The night sky over Afghanistan was empty.
But it wasn’t the sky that Jake was concerned about.
He checked his instruments. Fox One were flying so close to the ground that they could have been walking on it, as his backseater delighted in reminding him. With the naked eye the surrounding hills were invisible. Sky and land had melded as one. He looked down at the panel once more, reassured to see that he was still straight and level and where he was supposed to be in relation to those deadly crags reaching out to snag him.
Behind him, and at a safe distance, flew Fox Two. The wingman’s instruments told him where Fox One was, but he looked up occasionally anyway, squinting a bit in an attempt to catch a glimpse of those two glowing tailpipes ahead of him as they snaked through the valley. He couldn’t hear or talk to Jake and Mike, but Fox Two was glad to be able to see them. This was “Follow The Leader” at its finest—and scariest.
“Hey, Jake. I wanna tell you somethin’.”
“You know, that talk we had the other night at your place? It all makes sense now. I just wanted you to know, well … I decided.”
The pilot held his breath for a heartbeat. He and Mike had argued endlessly over dinner just a couple of nights before. After his backseater had left, Jake had regretted having been quite so forceful. Then, when Mike hadn’t called him the next day, he was sure he had overstepped the boundaries that exist even between friends. The last thing he wanted was a break in their relationship.
“What did you decide, Mike?
“Well, when I got home, I looked up those verses you showed me—you know, the ones in the Bible.”
Jake smiled behind his face mask.
“I like the night flyer’s promise* the best. That’s the one that got me. I mean, we do these night missions all the time and it’s scary out here, never knowing when our number’s going to be called. The night looks like our friend, but it’s not, ‘cause it hides the bad guys just like it hides us. This is our Death Valley. We do our jobs, and we head out of here like bats out of … well, you know where. Daylight means being safe, it’s home and bacon ‘n eggs. So, I figure if Jesus is God’s daylight for me, He’s home ‘n bacon ‘n eggs, and His side is the one I wanna be on.”
“So, what did you do?” Jake could hardly contain himself, but he knew that Mike needed the chance to walk him through the whole process.
“I did what you said. I told Jesus all the crud I’d done and how sorry I was, and asked Him to forgive me. And you know what?”
“He did—just like breaking up rock with a sledge hammer, except He didn’t even leave any dust behind. Exit crud.”
“Mike, this is the best …”
“Fox Flight Leader, this is Red Tower.”
Red Tower was Fox Flight’s mother hen, the AWACS “spy-in-the-sky” plane watching over them tonight.
“Red Fox One.”
“Be advised, Fox One, radar just came up. You’re being tracked.”
“Where, Red Tower? Mike, have you got ‘em?”
“Fox Flight, Red Tower. Coordinates are …”
“Jake! Missiles in the air. They’re close.”
Jake sensed that there was no time for them, but maybe there was still a small chance for the wingman.
“Fox Two. Break, Break. BREAK!”
“Oh God …”
“Fox Flight Leader, this is Red Tower, what’s your status? … Red Fox One, please respond. … Fox One, this is Red Tower, do you copy? … ”
“Red Tower, this is Fox Two.” Time and space coalesced. “Red Tower, they’re … gone. They’re gone.”
There was silence a forever heartbeat long.
“Acknowledged, Fox Two. Return to base.”
“Roger that, Red Tower.”
The night sky was empty once more, but the thin outline of the mountains separating earth from sky became clearer in the predawn. Earth released its tentative hold on the heavenly. Morning had broken.
*“because of the tender mercy of our God …the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Luke 1:78. 79 NIV
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