“Time to wake up, Billy,” said Bomber Jones, turning his alarm off.
Billy Dunn instantly awakened, alert and refreshed. “Status?” he asked the navigator.
“Everything seems nominal,” said Jones. “A systems check says we’re ready to fly.”
“Let’s get this show on the road,” said Dunn, bringing the bomber up to operating status. His screens came to life with a false cheeriness. He pulled the stick back, the engines pushing the bomber off the bottom of the lake. “Get ready to convert back to air mode as soon as we reach the surface,” he said, pouring power to the engines.
“Got it,” said Jones, hands dumping the water that had been used as ballast. “Everything’s ready.”
“Three seconds to surface,” reported Dunn.
The Blue Tracer leaped into the air like a whale at play. Jones triggered the conversion before the bomber could fall back to the surface of the lake. The bomber flew like a bird into the bright morning sky.
“How far off course are we?” Dunn asked as he aligned the Tracer to his original bearings.
“A couple miles,” said Jones. “Here’s the new heading.”
Dunn guided the bomber onto the proper heading as he began to look for landmarks that had been included in his briefing.
“We’re coming up on our target,” said Jones. “Another five miles, according to the atlas.”
“Got it,” said Dunn. “Get ready to dump our cargo and turn around for the run out.”
“I’m ready,” reported Jones. “Arming the payload. Deploying ECM. Set for release.”
Keeping his eyes on the sky, Dunn knew more Zeros were bound to try to intercept the mission before he could do the job.
“Over target,” reported Jones. “Bombs are away.”
Dunn banked in a tight U-turn and began his escape flight. The Japanese Occupation Air Force was not going to take that lightly. Jets would be launched after the Tracer within minutes.
“We got bogies, Tracer,” reported Jones, reading his scopes. “Looks like the Zeroes were already in the air when we started our run.”
“How many?” asked Dunn.
“Looks like eight Zeroes,” reported the navigator.
“Right,” said Dunn. “Give us a heading straight to our turf on the other side of the Sierras.”
Jones worked fast as he went over his charts. He gave the pilot a heading and tried to relax in his seat. The next few minutes were going to be hectic.
Dunn took the course as he armed the Tracer‘s cannons. The bomber was much faster now because he had lightened the load with the bombing run. Still, it was no match for a fighter no matter how light it was.
“Note — need more anti-aircraft armament,” Dunn said to the cockpit recorder.
“They’re here on our three,” said Jones. “Incoming.”
Tipping the Tracer to show a profile, Dunn then rolled the bomber into a dropping spear and pulled into a turn. The missiles flew through his flight path and missed completely.
Dunn banked in line with the approaching fighters and opened up with the gatling. The small rotary cannon punched holes in his target as the planes roared past each other. But he knew he couldn’t dogfight all of his enemies. His ammo was half-expended in the action he had already seen. He looped around to get back on course as the zeroes re-formed into wings to make another missile run.
“Is there anything we can use?” asked Dunn, heading for the treetops. The Tracer whipped trees in its wake as he flew a zigzag run for the U.S. border. Once there, he knew air support would be on its way to bail him out. He just had to fly faster and lower than anyone else. The worst that could happen was a crash. But that was still better than a P.O.W. camp.
Dunn banked hard left as air-to-air missiles sought out his plane. The Tracer was everything he thought it would be to fly. The Zeros were right behind him as he weaved through the canyons and gorges of the Sierras, rolling his bomber and sideslipping through the air. He was glad he had insisted on the special venting to help prevent heat-seeker lock-on. It was just enough to throw off the missiles without having to use a flare.
“Five minutes to Zone 4,” said Jones. “The base is scrambling fighter support.”
“Zone 4?” said Dunn. “We’re way off course.”
“I know,” said Jones. “We’ve been following the landscape southeast since contact.”
“If we had some kind of cover,” said Dunn, “we could land and hide until the heat was off.”
Jones fired one of his dwindling supply of flares. Whether by accident or design, the flare went into an engine of one of the fighters. The wing came off spectacularly. “Who’s next?” he asked absently.
Billy Dunn put his plane in a series of S-turns as he tried to elude the fighters behind him. He wasn’t going to lose his baby on the first flight off the assembly line. No Dunn had ever done that, and he wasn’t going to be the first.
“They’re dogging us, Billy,” Jones said calmly. A shockwave rolled over the plane. “Six are, anyway.”
Dunn reached a straight stretch in the terrain and pulled back on the wheel, looping the Tracer up and behind his opponents. A simple trigger pull sent the rest of his ammo into one of the fighters. He watched as the fighter caught fire and headed for the bottom of the canyon below. The rest of the Zeros scattered in front of him. He wondered how long it would take them to realize he was out of bullets.
“We’re over the border,” reported Jones.
“Where’s the cavalry?” asked Dunn.
“Radio traffic,” said Jones. “They’re a couple minutes away.”
“We don’t have a couple minutes,” Dunn said as he decided on his next tactic. It was a move of pure desperation, but he knew it would work once.
Billy Dunn poured on the speed until he was flying directly above one of the enemy planes. He began to crowd the plane toward the ground until he suddenly switched the thrust of his engines from vertical to horizontal. The vertical jets sprayed across the top of the plane, smashing the cockpit open and pummeling the pilot to jelly. The zero went into a uncontrolled dive.
“Bet you can’t do that again,” said Jones, on watch for the fighter’s colleagues.
“Find me one and we’ll see,” said Dunn, applying horizontal thrust to the bomber’s main engines.
“Break left,” said Jones as a missile flew at them from one side.
Pulling the plane through the requested manuever, Dunn charged the fighter head-on. He knew it was a matter of nerves who would pull out of the chicken run first. The Zero spat some bullets at the Tracer as the two jets closed. They were too close for another missile.
Dunn pulled up at the last second with another switch to vertical lift. The Japanese fighter flew into the jet wash and went into a dive. The jets had missed the cockpit by inches.
“The last-minute rescue is here,” said Jones. “Looks like maybe three or four of our guys.”
“That’s good, because I don’t know how long we could have held out with the belly gun empty.”
“Four planes out of eight is good, Billy,” said Jones. “I’ll be happy if they give us a citation for valor above and beyond the call.”
“Brubaker won’t give us nothing but grief,” said Dunn. “We’ll be lucky if he lets us fly again in anything, much less the Tracer.”
Later, Billy Dunn walked around the silent Blue Tracer where it lay in its bed. The camera and recorders were being examined by the tech boys as he stood there thinking about his future and the fight for his country.
The Tracer was a good tool, but he knew no one else would be able to use it like he could. He had placed some suggestions for newer models in his report. In his opinion, anti-aircraft weapons were necessary if the mission profile called for anything but a clandestine bombing.
They had done it. He and Jones would go down in the history books as the first Americans to bomb the Japanese occupation forces in California. At least they would if America won its war for survival. Otherwise, he would be branded a criminal that would be hunted down as soon as possible, and his beloved Tracer would be scrapped as a madman’s toy.