The B Team



Please note that the character of Zig Zag is copyright Max Blackrabbit, and the character of James Sheppard is copyright James Bruner. All other characters are mine, steal them if you must. This story is a work of speculative fiction based upon certain events occurring in chapters 54 and 63 of Zig Zag the Story, copyright James Bruner. In no way should this story be considered canonical to Zig Zag the Story. Hell, it's just not that good...!

The B Team is copyright The Silver Coyote
2003, 2005


 

Take us Home


Photo courtesy Roger Whitcomb - www.milairpix.com



Slam found Randy in the rear of the cargo deck by the ramp door. He motioned for Randy to move forward as he moved aft. They met near a large phenolic crate labeled CLASSIFIED MX5.

"Joe says we got to crank the gear out by hand." Slam noticed Randy's reaction, a mixture of resignation and determination flooded the skunk's face as he squared his shoulders. "What do you want me to do?" Slam offered.

"Follow me." Randy yelled as he moved towards the forward end of the starboard gear well bulkhead. Dodging and hopping between crates on pallets, he proceeded quickly to his objective. Opening a panel in the bulkhead, he manipulated a large, Z-shaped handle into position. Motioning Slam to look closer, Randy engaged the handle to a crank system.

"There's one on the other side. Turn it until the gear is fully extended. You can confirm visually here," Randy pointed to a pair of small windows in the bulkhead, "and the guys in the cockpit will get electrical indications confirming down and locked. Go." Randy knelt at the hatch and grabbed the Z- handle with both paws. He swore a single oath just once and began putting his back and arms into turning the crank. The skunk's tail waved freely with the exertion, becoming a blur.

The coyote lance corporal removed his tunic and placed it on a wooden case. He moved to the other hatch on the port side, opened it, fitted the handle, and began cranking for all he was worth.

###

Meanwhile, up on the flight deck Joe and Steve were discussing the flaps, and wondering whether or not they should try them now.

"We don't really need them just now, we're still more than twenty miles out," Steve said. "Let's wait and see what the boys come up with on the gear."

"Intermountain thirty six," the controller's voice interrupted, "Turn right now to one zero zero degrees, intercepting the localizer at this time." Steve banked the aircraft gently to the right as the controller continued. "Your approach fix will be at Arlig, the outer marker, five point six miles from the runway. Once intercepting the glideslope you will be cleared out of ten thousand, descend at your discretion. You will have the airport, the only traffic is an MD-80 on short final to one zero left and company traffic on the approach for one zero right, they will not be a factor. Remain on this frequency until touchdown. Port Columbus weather: wind from one one five degrees at seven, altimeter two niner eight five, sky clear, visibility eight in haze. Your option to ride the ILS if you have it or go for the visual approach. Say status of landing gear."

Joe looked over his shoulder involuntarily. There was no way he could see what his crewfurs were doing, the cargo deck was below them behind the bulkhead at the bottom of a small staircase. "Intermountain thirty six, we're working on the gear," he called. "We'll advise when it's down. Negative navigation receivers."

"They must be getting it down, the pitch is changing and I think I can feel the drag." Steve looked hopeful as he nudged the power levers up slightly. As he did this Randy came forward into the flight deck.

"Mains down," Randy huffed, "I'm workin' on the nose." His exposed fur was displaced from exertion. He stooped to a hatch in the floor. Opening it, he pulled a lever up, and then rose to turn towards the stariwell to the cargo deck once again.

Slam entered the flight deck and exchanged places with Randy as the skunk hurried below. The coyote-mountain lion hybrid moved to follow.

"You can't help him," Joe cautioned, holding up a paw. "He's just going to valve the emergency extension ." Joe looked at him reassuringly. "Have a seat, Slam. Buckle up."

Slam seated himself slowly in his jumpseat, minding his tail. He and Joe exchanged glances and then simultaneously nodded to each other. Slam buckled his harness belts and pulled them tight.

"We're gonna have to slow down soon," Steve said. "Maybe we ought to think about getting some flaps down, after all."

Joe reached for the flap actuator and selected ten degrees. They all heard the hydraulics whine once more, and then several circuit breakers in the upper panel on Joe's side popped out in conjunction with a flash of bluish white light from behind and below the panel. Gray haze filled the flight deck.

"What the...!" Randy shot up from below deck as if fired out of a cannon. A ball of smoke followed him up onto the flight deck.

"What did you do?" he yelled. "Things are arcing like crazy down there!" Seeing the smoke that had followed him up from below, he dropped the wrench he had in his hand and reached for the Halon extinguisher again. Observing the oxygen masks still on the two pilots, he jumped into the opening he had just come up through and disappeared from view. The three furs on the flight deck heard a muffled whoosh as the extinguisher discharged below them. Halon gas flooded the area below the flight deck.

"No smoke," Randy observed as he returned to the flight deck a few seconds later. "What the Hell did you try to do?" he asked, looking from Steve to Joe and back again.

"Intermountain," the controller interrupted, "you are twenty miles out, intercepting glideslope, begin your descent."

Steve indicated to Joe to pass the portable radio. Taking it from Joe, he keyed the mic and said "Approach, we're going to have to do two or three wide three sixties out here to get down. Negative on the flaps at this time."

"At your discretion, Intermountain. Advise as your status changes."

Steve handed the radio back to Joe and reached forward for the power levers. Pulling them back, he trimmed the Hercules for a one thousand foot per minute descent and initiated a slow left hand turn. Meanwhile Joe explained the attempted flaps extension to Randy.

"Don't do that again until I'm done down there, OK?" Randy demanded as he picked up his wrench and once again turned for the stariwell that would take him below the flight deck. Glancing over his shoulder at Steve he said "I'll have the nose gear down in a minute or two." Steve nodded grimly, Randy nodded back and disappeared.

While Randy was below Joe tapped Steve on the arm with his paw. When he had Steve's attention, he pointed wordlessly to the hydraulic system pressure indications in his lower panel. Utility and booster indications had fallen considerably from their normal levels. They had lost a good portion of their hydraulic system pressure when trying to drive out the flaps in the wings.

"I see it," Steve nodded. He ran a paw over his face. As they both watched, the booster system pressure continued to drop slowly.

"I guess we're screwed on the flaps," Joe said.

"Yeah," Steve sighed resignedly. "Shit," he added for emphasis. This day is going to Hell in a hurry, he thought.

As they passed through five thousand feet finishing their third circle, Randy's head appeared in the stariwell and he slowly climbed back up onto the flight deck. His flight suit looked singed and sooty in places and smelled burnt. Most of his exposed fur was sooty and mussed up. He looked worn out. "That," he paused for emphasis, "was a true piece of work. Nose gear down and locked."

"Is there any fire?" Steve asked.

Randy coughed. "I didn't see any flames, but it's hot as Hell down there, and..." Randy took a noisy breath, "... there's a haze in the below-deck compartments. I can feel a lot of heat radiating out of some of the hydraulic systems and equipment racks. I don't think we're out of trouble yet." Randy coughed again, looking first at Joe and then to Steve.

"Thanks, Randy." Steve said with feeling. Joe nodded a thanks to Randy as well. Addressing the radio, which was now in his paws again, Joe called "Approach, Intermountain thirty six, gear down and locked, passing through five thousand. We're gonna orbit once more to get down, and then intercept the approach course. We'll go visual when established. Still negative flaps, partial loss of hydraulic systems pressure."

"Understood, thirty six." The controller answered.

Steve looked at Joe. "We may not have much on brakes. You mind the power on touchdown, if we've got no brakes go full beta and give her everything she's got. Ten thousand feet should be enough to get us stopped.

"OK, skipper, you got it," Joe replied.

Steve turned to Randy. "Buckle up," he said. "We're gonna land fast and long."

Wordlessly Randy seated himself in the navigator's chair behind Joe and, arranging his tail, buckled himself into his harness.

###

"Intermountain thirty six, you are ten miles out, looking good on the localizer," the controller advised. "Say status please. Do you have the field in sight? Can you reduce speed?"

Joe wiped his brow with the back of his paw. "Approach, thirty six, we're gonna land fast and long. Negative flaps, brakes unknown. Smoke on the flight deck, negative fire at this time. Field in site, visual approach established."

"Thirty Six, the crash trucks are standing by. Do you want the runway foamed?"

Joe looked up to Steve. "Do you want the runway foamed?"

"No foam," Steve said crossly, looking grim. "Too late for that. They'd never be able to get enough out in time, and I'm not gonna fly this smoking pig around forever while they set up. Besides, we're fairly convinced the gear is safe, right?"

Unseen behind the pilots, Randy rolled his shoulders. "The indicators say locked," he yelled at the back of Steve's head.

"Negative on the foam, Columbus, copy the trucks standing by," Joe radioed back.

###

Joe tried to ignore his itching eyes and the alarm messages his nose continued to send him. The end of runway one zero right seemed to be rushing towards them. Looking at the flight instruments on his side of the panel, Joe observed their approach speed to be forty knots faster than usual. He could see Steve was aiming for the very threshold of the runway, trying to maximize the asphalt available to them. Joe's left paw was on the throttles, his right on the condition levers, and he waited for Steve's command.

Steve had both paws on the control yolk. His mouth was open and he panted slightly. His eyes burned from the thin veil of smoke on the flight deck. His tail twitched nervously. The old Herc was speeding down to the asphalt like a runaway locomotive leaping from a bridge. At this speed even small control inputs caused seemingly huge responses from the aircraft, owing to their proximity to the ground and high airspeed. The muscles in Steve's arms and legs stood out, taught from nervousness.

Randy and Slam each sat silently, eyes watering in the haze, unable to contribute to or participate in this portion of their destinies. They both looked forward at the two mile stretch of asphalt in the windshield. Randy held the Halon fire extinguisher between his legs, his paws firmly but carefully grasping the trigger mechanism. Slam's paws were empty, clasped quietly in his lap. Thoughts of tiger-striped skunks, and almost everything else, had been pushed from their minds by current events, the outcome of which could cost them their lives. Everyone on the flight deck could smell the acrid odor of burnt electronics and hot metal. Somewhere, below and forward of their feet, a fire was almost certainly smoldering.

Steve gently pulled back on the control yolk, raising the nose of the old transport. The Hercules began to flare and settle slowly to the runway. Unheard by the others over the noise, Steve muttered "It's in your paws, Lord." They held their breaths for long seconds as their ship sank towards the asphalt runway. About the time panic began to nibble at the edge of Steve's mind, as they all started to wonder if the wheels were perhaps still in their wells or sinking into them as the weight of the aircraft settled on the gear, they felt the jolt of contact, heard the screech and chirp of the main gear tires spinning up on the runway. The airframe shook as the transport's weight settled onto the landing gear. All four furs continued to hold their breaths.

The gear held. A small smile touched Steve's muzzle and remained there as the nosewheel settled to the runway. They were down. His smile was premature, however, as it disappeared when he selected braking effort. Nothing happened. His eyes shifted to the hydraulic pressure indications on the panel long enough to confirm that they were rapidly falling. "No hydraulic pressure! Maximum beta!" he yelled as he started applying alternating input to the rudder pedals to maintain directional control. Joe manipulated the power and pitch levers of each engine, shoving the power set full forward as he pulled the pitch levers through the idle gate into beta range. There was a roar from outside and all four of them pitched forward slightly against their belts. The propeller blades had turned on their hubs and were now forcing air forward, against the direction of travel.

The old Hercules jittered and swerved slightly as Steve used rudder to maintain direction. Without any hydraulic pressure to speak of there was no differential braking for directional control. As the seconds ticked by the aircraft slowed to what would normally be touchdown speed. Four furs sighed simultaneously and began to breathe again. They decelerated slowly, and they could all see that they weren't going to run out of runway. They would have to ride on beta thrust until they came to a stop, however, wherever that might be.

With their decaying speed down the runway the rudder was losing it's effectiveness. Steve found himself kicking it to extremes to maintain heading in their rollout. "Mind the engines for directional control," Steve said warily as the Hercules slowed on the runway. "I'm gonna try the tiller." The wolf's left paw sought a small steering-wheel looking device on his left. It was connected to the hydraulics that pivoted the nose wheel for directional control on the ground. With their hydraulic pressure as low as it was, it was questionable whether it would work at all.

Joe concentrated on the center stripe slipping under the transport and began to nudge the throttles for the number one and four turbines a bit in an effort to control direction as they rolled out. Asymmetric thrust would correct minor deviations in direction, but if anything went wrong they would be off the runway before torque could bring any correction to large heading changes on the ground.

The wolf threw his paws up as he growled. "Absolutely useless. Do what you can, Joe."

As Joe assumed control of the C-130's rollout, Steve slid open a couple of side windows on his side to vent the flight deck somewhat. Seeing him do this, Randy disconnected his harness belts and leaned far forward, almost over Joe's seatback as he opened a couple of windows next to Joe.

All too soon the last high speed taxiway was coming up on their right. Joe manipulated his throttles to angle the Hercules into the taxiway doing about twenty five knots. As they rolled into the taxiway Joe pulled the throttles back to fifty percent power. The noise level on the flight deck dropped considerably. As they slowed to a stop a few seconds later Joe goosed the port engine condition levers out of beta to roll the transport into a right turn from the taxiway near the "Hot Cargo" ramp to some vacant asphalt in the southeast corner of the field.

Steve tapped Joe's paw that rested on the throttles. "Relax," he breathed. "I'll shut 'em down." As the coyote lifted his paws from the engine controls and sat back in his seat his friend set the condition levers for all four engines to zero thrust and shut down the two outboard engines. He then pulled the power back on the inboard engines to minimum. It was then that they all noticed the gaggle of fire trucks clustering around them, hoses and foam nozzles at the ready.

Joe's handheld blared at them. "Intermountain thirty six," the controller called as Joe adjusted the volume down, "are you guys OK?"

Steve began to shut down the inboard engines as Joe picked up his radio from the panel between them and replied. "Yeah, we're down OK. Bird's a bit beat up, still some residual smoke on the flight deck, but the manifest and the crew are OK. Thanks..."

The propellers of the outboard engines came to a stop as Steve finished shutting down the inboard engines. The four furs sat in the sudden silence. Steve slowly removed the oxygen mask from his face. Seeing this, Joe put down the radio he held in his paws and did likewise. Slam stared at the floor in front of him. Randy stared at the Halon extinguisher between his legs, suddenly now noticing that it was completely discharged. Each fur, in his own way, gave thanks for their lives this day.

Joe glanced up at Steve, breathing a sigh of relief. He nodded his thanks wordlessly, and the nod was returned from his friend. As the furs began to unbuckle their harnesses, Joe looked north out the port side windows across the runway they had just landed on. He could see the company Gulfstream IV Rick and Timmy had arrived in a few minutes ago up against the terminal building. As tiger striped skunks and other, less life- threatening concepts began to invade the brains of the collected furs in the now silent Hercules, they all heard Rick's voice on the radio. "Great job, furs. I'm buying..."

"Let's get the Hell out of here," Randy said, standing up and shaking himself.

 



To Chapter Four: Aftermath.

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