By Jon Paris
*** Breaking News – Breaking News – Breaking News ***
Crisis reported outside the Strait of Malacca today. Cascading collisions clogged the packed waterway. A dozen vessels lay damaged and adrift. Others swing from anchors, unable to proceed. World markets opened in disarray while the maritime industry reels.
This catastrophe’s most puzzling victim is the cargo carrier M/V Lucky Charm, location unknown. Merchants witnessed the confusing events unfold, reporting strange lights in the sky and ear-splitting rumbles in this congested crossroads. Sightings of Unidentified Flying Objects spiked around nautical chokepoints last year, rumored to be responsible for eight un-confirmed disappearances. According to scores of professional mariners, the UFOs are back. Has Lucky Charm become Number Nine?
Opinions vary wildly. Though countless believers swear such disturbances are courtesy of extra-terrestrial visitors, a growing body of research by scientists and defense journalists points towards unacknowledged technology developed and operated by the country’s peer competitors. Others are sure we are seeing the latest black projects from the storied Area 51. With unprecedented candor, intelligence and military officials have been quick to comment recently, indicating the objects – officially referred to as Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon – are not highly classified American programs.
The Department of Defense maintains a specialized team to analyze UFO cases. With international outcry at a fever-pitch and an unidentified threat loose on the high seas, these professionals called in the big guns. The U.S. Navy, no stranger to such phenomenon, is on the way. A Carrier Strike Group surge-deployed to hunt and eliminate the threat. Named Task Force Foo Fighter, the Pentagon pledged the group’s sole mission is to end this mysterious menace and welcomes any ally to the fight.
Will they find hyper-advanced secret technology from an aggressor state, or marauding little green men? The world watches in rapt attention as the Navy arrives on scene.
F/A-18E, Rock 101
5 minutes after engagement
Black smoke trailed behind the plane. Peeling metal rattled in the slipstream from a shredded fuselage and wing. Scorch marks marred the Super Hornet’s haze gray paint.
“Rock 101, Strike, copy your mayday. Proceed. Mother at your 030 for 100 miles. Emergency pull-forward in-progress. Air Boss is rigging the barrier. Say state.”
The pilot’s body was cool. No sweat, only icy determination.
She struggled to find words – the first since her mayday call.
“Strike, 101, three-point-niner.”
First get aboard in one piece, then get your revenge. They will not escape.
She put in right stick to head towards the carrier.
F/A-18E, Rock 101
30 minutes before engagement
Lieutenant Frankie “Burner” Adams retracted the refueling probe, slid to starboard, and joined on her wingman. She verified “Swine’s” spacing. Her hand pushed out towards the other Super Hornet – the young officer nodded, nudging his plane away.
Burner’s keen eyes scanned – sea, sky, instruments, sea, sky, instruments. The radar was clean – nothing out there. Today’s surveillance hop had, so far, proved fruitless – frustrating Burner’s long-held dream of seeing a real UFO. Everyone made fun of her during the brief back in the ready room.
No matter. She knew the truth.
The radio crackled.
“101, this is Alpha Whiskey. Bogey, Bullseye 350 for 85, low, hot, strength unknown. Heading 180.”
Yes! Unidentified objects. Flying her way!
“101, roger. Rock flight, commit. Declare.”
“101, this is Alpha Whiskey, unknown. But ma’am – we think it’s them.”
This is it!
Over squadron tactical, Burner transmitted, “Rock, buster.” “Two,” her wingman replied. The section of Super Hornets leapt forward at full military power.
“Swine, bring it left 20 to sweeten intercept.” He clicked the radio twice in response and followed her turn.
Accelerating through 500 knots, the radar chirped, and Burner saw distinct returns connected by a green blob – as if someone had sneezed on her screen. She slaved her infrared sensor to the track. The image snapped around and settled on an object 50 miles away, very low. She peered at the screen, flipping between black and white-hot modes, unable to identify the contact before it abruptly darted away.
“No joy,” Burner called over fighter control, frantically searching for the Bogey.
She saw the radar and her mouth went dry.
F/A-18E, Rock 101
15 minutes after engagement
“Rock 101, Approach. Good line-up. You’re set for a straight-in. Take angels two point eight.”
As the pilot slowly repeated the ship’s instructions, the plane buffeted from major damage to its control surfaces. After a jolt to the left, she leveled the wings. Reducing airspeed and bunting the nose down, she inched closer. Must survive. Must relay the enemy’s position.
F/A-18E, Rock 101
20 minutes before engagement
“101, Alpha Whiskey – your Bogey jumped! Merge plot!,” the shipboard controller cried.
Adrenaline coursed through Burner’s veins. I knew it!
Burner and her wingman rolled 90 degrees and pulled hard away from each other. Bright flashes blew by. One. Two. Three! Finally!
“Alpha Whiskey, 101, Rocks are anchored defensive! Engaged by three, I say again, three bogeys.”
Three orbs darted up, down, left, and right – in every dimension, bending time and space – creating a furball impossible for the Super Hornets to escape. Their maneuvers defied physics, incurring g-forces incompatible with the human body. The dazzling blobs sported every color of the rainbow – shapeless refractions from an intense prism.
Burner stood her jet on its tail and lit the cans. The plane rocketed up and Burner twisted in her seat, looking back and right – one orb trailed her.
She called out, “Swine, you up?”
“Burner, I’ve got two all over me – riding the waves. Need you down here – NOW!” Her wingman sounded uncharacteristically frantic.
Passing through 35,000 feet, Burner flipped the Super Hornet on its back. The blue sky filling her canopy transitioned to slate-gray ocean. Diving, she searched the surface below. As she looked, the trailing orb flew over her canopy and, an instant later, hovered above a bubbling piece of ocean. A thunderous cacophony consumed her. The aircraft shuddered for five long seconds. Plummeting towards the sea, Burner recovered and locked onto her wingman, 50 feet off the deck. He was impossible to miss – the escaping Super Hornet kicked up a rooster tail of salt water as it skimmed the whitecaps.
Out the windscreen, she spotted the orbs flitting back and forth, causing her to squint. Looking down, the picture on her forward-looking infrared video shocked her. Two cylinder-shaped craft bobbed and weaved ahead and astern of Swine’s jet. Smaller than her plane, with no control surfaces and no visible exhaust. And… semi-transparent! Magnifying her camera, she could see inside the cylinders.
“Alpha Whiskey, 101, captured! Hot damn! Never seen anything like it! They’re… cylinders. Slick on the outside, like flying tubes. I can only see their shape on FLIR; visually they’re just balls of light moving like crazy!”
Burner’s jet chewed up the distance to her wingman. Something caught her eye.
“Alpha Whiskey, standby.”
Burner saw movement inside the closest cylinder! As she stared, her world turned inside-out. An upright, shadowy figure – right there! Burner saw its eyes glow and look back at her. A being was in that craft! A being. But not a human being.
She felt light-headed and a pit formed deep in her gut. The earlier gusto transformed to dread.
Burner’s voice croaked, barely a whisper. “Alpha Whiskey, they’re… here… Engaging.”
Flipping the Master Arm switch to “ARM”, she worked the radar for a lock and received a quick solution. Yes! She pulled the trigger. “Fox Three!”
The AMRAAM entered her camera’s field of view and impacted its target. The smoking cylinder flipped end-over-end.
“101, splash one,” she transmitted.
As she pumped her fist in victory, Burner’s eyes bulged. The cylinder ahead of Swine stopped in its tracks and reversed course. It flew straight through her wingman’s jet. An explosion lit the sky.
Wreckage fell to the sea, throwing up a plume, but no parachute. A silent scream raged through her body.
F/A-18E, Rock 101
30 minutes after engagement
“Rock 101, Approach, 5 miles. Barrier rigged. Dirty up.”
“101.” The pilot closed her eyes, concentrating. After several beats, her hands moved haltingly over switches, eventually slapping down the hook and landing gear. It was strange flying so slow. The plane was difficult to control, and her wings rocked, alternating left, then right, back-and-forth. The pilot wiped away soot from the canopy and the Landing Signals Officer came online.
“101, Paddles, keep it coming. Normal approach but pay close attention to line-up. When you cross the ramp, I’m going to give you a cut-cut-cut order – when I do, kill the engines, and ride it in. Fly your pass and we’ll catch you, Burner. Promise.”
The pilot acknowledged Paddles and focused on the carrier. It got bigger every second. Her excitement swelled. The mission drew to a close.
“101, Paddles, you’re on glideslope, on course, three-quarter mile. Call the ball.”
Two beats, searching for the right words. “101, Rhino ball, two point four.”
The Master Caution light flashed, a red warning light illuminated, and the speaker intoned, “ENGINE FIRE LEFT – ENGINE FIRE LEFT.” No turning back.
F/A-18E, Rock 101
10 minutes before engagement
Burner selected SIDEWINDER. A weak tone. “Fox Two!”
The smoke trail streaked away and jinked right, tracking the massive heat signature. A blue ray shot out from the target cylinder and incinerated the missile. Burner slammed a fist on her kneeboard. I had it!
Watching through her canopy, she saw the orb dart north. Pissed, Burner pushed the throttles through the detent into afterburner and gave chase.
The murky being inside turned its… head?… and glanced at her. When it looked away quickly, Burner took stock of the situation. Are they driving me here? Zooming out, she observed twelve – no, maybe twenty – craft of various sizes lurking menacingly in a wide arc above a roiling sea. An ambush! She chopped her throttles.
“Alpha Whiskey, 101. In pursuit of one bandit with one in trail. Interrogative: Do you have a group of contacts 300 for 30 from your posit?”
“101, affirm. Count at least twenty low-slow contacts.”
“Roger, that’s them. I don’t know who they are, but they’re hostile, I say again, contacts are hostile. They splashed my wingman and I am defensive. They’re… they’re waiting for us. Recommend kill with birds. Take ‘em! Do it now!”
Inside the cruiser’s Combat Information Center, the Commanding Officer pointed at the large screen display and nodded at the tactical action officer.
“Air, TAO, kill track 8762 and company.”
The lieutenant at the front table turned his key. Sweat glistened from his forehead under the glow from the large screens.
A junior officer sat 15 feet away in Air Alley. She leaned forward, clicked on the first track, and mashed a flashing button on her screen. “TAO, Air, killing track 8762 and company!”
Through the bulkheads, watch standers could make out the muffled, mournful wail of the salvo siren. Deeply unsettling, the sound was quickly interrupted – SMACK!
Hatches slammed open, fire belched skyward, and gray smoke blotted out the lines of the ship’s superstructure. Standard Missiles jumped from vertical launch cells, climbing steeply before tipping over towards their prey. Two for each contact. Sailors sat transfixed, staring at their consoles during the fifty second flight time.
The missiles glided to their targets at supersonic speeds and lanced into the waiting enemy. Explosions washed out Burner’s screen. She peered outside and saw several orbs remained. They bolted in the direction of the cruiser. Burner put her jet on its wingtip and yanked into a body-crushing turn to follow, but they were too fast and sped out of view.
A glare from her mirror. All but one.
“Alpha Whiskey, 101, bandits are inbound your posit!”
The cruiser heeled over as it settled broadside to the approaching threat. The Combat Information Center was silent. Additional missiles leapt into the sky as the weapons system tried to keep up. The deck guns thundered. Nothing could match the speed and maneuverability of the targets. The ship’s radar showed the craft approaching at 3,000 knots. As they drew near and slowed, the optical sight system showed four blimp-sized craft. The Commanding Officer stared and cursed under his breath as they marked on top of the now-defenseless ship and circled.
“Alpha Whiskey, 101 is supersonic!” Burner closed the cruiser, trying to squeeze every knot she could get out of the Super Hornet. Still miles away, she was ready for battle. To defend herself. The Navy ship. Her country. Her planet. Burner’s thumb chose GUN and her jaw clenched tight. She watched the scene unfolding ahead, terrified.
The craft circled the cruiser at blinding speed, forming a halo of kaleidoscopic light in the sky and a swirling vortex on the ocean. Opening suddenly, a yawning chasm appeared below the ship. It swallowed the cruiser in a flash. The rotation stopped instantly, and the orbs dove smoothly – without splashes – into the water and disappeared.
Dumbstruck, Burner blinked. And blinked again.
The ship is gone.
Rage filled her heart. A primal howl spilled into her mask. She popped flares and chaff and wrenched back on the stick, continuing until inverted, looking down on the orb, and rolled wings-level in the opposite direction. In her mirror, Burner saw it match her maneuver. She pushed the jet to the edge of the envelope, aware of her dwindling fuel, but desperate to escape. Close on her heels, the orb pulsed.
F/A-18E, Rock 101
32 minutes after engagement
“Easy with it, easy with it. You’re on and on, Burner. Easy with it. CUT-CUT-CUT!”
The pilot secured the engines and the Super Hornet fell to the deck, yawed, and crashed unceremoniously into the emergency barrier. I made it.
F/A-18E, Rock 101
Aviate. Navigate. Communicate. Burner centered herself and compartmentalized the fear. She climbed and started a gentle turn to the southwest. The carrier is out here somewhere. Burner would not give up – the thought was anathema to her very fabric. While she looked down to switch buttons, azure light washed over the jet. She jammed in the frequency and transmitted.
“Strike, 101, mayday, mayday, mayday. Wingman is down, Alpha Whiskey is down. I am engaged with one Bandit.”
The jet shook violently. It took all of Burner’s strength to maintain level flight. Something is wrong! Caution lights flared in front of her. Alarms overwhelmed and assaulted her senses.
“Mayday, mayday, mayday, 101 taking damage, losing control. Request vectors!”
Help me! The plane rattled furiously.
She shrieked when light filled her cockpit. Dripping sweat, she sat paralyzed.
The luminous orb settled onto her plane. The collision caused it to roll and yaw.
Stunned, Burner was helpless to stop the uncontrolled maneuver.
Gulping oxygen, she felt a presence. I am not alone.
Motion arrived in clips.
No words. Terror melted away in waves of euphoria.
The light ceased.
Her head lolled forward and then quickly snapped back.
Time sped back up.
The pilot stared ahead with icy determination.
An empty cylinder tumbled to the sea.
Fire crew swarmed the plane, spraying foam and climbing ladders to access the canopy. Sailors in silver hot suits carried the pilot to the deck and away from the smoking wreck.
Following the mob towards a waiting stretcher, the pilot stopped and faced aft. With its face wrinkled in great concentration, it called out to the deep.
They are here. Attack!
LCDR Jon Paris is a double-Marine Corps brat who grew up immersed in Naval Aviation. A career Surface Warfare Officer, he has deployed on cruisers, destroyers, a minesweeper, and an aircraft carrier. This piece is a work of fiction. The ideas are the author’s alone and do not reflect the positions of the U.S. Navy or Department of Defense.
Featured Image: “Preparations for cat shot – F18 Hornet,” by rOEN911 via DeviantArt.