The Montague Tubes

Kidnapping Anna: The Montague Tubes, the conclusion of the trilogy, has Anna on her way to Vancouver as directed by a group she hopes will give her the answers she is looking for. Again, rather than talk about how great the story is here is the Prologue. We know you will enjoy it!
SPOILER ALERT!!!! SPOILER ALERT!!!! THERE ARE THINGS HERE YOU MIGHT NOT WANT TO READ ABOUT YET!

Prologue

October 27, 2012
The Skies above Virginia

“Avenger, we have a visual.”

“Do you have a clear shot?”

“Affirmative, affirmative. I have a clear shot.”

“Do not engage. Repeat: do not engage.”

After three years as a naval aviator, Lieutenant Commander Theola Cason barely heard the constant high-pitched whine in her cockpit from the twin supersonic jet engines that pushed her through the sky like electricity through wire. The oxygen mask felt snug against her face and the inbound compressed air kept her nostrils cold and her mouth dry while she kept her bearings on the target in her heads-up display.

Her cockpit gave her everything she needed to do her job. Today her job was to follow and destroy a multi-billion-dollar test plane. She wasn’t sure what to make of the F35-C Lighting II VTOL (Vertical Liftoff and Landing) fighter jet that she and her fellow test pilot, Lieutenant Lucien Aguirre, were chasing, but whatever was happening was not good. Do not engage? When the hell are we supposed to shoot that thing down?

They were going to be over the continental U.S. soon, and that meant the risk to civilian lives superseded shooting down the rogue aircraft. They had no problem catching up. But when could they bring it down?

“Avenger.”

This was the call sign of the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier that Cason and Aguirre had just left off the coast of North Carolina.

“Permission to terminate the target.”

Just let me shoot it down.

“Negative, negative. Continue pursuit.”

The plane before Cason, an F35-C Lighting II, flew across the clear blue afternoon skies of Virginia slower than the Super Hornets, but neither chase plane could take the chance of shooting it down now that it was over a populated area. The F35-C was a new jet meant to replace the aging Harrier fleet of less than three hundred that had been in service since 2003, but its level of lethality was much higher. Once armed, it carried missiles that could obliterate a neighborhood in seconds.

Today the F35-C had no missiles.

Civilian Air Traffic Control at Reagan, Dulles, and BWI had yet to be told of the unauthorized incursion into civilian air space. It didn’t matter: the plane was stealth so they wouldn’t have seen it anyway.

Thirty minutes earlier the Lighting II, parked on the deck of the USS George H.W. Bush, had its surrounding footprint cleared by the ground crew when the plane began moving. The aircraft carrier, over 1000 feet long, could go for twenty years without refueling due to its twin nuclear reactors. The busy asphalt-colored deck had about two hundred people performing everything from flight prepping to trash tossing for the day’s tests. When the Lightning II began to taxi, no one had worked on the plane at all.

The plane entered the airspace of Ararat, Virginia and circled downward. The Hornets could do nothing but follow. Their biggest disadvantage was that the Lightning could hover like a helicopter while the Hornets had to circle. Like sharks, they had to keep moving or face death. There was no way for them to do anything but shoot it down once they had the go-ahead. The good news was that the area around Ararat was mostly unpopulated. The bad news: No one knew what the plane would do next.

The guidance system of the F35-C was the most advanced of its kind, though variations of the Lighting II used the same avionics. The new models would have to go through their own testing and validation, but the pilot didn’t care. The heads-up display told them everything they needed to know: proximity to target.

The pilot spotted the house surrounded by all the trees. The plane sank with no thought of the g-forces involved. It turned toward the forest and positioned the house behind it. It fired at the base of the trees and they all fell as if cut by a large knife. The plane was going to need the extra room to position itself properly.

“Shots fired. I repeat. Shots fired.” Cason was getting frustrated. “Permission to engage.”

What the hell were they waiting for?

“Are there casualties?”

“Not at this time, Avenger.”

“Do not engage. Do not engage.”

With the trees down, the F35-C lowered itself closer to the ground and turned 180 degrees toward the house. The pilot engaged the infrared system and swung the plane back and forth to get a full view within the house.

The infrared signature was cold. The house had to be at least 6000 square feet. White vinyl siding. No solar panels on the dark charcoal roof.

No one home.

There were two SUVs parked a distance from the domicile and men ran from them toward the hovering jet. The men fired their handguns at the aircraft with no effect. The pilot felt time running out but didn’t really care. As messages went, this one was pretty clear.

Besides, the F35-C had something the security detail didn’t: a directed-energy solid state laser that had been in the works since 2003 and used in combat since 2010. The laser, powered by the jet’s own engines, needed no external battery or cooling source. The fuel tanks dissipated the generated heat.

The laser turret lowered from under the aircraft and fired two four-second bursts. The security detail outside the house saw nothing except the sudden burst of explosions within the house as gas lines caught fire and the house began exploding first from the north side then the basement.

The fire spread from one end of the house to the other. The Lightning II fired two more laser bursts after waiting the requisite thirty seconds to recharge.

The home began to collapse.

The plane came down hard on its landing gear, which had extended just seconds before, and sat on the verdant manicured lawn. The local Ararat police force, all two vehicles, came racing up the road as the security detail of General Malik Palma ran to the plane and climbed onto the wings of the F35-C Lightning II that sat like a hood ornament on the lawn of Palma’s second home. The building was engulfed in flames. With his gun at the ready, one of the combat-experienced men assigned to protect the perimeter of the house, ran across the wing up to the cockpit yelling for the pilot to come out with his hands up. The engines spun down.

The cockpit was empty.

Anna Wodehouse closed her notebook, severing the remote connection to the aircraft.

That was for you, Dad.