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Lance Star and the Ghost Squadron

Chapter 1.

Utah. October 1940.

The first attack caught everyone off guard.

One moment, all was calm and quiet, a normal evening, the next chaos reigned. Jacob Cutter stood on the deck of the log cabin he called home, sipping on a cup of hot coffee, no cream, two sugars, a nightly ritual as he watched the sun start its slow descent behind the mountain range that offered him a panoramic view each day and night. He loved it here. It was peaceful.

Most nights.

This night would be different.

The first hint of trouble came in the form of a howling wail, as if the very heavens themselves had begun to scream. Mr. Cutter had lived there all his life. He thought he had seen it all, heard it all, that he was prepared for anything.

He was wrong.

They came out of the purpling night, looking from a distance like large fireflies streaking across the darkening sky. A shimmering white glow surrounded them, adding to their unearthly appearance. Cutter had never seen anything like them, as though they were something from a dream.

When they zoomed by overhead, buzzing his cabin, he realized that this was more than just some sort of trick of the light. They were airplanes. As a pilot, and former Naval Air Corp officer, he recognized the design of the planes as they passed by overhead. They were an older model, similar in design to those he had flown while a naval aviator during the war.

He didn’t know where they were going, or why they glowed like… well, the only word that seemed to fit was ghosts, but he planned to find out.

His coffee forgotten, Jacob Cutter ran through the cabin, grabbing his keys and shotgun as he headed out to the well-traveled pick-up truck parked out back. He hopped in and followed the planes. The glow was a mystery, but it helped him keep an eye on them as he careened down the dirt road in pursuit, kicking up clouds of dust in his wake.

Who are you? he wondered. Like most pilots, he had heard stories about ghost squadrons who had been lost during combat, continuing to fly missions as specters. He didn’t believe such nonsense, but he was hard pressed to come up with a better answer.

Smiling as he gained on them, Cutter felt his adrenaline flowing. It reminded him of combat, of leaping headlong into the unknown without a parachute. He was enjoying the chase, which is probably why catching up to the planes didn’t alarm him. At least not at first.

The lead plane arced right, its wingman going left. That maneuver told him that he’d been spotted. They turned and flew toward the truck speeding down the back road.

The planes might have looked like ghosts, but their bullets were quite real. They opened fire.

To be continued…

Chapter 2.

Lance Star had landed planes on every terrain imaginable, from airstrips to aircraft carriers, from fields of wheat to mountain passes, and more. Setting the Skybolt II down on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere Utah did not pose a problem.

It had been years since his last visit to this part of the world. Back then, he'd been delivering a custom-built plane to another satisfied client. In addition to being a world-renowned adventurer and war hero, both of which brought his life no end of excitement and annoyance, in equal measure, Lance owned Lance Star, Inc., an aircraft design and manufacturing facility located in upstate New York. They built planes for various businesses, medical organizations, Hollywood movie studios, private clients, and they also held a few government contracts. He also owned and operated Star Field, a private airport connected to the manufacturing complex. He lived in a small cabin on the far end of the property. The business paid the bills that allowed Lance and the other Sky Rangers to travel the world on their various misadventures.

A frantic phone call from a friend sent him flying out from Star Field in the wee hours of the morning with Buck Tellonger tagging along as his co-pilot. Cy Hawkins and Red Davis were scheduled to follow later in the morning in their one-man Hornets. The Hornets were fast and maneuverable, perfect in aerial combat. Their adventures during the war inspired the sleek, aerodynamic design.

The Skybolt II was the signature vessel of the Sky Rangers, the name hung on Lance's team back during the war when newsreel footage captured amazing footage of the original Skybolt in action. When that fabled plane was destroyed, the team immediately started designing a new one. The design remained similar, though the new plane carried several upgrades over the original.

Jacob Cutter waited nearby, shading his eyes to ward off the glare from the silver sesquaplane as it rolled to a stop in the space marked. Lance, Buck, and Jacob had all met during the war when the Sky Rangers were temporarily assigned to aid his unit with a mission. The mission was a success but remained classified to the day.

After deplaning and a round of hellos and greetings, the three pilots headed toward Cutter's cabin. As they hiked across the field, their old friend explained why he called them. “Thanks for coming, guys,” he started. "I didn't know who else to call.”

“We'll help if we can, “Lance said. “You know that.”

“I appreciate it. I talked to the local sheriff, but he all but laughed me out of his office.” He opened the door to his barn. Inside sat his pickup truck. “Even with the evidence, something tells me he won't be much help.”

“Do you know who attacked you?”

“Yeah. But you’re not going to believe it. It was a ghost.”

To be continued…

Chapter 3.

Lance Star whistled. “This is some heavy-duty artillery, Cut,” he said, taking a closer look at Jacob Cutter’s bullet-damaged vehicle. “You're lucky to be alive.”

Cutter ran a hand through his hair. “Don’t I know it.”

“Did you get a good look at the attackers?" Buck asked.

“Yes. That's the problem”

“How so?”

“It's the darndest thing, Lance. I could have sworn these things were ghosts. Four of ‘em.”

“Ghosts? You mean like the shadow brigade we faced over Berlin that time?”

“No. I don't mean stealthy. I'm talking a Bob Cratchit kind of ghost.”

“You realize how that sounds, right?”

“Yes, I do, Buck. But bullet holes don't lie, do they?” He pointed at the battered truck.

Buck shrugged. “It is hard to refute the evidence.”

“So, you'll help me?”

“Of course,” Lance said.

“Good. Because there’s a four plane ghost squadron out there, gentlemen,” Jacob Cutter said, staring off toward the open plains and the mountains that dotted the horizon. “And they're up to no good.”

“Then I suggest we go take a look,” Lance said. “Can you take us out to where you were shot at last night?”

“You bet,” Cutter said. “I have to tell you boys, despite the situation, I’m as excited as a schoolboy to get to ride in the famous Skybolt. I’ve seen you guys in action in recent newsreels. Bob at the deli doesn’t believe me when I tell him I know you guys.”

“Maybe, once this is all over, we’ll swing by and let you introduce us,” Lance joked.


After gassing up the Skybolt, Jacon Cutter climbed into the seat behind Lance Star in the Skybolt II’s main cockpit. Buck Tellonger climbed into the second cockpit, the co-pilot nest. Once they were strapped in, the silver plane’s mighty engines roared to life. Seconds later, they were in the air, the plains stretching out beneath them.

“It’s your backyard, Cut. Which way?”

Cutter relayed directions and coordinates to the pilot. The plane arced in an easterly direction, following a dirt road that cut through the wide-open plains.

“Any idea what we’re looking for?” Buck asked, his voice coming through the speakers.

“None,” Cutter responded, squeezing the pressure plate on the throat mic each of them wore. “There’s a whole lot of nothing in front of us. A few ranchers and farmers scattered about, but nothing that would warrant an attack squad like the one I saw.”

“Let’s head toward those rocky buttes,” Lance suggested as he changed course. “If I were trying to hide a squadron of planes, that’s probably where I’d start.”

“You might be right,” Buck said. “Someone just fired a rocket at us. Incoming!”

To be continued...

Lance Star and the Ghost Squadron
Chapter 4.

Lance Star took immediate evasive action. As a veteran of a world war and countless adventures that put his team and aircraft in the crosshairs of one villain or another, his reflexes were sharp. There wasn’t much he couldn’t pull off in the cockpit of an airplane.

The Skybolt dropped like a stone, the straps tightening as they pinned the passengers to their seats. “Talk to me, Buck!”

“Bogey coming in from two o’clock,” Buck’s voice echoed in his ear. A combat air ace, his voice remained neutral, calm. “One incoming surface to air missile. We’re being painted as the target, but I can’t tell from where. Bring us around for another look.”

“Hold onto your hats.” Lance took the plane into a roll, spinning the Skybolt out of the path of the missile, which passed by them, missing by only a few feet. The maneuver also gave Buck a better line of sight with the launch site. Surface to air missiles followed a search beam pointed at the target, painting it for the missile to find. Selenium cells reflected the beam to keep the missile flying true.

It was a good system, and worked well enough, but an experienced pilot suck as Lance Star had a better than average chance of escaping the beam.

Above them, the missile exploded, a shockwave hitting the Skybolt. No damage, but a turbulent ride.

“See anything, Buck?”

“Not yet. I--- We’ve got another missile incoming!”

Buck’s shouted warning sent Lance into instant evasive maneuvers. The missile flew past, missing the Skybolt by mere inches.

“Number three incoming,” Buck called.

“Hold on,” Lance told his passenger before pulling up hard on the yoke and taking the silver streak of a plane into a steep climb. “Anything, Buck?” he called through the mic.

“Clocked it!” Buck shouted, triumphant. “I’ve got a fix on the launch site’s location. They’re tucked in under a massive rocky outcropping. Or maybe it’s a cavern entrance. Hard to see from the air. I only got a fix on it because of the missile’s smoke trail.”

“Where’s the missile now?”

“Heading right for us, Lance,” Buck warned. “Putting us in place to spot the site also put us in the crosshairs.”

“We’re not beat yet,” Lance said. “There’s still a few tricks I haven’t tried yet.”

“Oh, my stomach doesn’t like the sound of that,” Cutter said from behind Lance.

“Didn’t you used to do barrel rolls after eating a big breakfast?” Lance joked as he took the Skybolt into a similar maneuver to the one they were discussing.

“That was a long time ago, pal,” Cutter groaned, feeling intense pressure push him deeper into his seat. “I’m not that guy anymore.”

“Lucky for you, I am,” Lance started, but a hard impact silenced him. The missile slammed into the Skybolt and exploded.

To be continued…

Lance Star and the Ghost Squadron
Chapter 5.

“We’re hit! Going down!”

The play-by-play wasn’t entirely necessary since Lance Star, Buck Tellonger, and Jacob Cutter were all in the damaged plane as it sputtered and shook in a futile attempt to remain in the air.

The three men were all combat experienced pilots. They had each been shot down before and walked away from the experience more or less unscathed. No crash was easy, but if the pilot kept his wits and remained calm, the odds of making it to the ground in one piece improved.

At the controls, Lance Star was as cool as a cucumber. All around him, sirens and whistles wailed, alerting him to the danger he was already aware of and making efforts to correct.

“Can you see the damage?” he asked his passenger.

Cutter turned in his seat, angling for a better look aft while trying to remain in the seat as the damaged bird tried everything it could to kick him out. It reminded him of riding an angry bull, an experience he only had to try once to realize such sport was far too dangerous for him. Crashing to earth in a burning airplane, on the other hand, didn’t seem to faze him as much.

“We’ve got smoke,” he reported. “We took heavy damage. Wing’s still intact, but there’s considerable frame damage.”

“Landing gear appears intact,” Lance,” Buck reported from the second cockpit, which gave him a better view. “We can land, but it’s going to be rough.”

“Rough I can handle,” Lance said. “Buck, can you find me a good spot?”

“On it.”

“Looks like we have another incoming,” Cutter called, pointing out the cockpit window at the missile streaking straight at them from the canyon floor.

“Talk about overkill,” Lance said, trying to make the Skybolt turn to evade a direct hit. The damage done to his baby was severe, and that was the result of an indirect hit. “Whoever these guys are, they don’t want us telling anybody about them.”

Shuddering wildly, the Skybolt finally relented to her pilot’s commands and rolled, allowing the missile to pass them by, a near miss, but awful close. Too close. The missile exploded without contact, obviously detonated by a spotter on the ground.

The force of the explosion only added to the turbulence forcing the silver plane toward the rocky deck below.

“Can you land?” Cutter asked, still holding on for dear life.

“We’ll know in a minute.” Lance wasn’t the kind of guy who trafficked in false bravado. His well-earned reputation spoke for itself. If he could put the Skybolt on the ground safely, he would.

“Brace yourselves, gentlemen,” the pilot relayed as the ground rushed up to meet them.

To be continued…

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