EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Edge of Apocalypse by Tim LaHaye and Craig Parshall (Zondervan).
In the Not-Too-Distant Future
At twelve thousand feet, alarm bells started going off all over the cockpit of the Navy EA-6B Prowler. At first Captain Louder thought they'd run into a flock of birds, but they were much too high up.
"Captain," shouted his lead ECM officer, Lieutenant Emmit Wilson, "on-board computers have crashed."
"Screwed up, sir."
"Everything's bugging out, sir," said his navigation officer, Lieutenant Jim Stewart, a bespectacled electronics nerd from the Naval Communications School at Pensacola.
"Were we hit?"
"Not that I can see, sir."
Captain Louder glanced quickly at the jet engine to his left. No smoke, no oil. He glanced to his right. The other engine appeared equally sound. Everything seemed normal, but the instruments said otherwise: pressure dropping, fuel gauge empty, altimeter and directional indicators completely out of whack.
"I need answers, men."
Though the crew was good at their jobs, they were young, and the person they usually looked to for answers was Captain Louder.
"That's an order!"
"Sir," said Lieutenant Wilson hesitantly, "all I can think of is that we were hit with some kind of massive electromagnetic charge, either internal or external, fried all our instruments or . . ."
"Or . . . ?"
"Or the Koreans have some new kind of sophisticated jamming system."
"We're supposed to be doing the jamming, not them."
The Prowler's chief mission was reconnaissance and radar suppression, its weapons sophisticated electronic jamming equipment and a single HARM — high-speed anti-radiation missile — that could seek out and destroy enemy radar defenses all on its own.
"What about sunspots, sir?" suggested Lieutenant Stewart.
"More likely we ran into Santa Claus," growled Captain Louder as he fought to maintain control of the stick and keep the aircraft steady, "but it's only September." He didn't need guesses now; he needed solutions — and fast.
"HQ Foxfire, this is Looking Glass, over," he yelled into the radio.
"HQ Foxfire, this is Looking Glass, do you read me, over."
"We're twenty minutes early on our verbal, sir. They're not going to respond," said Lieutenant Stewart.
"Or else the radio's dead too. Anything still work on this plane?"
The youngest of the three ECMOs, Lieutenant Derrick Milius, a pimply faced twenty-one-year-old from Lubbock, Texas, shyly pulled an iPod out of his shirt pocket. He plugged it into the aircraft's intercom.
The twangy strains of Hank Williams Jr. filled the cockpit.
"A little inspiration, sir."
"HQ Foxfire, this is Looking Glass, over . . . HQ Foxfire, this is Looking Glass, do you read me, over." The voice of Captain Louder crackled over the speakers in the Tactical Communications Bunker at Osan Air Base, just forty-eight miles south of the DMZ.
"Do we respond, sir?"
Wing Commander Charles Stamper chomped down on another stick of Nicorette gum. What he really needed was a cigarette, but the base had recently gone smoke-free, and he had to lead by example.
"No. We have strict orders to maintain radio silence all along the parallel."
A tinny version of Hank Williams Jr.'s "Born to Boogie" seeped through the speakers followed by, "HQ Foxfire, this is Looking Glass; we have a situation up here; request permission to break off current flight path and return to base, over."
No one in the communications bunker said a word, waiting for the commander to speak; the only sound now his obsessive gum chewing.
Hank Williams Jr.'s warble returned, then, "HQ Foxfire, this is Looking Glass, breaking off current flight path, requesting secondary landing site, do you copy, over."
"Do we respond now, sir?'
Commander Stamper bit his tongue accidentally. The orders were explicit. No radio contact with planes over the DMZ. But he knew Captain Louder personally, probably owed him a few bucks from a poker game or two, and he knew he wouldn't break radio silence unless he had to. He also knew the captain wouldn't want to give out too much information over the radio. They both knew that the North Korean military, known as the Korean People's Army, or the KPA, were always listening, looking to turn every situation to their advantage.
But still. Captain Louder was listening to music in the cockpit.
Country music. Was that code for something? He wracked his brain but came up with nothing.
"Give them a couple clicks of the hand mic to let them know we heard." The commander turned to his flight officer. "Send up a couple fighters to check it out. Tell them to stay high and out of sight. Make visual contact if they can, but no radio under any circumstance."
He'd picked a bad week to give up smoking.
Captain Louder knew from the silence on the radio that he was on his own — at least until he cleared the DMZ. His flight plan called for him to stay on this heading until he reached international waters over the Sea of Japan, but he didn't think his plane had enough in her to get that far. Whatever had attacked the electronics had done a number on the systems. Nothing was responding.
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.
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."
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.