Well here it is. I finally got around to contributing my Crimson Skies story!

This is based around my own personal unit "The Montana Raiders". Full info is available if you want and can message me about them.

Some language, not bad. Anyway: Here goes.

#1. The F5 is basically a real-life P51 Mustang.

#2. George Henderson. I specifically imagined Badger from Firefly as playing him......

#3. Most spelling errors are meant that way. I attempted to make it sound as Australian as Possible. Apologies if I got it wrong, my only experiance has been with Australians who have helped local custom cutters.

#4. Australia is in Civil War. The Republic of Western Australia broke away from the Commonwealth of Australia due to what was seen as prejudice against the rural agricultural areas. The current front lines between the Commonwealth and Republic run in a north-south line from Darwin to Alice Springs, with the COmmonwealth occupying the eastern portion of the company.

"Quaint place ain't it?" Grant asked.

Raven raised an eyebrow and glanced around the street they were walking down, "If you want to call it that sir." she replied.

Rottnest Island, off of Perth Australia was unique. Although a pirate haven, in the unlikeliest of spots, offshore of a national capitol, it nonetheless was one. And although the streets were admittedly not the safest, neither were they as dangerous as even those of Sky Haven, and decidedly safer than the various Indonesian ports they had been too.

Continuing their walk down the street, the two passed by a bar, a body flew out the front doors, quickly followed by a pair of uniformed Republican soldiers, who grabbed the man by the shoulders and hauled him to his feet.

"Evening boys," Grant commented, watching them handcuff the man and begin dragging him away, "Thought you guys stayed out of these places?"

The two soldiers looked at him somewhat cautiously, unsure of his position before the one replied, "Aye 'tis. Wouldn't norm'ly but this 'ere bloke's a d'serter. Gon get what's comin' to'im that's f'sure. Night folks," the lead soldier said before following the other man off.

"They talk queer here....even worse than the Brits," Raven commented, "I couldn't hardly understand him."

Nodding, he continued down the street towards their destination.

"Sir. Are you sure we should be here? Just because someone you heard of calls you here? Not exaclty a normal spot," she looked at the surroundings, "This seems too damned creepy. It's too crazy to be civilized, and too tame to be a haven."

Grant didn't comment for a moment, first looking up at a sign above a bar door.

"The Midnight Special." It read.

As they turned and walked in the doors he replied, "We weren't that far away, and we didn't have anything planned other than a normal combat raid. Besides. I know this guy. If he talks money, he means it."

"I thought you never been to Australia?" Raven asked.

"Never have been. Heard of him though, and his reputation exceeds him."

Walking into the atmosphere it was obvious this was one of the classier bars on the island. A quartet of musclebound gorillas at the front door accepted Grant and Raven's sidearms, not bothering to frisk them. The bullethole-free walls, clean tables, and modestly dressed servers all pointed to being a place where supposedly high-class pirates gathered, rather than two-bit a day bands.

Walking to a back table, Grant spotted the man he knew had to be him. Exceedingly neat, and wearing a flashy suit, he was flanked by a pair of easily spotted bodygaurds. Six feet tall, with muscles bulging their ten dollar suits, with massive bulges under their armpits, signalling firearms in shoulder-holsters...easily viewable inside a supposedly "Firearms free" bar, although those were rarely so. And the table, set into the wall, surrounded by walls on three sides with only the front open, all a sure sign of influence.

Ignoring the two bodygaurds, Grant seated himself at the table. Raven stood away from the table, several feet to the rear, watching. One of the bodygaurds glanced towards his boss, as if in question to scare off the un-invited guest. The man ignored him, intent on a manilla folder he was reading. Looking at the guest, the gorilla stepped forword, stopping only when his boss muttered, "I wouldn' Jimmy."

Halting, the thug glanced at the table, only now seeing what his boss had. When the bodygaurd had moved forword, the new arrival's hand had easily moved underneath the table, following his path, and the woman had casually placed her right hand resting on her left hip, easy reaching distance for a handgun concealed crossdraw.

The thug stepped back, glowering, while his boss closed the folder and looked up, "M'ster Olson I persume?" he asked.

"Yeah," Grant's hand moved underneath the table, before appearing on top again.

The man smiled, "You du re'lize that we'pons are eh.....not allowed 'ere?"

"That include your two gorillas?" Grant asked, "Lets get to the point. I assume you are George Henderson, correct?"

"Yes. And I apprec'ate your forthrightness. One thing, What'ver you 'ere, you can' say any'tin about...got it?"

"That's a part of business ain't it?" Grant asked.

"Ah good. Carol," the man snapped his fingers, and a server appeared, "Another Scotch, and eh..what'll 'ou be havin?"

"Bourbon....Black Knight if you got it," Grant said. She nodded and waited a moment.

"Will your frien' be havin' any?" the man asked, motioning to Raven, who stood behind Grant. Speaking to her he continued, 'An' your welcome to 'ave a chair miss."

"I'll stand," came her short reply, to the server she replied somewhat more friendly, "Bring two glasses. I'll take Bourbon as well."

The woman moved off and Henderson shrugged, "Ah well. Now. Down t' bus'ness."

"What's the target?" Grant asked, "You're in with the Republic now I hear....The Great White Sharks band is working your personal business so.......What I'm guessing is that you're needing some work for the Republic.....un-officially of course."

The man smiled, "M'ster Olson, I b'lieve you're more inf'rmed th'n I give 'ou credit for. Yes."

Opening the folder he slid it across to Grant, "The Commonwelt' jus' got in a bran' spankin' new addition to their militree. The Crown sold em a Roy'al Sov'rin class Battl'wagon. It's the onl'y coombat zep thet the C'monwelth 'as."

Looking over the folder, Grant skimmed the details. The Zeppelin, now renamed the HMAS Australia, was currently stationed at the main Adelaide Commonwealth aerodrome. It was going through a refitt, with Australians replacing the less important British crewman. Although technically "Neutral" the veteran RAF members were remaining aboard the zeppelin, among the crew remaining were the chief gunners, head engineers and navigators, all of which the Australians were lagging behind in.

The transformation was nearly complete, with the zeppelin being schedualed for combat operations in six days. All it was waiting for was the transfer of it's third based squadron to arrive from Sydney. Until then it was to remain at Adelaide....surrounded by massive firepower.

In addition to the zeppelins two squadrons currently on-board, there was a total of 3 squadrons stationed in Adelaide, along with a full squadron of British "Peacekeepers". A tough package.

"What's so important about this zep?" Grant asked, "Why not wait until it is on combat patrol, then you can use Republican forces, and dogpile it?"

The Australian paused as the waitress returned with the glasses and bottle, setting them on the table. As she turned to leave, he tossed a small gold soveriegn on the tray, which rewarded him with a massive smile.

Waiting until she was out of earshot he continued, "Ah Yes. I figur'd you't'ask that quiston. 'Ere's the answer. We Need that zep popped. If dah Comm'n'welt loses their priiiiiime coombat zep in their OOWN bahckyard.......What'll the crown think? Old Edward want's 'is puppet to win dis war....Boot 'e ain't gonna toss 'spensive toys to people who'll lose em at a mooments notice either."

George paused and took a sip of his drink. He watched as the pirate opposite him poured a shot glass of bourbon and then downed the contents, similarly followed by the female behind him. After that both shot glasses were placed on the table and un-touched. Probably so as to not impare them

"We neeed, that zep gon'. But right now the Coomonwelt's pushin' us 'ard. We ain't got no forces t'spare offa t'line. My Great White's 'r willin', but a doozen fahgters ain't a match against thet....But with yours.....," he trailed off, "It'd be a fair metch."

Grant was silent, processing the information, "You will excuse me if I seem cautious....It just seems odd that you are so up front about everything....considering that I haven't promised to take the job."

Glacing around, George spoke, "Trute is, we ent got a choice. We need 't gone now. Yoor 't only cloose un around thet is relible...from what we 'eard....."

At this the pirate perked up, "Then I assume we get....premium...payment?"

The Australian gave a small smirk, "Jimmy," he spoke to the man behind him. With a growl the thug reached behind his bosses chair and removed a small chest, setting it on the table with a grunt.

"T'is shoold be s'fficant for a doown payment...c'rect?" he asked, opening the lid,"Rem'nder on S'CESSFUL compl'tion of t' mishin."

Looking into the case, Grant's heart paused a moment before continuing beating. The glitter of gold always did that to him. The box was not large, but packed bottom to brim full of British soveriegns. A more than adequate down payment.

"That will be enough," Grant said. He stood from the chair, "Tommorrow have the Great White's leader come to the south Aerodrome. We're the black zeppelin with the Falcon on the bow."

The man smiled, "I'm sure 'e'll find 't.....Th're ain't thet many coombat zepps on t'is islend."

Chapter 2.

"King, we are 5 minutes out. Take your flight ahead and engage the patrolling flight. We'll back you up by the time reinforcements are launched," Grant clicked the throat mike.

"Got that Gunny," replied "King" James Knoel. His Fury led the way, with a Defender, King Cobra and a Brigand following him, dipping below the clouds and streaking for Adelaide. They would draw off the patrolling flight of Commonwealth fighters, leaving Eagle Wing, consisting of 8 over-loaded fighter bombers, open to take out the grounded fighters of Adelaides main aerodrome.

Hammer wing, consisting of 8 heavy fighters would then attack the zeppelin, protected hopefully by the previous fighters.

"Big Hugh, your wing all set?" Grant asked again.

"All good boss. You just make sure to keep any fighters off our backs. These birds are flying bricks," The agitation in "Big" Hugh Gerry's voice was obvious. He had not liked the plan when it had been put forward, with his wing being loaded with nearly twice their original specifications of ordnance. It made them even more slow and unwieldy, something which was tough to do to Warhawks and other heavy fighters.

Tell the truth, Grant "Gunny" Olson didn't like it much either. Neither overloading his heavies to the point of un-managable, nor the inclusion of his zeppelin the Helena in the plan, which was too light for the role it hopefully wouldn't have to do.

But those two things were his insurance policies. His "Employer" had been quite clear that it was all or nothing. If the Australia wasn't completely hashed, there would be no payment of any kind. Which meant nearly empty magazines, low fuel, and likely heavily damaged aircraft.

"No problem Hugh. We'll hit the aerodromes and the White Sharks will hit the British and provide cover for you," he replied, somewhat anxiously as he thought of that last sentance.

"Where the hell are the Sharks?" asked Cindy "Raven" Daniels, his wingman, "We're about over top of Adelaide, and they should be here."

Before he could reply, a new voice chimed in.

"Aircraft at six o'clock," cried out a turrent gunner on one of the Brigands.

"There's your answer," Grant replied, then switched frequencies, "Hey Jack. Glad you could make it."

"Wha'? An' miss out on all thu fun?" Jack Boone's thick Texas drawl a welcome sound and a good break from the usual thick Aussie accent.

Sixteen fighters edged in behind the Raider's aircraft, all painted a light blue, with white bellys, a stark contrast to his own black fighters, with dark red trimmings.

"Okay. Plan all set up?" Grant asked.

"All up. Two flights will cover your heavies and do a little damage of their own, two flights will hit the Peacekeepers north aerodrome and intercept any Brit flights coming in. Yer backup ready if we need it?", reffering to the Helena. The Great White Sharks had their own zeppelin, but was not even as heavily armed as his, and had stayed far behind the combat.

"All set," Grant replied. Looking at the holes in the clouds below him, he spoke into general frequency, "Okay. Boys, we're here. Let's give em a little hello."

The formation of fighters broke, eight of the Shark planes redlining it and peeling northward, while eight stayed with his own eight heavy fighters directly towards the main target.

His flight of eight broke into two groups, one for each of the aerodromes to be hit. They just dropped through the clouds when a burst of transmissions came over the radio.

"HOLY CRAP. BREAK FORMATION, BREAK FORMATION."

"I'M BAILIN' COVER ME DOWN."

"I'M HIT."

"SOMEBODY GET THIS GHOST OFF MY TAIL."

"BASTARD."

As his flight cleared the clouds, it was obvious what was happening. Instead of the normal four-plane patrol flight he had expected, his four fighters he had sent ahead, and now the eight forward Great White Shark fighters, were tangled in a furball with almost two dozen aircraft, a massive ball of fighters, vapor trails and tracers flying in the misty air.

"SHIT," Grant slammed the dash of his fighter. Thinking quickly he slapped the throat mike, "Hammer Wing. Be careful. You might have a helluva lot of trouble. Looks like someome tipped off those Commonwealth bastards."

"Got it boss." Came Hugh's short reply.

"Eagle Lead two follow me, three and four go with Hammer. There ain't gonna be nothing at the aerodromes now," He slammed forward the throttle on his M210 Raven, the aircraft sluggishly pulled ahead, laboring under the strain of double rocket loads.

As his group closed on the dogfight, he watched as a British Phantasm got a Shark Hornet under it's guns and literally disintegrate it, only to fall under a savage rocket attack by a Shark Warhawk.

Getting to the outside range of his rockets, he targeted a DH-9 Hornet that was pulling out of a high-G turn, attempting to edge back into the fight.

He fired off a pair of flak rockets, the two warheads streaking ahead of the light fighter. They bracketed it, detonating and showering it with hot metal. However, although hit, the fighter wobbled off and re-entered the fight.

His group now entered range, and tore into the Commonwealth fighters, bringing a fresh loadout of rockets, which the earlier two groups had depleted in initial salvoes.

Three Commonwealth fighters shattered under the initial attack, their previous damage allowing quick destruction. But that edge was only there a split second as the proffesional British pilots, and combat-hardened Commonwealth pilots regained composure and shifted their still-superior numbers to the attackers.

Not all of the pilots retained their composure however, a North American-F-5 wobbled a moment, as if dazed, on the edge of the fight. It was an invitation, one which he couldn't pass up.

It banked hard back into the fight, exposing itself in an overhead profile. He gave a wolfish grin and smashed down on the firing stud. The six gun barrels erupted, pouring a hailstorm of .40, .50 and .60 caliber shells into the tough fighter, chunks of armor ripping free from it's wings.

It shuddered, but weathered the damage as it completed it's turn and dived for the water. The F-5's powerful engine straining to pull out of range of his fighter. Closing behind it, Grant edged his throttle forward, just bringing the fighter into his range. He opened up with his guns, holding down as an extra long burst poured out of his barrels. The tail of the fighter evaporated in a stream of fire, the rudder blowing off in a large chunk. First one, then two, three guns clicked as their actions jammed.

Grant let up on the firing stud as a fourth jammed, the now tailless aircraft spinning downward. By now he was well below the fight as he had followed the fighter down. He pulled up the nose, then threw his fighter into a series of slow rolls, attempting to unjam the guns as he climbed.

His .40's remained jammed as his airframe shuddered from impacts. Intent on unjamming his weapons, he had allowed a pair of Phantasm fighters to close to their firing range, riddling his trailing wings with .50 caliber bullets.

'Shit,' he thought, slamming the fighter into a hard right bank. His still bulky aircraft responded sluggishly at first, until finally the Raven's natural agility pulled out of the high-G maneuver.

The Phantasm's split, one sticking to his tail while the other cut throttle and moved on a intercepting course.

The two fighters were faster and more agile than his Raven, a fact he was well aware of, and having two of them made him a little uneasy. Grant slammed down the throttle, the heavy fighter jerking forward, G' forces slamming him back into his seat.

The Phantasms formed up and put their speed at max, easily keeping up with him. Intent on their easy kill, they ignored the same thing that Grant had noticed.

Another Raven dove towards the British fighters, firing a quartet of flak and flash rockets in front of the pair. The pilots were caught by surprise, one, blinded by the flash of light veered left, to avoid hitting his wingman and while the other managed to avoid the blast of the rockets and stuck to Grant's fighter.

"Thank's Raven. I owe you one," Grant chuckled into the radio as he watched the Phantasm begin slaloming right and left to avoid the expected fire while still following him.

Raven however ignored that fighter and banked onto the shocked pilot's tail, leaving him to deal with it himself, "No problem boss," was her only reply, concentrating on her target.

The attack had done enough, breaking the British pilot's concentration. Grant raised his flaps, and pulled his fighter's nose straight up, cutting his speed.

The Phantasm got a split shot as it sped by, peppering his fighter with .50's before speeding past him.

Dropping the flaps, he dropped his fighter's nose and onto the tail of the British fighter. The Raven was reknowned for being slow to accelerate, something the British pilot was obviously counting on.

What he didn't count on was the pair of sonics that buffeted his fighter. The Phantasm tossed as the pilot jerked, the aircraft banking hard up to avoid the rapidly approaching ocean, losing it's speed in the process of climbing.

Taking advantage of the easy target, Grant unleashed his overloaded rockets, firing off four armor-piercing rockets. The warheads lacked much explosive, but ripped deep into the fighter, a pair hitting the engine cowling, while another hit the wing and the fourth missed.

The Phantasm belched smoke as the engine was hit, and allowed Grant's fighter to approach closer. Lining up on the shocked pilot, he unleashed his guns on the easy target.

Rounds of mixed caliber smashed into the already damaged tail of the aircraft. Somewhere in the damage, a .40 caliber magnesium round ate into the Phantasm's fuel tank.

It exploded only feet in front of Grant, pieces of RAF fighter pounding into his fighter as hard as flak.

He fought the Raven's nose upward and looked at the battle around him. Among his worse habits was getting absorbed in a fight and forgetting about the battle around him. A pair of his fighters were down, while three of the Great White planes were down. And while there were only eight Commonwealth fighters still flying, almost all of the remaining Raider aircraft were trailing smoke and showing obvious damage.

"Eagle Leader get your ass up here," barked a voice over the radio.

"What is it John Paul?" Grant asked into the radio. "John Paul" Jones was the helmsman of their zeppelin, the Helena.

"That damned Commonwealth airbag just dropped outta the clouds a couple thousand feet above us. They'll be in firing range in a coupla minutes. Looks like they brought their escort with them."

'Damnit,' he thought. He gripped the throat-mike, "Big Hugh, you get that?"

"I got it. Get some fighters up here to cover us. The Great Whites are a little busy and we're going up alone," reffering to the eight slow-moving heavy fighters.

"Okay got it," Grant glanced at the fight around him.

"No worries Gunny," Jack Boone called over the radio, "Take your birds up. Me'n the Sharks can handle these guys."

Grant didn't bother to ask, instead barking at his fighters to form up, with 7 other birds forming up on his as they fought for altitude. It left the Great White's with tough odds, but apparently the mercenary figured it was close enough.

Chapter 3.

The eight plane squadron broke above the clouds, soon followed by the eight heavy fighters of the Montana Raider's Thor's Hammer wing. Leaving the remaining Great White Sharks fending for themselves against the remnants of three Commonwealth squadrons.

As they did, a brief feeling clamped down on Grant Olson's chest. The long dull-gray cloth outlined the massive bulk of a Royal Sovereign battle zeppelin, currently in the process of turning broadside with a second zeppelin, coal-black and trimmed in red.....His zeppelin

The Helena was even at this range obviously out-gunned. The Commonwealth zeppelin was a fraction longer, and considerably thicker. Not to mention packing twice the armor and a extra pair of six inch cannons.

There was a cloud of Aussie fighters around the black zeppelin, engaged by three black fighters. Even then, a dozen fighters detached from close escort around the Commonwealth zeppelin and broke towards their flight.

The heavy fighters were all but worthless. Overloaded with torpedoes and rockets, they were even clumsier than before.

"Raven, King, and Brigand. Follow me, we're going to the Helena, The rest of you, try and keep those fighters off of Hammer."

A small chorus of replies came over the radio as his flight broke off and screamed towards the main fight. The incoming squadron ignored them, intent on closing with the heavy fighters, their hardpoints obviously loaded with aerial torpedoes.

The more important goal was to keep his zeppelin in fighting shape. Even with their aerial torpedoes, it was the Helena's seven inch cannons that could decide the fight. Which meant that every engine, deck cannon and turrent counted. The Australians knew it too, and their fighters flew rings around the black zeppelin, pounding away at engines and strafing the gundecks.

The four escort fighters were doing the best to deflect the attacks, although they couldn't stop them. One was down, while a second collided with a Australian Mosquito and began tumbling out of the sky, along with it's unlucky target.

One engine nacelles was completely blown off of the zeppelin, while 3 other engines were smoking, and he could only see half of the turrents still firing at Commonwealth fighters.

However just as the British zeppelin was completing it's turn, he could see that the entirety of the Helena's broadside arsenal was untouched.

The starboard side of the black zeppelin lit up, as the seven, mounted deck cannons belched flame. The entire craft shuddered and tilted as the broadside triggered in one salvo.

The HMAS Australia was caught dead-center in the attack. Explosions blossomed down it's side as seven inch shells impacted, some penetrating the heavy cloth armor before detonating, while others exploded on contact, ripping huge holes in the cloth covering.

One engine exploded from a shell impact, and at least a shell exploded on the Commonwealth zeppelin's gundeck, triggering a miniature explosion of it's own.

However it didn't stop them from returning the salvo. The gray zeppelin completed it's turn and unleashed a return broadside. The impact was far more enjoyable to watch, had it not been his own zeppelin. With the lighter armor, most of the shells penetrated before detonating, massive holes appearing in his zeppelin's side as the shells blew out the cloth armor. One of the rear-mounted flak cannons was ripped from it's mounting by an explosion and toppled out from the zeppelin and down out of the sky, while a stream of smoke began trailing from the black zeppelin.

Grant ripped his attention away from his rapidly dissolving home back to the onrushing fighters. Both sides were about the same number. His 22....

'Damnit', He thought as he watched one of the black fighters circling his zeppelin blossom fire and begin spiralling downward.

His 21 fighters against the 24 Australian. Except that half of his fighters were clumsy heavies, and the other half were half-stripped of armor and light on ammo.

The Australian fighters reached the edge of their firing ranges and rockets and 30 calibers streaked towards his flight.

"Break up," he barked into the throat mike, the four fighters scattering as the Australian squadron tore past. Four of the fighters held back and began circling his flight, while the remainder pressed onward to his heavy fighters.

"Someone get him off my tail," barked "King" James voice over the radio.

As he fought the Raven's nose around, he glanced a light brown Fury attach itself to King's own dark-black one. He looked at the battle and saw King's wingman Jake, "Brigand" O'neill tangled up with a nimble Valiant, keeping his heavy Fairchild F6 occupied.

"On ya King," Grant replied, finally bringing the nose of his fighter onto course. "King" James was jinking back and forth, avoiding much of the Australian's fire although some rounds still clipped his wings. Just as Grant reached firing range, James pulled his Fury into a hard right bank, turning the fighter almost on it's side.

The Australian reacted, however his slower, stock model Fury didn't respond as well as James' upgraded version. The fighter belched a cloud of smoke, and then dipped it's nose downward, as the pilot fought to counteract the Fury's notorious stall problems.

'Too late," Grant thought. He grazed the firing button as his 6 gun barrels erupted with flame. The wallowing RAAF pilot attempted to avoid the storm, but was unable. The Fury began trailing smoke, however it quickly picked up speed as the pilot put it into a steep dive.

He let it go, deciding it would distract from the goal too long. Grant pulled his fighter upward, the Raven's massive engine laboring to bring it back to the battle level.

In the course of his flight's aerial battle, the fighters were now in a massive ball around his zeppelin, with a dozen Australian fighters trading shots with his own 5 fighters and the Helena.

His mind sagged as he watched the battle. All of his fighters were trailing smoke and as his zeppelin opened fire, he saw only four of the seven broadside guns belch fire and smoke. The four shells streaked through the sky and impacted on the Australian zep. There was more of a reaction than the first salvo, as another small explosion rippled from the gundeck, however it didn't keep the gray airship from returning fire and wreaking havoc on his own zeppelin.

Maybe they shouldn't have taken this job.

He almost didn't hear the radio through it's static.

"B..s.. W..re begining...tack..un," Hugh gerry's voice.

Instantly he swiveled around to look back at the Australian zeppelin. There, in between it and his own zeppelin, was a full flight of eight fighters.

He couldn't see any of their escorts, but the three rear-mounted turrents, and rear-firing flak rockets, seemed to be doing an admirable job of deflecting the four RAAF fighters, while the eight heavy fighters weathered the brutal return fire from the HMAS Australia.

As he watched, one of his Warhawk's engines burst into flame, then died as it's pilot cut the fuel to it. The massive fighter struggled to stay in the line, until one of the trailing fighters shredded it's rudder, a parachute blossoming from it only seconds later.

A shadow flashed across his cockpit, and he jerked his fighter right, temporarily ignoring his heavy fighter's attack.

It was lucky for him, as a pair of rockets flashed through the space just-occupied by his fighter. He glanced behind him as the Bell Valiant attached itself to his tail. Apparently it had used it's last rockets, as .30 caliber rounds peppered into his fighter.

It was lucky the old bird had been meant to take abuse, as a seemingly endless stream of light shells impacted in his tail and trailing wings, a noticable pulled devloping as his right flap shredded.

He put the fighter into several hard maneuvers, but the nimble fighter kept itself attached. He smiled. 'Might as well use them,' he thought. He jammed his thumb on the outer firing stud, and a pair of rockets streaked out from under his wings....backwards.

The pair of sonic rockets caught the likely-gloating RAAF pilot by surprise, deafened and disoriented by the blast, he threw his Valiant in a roll away from the nearby bulk of the Raider zeppelin, attempting to shake himself back into shape. More than once the rear-firing rockets had been a god-send. Almost all of his heavy fighters had them, a pair of rear-firing rockets, usually flak or sonic, and were good for those occasional fighters that became glued to a tail.

It was almost too easy as the Australian pilot slammed the throttle forward on the Valiant, attempting to flee out of range, being unable to attempt any strenuous maneuvers. The fragile Valiant crumbling under the attack.

Grant deliberately ignored the fighter as he saw the pilot leap from the cockpit. He knew all to well what probably happened. The combination of a pusher engine, a out of control aircraft and a shocked pilot often lead to it.

A sudden blaze of light lit up his cockpit, and he glanced to his right. A joyous sight met his eyes, as he watched the entire center of the Australian zeppelin blossom into flame. The entire midsection of the zeppelin was smoking heavily. Normally, the helium would prevent wide-scale damage to the zeppelin, but expecting combat, the broadside guns had extra-large stores of ammunition alongside them. Large holes had been opened up by the Helena's salvoes, and the aerial torpedoes met less than a quarter the resistance of undamaged cloth armor, they penetrated deep into the zeppelin.

The gray smoke of the HMAS Australia was punctuated every dozen or so seconds by a yellowish explosion, signalling a magazine explosion.

What was better however, was the immediate breaking of the Australian aircraft. With Grant's squadron on the verge of collapse, the sight of their flagship eroding in front of them, prompted the majority of the fighters to break for home, or to cover their wounded ship, breaking off from dogfights and ignoring the heavily damaged Helena.

The Australia continued burning as it slowly fell from the sky, parachutes blossoming from it's side as the crew abandoned the ship.

As the RAAF fighters broke off, the remaining Montana Raider aircraft formed onto their crippled airship. Only 18 of the original 24 fighters remained, the pilots had been fished out of the water, all had survived, although a Brigand had carried a turrent gunner to the ocean's bottom.

As the Helena limped away, and as the fighters most damaged, or low on fuel began docking, Grant briefly worried about any regrouping RAAF or Peacekeeper squadrons forming for their pursuit.

He glanced at his ammunition counters, and all of his guns were down to less than 80 rounds each, no rockets, and low on fuel. He looked over the remainder of his squadron, only two appeared in good shape, most of the rest were already hauled into the zeppelin, several trailing lines of smoke, while a few could see sky through their fuselages.

He just clamped on his throat mike to call the Great White's when a shape loomed in front of them.

Grant's heart sank as the shape of a zeppelin loomed through the clouds, a quartet of fighters circling it. At this point, none of his aircraft were in fighting shape, and the Helena could have sucombed to even a cargo ship armed with .70 calibers.

However it broke loose form the cloud-bank before a shot could be fired, and it revealed it's true form.

A light blue and white zeppelin, the nose cone painted in a shark's mouth pattern and the name Sea Hunter emblazoned across the zeppelins nose art, consisting of a shark, with it's dorsal fin turned into a periscope and cradling a torpedoe under each fin.

"Had ya goin' there for a minute didn't we pard?" Drawled Jack Boone's voice over the radio, as the battered-looking Peacemaker dropped alongside his wing.

Grant chuckled as he clipped the throat mike, "Yeah you did. When we get back to Perth, I'm buying you a beer. Then I'm taking your head off."

Jack laughed into the radio, "I'll see you try." A chuckle, and then his voice turned sober, "You know what that meant right?"

Grant became grim as well, "Yeah. SOMEONE...tipped off the damn Royals."

Chapter 4.

George Henderson leisurely walked into the Midnight Special. Another good day. A good haul from the reports of his men that were filtering in from Adelaide.

As he seated himself at his usual table, his two gorillas stationing themselves at his side, he let out a small sigh. Wouldn't be too long before..... He didn't even finish his thoughts as they proved true.

The front doors of the Special ripped open, literally as the hinges were jerked away by the dual frames of a pair of massively built men wearing flight jackets. The two bouncers at the front door hadn't even grazed their shoulder holsters before both were on the floor, unconcious from the buttstocks of shotguns.

The other patrons glanced alarmed at the sudden intrusion as a dozen other people filtered in the front doors, all wearing the "Pilot uniform" of flight jackets, and all brandishing an assortment of weaponry.

The group fanned out, covering the other patrons, but making no moves towards them, and not preventing any from leaving, which most did in a rush.

The two gorillas alongside Henderson glanced at their boss, a small nod forcing their hands away from their holsters. As a pair of the pilots detached themselves from the main group, and approached his table, George made a exaggerated yawn, and then smiled at the two.

"Ah. Ever'tin' wen' well I 'sume?"

Grant sat down in front of him, "You got the reports," he grunted.

"Ah, yes. Tha' xplains all t' firepower. Here for yo'r pound 'a flesh 's 't were?" Henderson patted the briefcase in front of him.

Grant's reply came as his 1911 appeared in his hand, the gaping hole of the .45's barrel hovering in the direction of Henderson's forehead.

"You asshole. This job wasn't for the Australia. That was a side project, while you cleaned out Adelaide."

George put on a hurt look, "I 'm offended. T'think that Ah'd do...." he trailed off and then smiled again, "Thet's b'sides th' point. What makes you think tha?"

"A lot of things. Not the least of them, the reports that half a dozen RAAF Hornets disappeared off of an airstrip, A Prometheus cargo zeppelin got pinched, and your zeppelin the Hammerhead unloading a massive load of munitions," Grant paused and then re-holstered the .45, lit a cigar then again drew the pistol, "Of which all the crates bore RAF markings, manufactured nowhere else than the old Isle's themselves."

Henderson smirked, "So wha'? You know mye trade."

"Yeah. But you know what I think happened?" Grant gazed at the man.

"No...Wha'?"

"You set my guys up. Take out or distract Adelaide's defenders. Of course you'll get yourself a little bonus if that zeppelin is taken Then while we're tangling with the damned Crown, your boys are on the ground, stealing everything from fighters to rockets. While MY GUYS are getting ripped to pieces."

"Well...You'ah wrong," Henderson nodded towards the front of the club as a dozen Republican soldiers stormed into the front doors carrying Owens submachineguns. The Raider's turned their attention to them, and for several minutes a Mexican standoff was in effect.

Grant turned to Henderson, but before he could speak, the little man spoke.

"Now. You...arh gonna lis'en t'me. I 'eard wha' wen' on. Somone tipped off the bloody Poms," he casually reached onto table, picking the shot glass from in front of him and downing half of it's contents, "My guys were up there too. An' you kin ask Jack. T'ey di'int 'ave a clue 'bout what u's happen'n other than me own li'l jobs"

As he saw the pirate's eyes begin flickering in anger, he spoke quickly, "I'm NOH' sayin' I di'int 'ave...a few plens in motion. But the Bloody Poms findin' out 'bout this wuld'n't 'elp me out any wuldit?"

"Then who?" Grant asked. The pilots behind him moved away from each other, eyeing the Republican soldiers while both sides gripped and flexed their hands around their weapons.

Henderson's face got hard, "I dun' no. Somoh' b'trayed me two. No on' but me'n t' top brass of the 'Public knewa t'is plan. Even t'eh Great Waht's di'int know'v it."

"Well it wasn't my crew," Grant interupted, "They wouldn't even know who'ta call. Someone in the government?"

Henderson shook his head, "No. I di'int tell them 'till you're alrehdy on roote."

"Any papers left out, or telegraph?"

"Nope. All conves'ation was strictly worda maouth. We di'int want the Crowners to 'ave any ideah that t'eh Australia was gonna be 'it in it's own berth."

Grant chewed the cigar a moment and mulled the situation. Meanwhile the Australian soldiers and the Raiders began fingering and gripping their weapons tighter the longer the whole thing went on. Eventually there was going to be a problem.

"Then someone overheard it," Grant commented as he watched Henderson. The man had his brows furrowed and was very methodically running through the openings for it to come up.

The pilot glanced at the two gorillas standing behind them and got his attention peaked. The one was merely uncomfortable, hand twitching towards his shoulder holster whenever a Thompson muzzle moved to near him. The second wasn't even fingering his handgun, but was perspiring so badly that pits were beginning to soak through his suitcoat.

"If they did it'd a had'ta a've been........'ere," Henderson looked up thoughtfully for a moment, then cocked his head and turned to look at his thugs. It was at that moment that things began happening fast.

A server appeared at a doorway a dozen steps away from Henderson's table, seemingly oblivious to the stand off in the room. Everyone noticed her when she realized the imminent fight as a deathly scream deafened the room. It was then that the one thug took his opportunity. With amazing agility for his size he lept from behind his boss, shoving Henderson and the table into Grant, knocking him onto his back. His one hand encircled the woman's waist, while the other pulled the Colt Automatic .38 Super from it's shoulder holster.

A pair of shots rang out, dropping Henderson's other goon. One of the Australian soldiers fired a short burst from his Owens before a NCO slapped the barrel down, luckily before it hit anyone. It took a few seconds, but somehow the entire group managed to not start squeezing triggers.

The one man backed along the wall, crouching his immense frame behind his hostage, one hand holding the woman around her neck, while the other held the automatic, pointed towards the rest of the room.

"I'm leaving," the man growled, surprisingly in a Chicago accent, "No one try any funny business or Carol here dies." The woman responded by making squeaking noises.

Grant threw Henderson off him and got into a kneeling position, aiming the .45 towards the hostage-taker. The sights just aligned as the hostage squirmed in the big man's hold and placed her body in the line of fire.

"Damnit," Grant muttered as the man just reached the doorway leading out of the room. Everyone in the room held their fire, afraid of hitting the waitress, even the most trigger-happy of his group waiting, although many trigger's were being caressed.

No one expected anything when Raven stepped ahead of the main group. Before the man had time to react she raised her Browning Hi-power to eye level. The 9mm recoilled and sent a bullet slamming through the waitress' shoulder into the man's chest. The woman fell to the side, while the thug staggered as a second 9mm bullet slammed into his stomach. With the hostage away, Grant's .45 roared. Bullets stitched their way up from his waist and through his chest.

As the woman fell onto the floor, the entire room opened up. Thompson's, shotguns, handguns, the bodyguard's body was literally thrown into the doorway's opening from the impacts of dozens of rounds.

Everyone stopped firing a long calm overtook the room and everyone began shaking their heads, deafened by the noise of two dozen guns discharged in the one room. Magazines could be heard ejecting and fresh ones inserted into weapons.

With the room's tension being drained on a single target, the Republican soldiers and Montana Raider's began moving closer together, if somewhat cautiously, towards the door where the body fell.

Another loud bang sent the room into a minor frenzy as both sides backed away from the other and began levelling weapons. However a loud thud from the front door's of the Midnight Special drew everyone's attention.

They turned in time to see Cindy "Raven" Daniels relieving the server Carol of a small .32 automatic. The waitress didn't appear to care as she was intent on a second wound in her thigh in addition to the shoulder.

"Ah Sti'll can' b'lieve thet Bull b'trayed me," George downed a shot of scotch at his (Now upright) table and looked across at Grant, "E's bin wi'h me for fahve yeers. Even b'fore this bloody revolution."

Grant shrugged, "Fool was in love. Didn't know that Carol was working for the Australian Commonwealth and Crown till it was too late."

"How.......ow'ed yoo know thet Car'l 's inonit?" Henderson asked. Grant shrugged, "Raven?" he asked of his wing (wo)man.

"She wasn't afraid of him," Cindy spoke up from behind him, "She might have been a decent actress but the fear never reached her eyes. And when she began squirming enough to block shots I knew she was helping him."

"An' when ol' Bull was kill'd, she took the cha'ce ta run," George shrugged.

"Yeah. We were all pre-occupied on him and wouldn't have ever noticed her. Amazing that no one was trying to check her wound though," Grant mentioned. He turned in his chair, "And thanks," he addressed the bar, "For that wonderful hearing job you pulled on me. Now I don't have to worry about listening to those annoying little noises. LIke airplane engines or air raid sirens."

"Anytime boss," called Danny, grinning while twirling his S&W revolver.

'Hope he doesn't shoot himself....Or me...Himself and me,' Grant thought. He now faintly heard Henderson begin talking and listened.

"The West'en R'public 'v Australeah thanks ya for you'r 'elp," Henderson opened up his briefcase, revealing rows of stacked bank notes, some British pounds, while some were Empire State, and Hollywoodm dollars, "Ere's the bahlance of you'r pay. An' Perth's auth'rized me to allow you'r zepp'lin to dock'in the R'Public's main docks, and 'ave 'nough repairs to your zepp'lin made for 't ta be airworthy again. B'tween thet and yahr green, y'should be ahed in't world, even after ya buy another five figheters t r'place yeh losses."

Grant didn't know about that. He'd lost five fighters, used alot of ammunition and repairs were going to be expensive. However with the Republic repairing his zeppelin it wouldn't be too bad. Ahead enough to buy a few beers maybe. Maybe a new gun.