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Operation Eagle

A reader asks, "You talked the other day about the advantages of being able to plot a long series and know it will see print, and I see how that's an advantage because you can make it all work together. I'm curious. How far ahead have you plotted?"

On The Order of the Air? A long way. Book three, Silver Bullet, will be out this fall and we're better than a third of the way done with book four, Wind Raker. But there are "stakes" driven out ahead, markers to show us where we're going, scenes here and there. This one is from near the beginning of book ten, Operation Eagle. (There are a few scenes beyond this, but they have major spoilers.)

So a glimpse at the future, ten years after Steel Blues, in the fall of 1942...

The name Casablanca conjured up images of an exotic city on the edge of the desert, a mysterious place where anything could happen, but in real life the airfield at Casablanca was a pile of hastily erected Quonset huts along a dusty paved airstrip. It was decidedly not mysterious, and it was hot even at eight in the evening. Lt. Colonel Mitchell Sorley was still at his desk and the temperature in the Quonset hut hovered around ninety degrees even with the window open. The roar of props rolled in, the night patrol westward across the Libyan coast taking off.

Sergeant Grant knocked on the doorframe, a folder in his hand. "Sir? Here are the prints from this morning. You said you wanted to see them before I had Lindquist run them over to Operations."

"Sure." Mitch gestured him in and took the folder. "I'll have a quick looksee. Is Major Segura down on the flight line?'

"I think so," Grant said.

"If he comes in, send him in, would you?" Mitch flipped the folder open, shuffling through the pile of black and white photo prints. These had been taken earlier in the day by a P-47's recon cameras -- not by Lewis but by one of his guys, doing the same kind of Signal Corps work Lewis had done in the first war. Every day they gave this a try, fresh aerial intelligence about the movements of General Rommel's Afrika Corps in Libya and Tunisia. Some days the Luftwaffe ran them off. Sometimes there was cloud cover. And sometimes like today they had beautiful pictures.

Mitch flipped through them, matching the notation on each to the map. Not much change. Tanks, convoys, trucks -- the harbor at Tunis. Pretty much like yesterday. The pilot had ranged a little further than usual, either encouraged by the good conditions or just a hot dog who wanted to push it. Usually there wasn't anything from much west of Tunis. This guy -- who was it -- Pulaski, that explained it -- had gotten some shots just inside Egypt's Western Desert before he turned around.

Mitch turned the desk lamp to see better. A convoy of trucks in the desert. That was interesting. The coastline. Useful, but only by showing there was absolutely nothing there, as it ought to be. Some kind of depot in the desert. A supply dump? Why? There wasn't anything around there to supply.

Mitch picked up his magnifying glass. That was weird, and on the tails of Lewis' dream…. Lewis didn't get the willies. He was pretty much the definition of sangfroid. If he thought something wasn't right….

Magnified, the dump looked even stranger. A few low walls surrounded by tents and trucks, a section beside the walls staked out in a grid pattern, way too small for an airfield. A little town nearby, mud brick buildings and the single tower of a mosque, a lake that reflected the sky…

Where the hell was this? Mitch checked the grid reference against the three lines in his almanac. The Siwa Oasis, supposedly a Berber speaking settlement of eleven thousand people. Principle exports extra virgin olive oil, dates, silver jewelry. Not exactly a big magnet for the Afrika Corps.

But there they were. Those were German trucks, German tanks. And the grid section. What the hell was that, off among the ruined walls? He'd seen a grid like that before….

A chill ran down Mitch's spine. Siwa. Once, it had been the site of the oracle of Amun. Once, it had been the site of a temple where the priests had told Alexander the Great that he was the son of a god. And once it had been rumored that Alexander was buried there.

It was an archaeological dig. And that could not mean anything good, guarded by the Afrika Corps as a priority even as the war raged across Libya. Whatever they were after, it was a thing of power. That's what Lewis's dream had meant.

Jerry needed to see these pictures, but Jerry was in London. Sending classified intelligence to London was a big undertaking. He couldn't just drop them in the mail! This was going to have to go through channels and involve some big fish. But there was a time and a place to pull all the strings you've got

Mitch looked up. "Hey, Grant?"

Sergeant Grant stuck his head in. "Sir?"

"Go down and find Major Segura for me. Tell him I want to talk to him about today's recon pictures. And get me a phone line out. I need to make a call."

"Yes, Sir," Grant said, going out and pulling the door shut.

Mitch picked up the phone and waited, composing his thoughts, taking a deep breath before the operator came on the line. "Western Task Force Command, please."

"Just a moment, sir."

He waited for the call to go through. Siwa. It was just a suspicion, nothing he could formally make a big deal out of. Doolittle wouldn't see the significance, and maybe there wasn't any. But maybe there was. And there was a time to go out on a limb. And if anybody would go straight to Alexander from the words "dig at Siwa" this was it.

"Western Task Force Command."

"This is Lt. Colonel Sorley with the 94th air wing," Mitch said. "I'd like to speak with General Patton. It's urgent."

I'd love to hear what y'all think!


Aug. 8th, 2013 12:00 pm (UTC)
Um. Yes. Rough. Poor guy. I just started chap 15.
I'm really enjoying Stasi so far! I love that she has no shame, got a huge chuckle out of her "tennis match" with Mitch, and now she's totally going to bat for him, knowing next to nothing about him. Kitten's got claws, and I dig that about her.
Aug. 8th, 2013 03:11 pm (UTC)
Oh dear. Chapter 15. Drunk and in an amnesiac fugue on the St. Charles streetcar. Yes. Not Mitch's best moment!

Stasi and Mitch do enjoy their "tennis game", don't they? She does have claws, but yeah, she did totally save his bacon when he was about to jump in the river. But Stasi has some dark things in her past too.

You must just be getting to the grueling part....