Crimson Skies

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9780345458742: Crimson Skies

Welcome to the world of Crimson Skies. The United States is a land torn apart by epidemic and war. With chaos on the ground, America’s highways have been forced into the skies, a lawless new frontier where the flying ace—hero, pirate, villain—is king. Here are the exciting, danger-packed adventures of three such daredevils.

The Case of the Phantom Prototype
. A hefty payday convinced dogfight genius Paladin Blake to fly a top-secret aircraft into the Mojave Desert. But on this job, Blake must not only save himself, but thousands of others slated for death by an unseen foe.

“Genghis” Kahn & the Manchurian Gambit. Why is the notorious leader of the Red Skull Legion pirate gang rescuing a lady in distress, returning gold, and duking it out in blazing air battles from Manhattan to Manchuria with no plunder in sight? Wonders never cease.

Bayou Blues. Ever since flying ace Nathan Zachary made a pirate ship out of a stolen zeppelin, the gentleman air-pirate and his “Fortune Hunters” gang have roamed the globe in search of money, fame, and adventure. But a double-dealing Cajun sky-thief, a crooked businessman, and a pair of star-crossed lovers may just trump this ace in a high-stakes, high-altitude con game.
Swashbuckling adventures of your favorite flying aces, in all their guts and glory, against a backdrop of blazing

CRIMSON SKIES
Crimson Skies, Xbox, and the Xbox Logos are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries. Used under license. Copyright© 2001 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

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About the Author:

Eric Nylund has published six novels, including A Signal Shattered, Signal to Noise, Pawn’s Dream, Dry Water (a World Fantasy Award nominee), A Game of Universe, and Halo: The Fall of Reach, the official prequel novelization of the Xbox game. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in chemical physics, and is a graduate of the Clarion West Writer’s Workshop. He lives near Seattle with his wife, Syne Mitchell.

Michael B. Lee is a writer and game designer whose short fiction has appeared in the anthologies Inherit the Earth and Dark Tyrants and the upcoming Lucifer’s Shadow. An avid student of aviation and military history, as well as a devoted fan of the pulps, Mike lives in Nashville.

Nancy Berman has produced several computer games, and written for both electronic and role-playing games, including White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade, West End Games’ Hercules & Xena Adventure Game, and Alderac Entertainment Group’s 7th Sea. She regularly contributes fiction to Microsoft’s Crimson Skies Web site (www.crimsonskies.com.) She has a bachelor’s degree in English and Latin and lives in Los Angeles.

Eric Trautman is the lead content developer for Microsoft’s Franchise Development Group, where he writes and edits story bibles for a variety of Xbox and PC games. He has contributed dialogue and web content to a variety of Microsoft games, including Mechwarrior 4: Vengeance, Allegiance, Crimson Skies, and Halo. In addition, he is the webmaster of the official Crimson Skies Web site (www.crimsonskies.com).

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

A Wing and a Prayer

The sun wasn ’t up yet.Paladin fumbled in the dark until his hands found his bag and parachute in the aerotaxi ’s trunk .

The driver craned his head out the window.“You need a hand,buddy?”

“Got it,” Paladin said..He slung his chute over his shoulder and paid the driver.

“Lots of flyboys showing up here lately,”the driver said.“They all bring their chutes.Don ’t Lockheed have the bucks to spring for you guys?”

“Sure they do,”Paladin said.“But when there ’s nothing between you and the ground except a mile of air,would you trust someone else to pack your silk?”

“Point taken,” the driver said..He started to roll up his window.

“Wait.” Paladin passed the driver a dollar tip..“When did a lot of pilots show up here?”

“A week ago.”The taxi driver pocketed the dollar.“Maybe a dozen.All flyboys ...either that or parachute salesmen.”

“Thanks,” Paladin replied..He marched to the security shack at the eastern gate.

Pilots with their own chutes meant independent operators.Why was Justin hiring more outsiders? Was he rotating his test pilots regularly because he didn ’t trust anyone?Paladin filed that under “miscellaneous curiosities.” He ’d ask later.

The guard inside the shack tracked Paladin ’s approach with an unwavering glare.

“John Smith to see Mr.Justin,”Blake said,using the phony name Justin had insisted on.He felt like a heel,just saying the name.John Smith —real original.

“You ’re expected.”The guard made a check on his clipboard.He lifted the barricade and waved Paladin through.The guard then handed him a brass key.“Pilots ’lockers are there.”He pointed to the nearest hangar.

Paladin stole a glance at the clipboard.The only thing written on the page was his phony name.

“Got it,” Paladin said,,and started toward the hangar.

Through the slowly dissipating fog,Paladin saw a dozen other hangars,and in the distance,the gray outlines of two zeppelin aerodromes.A hundred planes were precisely parked on the tarmac: every make of bomber and fighter,even a fleet of autogyros.There were no people,though.Sure,it was five o ’clock in the morning,but there should be mechanics or guards ...someone .The place was a
ghost town.

Paladin entered the hangar.On the other side of a row of gleaming P2 Warhawks was a building, presumably the pilots ’ locker room..

“Hello?”

Only an echo answered.

It wasn ’t too late to accept Dashiell ’s offer:a weekend of starlets and sailing in Santa Barbara.But that wouldn ’t bring in the cash he needed to save Blake Aviation Security.

No.This setup may be getting weirder by the second,but Paladin couldn ’t afford to lose the job.He chalked up his growing unease to preflight jitters.

Paladin walked into the changing room.There were showers and rows of large lockers with benches.He examined the brass key the guard had given him.Stamped on it was A303.He found locker A303 and opened it.Inside hung a flight suit and a fur-lined jacket;there were gloves,leather helmet, goggles,a steel lunch box,and a new parachute.The flight suit had a Lockheed logo embroidered on the back,and the name JOHNNY stitched on the right front pocket.

Paladin slipped into the suit,jacket,and gloves.They were a perfect fit.

“Mr.Blake?”

Peter Justin stood in the doorway —or rather,his body filled the doorway.He wore a gray suit,green tie,and he looked crisp and fresh.“If you could don the helmet,as well — in case anyone spots us??”

Paladin put on the helmet and goggles.

“Our time is limited,” Justin said,,“so please follow me.” He turned and strode away..

Paladin picked up his bag,the lunch pail,and his own parachute,kicked the locker shut,then trotted after the big Russian.

He caught up to Justin on the tarmac.“I admire your thoroughness,”Paladin said.“No one here but the one guard at the gate.The prearranged equipment.Like clockwork.If I didn ’t know better,I ’d say you had the fix in on the fog,too,just to keep everything under wraps.”

“I also took the liberty of packing you a lunch,”Justin said,without pause in his gigantic stride.“A thermos of coffee and two sandwiches,one jelly and peanut butter,and one liverwurst.I was unsure which you preferred.” He pointed into the fog..“There she is.”

Paladin squinted,and saw a plane ’s silhouette ...at least the wing of a plane.

No.It was all wing.It reminded Paladin of the Ravenscroft Coyote —the mainstay of the Navajo and Lakota air militias.Unlike the Coyote,which sported a single “pusher ”prop,this bird had engines mounted on the leading edge.The cockpit was a bubble in the center of the craft,and twin .30-caliber guns were mounted underneath.There were control flaps along the wing,but it lacked anything that
resembled a rudder.

“You can ’t be serious,” Paladin said..“It ’ll spin out of control.”

“No,Mr.Blake,it will not.The controls are sensitive,but they function quite well.Rolls-Royce developed the concept,but they never pursued the design.We recently purchased their patent.”

Paladin walked around the plane.Something else was wrong.He stepped back and figured it out. The proportions were out of kilter.The plane had huge engines,a tiny fuselage,and limited control surfaces.It was all power.Maneuvering wouldn ’t be difficult;it would be impossible.

“Has this thing even been flown before?”

Justin laughed.“Many times.It is safe.”He crinkled his bushy brows together.“Assuming the pilot is sufficiently skilled.You are not having second thoughts,are you?”

Paladin had been having third,fourth,and fifth thoughts about this job since he met Peter Justin.

“No,” he said..“No second thoughts.”

“My ground crew inspected her last night.I have personally double-checked their assessment.”

Paladin climbed onto the wing and slid back the canopy.Inside,wires spilled out of empty sockets where some of the gauges had been ripped out.Sections of the floor were exposed,revealing the guns and the landing gear struts.

“Someone hasn ’t finished putting this thing together.”

“It is a working prototype,Mr.Blake,not a finished product.Certain amenities have been overlooked. The plane,however,is eminently airworthy.Now —”He removed a map from his pocket.“—if you could give me your attention.”

Paladin stowed his gear in the cockpit and climbed down.

Justin unfolded a map of southern Hollywood.“I have traced your route.You will cross the mountains here.”He smoothed his thumb over a red line on the paper.“If you experience problems, you are to immediately land at the Palmdale airstrip,or at Palm Springs,should you end up farther east.As a last resort there is the dry lake bed.”He circled a large region outlined in yellow.“If you experience any difficulties,call for help on the channel marked B .We will abandon the secrecy of this mission and send a squadron to retrieve you.”

Paladin followed the route.It ended in the middle of nowhere.“And Lockheed ’s secure
facility is here?”

“Yes.You will receive the balance of your fee upon landing.Is this acceptable?”

“Sure.” Paladin frowned.“No,not quite acceptable.Can I ask you a personal question,Mr.Justin?”

Justin glanced at his watch.“A quick one.”

“I ’ve always made it a point to know my clients.I mean,know who they really are.Your real name isn ’t Peter Justin —it ’s Piotr Pushkarev.You fought in the Russian Revolution on the side of the Whites and earned the nickname Neyasvy,which,I ’m told,means ‘invincible.’When the battle spilled into Alaska,you fought there,too.You ’re an ace pilot.A hero.”

Justin locked eyes with Paladin.He didn ’t smile to hide his unease,nor was there even a raised eyebrow betraying shock.“And your question?”

“Why the fake identity?You have every reason not to trust anyone with your prototype.But why am I flying it?Why aren ’t you?”

“Your information-gathering skills are indeed impressive,Mr.Blake,but you are incorrect on one point.My name is Peter Justin.I have had it legally changed.As for not trusting anyone else —you are correct.I do not.

“I am forced by circumstances to trust you.You see,my skills —”His gaze dropped to the ground. “It is not easy,when one reaches a certain age.My reflexes,my eyesight ...they are not what they once were.I am still a patriot,and I still serve in my own way,but I cannot risk that which I have been hired to protect to prove that I am something I am not.”

It took a big man to admit that.Would Paladin be as smart when he started to lose his edge?He hoped so.There were no old fighter pilots.

“I ’m sorry,” Paladin said..“I had to ask.”

“If you knew my reputation and walked into this blindly,it would mean you are a fool.I am glad to see you are not.”Justin glanced again at his watch.“Now,if there are no further questions,we must get you into the air.”

Paladin climbed into the cockpit.The seat was rock hard,and his long legs didn ’t fit.He managed to adjust it until he was merely uncomfortable.

He fired up the engines.They coughed and sputtered and caught.Despite Justin ’s as...

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