It was like being back in an old T-2 Buckeye trainer where muscle and moxie were as important as avionics. Strictly stick-and-rudder stuff now.

"We're going to try and glide this beast in," Captain Louder informed his crew. "We're starting to lose thrust and trim, and the hydraulics are gone. Maintaining altitude and velocity will be impossible.

I need work-arounds for navigation and pitch control so we don't just find ourselves floating over on the other side of the Bamboo Curtain."

His young crew dug into their task, fueled by adrenaline and Hank Williams Jr.'s bluesy ramblings. He knew he was going to get into a rash of trouble about the music when he got back to base, but it seemed to focus his crew, so what the . . .

Captain Louder saw them first — two North Korean fighters coming directly out of the rising sun at Mach 2.

"We got company, and they don't look happy to see us."

The two North Korean birds streaked past and started a long loop to maneuver behind the crippled American plane.

"I'm taking evasive action," Captain Louder barked. "We don't need any more surprises." He tried to maneuver the plane, but it was like walking in wet cement, each step getting harder and harder. He knew they were sitting ducks, but he couldn't worry about that now.

He had to work with what he had. Besides, why would they fire on him and risk World War III?

"Their radar just painted us, sir," screamed Lieutenant Milius.

"What?"

Captain Louder was rocked. They're targeting us? Why? Had we strayed so far off course when our navigation controls went down?

"Missile away, sir!"

A white trail of smoke corkscrewed out from behind the heat-seeking missile a mile back as it left the lead North Korean jet.

"Set the auto countermeasures!"

Lieutenant Wilson pushed the auto-set button. "Auto countermeasures failed to launch."

"Fire manually."

Wilson flipped the directional IR countermeasure switch. Then he flipped the second switch for high-heat flares to launch and hopefully detract the incoming heat-seeking missile.

"Second missile away, sir!" Lieutenant Milius's voice raised a few octaves as a second rocket streaked away from the wingtip of the Korean jet.

"Let's see if this old bucket still has a few tricks in it." Captain Louder jammed the stick as far forward as he could. The plane went into an immediate free fall as the first missile sailed harmlessly overhead.

"Second missile still tracking, sir."

The second missile was closing in on the plane's jet engines almost as quickly as the earth was coming up to meet it.

"Shutting down engines!" It was a highly risky maneuver — he may never get them started again — but he was running out of options.

"Just a few more seconds . . ." The captain wrenched back on the rudder trying to pull the plane out of its headlong nosedive. "I need some flaps; I need power!"

Lieutenant Wilson was furiously working over his console, trying to reroute any active circuits to give the plane one last chance to avoid a fiery collision.

"Now!" screamed the captain. Suddenly the rudder came free, slamming back hard into the captain's chest as the plane looped straight back up into the sky with a sudden burst of power from the twin jet engines.

The missile tried to correct itself, but ran out of altitude, slamming into the earth in a fiery inferno.

As the cheering died down inside the cockpit, Louder realized they had dodged one bullet only to cause a new threat. Lieutenant Wilson had managed to overload the circuitry in the fuel cells to give the engines the necessary boost they needed to restart, pulling the plane out of its free fall. But now he was out of tricks as the right turbojet belched smoke and flames.

"The electrical surge must have caused a short."

"Can you shut it down?"

"Don't think so, sir. Nothing's responding."

"How's our altitude?"

"We're not going straight down anymore, if that's what you mean, sir," said Lieutenant Milius with his characteristic dry West Texas drawl. "I guess that's a plus, sir."

Captain Louder looked at his crew. All eyes were on him waiting for inspiration. But he had none to give. He'd never lost a plane before, and he wasn't too happy about the prospect of losing this one. But he knew there was nothing else to do if they wanted to stay alive. Those two MiGs were still out there hunting them.

"We better scuttle her; not much to salvage anyway."

"The HARM might still be operational, sir," piped up Lieutenant Stewart as a sort of consolation. "Might just get lucky and hit whatever the Koreans were using to jam our electronics."

Captain Louder considered this for a second, then picked up the radio.

"Mayday! Mayday!" Captain Louder's voice crackled over the Navy fighter jets' radios; then one, two, three parachutes blossomed out from the cockpit of the crippled Prowler and floated slowly to earth.

Half a mile away, the fighter pilots looked at each other over the narrow space of air that separated their two Lightning Stealth fighters.

Where was the fourth parachute? Where was the pilot?

Then they saw the MiGs coming back, circling like jackals scavenging a carcass.

One of the Korean jets pulled behind the limping American recon plane, lining up for its kill shot. Alarms started to go off inside the cockpit. The Korean pilot looked up. Too late. He never saw the Lightning Stealth or the missile that took him out.

Captain Louder saw the flash of the explosion behind him. Were the Koreans making another pass? He just needed a little more altitude to get the maximum range for the HARM to find pay dirt. He knew his own plane was history. He'd gotten his crew out, to safety, he hoped, but now he was going to get a little bit of revenge. He just needed time for one shot . . .

A MiG streaked overhead, twisting and turning in the morning light. Captain Louder ducked involuntarily. Then he saw what was causing all the aerial acrobatics. Two American jets screamed past.

He roared in triumph, letting fly the HARM as he pulled the ejection cord.

Louder's parachute opened and suddenly everything was quiet. He watched as the HARM sped away toward the horizon seeking an unseen enemy jamming beacon somewhere on the northern edge of the demilitarized frontier. His plane disappeared over a small rise and then exploded in a muted concussion of jet fuel. The last thing he saw were twin missile plumes from the two American fighters as they homed in on the desperate North Korean fighter.


Copyright © 2010 by Tim LaHaye
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Tim LaHaye is The New York Times bestselling author of more than 70 nonfiction books, many on biblical prophecy and End times, and is the coauthor of the record-shattering Left Behind Series. He is considered one of America's foremost authorities on biblical end times prophecy. 

Craig Parshall serves as senior vice-president and general counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters and has authored seven bestseller suspense novels. 

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