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The following is an excerpt from "The Triangle" (2006 Mill City Press)


Holding Cell inside the Alien Vessel

The ADF pilots are brought to the holding cell, escorted by guards wearing uniforms made of some kind of metallic material and helmets that cover their faces. The guards are pointing some kind of weapon at them. One of the guards hits a button, and a door slides open. The prisoners are shoved inside the cell, and the door closes. They check the door to see if they can pry it open somehow, but it appears to fit seamlessly with the wall.
“It’s no use. We already checked it,” a very familiar voice says from behind them.
Robert and the others turn and see Ricardo and the Coalition pilots at the other end of the holding cell, having been brought here moments before by the alien captors.
They see Ricardo in his flight gear, which is the same as the one worn by the 27th Air Wing and the ADF except that the patches for the Joker Squadron and the ADF have been removed and have been replaced by the emblems of the Wolf Pack Squadron and the Coalition. Despite the situation and the truce called by the two commanders, upon seeing Ricardo in person for the first time in two years, Robert feels all the anger, hatred, and betrayal brought on by Ricardo’s defection and, at the same time, remembers the incident in which Ricardo betrayed him and the ADF.

Airspace over the Florida Keys, May 2023

Robert and the 27th Air Wing are on training maneuvers due to the rumors of a Coalition of Nations being formed to oppose the United States, the United Nations, and the World Council. Their primary mission is to defend the Air Defense Installation on Key West, a prime target for this Coalition if they ever decide to attack the United States. Robert is leading Alpha and Charlie Sections in a mock battle against Bravo and Delta Sections led by his executive officer and friend, Captain Ricardo Pasqualle. Alpha and Charlie are defending the installation against Bravo and Delta Sections, who are acting as the Op-For, or Opposing Force, in this training exercise.
Robert’s noticed that Ricardo has been under a lot of stress lately. He’s asked Ricardo what’s been bothering him and been worried about his friend and XO’s mood. Ricardo told him that it was a personal matter and refused to talk about it. Robert thinks that Ricardo’s having marital trouble because his wife, Maria didn’t return from Cuba after visiting her parents. Robert plans on talking to him after the exercise to convince him to take some leave to straighten things out with Maria if that is the problem. Robert and the defending sections get into formation to protect the installation against the nighttime attack of Ricardo and the Op-For sections.
The pilots use their radar to track and fight one another, using their missile and gun sights to score a kill the way that Robert and Ricardo trained students at Miramar, where they served as instructors for a year after they finished as students because they were the only two pilots that could defeat the instructors on a regular basis. The skies over the radar installation are filled with F-15Ks that are locked in fierce aerial combat, each pilot trying to get the advantage over the other, along with the bragging rights at the debriefing afterwards. The exercise is going according to plan—until the unexpected happens.
Robert and Ricardo are in one of their already-famous dogfights, when all of a sudden Ricardo turns off his radar and performs a maneuver that catches Robert in his jet wash, causing Robert to go into a flat spin. While Robert struggles to get his F-15K back under control, Ricardo goes into a radical dive to fly below the fifty-foot limit that the installation is able to track incoming aircraft and then disappears heading toward the island of Cuba.
By the time Robert gets the F-15K back under control, Ricardo is long gone. The rest of the pilots in both sections are shocked over the actions taken by the executive officer. Lieutenant Keith Sykes, who is Delta Section commander, asks Robert if they should pursue him. Robert replies that they are not to cross into Cuban airspace and violate the Mutual Nonaggression Pact, feeling that a squadron of F-15Ks crossing into another country’s airspace would be seen as an act of war. Robert calls off the exercise and has the squadrons return to the base immediately. After they return, Robert reports to the ADF command about Ricardo’s apparent defection. He is questioned about his knowledge of these event and possible complicity in Ricardo’s defection. After the command hears Robert’s account and the testimony of the rest of the Air Wing, which collaborates his report, Robert is cleared of any wrongdoing.
The ADF issues a warrant for Ricardo’s arrest and petitions Cuba for the return of their pilot and the stolen F-15K. Cuba denies any knowledge of Ricardo being in their country, but promises they will look for him. A month after Ricardo’s defection, he is seen on TV denouncing the ADF, the United States, and the World Council and supporting the People’s Coalition. Robert and the 27th Air Wing watch the broadcast from their headquarters and know that if the Coalition ever attacked the United States, their prime target would be Ricardo Pasqualle.

Holding Cell, Present Day

Robert continues to stare at Ricardo, his anger boiling over until he is no longer able to contain himself.
“You son of a bitch!” Robert yells at Ricardo, his fury propelling him into action. He lunges at Ricardo only to be held back by Keith, Jackie, and Ray. Robert struggles to break free and continues to stare at Ricardo with unbridled hatred. Ricardo is momentarily surprised, not by Robert’s reaction but only by how violent it is.
He moves into a position to defend himself, and at the same time, the Coalition pilots also prepare to fight in the event that the ADF pilots decide to turn this into a free-for-all.
Keith stands in front of Robert, trying to calm him down and reason with him, “Bob, this isn’t the time to do this. We have bigger problems.” Keith also feels anger toward Ricardo but he knows that both sides have a common enemy—the aliens that are holding them prisoners.
Robert is too pissed off to hear him and he continues to struggle, wanting to get his hands on Ricardo and tear him limb from limb and yelling, “Let me at him. I’ll kill him!”
Robert’s angry words prompt one of the Coalition pilots into action. He charges toward Keith from behind, at the same time pulling out a knife. Robert sees this, breaks free from Jackie and Ray, and catches the arm of the Coalition pilot just before he is able to plunge his knife into Keith’s back. He grabs the pilot by the wrist and forcefully twists it. The pilot Miguel Herrera yells in pain and drops the knife. Robert then hits him in the forearm and shoulder breaking the arm and separating the shoulder. Miguel drops to his knees cradling the injured arm and cursing in Spanish.
Robert then sets his sights on his number-one nemesis and starts walking toward Ricardo with his fists curling up and getting ready to beat the hell out of him. The other Coalition pilots, as well as the ADF pilots, square off for another showdown—this time without planes, guns, and missiles—to settle their differences in hand to hand combat.
The only pilot who doesn’t participate is Jackie, who stays behind Robert, Keith, and Ray with a slight look of apprehension, fearing what might happen if the Coalition pilots get ahold of her. She has heard stories about other women pilots who were captured, raped, then killed by their cruel and heartless captors. She also shudders at the thought of what the aliens might do to her.
Ricardo, who is also trained in the martial arts, prepares to defend himself from Robert’s attack. Robert walks toward Ricardo, then stops a couple of feet from him and stares at him with cold hatred. Ricardo returns the stare but fully understands how Robert feels. He wants to tell him why he defected but he doesn’t trust the Coalition pilots. The other pilots back away and let their commanders settle their differences one on one. Robert and Ricardo close in on each other to begin their long-awaited showdown.
From outside the holding cell, there are the sounds of a fight in progress: punches being exchanged and the pilots yelling encouragement. The guards posted outside the cell hear the commotion inside. They open the cell door and go inside to investigate. Ray and Keith are on either side of the door waiting to ambush them. The fight was nothing more than a diversion to draw the guards inside and escape the holding cell they are in. They knock the guards unconscious and then take the weapons they were carrying.
Ricardo gives Robert a look, and Robert motions to Keith, who tosses the weapon to one of the Coalition pilots, who has a split-second thought about shooting the ADF pilots but then sees Ray with the weapon in his hand, daring him to even think about trying the weapon out on one of the ADF pilots.
Robert and Ricardo nod to each other, deciding to set aside their differences until after they escape.
“We better split up. That way we have a better chance to get to our planes,” Robert says.
Ricardo agrees and then motions to his men to follow him. They quickly leave the holding cell and then go in one direction down the hallway while Robert and the ADF leave and go in the other direction.
“When we get to our planes, how do we get out?” Jackie asks.
“We blast our way out,” Robert replies.
“What about those alien ships?” Keith asks.
“I guess we’ll have to open a big ol’ can of whup-ass,” Ray says.
Keith and Jackie look at each other because this is the first time they heard anyone other than Robert use that expression.
“It’s a Texas thing. You wouldn’t understand,” their San Antonio-born commander says.
Robert and the ADF pilots quickly but quietly make their way to the hangar area where their F-122s are being held. They see Ricardo and the Coalition pilots arriving at the same time at the other side of the hangar where their MiGs and Ricardo’s F-15K are parked.
Robert sees Ricardo on the other side, then gives him a visual signal that they’ll make a break for their planes at the same time. Ricardo nods and then motions to his men to move on his signal. Robert checks the area to see if there are any guards around. He sees no sign of anyone watching their aircraft.
“On three,” Robert says very quietly to the ADF pilots. He raises his arm, mentally counts to three, then quickly drops his arm signaling his pilots and Ricardo’s group to move quickly to their planes.
Both groups make a fast break for their respective aircraft. Ray is acting as point man for the ADF, carrying the weapon stolen from the guard and keeping an eye on the Coalition pilots. Captain Alberto Sanchez, Ricardo’s executive officer, is acting as point man for his group and making sure that the ADF pilot with the weapon doesn’t take a shot at them.
Even though they worked together to escape, they still don’t trust each other. Only the fact that they have a common enemy has kept them from trying to kill one another, and a showdown is still very possible once they escape and find their way home. Both groups approach their planes, surprised at the lack of anyone guarding their jets when all of a sudden they find out why there are no guards.
The same immobilizing beam that was used to restrain them in their aircraft when they were first captured is used once again shooting down from a device in the ceiling of the hangar, freezing them in their tracks just as they reach their aircraft. A squad of guards enters the hangar and surrounds both groups, and then the immobilizing beam is turned off.
“Drop the weapons,” one of the guards orders. Ray has a split-second thought of blasting them but sees that he is out-gunned and lays the weapon down and clasps his hands behind his head. Alberto also wisely decides to put the weapon down and surrender. Both groups are then led away from the hangar and back to the holding area.
When they reach the holding cells, Keith, Jackie, and Ray are put in one cell, while Miguel, Alberto and the third Coalition pilot, Carlos Montoya, are put in an adjoining cell, and Robert and Ricardo are put in a third cell by themselves.
“Any more attempts at escaping and you two will be terminated,” the guard says to them, having singled out the leaders of the groups trying to escape.
The cell door is shut and a squad of guards are posted in the hallway around the holding cell. They have underestimated these pilots once; they won’t do so again.
Robert and Ricardo sigh. Their plan almost worked, but they’re back at square one. Robert still feels some animosity toward Ricardo. The thoughts about Ricardo betraying him are still lingering in his mind. If they are going to die, which is most likely going to happen, he at least wants to know why his best friend stabbed him in the back.
He says, “Rico, tell me one thing—”
“Why did I do it?” Ricardo replies, finishing Robert’s question.
“Yeah,” Robert says, feeling angry and wanting to beat the hell out of him but willing to let Ricardo explain himself first. Ricardo pulls out a picture.
Robert sees the picture and has a look of confusion and says with a tone of disbelief, “Maria’s the reason you defected?”
Ricardo nods his head yes feeling guilty for what he’s done—not so much for betraying the ADF but for betraying his friend, which he still considers Robert to be.
“I don’t get it. What did Maria have to do with this?” Robert asks, not understanding how she was the reason that Ricardo betrayed his country.
“The Coalition kidnapped Maria and her family,” Ricardo says and then tells him, “They sent me a message that if I didn’t cooperate with them, they would kill them all.”
Robert nods understanding Ricardo’s dilemma. He would probably have done the same thing if Amanda or the children were abducted.
“Why didn’t you tell anyone? You know we would have helped you get them back,” Robert tells him, his anger turning to disappointment that Ricardo didn’t confide in him about this when it happened or the times that they had met in combat since Ricardo’s defection, which Robert now realizes was blackmail.
Ricardo puts his hand on Robert’s shoulder and then says, “I know you would have, my friend, but the Coalition has monitored my every move. In fact they had someone inside the ADF who set the whole thing up.”
“Who?” Robert asks, wanting to know who set Ricardo up.
Ricardo sighs and says, “I don’t know but I think he was someone high up because the Coalition’s been getting information about your missions for a long time.”
Robert sighs, feeling that he owes Ricardo a big apology now that he realized that he was forced into cooperating with the Coalition.
“Rico, I’m sorry…”
“No apology needed, my friend,” Ricardo says, offering his hand in friendship. Robert nods and then shakes his hand, deciding to drop his vendetta.
“Rico, if we get out here, I’ll help you get Maria and her family away from those bastards,” Robert says, wanting Ricardo know that he is now on his side.
“Muchas gracias, amigo,” Ricardo says in his native Spanish feeling that now he has an added incentive to escape: to free Maria and possibly be able to return to the United States. He is willing face a court-martial for what he’s done. As long as his wife and her family are safe, he’ll gladly pay the price for betraying his Loyalty Oath.
Robert says, “First things first, we have to—” then stops talking as a guard enters and says to him, “You. Come with us.”
He momentarily considers making a grab for the guard’s weapon but seeing the dozen or so guards outside the cell makes him think better of it and decides that he’d better go with them peacefully. Robert leaves with the guard, leaving Ricardo alone in the holding cell. They walk down the hallway to go wherever they’re taking him. He’s unsure of what they plan to do to him but he’s certain of one thing: whatever they’re going to do, will be unpleasant.

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