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.
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