A loud tone started pinging in Nate’s ear. “Not good, buddy,” he heard Shane growl. “We got a Tejas interceptor coming up behind us. They’re a helluvalot faster than this old bucket of bolts.”
“Now what?” Nate queried.
“Now it’s a race!”
Shane slammed the throttle forward, to maximum afterburner. Nate gasped as the acceleration pushed him back in his seat, forcing the air out of his lungs. Despite the padded seat, and the automatic inflation of air cells in his survival suit, he felt like all his internal bodily organs were about to rip through his back, and be left behind in the blazing wake of the Chinese Su-30 fighter plane.
Even Shane was finding it hard to speak through the incredible g-forces pummelling his body. “Got – to get – within – missile range - of Hercules,” he gasped, “before - Indian fighter – shoots us down!”
The pinging tone in Nate’s ears changed to a loud screech. “He’s – locked – missile – on us,” Shane wheezed. “We need – thirty - more - seconds!”
Thirty more seconds before they could fling their Feilong "flying dragon" long-range air-to-air missiles at the Hercules transport plane ahead of them - the plane which was carrying the disguised nuclear bomb that would start world war three. Thirty seconds of them flying at nearly mach two, while the Indian missile behind them was catching them up at almost three times that speed.
Nate forced his head around to look out the back of the aircraft canopy. The afterburner made it look like their fighter was perched atop a horizontal pillar of flame. He could see a distant smoke trail. Even as he watched, it grew from a speck, to a dot, to the clearly discernable round nose of the pursuing missile.
They weren’t going to make it.
Nate reached down and grasped the eject lever. As he did so, the screech in his head turned into a series of high-pitched beeps. “Got a lock!” he heard Shane yell. “Fox three!”
Nate felt the jerk as the Feilong missile dropped off its inside pylon, and heard the roar as its solid-fuel rocket engine lit up. “Fox four!” Shane had launched the second missile almost before the first one had cleared the wing.
The moment he felt the second Feilong fall free, Nate yanked the eject lever with all his might. The canopy above them disintegrated, exposing them to the full blast of the wind. A fraction of a second after the canopy blew away, the rocket motors under their ejector seats ignited, blasting them straight up into the air. Below them, the Chinese fighter dissolved into flame as the missile from the Indian interceptor found its mark.
As he soared into the clear blue air, Nate could see the smoke trails of their two missiles lancing off into the far horizon. Then he blacked out.