The Answer


Julie Charde, Pilot Officer, RAAF, North India, May 2044

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My darling mama

Woohoo! I win the bet – yes, I’m writing a real letter on real paper. Everything has to be censored. I’ll write every week from now. I’m in India! Brilliant day yesterday. We took turns to drive around. On the way to the base we stopped at the mouth of the Siwalik tunnel. Wow! It’s HUGE. The good bit was the monastery/hospital right beside it. There’s a spring so sacred that the government made sure the tunnel didn’t interfere with it.

I drank water that will bless me and bring me good judgement. A good idea I think, given that invasion may be only days away. I also chatted up a totally gorgeous monk. No hopes there, of course but what was really fun was a water-fight we got into with some of the children who are patients there. The gardens are beautifully laid out and patients can walk around in tranquillity or watch screaming kids splashing water into the faces of bomber and fighter pilots.

I was SOAKED but a big crowd of people gathered to laugh and clap. Vanda laughed so hard she wet herself but she was so wet already it didn’t show. She says bladder control was never the same after having kids. I think we made a good impression on the locals who were a bit reserved at first when they realised we were military pilots and trained to kill. Killing sort of goes against the beliefs of people there.

Maybe they had met some of the more senior pilots from the base – that would explain why they were uncomfortable with us at first. I mean what is it with the pilots here? We got to the base, checked in and we’re still buzzing with being classed as “Exceptional” and getting appointments in a top squadron but the actual pilots are cold. They don’t talk much, don’t show emotion and there’s no fun in them at all.
I know they’ve been in action recently with all the raids and so-on but not that much. It’s seems like some sort of act, like they want to be as mechanical as their planes. That’s my big question. Why? I’m not going to end up like them. Life has to be enjoyed!
Anyway, I’m on duty in a sec, which means sitting in a room for eight hours, not being scrambled, but drinking too much coffee (apparently). I have a good book stashed there already. Gotta go!

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Love Julie XXX

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I slip the letter into its envelope, stand and stare into the mirror above the tiny dressing table. Three others share this cramped bunk-room. One has just been made up to first-lieutenant and will get her own room soon. Maybe the rest of us can use her vacated bed as a storage area.
Arm through helmet strap, G-suit cable clipped to belt, left hand picks up my comms tablet, right hand lifts the letter. I’ll put it in the censor’s postbox on the way to the flight-room.

The corridors all seem a part of the whole exciting new experience and I have to use the signs to tell me where to go. I wonder if I’ll see this place in the same way soon. I’ll bet the more experienced aircrew don’t.
Three light-strips line every ceiling. The green is off. Amber is on – we’re on alert. If the red goes on and turns to flashing red … oh God, even as I look up it does.

I run. The corridors fill with the sound of thundering boots and crashing doors.

I see this man, Mico, from the ops deck. He’s all blond hair and blue eyes … but too short for me … that’s a real bummer. I thrust my letter into his hand. ‘Hey, can you post this for me?’

He takes it. ‘I’ll try but I’m in the ops room covering for someone.’ As I pound down the corridor he says something else but his voice is lost in the din of boots and alarms.

The ground crew meet me before the flight-room and stuff me into my helmet and adjust my G-suit. They don’t speak; they may as well be dressing an inanimate doll.

I’m running over the aircraft apron, sweat slicking all over my body, underneath all my flame-proof armour. Overhead two fighters scream to altitude. They’ll cover my plane … not my plane. They’ll cover the supersonic bomber I’ll be second crew in. Second crew … scan radar, as if the pilot can’t see his own, aim bombs and/or missiles … mark target … report to base. Vanda’s running to the second bomber. Our first sortie starts now.

There’s a load-carrier under the gleaming curves of the bomber, between the swept-down wings and bulky undercarriage. The standard bomb-load has been removed, the crew attaching something else. Two long missiles of a type I’ve not even heard about. A huge lorry churning out plumes of black exhaust and pulls something towards the plane. Oh God we’re going to be catapulted. That means we’ll be carrying overload. What the fuck is happening?

I’m virtually pushed up the first few rungs of the ladder and Kevin, First Lieutenant Jameson the pilot, has the canopy closing even as I squeeze into my seat. Kevin is one of the worst when it comes to robotic. He gave us part of the induction talk yesterday evening. No smiles, no humour, no extra words; it was like listening to a recording.

I fumble the G-suit connection, metal clattering, snap it closed and yank my straps on as the aircraft jerks. That must be the catapult going on. One and a half kilometres of runway and we still need help to lift off. God knows what we’ve been armed with. I don’t even get to ask. Kevin runs the jets up until they’re screaming and the whole airframe shakes like a wet dog.

Kevin’s talking clipped words into his radio as I scan my screens and stow my comms tablet. Everything checks green. I tell him and he says, ‘Brace.’

Time to straighten my spine and … I’m punched back into the seat. I can’t breathe, can’t choke. The world is a thundering roar and crushing pain. I can’t believe how long this is going on; surely it has to stop sometime.

We’re off, labouring into the sky. The kite settles after I’ve stowed the undercarriage.

I groan and say, ‘Fuck.’

Kevin says, ‘Stick to comms procedure.’

Everything green. Speed point-four and rising. Lift plus-four. Altitude point-six-three and rising. Undercarriage secure. Heading three-forty. Trim at full positive and insufficient – what the hell are we carrying?’

Two three-ton guided…’

He’s interrupted by Red Flight’s commander, ‘Incoming fighters and missiles.’

Shit, attacking fighters, air-to-air missiles. This has to be the invasion for real and not just another scare.
Missiles … I’m lost in jamming procedure but nothing is headed our way. Vanda and her pilot are off the ground now and closest to… I shout, ‘Blackflight two, incoming missile.’
Vanda says, ‘Got it.’ Her dot blurs into a cloud of chaff … but nothing comes out. ‘Vanda!’

Kevin snaps, ‘Stick to comms procedure, Lieutenant.’
But … Vanda … she has children. Oh God.

Kevin’s voice breaks through my thoughts, ‘Orders arrived. Check them!’
My hand’s shaking as I touch the screen. It’s hard to see though a haze of tears. ‘Fly zero-eight. Target is … the … the entrance of Siwalik tunnel.’ My voice is all choked.

Snap out of it, Lieutenant: focus’
We’ll seal the tunnel and blow the monastery and all those children into oblivion.

Kevin banks hard. ‘Get locked quick; the air is full of hostiles and we’ve lost our cover.’

In a haze I say, ‘Target acquired. Eighteen seconds. One degree starboard. Locked on.’ I’m numb, head screaming. I’m dying inside. ‘Deploying.’ The kite lurches in the air and I’m pushed back in my seat again as we accelerate now all that weight has left us. I have the missiles aimed either side of the arch’s apex. I think about trying to send them deep in, maybe the monastery won’t be affected so much. But no, I risk not sealing the tunnel. If I fail more people will die – the people we’re here to help.

Kevin banks us hard and heads full throttle for the base and the relative safety of its defences – not that they were much help to Vanda. ‘Mark your target.’
My voice is a croak, a whisper, ‘Target destroyed.’
There’s the tiniest softening of his voice as if there’s still bit of a human buried deep inside somewhere. ‘Welcome to the war.’

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©Gary and Christy Bonn 2014

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