Matrix came in from the west, flew straight over the town center Government Mall, and down the middle of Washington Street at 400 mile per hour taking AK-47 hits from drugged out tangos in the street.
AK-47 rounds would rip a soldier to shreds. The veteran USCE pilot had taken 20mm rounds before; he was not concerned with rifle fire.
“This is Matrix, Phoenix Bird One. I am on approach. Target is ten seconds. Do I have a green? Over.”
“Roger that, Bird One. You are Go, you are Go!”
Three seconds later Matrix cut hell loose. The furious clatter and distinct roar of his 30mm GAU-8/A Avenger autocannon echoed through the street and tall buildings. A seven barrel Gatling gun used as close ground support was also dubbed a tank killer that destroyed anything it hit at 4,000 rounds per minute.
Matrix dropped the nose of his A-10 Thunderbolt and ripped apart the side of the building from the third floor to the lobby. Chunks of cement and glass blew off into the street and left a white dust cloud of pulverized cement in the breeze.
Inside the bank was a mottled smear of red on floors, walls and ceilings. Several hundred tangos were in various states of dead. Blown to hell in scattered pieces, mangled bodies from the frangible bullets, exploding glass and jagged cement chunks killed them where they stood or sat at desks.
A few escaped that fusillade of mayhem. A couple dozen ran out the back, around the building and headed toward the courthouse a block away.
“This is Phoenix Bird One. Target 1 down. The dumb fuck tangos that survived headed south toward Target 2 in the next block.
“On course heading west on Jefferson. Will loop around and come back on the courthouse, Matrix out.”
The death clatter of his 30mm autocannon again ripped the air and hit the building at an oblique angle across the front. He circled around east, hit it again, and watched the old concrete and brick collapse in slow motion, chunks and slabs fell and exposed the inside of offices. Chairs, desks and file cabinets tumbled out; the flutter of paper looked like giant confetti.
Matrix circled one more time, strafed the bottom two floors and launched his two, incendiary thermite rockets. The bottom floors exploded in a 4000-degree fireball, its heat and flames rose through the old wood floors and exploded out the windows.
Matrix banked hard south and left the dealers of death and their innocent victims in the rubble, the best grave his fellow Americans were going to get. He slowed to 200 mph and flew due north on I-10 to where it intersected with Red Mountain Freeway and looped west.
On approach were several pickup trucks, loaded with greaser tangos in the back and armed with AK-47s headed south, straight at him. Despite no communications from their comrades, they were too stupid to realize there was nothing left for them to assist or any enemy there to fight, there was no one but Matrix and his Thunderbolt. He flew straight at their ragged line spread out for a half-mile in both the north and southbound lanes. As he got closer, several AK-47 rounds ricocheted off his windscreen. It took a damned good shot to hit an A-10 going 400 mph from a pickup truck. He figured a greaser on full automatic got lucky. There was no damage except he had to look through crystalline spider webs that refracted sunlight into slivers of color. He had been there, done that, no big deal.
Matrix switched to his auto-tracking wing mounted 7.62 Miniguns and opened fire as he flew up the center divider of I-10. Both lanes turned into hell on earth of exploded fuel tanks and ammunition stockpiled in the back of the trucks. Ahead he could see the intersection they blocked north, south, east and west with cars the tangos lined up across the freeways and set on fire. They were smoldering metal shells with burning tires that sent sooty smoke into the air. Abandoned cars, trucks and 18-wheelers backed up for ten miles, with dead bodies scattered next to them for about a half mile. The others had made it to safety, somewhere, however fleeting that might be.
Matrix looked at the interchange, could see tangos in a frantic search taking cover behind cement abutments, lane dividers, some dove headfirst down embankments and scurried under overpasses to escape the flying death that hunted them. He knew they had RPGs and one that hit square would take him down. He threw his throttles forward to the jams, accelerated to 410 mph, ran a zigzag evasive pattern and unleashed his twin Miniguns and 30mm autocannon as he overflew the east side, circled and came back over the west.
Out the side of his canopy, he saw a thin white line streak toward him. He slammed the stick hard to starboard and pulled it back. Too late, the missile hit one of his rear vertical stabilizers, blew it off and shredded fuselage on the portside engine cowling.
Matrix was at 1700 feet and lost control of his A-10. It jawed hard and tried to pull sideways. The stick was still back, throttles full jam and he was climbing, but he needed to correct the sideways pull from the missing stabilizer or go into a flat spin.
He wrestled the radical stick with his left hand, eased back on the throttles with the other and tried to straighten out. The stabilizers were both jammed and now he flew in an ascending circle about seven miles from the intersection. Out of his canopy, he saw a flurry of trucks in a billow of red dust headed across the desert toward him. They had the smell of blood, his blood, an American pilot— the grand prize. If they got there, another missile would end it.
“Mayday Mayday. This is Matrix, Phoenix Bird One. I’m hit. Lost control of both vertical stabilizers. Flying in a circle with tangos headed this way with SAMs.”
“Roger that, Bird One. You ever had verticals go out before?”
Hawke listened on a monitor of the A-10 airstrike and cut in on the tower with his secure SCIF connection.
“Lieutenant Matrix, this is Commander Hawke.”
“How much time do you have?”
“Time for what, sir. I’m a sitting duck.”
“How long until the SAM trucks get within range?”
He looked out his canopy again. “Judging by how far they have come, about five minutes.”