Home > Mackenzie's Mission (Mackenzie Family #2)(8)

Mackenzie's Mission (Mackenzie Family #2)(8)
Author: Linda Howard

The pilots took the aircraft through a series of maneuvers, and the sensors embedded in the aircraft's skin sent back readings of the stress levels on the airframe.

"Twenty degrees alpha," the deep voice said, confirming what the digital readout on the computer screen was telling them. "Thirty... forty... fifty... sixty."

One of the pilots standing behind her muttered, "Damn," in a nervous tone.

"Alpha is angle of attack," Major Deale whispered, noticing Caroline's puzzled look. His own expression was tense. "Most high-performance aircraft can only do about twenty degrees before they stall out. We've taken Baby to fifty degrees, because her vectored thrust gives better control, but even the X-29 wasn't controllable above seventy degrees."

"Seventy," said the calm voice. "Seventy-five."

The major had turned pale. He was staring at the changing numbers on the computer screen as if he could control them by willpower alone.

"Seventy-seven... seventy-nine... eighty... controls feel a little spongy. That's enough for now, leveling out."

"How'd Mad Cat do?" someone asked.

"Sixty-five," another someone replied, and the group chuckled.

"Was that his alpha, or his pucker factor?"

"I was sweating at fifty."

"We'll have to haul Mad Cat out of the cockpit. He won't have any starch left in his legs at all."

"Bet Breed's heart rate didn't even go up. He bleeds ice water, man, pure ice water."

Next, the aircraft pulled both negative and positive Gs, provoking more comments as the speakers carried the sounds of the grunts the pilots made to force more oxygen into their brains and keep from blacking out A trained pilot could normally withstand up to six positive Gs before gray-out began, but with specialized breathing techniques tolerance could be raised to about nine Gs for short periods of time.

The colonel was pulling ten Gs.

"Level out, level out," a captain said under his breath.

Major Deale was sweating. "Don't do this to me," he muttered. "Come on, Breed. Don't push it any further."

"Levelling out," a calm voice said over the radio, and she heard the quiet release of air from several pairs of lungs.

"That son of a bitch is a genetic freak," the captain said, shaking his head. "Nobody is supposed to be able to tolerate that. How long?"

"Not long," the second lieutenant at the monitor replied. "He actually hit ten for about four-tenths of a second. He's done it before."

"I can only tolerate nine for that long. And he was making sense when he talked! I'm telling you, he's a genetic freak."

"Gawdamighty, think what he must've been like ten years ago."

"About the same as now," Major Deale said.

The next series of tests involved the laser targeting, and Caroline edged her way closer to the monitors. She felt oddly shaky inside, and she tried to gather her thoughts. When she had been chosen to replace Walton on the test site, she had done some quick research on jet aircraft, and that, coupled with her general technical knowledge, told her exactly how dangerous those maneuvers had been. He could have lost control of the aircraft at such extreme angles of attack, or he could have blacked out pulling so many Gs and not regained consciousness in tune to keep from drilling the aircraft nose-first into the desert floor. The reactions of the other pilots told their own tale.

Adrian slipped in front of her, effectively blocking her view, since he was so much taller. Caroline brought her mind back to the current situation. She had no doubt he had done it deliberately, and if she let him get away with it he would only do something worse the next time. "Excuse me, Adrian," she said politely. "Since you're so tall, let me stand in front of you so we both can see."

Yates looked up and smiled, either not seeing or choosing to ignore the sour expression on Adrian's face. "Good idea. Step up in front, Caroline."

The targeting test went well. They were currently sighting in on stationary targets, and all of the components performed within the acceptable range. The data streamed across the screen, each item swiftly checked and noted against the hard-copy lists they all carried.

The four aircraft landed safely, and the atmosphere in the control room suddenly lightened to an almost giddy buzz. The laser team stood around Lieutenant Colonel Picollo and went over the rest results with him. Caroline was initially surprised at his knowledge of the subject, then realized that she shouldn't be. After all, he and the other pilots had been working on this project for some time; they would have had to be brain-dead not to absorb some of the information. "The colonel may have more questions," he finally said, "but it looks like we can start testing how well it targets and tracks a moving object now."

An arm slipped around her waist, and Caroline went rigid. Her head whipped around. Major Deale grinned at her as his arm tightened. Behind him, she could see the other pilots watching and grinning, too. They all looked like posters for a dental convention. Dismay filled her. Damn, it was starting already.

"So, beautiful, where do you want to go for dinner tonight?" the major asked.

"Hands off, Daffy," came a deceptively mild voice behind them. "Dr. Evans will be with me tonight."

There was no mistaking the speaker's identity. Even if she hadn't recognized those smooth, deep tones, she would have known by the way her heart began pulsing wildly and her lungs suddenly constricted, making it difficult to breathe.

They all turned around at once. Mackenzie was still in his flightsuit, helmet under his arm. His black hair was drenched with sweat and plastered to his skull, and his eyes were bloodshot from pulling Gs. His expression was calm and remote as he looked at them.

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