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Pour a beverage, turn down the lights, and pull up a chair! Tonight, we finish the adventure told in imaginary old time radio style that we began two nights ago.
In the first episode, we met physicist and midwestern tycoon Hank Rhody, the mastermind and paymaster of a complex international scheme to secure and remove a long-hidden rogue atomic weapon from South Africa. The rest of Hank’s top-notch team of specialists, wizards, and heroes is known to every attentive Ricochet member. In the second episode, they contrive to buy the bomb and gather the electronic evidence that will incriminate its seller. Then they all make their escape in a rebranded Rhody jetliner, intending to take the fragile, laboratory-created bomb to a CIA nuclear disposal team 1500 miles north along Africa’s east coast.
And now, tonight’s episode, the final part of Atomic Terror Over the African Coast!
Dawn was still a half-hour away. The vivid stars over the African coast were fading. The skies were beginning to lighten.
The three-person “D Unit” stirred from their five seats in row 14. Jackie went aft to get coffee and socialize, mostly with her partner in Hank’s con game, Samblock. Shanna sighed and opened her eyes to the day. Two seats away, D. Newlander was also awake now in the still dark cabin. Today, their worst part of the job-the scary part of the job-was over.
Shanna and D were momentarily alone. “I was wrong about you”, she said. “I thought you’d be like–well, some of the others. Some other men, I mean. You aren’t”. Newlander smiled gently.
Hank Rhody walked down the center aisle and, almost absent-mindedly, handed envelopes to Dnew and Shanna. “I already gave Jackie hers”. Each envelope contained a cashier’s check from WM&M, the Rhody-controlled Wisconsin Mining and Manufacturing Company. The check was for three million dollars.
Up front, Matt Balzer read a teleprinter message from ltpwfdcm, their cryptic point of contact between the outside and the inside world. Hank got waved into the cockpit. Matt spoke with urgency. “We just got word we can’t land at Mombasa. Kenyan security has been alerted that there’s something special about this flight. That rules out Nairobi as well. Those are the two NEST sites we were expecting to choose from on landing”.
Judge tilts his head. “NEST?”
“Nuclear Emergency Search Team”, Hank said quietly. “So that leaves…What? Where? To get rid of this thing, safely”. At that time in the flight, first officer Matt Balzer was flying and captain Judge Mental was monitoring, so it was Judge who looked at a classified chart. “It means we have to land in Somalia”.
“Mogadishu”, Matt said softly. “The one place in the entire world I most never wanted to see again”.
Judge pulled the Jeppesen chart of Mogadishu airport. “It’s pretty grim. The strip, 28R, is right next to the ocean. Narrow, low, fast approach to avoid shoulder-launched rockets from the west. Go-arounds are especially dangerous”. With dry understatement, Judge Mental concluded, “We really want to nail it the first time”.
Matt abruptly turned to Hank. “There’s still a black ops US technical detachment outside the airbase. Tell NEST now and they have time to meet us there”.
Hank frowned. “Hmm…no USAF presence to haul them in time”. “They’ve got Army Aviation”, Matt said with a note of pride. “’Mother Rucker’ won’t let us down.”
About twenty minutes before landing, Hank walked back through the cabin briskly. “Strap yourself in tight. It’s not likely to be smooth as glass”. Shanna, Jackie, and D comply. Jackie imitates Bette Davis’ famous line, “Buckle up, darling, it’s going to be a bumpy ride”—and at the moment all hell breaks loose.
Everyone exclaims, curses or shouts. The plane’s engines scream with effort as the plane suddenly turns almost on its side, then flips to the other side while diving at a steep angle. A bright light streaks past the left side. Seconds later, as they snap back to level flight, the percussive impact of a distant explosion makes the jetliner bounce and shudder. Hank runs to the cockpit. “What’s going on?” Judge has his hands full flying the plane, so Matt replies, “We just beat a missile, probably a Russian. It was our welcome to Somalia. Get the counter-measures guy into his chair”. Hank nods and shouts into the cabin. “Percival! We need you!”
Matt calls out, “Ten miles, stable approach. 800 feet”, he says, his voice betraying the lowness of the altitude. “Flaps thirty”. Judge nods. “Roger that, call the Tower again”.
“Mogadishu Tower, this is DC-9 November Niner Five Oh Papa Bravo coming in 28R please advise runway conditions”.
Silence. The jetliner stays on approach. In the front row of the cabin, Hank Rhody hears an unwelcome growl from his Geiger counter. As the plane shifts around the sound gets louder and softer. For the first time, the unflappable physicist looks concerned.
“Give me flaps forty”, Judge says. “Three miles”, Matt says. “At two hundred feet”. The runway is right in front of them, less than a minute from touchdown. Suddenly in the wastelands to the west, a dozen flashes of light give them seconds of warning that they’re under rocket attack. “Percival!” Matt shouts. “I see it!”, Percival Dunhill shouts back. He presses buttons and a blinding fireworks display erupts from the back of the wings, confusing the heat-seeking missiles and deflecting them.
But the attack has thrown them off the glidepath. “Go again but don’t climb”, commands Judge Mental. They swing sharply over to the right, and back over the ocean, in a long, clockwise path to line them back up for another attempt at landing. “Thanks, Percival, good job, man. Owe you a beer”. Percival calls out, “I’ll take that beer. But don’t forget, there’s no second round. That was all we had”.
“Okay, take two”. Now they came in lower, much lower than anyone on the plane had ever experienced, zooming over the ocean at 180 knots, less than a hundred feet above the water. Fog and overcast was drifting in. A scattered fleet of anti-aircraft missiles shot trails through the gray sky overhead. As they approached the airport again, lining up on the runway, they dropped even lower but barely slowed down. “Forty feet”, called out an automatic warning. “Terrain, terrain. Pull up! Pull up!” But they didn’t and couldn’t pull up, not with those missiles waiting. The Rhody jet came in over the markers at the end of the runway with its landing gear almost touching the ground. They roared through the fog and at the last second saw—a stalled truck directly ahead of them on the runway. “Negative, negative!” The pilots pulled the nose up while increasing power so sharply that they seemed to catch the rocket brigade unaware. “Tell the Tower we’re going around”, Judge said tersely.
The passengers, all of them fellow plotters, most of them longtime friends and associates, took the first go-round in uneasy silence. The second, more violent one caused audible dismay. “Okay, everybody”, Hank called out. “Just one more time”.
Judge pulled the control column back for a little altitude as they circled around for the third landing attempt. “Two minutes of fuel remaining”, Matt said quietly. Judge nodded. They were almost back in line over the runway, but much higher than before. Judge’s piercing eyes examined the formless gray and found what he wanted. “There. We are diving through that hole in the cloud”. Matt gaped at what was about to happen. “You really are going to crash us, aren’t you?”
Judge Mental gave him a cold, ironic grin, maybe his last. “At the last second before we hit the ground, we’re going to pull back as hard as we can, and if the wings don’t tear right off, we’ll all walk away from it”. Before Matt could say a word, the plane was tilted downwards at a steep angle, building up noise and speed, evading the rocket barrage. As the nose pitched forward, the buzzing of Hank’s Geiger counter became an unearthly howl. The plane plunged through the hole in the clouds towards the runway—
–and just as promised Judge Mental yanked the controls back so sharply the wings almost tore off. People screamed as the plane crazily hit the ground hard and fast, bounced, hit the ground again, and settled back racing off to the side of the runway unevenly. Unable to reach the main runway they hit the bumpy transition to the taxiway and kept on going. “You can’t land on the damn taxiway, Judge”. “Why not? Harrison Ford does”.
Only half under the pilots’ control, they made an overspeed turn off to the secret US enclave of the miles and miles of sprawling airfields. With each lurch tossing them forward, the Geiger counter now roared. Hank shouted over it. “You’ve gotta take the pressure off! It’s going to—”
Judge yelled “Crab the wheels! Full rudder!” He and Balzer gasped with exertion as they, incredibly, turned the plane half sideways as it blasted down the airstrip. That sudden turn turned the Geiger counter’s ominous howl back into a growling buzz. Out the front window, the scenery was going sideways in a blur. Slowing. Loud bangs as the last of the landing gear tires blew. Clusters of uniformed men jump out of the way. The scraping landing gear shot sparks into the air. Slowing. The tail end of the plane is slipping away, swinging around. Slowing. Hank shouted into the radiotelephone, “It’s in the forward cargo hold! Gentlemen, now!”
As the crippled airliner finally shuddered to a stop, one of the engines was on fire. Judge and Matt pulled the overhead fire switches, turned off the fuel pumps, and shouted for evacuation. Dave Barsham took charge. The passenger chutes inflated and the Rhody crew got out within a minute. The heat, smoke, kerosene smell and chaos were overwhelming. “Get away, keep moving!” Barsham shouted.
Jackie and Samblock need no urging, and they, Right Angles, D, and Shanna run away from the burning crash site.
A team of US servicemen in fire suits is already breaking open the crumpled cargo bin with axes. Percival is showing them where to chop. The flames are starting to reach them, and the bomb. One insanely brave man attaches a chain and hook to a steel ring on the bomb and runs to a tractor. Other men are shouting themselves hoarse, “Get out! You’ve got to get out!” But he stubbornly backs the tractor until he pulls the bomb out of the crumpled cargo bay and drags it, yard by agonizing yard, away from the burning airplane. Finally, a NEST team in radiation suits surrounds it and takes it away. The man who pulled the bomb out gets off his tractor.
Hank, Matt and Judge are leading the others away from the scene. For the first time, Hank notices the tractor is Air Force blue. So USAF made it to the party after all, he thinks. Judge Mental says, “I want to shake the hand of the guy who did that. That really took stones”. Just then the man lifts his face mask. It’s Roberto. He grins broadly at their surprise. Right Angles breaks from the crowd, rushes forward, and embraces him.
Matt Balzer and his wife, the Right Nurse who boarded the plane at the last minute, walk away from the wreckage together. “So”, she asks, mock-coquettishly, “Did you get a three million dollar check for this, too?” “Well, honey, I’m already on the WM&M payroll. It’s really part of the job”. He doesn’t keep her in suspense. “But Hank gave me a bonus of seven million”, enjoying her reaction. “Oooh baby!”, she laughs as they hug. “Which reminds me. We need to talk”.
Sam and Hank Rhody turned one last time to see the burning DC-9 finally collapse in on itself. The flames leapt into the sky. Sam had a crooked grin as he pointed to Hank and to the burning wreck with mock accusation. “I’m telling! I’m telling Dad!”
We hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s Tales From the PIT excursion into Silent Radio, Atomic Terror Over the African Coast!
Ricochet members mentioned or featured in tonight’s introductory episode include @dnewlander, @samuelblock, @hankrhody, @samrhody, @rightangles, @lessersonofbarsham, @mattbalzer, @judgemental, @roberto and @ltpwfdcm. Our disclaimer: RSR stories are fan fiction. The dialog, actions, and personal history of these characters are purely imaginary. RSR is not an official activity of Ricochet. Your imaginary network radio announcer is Johnny Donovan. The voice of RSR is @raykujawa.
Remember, three chimes mean good times on Ricochet Silent Radio.
(Sound of chimes)
FADE TO SILENCE.Published in