Thomas H. Cook
A novelization by Thomas H. Cook
Based on the series created by Leslie Bohem
I wish to thank Irwyn Applebaum and Kate Miciak for entrusting
PART ONE. Beyond the Sky
Captain Russell Keys peered out into the expansive blue, his hands on the wheel of the B-17 that shook and rattled around him, bearing its heavy load of ordnance. To his left and right, he could see other planes, a squadron of Flying Fortresses in box formation, his own plane distinguished from the others only by the red devil painted on its nose, along with the words “Where Angels Fear to Tread.”
“Navigator,” Russell said crisply, “how’s our time?”
“We’ve regained the two minutes, sir,” the navigator answered.
“Good work.” Russell glanced at his copilot, Lieutenant Lou Johnson. “Welcome to Germany, Johnson,” he said.
Johnson patted the Rita Hayworth pinup he’d taped to the metal frame of the otherwise unadorned cockpit. “You hear that, honey?” he said with a broad smile. “We’re in Germany.”
Russell looked at the altimeter, then lowered the nose and began his descent to ten thousand feet. “There it is,” he said after a moment, his gaze now fixed on a large factory thousands of feet below. “Pilot to bombardier, the plane is yours.”
The bomb-bay doors opened and the bombardier began his count.
The plane grew eerily light as the heavy bombs filled the empty air beneath it, falling to the ground, where Russell could see them exploding in silent flashes far below.
Johnson let out a loud whoop, but Russell paid no attention. His focus was on the war-torn earth, swept with flame and smoke.
“Load delivered,” he said quietly when the last of the bombs had fallen. “Let’s go home.”
He nosed the plane upward into what seemed a perfect, tranquil sky, so different from the ravaged earth, the wars of man. Up here it was calm and quiet and serene, and if you closed your eyes you could almost make yourself believe that the earth’s ancient conflicts and rivalries might one day come to an end.
Russell recognized the voice of his top gunner.
“What’s that, Toland?” he asked.
“Lights, sir. Blue ones.”
Russell looked at Johnson quizzically.
“They’re following the plane,” Toland said. “They just flew up and started tailing us.”
Russell saw Johnson’s face tighten. “Navigator,” he said. “You see any lights?”
“No, sir,” the navigator responded immediately.
Johnson released a quick sigh.
“Wait,” the navigator burst in suddenly. “Now I see them. Three. Four. Right in front of us. Not in range yet, but…”
Russell felt a curious urge seize him. “Let’s get a look at these lights.”
He banked the plane slowly and the lights swam into view outside the cockpit window, blue globes about six feet in diameter that hovered without motion. They appeared both dense and airy, heavy and at the same time weightless, and in this physical contradiction, Russell sensed that nothing he’d ever known or read about could explain them.
Johnson’s eyes widened in wonder. “What the hell are they?”
“I don’t know,” Russell answered. His voice filled with awe. “But they’re beautiful.”
For a brief moment, the crew peered at the hanging lights, unable to speak, or to turn their gaze away. A strange hypnotic glow filled the interior of the plane, and Russell felt his mind turn from war and peril as an inexplicable serenity settled over him.
Suddenly the radio operator’s voice slashed through the prevailing silence.
“We got MEs at twelve o’clock. A whole mess of them, sir.”
Russell’s mind snapped into focus. “Roger, that,” he said. “Gunners, give them short bursts when they’re in range.” He quickly checked his instruments, steadied himself, drew up the courage needed to steady his men as well. Beyond the cockpit, he glimpsed the glowing blue lights a final time, soft and oddly mesmerizing, but finally driven away, or so it seemed, by the frantic movement of the crew, the noise of the plane, the whole monstrous din of war.
A burst of machine-gun fire raked the side of the plane. The air filled with black puffs of flak. Russell’s body tensed, all his attention given over to the battle ahead, the fight to survive and to make sure his men survived.
An explosion rocked the plane, filling its cramped interior with fire and smoke.
“We just took a direct hit, sir,” the top gunner cried.
The nose of the plane sank, and Russell knew that it had finally happened, the moment he’d dreaded for so long. He and his crew were all going to die. Even so, he worked frantically to keep control of the plane while the cries of his men grew more desperate and the plane shook madly and the dull green eye of the earth came hurtling upward like a huge ball. In brief glimpses, he saw the MEs in their lethal dance, a swarm of angry bees that dove and climbed and circled, angry bursts of fire spitting from their guns.