TIPOTS: The One That Got Away

Stories from the TIPOTSverse
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MKSheppard
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TIPOTS: The One That Got Away

Post by MKSheppard »

THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY: A (Modern) TIPOTS Universe Story
By Mike Kozlowski


(Great and genuine thanks to Nik for being kind enough to let me use the title of his own excellent story. I think as it goes on, everyone will see why it fits so well.)

Respectfully and affectionately dedicated to the Canadian Armed Forces…

15 MAR 2005
RCAF FLIGHT SIXTY-FIVE HEAVY
42,000 FEET ABOVE THE NORTHWEST TERRITORIES


Air Marshal Brian Greenford, Royal Canadian Air Force, sat back for a moment and tossed the file he’d been reading onto the worktable in front of him, rubbing the bridge of his nose. Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork. He hated it, with every fiber of his being. Would much rather have been a young Lieutenant again, blasting a Typhoon along so low that it left a shimmering roostertail of snow behind him, instead of meeting after briefing after delegation. Especially the last one.

Two weeks in Washington, one long polite argument over how much their next aircraft purchase was going to set them back. The Government had decided that the next purchase would be from the Americans – new CF-88 Wolverines, which were nothing more than Grumman Bobcats with winterized fuel systems. Big, heavy, manpower intensive, and utterly unsuited for intercept duties in the Territories. Greenford himself had wanted Vickers-Siddley Spitfire IIIs, even with their awful range. It would have required buying a few more tankers, but one could never have enough of those anyways.

Unfortunately, the fact was that Canada had unique requirements that demanded unique aircraft. And since the politicians had a horror of anything that resembled intelligent thought, he was stuck with whatever the government in power decided to compromise on, and the hell with whatever they actually needed.

Oh well. Greenford could take some comfort that Canada built its own transport, tanker, and patrol birds. Canadair - merged long ago from the remains of Avro Canada, DeHavilland Canada and Hawker Canada – built aircraft that were shipped all over the world and that even gave Boeing and Lockheed a run for their money. But still, he thought, it would be nice to build our own combat birds rather than go hat in hand to the Americans and the British every few years. The big NorthStar transport he was flying in was a great example – solid, easy to maintain, and inexpensive, which meant it was often found in places where the bigger, heavier, and more complex Douglas and Lockheed transports would never make it. Gave Canada a worldwide reputation for superb aircraft, and made Transport Command a great deal cheaper to equip. One has to look for the silver lining.

The soft tone of the intercom interrupted his thoughts. “Air Marshal, this is Major Dalhousie. We’ll be starting our descent into Fort Reliance momentarily. Please secure your belongings. The temperature at Reliance Tower is…thirty-seven degrees below zero, with a windchill factor of eighty-one degrees below zero. In other words, a typically balmy day at the Fort.” There was a brief murmur of conversation as Greenford and his staff started putting seat trays up and stowing gear beneath seats, punctuated by the high-pitched whine of hydraulics and the shudder of the plane in the slipstream as flaps and slots and brakes clutched subzero air and made it bend to the will of engineers and pilots.

The NorthStar moved effortlessly into the cloud deck that hung here this time of year without fail, and the visibility was cut so drastically that Greenford couldn’t even see the green and white lights on the wings, much less the ground. The usual round of ‘cumulogranite’ jokes went through the plane, but at least here in the Territories there was nothing to worry about – the territory below them was just a few feet above sea level, and there was nothing to get in their way. If they had to, the pilots could light up the satellite-guided autopilot, put their feet up on the panel, and take a nap the rest of the way in.

The sky suddenly changed again, from cotton-wool gray to a lighter one, and the snow-covered ground was now visible below. Even this far out, Greenford could see the twinkling pinpoints of light that marked the instrument landing system at RCAF Fort Reliance, and just beyond them the three ribbons of concrete that marked the largest – and most secret – air base in Canada. Fort Reliance was the Canadian equivalent of the USAF’s semi-legendary Tonopah Complex, but without the ostentatious display of SAM batteries, triple-wire fences with minefields, and armored USAF Air Police thumping around the perimeter. Quite frankly, unless they were tunneling in – damned unlikely, but it had been addressed – nobody was getting into Reliance.

Greenford always had to smile at the comparison; it was a typically Canadian trait that they were able to get the same kind of work done a lot more quietly. He’d done his time out here as a test pilot in the 80s before moving back to Ottawa and RCAFHQ at Rockcliffe, and it was still a fun – if thoroughly mysterious place. You could walk around here and see RCN and Army boffins trading secrets or RCAF types tinkering over God only knew what, and all of them having the time of their lives. There were days when he missed it intensely, though every HQ jockey felt that way. He was going to enjoy a few days out here, though he still had a great deal of curiosity as to why the message from the director of research had arrived in the first place. Every Chief of Air Staff visited Reliance on a regular basis of course, there was work going on there you had to know about. But usually, the message went out from Ottawa that you were coming to visit – not one from Reliance telling you that there was something here they wanted to show you.

There was a chirp as the NorthStar’s main gear touched the black-streaked concrete and the brakes brought her slowly down onto the runway’s centerline as if it were on rails. As soon as the gear settled, the pilot threw the exhaust reversers on, and the entire plane shuddered, hesitated, and with a roar that filled the cabin the transport came to a slow roll. Greenford looked out his window – it looked like it was snowing, but that was an illusion of sorts. Damned little snow actually ever fell here – what you saw blowing around was a millennium or so’s worth of snow just blowing around eternally.

Of course, there was really nothing there for the snow to cover. Fort Reliance was, with the exception of a blocky control tower, almost completely underground. The Army engineers who had built the place had figured out a way to tunnel through the permafrost and build massive hangars, research labs, dormitories and offices all beneath the eternal frost – and, not incidentally, away from prying eyes. You could – and they had – conducted entire test programs here with perhaps only three or four people above the Earth’s surface ever seeing them. The Yanks had a standing invitation to do their Arctic testing there, but all the MoD ever heard was polite ‘thank yous’, then silence. Probably because there was no place to stow visiting congressmen – Greenford had seen some wonderfully memorable confrontations between the security staff and Parliament commandos over the years. Ah well – it tended to reinforce the fact that they were out there to keep Canada free, not amuse politicians.

Greenford stood in the cabin and grabbed his overcoat, looking out the window at the VIP receiving room that was rising from its nest beneath the snow. Canada still had to watch its back, even though the Long War had been over for nearly fifteen years now. As the old USSR had fragmented, the Successors had first fought each other, and then after they’d exhausted that particular avenue of fun, they’d started threatening their neighbors – the PRC, each of the other Successors, and the one nation that managed to border all three of them – Canada. All the Successors had heavy bombers and a few ICBMs, and all three had managed to pick fights with Canada on at least one occasion. They’d all been thoroughly hammered into the ground on each occasion, and Greenford himself had two kills from the very first one. He frowned a little in remembering they’d never get the Vulcans back, and what a shame that was - especially the two SRAM-equipped squadrons. There were still two flights of Excaliburs – designed in the UK, but built at Malton – snug in their granite silos in the Canadian Rockies. For all the talking the Government did about peacekeeping and nation building and recovery these days, the missiles still had one vital and never-discussed purpose in life: to remind anyone who even thought about molesting Canada that doing so would bring literal hellfire down upon their heads. But the interceptors stayed, because on the other side of the Great White there were still Bears, Boomers, and Battleaxes that could still stagger off the ground every now and then, and that meant they needed an interceptor force.

Everyone made their way down the boarding stairs as fast as they decently – and safely - could, and as they came through the door the honor guard crashed to attention, all rattling brass and thumping rifle stocks and creaking leather as the Fort’s command staff greeted them with all the respect due the Chief of the Air Staff. Everyone here knew everyone else, and the honors were quick, precise, and blessedly without needless frills. The base commander, a massive Swede from Manitoba, was escorting them down Rideau Street, the huge passage that functioned as the Fort’s main street, when Greenford suddenly remembered something.

“Wing Commander, where’s Doc Doyle?”

The Wing Commander grinned and replied, “Air Marshal, I’m not allowed to ask. Actually, she sent her regards and said she’ll be joining us at the Officers’ Mess.”

“Good enough. I’m still a bit curious though about why she asked me to come out. No problems that you know of?”

The Wing Commander shook his head. “None on the programs I’m cleared for, sir – but don’t forget there’s a lot more I don’t know about.”

Greenford nodded with a rueful smile. “Makes two of us.” Dr. Polly Doyle – or more properly, Air Commodore (Doctor) Patricia Anne Doyle, Royal Canadian Air Force, was a legend in the service. She could have been a Nobel Prize winner – probably would be after she left the RCAF. She had been in on every major development and breakthrough for the last thirty years, and she was cleared for things that quite frankly neither he nor the Prime Minister were allowed to see. Not that it was a problem with him; he and Doc Doyle had grown up together, a couple of air force brats who’d followed the sound of jet engines around the world. Polly had gone her way and he’d gone his, but it had worked out. She was probably the finest research scientist in Canada, if the least known, but she wanted it that way. With that bit of reflection, Greenford settled back in the electric golf cart that would be his steed until he arrived at the VIP quarters.

It is widely accepted that for the best entertainment and food, one goes to the US Air Force’s O-clubs – the Check Six at Nellis rivals the best casinos downtown. The best beer – hands down the Luftwaffe’s Verein Des Offiziers, especially the one at Furstenfeldbruck during Oktoberfest. And the best fettucine Alfredo on the planet is at the Randello Dell'Ufficiale of the 44th Stormo at Aviano Air Base, Italy – but that is another story entirely, and may never be declassified. However, for sheer style, elegance, and comfort, one cannot possibly ever surpass the Officers’ Messes of His Majesty’s Air Forces. They were designed and built in an era when the Gentleman’s Clubs of London – White’s, Brook’s, Boodle’s, and of course, Blades – were considered to be the ultimate in leisure and relaxation that a refined Gentleman could aspire to – and since, by God, a pilot was expected to be a Gentleman, they would have the accouterments of one. So the Messes were built to reflect that, and they still do in places like Hong Kong, Port Stanley, and Fort Reliance.

The fireplace was roaring merrily away as Greenford and his staff, along with the Wing Commander and his team enjoyed their second round – Canadian Club, which wasn’t bad. It was the kind of evening that could make one forget the paperwork, the arguments, the politics, and everything else that affected their lives. Greenford himself was actually beginning to relax unlike he had in quite some time – the grind in Ottawa could start to wear one down after a while, and it was good to be out somewhere that there was a real mission again. Greenford was thinking to himself that he would have to schedule a visit out to the combat range at Cold Lake sometime soon…get into a fighter and just wring it out for a few days. It was then that he saw the flash of white, and a tall, red-haired officer wearing a lab coat over her uniform strolled in and made for their table. The Wing Commander stood first, but Brian Greenford practically jumped the table when he saw Polly Doyle stride in. Handshakes and hugs were shared all around, and they sat back down to the business of storytelling and relaxation.

“….And he looks up and says, “Yes, Ma’am – but that wasn’t my airplane!” Greenford had heard the story a thousand times – hard not to have when he was the subject – but it always sounded funnier when Polly told it. When the laughter died back, the Wing Commander stood. “Air Marshal, I hate to have to call it a night –“

Greenford waved his hand. “No problem, Sam. You and your folks have real work to do. I’ll see you about nine.”

“Good to go, sir.” The Reliance staff said their goodnights and left, and Greenford said to his people, “If you guys want, go ahead and hit the sack. I’ll be here for a bit.” Everyone nodded politely and headed out, grateful for a warm bed. As they left, Greenford picked up his drink and took a sip before turning to Polly. “Damn right I’ll be here for a bit,” he said with a mildly perturbed expression. “It’s not often Air Marshals have Air Commodores – and non-line officers at that – peremptorily order them to fly halfway across a continent out here to Ice Station Zebra.”

Polly flashed a wicked grin. “It was hardly an order,…Sir. Was more of a request, and I may note in my defense that you hardly argued.” She sipped her whiskey, frowned, and said half to herself, “I think we need the good stuff.” Signaling one of the stewards, she said, “Two Crown Royal Reserves – neat, please.”

“Very good, Ma’am.”

Turning back to Greenford, Polly asked, “So – how’s life in the real world? Val and the boys okay?”

Greenford nodded. “Boys – good grief, Tommy’s graduating from Rockcliffe this year, and Chris is on exchange duty with the Navy. As hard as I tried to teach him….he’s a naval aviator.” Greenford made a mock shudder, then continued, “Val’s doing fine – she’s looking for a place for us after I retire.”

“Back home?” Greenford made a noncommittal gesture with his left hand as his right took the glass of Crown Royal Reserve from the steward’s practiced motion. “Kind of hard to go back to Manitoba. Minister’s talked to me about joining our delegation to the Fissile Materials Recovery Organization – they seem to think that having someone of my exalted stature would show Canada’s dedication to peace, rebuilding, etc.”

Polly took a sip of hers and her expression this time was one of near-rapture. Smacking her lips, she muttered, “Much better, much better.” Then looking up to Greenford, she asked, “You gonna take it?”

Greenford sipped his, enjoying the pleasurable burn as the whiskey slid down his throat. “Probably not,” he finally answered. “I want to settle down, Polly. Too many deployments, too many missions. They start to wear on you.”

“Like the last one.”

Greenford raised an eyebrow in suspicion. They always talked about a great many things, but that side of the business never came up before. Polly sensed his thoughts and said, “We do get the papers out here, Brian. Going hat in hand once more to the Allies to buy new birds must get very, very old.”

“That it does. We could build our own, Polly – we build spaceships, we’ve built ICBMs, we build supersonic jet engines and state of the art avionics - we build every component needed for the finest combat aircraft in the world, but we won’t assemble the damn things.”

Polly considered this as she took another sip. “Always been curious about that. What’s their main objection?”

“Same one as it’s been for forty years. R&D costs would kill us, we could never recover the development expenses even with massive foreign sales, and even if we had a plane the world wanted, the Yanks and the Brits would be able to swamp us with subsidies. Game set and match before we even get onto the court.”

There was a pause before Polly asked, “What if we could beat that?”

Greenford frowned and took another sip. “Whaddya mean, ‘beat that’? “

“I mean, if we could somehow beat the first problem – the R&D costs – could we get past the other two? Imagine for a minute I’m not brilliant and explain it to me.”

Greenford laughed. “If we could somehow develop the right airplane for a cost that wouldn’t bankrupt the Dominion, I suppose so. Why – you got one hidden down here?”

A very long pause. “As a matter of fact….”

Greenford’s expression changed from humorous to mystified. “Polly, what the hell are you talking about?”

“Well…what would you say if I told you that a few thousand yards away from here, there is a…prototype…of what may be one of the most capable combat aircraft on the planet?”

Greenford merely blinked in disbelief before saying, “I would say you’ve finally gone off the rails, Air Commodore. You have spent one day too many out here making odd scientific things, and I’m getting you sent back to Ottawa before you go completely unhinged.”

“I’m not kidding, Brian.” The look on Polly’s face was one he remembered from his childhood, the one that told him it was in his best interests to back off now. After a moment, Greenford sat back in his chair and said quietly, “You aren’t kidding. You really do have something hidden out there…something I didn’t know about, and something I suspect no one else did either.”

Polly made her own noncommittal gesture. “Oh, a handful of people knew about it. Here.”

“Of course.”

Her smile returned. “Wanna see?”

“Oh, most definitely…”

Hangar Twelve was a good fifteen-minute ride away by golf cart, and the ride there was mostly silent as Greenford tried to figure out exactly what was going on. There had been scandals in the past – few and far between and mostly kept quiet – in the research community. With the huge sums of black money floating around, it was going to happen. But this was Polly, f’r God’s sake…to accept that she’d run some kind of super-super black program here that nobody back in Ottawa knew about…that took some very difficult believing.

The cart jerked to a stop in front of a featureless wall with some armored doors of various sizes mounted securely to it and a huge red number 12 stenciled next to the personnel entry point. There were no guards – the entry system alone made sure that none were needed. It was a simple retinal/palm scan system that let you into an airlock before you got to the actual entry door to the hangar. There was a catch – if you weren’t who you were supposed to be, the airlock flooded with nerve gas. Greenford shuddered every time he went in the damn thing, and this time was no different except for Polly wisecracking, “It’s never failed, Brian…yet.”

Greenford snarled a “Thanks,” as he entered behind Polly. The airlock was almost pitch black except for a single red emergency light, and Greenford paused for a second to get his bearings. He heard Polly open the door and the sound of echoes reverberating through the cavernous hangar beyond. “Step forward into the hangar, Brian. I’ll get the lights.”

Greenford stepped cautiously forward until he felt himself brush past Polly and heard his footsteps echo in the huge open space. There was the SNAP of a light fixture coming on, and at first all he could see was a huge Canadian flag hanging overhead, glowing in the increasing light. Then a full bank of lights came on with a SNAP and an electric hum –

And he saw It.

In all his adult life, Brian Greenford had never been truly surprised by anything. He was a fighter pilot, and he disliked surprises intently, making sure therefore that none littered his path.

But THIS surprised him.

Polly Doyle watched as he slowly walked around the plane, still a massive, hulking black shape in the growing light, looking at it from every angle, peering into every intake and exhaust, running his hands over its ebony flank like it was some dream come to life in front of him. Finally, he stopped and turned to face her, his expression one of near shock.

“Doc…Polly...”, he said slowly…”I don’t know whether or not to promote you…or have you arrested…”

Greenford continued to walk slowly around the bird, looking at every seam, every hatch, every inch of the smooth, almost oily black surface. He had never inspected an aircraft this closely before, and he certainly never though he’d get to see this. Stopping for a moment to collect his thoughts, he continued on while tossing questions back to Polly.

“Max speed?”

“Two nine. We think with a bit of tweaking we could get her up to three. The airframe is certainly up to it.”

“Jesus. What do you have in there?”

“Two Orenda 1200’s. With a few…um…modifications…seventy-one five of wet thrust, actually. Easy enough to put into production.”

Greenford popped open a hatch under the left hand side of the canopy, massive, single piece aluminum and Plexisteel affair that resembled a medieval knight’s helmet. The hatch swung open, and Greenford pulled a blue handle inside it. A tubular boarding ladder slid smoothly from the beast’s flank while the hatch opened with a pneudraulic hisssssssssssss. Greenford looked at Polly with a grin like a child asking for permission to go on a ride at an amusement park, and she simply smiled and nodded. As he nimbly raced up the ladder, he asked, “Max climb?”

“Sixty five thousand per minute. It’ll make an Eagle look like it was standing still.” Greenford had to stop and absorb that one for a moment as he vaulted into the canopy. The USAF’s premier fighter held every time-to-climb record in the book, and Polly was standing here with a straight face telling him that this beast could beat that without even working up a sweat.

Relaxing in the solid Martin-Baker seat for a moment, Greenford scanned the cockpit. Beautifully laid out, could see that at first glance. Looking over the weapons panel, he could see it was a multifunction system – able to go from air-to-air and air-to-ground with the flick of a switch. The US Navy’s SeaLions were the gold standard on that these days, but this…every option you could ask for was there. His eyes moved forward to the primary CRT and he touched the RADAR STDBY switch.

“What’s in the nose?”

“AN/APS-206C – the one with the AI freq shift.”

Greenford shook his head slowly, considering the implications of what Poly had just said. “Polly,” he finally said with a pained expression, “the Yanks don’t even like to admit that thing exists – they sure as hell haven’t sold any to any one.” Polly shrugged elaborately, and his expression turned from pain to looming terror. “Polly…how the hell did you get this thing?…” She smiled once more, almost wickedly this time. “Brian…what’s a little larceny among friends?”

“I do NOT want to know. What does this thing have to fight with?”

Polly strode closer to the plane, and pointed first to the cockpit’s underside. “Two Vancouver RC48s, a hundred rounds each. In the weapons bay…well, pretty much you name it. In the interceptor configuration, it’s rigged either for Skybolt or Sparrowhawk with Sidewinder in the tactical intercept mode. In strategic intercept, we’ve tested it with Phoenix and Condor, up to four each. In air-to-ground…name it. If it’ll fit in the bay, we can haul it and drop it.”

Greenford nodded, running his hands over the sidestick and throttles to get a feel for them. Perfectly designed – they hadn’t missed a trick. After that, though, he looked at Polly again with a serious expression. “And now, the $64,000 question – how?”

Polly paused for a moment, framing her answer. “Well, the way I was told it –“

“By who?”

Pause. “Red Gordon.”

It took Greenford a second to remember who Red was, and then it hit him – Dr. Walter ‘Red’ Gordon, one of the senior aeronautical engineers in the business then. It made sense, Greenford thought. If anybody could have arranged this, it was Red. “Okay, go on.”

“Apparently, somebody warned Red what was coming, and he got a group of structural guys together – they were the ones assigned to cut ‘em up. What they ended up doing was as they disassembled each bird, they very quietly smuggled out one complete set of subsystems from each ship – which, instead of going to the scrapyard, came out here.”

Greenford nodded in understanding. Given the truckloads of material that would have been coming out, it would have been easy to divert one here, and another there. “Okay,” he said, “I can buy that. But how about the airframe?”

Polly looked at the bird again, her eyes fading back in time. “You remember the stories, Brian? That somehow, one ship had survived?”
Greenford nodded. There wasn’t a Canadian pilot alive who hadn’t heard that urban legend at least once, sighed, and then gone on with their lives.

“That’s what happened. The last ship on the line was gutted, and the airframe itself disassembled and brought out here. Over time, she was put back together, and then over more time the systems were upgraded, redesigned, and tweaked. The only original part of the ship is the primary airframe itself. We reskinned her, obviously – that’s all our own version of the Aussie Steel Ghost RAM…managed to increase its effectiveness by about 20%.”

Greenford shook his head quietly, almost unable to take it all in. “Is there anything left of the original?”

“You mean components?”

“Yeah.”

Polly nodded. “C’mon, I’ll show you.” Greenford came down out of the cockpit and followed her to a door at the rear of the hangar. As they entered, Polly hit the lights and Greenford saw lab stands and test rigs in a room that seemed to be the size of a hockey rink. There was odd looking gear scattered all over the place, but his eyes were immediately drawn to a single panel against a wall that had once come from an airplane – and one in particular.

It was huge – almost six feet long, and had once been gleaming, arctic white and dayglo red, but was now faded to almost a beige and pink, with scratches, dents and nicks across it and a noticeable warp – but it was what was painted across the faded colors that drilled into his brain, that took him back to a time when this had been the greatest machine of its kind ever built, a lethal symphony of titanium and steel and hydraulics and high explosives, when Canada was poised to lead the world.

Across the panel, in flat black numbers a foot high, was

RL25202

Greenford stood there for a moment touching the panel, letting the years it had seen flow through his fingertips and into his brain. It all came back to him – the years growing up as his dad flew across the world, first in Canucks, then Starfighters and Phantoms, and all the time Dad and his friends wishing they’d had the chance to fly – just once – this bird.

Polly had stepped quietly beside him, and wordlessly handed him a small metal plate. It had been lovingly polished and cleaned, but there was no mistaking its age. At the top, engraved with jeweler’s precision, was the old winged Avro logo and beneath it the plane’s vital manufacturing statistics, but there was only one line that he really comprehended.

AVRO CF-42 ARROW S/N RL25202 MANU. AVRO CANADA
MALTON, ONT.


Greenford smiled up at Polly, tears misting his eyes.

“I’ll be damned,” he whispered. “The one that got away.”

Greenford stood there for a moment, lost in a reverie – but then the reality of the situation literally hit him right between the eyes. Here he was standing next to a multibillion-dollar project that no one – no one- in Ottawa even had a clue about, and as he turned to face Polly, his features went from happy to grim. “You know I have to go to the MoD with this, Polly…I have to.” To his surprise, Polly just nodded with an equitable grin. “That was the idea, actually. There was no way that the Saint would listen to a mere scientist – but an Air Marshal…that would be something else entirely.”

Greenford had to concede the point. The Saint – also known as The Right Honorable Andrea Denise St.Germain, Canadian Minister of Defense, wasn’t known for understanding much of anything that didn’t come from another politician, and that was because she had almost zero respect for the military - they didn’t call her “MissNamara” for nothing, usually followed by spitting. It really made no difference; the Saint felt her primary job in life was the eventual dissolution of the Canadian Armed Forces and her subsequent nomination to godhood. She could be beaten; that was true enough – there were days that the only reason Canada still had a military was because she had been backed into a corner.

Backed into a corner… “You know,” Greenford mused aloud, “the Saint will do everything possible to strangle this where it stands. And you with it.” For the first time, Polly looked a little concerned about the whole thing. “That thought was starting to occur to me over the last few days,” she replied. “I doubt she’ll have me charged with anything – that would imply that she was less than omnipotent in not catching it sooner.”

“True. But her revenge will be ending what will be left of your short, miserable career researching better septic tanks.” Polly gave a little shudder at that, then a grim smile of her own. “It’ll be worth it. Just to let them know what they missed.”

“Would be even better if we could convince them to take you up on it.”

Polly nodded. “That’s the part I have to leave to you, Brian. You know how to deal with the politicians, I don’t. But what do you have in mind?”

Greenford looked hard at the panel once more, for what seemed to Polly to be a very long time, then looked up at her. “How soon can you have that beast ready for a demo?”

“About a week.”

“Okay. I’m going back to Ottawa today. I want you to check it out within an inch of its life. There will be no, repeat, no screwups – got it?”

“Got it. Anything else?”

Greenford nodded before he looked around and then pounced on a piece of paper and a pen. “Once you’ve made sure this thing works, I want you to do this…” Greenford wrote as he explained to Polly what he had in mind, and by the time he was done, she was smiling from ear to ear. “You think it’ll get their attention?”

“If not, we’re both going to end our careers in ways we hadn’t quite planned on. Get to work, Air Commodore.”

For the first time in all the years he’d known her, Polly Doyle came to attention and saluted him. “Yes, sir, Air Marshal.” Greenford shook his head as he tried to hide his smile and walk away. “Damn scientists,” he muttered. “Never did learn how to salute..”

* * *

As Greenford had imagined, the news was – to say the least – a shock to the politicians – and the rest of the generals, and a few admirals as well, but their primary concern was whether or not that would leave them with a four carrier force instead of the six they’d worked so hard to keep. The Prime Minister – who was old enough to actually remember the Arrow - wasn’t so much pissed that the plane still existed as much as the fact that a few tens of billions of dollars had gone out without anyone knowing. The rest of the cabinet was withholding comment until they saw how the Saint would deal with it.

And she was not dealing with it well.

“Of all the criminal, underhanded, back-alley stunts you idiots could have pulled,” she stormed, “this one takes the cake! I should have you all court-martialed, convicted, and then have the key not just thrown away, but melted!! Do you have –“

Greenford calmly interrupted her. “For starters, Minister, this ‘back alley stunt’ actually took place nearly fifty years ago. Secondly, Canadian law still requires one to be found guilty in a court of law before being locked up, so please get a grip on your revenge fantasies.”

St.Germain’s face went lobster read and she very nearly came over the huge mahogany conference table at Greenford. “You arrogant –“

Greenford looked straight into her eyes and quietly said, “Pot, kettle on line one.” Before St.Germain could screech a response, the Prime Minister rapped his pipe on the table. The noise sounded like a gunshot, but Greenford had been expecting it while the Defense Minister hadn’t been, and the Saint nearly jumped back into her seat. The Prime Minister regarded the whole situation with a look that wavered between distaste and a fear that he might end up having to break the whole thing up. “Let’s keep it down, the both of you,” he growled as he put the pipe back between his teeth. “Air Marshal, let me see if I have this straight. You’re telling me the bottom line here is that we have a world class fighter plane hiding out under the tundra, and if we wanted to, we could put it into production at a fraction of the cost of a new aircraft?”

“That is correct, Prime Minister. I’ve reviewed the test data on the Arrow – in its current form, it is the equal or better of any tactical aircraft on the planet. As far as cost, everything has been amortized years ago – it would literally be a matter of hauling the jigs out of storage and setting them up. The old Malton plant is empty, but could be brought back into service for minimal cost. And the best part is that we could sell them all over the world – the price would be under anything the Americans or the British could get to in their wildest dreams.”

“And you would have done it illegally, Air Marshal, behind the backs of the people of Canada!” The Saint’s voice was only an octave below being heard only by dogs as she continued, “The people should have made this decision, do you understand? The people...”

Greenford’s reply was a snarl. “As I remember, Minister, the people never got the chance to make the call in the first place! We have a chance to do something here that rarely ever happens – the opportunity to correct a national mistake, and I for one think we need to at least examine it...”

“I forbid it!,” the Saint screamed. “I will NOT allow...”

“You will not forbid a damned thing, Minister,” the Prime Minister said quietly around his pipe. “I will have you remember that the final decision is mine.” He stood, Greenford and the Saint standing with him.

“And I decide we at least check this out. Brian, what have you got?”

Greenford almost had to bite his lip to hide a triumphant smile while the Saint stood gasping like a landed trout. “Prime Minister, say the date and we will have a demonstration arranged for you.”

“Mm. Two weeks enough time?”

“More than enough.”

“Handle it, then.” The Prime Minister left and Greenford followed him out through the heavy oak doors of the Cabinet Room, serenaded by the Saint swearing a blue streak behind them.

The air was cold and crisp as the Prime Minister, the Saint, the Combined Chiefs, and their respective staffs filed onto the reviewing stand at RCAF Rockcliffe to watch the demonstration, scheduled to begin promptly at noon. The media had to stay outside, as did the public, but Greenford figured that there were easily a hundred thousand people there and more were filing in. They’d had to go public, and for the most part the reaction was overwhelmingly favorable – even the most anti-military voices were tempered with amazement that they had, indeed, gotten a second chance. Of course, the politicians harrumphed, this would have to be carefully examined to see if it fit Canada’s new role in the world, etc. That was a load of crap, Greenford thought to himself, and they knew it. Canadair’s people were already dangling sugarplums of multi-billion dollar sales in front of the Exchequer, and the politicians were, in turn, salivating over it.

On the other hand, nobody wanted to commit to a damned thing until they knew which way the wind was going to blow, and that was still up in the air.

Greenford and Polly had met earlier that morning and compared notes after canvassing everybody who could make a difference. The final score:

“Too close to call,” Polly said with a dejected look. “What’ll it take?”

Greenford thought for a second. “The PM. Whatever he decides, is what they’ll go with. Trouble is, the Saint’s had two weeks to work on him.”

“How bad is that?”

“Well, she’s probably been trying to convince him that his legacy – cripes, I hate that word – is in jeopardy if he allows the project to get restarted. Plus, I have it on pretty good authority that she’s been feeding the Americans all kinds of info, none of it accurate, and they in turn have been leaning on the PM.”

“Not good.”

“Not hardly. Everything else is ready though?”

Polly nodded. “They did a helluva job, right to your specs.”

“Good.” Greenford looked at the crowd, then at his watch, and right on cue the Tannoy opened up with a metallic CLICK.

“Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen, and welcome to RCAF Rockcliffe! I’m Squadron Leader Dan Howard, and on behalf of the Royal Canadian Air Force, we are glad you’re here! We are honored to have with us today Prime Minister..”

Greenford joined in the applause as the PM stood and gave his number-one wave while the crowd gave a fairly solid cheer of approval.

“…And Defense Minister Andrea St.Germain…”

Silence. Well, not strictly silence, but a lot less applause than the PM had gotten, interspersed with more than a few boos. The look on the Saint’s face told him that if she could, she’d had a few heads lopped off just to prove a point.

“And now, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, if you will look to your left, watch as history opens a door thought closed fifty years ago – ladies and gentlemen, the Avro Arrow!”

The Arrow appeared almost out of nowhere, moving just under supersonic and trailing a shockwave that thumped chests and made eardrums buzz, a massive black arrowhead moving smoothly down the runway, and the crowd was on its feet cheering with gusto. Greenford looked at the faces of the pilots around him, and knew in a heartbeat they were hooked. Of course, he had a bigger fish in mind, but…

The show went smoothly, fifteen minutes of perfect acrobatics, though nothing too fancy. One thing the pilots around him all noted was that the Arrow would always fly around the rear of the stands after a maneuver, and that was a little odd, wasn’t it? Greenford just smiled and shrugged, and checked his watch again.

“Almost?,” Polly asked.

“Almost.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes our demonstration! We hope you’ve enjoyed our hospitality and the chance to see this historic aircraft once more…”

The Saint turned to Greenford and Polly with a smile that would have struck terror into the heart of a wicked witch. “Air Marshal, I’m surprised…was that the best you could do? A pity…I’m going to enjoy scrapping that piece of junk – and Air Commodore Doyle’s career as well.” The Saint picked up her handbag and put on her sunglasses. “Well, show’s over –“

Air Marshal Brian Greenford grinned like he hadn’t since his last kill. “Not exactly.”

“…but before we go, here’s a special salute to our guests from Team Arrow!”

With that, Greenford felt as much as heard the Arrow’s burners kick in, and it came low and very fast this time from the left. As the crowd followed it, the pilot knife-edged it just as it reached the crowd, showing the plane's bottom for the first time that day –

- With a giant Canadian flag painted on it, almost glowing in the bright sunlight and standing out in stark contrast to the black of the plane’s skin. The burners were kicking out shock diamonds almost the length of the plane as it raced down the runway, but as fast as it moved, it couldn’t outrun the crowd, all of them jumping up and down and cheering so loud that they could almost be heard over the roar of afterburners. In the reviewing stands there had been just a heartbeat before bedlam took over, distinguished politicians and military men alike screaming and hooting and hollering like kids at a hockey game.

With the sad exception, of course, of the Defense Minister, who stood there as if she’d just been poleaxed. Dozens of military were surrounding Greenford now, shaking his hand and pounding his back, and Polly elbowed her way through the crowd to hug him so hard it felt like he had a g-suit on. Suddenly, one arm, wrapped in an exquisitely cut overcoat sleeve, reached through the crowd.

“Brian,” the Prime Minister said with a knowing grin, “Not bad…not bad at all.”

Greenford really didn’t know what to say, but the PM beat him to the punch in any event. Looking around the crowd again, the PM grinned and said, “You know, I think we’ve got the people behind us on this one…have your people run the numbers for us to get production rolling. I’ll talk to the Americans about canceling those damned Wolverines.”

“Yes sir, Prime Minister,” Greenford said with a grin that went from ear to ear. “But what are you going to do about the Defense Minister?” Greenford cocked his head towards the Saint, who was standing there surveying the crowd with an expression that suggested she was smelling something unusually vile.

The Prime Minister looked at the Saint for a moment, then turned back to Greenford. “Well,” he said, almost to himself, “We do need a delegation leader to the Fissile Materials Recovery Organization…”

The End
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jemhouston
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Re: TIPOTS: The One That Got Away

Post by jemhouston »

Needed a pick me up today, this was it. Thank you.
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