a dirty hand. The Japanese still weren’t moving up the mountain… hell, it looked like they were setting up for breakfast. Maybe the axe wouldn’t fall today, after all. He couldn’t count on that, though. He gave a parting salute and started back up the ridge.

Two hours passed. Hunter, having passed a report on to battalion and regimental command, had his men move up from their sleeping foxholes to positions along the ridge. The fewer Japanese that made it up the ridge, the better, he thought. The observation posts, having reported the Japanese movements regularly, were pulled back in. The Japanese were on the move, finally. They moved cautiously up the rocky ridge, ready to open fire if any of Hunter’s hidden defenders fired first. Hunter instructed his men to wait until the Japanese reached a small plateau about 200 yards below their position. It was largely devoid of cover, and would make a great killing ground for his machine guns and riflemen.

The men dug in as best they could along the ridge. Although it wasn’t a question of "digging" so much as finding any crevice or cover they could. Hunter was considering redeploying one of his three machine guns when he heard the whistling. His subconscious noticed it first, and he flung himself down in a shell hole nearly without conscious thought. Cries of "Take cover!" and "Hit the dirt!" rang out as he headed toward the earth. His reflexes weren’t the only ones that had been honed by weeks of intermittent shelling.

The rounds landed nearly at the same time Hunter’s leap did, spraying clouds of rock chips and steel fragments. Fortunately, it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to hit troops deployed in a line along a ridge. Most of the rounds landed short or long, meaning that they exploded below the dug-in company. Hunter cowered unabashedly in his hole, trying to crawl into his helmet amidst the explosions and showers of rock and shell fragments. A hot piece of metal fell between his collar and helmet, burning him. His fingers scrabbled to pick it out, missing, missing again, and finally getting hold of the sharp fragment and throwing it out into the chaos outside the hole.

Then, as soon as it had begun, it was over. "Up and at ‘em!" he roared, making sure he followed his own words, grabbing his rifle and hurling himself up and out of the dusty shell hole. Sergeants echoed those words up and down the line as well, and the company and regiment as a whole — the bombardment hadn’t been limited to only his company, Hunter noted in the back of his mind, seeing the smoke rising from further down the mountain — ran to its positions along the ridge. A few medics ran behind, drawn by the plaintive cries of the injured lying on the ground. They’d be evacuated, the lucky ones who made it, back to Marivales, and the tenuous safety at the tip of the peninsula. But if they couldn’t stop this attack, either here or at the next line, thought Hunter, it wouldn’t be safe for long.

Seeing no Japanese advancing up the slope, he pulled out his binoculars to take a look. No sign of — wait, there they were. Their uniforms seemed to blend into the dusty background, making them difficult to spot. Only their movement gave them away. Hunter passed the word along, walking up and down the line, sending runners out to the more distant positions. Stay quiet — stay low — and don’t fire until they’re within 200 yards. He turned to the forward artillery controller that had been assigned to the battalion. Thanks to the shortage of radios, they only had one, but fortunately the man was with Hunter’s company, due to their position near the summit of the mountain.

The man was hunched over, his backpack radio on the ground, one hand holding the handset, while the other was pressed firmly against his other ear. Judging from the roar that was getting louder and louder, he was doing his job well. Either that, or the Japanese were pounding the hell out of the lines below… no way our guys have that many shells, thought Hunter. He jogged over to the man. Maybe the company could get at least some mortar support or something. He was going to need all the help he could get. Hell, he’d take a miracle if it offered itself.

"Sir! Sir" Hunter’s head snapped around at the running private.

"What is it, son?" he asked, slowing his jog to the forward observer’s position. He wasn’t that much older than the private, but he’d taken the former captain’s habit of calling everyone ‘son’ for some reason. It seemed to relax soldiers, even the grizzled sergeants. Say goodbye to the old dad, same as the new dad, he thought.

"I don’t know, sir! No one does! Can’t you hear it?"

As a matter of fact, Hunter could. The roaring he had taken for Japanese shelling hadn’t subsided. If anything, it had gotten louder, becoming more of a screech, rippling and changing, almost as if it were moving around. And whatever it was, Hunter saw, spying movement in the air beyond the ridgeline, it was in the air. Hunter pulled up his dusty binoculars from where they hung around his neck, but it was difficult to keep track of the thing… or things, as they looked when Hunter managed to finally centre them in view of the binoculars. He turned back to jog after the insistent private, not seeing the wave of the man with the radio or his excited shout.

When he got to the line, he saw that none of the men appeared ready to fight. Shockingly, some even didn’t have their rifles at the ready, leaning them against rocks or on the ground. He was about to start tearing the guilty platoon a new one, when one remarked "It’s really something, isn’t it?"

Hunter’s eyes followed those of the soldier, who was staring out at the land stretching out below the ridge. What he saw there almost made him drop his rifle. Four — no, eight metallic darts were streaking parallel to the Japanese lines at incredible speed. Even as he watched, several small objects separated from one of the darts, falling to earth. There was a tremendous explosion, throwing up a gout of flame and smoke. Several smaller explosions followed, throwing up more smoke, even as the things streaked on. "My God… they’re ours!"

"Yes, sir!" smiled one sergeant in glee. "They’ve been dropping stuff all over the Japanese… I mean, look over there!" Hunter’s eyes followed the man’s pointing finger eastward. In the valley below, he saw dozens of small columns of smoke rising upward. "They strafed the Japanese when they came over the second time… must’ve hit a bunch of trucks or something. That’s the only thing I can think of, unless they’re mounting cannons… hell, judging from where the columns are, they could be tanks!" As he spoke, Hunter’s eyes were drawn back westward, where several of the darts were coming in for another pass. It was too far to make out any detail, but spurts of smoke rose above the trees as the darts — aircraft — passed over.

"I don’t know about you, Sarge, but I sure believe in miracles no—" he was interrupted as a series of shots rang out. His eyes automatically went downward from where they were watching the planes to take a look at the slope. It was crawling with Japanese! "Up and at ‘em boys! The Japs are here!" The American defenders responded to the Japanese fire with accurate and fierce rifle and machine gun fire. Throughout the fierce and brutal firefight that followed, Lieutenant A.J. Hunter had one thought: Thank you God, there are such things as angels.


"Aw, Luke, you can’t really believe that!"

Lieutenant Luke Vasallo’s earphones crackled with disgust. "Mike, it’s true," he responded into his grey oxygen mask. "You’ve just got to look at the movies to see it. It’s as plain as that big ugly thing you call a nose. Roger Moore is definitely the best James Bond."

Luke felt a tap on his shoulder. He couldn’t turn around to see who it was, but of course he didn’t need to. "Luke, I’ve got to go with Mike on this one," said Luke’s backseat radar intercept officer, ensign Charlie Weis. "Sean Connery is the best James Bond, and if you can’t see that, maybe I just might need to find myself a new driver."

"Ha! Good luck with that, Chuck. No one but me wants to fly your shaggy ass around — just ask around." Said in a different tone, the words might’ve provoked a fight. The two men had been together for nearly a year even before the Nimitz had been thrown back in time, though, and each knew that the other was smiling behind the rubbery oxygen mask and black tinted visor each was wearing. "Okay, coming up on that other artillery park… get ready to drop."

"All, right, I will when we get back to the Nimitz, Luke. When we get back, I’m throwing in From Russia With Love, and we can watch a real Bond movie."

"You don’t give up, do you, Mike," Luke said, responding to the comment. He flipped the intercom switch. "Drop in ten, Chuck."

"Roger. Dropping… now!" The Tomcat jerked upwards as it was released from two-ton weight of the two 2,000-pound bombs. "Woo! Good hits and a good movie when we get back," he said over the intercom after seeing the explosions from the weapons.

"Yeah, yeah… we’ve still got to get rid of the rest of this cannon ammo first. At least this is the fun part." Vasallo pushed the Tomcat into a dive, cannon blasting at a concentration of Japanese vehicles he’d seen in a clearing in the jungle.

"Fun for you, maybe," Weis responded, grunting with the force of the dive.

"There’s fun, and then there’s fun, Chuck. I heard from the skip himself that we’re tasked for air defence tomorrow. Even blasting Japanese crates is more fun than this bomb-Cat crap," Vasallo said, pulling the trigger at yet another concentration of Japanese.

"Yeah, but you might want to enjoy that while you can. Talked with Louie this morning… we’re almost out of missiles."

"No shit?" Vasallo was surprised at that. "Guess we’ll get to mix it up with the Japs after that. Could get even more fun to do air-to-air…"

"Don’t take them too easy, Luke. They’ve still got stingers — big clump heading up the mountain; let’s hit that."

"Aw," Luke scoffed, "don’t be a Nancy. We’ve still got the speed advantage on those crates. We’ll cream ‘em missiles or not." He pulled the Tomcat into a turn, nosing it toward the north face of Mount Natib, where ‘Chuckles’ had seen a clump of Japanese soldiers. The Tomcat responded to his pull of the trigger, spewing a line of tracers until the cannon went dry, its barrels spinning emptily. A light on the console glowed at Luke, and he triggered the radio to his wingman.

"Mike, Winchester."

"Roger that, ‘Skywalker.’ Heading back now." There was a pause as both Tomcats pulled up and east, heading away from the burning pyres of Japanese vehicles, artillery and the crumpled heaps of casualties.

A thought struck Luke as he pulled up for the flight over Japanese-occupied Luzon. "Hey, Mike… what’s your ammo situation?"

"Crap… only forty rounds left. Can we call this one a draw?"

"Not a chance, loser! That’s another round for when we get back to Pearl."

Back on Mount Natib, Lieutenant Hunter surveyed the destruction with a smile on his face. They’d all been granted a reprieve today, he thought. Even the fact that it hadn’t been without the loss of a few good men didn’t dampen his spirits. By all rights, they should have all been dead, gone with the sun that was now setting to the west. A whole day had been lost to the intense fighting that had only turned when one of the aircraft had strafed the Japanese, breaking the back of the attack that seemed certain to carry the mountaintop. A new set of darts came in from the darkening eastern sky, replacing the two that had flown off. Guardian angels, indeed.


Chapter 19

March 21, 1942
10 Miles East of Cape Encanto, The Philippines

It was what Captain Dan Thurman had dreamt about. Sure, the conditions were different, and the Admiral on his bridge was someone who had died while he was still at the Academy, Admiral Bill Halsey. But the men were still the same, even if the ships were a bit older — but you couldn’t really say that, given that the Nimitz had been thrown back nearly forty years. Hell, most of them had been around fewer years than the Nimitz had been at the time of the Event, and besides, there were a lot more of them. The emotion was the same, the tense feeling aboard ship. He hadn’t felt that since Iran, and there was much more at stake now. There wouldn’t be a foul-up in Washington this time, he thought grimly. This was his ship now, and he was in charge. He relished that thought rather than quaking from it, as so many other captains might have.

"Hell of a thing, Dan." Apparently the admiral thought the same way. The white wakes of the landing craft made the scene outside the windows seem like something out of a movie. Only the roar of the Tomcats taking off to provide close air support for the invasion distracted from the feel that what he was seeing was something out of The Longest Day. Well, the landing craft themselves took something away from that image, too. Rather than the standard Higgins Boats of the movie, the marines and soldiers of Task Force Cavalry were going ashore in pretty much anything that could float. There were the bow-ramped landing craft, but so were there wooden launches, and everything in between. Even a few amtraks were in the water, swimming to shore. A few, he saw, had become dead in the water, crewmen scrambling around in the open-topped vessels, trying to get them working again. It shouldn’t matter, though, he thought with a sigh. The observation flights he’d ordered over the landing zones in the days leading up to the beginning of strikes on the Philippines had shown that at most, there were only a few hundred Japanese soldiers garrisoning the town, and quite possibly a lot fewer. The 1,200 Americans that were going ashore in the first wave would make short work of the Japanese, amtraks or not.

"Yes, sir, Admiral," he replied after a short pause. "Seems almost a shame."

That comment drew a sidelong look from Admiral "Bull" Halsey. "What do you mean by that?" he asked curiously.

"We’ve been beating the Japanese so badly, Admiral, that this is probably going to be the only time we’re ever going to see anything like this. The Nimitz and any new aircraft the factories churn out are going to be more than enough to smash the Japanese flatter than a pancake. The marines will be able to walk ashore from here on out, once we finish this bunch off."

"It does almost take the fun out of it," the admiral mused. "The road getting here more than made up for it, though," he countered with a grin. As the task force had steamed westward, it had struck Japanese bases in the Marshall and Marianas Islands. Halsey had ordered, and Thurman agreed, that hitting the Japanese bases would make supplying the Philippines that much easier. They could then invade the islands at their leisure, once more marines and soldiers had been trained. It would be a few months, at least, for that to happen, though. Admiral Kimmel had assigned almost the entire Marine contingent in the Pacific to Task Force Cavalry, saying that it would probably be needed to face off against the approximately 120,000 Japanese troops in the Philippines. Even with all the marines that could be scraped up, the Japanese would still have the numerical advantage, not counting the forces on Bataan, of course.

Those would probably be in too banged up to fight for at least several months, and so the Nimitz was going to have to be the trump card that balanced the scales in favour of the United States. It shouldn’t be a problem, he thought. The strikes across the Pacific had confirmed the Nimitz’s supremacy at sea even while they secured supply routes. Halsey had been dutifully impressed by the ship’s capabilities. Even though they were rapidly running out of air-to-air missiles, the Tomcat was faster, more manoeuvrable, and better-armed with only its cannon than anything the Japanese could dream about putting in the air. Thurman was worried about the land battle more.

"Any news about the situation on the ground yet, admiral?"

"The first elements are going ashore now," Halsey answered after a short consultation with a runner who had come onto the bridge. Unfortunately, the ground forces didn’t have very many radios that could talk to the Nimitz directly, and the Nimitz didn’t have any old-style radios on the bridge. "I’d suggest we adjourn to the CIC. That’s enough sightseeing for one day. We’ve got a battle to fight."

The two men headed out from the bridge and down several flights of stairs to the Nimitz’s Combat Information Centre. Over the nearly two months that Halsey had been aboard, he’d grown used to the comforts and superior organization abilities of the Nimitz over his old flagship, the Enterprise, which had been assigned to the force covering the southern flank of the landing. The CIC was kept dark and cool in order to provide a better environment for the computers and men working in it. Cathode ray screens showed radar sweeps while intricate grease-pencil plots were laid out over a map of the eastern coast of Luzon. Static-warped radio transmissions from pilots and ships played out over speakers, while air and sea traffic controllers tried to make sense of the situation and keep landing craft separated from warships and Tomcats separated from Hellcats. Halsey and Thurman entered unnoticed — under combat circumstances, the CIC’s crewmen were ordered not to recognize a superior officer entering the room. There was simply too much danger of something going wrong while military courtesy was obeyed. It had taken Halsey a while to get used to that, Thurman remembered. The two men gravitated toward the section of the CIC devoted to the landing at Baler.

Enlisted men scurried from one side of the plotting table to the other, updating it with markings and labels as more information was relayed by the radios piped over speakers and through the headsets that each man was wearing. Stopping one of the sailors, Halsey asked gruffly, "What’s the situation, son?"

The young sailor, realizing that the man asking the question was far above his pay grade, stopped, stared, and hastily saluted before stammering out an answer to Halsey’s question. "Let me show you on the map, sir — sirs," he clarified, seeing Thurman standing in the dark room. He moved over to the other side of the plotting table, clearly trying to get some sort of support when dealing with people far more important than himself. He put the table between him and the officers, and leaned over to gesture. "We’ve only been in intermittent contact with the first wave, but from all reports, they’ve been successful getting ashore and have begun pushing inland." He paused as a runner came up with another sheet of paper. He nodded as he read it, then looked back up at the officers. "According to the newest report," he handed over the paper to Admiral Halsey, "the marines have reached the mountain pass to the west of the city. A Corsair II reported hitting a Japanese convoy in the pass, so they might be facing a few scattered Japanese there."

Halsey read the paper and only had one comment. "Damn." He handed the report over to Thurman, who glanced over it. If the Japanese managed to make the marines fight for the pass, there’d be trouble. Only that one narrow road linked Baler with central Luzon, and if the Japanese managed to get even a few platoons along the road, it’d mean trouble. The pass was narrow enough to mean that air strikes were problematic, and it’d be a straight-on slog through the mountains if the pass was blocked. That was the problem with landing on the east coast of Luzon, but there hadn’t been much choice.

The mountains ran almost directly along the eastern coast of Luzon, and landing sites were few and far between. Rather than take another week or two to sail around the northern tip of the island, exposing Task Force Cavalry to Japanese interception, Halsey had decided to land on the east coast of the island. Baler was simply the best of a few bad landing sites.

Subordinate elements of the task force had been deployed to the north and south to cover the flanks of the landing and attack the Japanese landing sites at Aparri in the north and Legaspi in the south. The Japanese had occupied virtually all of Luzon, but they still got their supplies through those two ports and the Lingayen Gulf on the western side of Luzon. Manila Bay was still closed to the Japanese, thanks to the resistance of Bataan and Corregidor. Those two attacks were just as important as the one here in the centre, and evidently Admiral Halsey thought so, too. "How are the Enterprise and Nevada groups doing?"

The young sailor stopped another of the men working around the plotting table, and asked a series of rapid-fire questions before turning back to the officers. He gestured at the table, pointing out a series of grease-pencil markings. "We have all three of the Nimitz’s Hawkeyes up now, Admiral, giving us information on anything above or on the surface of the Earth."

"Even tanks?" Halsey asked with a slight grin.

"Anything to a point — er, anything on the ocean, admiral, sir," the man hastily clarified. He pointed back to three points in particular. "We have the Hawkeyes stationed in a triangle formation above Luzon — one in the south, with the Enterprise group; one in the north, with the Nevada group, and one above Bataan, keeping an eye on the air approaches from China and Taiw— er, Formosa." He proceeded to point out the current locations of the two groups, and the locations of the two Japanese groups they were closing in on.

"Have we gotten any word from McCloskey and Wade?" Thurman wanted to know how his two crewmen were doing. Their Tomcat had gone down over the previous night — no one was really sure what had brought it down — over the Bataan Peninsula. Fortunately, they’d managed to bail out near Corregidor, and had been picked up by a launch from the island. Their aircraft had plunged into the warm sea just outside Manila Bay. Thurman was concerned that it might have been a mechanical fault. The Nimitz had already had to ground nearly a dozen aircraft — most of which were helicopters — but every loss hurt. The aircraft could be cannibalised for parts, but it was yet another sign that the Nimitz was being stretched further than he felt comfortable doing. Good thing the Japanese were so incompetent.

"Yes, sir. We got a message in from them not five minutes before you came down, sir. They’re both fine. Wade has a broken leg, but the message we got says it’s not serious. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier, sir." Well, that was good news. The fact that neither of them had been hurt was somewhat of a salve on the fact that he hadn’t been told immediately — if one of them had been killed, he would’ve wanted to know right away. Mere injuries could wait.

As the sailor answered the question, another runner came up, dodging his way through the crowded and dark CIC, his headset draped around his neck. The plotter took a look at the message before bringing it to the two officers. "Sirs, the Enterprise and Lexington are launching their strike now."


Northeast of Catanduanes Island, The Philippines

Captain Pownall was pleased. His ship, the USS Enterprise, was humming with activity and running like a fine-tuned machine as it prepared to launch its strike against the Japanese that had occupied the southern portion of Luzon. He was practically floating off the deck with excitement. The damn Nimitz, capable as she might have been, had been the one earning the glory in the voyage across the Pacific, striking with her invulnerable aircraft at bases the Enterprise’s squadrons wouldn’t have dared to go near. It was the Nimitz that had made the kills, the Nimitz that had dropped the bombs, and the Nimitz that had gotten the credit. Well, now it was the Enterprise’s turn.

Pownall watched the activity down on the deck with interest. Fortunately, he didn’t have to deal with the squadron’s Rear Admiral at the moment — he was down below, listening to the radioed transmissions from the Yorktown and the destroyers that were preparing to run the Japanese gauntlet to bombard the port of Legaspi, here at the southern end of Luzon. As you got further south, the more Luzon stopped running north-south and became more west-southeast. The destroyers, with the aid of his aircraft, would have to run a potential gauntlet of islands and possible Japanese guns in order to bombard the port. Simple aerial bombardment wouldn’t do, of course. They had to make it convincing, convincing enough that the Japanese wouldn’t be able to afford to withdraw their forces to the north to face the landing.

His portion of the assignment had been gigantic — the Enterprise had been ordered to stop that potential flow of troops if the Japanese didn’t bite on the decoy. It would’ve been a task the Nimitz would have been hard-pressed to do, let alone the Enterprise and Yorktown. As much as he hated to admit it, the airborne radar coverage from the Nimitz would be helpful. Pownall hated the idea that the Nimitz was making his job all the more difficult. How the hell was he going to get promoted when the morons in Washington kept thinking of the Nimitz’s capabilities as something every American carrier could do?

The Japanese were farsighted incompetents, yes, but there were so many of the yellow bastards! He didn’t have those all-seeing missiles and bombs — to expect his pilots to be able to close a railroad tunnel in one strike was too much. But at least they were giving him the chance, rather than letting the Nimitz do the work. Even it couldn’t be everywhere at once. We’ll see how they do when they run out of their magic weapons, he thought with grim satisfaction.

The first Dauntlesses began to take off, and that was yet another thing he could take satisfaction in — his crew. The Nimitz, for all its power, didn’t have the men to run a tugboat, let alone a carrier. What had happened to the Navy in the future? The men he’d seen on his conference visits to the ship were completely undisciplined and soft. They hardly seemed to be military at all. Their hair was long, clothing unkempt, and most of all, they were disrespectful in the highest degree! The Navy had given him a home since the Great War, and he’d be damned if he’d see it be degraded into the Nimitz’s sort of men. At least the Navy had had the good sense to assign plenty of regular-Navy sailors to the Nimitz before it had left Pearl. Most of them had been good carrier sailors, and a whole month at sea would have been more than enough to get them used to the Nimitz. After all, there wasn’t that much difference between the Nimitz and the Enterprise, just a few extra knobs and switches. From all the reports of accidents and incidents, he couldn’t imagine what it would have been like without properly-trained sailors from the regular Navy. It would be a good day for him. He could feel it.

The last aircraft took off from the Enterprise, joining its compatriots from the Yorktown, and headed southwest. For the most part, the flight was peaceful as the Dauntlesses and Wildcats of the two carriers flew over open water and islands where the Japanese had not yet set up heavy guns. As the aircraft neared Luzon, the going got much less easy. Warned by the E-2C Hawkeye assigned to the southern group that the Japanese had scrambled fighters, the Wildcat squadrons pulled off from direct escort of the Dauntlesses, climbing high to gain an initial advantage. The Japanese groped northeast, searching for the American aircraft they knew were out there. Guided by the airborne radar of the Hawkeye, the Wildcats found them first.

Diving from above, out of the morning sun, the Japanese were caught flatfooted. Outnumbered and at a disadvantage in position, nearly half of the three-squadron formation of Zeroes fell in the first pass. But rather than collapsing into a disorganized flock, the Japanese fought back. The Japanese used their experience and more manoeuvrable aircraft to down five of the Wildcats in quick succession. Eventually, however, American numbers and the ability of the heavily-armoured Wildcats to absorb damage turned the tide. Having lost two thirds of their number, the surviving Japanese fled west, right into the arms of two Tomcats that had been vectored in from the north. Despite the success, it hadn’t come at a cheap price for the American squadrons. Despite holding a 5:3 advantage in numbers and a massive advantage in position and surprise, seven Wildcats went down, one ditching after being declared unsafe to land. In the first major battle for the Enterprise’s and Yorktown’s pilots, there was much to celebrate, even as they mourned their losses and wondered if it would be as easy for them as it was for the Nimitz.

While the Wildcats were fighting Zeroes, the Dauntless dive bombers of the two carriers were battling Japanese ground fire. Though there was little organized flak, small arms aplenty were fired at the bombers as they passed overhead. The bombers were also hampered by the Japanese commander, who had ordered smoke pots be lit throughout the province of Albay. The bombers’ accuracy, never good under the best of circumstances, was horrific under these. Most bombs missed their targets, sparing the Japanese forces barracked in south Luzon for another day. The important targets managed to get hit, though in many cases it did take two or in one particular case, three sorties to accomplish the goals of the southern portion of Task Force Cavalry. The destroyers that were sent into Albay Gulf managed to accomplish their mission while suffering only slight losses. In exchange for the loss of the USS Bagley, four Japanese freighters were shelled at their moorings and one Japanese destroyer sunk in the approaches to the harbour. Another two destroyers and a light cruiser were found and sunk by Devastator squadrons eager to use their torpedoes for something constructive. The batteries of Japanese 105mm guns that had been deployed to guard the entrances of the bay found their fire answered by the 5-inch guns of as many as six destroyers. Only the USS Jarvis suffered any damage before the guns were silenced. All things considered, it was a relatively uneventful and successful — though the crews of the downed aircraft and the Bagley may have disagreed — mission. The rail line to the north was cut in several places, and Japanese troops in the south were locked down by the threat of an American invasion. Things would not go as smoothly in the north.


Chapter 20

The northern group was a political animal, and like all such animals was somewhat ungainly. It was a creature of the battleship admirals, men who had seen their ships take a backseat to the carriers in Roosevelt’s Two-Ocean Navy plan. They had grown disgruntled, but had accepted their position for the good of the Navy. When word of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour reached Washington, that dissatisfaction disappeared for a time, subsumed in the spirit of confidence that followed the victory. Most were kept in the dark about the Nimitz and her role in the victory, and when the news broke, it was doubly shocking. When reports of victory after victory followed in the Nimitz’s wake, the dissatisfaction returned with a vengeance. And this time, the battleship admirals were joined by others, conservative officers who objected to the way the Eighties ran their ship and did business.

That wasn’t the way their Navy operated. Black men might make good mess men and cooks, but certainly not sailors, and definitely not officers. Especially not commanding officers. And that was on top of the laxness of the Nimitz’s crew – they simply weren’t disciplined in the eyes of those officers.

And so the Nimitz’s crew was split up, as non-essential men were assigned to Forties ships and bases while Forties sailors took their place on the massive carrier. But it wasn’t enough. When Operation Cavalry was planned, the battleship admirals got their pound of flesh. The Northern Group, originally intended to be a screening force for the invasion, was instead strengthened by the addition of most of the Pacific Fleet’s available battleships, and Admiral William S. Pye, commander of the Pacific Fleet’s Battle Force, was placed in charge.

Pye, like most Forties officers with access to the Nimitz’s histories, had been eager to discover how history looked at their legacies. For most, it was a disappointing find. A few brief sentences, if there was anything at all. Some happily found themselves written about positively, accomplishments they’d managed in one history that would now never be duplicated. Some of those men even found themselves promoted because of those same never-done deeds, creating conflicting emotions in them. Pride at what they’d done in the Nimitz’s histories and disappointment that they’d never get to do the things that some Forties newspapers had picked up on. A few even felt nervous, afraid they’d do things that wouldn’t live up to their historical reputation. But by and large, their experiences were positive.

The same couldn’t be said for everyone. For although there were positives from the Nimitz’s histories, so too were there negatives. Promising officers found themselves faced with historical condemnation, mistakes they’d made in one history damning them in another. Admiral Pye was one of those men. Criticized for his cautiousness as commander of the Pacific Fleet in the wake of the other history’s Pearl Harbour attacks, he was at first furious with the Eighties sailors, then coldly resolved to do better. Although the critical histories affected his attitude toward the Nimitz, it wasn’t the outright hate that some officers had toward the carrier. Pye realized that it was up to him to overcome the judgment of history, and as Task Force Cavalry steamed westward, he resolved to do just that.

It was the Japanese who would provide him the opportunity. Thanks to computers provided by the Nimitz, cracking Japanese and German codes proved to be child’s play, even though those nations had changed their coding systems almost immediately after news of the Nimitz’s arrival leaked out. The information explained why Task Force Cavalry had not encountered any Japanese naval units in its sweep through the central Pacific on the way to the Philippines. Major Japanese surface units had been pulled back to form three fleets based in the Home Islands, Formosa, and the newly-fallen Singapore, respectively. The Singapore fleet would be supporting most of the lighter elements of the Imperial Japanese Navy in their conquest of the Dutch East Indies, while the other two fleets would be tasked with defending their respective areas from the Nimitz’s inevitable attack. Once the Nimitz was destroyed, or so the Japanese hoped, the IJN would be able to resume its operations in an aggressive posture.

The end result of that redeployment meant that rather than performing a mere screening action, Pye’s force would instead be engaging a major section of the Japanese Navy. Standing on the bridge of his flagship, he felt certain that this would be his chance to erase those damned history books and write a story that wouldn’t be so bland. He eschewed any help from the Nimitz’s bombers, instead asking for only the support of one of the Nimitz’s three E-2 Hawkeyes. That aircraft, in addition to providing radar coverage for Pye’s force, would also be providing coverage for the two Tomcat groups interdicting Japanese aircraft from Taiwan (as the Eighties called it) and the Japanese home islands.

As Cavalry reached the Philippines and Pye set up operations east of the Babyuan Islands north of Luzon, cryptographers aboard the Nimitz relayed information that Admiral Nobutake Kondo, commanding the Japanese central fleet, had not retreated to Formosa (as the Forties called it), but instead had set up operations in the South China Sea just west of Luzon. Alerted by American air attacks on Luzon, Kondo set sail northward in an attempt to circumnavigate the island and attack the American landings.

March 24, 1942

Admiral Pye had grown used to the Nimitz’s flag quarters during the month the fleet had spent in transit between Pearl Harbour and Luzon, but something about the place just didn’t seem right to his mind. Pye had to remind himself that it wasn’t the Nimitz’s fault that history had painted him with a black brush. They were just the messengers. That didn’t erase his sour stomach as he tried to persuade Halsey that the northern force could take on the Japanese.

"Admiral, we know where the Japs are right now, and where they’re going to be. It’s as set a battle as anything in history, and my force can take on the Japanese even without air support," Pye said earnestly.

"Admiral Pye, I’ve never held anyone back from the enemy in my life, and I’m sure as hell not going to start now." Halsey spoke in a stern, but even tone. "But I don’t like this idea of sending you out there without any help from the Nimitz."

Pye was normally an even-tempered man, but he tended to get emotional when the subject of the Nimitz came up. Maybe it was the reminder of his own historical record, or maybe just the seeming repudiation of his career as a battleship officer, but whatever it was didn’t really matter. He mentally calmed himself down before continuing. "Sir," (and wasn’t that a slap in the face – Halsey’s promotion to full Admiral over his own had to have been because of those damn history books) "The Nimitz doesn’t have an infinite amount of munitions. I’d much rather the Nimitz stay in support of General Vandergrift than try to waste bombs on Admiral Kondo. After all," he waved at Captain Thurman, who, aggravatingly, was sitting in on the meeting, "Captain Thurman himself saw how much ordinance was needed to sink those Jap battlewagons at Pearl Harbour. It’s simply more efficient to use the Nimitz in support of the ground fighting than to help us out. We can take care of ourselves," he declared firmly.

Halsey went thoughtful for a moment. The man had a point, but Halsey knew Pye wanted to make a name for himself, and that fact made Pye more aggressive. Well, that was a good thing. "Very well, Admiral." Halsey extended a hand. "Good luck."

As Pye boarded the helicopter that would take him back to the Arizona, he felt that he had won a victory. Still, it was only a small battle in the war. He still had to show the world that battleships had a place in this strange new world that the Nimitz had wrought.


Below decks, Halsey and Thurman were deep in conversation about the meeting.
"He seems pretty confident to me, Admiral."

Admiral Halsey grinned at that. "That he does, Dan. I hadn’t known the man had it in him – he always had the air of a schoolteacher when I worked with him. Guess getting a chance to shine his spurs in real fighting must’ve lit a fire under him."

"Still, Admiral, that Japanese force isn’t anything to shrug at – he’ll be fighting seven battleships to his six, and the Japanese weren’t slouches in our history. He could be in for a rough fight."

"He’s got more cruisers than the Japs do, and Pye’s no slouch, either." But the remark had given voice to some of Halsey’s own concerns. For all his love of decisive action, Pye wasn’t him. Halsey could trust himself and his men, but could he trust Pye? Halsey came to the most important decision of the battle at that moment.

"But I think you could be right, Dan. What do you have standing by if things go south up north?" He smiled at the little play on words.

Thurman answered the smile with a little grin that humoured his superior, but that grin quickly turned flat. "Not much. Pretty much everything flyable is out helping General Vandergrift force the pass just east of Bongabon. The Japanese seem to have been able to react more quickly than we had hoped – if only we had more men to put on the ground … but that doesn’t matter here," he concluded quickly. "Right now, all I can spare are the broken birds we’ve got on the hangar deck. They’ve got various things wrong with them, and we don’t have the parts to fix ‘em. Normally, I wouldn’t consider flying them at all, but this whole situation isn’t normal at all. I can arm ‘em up with some of the Walleyes we were holding for an emergency and have them ready if Admiral Pye needs the assistance."

Halsey nodded. "Do that. I don’t like flying broken aircraft, but if they’re flyable, we can’t leave anything on deck. Pye probably won’t need the help, but if he does, it’ll be nice to have something overhead." He got up to leave, then paused. "That reminds me. I just received word that a tanker is on its way from Pearl with the jet fuel they’ve come up with for your aircraft. It should be here in a week or so."

Thurman smiled at the good news. With that fuel, he’d be able to avoid ordering the new CAG (God, he wished Owens, pain or not, was still aboard) from ordering the pilots to conserve fuel as much as possible. "Thank you for the good news, Admiral."


Having been delivered by helicopter from the Nimitz to the Arizona, Pye ordered his captains to set sail northwest. His plan of action was simple – engage the Japanese in the confined space of the Babuyan Channel, where his advantage in cruisers would more than balance the disadvantage in battleship numbers. In order to draw the Japanese into the channel, he’d detach a destroyer squadron to advance down the coast, with the objective of bombarding the Japanese landing site at Lingayen Gulf. The squadron would be "surprised" by the Japanese force, and "retreat" in haste to the channel, hopefully drawing the Japanese into the confined waters.

His captains so briefed, the ships entered the channel on the evening of the 24th, seemingly ready for anything that might happen. Then things started to go wrong.


To be continued…


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