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Out of the Dark: Chapter Twelve

       Last updated: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 19:34 EDT



    Major Dan Torino, call sign “Longbow,” loved the F-22 Raptor.

    At 5′8″ he was no towering giant (few fighter pilots were) but he had a compact, squared-off frame, a solid, hard-trained muscularity, heavy black eyebrows, a proud nose, and intense gray-green eyes. In many ways, he was an easygoing sort of fellow, but those eyes told the true tale, for the killer instinct of the born fighter pilot ran deep in his blood and bone, as well. Even his dark hair seemed to bristle aggressively when he thought about flying. Well, to be honest, it bristled most of the time, if he ever let his usual “high-and-tight” get out of hand. In fact, it was just plain unruly, and his wife Helen loved to run her fingers through it and tease it into tufts and laugh whenever he let it get a mite long. She called it his “crabgrass tiger look.”

    But crabgrass or not, he loved the F-22.

    He knew the party line was that the F-35 Lightning II was the way to go, and he was willing to admit that the Joint Strike Fighter Program had (finally) produced a capable medium-range ground support aircraft — which, after all, was what “strike” fighter was all about, wasn’t it? But the sacrifices and trade- offs in the F-35 left the “fighter” part of its designation sucking wind in Torino’s opinion. It wasn’t turning out to be all that much cheaper by the time the dust settled and all the cost overruns were in, either. In fact, if the total buy on the F-22 had been as large as the projected total buy on the F-35, its fly-away price tag per aircraft would actually have been lower.

    By any measure he could come up with, the Raptor was still the best air-superiority fighter in the world. It had the lowest radar signature, it had the best airborne intercept radar, its new infrared detection system had taken the lead in IR detection and targeting away from the Russians, and in “supercruise” it was capable of “dry” supersonic flight, without the enormous fuel penalties of afterburner operation. It was seventy-five percent faster than the F-35 in “dry” flight, which gave it a far greater operating radius; in afterburner it could break Mach 2.0 without raising a sweat; and it was just as capable of hitting ground targets — and even better at penetrating defended airspace in the strike role — than the F-35.

    Not to mention the fact that the F-22 had been fully operational since 2005 and the F-35 was still lagging behind (badly) on its projected deployment rates. And likewise not to mention the interesting news stories that Congress was now thinking about capping its total production numbers because of cost concerns, as well. In Torino’s opinion, there was a certain bittersweet, ironic justice in that possibility, although anyone who was really surprised by the final outcome of this particular little morality play probably liked to buy bridges and magic beans of questionable provenance, as well.

    The truth was that the real reason Raptor production had been capped at less than two hundred aircraft was that no one had expected to be going up against other fifth-generation fighter operators anytime soon. They had expected to be dropping bombs and precision guided munitions on ground targets in lower-intensity conflicts in places like Afghanistan, however — thus the emphasis on the Lightning and its ability to defeat ground defense systems, like SAMs and anti-aircraft fire, rather than other fighters. Besides, with only so many dollars in the till, not even the U.S. military could afford to buy everything it wanted, and the F-35 had a lot more “jointness” going for it. The Navy and Marines badly needed a replacement for the A-6, F/A-18, and Harrier, and this way they got to buy at least some of their aircraft on the Air Force’s nickel. Then there were all of the other nations which had been brought into the procurement program, helping to spread the cost burden, whereas Congress had specifically prohibited the overseas sale of the F-22.

    All of which explained why “Longbow” Torino had felt incredibly lucky when he found out he was going to be one of the pilots who actually got to fly the aircraft. He’d taken Helen and the kids out and blown the better part of two hundred bucks on a celebratory dinner when he found out he’d been assigned to the First Air Wing’s 27th Fighter Squadron. After his wedding and the days his children were born, it had been the greatest day of his life.

    A life which suddenly felt unspeakably empty as he sat in the uncomfortable plastic chair, staring down at his hands, trying to wrap his mind around the impossible.

    He and three other pilots had been unceremoniously turfed out of their billets at Langley Air Force Base three days earlier. Colonel Ainsborough, the First’s CO, claimed he’d chosen Torino to lead the four-ship detachment because the major was the best man for the job. Personally, Torino had been inclined to take that with a grain of salt, but he hadn’t complained, even though it did mean he was going to miss his older son’s birthday. In the wake of what was rumored to have been a truly massive penetration of DoD’s secure databases (and, if the even more quietly whispered rumors were accurate, almost all of their allies’ databases, as well), it made sense to deploy at least some of their air defense assets to bases that weren’t in any of the upper tier contingency plans, and somebody had to take the duty.

    Which was how Torino, Captain “Killer” Cunningham, his wingman, two other 27th Squadron pilots, and a maintenance section had found themselves “stationed” at the Plattsburgh International Airport. Once upon a time, Plattsburgh International had been Plattsburgh Air Force Base. Most of the Air Force buildings were still there, although they’d been converted to civilian use, and its twelve-thousand-foot concrete runway was more than adequate to the needs of an F-22.

    And because it was, Torino and his fellow pilots were still alive . . . for now, at least.

    Funny how that seemed so much less important than it would have been three days ago.

    He raised his head, looking around the improvised ready room. The other three pilots sat equally silent, equally wrapped in their own grim thoughts. None of them knew how bad it really was, but they knew enough. They knew Langley and the rest of the wing — and their families — were gone. They knew Washington had been destroyed, and that neither the president nor the vice president had gotten out. They knew Shaw Air Force Base, the Ninth Air Force’s home base, had been destroyed, taking with it the command-and-control element of the eastern seaboard’s air defenses. They knew Vandenberg, Nellis, and at least another dozen Air Force bases were gone. They knew Fort Bragg was gone, along with Fort Jackson, Fort Hood, Fort Rucker, Navy Air Station Oceana, NAS Patuxent River, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, MCAS Beaufort….

    The list went on forever. In one cataclysmic afternoon of deadly accurate, pinpoint strikes, the United States of America had been annihilated as a military power, and God only knew how many millions of American citizens had died in the process. Against that, what could a single woman and three children matter… even if their last name had been Torino?

    He looked back down at his hands. As far as he knew, he and his three pilots were all that was left of Air Combat Command. They were it, and against whoever had done this, four fighters — even four Raptors — weren’t going to stop them when they followed up their attack.



    But who had done it? And how? There was no way it had been the Iranians, no matter what the rumor mill had said! So who –?

    The door to what had been the Direct Air pi lots’ lounge flew open. The racket as it slammed abruptly into the doorstop brought Torino’s head up, and he frowned as he recognized the man standing in the open doorway. He couldn’t remember the fellow’s name, but he was the senior man from the local Homeland Security office located here at the airport.

    “Major Torino!” the newcomer half shouted.


    “Here!” The man was holding out a cell phone. “He needs to talk to you!”

    Torino accepted the phone and raised it to his ear.

    “Who is this?” he asked suspiciously.

    “Torino? Major Torino, U.S. Air Force?” a hoarse voice replied.

    “Yes. Who the hell are you?”

    “Thank God.” The voice paused for a moment, as if its owner were drawing a deep breath, then resumed. “This is Rear Admiral James Robinson, Naval Network and Space Operations Command. I’ve been hunting for someone — anyone — who’s still got some air defense capability for the last three hours, and so far you’re all I’ve been able to find.”

    Torino’s eyes narrowed. These days, NAVSPACECOM was primarily a centralized data processing node for USSTRATCOM’s Joint Functional Command Component for Space, which had been stood up in 2006 to bring all United States space surveillance systems together under one roof. But JFCC SPACE was — or had been, at least — headquartered at Vandenberg. He knew that was gone, but until 2004, NAVSPACECOM had been the primary headquarters for what had originally been the Navy’s Naval Space Command Surveillance, and it continued to function as the backup Space Command Center. If he remembered correctly, it was located at Dahlgren, Virginia, a hundred miles north of Norfolk, and he supposed that whoever had smashed the American military might have overlooked it. There wasn’t much to attract the eye, aside from the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s airstrip.

    “I don’t suppose there’s any point trying to authenticate to each other, is there, Sir?” Torino’s biting irony could have evaporated Lake Champlain, and the man at the other end of the cell phone gave a harsh, ugly bark of laughter.

    “No, there isn’t. We’ve still got some comms, but the entire system’s been shot full of holes. I don’t know why we didn’t get hit — everybody else in our line of business sure as hell did! But I’ve been going down the list, trying to find somebody with shooters who’s still online. As far as I can tell, you’re it for CONUS air defense, although there’s supposed to be a couple of other detachments scattered around bases in the Carolinas. I’m trying to get hold of them, too, but as bad as communications are, I don’t think I’m going to reach anyone else in time to do any good.”

    “Forgive me, Admiral, but just how is talking to me supposed to do any good?” Torino demanded bitterly. “We’re fucked, Sir. That’s the short and ugly truth.”

    “Yes, we are, Major,” Robinson said. “But National Command Authority hasn’t told us to stand down yet.”

    “No,” Torino admitted. “On the other hand, what the hell can we do?”

    “Listen to me, Major. Whoever did this didn’t — I repeat, did not — use nukes. These were kinetic strikes, delivered from space. In fact, they were delivered from a point approximately thirty thousand miles out. Are you following me? This was not an attack by any other nation. It was an attack from someone else — someone from completely outside our solar system!”

    “Aliens?” Torino heard the incredulity in his own voice. “You’re telling me aliens did this? Like some bad outtake from Independence Day?”

    “I know it sounds crazy, but the tracking data’s solid. They were launched in sequenced waves, Major, emanating from seven distinct point sources. They started moving east across North America while simultaneously laying another pattern across the Med, headed west. They took out all of our major bases, and as nearly as I can tell, they’ve killed every surface unit the Navy had. I imagine they hit our bases in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well, though I don’t have any way to confirm that yet — I’m still looking for a comm link to anybody over there. But think about it. It makes sense out of that cyber attack, doesn’t it? They were pulling out information for targeting purposes.”

    Torino wanted to throw the phone away, sit down, and bury his face in his hands. It was ridiculous. Preposterous. Yet if Robinson was who he said he was — and Torino had no reason to doubt him — he was in a better position than almost anyone else on the entire planet to know if aliens were dropping rocks on them.

    “Say you’re right, Sir,” he said after a moment. “Why tell me? Not even a Raptor can intercept meteorites!”

    “No, you can’t,” Robinson agreed grimly. “But I’ve still got optical tracking and detection available, and the bastards who did this are sending in what look like shuttles.”

    “Shuttles?” Torino said sharply, gray- green eyes suddenly narrow.

    “That’s what it looks like. You may not realize the optical resolution we can get, but we’re getting good detail, and I’m having it set up to dump to the Internet as it comes in. Hopefully enough of the Net’s still up for people to see it and realize what we’re up against, but what matters right now is that these things have to be way too small to be any kind of interstellar craft. Our people make them to be maybe three times the size of a C-5, and they’ve got an air breathing planeform. They’ve got to be landing vehicles of some sort, and it looks like we’ve got at least two or three dozen of them heading for someplace in western Pennsylvania or central Virginia.”



    Don Torino’s Raptor bored through the thin, frigid air fifty thousand feet above the state of Pennsylvania at just over twelve hundred miles per hour. He tried not to think about the roaring infernos sweeping out from the impact sites he and his detachment had overflown to get here. He tried not to think about the fact that, one way or the other, this was going to be his final combat sortie. And he especially tried not to think about the fact that with the United States of America facing its first foreign invasion in three centuries, all she had to defend herself were four lonely fighter planes.

    I wonder how outclassed we’re really going to be? He wondered. As a sixteen-year-old, he’d loved the movie Independence Day, although he’d realized even then that he was watching the most gloriously overdone, cliché-ridden Grade-B movie in history. As an older and (arguably) more mature fighter pilot and commissioned officer of the United States Air Force, rewatching the movie with his kids on video had caused him a certain degree of physical pain, not to mention leaving him to explain to his offspring where the Air Force had been while the Marine Corps single-handedly defended the world. Still, he couldn’t forget the force field which had protected all of the alien vessels in that movie.

    Look, stop sweating it, he told himself sternly. Whatever’s going to happen is going to happen, and you sure as hell aren’t Will Smith. Hell, you’re not even Bruce Willis, and at least he’s the right color! Even if his hair is even worse than yours.

    To his amazement, that actually startled a laugh out of him.




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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



    Well, either way, it wasn’t going to be his problem. The infantry might usually get to have the fun dirt- side, but at least shuttle pilots got to sleep in nice, clean bunks every night. And they had access to hot showers, too, for that matter. Of course, he was going to be too busy to be enjoying his bunk or any hot showers anytime soon. There were never enough Starlanders, especially during the initial phases of a landing. At the moment, he and the rest of the 9th Heavy Transport Group’s triple-twelve of shuttles — almost a full twelfth-part of the fleet’s heavy lift landing capability — were headed for a preselected landing zone west of what had once been the capital of something called the United States. They were bringing in the first half of Ground Base Two, tasked with establishing control of the eastern seacoast of this continent. Ground Base One, with overall responsibility for the entire continent, was being landed by the 11th Heavy Transport, much farther west. In something called the “state of Iowa,” by the locals.

    Fardahm grimaced at the bizarre-sounding words. He was glad he wasn’t going to have to learn “English.” Even if his vocal apparatus had been designed for making such peculiar sounds, it seemed to him that it was a very strange language. For that matter, if these creatures — these “humans” — were going to have planet-wide communications, why in Dainthar’s name couldn’t they have settled on a single language? Was that really asking too much? Just one language, and one that didn’t have so many sounds that sounded just like other sounds. It was a good thing their personal comps were going to be able to handle the translation for anyone who actually had to communicate with them. Which, praise Dainthar, he wasn’t!

    He checked his position again. About another tenth of a segment. Of course, he was sixteenth in the landing queue, so —

    Shuttle Commander Fardahm’s thoughts were interrupted with shocking suddenness as an AIM-120-D Advanced-Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile’s forty-pound blast-fragmentation warhead detonated less than five feet from his shuttle’s fuselage.

    Alarm systems howled, onboard fire alarms shrieked, lights began to flash all over his cockpit, and crimson danger signals appeared on his cornea projected HUD.

    None of them did Fardahm any good at all. He was already reaching for the ejection button when the entire shuttle blew up in midair.



    Eat your heart out out, Will Smith!

    Despite everything, “Longbow” Torino felt his lips curling up in enormous smile. These alien shuttles obviously didn’t have any force fields protecting them. Not only that, but they clearly hadn’t had a clue what was heading for them. His four fighters had launched twenty-four Slammers, and their missiles’ performance had done Raytheon proud. Twenty of them had scored clean hits or detonated within lethal distance of their targets, and each of them was a hard kill.

    He heard someone else — “Killer” Cunningham, he thought — howling in triumph. The same savage, vengeful satisfaction flamed through his own veins, but it was a cold, burning fire, not hot, and his brain ticked like an icy machine.

    The range was down to fifty miles, still dropping at better than ten miles a minute, and there was no sign of any defensive fire. For that matter, there weren’t even any decoys or flares.

    “Flight, Longbow,” he said flatly. “Sidewinders.”



    The Shongair formation disintegrated in confusion and wild panic. No Shongair shuttle had ever been downed by hostile fire — not even a Deathwing, which routinely provided close support, far less one of the Starlanders! — and the pilots had no idea what to do. They’d never been trained in combat techniques, because there’d never been any need for them. They were transport pilots, and their shuttles were transport vehicles, optimized for maximum cargo capacity. The Starlander was better than six hundred and forty feet long, a variable geometry design capable of relatively high Mach numbers on a reentry profile but designed for economic, subsonic flight in atmosphere. It was capable of vertical takeoff and landing operation on counter-grav but used conventional air-breathing engines in actual flight, and its designers had never intended for it to stray into reach of any armed opponent. And for all its size, it was fragile. Tough-skinned enough to resist muscle-powered projectiles, perhaps, it didn’t respond well when the warheads of vastly more sophisticated weapons tore holes in that same skin or white-hot fragments of those same warheads were thrown into its completely unarmored fuel system.

    The survivors watched in horrified shock as twenty of their fellows plunged down to catastrophic rendezvous with the ground below, and they didn’t even know who was shooting at them! Lockheed Martin had described the F-22s’ radar cross-section as “the size of a steel marble,” which was a remarkable achievement, but this time it didn’t really matter. Not as far as the Starlanders were concerned. Their air-to-air radar was designed primarily to avoid aerial collisions between aircraft with transponders — aircraft which wanted to be seen — not to locate highly stealthy, heavily armed fighters less than a tenth their own size. Nor had it ever occurred to anyone to fit rear-area cargo-haulers intended for operations against crossbow-armed adversaries with radar warning devices. They were literally blind, totally unable to see Torino’s small flight as the four Raptors streaked in behind them.



    “Fox two! Fox two!” Major Torino snapped as the two AIM-9X all-aspect Sidewinders popped out of their briefly opened weapons bay doors. The shorter-ranged heat- seeking weapons streaked away, guiding on the brilliant thermal beacons of the alien shuttles’ engines, and he watched them racing in on their targets.

    All four F-22s launched within seconds of one another, sending eight more missiles into the chaos of the disintegrating Shongair formation. Two of them were targeted on the same victim; within minutes, four more of the big shuttles were plunging to the earth in flames while another three staggered onward with heavy damage. One of the wounded craft trailed a broad ribbon of smoke, and even as Torino looked in its direction, he saw a river of fire joining the smoke.

    “Flight, go guns!” he snarled.



    It was a nightmare.

    Of the thirty-six Starlanders transporting Ground Base Two, twenty-four had been destroyed and three more were going down. The pilots of the nine undamaged survivors had only a single thought: escape. Unfortunately, they’d never been trained for this situation. It wasn’t supposed to arise. They were on their own, with no evasive doctrine or tactics to call upon, and almost in unison, they swept their wings and went to full power, accelerating to just over the speed of sound and bolting straight ahead.



    The Raptors were out of missiles.

    Each of them mounted a single twenty-millimeter M61A2 Vulcan Gatling gun in its starboard wing root, normally concealed by a carefully faired popout door to preserve the smoothness stealth required. It was intended solely as a last-ditch weapon, with only four hundred and eighty rounds of ammunition — enough for no more than five seconds of sustained maximum rate fire. Neither Torino nor any of his other pilots had ever really expected to go guns in air-to-air combat, but now that the opportunity was here….



    The Starlanders never had a chance.

    At their best air-breathing speed, they were barely half as fast as the Raptors in dry thrust. Worse, they were huge targets, unarmored, unarmed, and little more maneuverable — even with counter-grav — than a human-designed heavy transport aircraft. The vectored-thrust F-22s, on the other hand, had been designed for high-gravity agility second to none, and they slashed in on their huge targets like barracuda attacking whales. They fired in short, mercilessly accurate bursts, ripping the shuttles’ fuselages open, butchering the construction troops and base admin personnel in their passenger bays, spilling heavy construction equipment over the Virginia countryside.

    It was over in less than six minutes.



    “Flight, Longbow.” Torino’s voice sounded drained, even to him. “Go home.”

    The acknowledgments came back again, and the four Raptors turned away from the funeral pyres of their victims. Now if only Plattsburgh would still be there when they got there.

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