Posts Tagged ‘war’

CHAPTER 5

 

The flight deck of the USS Jackson was a flurry of activity as the Hog made its landing. Almost as soon they touched down, the wheels were chocked by the deck crew and the crew chief had the rear cargo ramp open. Even before the squad was able to disembark from the aircraft, the medical staff from the ship’s hospital entered the 32 and conferred with the medic, Static, about Commander Atlas’ condition. They worked quickly to remove the injured pilot and get him into emergency surgery. The medical personnel also reverently removed the body of the dead pilot. Diesel and his men placed his body on a stretcher and more medical staff took him to the morgue.

With the medical staff off the aircraft, the squad members could begin disembarking as the pilots shut down the engines. All of the men were dirty and bone tired, but the cheers from the ships company brought smiles to their faces as they rode the elevator down to the hanger deck.  The men were elated to be back aboard the Jackson in one piece.  Next thing they each wanted was a good, long, hot shower and something to eat, but that would have to wait till later.   

Once they arrived at the hanger deck they fell into formation. The Colonel was approaching the men. Gunny called out for the men to stand at attention, but the Colonel countermanded that order and told them to stand at ease. The Colonel had to speak loudly to be heard over the din of noise that was coming from the cheering crew.

“Go ahead and ground your gear. You men did a fine job out there today. Due to what you came across and the odd nature of it, the Intel pukes what to shift through your brain matter to see if they can gleam any intelligence from it. Here come the gear guards now.  Head up to the briefing room and let’s get this over with so you can get to cleaning your gear, get some chow and rest, fallout.”

For two hours the men were questioned about what they saw at the possible dig sites. The Intelligence staff spent most of the time talking with Nightstalker and the pictures he took and Bunker. Then they talked to Loki about what happen to the aircrafts self destruct system. To everyone’s surprise, including the Colonel’s, the intelligence officer, a lieutenant Jeffery questioned many of the command decisions that Captain Mclean “Diesel” had made on this mission.

After several minutes of this line of attack
on Diesel’s successful mission Colonel Rogers could not contain his thoughts.  “Just what in the hell are you doing Lieutenant Jeffery?” asked to Colonel in a barely controlled tone. His face was red with the rage the Captain Mclean was feeling.

“Sir.” The officer’s voice was as smooth as silk. “It is my belief that due to the Captain’s delays during this mission that we have one dead pilot. He also had a chance to get us some prisoners and he did nothing.”

“His orders were to avoid contact with the enemy, Lieutenant.” spat the Colonel.

“This was clearly a unique situation; he should have used his initiative to help us figure out what the Chinese plans may be for these unusual sites.”

“Colonel, sir,” Static was now on his feet and he looked pissed.

The Colonel looked over to him and said with slight surprise, “You have something to add corpsmen?”

“Sir, I do have something to add.”

“Well, spit it out,” said the Colonel interested in what the corpsman had to add to the discussion.

“It would not have mattered if we there the moment the pilot came down.”

“And why is that?” asked the Lieutenant.

“Because his heart and lungs where stuck on the end of the tree branch that impaled his chest and exited his back by about three feet, sir.”

That comment made the Lieutenant blanch a fair shade of pale green.

Every single man in the squad had complete trust and respect for Diesel. Each and every man had their life saved by him more than once. The men stared at the young Lieutenant. The look of disgust and contempt was easily read on their faces.

It was the Colonel, Big Rig , that lost his temper first. “This briefing is over. Diesel get your men out of here. The Lieutenant and I are gonna have a little chat,” Big Rig said as he stood up and made his way over to the Lieutenant. The hatch to the room was not even closed before the Colonel started to rip the Lieutenant a new asshole.

The Colonel’s voice easily carried down the hall as the men heard him yelling. “Just what in the hell did you think you were doing?” It was then that the door shut and the men could not hear any more of what was said.

Still dirty and tired, the men strode down the hall and gathered a short distance from the debriefing room and waited to talk to Diesel. Gunny was standing with the men nearest to Diesel. Diesel was in no mood at this time to discuss the debriefing with his men. “Gunny, have the men retrieve their gear and start cleaning it. Once that is done let them get some chow. They are done for the day,” he said as he started heading for the hanger.

Diesel slowly walked toward the hanger deck to collect his gear. Grabbing his gear he trudged back to his stateroom. On his walk, Diesel wondered to himself who the hell was Lieutenant Jefferies to question his orders?   He entered his stateroom, and dropped his gear to the floor in the middle of the small room.  Moving his chair to his gear and started to clean his weapons. It was mindless work. Cleaning his weapons allowed his mind to wonder, but his wandering always returned to the mission.

With his weapons cleaned, Diesel leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

The loud knocking on his door awoke Diesel.

“Come in,” he said.” The door opened to reveal Big Rig in the entranceway. Big Rig strode in and grabbed the other chair and took a seat while motioning the captain to sit back down.

“Well that was fun,” said Big Rig sarcastically. “Don’t worry about that asshole. I’ve already had a chat with the General about the half-assed ambush interrogation Lieutenant Jefferies tried to do to you and your team.”

“What were his reasons?” asked Diesel.

“He is nothing more than an armchair quarterback. Thinks he knows better. That’s all.

“What did the General have to say?” asked Diesel.

“The General nabbed Jefferies as he was on his way out of the debriefing room.  Jefferies was pretty full of himself as he was on his way out.  The General explained to the Lieutenant that the lives of the pilots and the data disks are worth more than a few prisoners which would’ve hindered your mission.”  The Colonel continued to relay the remainder of the conversation in his native Texas drawl.  “I do believe that the General said something about the Lieutenant should not be armchair quarterbacking from the cheap seats.  I do also remember the General informing the Lieutenant that he’ll be joining the next combat mission as an observer. I tell ya’, the look on that dickheads face was priceless.”

“I want him to go out with me and first platoon.” said Diesel calmly.

“What, are you crazy?” asked the Colonel.

“No, think about it for a second, there are no bases that we know of near there, so it shouldn’t be too much of a catastrophe if he’s there,” said Diesel.  Then he asked, “Where did those Chinese men come from? What were they looking for? The only road we saw was a dirt road that looked more like a dried streambed. And who were the five other men with the Chinese troops?” After a short pause he thoughtfully stated, “I wonder if the answer might be on those data disks.”

The Colonel cleared his throat before speaking, “Let’s go see the general and find out. I would love to find some answers to those questions you just asked.  At the time I was preoccupied with making sure that Jefferies knew his place,” said Big Rig as Diesel followed him out of the room.

“Let’s go and see the General, sir.” As the two men began walking down the corridor Diesel added, “These questions have been bothering me since Bunker made the connection between the grid squares on the ground and the machines Nightstalker saw. Why would the Chinese Army spend their manpower to do such things?” Diesel continued posing questions as the two officers walked through the ship towards the General’s office.

Passing various offices spaces and rooms, the two men made their way through the maze of passages to get to the General’s office. In one such office, they saw Lieutenant Jeffery intently reading a file and both men exchanged a glance of contempt and continued walking and shaking their heads. Their winding path through the ship took them up three decks and over to the other side of the ship. They were now approaching the non-water tight door that leads to the General’s outer office. Once they entered the outer office they found a Staff Sergeant hard at work. “Good evening Colonel Rodgers, Captain Mclean, what can I do for you sirs?” he asked.

The Colonel looked at the man’s name tag on his uniform before speaking. “We would like to speak with the General if it is convenient, SSgt Rojas.

SSgt Rojas picked up the phone and said, “Let me check and see if he can, sir.”

SSgt Rojas punched a button on the phone and briefly spoke into the handset and replaced it in the cradle. “The General says to go on in sirs.”

Both men entered the General’s office and came to attention waiting to be recognized by the General.  The General was seated behind his desk, obviously engrossed in a file of considerable size that was spread across his desk.  He pulled his half moon reading glasses off the bridge of his nose and rested them on a stack of photos which were turned face down.

“At ease men, what can I do for you two gentlemen?” asked the General.

“Sir,” began the Colonel. “After speaking with you I went to have a chat with the Captain here.  In the course of our chat he raised some very good questions concerning his last mission.”

“Such as?” asked the General.

“What were the Chinese looking for?  Why were they not looking for the downed pilots or the aircraft? Who were the Caucasian men that were with the Chinese and why were they armed? Where did they, the Chinese come from? Who do the Caucasian men work for?  Those are the main ones sir.” said the Colonel.

“I see.” replied the General. “What I don’t understand is what these questions have to do with me and not G-2, unless there is more.”

“What we would like to do is have a look see at what the XSR-28 took pictures of and try to figure out what was so important to the Chinese that they ambushed our guys.  If we find anything of interest, we can get eyes and ears on the ground and investigate it, sir.”

“Hmm, let me think about this for a moment” said the General as he rose from his chair and paced behind his desk.  “You want to look at data that you are not cleared for, to see if you can spot something that the pros who work in the CIA and the Pentagon won’t see? Then you want me to authorize putting men on the ground to have a look around this place or whatever it is. What do you intend to do once you investigate this whatever, Captain?”

Without missing a beat, Diesel answered. “Cause mayhem, sir.”

The General cracked a grin. “I like it. Let me make some calls and see what I can do to get you the clearance to see the data disks, dismissed.

With that, both men came to attention and did an about-face and exited the office. On their way out, both men heard the General mutter out loud to himself, “Cause mayhem.”

Once the two men clear of the General’s office, Big Rig looked at Diesel and said “Well that’s about all we can do for now. We’ll let the General cut through the red tape. I’d like you to start formulating a five paragraph order just in case you do get the call to do this.”  They continued walking back towards the officer’s quarters, when the Colonel turned to Diesel and said with a rueful grin, “Cause mayhem, I can’t believe you said that.”

CHAPTER4

 

The ocean was gently rolling; the deck was hardly pitching as a lone VTH-32 sat on the pad having received the approval to take off.  It was 2245 hours precisely as she took off, the 32 would linkup with her escorts as she closed with the coast.

The men were seated in the aircraft, hurtling towards China at wave top level; the ocean was but a flat black blur lit by the small amount of moon light. The men sat in stillness within the VTH-32.

Gunny sat staring at the red jump indicator light.  The only sound that was heard by the planes occupants was the roaring of the engines.  Since the troop transport plane was not as well insulated as a commercial airliner, the men were subject to a significant amount of more noise. It would be nearly two hours before they reached the landing zone. The pilots were purposefully flying low to avoid Chinese radar that would be on the look-out for any new incursions into their airspace.  One hour into the flight, the aircraft abruptly leapt up from the top of the waves to tree top level as the pilot declared they were now feet dry; they were now over land. The pilots scanned the forest for dangers, the odd tree that was taller that the rest or for the flock of birds that may fly into their path.

“Ten minutes ‘till the lz. Captain,” the pilot called to Diesel after another hour of flying. “Crew to your stations,” added the pilot.

Diesel did another quick check of his equipment and pulled back the charging handle sending one round into the chamber, but keeping the weapon on safe.

The co-pilot glanced over his shoulder to see Diesel and the men.  A red light started to slowly blink on and off in the cargo area of the aircraft signaling to the men that the ride was almost over and their real work was about to begin.

“Thank you captain,” Diesel replied to the pilot and signaling to the co-pilot with an o.k. sign that he understood that it was quickly approaching the time that he and his men would be departing. Diesel flashed with both hands the signal for 10 minutes to the men. The men were re-checking their own gear and were checking over the gear of the man to the left and right of them, making sure that the man next to him had nothing missing or loose that could move around and make a noise that would give away their position. The aircrew hastened to their allotted places and readied their weapons, should they be needed if there was hostile fire when they got to the landing zone.

“Five minutes,” informed the pilot, his voice was calm and steady. The flashing red light began to blink faster now. The men finished loading their weapons and put the weapons on safe.

“Two minutes,” came the pilot’s voice once again. The red light ceased blinking and stayed fixed.  Diesel relayed this information with hand signals, causing the men to rise and began to line up at the ramp. Diesel removed the headset that linked him to aircrafts internal communication system and put on his bonny hat. The men wore an expression of grim determination.  The air was filled with tension, as the clock ticked down the last one hundred and twenty seconds.  The men glanced at each other and readied themselves, weapons and gear for the last time.

At the one minute mark, the crew chief held aloft one finger.   The men were one minute away from earning their paycheck.  The crew chief moved to the ramp door control and opened the ramp. As the men edged closer to the ramp, their hearts were beating hard and fast inside their chests, yet each man appeared quiet and composed. As the aircraft touched down, the unblinking red light changed to green and the men charged off the aircraft and kept low to the ground. The men of the three fire teams spread out in circle aft of the VTH-32 and fell into a prone position, facing away from the aircraft. The aircraft was on the ground for less than six seconds before it was quickly rising back into the air.

The insertion site was located in the Hue valley about one mile from the crash site.  Due to the possibility of enemies in the area, the decision had been made to land close to the where the downed jet was estimated to be located.  The men were in a small, grassy clearing within fifty feet of a small, gentle flowing river.  Surrounding the clearing was forest that was moderately to heavily wooded, with towering trees and plenty of scrub brush on the fringe of the forest.

Diesel lay on his belly with the men of third squad.  The earth was dry and slightly cracked; it had obviously not rained in some time.  The grass surrounding the team was tall enough to just cover their heads as they lay on the ground, it too showed signs that rain had not fallen in a while, as it had turned a shade of pale brown at the tips and rustled in light breeze that remained from the VTH-32’s jet wash.  To Diesel’s left was the radioman, Sergeant John Whitmore who everybody called Tex.

Diesel looked over to Tex and held out his hand, silently requesting the handset for the radio.  The handset appeared quickly. He depressed the switch, and waited for a second as the radio’s double encryption package synced up with the satellite and the ship’s radio before talking.

“Anvil this is Hammer, over,” he said in to the handset as quietly as he could, not knowing if there were unfriendlies in the area.

There was a small burst of static before there was a reply from the ship’s communication center.

“Hammer this is Anvil, we read you five by five. How do you read us over?” inquired the voice from the ship’s communication center.

“Anvil we read you 5 by 5, over,” Diesel replied after a short pause.

“Hammer what is your sitrep, over?” asked the communication technician.

“Anvil, we are at the alpha insertion site, no contact at this moment.  We are heading to site bravo. Any word from the wayward sons yet, over?”

There was a short burst of static, followed by “Hammer, no word as of yet, over.”

Diesel took a deep breath and depressed the switch. “Hammer copies, no contact with wayward sons at this time, out.”

Diesel handed the handset back to Tex and motioned to the Gunny to bring in the squad and fireteam leaders. Damn, this isn’t good.  The downed pilots are either dead, badly wounded or in enemy hands already. He reached into his combat harness and pulled out a map marked with the position of the crash site. The map also marked the insertion site along with four possible extraction sites. He then placed his compass on the map and began to get his bearings as the squad leader and the fire team leaders crawled up to his position with their bodies low to the ground.  The men formed a small circle around the map, each man holding a smaller copy of the same map. Once Diesel had assembled men and he proceeded to get his men oriented to the terrain and maps and give procedural orders to the team leaders.

“This is where we are now,” Diesel said as he pointed to a position on the map.  “This is the crash site,” he said as he showed the men another point on the map. “Since the wayward sons have been down, there’s been no contact,” Diesel looked over at Ssgt. Olson, “I want you on point, with Sgt. Burnell and first fireteam 25 meters behind you in column formation,” He then signaled to Sgt. Baker and Sgt. Gilbert. “Cookie I want you on the left flank and Domino I want you on the right flank, ten meters out in line abreast formation.  Have the second and third teams online with first fire team. Remember to keep your spacing and keep a sharp eye out for signals from point.  Command section will follow first fire team by 15 meters in column formation. From this point on, no rank use only call signs, clear?”

Each man nodded indicating they understood their orders.

Diesel looked over to the Gunny with a grin he pressed his throat microphone and said, “Head ’em up.”

The Gunny smiled back as he too pressed his throat mic and replied, “Move’em out.”

The rest of the men of the unit all whispered, “Rawhide.”

The team leaders returned to their men, crawling low the entire time as they made their way back to the rest of the men who were on look out and anticipating the next move.  Then as a cohesive group the whole squad, on the command from Gunny, began to make their way to the tree line, keeping to the ground.

The men spent the next ten minutes getting their camouflage in place, breaking off twigs, leaves and grasses and weaving them into their clothing to breakup their profile.  Once their impromptu gillie suits were completed, the order was given to move out.  The men knew what was expected, almost as if by instinct they moved steadily, smoothly and yet quickly.  With every footstep through the brush and undergrowth the men were cautious, they knew that suspicious noises and sudden movements could jeopardize the mission and get them all killed.

After about thirty minutes of moving through the woods Nightstalker’s voice unexpectedly came through the squad radio’s ear bud punctuating the quietness. “Contact, twelve o’clock.”

The atmosphere changed immediately, the men were anticipating that danger lay just ahead of them.  All the men halted in mid-stride and slowly lowered themselves to the ground in a crouching position to get cover at a painstakingly slow pace.

“Nightstalker this is Diesel, what do you have, over?” inquired the Captain.

“Diesel, I have sounds of a transport of some kind.  No visual yet. Want me to check it out?  Over.”

“Affirmative Nightstalker. Report back ASAP over,” Diesel held up his closed fist signaling to his men to halt and wait for word from Nightstalker.  He whispered “Squad standby,”  The assembled men waited for what seemed like an eternity to receive word from Nightstalker as to what his mini-recon mission had uncovered.

Finally Nightstalker replied, “Diesel this is Nightstalker, over.”

“Go, Nightstalker.”

“I have one military transport with five regular Chinese troops and five other men.  All are armed.  All five of the regular Chinese troops seem to be assembling two devices that look like lawn mowers with video screens.  Four of other five men seem to setting up a table with food and drink and the last one seems to be collecting fire wood.  The five other men that are not Chinese, beyond the men and the truck is some sort of grid pattern with string on the ground.  I’ve got their GPS position marked and I have some pictures.  There appears to be a dirt road off to our right about 100 meters or so, over.”

Diesel spoke as quietly as could, “Squad this is Diesel, everyone stay low, we are pulling back 200 meters and then we will swing around these guys to the left and once we are past them we will resume our original track, out.”

The men fell back 200 meters on the Diesel’s command and formed the squad into a circle configuration.  Diesel was pulling the map out once again as the rest started to show up. “Nightstalker plot us a route that will keep us at least 200 meters from the contact.  I want to keep them to our right.   Let me see those GPS coordinates.”

Nightstalker handed the Diesel his note pad on which he had scribbled his observations.  Nightstalker began developing a new route the squad would take hashing out the fine details with the Gunny and others in the team.

The drop off point the men were in was a shallow valley dotted with large grassy clearings to the east, intermingled with huge areas of deciduous forests to the west.  There were areas of scrubby vegetation with craggy rocks nearer to the peaks at the higher elevations of the valley.

The weather was unseasonably warm and humid and the men were dressed in full camouflage uniforms which added several extra pounds of weight.  The corpsman, Static, knew that the last thing they wanted was a heat casualty.  Static came over to the Captain and expressed his concerns about the men becoming dehydrated

“Diesel, I think it’s a good idea if everyone drank up some water before we get on the go.  And if we can, get the men to top off their canteens and camelbacks from the river.  I’ve got water purification tablets to go around.”

“Okay Static, inform Nightstalker to make his way to the river and we will rehydrate there.  Tex, I have a call to make,” he said holding his hand open for the radio’s handset.

Diesel called the communications technician aboard the ship and obtained the latest report regarding the missing pilots and received additional information regarding the incident which led to the downing of the U.S. plane.  This last piece of information just confirmed his thoughts from earlier aboard the ship. The Captain quickly briefed the men with the most up-to-date information. Diesel turned to Nightstalker.

“Are we ready Nightstalker?” he asked.

“We’re ready to roll.”

“Good, if you would be so kind as to lead us out.” replied Diesel.

“With pleasure.” quipped Nightstalker with a smile.

The Gunny came over to the Captain and quietly said, “I don’t like this, not one word from the pilots.”

“Neither do I. I think all we’re going to find are two broken bodies and some mangled computer disks.”

“Gawd, I hope not.  I got a bit of the skinny from the guys in the communications center before we took off,” said Gunny.

“You did.”

“Yep and he said that these guys got jumped and them someone tried to hack into the onboard computers to download their computer files and photos.  I’m sure the brass at the Asylum would like to know why and who.  Maybe they took pictures of something the Chinese don’t want us to see.”

“Let’s just hope that both pilots have radio problems,” said Diesel with concern in his voice.

“Yeah, let’s hope.” remarked the Gunny.

The men commenced moving out under the watchful eyes of the Diesel and Gunny. Before too long they reached the small, yet gently flowing river. The water was crystal clear and icy cold, having come as runoff from the higher elevations.   The river was flowing north to south with a few large boulders found sporadically throughout the riverbed. The trees grew right up to the waters edge, providing shade for when the sun would be much warmer later that day.  The river bank sloped up at a steeper grade on the eastern side compared with the west bank.  Here at the western bank only tracks of animals could be found in the dried mud up and down the course of the river. Off in the distance on the left side, a herd of some type of deer could be seen casually strolling and grazing.  The men were surrounded with the sounds of the river bubbling and crickets nearby.  The leaves rustled slightly with a slight summertime breeze.

The men of the fireteams took turns drinking the contents of their canteens then refilling them and their camelbacks from the river.   Static dutifully put a water purification tablet into each canteen and camelback and handed each man an envelope of powdered sport drink mix to add to the water to cover the odd taste of the dissolved tablet.

Nightstalker collected the empty envelopes and buried them in the dirt and rocks near the river bank, hiding any evidence that they were ever there.  Some of the men remarked in hushed voices how this spot would be a great place to go camping and spend the day fishing or how it was a great spot for a house in the woods.

“Squad, this is Diesel lets form up and move out.

The chatter stopped abruptly and the men continued on the revised route Nightstalker mapped out to avoid contact with the Chinese.  It took the men thirty minutes to circumvent the Chinese and in that time they came across two other sites where the ground was staked out with string in a grid pattern and had evidence of recent human activity

“Diesel this is Bunker, over.”

“Go Bunker.”

“Those devises that Nightstalker saw, I am willing to bet a month’s pay that those devices are ground penetrating radar sets, over.”

“What makes you say that Bunker.”

“Well it didn’t click ‘til we passed the last site but I have seen them used at archeology dig sites.  One team maps out a grid pattern on the ground using stakes and string as a second team goes behind them with the rolling radar gear, to see what is in the ground.”

“What sort of things does it find?” asked Diesel with curiosity.

“Well that varies depending how deep you set the scan for, but you can find buried foundations, voids in the ground, metal object, and bodies.  My dad uses them a lot.”  Bunker responded.

“How big would you say these things are Bunker?” inquired Diesel. He like the rest of the men were wondering just what the Chinese troops and the other men were doing here.

“I have seen them as small as a handheld metal detector or as large as a dump truck.  The larger ones are normally used by water or oil companies to find underground deposits, over.”

Without even having to ask, Tex had the handset out and into Diesel’s hand.  Diesel passed this information on to the people at the command center aboard the ship and checked again on the status of the downed pilots.

The squad was now working back towards its original track to the crash site. Ten minutes later Tex’s ear bud buzzed indicating an incoming call. He quietly took the radio call and handed the hand set to Diesel. Gunny saw Tex handover the hand set and he halted the squad as Diesel slowed his pace as he took the call.

“Anvil this is Hammer go, over.”

“Hammer, we just got contact with one of the wayward sons, no voice transmissions but he activated his locator beacon.  He is located 250 meters from your current location on a heading of 273 degrees magnetic. Signal is strong and steady, over.”

“Anvil, Hammer copies 250 meters on a heading of 273 magnetic, over.

“Hammer, be advised that the locator beacon is on an open frequency. You’ll have unfriendlies in bound to your position, over.”

“Anvil, Hammer copies, over.”

“Anvil, out.”

Diesel pressed his throat mic. “Nightstalker this is Diesel over.”

“Go Diesel.”

“I want you to take the second fire team and head out on a heading of 273 degrees magnetic for 250 meters.  We have a locator beacon from one of the wayward sons. Find him and shut it off.   It’s transmitting in the open and the bad guys will come and investigate. Second fire team form up on me and wait ‘till Nightstalker gets here before moving out, over.” He turned to Static and instructed, “I want you to go with them they’ll probably need you.”  Then Diesel pointed at another and ordered, “Loki I want you on point to replace Nightstalker.”

“Understood,” replied Loki and moved up to the point position.  Nightstalker by now had joined with the second fire team and together they approached the Captain.

“First fireteam this is Diesel, I want you on the left flank in line abreast formation.  Command section is moving up to take your position, out.”

With the Sun climbing higher in the sky the temperature in the valley rose with it. Gunny flipped the cover open on his PDA, the air temperature read 87 degrees Fahrenheit. The men were wet with perspiration.  There was hardly any breeze in the wooded part of the valley, making the air seem stifling.

“Gunny to squad, I want everybody drinking their water. If you don’t have to pee, you’re not drinking enough.” He looked around as several of the men near him took a long drink of water.

Each man moved to his new position smoothly and without any fuss. With a quick glance to either side the men ensured that the man next to them was in position also. As soon as the men had been repositioned they moved out. With the threat of enemy forces now possibly moving inbound to the pilot’s locator beacon, the men were forced to move more rapidly. The fireteams were now leap frogging towards their objective. Second fireteam reached the first pilot before the rest of the squad arrived at the crash site.

“Diesel this is Nightstalker, over.”

“Go Nightstalker, over.”

“We have found one of the wayward sons; he is about eight meters up a tree.  Static and the Saint are climbing the tree now to retrieve him.  He looks pretty busted up, over.”

“Nightstalker, the other wayward son should be nearby.  Send someone aloft to have a look see, over.”

“Diesel, will do, out.”

At that moment Diesel received another transmission as Loki joined the conversation. “Diesel, this Loki, over.”

“Go Loki, over.”

“I have made it to the crash site.  This thing is a mess; we need to keep everyone away from it till I can figure out why the self-destruct charges didn’t blow.”

“I copy Loki.  Squad this is Diesel, no one is to get anywhere within a 50 meter perimeter of the aircraft, clear?  Over.”

The fireteam leaders confirmed with their men, who nodded that they heard and understood the order. Diesel collected the responses from the team leaders indicating that all the men understood.

Diesel was behind Gunny as they approached the wreckage. “Gunny I want you to set up a defensive perimeter around the bird and start setting some claymores on the more likely approaches to the site,” instructed Diesel.

“Will do,”  barked Gunny.

“Diesel, this is Static, over.”

“Go Static.”

“Pilot one is in bad shape.  Both legs are broken, the right arm and the left shoulder are broken also. His jaw is shattered and he has some internal injuries as well, over.”

Just then Tex looked over to Diesel and said, “Anvil reports that we have enemy troops on the way.  They say that they are about an hour out and moving fast.”

“Static, can you move him here?” asked the Captain.

“Only if I have to,”  remarked Static

“Static we have hostiles inbound.  ETA one hour, stabilize him and get him here, out,” Diesel said as he glanced at the men around him as they were getting in place..

Time was running out and Diesel wanted to make sure his squad met their objectives.  He checked in with Loki who was working on demolishing the remains of the XSR-28.  “Loki, what is the status of the wreckage and the charges, over?”

“It appears that the wiring harness for the demo charges melted away in a fire of some sort. The cockpit is a mess but the computer disks are not here, I repeat not here, over.”

“Nightstalker, this is Diesel, can you check to see if the pilot stored the computer disks in the seats storage bin, over?”

“Diesel, I’m checking now.”  There was a pause then he came back and spoke, “Negative, we have no disk in here. I sent the Saint higher up the tree to see if he can spot the other chute, over.”

“Loki, this is Diesel, can you rig the charges to blow?”

“Diesel, I am already working on it.  I’ll need a hand, over.”

“I’m on my way.” Diesel proceeded to where Loki was attempting to devise a way to detonate the remains of the aircraft.

“What can I do to help?” asked Diesel.

“This plane had one of those new fuel jelling systems. When the pilots ejected this chemical was released into the tanks. It make fuel cleanup easier after crashes. But the important thing is, it stills burns. It burns hotter than normal.”

“Okay.”

“Fuel tanks are in the wings. Slice into the exposed tank there and stick this block of C8 into the tank as far as you can,” Loki said as he handed Diesel a prepped explosive package.

 

Static successfully stabilized the pilot and readied him for transport; he had inserted an IV line and administered a sedative and a strong narcotic to help with the pain.  He then splinting Commander Atlas’ broken bones and applied pressure bandages where there were some deep gashes caused by sharp tree limbs on the pilot’s way down from the heavens after ejecting. The corpsman did not have a stretcher available but was able to fashion a stretcher out of two small tree limbs and poncho liners.

The Saint, who was high above the ground still in the pine tree where the first pilot was found, located the other parachute and called it into Diesel.  Upon arriving at the location of where the second pilot could be located, the fireteam found him dead, impaled on a broken limb of a tree. The team searched in the storage bin of Commander Whale’s seat and found the computer disks. The men respectfully placed the pilot’s remains in a body bag and gently made their way over to the rest of the squad, taking much care so as not to disturb the body. The rest of the squad received the report of the pilot’s death with a pang of sadness that they quickly swept aside.

 

“Diesel the cockpit is rigged to blow. I have also set up a secondary system to blow.” Loki said out loud, not using his radio.

“Good, I’m working on the claymores.” He looked around and found Gunny. “Gunny, I need another claymore and whillie pete,” he said aloud.

A claymore is a molded package of explosive and 600 steel balls. Encased in a plastic body the overall weight was just less than one and a half pounds. The mine could be set to explode by remote, tripwire, or motion. The term whillie pete was an old nick name for the white phosphorous grenade.

With the cockpit and the fuel tank of one of the wings rigged to explode. The 28 was ringed with claymores and white phosphorous grenades rigged with tripwires. The marines started to fall back along the path of destruction the 28 had made when it came down in the woods.

Tex, had been on the radio with the ship giving them constant updates as to what was happening and how things were progressing. He was also in communication with the squad’s air support and transport.

The transport showed up with three minutes to spare before the enemy transport vehicles could unload troops. The gunners within the aircraft strafed the vehicles as they came in to pick up the marines and downed pilots. The strafing run had the wanted effect of stopping the trucks. Several of the trucks were burning. Chinese regulars leaped from those trucks not destroyed and made a mad dash through the woods to close with the marines.

The gunners of the aircrew weren’t taking any chances. The pilots flared the 32 to land the gunners opened fire on the woods. The massive amount of fire from the chainguns ripped through the trees and pinned the Chinese troops down. Diesel and his men used the covering fire to board the 32.

The crew chief throw the lever to close the rear cargo hatch as the last of the men ran onto his aircraft.

“Last man aboard,” said the crew chief to his pilot.

“Good, we are out of here,” the pilot said as he applied power.

There 32’s crew continued to fire as the aircraft climbed into the air. The air support of the squad reported when the XSR-28 blow up, the blast took out about 50 troops.

The VTH-32 hovered briefly before it shot out of sight. This time the plane did not take a winding path getting back to the ship. The pilots flew straight back to the ship at full power taking less than an hour to complete their flight.

CHAPTER 3

 

The ship was abuzz with activity as men went about their duties ranging from repairing, prepping, and cleaning the aircrafts. Still other men were performing maintenance on the ship itself.  The ship was on heightened alert since the downing of the XSR-28.  There was an exaggerated sense of tension that seemed to emanate from many of the men.  Since hostilities had broken out nearly three years ago with China many of the crew had become battle hardened, but with the new threat, yet to be identified, many wondered if and when there would be a direct attack on the ship.

Men on deck of the USS Jackson were making sure that there were no last minute glitches that would prevent the rescue mission from taking off.  All the men knew how important it was to retrieve the pilots before the enemy got their hands on them.  The air crew was performing a last minute inspection of the exterior of the plane. The pilots lit off the engines, maneuvering the the controls around to make sure nothing was binding and proceeding with their own preflight check lists.

A VTH-32 sat tooling up on the pad of the amphibious assault ship waiting for the men to begin boarding.  It was the aircraft of choice in this war, often being used for insertions behind enemy lines.   She was an odd combination of helicopter and fixed wing aircraft.  She carried a crew of five, plus two pilots who sit in the nose of what looked like a twentieth century Cobra helicopter cockpit that had been attached to the body of a C-130 style aircraft.  Add the sweeping wings of a modern fighter and the tail section from an old twentieth century fighter, the Phantom, and you had the VTH-32.   She was a wicked piece of machinery with plenty of pure raw power from her three engines. Well armored and armed, the VTH-32 had two 30 mm chain guns, one slung under the nose and one built into the tail that could pivot straight down and around to face directly aft of the aircraft and had a 180 degree swing from side to side. In addition to the weapons provided by the 30 mm guns, there were four 20 mm chain guns, one mounted on each wing and one mounted on each side of the fuselage.  She was further enhanced with hard points to mount missiles and external fuel tanks.   The added weaponry gave the crew the ideal capability of protecting the men during loading and unloading in a hot landing zone. Commonly referred to as a LZ

The men from both squads mingled as they waited for the word. Diesel watched as some of his marines were stowing extra ammunition in whatever space was available in their gear. All of the men in the squads going on the mission were combat veterans and first-rate Marines.

Gunny’s voice was louder as he had the men from first squad fall in on him. “Listen up ladies, we are going to go over how we are to embark and debark the 32. I do not, let me repeat myself, I do not want any lollygagging. You will move with a purpose or I will give you a purpose. When we load up it will be by fireteams three, two and then one. Diesel, Tex and myself will be the last on and the first off.”

“As Diesel’s standard procedure when he debarks from the 32 he will move at a 45 degree to the left. Third fireteam, you are to follow Diesel, and go to ground ten meters past Diesel.

“Second fireteam when you debark the 32, you are to move off at a 45 degree angle to the right, and about ten meters your team drops. First fireteam follows the second and continues for another ten meters past before you go to ground. Lets run through it a few times,” Gunny said as he reached for his whistle.

All about the hanger men from the ship and other unit members continued working as they watched the marines’ prepping for the mission. The working men each said silent prayers for the safe return for the men.

 

First squad consisted of their squad leader, a medic, and three fireteams. Each fireteam had five men, each man having an assigned function.  The fireteams were comprised of a leader, automatic gunner, a grenadier, and two riflemen.  Tagging along for this mission was a command section that normally consisted of the platoon leader, a radio man, the platoon sergeant. That gave first squad 17 men plus Diesel, Gunny, and the radio operator, Tex, for a total of men 20 for the undertaking now dubbed Operation Room Service. Gunny Riddel had proposed a suggestion to the Diesel about bring with them Staff Sergeant Olson and Sergeant Fields. The total count of men going on the mission was now 22 hard charging Marines.

Staff Sergeant James Olson was the second squad leader and went by the name Nightstalker. James was a barrel chested, big, black man at 6 foot 5 inches and a few pounds shy of 300 pounds.  He spoke with a southern drawl and was passionate Florida Gator’s football fan. The man always had a cigar with him and looked as though he ate rebar for lunch and concrete for dinner.  He had a phenomenal sense of strategy and tactics, combined with his ability to plan maneuvers and natural sense of leadership, it made him a natural choice for point man.

The Diesel agreed with Gunny’s recommendation for the two additional men to accompany the squad.  Diesel believed that Staff Sergeant Olson’s ability to command his men and Voodoos sixth sense regarding unseen dangers would be needed this time.  Diesel scribbled his signature on the request; it still needed to be indorsed by Big Rig.

The Colonel was making his way across the crowded and very busy hanger deck to where the squad was assembled and waiting for the order to go.

“Captain Mclean, your men ready?” he asked once he was near enough to be heard over the noise from the other Marines and Navy personnel that were at work.

“Yes sir, we’re ready.  Any word from the pilots yet?” asked the Diesel as he handed over the transfer slips for Big Rig to read and sign.

Big Rig took the papers and quickly read them. He pulled out a pin and signed the transfer. “Your paper work is done. No word from the pilots as of five minutes ago.  But that doesn’t mean anything. Any number of things could have happened to ‘em when they landed.  Hell, they were most likely out cold by the time they hit the deck.  Chances are they’re pretty busted up, get ‘em and stabilize ‘em as fast as you can.  Get those data disks and blow that bird to really little pieces.  Make sure you get the hell out of there as quick as you can. You copy?”

“Aye, aye sir.” responded Diesel. “Sir, did the pilots of the 414th say anything about enemy troops in the area?”

“All they saw were the two SAM sites that they hammered into scrap metal. They didn’t say anything about troops moving into or through the area. Just expect there are enemy troops already there looking.  Here’s your escort to the taxi”, said the Colonel with a smile. “I’ll see you back here real soon, and good luck.”

“Thank you sir,” replied Diesel, as he shook hands with the Colonel.  The Colonel turned and walked back across the noisy hanger deck to his office where he had planned to garner other information about what went on with the XSR-28.

Gunny blew his whistle. “First squad grab you gear, we’re ridding the elevator up this time.”

“And there was much rejoicing, yea,” quipped Vinnie. The rest of his men joined him in the response of yea.

“You know the drill, line up and quit the goofing around. Stillman stop messing with Greywolf. Vinnie, keep T-bone away from the edge,” Gunny said as he shook his head.

Diesel just smiled as he reflected on his first meeting with the gunny.

The newly minted Lieutenant Donovan Mclean was in the process of reporting into his new command. Donovan had not earned his nickname yet. He had just finished meeting his company commander. His records for payroll, medical, and dental were done. Now he was to meet the man who truly ran the platoon he was to command.

He walked along the concrete pathway. Small desert lizards scurried away from him. An old two and a half ton truck passed him on the road, filled with marines going someplace in a hurry he judged from the billowing dust cloud.

His walk led him to a brick two story building. The windows were tall but narrow. There was no lush dark green grass growing in the patch of desert in front of the building. Only desert plants, sand, and rocks were in the small patch of ground. On the front was a sign next to the glass double doors. The sign read home of the brave, land of the free.

Donovan entered the building and made his way to the rear, reading the sign on the doors as he went. He found the door he wanted. He knocked on the door, there was no answer so he went in.

The office was neat and ordered. There were two bookcases, one with marine manuals, and the other filled with classical literature. The door opened behind him bumping him, the gunny walked in.

“Your Lieutenant Mclean, I take it?” Gunny said.

“I am,”

“Good, Derrick said I was getting the best, so did Steve. You would know them better as Gunnery Sergeants King and Hall.

Donovan’s eyebrows moved to his hairline at that remark. “You know gunnies King and Hall?” he asked.

“Oh I have known king kong and hall of shame for years,” said the gunny using the nicknames for the men. “The marines are a small knit unit, the staff non-coms even smaller. I have been told you have a lot of potential, and you know how to listen. This is a solid unit. They deserve the best. I hope that is you. Don’t let me down, more importantly don’t let the men of this unit down.” The stern look on the gunny’s face conveyed just how serious he was.

 

The jolting halt of the aircraft elevator brought Diesel back to the present. Minutes later the men were on the flight deck standing in a neat column near the aft portion of the island, a steel structure built onto the flight deck where the bridge, flight deck control and operations, and firefighters were located. They waited here for the yellow shirt (a nickname for the man who pre-positions, moves the aircraft, and gives direction to the pilots where to maneuver their aircraft) to give the prearranged hand signal to the white shirt, the landing officer (whose duty it is to escort people to the flight deck among other things) the all clear sign so the men could board the aircraft safely.

Once aboard, the men sat with their backs against the wall, facing inward with their weapons unloaded.  Each man was keeping to himself; some were getting comfortable trying to sleep for the first part of the flight while several men sat motionless, staring at the floor boards mentally reviewing the plan for this operation.  Others sat drumming their fingers eagerly waiting for the order to disembark the aircraft in full anticipation of the fight that lay ahead.

Diesel had on his set of earphones and was plugged into the aircraft’s internal communications system. He was listening to the pilots banter back and forth while they went about their duty of getting him and his men to the drop off point. The Captain looked around at his men and thought to himself that here, with these men, was where he belonged.  In his heart he was a Marine through and through and if there was action he wanted to be leading the charge.  Diesel assessed his men.  He made note of the men of first squad who were seated about him.

Sergeant Burnell was sitting, mindlessly rolling his head in slow deliberate circles. Corporal Boxer was reviewing the maps and the making notes of where the landmarks should be.  Lance Corporal Thayer appeared to be asleep.

Private First Class Mack Davidson, call sign Mo-Ped, was a recent replacement in the unit. Davidson had just celebrated his 21st birthday last week.  Next to him sat Pfc. Kyle Taylor also a new replacement. He sat watching everything and everyone with a keen eye. He was the unit’s best man when it came to unarmed combat.

Sgt. Baker, the leader of the 2nd fire team, looked to the world to be dead asleep except that he had his weapon cradled next to his legs, right hand resting on it while the left hand held a 50 round magazine of caseless ammo at the ready.  He was reviewing the plan in his mind with his eyes closed, going over every last detail and thinking of other scenarios which could change the plan and how he would counter those obstacles when they arose.

Directly to his right sat Cpl. Kenneth Franklin who asked everybody to call him Frankie.  Continuing down the line was Lcpl Bill Houston callsign Bunker. Bunker was one of the largest men in the unit.  Rounding out the rest of the 2nd fire team was Lcpl. Jacob Scott, call sign Boots, and PFC Marcus Peterson call sign, Saint. The pair of friends could not have been more unlikely. Boots listened to country music and heavy metal, ate his food with a generous dousing of Crystal hot sauce, and was a drinker and cigar smoker who stood at 6 foot even.  The Saint on the other hand listened to gospel music, detested spicy food, and stood at a short 5 foot 5 and led an otherwise pious life.

Sgt Gilbert, leader of the third fire team, sat quietly resting his eyes; his head tilted back gently drumming his fingers on the fore grip of his weapon. To his left sat Cpl. Mark Kowalski, a chunk of a man at five feet eleven inches.  His jet black hair was cut in the form of a Mohawk more than the regular high and tight. He was the fire teams A-gunner and the units pack mule. The remaining men of the third fire team, Cpl. Foster, Lcpl. Dunn and Lcpl. Ritter. Lcpl. Ritter appeared to be sleeping; Dunn was snoring loudly.

The last man to join the three fire teams was the corpsman, Petty Officer Second Class Cory Vaughn, a short and stocky Navy man, known as Static. He was going through his check list, verifying that everything was in his large medic bag in case they came into a hot landing zone.

Every man in each of the fire teams, with the exception of the A-gunner, was armed with a Minute Man Arms caseless assault rifle. The M31-A3 was an exceptional model of modern warfare technology. She was designed with an overall length of 30 inches and outfitted with a built in silencer.  It was a light weight weapon at five pounds fully loaded, taking fifty rounds of 8.6 mm caseless ammunition. The M31 had modular construction so that add-ons like a 30 millimeter grenade launcher could be easily snapped into place.   Other whistles and bells included a built in microcomputer that assisted with aiming and arming of the weapon and a multi-use scope that could be used as a traditional scope, red dot, thermal imager, or night vision scope. The scope could also use the rifle’s microcomputer to store photographic data internally or on a flash memory card.

This piece of weaponry had three modes of firing, semi-automatic, three round burst, or full auto. The M31 had a cyclic rate of 900 round a minute in full auto or 750 rounds a minute in the three round burst mode. If this was not enough firepower, soldiers could mount and link multiple M31’s together by using a section of the cleaning rod as a connecting rod that snaps into the side of the weapon for mass fire, wreaking havoc on enemy forces.  It was a versatile weapon, and the weapon of choice for missions such as the one that first squad was assigned to undertake currently.

The soldier’s helmets were equipped with a special flip down HUD screen and an umbilical cable that attached from the side of the scope enabling the soldier to discharge the weapon from behind cover and never have to expose himself to enemy fire.  It was a design inspired by the years of urban warfare that preceded this war and the Department of Defense who wanted to keep casualties to a minimum.

A-gunners were issued the M384-C. Created by the same company as the M31, it had all the same features, just more barrels and a higher rate of fire. Both weapons fired the same size round and could use magazines interchangeably. The M384 normally used a 1000 round box magazine that fed its 6 barrels. With its 4,000 or 6,000 rounds a minute rate of fire it was devastating to any enemy force that was in its sights.

Besides each soldiers main weapon, each man was also issued a sidearm, the venerated M2035-A4 .45 caliber caseless electronic pistol, light weight body armor, 5 grenades (2 fragmenting, 1 white phosphorous, 1 smoke, and 1 flash bang), 1 claymore, 1 bayonet, MRE’s, first aid kit, rain poncho, chemical lights, combat knife, a change of clothes, a compass, an entrenching tool, and lots of extra ammunition.

Each man also carried the versatile M-190 radio/pda. It was a powerful handheld computer combined with a limited range burst transmission radio. It could transit encrypted data up to 12 miles. It also had the ability to send photos, send and even receive e-mails when within a communications network.

Although the list seemed long, the men actually were traveling light.  The majority of the contents of their gear were intended to be short term survival items.  The operations that these men conducted were never longer than a few days at best, and in most cases no longer than a day.  The men of the squad knew that they would most likely hurry up and wait for the go ahead to depart.  In the time that it took to prepare and the time they got clearance, many men of first squad became a bit edgy with nerves.  Even though all the men were well trained and had seen real combat, they couldn’t help the nervousness that accompanied another maneuver.  All the men needed now was the okay from the tower for takeoff.

CHAPTER 2

 

 

Captain Donovan McLean, whom the men called Diesel, was whistling the happy birthday tune to himself. Most people who met him thought that he should be on the recruitment posters as he looked every inch the Marine.  Diesel and his men had just returned from a mission on the coast of Japan. His men should be cleaning their weapons and getting some chow. Diesel had just finished taking his shower. He opened the wall locker to look at his reflection. “Happy twenty eighth Diesel, may you have many, many more,” he said to himself. Diesel ran his finger over his square jaw and realized he would need to replace the razor blade head before he shaved again. “Looks like I will need a haircut in a week or so as he looked at the stubble on the side of his head were the high and tight was growing out to reveal just a few gray hairs. Tossing his towel onto his rack he struggled to get his massive form dressed in sweats. The mass of different scars across his body started him to reminisce about his career.

Diesel recounted the last several years spent in different combat zones. Diesel had fought in the second Mexican war. Helped fight as part of the United Nations forces against India. He had helped restore order in Columbia, and a myriad of other places as the needs of his country and corps called upon him.

Now he was off the coast of China onboard the USS Jackson, the newest ship in the Navy.  The USS Jackson was nearly 200 feet longer than the USS Wasp, her sister ship that she helped to support.  The Jackson was part of the Marines amphibious warships which were designed to support Operational Maneuver from the Sea (OMFTS) and Ship to Objective Maneuver (STOM).  This class of warships must be able to sail in harm’s way and provide a rapid buildup of combat power upon distant shores in the face of enemy opposition.

Diesel glanced in the mirror and noticed in the reflection that the mail had been delivered while he was out on mission.  He glanced at the wall clock; it read 2130 hours, he had thirty minutes to finish getting dressed before the poker game. He finished quickly then walked over and picked up his mail. He sat down in a well worn chair in front of a small fold out desk. He examined his mail; three letters; one from his accountant, one from a credit card company for a pre-approved card, and the last was from his brother Ian. A big smile spread over his face as Diesel reflected that Ian should have just returned from his honeymoon. He opened the letter from his brother first.

 

Greetings dear brother of mine,

Stacey and I just wanted to thank you personally for the his and her remotes, how thoughtful!  The crystal decanter was also a great gift. We would especially like to thank you for the care you took in making our honeymoon reservations and travel arrangements. The person that kept knocking on the door and telling us to keep it to a dull roar was a nice touch. The best was when we went to the hotel restaurant for breakfast that first morning and realized that it was not a penguin convention but a convention for priests and nuns.

We ate at a reserved table with a sign over it that read the newlyweds table. Every priest and nun in the restaurant came up to congratulate us. The extra care and thought that you must have put into this to make sure we were the only non-church related guests in the hotel is mind-boggling. I’m quite sure that the thought of our situation in the hotel must have made you giggle for hours and hours.

Stacy is now deciding which kitchen item to use on your head, the rolling pin or the cast iron skillet. I have decided to use the golf clubs.

The wedding reception was an outstanding affair. Your taped toast along with the videos, charts and graphs, and the pictures had the crowd crying with laughter. Thank you very, very much. Stacy is still asking me some very pointed questions, it’s been three weeks. Your ass is mine!!!!!

I saw Coach Phillips, he is fine. He asked how you are doing and wanted me to tell you that when you grow tired of playing “army” that he has a linebacker coaching job waiting for you along with a teaching position.

I also saw Rebecca. I think she still has a thing or three for you.

In all honesty we had a great time on the honeymoon. Thankfully the convention ended the next day. How did you plan that?

Love

Ian,

Your bigger, younger, and better looking brother who is plotting you downfall.

 

PS. I overheard mom talking to Mrs. Poole, Mom said something about you moving up to the top of her next-to-get-hitched list……. HA! HA! HA!  My day of revenge will soon be here.

 

Diesel unlocked and opened his foldout desk, connected the ethernet card cable to his laptop computer and booted the computer up. After a few moments he logged on the ships network and then to the internet to send his brother a short email.

 

To my bigger, younger, but uglier brother,

The hotel called two weeks after I made the reservations to tell me about the convention.

The sign was my idea and I asked the manager to do it. Yes I had many hours of laughter at your expense. I still am in fact. As for the person who was knocking on your door, you might want to talk to your friends Billy and Greg, they were asking Mom about where you two were staying.

Right now, I have time for one woman in my life. That woman is the Corps. Please cut mom off at the pass for me. Thanks.

Thinking of you

Donovan

 

Diesel hit send and a short time afterward he received a notification telling him his email was successfully sent. Diesel ripped up the letter from the credit card company and tossed the accountants letter on to the small shelf in his locker for letter. On the inside of the small wall locker were three quotes:

“It is the responsibility of the strong to protect the weak.”

“It is the responsibility of any society to help those that cannot help themselves.”

“People forget and God forgives, neither of these are Marine Corps policy.”

 

Diesel was locking up the wall locker and desk when there was a knock at the hatch.  “Yes?” he said.

“Sir, it’s Speed, ah, Corporal Boxer, sir,” said a voice from outside the small room.

“What do you need Speed?” yelled Diesel through the door.

“Sir, Gunny says you’re needed in the ready room sir.”

“Thank you. Walk with me down there,” replied Diesel.  He took the letter from his brother and placed it in the foldout deck and locked it away in his desk before opening the door to the officer’s state room.

“Yes sir,” responded Corporal Boxer. “Nice state room, sir.”

“I know, I have a rack, a desk, and a wall locker. I press a button and the rack turns into a tanning bed or a pool table. The wall locker doubles as a sauna, and the desk turns into a wet bar complete with dancing girls,”

In reality the room was very Spartan.

Diesel exited the room and Speed walked behind him. They efficiently began making their way to the ready room where an assembly of men had gathered awaiting information about an impending possible mission.  On their way there Diesel remarked to himself how it seemed that the ship never slept. Sailors and Marines were always moving about the ship day and night. There was maintenance to the ship itself and the wide variety of aircrafts it helped support, missions to prep for, and aircrafts to be moved into launch positions and flights returning. Meals had to be prepared and eaten, gear for everything; from the landing vehicles to personal items to be checked, cleaned and then rechecked. The ship was really a small floating city. The ship had a library, dry cleaners, laundry, store, post office, and internet café.

The two men strode through the bowels of the ship, walking single file with the Corporal trailing behind.

“Speed, how old are you?” asked Diesel.

“I’m 23, next month I will be 24,” was his reply.

“You’re from Tennessee, aren’t you?”

“Yes sir, I grow up in a small town in the foothills of the smoky mountains called Dandridge. In the spring and fall the fog would roll in around dawn and the tops of the hills looked like little islands.

“How did you get the callsign Speed?”

“Well sir the short version is my brother is a member of a pit-crew for a nascar racer, and before I joined the Corps I would test drive the cars and I happen to have a number speeding tickets on and off base,” he said sheepishly. Diesel slowed his pace and allowed the man to walk at his side.

“You married Speed?” asked Diesel.

“Nooo sir!  Why the question sir?” asked Speed.

“It’s just that my younger brother just got married and my mother is making noises about me, that’s all.” replied the Captain.

“It was nice knowing you sir,” said Speed with a grin.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Ah, just that mothers have a way of getting what they want and making you feel guilty about it,” Speed chuckled.

The Captain snorted and shook his head in agreement with the young corporal.

“How do you and the others feel about me working with the first platoon instead of the Lieutenant Smith?” inquired the Captain.

“Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“Granted.”

“Sir, to tell you the truth, we’re awful happy to have you with us. Don’t get me wrong about the ell-tee,  but for the for the first two weeks before you took over, he had us marching and doing rifle drills in the hanger deck after our normal day of classes and training. Now sir, I’ve been in the Corps five years, and he’s been in less than four months and he thinks that he knows more about what’s going to happen in a combat situation than the men that have spent the last three years fighting. He just won’t listen to any suggestions that might be better than his current idea. I think it’s a bad idea to let green lieutenants to be in recon units. They need to have some real experience fighting the enemy first. The part about the ell-tee is just my personal opinion, Sir. You should really talk to the Gunny and the other staff NCOs about Lieutenant Smith, Sir”.

“I have talked to them many times in the past month about this. It’s the reason I have been spending so much time with your platoon,” said the Captain.

“Any word on Lieutenant Parks, Sir?” asked Speed.

“His career is over.  He lost the arm and one kidney.”

“Damn sir, he was a good Lieutenant.  He knew what questions to ask and when to ask them. I really liked him.  He was a fair minded man that would back your call if he wasn’t there to make it,” Speed said with a hint of grief upon hearing the news about Parks.

“Corporal, what don’t you like about the new Lieutenant?” asked Diesel.

“Sir, it is not my place,”

“Just go on.”

“It’s just that with Lieutenant Smith believes that he knows it all and micromanages the platoon. He’s wound so tight you couldn’t get a greased bb out of his ass, sir,” said Speed

Captain Mclean quickly recalled the events that led to Lieutenant Smith’s reassignment. Lieutenant Smith had walked his men straight into an ambush. He had broken a cardinal rule by splitting his unit in half without support, and sent each half to opposite flanks of the ambush with no covering fire. First platoon became too spread out and pinned down by the suppressing fire from a flanking unit. It was Gunny Riddel, assigned to first squad second platoon heavy weapons, and Diesel who charged through one set of the flankers and took the battle to enemy forces, allowing the men who were pinned down to get cover and then maneuver for suppressing fire. Diesel recalled the relieved looks on the faces of the men when he and the Gunny showed up just in the nick of time to save first platoon from being wiped out as a unit.

The firefight lasted forty seconds but it left two dead and seven wounded from the first platoon.  From that moment, first platoon came under the direct command of Diesel. He effectively cut the Lieutenant out of the decision making process. For the remainder of the month the Lieutenant had been given a special assignment in administration. Diesel had spoken to the Colonel about transferring the Lieutenant to a regular infantry unit. The Colonel agreed with the assessment and was due to sign the paper work at anytime.

The two men were coming up on the hatch to the ready room the unit was using as a temporary briefing room.  In this room were assembled a cadre of men.  All of the men were in their twenties and possibly early thirties. Some were sitting together discussing what they thought the assignment might entail while others were standing casually in groups of twos or threes. All the men were as tired as he was but still they came to the briefing even though they did not need to be here. Diesel noted that two squads of men and their squad leaders were gathered here with their fire teams and their respective leaders bringing the total of just over 30 men.  On the far wall hung a dry erase board, covered with notes left from a prior briefing.  In front of the boards stood a table stacked with manuals and a stray water bottle or two.  To the right of the folding table stood an oak lectern with the Navy emblem painted onto the front and a “Go Navy” bumper sticker was adhered just beneath the emblem.

Sergeant Burnell and Lance Corporal Thayer were clustered together killing time while they waited for the meeting to begin.

Sgt. Vincent Burnell, called Vinnie by the men, was a rough and tough man who grew up on the south side of Philadelphia. Vinnie was the team leader of the first fire team, first squad. Burnell loved to spar in the boxing ring and talk about his days in the gym watching the hopefuls train for their shot at the big time.  He stood at just less than 5 feet 11 inches, arms covered in tattoos.  He always had a wisecrack ready for use.

Lance Corporal Thayer was a corn feed bull of a young man standing at six foot six and 300 pounds. Besides his sheer size, his other striking feature was his eyes, a brilliant blue that women loved.  He had an enormous appetite, eating more food any two other men in the unit.  Lcpl. Thayer had the strength of an ox and the grace of one too. Funny as it might be to watch him trip over his own two feet walking to the head, he was not clumsy at all in the field. He grew up on a farm near Harrisonburg, Virginia.  He joked that he and his family would name the cattle, T-bone, Porterhouse, New York, and Prime Rib.  It was after relaying this bit of information to his bunkmates that he earned his name T-Bone. Diesel entered the room from the front and was walking toward the back of the room when he overheard a snippet of a conversation that caught his attention.

 

“So how did Stillman get his nickname?” asked Sergeant Vincent Burnell who was speaking to Lance Corporal Thayer.

“I have to hear this,” interrupted Diesel stopping to hear the story that would follow.

“Well you have to remember that Foster, who eventually became nicknamed Stillman; along with Greywolf, Tag, and I were all PFCs when this happened.  We all had just graduated from basic infantry training and were getting ready to start advanced infantry training, but our class wasn’t due to start for four weeks.  So we were put on various work details around the base.  From time to time, Foster would go to supply and fill out the necessary paper work to get things like copper tubing, glass beakers, and other stuff.  We thought nothing of it, until one day back at the barracks, he handed us a small glass of what we thought was water.

It was moonshine.  We told him that it was a bad idea to have a still in the barracks.  We thought on it some more, then we told him that he could sell this stuff for a mint.  He said the still didn’t produce enough to sell; it just made enough for him and a handful of friends.  Somehow the brass found out about the still and held a health and comfort inspection.  The base CO and the Sergeant Major found the still in the basement of the barracks with Foster doing some work on it.

Well… the way Foster tells it, the good CO and Sergeant Major confronted him as to what he was doing with a still.  He explained that he was only following the honorable tradition of the Marines by setting up a still and that he was testing the ph levels and temperature of the mash.  When asked where he learned how to make shine he replied that his mother’s family has known the secret of making the “elixir of life” and the magical device that dispenses it for years.  They then asked what his mother’s maiden name was.  He replied it was Daniels, from Lynchburg, Tennessee.  The CO told him to get a few people and move the still to the CO’s office.  This is where Tag, Greywolf and I come back into the story.  We came in and the CO and the Sergeant Major were sampling the shine as we started to dismantle the still.

The CO yelled for us to stop and calmly says, “Lance Corporal, I said move it to my office not to break it down. For Pete’s sake, it’s not a still man.  It is a magical device that dispenses the elixir of life.”  That is when Foster ceased being Foster and wore the honorable name of Stillman.”

“I don’t believe it.” said Voodoo, who was sitting off to the side and had overheard the story.

“If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’.” said T-bone

Voodoo recently transferred over from 2nd platoon, replacing one of the fire team leaders in the second squad that was killed in a firefight over a month ago. Diesel brought over some of his more skilled people from the other platoons to help train up the replacements for the 1st platoon.  Voodoo, also formally known as Sergeant Wyatt Fields, was the new fire team leader for the first fire team of the second squad.

Sergeant Fields hailed from the Cajun area around New Orleans.  He was a skilled hunter by age twelve, often putting dinner on the family’s table each night. By fifteen he was offering his services as a guide for people who wished to venture into the bayous.  Sergeant Fields had spent seven years in the Corps, having joined immediately at age eighteen. It was eerie to watch him in the field, one moment he was standing in front of you and the next moment he was gone.  This was a feat for someone at 6 foot 4 inches. He also had a knack for sniffing out ambushes and booby traps. To this day, any unit he has been on point for, had not been ambushed or stumbled upon a booby trap either in training or in the field.   It was as though he had voodoo magic, earning him the name Voodoo by his brethren.

Diesel stood in the far corner of the room and watched the men and assessed their mood.  The men quieted down as they watched Gunny amble through the same hatch Diesel had come through just minutes before.   Gunny was holding a manila folder containing several papers as he strode efficiently up to the wooden podium.  He tossed the package onto the lectern and opened the folder, his expression was difficult to read, though Diesel had seen the look before and it told him that trouble lay ahead.  The Gunny, birth name Dean Riddel, was the old man of the unit at thirty-four years old. He was a man of average build; where others would use brute force, he relied on speed and finesse. His blue-green eye could size up a man, situation, or obstacle quickly. He was a reserved man full of contradictions, not many people knew that the Gunny was an aficionado of classical music and literature or that the Gunny held a master’s degree in classical literature.

The Gunny cleared his throat and barked, “This brief is for the fire team leaders and squad leaders, the rest of you animals can get out,” and he motioned with his thumb toward the hatch for the men not obligated to stay to move on. There was a chorus of yes sirs as the men not required to stay filed out.  The Gunny made his way to the back of the ready room to join the Captain. On his way to the rear of the room Gunny Riddel did a quick head check to make sure the necessary Marines were there for the brief.  Staff Sergeant Quinn Norse, Sergeants Vincent Burnell, Stan Baker, and Danny Gilbert from first squad, Sergeants James Olson, Wyatt Fields, Victor Jasper, and Kevin Christoff from second squad, Sergeant John Whitmore, the radioman and the Captain rounded out the list of attendees. Third squad was out on a mission. Diesel was leaning with his back against the wall, arms crossed in front of his chest.  Gunny took a position next to Diesel and leaned toward Captain Mclean knowing that the Captain would want the quick and the dirty about the mission he and his men would be embarking upon.

“What’s the word Gunny?” asked Diesel in a hushed voice.

“The scuttlebutt has it that a 28 just went down and we’re gonna get the pilots out and to make sure the aircraft is destroyed.”

“If the scuttlebutt is right, I’ll want to take three squads, one to get the pilots, one to secure the aircraft, and one in reserve.  But seeing how things are I’ll probably use one squad,” replied Diesel.

“Big Rig should be here soon,” remarked Gunny. “He was on his way to talk to the ship’s captain when he gave me the heads up.”

“Well it’s not as if we we’re going anywhere soon. Any idea as to where we will be going?” inquired Diesel.

“No sir, I was told to assemble the team leader and squad leader and you right here.”

Diesel look at his watch it read 2144 hours. He just knew that his days was going to be longer than he thought. The hatch in the front of the ready room swung open to reveal Colonel Rodgers. He was a short man with arms covered in short, curly red hair. His regulation high and tight hair cut was a mix of white and red stubble on the sides, while mostly white on top. He was a native Texan complete with the Texas drawl, love of good barbeque and cold beer, and was a spectator at Aggie football games when he wasn’t deployed.  When Texas was invaded by the Mexican Army he was called into service fighting in his home state defending it against the Mexican invaders from the south.  Colonel Rogers had a quick temper; a glance at the colonel conveyed that it would be a very bad idea to anger him. The men could clearly see that he was highly agitated as he walked to the podium.

Before anyone had a chance to say anything, the Colonels voice boomed like a thunderclap throughout the room, “As you were.”

The Colonel slowly gazed around the room taking in everything and everyone.

“Good, y’all are here, I realize that this is a fast one, but the brass in the asylum wants this one done as of yesterday.”

The asylum was a slang term for the Pentagon, a name imparted to the five sided building and its employees due to the plethora of crazy ideas that had been generated from the high command working there over the many years of its existence.

“Here’s the skinny. Less than sixty minutes ago a XSR-28 went down. We have confirmation that the plane was being jammed and missiles were launched at her just prior to her being jumped by a large number of fighters. The time of her going down. The 28 climbed to evade, aircraft problems forced her back down. She was then engaged by fighters. We have confirmed reports that both pilots did eject. From the other squadrons of US fighters we know that several SAM sites were wiped off the map, fifteen Chinese fighters bought the farm. Thanks to 414, we have their last known location, but they have not as of yet radioed in. We do not know if the bird self-destructed on impact. Now, the powers that be want you to find and secure the pilots, find the bird, pull the data disks, and blow the bird,” as the colonel spoke he ticked off his fingers for each of the tasks he listed.

Staff Sergeant Norse’s hand shot into the air.  He was leaning back in his chair with the front legs of the chair tipped off the floor.

“Colonel, when you say the pilots were being jammed you mean by the Chinese, right?  Do we have information about ground forces in the area?”

Staff Sergeant Quinn Norse, call sign Loki, was the leader of first squad.  He was a tall man, nearly six feet, with the swiftness of a deer and deadly with any weapon the Corps had to offer.  Quinn was a prankster at heart who could be counted on to do anything for a laugh. Some of his greatest pranks included super gluing all of the men’s boots to the deck of the barracks and putting itching powder in the sandpits on the obstacle course before another company ran it.  But when it came to preparing for an expedition he took his leadership role to heart and was all business.  He wanted to go into battle fully prepared knowing what he was up against.

Colonel Rogers unrolled a map and place it on the image viewer. On the bulkhead behind the Colonel the image of the map suddenly appeared. “This is where they went down,” Colonel Rogers said pointing to a location on the enlarged view of the map   “We’ve got no information about troops in that area.  Prior to the bird getting into trouble we had information that showed that area pretty clear of troop activity. At this time, we are unsure who was jamming the 28.”

“Colonel, you said that we don’t know who was interfering with the 28. Does this mean that the Chinese knew about the flight?  Why were there fighters up there also?  Does the current Intel show if we can expect forces on the ground or above when we hit the insertion point?”  asked Sergeant Danny Gilbert.

“Unknown at this time,” replied Big Rig.

Sergeant Gilbert, Domino, was the team leader of the third fire team of the first squad.  He was a man that loved to play pool with a happy-go-lucky attitude. He was a Southside Chicago native who had a chance to play professional football with the Bears but joined the Corps instead.  His skin was the color of ebony, and when he smiled his teeth flashed brilliant white in contrast to his skin.

Big Rig answered succinctly, “In reverse order, no good Intel on what we can expect on the ground, other than some pissed off Chinese regulars.  Our Intel shows that the Chinese scrambled their fighters too, and by the looks of it, they might have been caught off guard when we flew over to assist the 28.  Second, no word on who was trying to bring the 28 down.  OK gentlemen, if that is it, then the meeting is over and y’all can get ready.  Good luck and see y’all soon. See you on the hanger deck in 45.”

The Colonel dismissed the men and he exited the ready room through a side door.   He was heading back to speak to the ship’s captain to continue their conversation from earlier that day.  Diesel remained leaning against the wall with Gunny on his left, mimicking his body posture. Diesel thought carefully about the information he just heard.

“Gunny,” he said.

“Yes.”

“Correct me if I’m wrong. A 28 is jumped while on a secret flight by SAMs, then by fighters. Yet the Chinese had to scramble more fighters.”

“That’s correct sir,” said Gunny

“Does this stink?” asked Diesel.

“Like a sewer.”

“We are going to have to move fast. It will be a foot race to get to the down pilots and the aircraft before the Chinese.

“The pilots still have not called in. That does not bode well,” commented Gunny.

The majority of the men had hustled out of the room on their way to collect their gear, leaving Gunny and Diesel remaining in the back of the room.  The men exchanged apprehensive looks, each sensing that there was something eschew.

Thirty minutes later the men reconvened on the deck of the ship, the men of first and second squads were completely briefed, with second squad acting as backup.  It was shortly before 2214 hours before both squads were armed and ready to go. Both squads were waiting on the hanger deck for word to come saying the mission was a go.

 

CHAPTER 1

2050 AD

The room’s lighting was subdued, small track lights in the ceiling aimed their dim light towards the walls of the room. Thirteen focused beams were directed to shine down onto the thirteen men and women seating in the room, waiting and watching. Each member of the Committee sat in lush, form-fitting chairs around the large, glass-topped conference table that dominated the room.  Every member sat under the harsh circle of light so the Chairman could scrutinize every nuance and response in their faces as the discussion began.

The members were all leaders in their respective fields of expertise.  Their circles of power included leaders of industry, financial institutions and high level government officials.  There was not a center of influence that the Chairman had not penetrated with his moles and spies.  Each member was chosen based on his wealth and influence.  They were a ruthless and remorseless group of men and women. The only one to whom they would yield to was the Chairman.

For close to fifty years, the man simply known as the Chairman, directed the actions of a criminal empire. The chairman worked behind the scenes, pulling the strings and orchestrating events around the world to suit the needs of the committee. Nothing was taboo in the quest of riches and power. The chairman and the committee members were careful to never get their hands dirty. They had others in their employ for that.

The chairman and by proxy the committee had many tools in which they could employ to get what they wanted. Blackmail, extortion, kidnapping, and murder were just a few.

The chairman stepped into the room as his aide held the door open for him. He did not even pause to acknowledge the man as he walked briskly to the head of the table. His aide rushed ahead to pullout the chair for the man to take his seat as the door closed silently behind them.

The chairman ran his meetings with a no-nonsense attitude that seemed to be reflective of this room’s starkness and lack of decoration. This room was one of many around the world that the committee would meet in and decide the fates for thousands, if not millions.

The harsh light from above the chairman exposed a man in his mid-sixties, hardly a wrinkle on his face or a grey hair on his head.  He kept himself impeccably groomed and wore only the most expensive and tailored clothing.  His stature told all around him that he was powerful and dangerous.  No one knew his true identity, nor would he allow anyone to be on familiar terms with him.

Today, he was brooding. The others knew it. The chairman spoke in a deep baritone voice that sounded as though it came from the bottom of a deep well. “Last night I got a call from one my sources within the CIA. He informed me that the U.S. is going to use one of the new stealth recon birds to fly over one of our projects in China. This cannot be allowed to happen.

“Why don’t we just remove the air crew, sabotage the aircraft? That should be easy enough,” said one of the others.

A man wearing a General’s uniform of the US army spoke up with the answer to her proposal. “The entire unit and its aircrafts would most likely be in lockdown conditions. No calls in or out. The personal are sequestered on a separate side of whatever base they are using to stage their flight from, no visitors in or out,” he was loud enough for all to hear.

“Is there a way to corrupt the aircraft’s computers to force it to crash?” asked the chairman.

“It might prove easier to shoot them out of the sky,” said the general.

“Mr. Chairman, my company helped develop the software that the computers on the aircraft uses to control the various flight control surfaces. There might be a way to upload a virus while the aircraft is in flight. We would need to know certain mission aspects,” said another man further down the table.

“Mr. nine send me a list of what aspects you need and I will see that you get it.”

“Sir,” said another man sitting at the far end of the table. “One of my subsidiary companies made some of the hardware and other aircraft components. If Mr. Nine and myself were to review the technical data for the aircraft, we might be able to help increase any chances the Chinese have of intercepting and destroying the aircraft.”

“I will have that data sent to both of you by the close of business tomorrow. You will have four days to identify any weaknesses and get that data to our Chinese partners,” said the chairman. He continued after taking a sip of water. “We have invested millions of dollars. Part of that investment is in now in jeopardy of being exposed along with several other assets. Do not fail me,” he said as he leaned forward.

“Yes sir,” they both answered.

The meeting had lasted for almost another two hours. The chairman waited for the others to file out before he looked at his watch and saw that it was almost time to go.  Without asking, he knew that his driver, Robert, was bringing the car around. He pulled out his organizer and looked through the daily planner. There was one item remaining on his list of things to do before he left for his home. He lifted the phone and pressed the speed dial number for Allen Thorpe.

Allen Thorpe had been in the employ of the Chairman for the last 10 years at Fortress Network Security Systems. He was now a highly paid executive of the company during the day and in charge of the more illegal work done at night. The Fortress Network Security Systems Company was one of many fronts used by the Chairman and his committee.

 

The chairman waited patiently as halfway across the country in Colorado Springs, Colorado Allen Thorpe’s private cell phone rang.  Thorpe saw the identity of the caller, and turned to address the men in his office. “Gentlemen, we will need to continue this at a later time, thank-you for your time. Please see my secretary on the way out to reschedule a time for later today,” he said as he brought up some information on his computer.

When the door was shut he answered the phone “Mr. Chairman. It is a pleasure to hear from you, sir.”

“I see that there was another failure to download the weekly reports and file comparison of the project China 17 network. Have you identified the problem?” asked the Chairman as he checked off another item on his list.

Allen’s heart started to beat a little faster. “No Mr. Chairman. I have not,” he replied. “As I said in my latest report I have been able to send data to the network, I just have not been able to receive any data back.”

“What are your plans to remedy this situation?” asked the Chairman.

Allen took a moment to compose himself before giving his answer. “With the biannual system maintenance and updating coming, I will be sending one of the newer team members over to do the work. He will pull all the hard drives and replace them with newer ones that will have some new spyware embedded in the programming. The old hard drives will be searched on their return to this facility. My man will also look into why the server is not sending us the data. The replacement hard drives have already been modified and are awaiting shipment to our field office in the Philippines. From there, my operative will be smuggling them into China through the normal channels.”

“How soon will the shipment get to China?”

“The hard drives will be there in less than a week. The operative will be traveling with the cargo.”

“Do you have a time estimate as for how long it will take for the work to be done?

“Two weeks for the hard drive switch out, as for the problem with the server. That depends on what the problem is. I have no way of knowing,” answered Allen.

“Thank you Allen. Has then been any progress on the files you discovered in the last download you received from there?” the chairman asked, as again he checked off another item.

“No sir, I have team three looking into that sir,” said Allen. “They are currently working on it As soon as any progress is made I will forward a report to you.”

“Thank you Allen, I am looking forward to seeing that report,” said the chairman before he hung up the phone.

 

The chairman leaned back in his chair and steepled his fingers on his chest and thought about the events that led up to the situation at the Project China 17 site.

Since its inception, there have been people at the site that were in the employment of the chairman and his committee. Over the last two years he had noticed that his Chinese partner in this endeavor had been skimming a little off the top. The chairman had received confirmation of this, and in truth he had expected it. His spies had reported that larger amounts of money were not being reported or that the amounts being paid were not correct. Lately, however, his partner had gotten greedy.  The chairman’s spies also reported that items that could fetch millions of dollars on the black market were not being reported at all.

The chairman decided that he would have to send a very strong message to his other partners very soon.

 

 

The aircraft with her crew of two was soaring at mach 1 at 35,000 feet and rapidly climbing.  She was the newest stealth recon aircraft in the U.S. tactical air defense arsenal. She was painted a flat black; the only other colors were red and yellow for the warning and information signs on the aircraft. She was a XSR-28, part of the Advanced Airborne Reconnaissance System (AARS) program of loitering long-range strategic reconnaissance aircraft. Her job was to infiltrate contested airspace and carry a wide range of sensors with the ability to broadcast real time aerial reconnaissance information.  She had no offensive weapons; if she ran in to trouble, the pilot was to run away and call in the cavalry.

The aircraft was streaking in from the south, over the Yellow Sea, where the U.S. had permission from the Australians to launch aircraft.  She had departed at 0300 hours while the skies were still black.  There was a new moon, so the darkness seemed even deeper.  The jet refueled midway through its flight and soon they would decrease their speed when they came closer to the Chinese coastline, and the target site near Harbin in the north eastern part of China close to the border with Russia.

The pilot spoke, his voice muffled by the air mask. “Pit crew this is Speed Racer, we are feet dry and on profile, heading for the next way point over.”

A reply came from halfway around the world. The brass in the Pentagon and CIA were watching this from the control center in the basement of the Pentagon.  “Speed Racer, we copy feet dry and heading for the next way point. Crew Chief says to start rolling film now, over.”

The pilot spoke again. “Pit crew, we copy start rolling film now, out.”

The pilot was Commander Byron Atlas, call sign, Titan. He was a Naval Academy graduate. He had twelve kills to his credit before being picked for this new unit that was to set to test the new XSR-28 aircraft, when this mission came up. It was too good to pass up.  Byron was not a big man; he stood just less than 6 feet tall with a moderate build.  He always had a smile on his face and a deck of cards in one of his many pockets of his flight suit.

“What is the latest from home, Tuna?” His voice was easily heard over the steady yet slight roar of the engines. “How are your wife and my kids?”

Commander Jonathon Whale, call sign Tuna, slowly looked at his friend and chuckled as he spoke, “The same as yesterday Titan, the wife is still in a coma and your kids are still retarded.”  Tuna was Titan’s radar intercept officer and his job was to give Titan all the data he could so Titan could evade the enemy and live to fly again.

These two particular pilots had been paired together for nearly 4 years.  Both men were married with children.  Titan had two daughters while Tuna had two sons; the ages of the children were nearly the same. Tuna was the quintessential devoted dad, coaching his sons’ baseball teams before the war, dressing up for Halloween and hosting water balloon parties in the summer for the kids and parents as well.  He was especially looking forward to seeing the end of this mission, because he would be going home on leave for a few weeks.

The pretend hurt look on Titan’s face was hidden from view due to the air mask as he looked back at Tuna through a rearview mirror. “Now how can you say that about my kids?”

Both men started to laugh. Just then alarm buzzers started to go off, startling both men into action.

“Crap,” It was Tuna. “We are being painted,” then he added suddenly, “and jammed.” Tuna’s attention was split between the computer screen and the caution and warning board. More alarms started to go off. “What the…we have SAMs in the air.  I count six, no eight, no make that ten SAMS aft,” Tuna was cursing under his breath as he slapped the alarms to turn off the incessant beeping.

Titan’s voice was now starting to get excited. “Tuna, I’m going to full power and we are out of here. Pit Crew we have Mr. SAM in the air with us and we request a vector out of here.”

“Titan we got SAMs on both sides of us now.  The computer reads twelve on each side and they are tracking us. Radar is going south on us,” Tuna said as he twisted around in his confining seat looking for the tattletale signs of exhaust trails of the SAMs.

More alarms started to go off. Tuna twisted back and started slapping alarms, twisting dials, pushing buttons while analyzing the information on his computer screen.

“We have bandits in the air,” yelled Tuna. “We are burning through the jamming.”

Titan heard a burst of static and a very weak signal coming from Pit Crew. Titan grunted as he was jinking and juking the aircraft. He was seeking to break any radar lock the SAMs may have had.

“Tuna punchout a few flares,” said Titan.

Tuna rapidly deployed several flares and chafe from the dispenser located on the aft of the aircraft. “Six away.”

“Say again Pit Crew. Did not copy your last transmission, repeat, did not copy,” said Titan between grunts.

Tuna’s voice was starting to level out and slow down; he was getting himself under control. “Titan, we have, oh my God, 34 SAMs tracking us. Some of the SAMs are falling away. Radar and the computer say we have 24 MIG 71s arrayed in an arc directly in front of us. Make that 35, belay that, one more coming from the deck for 36. There has to be a base down there somewhere,” Tuna said between gasps as the twisted back and forth as the aircraft snapped from side to side.

“Speed racer, take a heading of 225 degrees and climb at max power, the Navy is vectoring in some help, over,” said the calm steady voice from Pit Crew.

“Pit crew we copy,” Titan said tersely. With one hand he reached for the throttles of the engines. His other hand yanked back hard on the flight control stick between his legs. Both Titan and Tuna grunted as they were slammed bask into their seats.

 

“Titan, take a look at the radar,” said Tuna.

“I am kinda busy right now. Can you give me the cliff notes?” asked Titan. Titan put the aircraft in a slow spin as it climbed.

“I have two groups of twelve and a third group of eleven aircrafts. Each group is circling over the same location,”

“Range and altitude?’ asked Titan.

“Fifty miles and closing, they’re at angels three and five,” replied Tuna.

“What in the hell are they doing there and why now?” asked Titan.

“Your guess is as good as mine, but I have to tell ya, I don’t like the looks of this one damn bit.”

“Me neither, hang on back there.”

 

A Chinese General sat calmly at the small table. “Lieutenant, what is happening now?” he asked as he knocked ash from his cigar into the cut crystal ashtray.

“Sir, I don’t know, our radar lost them when the aircraft went vertical. I am not sure about the SAMs,” said the Lieutenant, his voice cracking under the stress of being so near to the general.

“What about our fighters? Have they engaged the American aircraft?”

“No sir”, he said as he moved his left hand to the headset and pressed it tightly to his ear to help keep out any noise from the expected outburst from the general. “I have reports that the fighters are trying to engage now,” he said.

“At what altitude were our fighters waiting at?” asked the general.

“Sir, I believe they were that 30,000 feet in a holding pattern,” was the man’s reply.

“That idiot, he was instructed to keep his fighters at treetop level,” said the general as he ground his cigar out. “Get General Cho on the phone, now!” he screamed at the sergeant standing at the side of the room.

The sergeant ran over to the phone bank and picked one up at random. He spoke quietly, after a few seconds he handed his general the phone.

“General Cho, I want you to engage and destroy that American aircraft, now.” was all he said before tossing the phone back to the surprised sergeant.

 

Moments later, in a regional command center, which was built under an elementary school. A stunned Air Force General gawked at the phone that had started beeping at him, telling him that the call was over. “Order the fighters to engage and destroy the American,” he ordered. “Instruct the Tolis aircrafts that they are also to engage. I want to ensure that we destroy the Americans. This will be a great day for the Chinese military. We will swat the Americans from our skies as easily as we would swat the flies that annoy us,” He said making a speech for the men around him.

 

In the situation room at the Pentagon, Jack Boggs was sitting in one of the chairs around the center table. Jack Boggs, a married man in his early forties, had been at the Pentagon for nearly five years now as a Senior Intelligence Analyst and gave advice to the Joint Chiefs when called upon. Four of those years he had been working for the Chairman. He specialized in the Far East, specifically China. All he could think about was how were the people he was working for had planned to stop the flight. As he listened to the exchanges between Pit Crew and Speed Racer, he had to bow his head to keep from showing a grin that was spreading across his face.

 

In the airspace over China, the MIG fighters were closing in towards the Navy flyers at mach 2.  Cmdr. Atlas was trying to evade at mach 2 and was rapidly gaining both speed and altitude. The aircraft was now at 49,000 feet and at mach 2.5. Some of the SAMs were still narrowing the gap between them, just not as fast.  What had Titan worried was the arc of fighters he had to evade.  It was though his worst thoughts came to fruition when the MIG’s fired on them. Titan yanked back hard on the stick whipping the aircraft into a nose up profile, forcing the aircraft into a straight climb.

The XSR- 28 just cleared 79,000 feet at this altitude there is very little oxygen for the conventional jet engines to use.  The truly unique part of the XSR-28’s design was that it was part rocket.  It had oxygen sensors in the engine that would adapt and convert engine types automatically. When the aircraft climbed almost out of the earth’s atmosphere the air intake sealed closed and the 4 solid fuel rocket motors ignited hurtling the aircraft at a speed of mach 7.5 at an altitude of 95,000 feet. The SAMS and the conventional enemy fighters couldn’t reach her here.

Speed Racer very quickly out climbed her enemies and started to flee the fight.  It looked as though she just might escape unscathed, but on her descent, after evading the enemy one of the solid rocket motors failed. The insulation for the casing on the motor had developed a hairline crack. Heat poured through the minute crack and started to melt the casing of the motor.  As the heat built up, it began to weaken the frame of the aircraft causing the frame of the aircraft warp and buckle.  The subsequent buckling of the frame caused a hydraulic line to become severed thereby changing the aerodynamic profile of the aircraft.  When Speed Racer started its decent into a thicker atmosphere the aircraft developed a shudder. The vibrations from the shudder caused the fuel lines to rub against each other causing a leak into the engine compartment. The alarms started to wail again and the cockpit started to fill with a smell of scorched plastics.

“Tuna what the hell is going on back there?” said Titan as he was struggling with the plane to maintain an even flight path.

“I am showing hydraulic pressure loss inthe second stage system and engine fire in the number one engine. I getting caution and warning lights across the board,” responded Tuna, his voice was calm and cool not betraying his thoughts that they were in trouble again.

“Shutting down engine one now, any change in the fire Tuna?” asked Titan, his voice was strained as he fought for control of the aircraft.

“No good, still showing fire in the number one engine,” replied the Tuna grunting.

Titan spoke, “I’m going to pull the fire extinguisher for number one engine…now.  Any change in its status?”

Tuna was looking at the engine fire light and watched it flicker a few time before it finally went out. “Fire is out, I recommend sealing the intake.”

“Done,” said Titan as he flipped the switch to seal the intake.  “Are we in the clear to broadcast? We need to let Pit Crew know what happened to us.”

“Not yet, working on boosting the power to get a signal through,” was the response from Tuna.

As Titan and Tuna were hurtling high above China in a damaged aircraft, the committee’s Chinese’s partners had planned a mulit-layered trap for the XRS-28. Three Tolis air cargo airplanes had launch earlier that day each with a crew of six people and a payload of electronics and communications gear. Each of the planes was not a military aircraft and was a privately owned and operated aircraft. All the people aboard were civilians, hired to work for one of the many dummy corporations that the Committee funneled money through. Most of the men and women were mercenaries from around the globe. The pilots aboard the plane, closest to the U.S. recon jet, were South African and the four technicians in the rear of the aircraft were of Iranian and German descent.

Hans looked at the computer screen and tried to find the right frequency that would allow him to connect with the XSR-28’s onboard computers.  He was tasked with uploading new computer files infected with a virus that would disable the navigation systems of the stealth.  Another member, Ali was searching for a way to have the aircraft dump its fuel and Manfred would attempt to hack into the main system to extract the images the aircraft had taken so far.  Mo was occupied with the targeting laser to paint the aircraft for the second group of SAMs.

Hans, like the rest of his team, had at one time studied at various universities within the U.S. and then went back to his home country to find work. The problem was that there were not a lot of jobs that demanded his skills outside of the U.S.  The United States has strict import and export laws which each of their respective countries after various hostilities emerged and war became imminent.  The ramifications were that their countrymen suffered. Hans and his team felt no remorse in punishing the country that educated them so well, if they could strike a blow against the United States, so much the better.

Hans shouted, “I have the signal. Sending the key …accepted. I am in. Uploading virus programs now.”

The pilot of the Tolis looked back at him and said, “It bloody took you long enough.”

 

The Chairman had summoned the Committee to return to the office building in which they developed a plan to take down the American reconnaissance jet.  The Committee members had adjourned once again to the grey conference room and were seated around the glass top table.  A plasma screen mounted on the wall, showed a satellite feed of the impending encounter.  Each member quietly watched the blips representing the XRS and the MIGs close the distance to each other.  The Chairman whispered to the man next to him, and within moments there was faint static.  Everyone in the room was now privy to the cockpit conversations between Commanders Atlas and Whale and the command at the Pentagon.

 

“Pit crew this is Speed Racer, come in over,” said Titan

“Go Speed Racer, over.”

“We are in a bad spot. Engine one went down due to a fire. The aircraft has a nasty shudder. We also lost second stage hydraulics and are having a devil of a time maintaining a level flight path and we are locked into a wide banking turn to port,” said Tuna.

Just then the alarm for the laser detection went off.

“Shit!  We are being painted again!” yelled Tuna.

As if things could not get worse, the aircraft unexpectedly flipped over on to its back startling both Titan and Tuna. The upside down fliers noticed their crippled plane had begun to dump fuel and the onboard navigation system started to go haywire, and then just went dead. They had no control over their own plane; she was flying like a remote control drone and they were there for the ride.

 

People in the situation room in the basement of the Pentagon just stared at their monitors, stunned at the events which were unfolding in the Chinese skies.  The brass at the Pentagon heard the pilot’s conversations and knew that the pilots were in serious trouble.  People started shouting, each wanting answers.

“What the hell was going on up there?” asked one man.

“Who is in control of the plane?” asked a woman.

One of the technicians in the room noticed that the aircrafts’ onboard computers were getting an upload of an unknown program. “Shit, someone has gotten into the onboard systems,” the technician shouted to the observation platform above the situation room. “They’re trying to bring down the aircraft!”

In the situation room the staggered audience heard Tuna yell a second time. “We are being painted again!”   After that, the radio transmission was filled with yells and shouts as the pilots fought the aircraft to no avail.  It was at that moment they lost telemetry and began to hear the telltale hiss of static, the aircraft was being jammed again.

Jack Boggs rose from the table and exited the control room.  There was so much chaos in the room; his presence would not be missed.  Jack left the room shaking his head wondering where he could buy a prepaid cell phone.  He needed to inform his contact to the chairman that the plan was proceeding as expected.

 

Titan and Tuna were now in a flat spin, it was as if they were in a centrifuge. They were pinned to the side of the cockpit. Both men were sweating profusely in the cool air inside the cockpit. Titan fought to no avail to apply full opposite rudder against the rotation and tried to kill the throttle to recover from the spin.  They were now at a height of 60,590 feet and a speed of mach 2.5 when the airbrakes engaged.  They painfully slammed forward in to their harness hard enough to break ribs but their necks were saved from breaking due to a special neck and head restraint. They were rapidly slowing down and losing altitude and the shudder was getting worse. The aircraft felt and sounded as if it were being attacked by jackhammers.

“Titan can you hear me?” yelled Tuna over the deafening noise.

“Yeah, barely,” yelled back Titan.

“Someone is playing with the computers.”

“What?” yelled Titan.

“Someone is playing with the computers,” repeated Tuna.

“What do you mean?”

“Someone is in the process of uploading a series of programs and trying to download the photos now,”

“Can you stop them?” asked Titan.

“Not the uploaded programs, but as for the downloading I’ve cut the cables to the hard drives. Can you fly this thing without the computers?”

“I have only done it in the simulator and at subsonic speed.

“Get ready, when this bird goes subsonic I am going to kill the generators and you’ll have to get us down fast.”

 

On the Tolis air cargo plane, the mercenaries were busy trying to get every fragment of information out of the doomed U.S. aircraft before they blew it out of the air. They were laughing as they listened to the pilots shouting and cursing before they started to jam them again.  The mercenaries were confident that they had the American pilots where they wanted them.  The radar scope next to Hans should have shown four blips suddenly appear on the screen except for the fact that the blips were lost in the ground clutter and were absorbing the radar waves. The four radar points that went unregistered split into twelve; the cavalry was coming and by all intents and purposes were coming in invisible to the members on the Tolis.

 

Les Rhine was the Commanding Officer of the Marine squadron VMFA-414, the fabled Death’s Doormen. They were coming in screaming at tree top level, deceiving the Chinese radar, hoping the clutter would hide their arrival. They were flying F-48A’s, fixed wing fighters; small and maneuverable, resembling their earlier predecessor the Hornet.

When Speed Racer put out the call for help, these men were already in the air and had just topped off their tanks. An Air Force RFC-21, developed as a radar and flight controller, tasked the Death’s Doormen with the mission to get in there to help save Speed Racer’s ass from the fire. The people at the Pentagon informed the crew aboard the RFC-21, dubbed Big Bubba, that Speed Racer was being jammed and that the same time an unfriendly source was trying to upload her files into enemy hands.

“Alright Doormen, you heard the man, we have a friendly that needs some help and by God we’re going to give him all the help we can,” said Les to his men.

 

“This is Big Bubba calling Junior and Mother, are you receiving me,” said the pilot.

“Junior reads you,” replied a male voice.

“This is Mother, we read you also,” came a female voice.

“Ah mother, what a wonderful woman,” said the pilot of big bubba to his co-pilot off the radio.

“Forget it John, she has a date with Slim when we get back to the barn,” said the co-pilot.

“Have you guys got a fix on the jamming and the uploading yet?” the pilot called out to the men in cargo area of his aircraft.

One of the air force personnel answered back. “We need a few more seconds.”

“Mother calling big bubba and junior. We have our fix, data being sent now,” said the disembodied female voice.

“Show off,” said the pilot of big bubba, again off the radio.

“We have their data,” said one of the technicians.

“Just got junior’s data also,” said another.

“When we have our angle of direction, send it to mother and junior. Then send in the Doormen,” said the pilot to the crew.

 

“Death’s Doormen copies Bubba,” said Les Rhine. “Alright boys, my section is going for the Tolis. I want the rest of you animals to be on the lookout for her fighter cover,” Les Rhine said as he and his section split off from his squadron and banked hard left.  The remaining eight fighters were less than ten miles from the target as the Tolis slowly tooled around in a large circular pattern in the air at 30,000 feet.

 

Aboard the XSR, Titan and Tuna had developed a plan to gain control of their jet and were moments away from executing their plan.

“On my mark Titan, I am killing the generators, three, two, one, mark,” Tuna popped the circuit breakers for the generators and shutdown the four onboard computers. “Do you pilot magic Titan,” he added to support his friend.

“Damn, I am fresh out of virgins,” Titan said as he successfully brought the aircraft out of its spin after a few moments, the shudder and the noise slackened as the aircraft dropped below subsonic speed.

 

“What the hell!” yelled Hans at the computer screen, his cigarette still hanging from his lip?

“What just happened?” asked Manfred and Ali at the same time.

Both of them stared at Hans as he started to pound on his computer.  Everyone aboard the Tolis wore the same shocked expression in response to what Tuna had just done.  Never did they think the U.S. pilots could have regained control of the bird.  Jerry White, one of the pilots of the Tolis, turned to face aft and find out what had happened.  He never got the chance.

 

Les Rhine waited until his aircraft was almost directly under the Tolis. “Going vertical,” Les said as he yanked back hard send his aircraft into a climb. “Go to full military power,” Les slid the throttles forward. The sudden surge of power brought him back to his childhood.

The thrill of speed and the freedom of flight, he discovered both at a state fair. His father was sitting next to him as he rode the roller coaster over and over. A young Les yelling at the top of his lungs, “This is the greatest, dad.” The rush of the wind in his ears and the push and pull as the roller coaster climbed and fell was thrilling; at that moment in time he found his true love.

Les’s aircraft jumped from treetop level to 5,000 feet in a matter of heartbeats. He flipped the switch for his heat seeking missiles on and got a lock tone immediately. The division was right behind him in the climb. With the lock tone blaring Les thumbed the firing stud and the missile was away.

“Fox one away,” Les said with a predatory smile spreading across his mouth as he watched his missile streak through the sky towards the wing heading for the under slung engine exhaust of the Tolis. The missile detonated upon impact, shearing off the wing and causing a succession of explosions which ultimately blew the Tolis to bits. Les Rhines and his division were leveling out and turning away from the large blossoming fire ball. Les asked “Any fighters providing cover for this thing?” No one spoke. “Section four, form up on Speed Racer and give him an escort home.” He got a double click in response.

“Hunter this is Klingon,” said the youngest pilot of the squadron.

“Go Klingon,” responded Les.

“I just flew over two SAM sites that are not radiating.”

“Form up on Klingon, he is leading the way,” said Les.

“This is Klingon, I have the lead,” he said as he moved up to take the position.

The F-48A’s banked hard to the right, standing the aircrafts on their wings as they dived for the deck as they turned.

“We are lined up on the ground targets and closing,” Klingon said as he settled his aircraft down for the strafing run.

Looking at his gun camera screen, Klingon could see the radar truck that would control the SAMs. When his crosshairs merged with the target he pressed the trigger and a stream of 100 armor piercing high explosive rounds punched through the truck with a devastating outcome.

The rest of the division followed suit. Each pilot was engaging a different target. The radio was filled with chatter as commits went back and forth.

“Did you see the stockpile go up?” said one of the pilots

“Scratch one launcher and crew,” said another.

“Another launcher up in smoke,”

The F-48A’s continued on to the second group of SAMs. In all six SAM launchers, two radar control trucks, and several crews were obliterated.

 

Tuna reset the circuit breakers for the generators. He typed as fast as he could as power returned to the systems. “Titan, I reset the circuit breakers but kept the ones for the radios pulled. Now find a place to land this hunk of junk,”

Titan and Tuna knew that their damaged aircraft was unable to return to the base in Australia or able to land on a carrier that might be nearby.  They knew that they had to eject.

“Tuna there’s no place to land this thing. We are going to have to punch-out,” Titan said, grunting through his pain.

“Just great.  I’m stowing the data discs under my seat. Same thing with my books, charts and maps. I’ll set the charges for 10 seconds to blow after we punch-out.”

“Agreed. We ride the silk when we hit 2000 feet,” said Titan

“Agreed, and I just want to tell you I truly hate punching out,” replied Tuna.

“Me too,” echoed Titan.

The pilots had readied themselves, they went through the checklist for ejection by memory and agreed on three that they would eject.  On three Commander Atlas reached down and grabbed the tee handle located between his legs. Explosive bolts blew the canopy up from the aircraft. The speed of the aircraft whipped the canopy away. The roar of the one good engine and the wind blasted the crew. Tuna counted to two in his head and his seat became a rocket. A second later Titan’s seat did the same. Both men watched as their aircraft continued on its doomed flight.

Each knew the dangers they would face on the ride back down to earth.  They each prayed that they wouldn’t be spotted by snipers and shot and killed before they hit the ground.  Mentally they each ran through similar scenarios of what they might encounter, hostile villagers, enemy troops, unknown terrain, unexploded ordinance, land mines and who knows what else.

Commanders Whale and Atlas both said silent prayers as they pulled the cords to release their parachutes.  There they seemed to hang in the air, like giant white targets for the target practice.  They drifted over the tree tops and attempted to maneuver themselves toward a more advantageous landing site.  Commander Whale thought briefly of his wife Jill and the kids and hoped that he’d live to make it back for the leave he was scheduled to take.

Stan Grossman was in section four, one mile away when he saw Titan and Tuna punch-out.  “Hunter this is G-man, over.”

“Go G-man,” replied Les.

“They punched out, I have two good chutes, request to linger ‘till they are down and we can contact them,” G-man said as he and his section banked to avoid the parachutes.

“Granted but keep an eye on your fuel.”

It was sunrise and Stan watched from afar as the two fliers sailed toward the earth slowly.  Once they were within 50 feet of the tree tops, Stan bugged out to rejoin the remainder of the squadron in section four.  He radioed in the coordinates of the downed pilots in case their radios had been damaged.

Titan and Tuna were in terrible shape when they ejected from their plane. Their bodies had just been through a tremendous amount of punishment thus far and they still had to negotiate landing safely in a forest with a parachute. Both men mercifully passed out after they hit the trees.

 

The Chinese were scrambling around in their control centers trying to make heads or tails of the sudden array of aircraft and anti-aircraft missiles that seemed to come from nowhere. The Chinese Air Force was slow to react to the sudden appearance of the XSR-28.  The incursion of Chinese airspace by the fighters from VMFA-414 caused the Peoples Air Force to come alive.

“Death’s Doormen this is Big Bubba, over.”

“Go Bubba,” said Hunter.

“We show bandits inbound to you on a heading of 248 magnetic.  Suggest that you boys take a heading of 078 at angles 5 and refuel in route back to the barn. We have other guests coming to the party to cover your exit, over.”

“Big Bubba please be advised that Speed Racer had to punch out and we have visuals of two, repeat two good chutes.  Sending landing data on side channel now, over.”

After a brief pause, “Big Bubba copies and we have the data, Big Bubba out.”

It would now be up to a special ops team to extract the two pilots from the Chinese forest.  The Chinese armed forces were on high alert due to the massive incursion into their airspace.  They would be looking for everything and anything that moved within their borders that was the least bit suspicious making the extraction of the pilots and the flight data tricky.

 

Half a world away back in Virginia, Jack Boggs stepped off of the Metro at the Crystal City Mall Metro stop. He walked up the stairs to the mall proper and looked at the directory for a Radio Shack or some other store that might sell prepaid cell phones. He found what he was looking for; the store was just around the corner from where he stood now. Jack strode into the store, selected an inexpensive phone and paid cash for his purchase. Jack then went to the top floor of the parking garage to make the call to his handler.

PROLOGUE

 

 

 Morning Dawn was no longer the simple minded creature that had spent the first fifty years of her life after her birth wondering around various solar systems with the other young swars of her pod. 102 years ago, she bonded for the first time with another being and her world expanded on a geometric scale. Higher brain functions and emotions along with certain abilities had been opened to her.

In her 102 years of bonded life she had grown and been grafted into a corvette. She had over the years been bonded to six different beings that she called pilot, yet the other living beings dwelling inside her called her bonded partner captain.

Morning Dawn felt the searing pain as her skin was burned, peeled and blistered when many smaller multi color explosions dotted the ship’s surface, her flesh, while the larger and heavily armed Bortanis Jaston class destroyer bore down on her. Captain Figstrex, Morning Dawn’s commander, hoped that he and Morning Dawn could somehow outmaneuver his enemy and gain time to repair his Bortanis Narda class Corvette before it took too much more damage.  Both ships were hurtling through space, with the Morning Dawn’s precious cargo of experimental nanites; the prize for the victor.  Figstrex continued to watch his radar screen and saw that the two ships seemed to be pulling away from each other ever so slightly.  He gave a small flick of his tail in satisfaction.

Captain Figstrex had heard the rumors, read the reports, and even seen the tabloids but he dismissed them as faulty or just wrong. Many times, when Morning Dawn would in a spaceport taking on supplies and cargo, he and other commanders would meet aboard one another’s ship to talk, and dine. The crews were encouraged to mingle. It was one of these gathering over two solar years ago that he and the rest were told of the scandal that had shaken the royal caste.

There can be only one King and one Queen. One will be of royal blood and the other will be from any of the other castes. By an ancient decree the royal family can only have one offspring. Any other offspring born after the first heir were to be killed.

Apparently this decree was not enforced, if it had been then the civil war would not have ever come to be and the Bortanis Empire would still be whole.

“Captain, the engines are now complete and coming online. I’m just not sure how long they will last without the rear singularity projector,” said Cartoov the ship’s caretaker. She had more than a touch of concern in her voice as she spoke.  She knew that the destroyer was more powerful and their smaller corvette was moderately damaged, at this rate she was unsure if they could keep up with the repairs.  If only they could get to a more complete level of repair, they just might escape.

The captain swiveled his chair to face the being that had addressed him. “Thank you Cartoov.”  The captain looked intently into his ship’s caretaker deep purple eyes. Cartoov bowed low casting her eyes to the floor, as a sign of respect.  The cream-colored, short, silky fur on her head moved ever so gently in unison with her movement.  She felt his eyes on her while she was bowed.  She went back to her seat and twitched her tail back and forth in agitation.

The captain addressed the ship directly, “Morning Dawn, how are the repairs coming along?” he asked.

“Captain Figstrex, I have used a significant portion of my energy stores to effect and complete the growth of the new engines. To help in this endeavor I had to restrict many of my secondary systems down to their minimums, just to maintain our speed during the growth cycle. Repairs of all non-essentials were halted as a result.”

Cartoov spoke as she spun her chair around to face her console. “What about primary offensive weapons?” she asked the ship.

Morning Dawn answered her with more bad news. “Since the death of Jorbor and the destruction of the weapons hall, I have lost the use of all my offensive weapons. I still have my defensive weapons, which are currently at 67 percent. My nanites are currently working on bringing the rear singularity projector to operational status. Time estimate for completion is ten minutes.”

The captain swished his tail in frustration, accidentally hitting the base of his swivel chair causing a clinking sound when his poison tipped spine on the end hit the metal base of the command chair.  The captain felt hurt in both of his hearts and his facial expressions showed his feelings of loss. “Jorbor will be dearly missed. His clan was an old and noble one.  He was a knowledge keeper and a clan elder. He was also a dear friend,” Figstrex said to the bridge crew.

“Thank-you Morning Dawn, Motox, did you get a message out in time?” asked the captain turning to face his most junior officer on the bridge.

The young Bortanisian male tail’s was twitching as fast as his two hearts were beating, his head hung down not in respect but in shame. “Sir, that is unknown at this time. Our communications organs and their supporting hardware were the first to be targeted and destroyed.”

At that moment all the Bortanisians felt and heard the ship start to hum softly and gently as the new and larger engines started to come to life and add their thrust to the ship’s forward acceleration. Doovin quickly looked down at his console. Using a very rare talent he grazed his hand across the panel, communicating partially telepathically with the ship.  He requested data and in a few moments had his answers.  He read over the results and communicated the information to the captain. “Captain, we are currently moving away from the destroyer and will be out of her weapons range in a little more than two hours. That is unless they too have access to the growing matrix and can grow faster engines.”

“Thank you Doovin, but I doubt that they were able to get anything from the matrix for the past two years. Morning Dawn, how soon will you be able to bring up the hyperspace drives?” asked the captain as he spun back to face the view screen.

Morning Dawn responded with surprise in her voice. “Six hours sir, I would not recommend doing that; the destroyer, Swift Strike, would just follow us in. Then there is the amplification effect on weapons and their force.”

“Thank-you Morning Dawn, I do indeed know that and, I am counting on that.” said the captain cryptically.

Suddenly the ship lurched as it was hit by a large blast from the destroyer and both the captain and Morning Dawn screamed out in agony. Alarms were ringing and the people working at different stations across the ship were thrown about like discarded toys. Cartoov and Doovin, climbed back into their chairs. Cartoov immediately began working on quieting the alarms while Doovin made a damage report and dispatched repair crews and nanites that were left.

“Captain, we’re venting air, plasma, and fluids. I am not receiving reports from the engine room one a or b. I have sent the nanites to repair hull breaches on decks nine and ten. I have power fluctuations; we may lose power and gravity soon. I would suggest that all personnel put on their hard suits just in case the worst happens.”

The captain by now had regained some of his composure after the initial moment of pain and was dragging himself back into his chair. The Captain and the ship were linked together both physically and mentally. “Yes.  I want all personnel to don their hard suits.  I want us prepared. Doovin send someone to check engine coolant systems, I’m starting to get warm,” Captain Figstrex unlinked himself from the ship by removing the various cables which allowed him to be as one with the ship. For a moment he felt a sense of vertigo but before long he regained his own sense of equilibrium. Cartoov, knowing that the process could be physically challenging and disorientating, rushed over to help her captain.

She helped him stand upright and assisted him into his hard suit.  Her hearts were racing as she reached out and stroked his downy soft red fur with her claws. The others on the bridge paid the pair no attention. Now was the time, as there could not be another chance. “I just thought that you should know that I have loved you since the first day I reported to this ship,” she whispered into his ear.

Captain Figstrex purred softly and whispered back to her. “And I you, now go. If we can get away, I promise you a life together.” Cartoov smiled at him and the two looked briefly into each other’s eyes.  She lowered her eyes demurely and went back to her station to assist in the repairs. The Captain completed making the necessary cable connections between his suit and his body.  He then asked the ship. “What else was damaged in that last hit?”

“The primary and secondary power runs and distribution nets. Tertiary power run and distribution net will not take the strain of the load for long,” She answered aloud but continued in his head, “Took you long enough to see her love for you.

Shut-up ship.

With the connections between the suit and his body done, he sat back in his command chair as it’s automatically extended cables to connect with him right thru the suit and into his flesh.  “Will it hold out long enough for the primary power runs and the network to be repaired?” The captain had another bout of vertigo as his mind merged with that of the ship.

“Yes.”

“Repair the power runs and the network and then work on the breaches,” ordered the captain. “Motox, tell all personnel to report to the bridge. We need to save as much energy as we can. Once we verified all surviving crew members are here I want to shut down all non-essential sections of the ship that we can. We’ll give the engines all the power we have to get out of their firing range.”

Within seconds, Motox was on the ships internal communication system passing the captain’s orders throughout the ship. Minutes later, the bridge began to grow crowded as the remaining personnel gathered.

While he waited for all the personnel still alive to be assembled on the deck of the Bridge, he used the ship’s sensors as he would use his own eyes to look throughout the ship. He saw the dead bodies of his crew, some at their work stations, others just lying where they ended up. The captain looked over the gathered males, females and the neuters that had assembled on the bridge. The ship was repairing itself as rapidly as it could.  With each new repair begun and completed, the pain he felt within him subsided more and more. As captain, he had the duty and honor to bond and form a symbiotic relationship with his vessel.  Morning Dawn had engaged her damping circuits to keep the worst of the pain from reaching the captain. “Captain, my nanites have repaired the primary power run and the primary distribution network and have begun to repair the larger breaches first. We can have them sealed up in ten to fifteen minutes. With the strain on the power distribution lessened we will now be out of their firing range in one hour and fifteen minutes. The rear singularity projector is now up and ready.”

“That is good news Morning Dawn,” replied the captain.

The captain and his crew were now in a better tactical position now that the projector was operable.  The rear singularity was absorbing all the power from the incoming fire and morning dawn was using this same power to repair herself.  Morning Dawn had split the incoming power to recharge her stores and to make her repairs.

“Captain, I will soon be able to engage the hyperspace drives, what destination shall I chart?” the ship asked.

Captain Figstrex disconnected himself from the ship and walked to the star map chamber. There, with his fellow officers, he chose a small blue and green planet. It was circling a yellow star. The preliminary data told him that this small planet had the necessary components to sustain life. “Here, morning dawn!” he said touching the screen with one of the flexible metal claws on his gloved hand.

With his officer corps gathered he told them of his plan. There was no debate, he was the captain, and he knew the risks, he also knew the rewards.

The officers knew that without support from any other ship and with the destroyer still behind them it was their only and best chance to escape.  Or it could also spell their doom.  It was a calculated risk.  Either choice was better than being run down and finally obliterated by the destroyer.  The officers all nodded silently.  The crew walked back to their stations on the bridge while the captain seated himself in his command chair. The Command Staff initiated the process for the jump to hyperspace. On the signal from Captain Figstrex, Morning Dawn began to gradually decrease her speed. To help deceive the destroyer she vented plasma and air as if she had really suffered an engine failure. The ruse appeared to be working, as the destroyer stopped firing and maneuvered to initiate a boarding action with the Morning Dawn to seize her precious cargo.

The Captain and his crew had prepared for the worst as Morning Dawn initiated their entrance into hyperspace.  Each member of the crew had prepared a short message for their clans, should the ship be killed and later found. Once the messages were recorded, the crew strapped themselves into temporary crash seats which had been thermally bonded to the deck of the bridge as an emergency measure. Doothin was intently looking at the readouts from the rear sensors. “Captain, the Swift Strike is closing on us now,” he said, his claws clacking on the metal edge of the console, and his tail rapidly swishing back and forth in agitation.

“Okay Morning Dawn. You may begin.” said the Captain

Over 2000 kilometers away, and directly in front of the smaller ship, a small vortex of energy was forming. The vortex started to grow and widen as Morning Dawn was quickly approaching it in her bid for escape.

“Captain, Swift Strike must have cut secondary systems to the bare minimums. Look at the increase in her speed.”

With more energy for the engines to use, Swift Strike accelerated towards the vortex that the corvette had made in hopes of being pulled along into hyperspace, without having to use any its own energy to follow its prey. Morning Dawn entered the energy vortex followed by Swift Strike but just as the front of the Swift Strike entered the event horizon, the jump was aborted by Morning Dawn.

The energy used to create the vortex was immense.  Ordinarily, it would dissipate over time – but when Morning Down aborted her jump midway, the energy was released with catastrophic effect. The resulting display looked like a ring of light surrounding the destroyer.  It first flared and then contracted around the enemy ship. Arcs of power could be seen playing over the doomed vessel’s surface as the destroyer’s shield generators exploded.

Once the shields went down, the ring of energy and light made direct contact with the destroyer.

She no longer had shields, and her fore and aft singularities were never meant to handle that much raw power. The singularities were fried in an instant as they were forced to absorb too much energy all at once. The destroyer was more sliced than broke in two, and then exploded in a bright and brilliant fireball.

The death of the destroyer in that explosion had an unexpected affect; it reopened that end of that vortex for the jump to hyperspace sucking sections of the doomed ship into the tunnel. That release of energy raced through the jump tunnel and slammed into Morning Dawn. The energy of the explosion was magnified by the properties of the tunnel used to get into hyperspace.

The first to hit the Morning Dawn was the raw energy. Her aft sections were bathed in what could only be described as lightning. Morning Dawn changed her aspect while trying to lessen the damage to her aft section.

Debris flung from the doomed destroyer was next to slam into hull of the now badly-wounded Morning Dawn. The force of the impacts and the resulting internal explosions threw the corvette repeatedly into the sides of the swirling jump tunnel. The sides of the jump tunnel were substantially more than just multi-colored light, it had substance. Each collision did sever damage to the ship and destabilized the jump tunnel.

Morning Dawn started to tumble about in the tunnel. The ship was in agony, as was the captain. Inside his helmet he could see the list of damages displayed on the left side of his helmet’s face-plate. The right side of his face-plate showed a wireframe picture of the ship. Some sections were green, blue, or yellow, while others glowed red. The sections of the ship that held the engines were a dull, ominous black.

Internal communications were down. He could feel that the bridge of Morning Dawn had lost its gravity. Captain Figstrex knew without asking that Morning Dawn had once again cut in her damping circuits to lessen the pain, for if she had not he would be on the floor, raving in the pain he would have felt. Again using the ships sensors as his eyes and ears, he looked through the ship. When he made his way to the engine rooms he thought he had gone both blind and deaf, until the wall of the jump tunnel can into view. There, trailing just a few short meters behind was a large piece of his ship. The Captain disengaged himself from the sensors.

Mornings Dawn was now tumbling towards the exit vortex at a high rate of speed. The trailing aft section was doing the same. Once free of the Tunnel the Captain corrected for the tumble and brought the ship in line with the planet using just her thrusters.

The bridge still had air, so the captain opened his face-plate. The others did likewise. “We have lost our main engines and that part of the ship now trails behind us.  I hope to use this small moon to catch us in its gravity well, while we head for the planet. Cartoov, I want you and Doovin to get as many of our people into the shuttles as fast as you can. I want the shuttles to follow the ship in.”

“What about the cargo that was being carried on the shuttles?” asked Cartoov.

“Three of the shuttles have already been taken care of. The cargo has been stored in the medical bay for now,” said one of the others.

“Time is not on our side. Mornings Dawn can you hear me?”

There was a long slow pause. “Yes Captain, I have moved my nanites in closure to the core of the ship. Some of my nanites are on the free floating aft section. That section’s trajectory will have it collide with the dark side of that moon.

Doovin and the other personnel left for the shuttle bay, leaving Cartoov alone with the Captain. Cartoov made her way to her Captain. “When do you want us to abandon the ship?” she asked as the Captain was typing some commands into the keyboard built into the arms of his command chair.

The Captain looked into her eyes. “On my order and not before, now get the crew to the shuttles and start prepping and wait for my order to abandon ship. With any luck we will see each other once we are on the ground.”

Morning Dawn started to shake as she started to descend into the planet’s atmosphere. Cartoov reached out to her captain as he reached out for her. They muzzled for a short time. Their embrace was cut short when the ship was rocked by a small explosion. The ship and the captain again screamed in agony.

Captain Figstrex collapsed to his knees. Cartoov helped her captain back into his chair. Through his clenched teeth he told Cartoov to get to the shuttles as time was running out. Cartoov turned and fled the bridge for the safety of one of the shuttles.

Morning Dawn’s voice cut through the pain the captain was feeling. “I’m sorry captain, that last explosion took out my damping circuits. There is nothing I can do to help you. I cannot sever our bond, and you cannot steer me without my help.”

Then Morning Dawn was rocked by another large explosion and then by a series of smaller ones. The captain was writhing and wailing in pain. His right hand pressed the execute button as he fought through the agony of experiencing the ship’s damage as pain. A pain the likes of which he had never experienced before.

The crew ran through the ship’s corridors, they had to leap over wreckage, dodge arcing power feeds. Their mad scramble had them ducking white hot plasma leaks. They even stumbled over the bodies of their fallen shipmates.

Three times the escaping crew had to turn around and seek an alternate route to the shuttle bay. Corridors were clogged with wreckage as others were collapsed. Not every crew member made it from the bridge. Motox was crushed beneath a support beam. Two more died and several more were wounded as an explosion sent shrapnel flying through the corridor. Another was burned alive as a plasma line exploded directly beside him.

Power fluctuations that affected the gravity emitters and gave the light bars a strobe effect, that along with clouds of vapors and smoke. The groaning and shuddering of the ship only added to the horror of the crew.

Doovin was screaming over the intra-suit communication system, encouraging, cajoling, urging, and begging the rest to continue towards the shuttle bay.

Cartoov wept as she ran through the corridors of Morning Dawn. The tears glistened on her facial fur. She listened as Doovin pushed the crew ever towards the shuttle bay in one ear. She could hear the screams of pure agony coming from the Morning Dawn and the male she loved, her captain, in the other.

Doovin slammed in gloved palm onto the open button for the hatch to the shuttle bay and directed the survivors to the three closest shuttles. He understood that that splitting up the crew greatly increased their chances of survival on the planet with the emergency supplies stored on them.

Doovin waited at the hatch of the shuttle bay for as long as he could for Cartoov to appear. The crew ran, limped, shuffled and helped each other onto the shuttles. The first two shuttles were already sealed up. The hull of the ship groaned again.

Another explosion rocked the ship. The deck plating buckled cutting the power to half of the shuttle bay. Doovin ran flatout for the third shuttle in the line. The light bars of the shuttle bay flickered off, plunging the entire bay in total darkness. The light bars flared back on. Some of the light bars exploded, raining down pieces from above.

The buckling of the deck plating cut the power to the maglocks to the first two shuttles and the gravity emitters for that half of the bay. The shuttles slowly drifted off the deck and towards the ceiling. Fuel lines and coolant lines running to the shuttles were pulled taunt. The fuel lines were the first to snap. Floating green spheres of fuel started to spread out across the bay. The loss of power kept more from gushing out from the pumps.

The coolant lines also reached their breaking point. The lines snapped with an audible crack. A small blue haze enveloped one part of the bay as the deadly mix of chemicals sprayed out of the lines nearest the pumps.

It was a matter of when and not if, the fuel and the coolant combine the resultant explosion would be cataclysmic.

Doovin’s momentum kept him moving forward but due to the loss of gravity he was also moving up as he headed towards the shuttle, until he crossed into the field of the gravity emitter that was still working. He crashed back to the deck from about 30 feet. The hard suit threw off his balance and he landed awkwardly, breaking his right leg. Pain forced him to claw his way towards the remaining grounded shuttle. Other crew members having seen his fall rushed out of the shuttle and dragged him inside.

Cartoov slowed to a stop as she came to the hatch Doovin had waited at. Her heavy panting was causing the faceplate of her helmet to fog as the air system of her suit fought it. She reached up to shut off the channel that allowed her to listen to her captain and the ship. The captain was no longer screaming, he was shrieking. The pain he shared with the ship through his bond had driven him insane. “I’m sorry my love,” she said as the channel went silent.

She slapped the open button for the hatch and looked upon a scene of chaos. Two shuttles were bumping the ceiling. Floating green globs fuel and the unmistakable blue haze of coolant were spreading out. Pieces of the exploded light bars were hovering in the air. With the cries of the wounded still coming through her communication system she took a step back deeper into the corridor.

Cartoov shut the hatch and ran for the other hatch just down the corridor. She got there in less than ten seconds. She struck the open button with enough force that the button became stuck but the hatch opened. She scrambled for the nearest shuttle. It was the forth shuttle and it was still loaded with some of the precious cargo. Cartoov open its hatch and stepped in. she had just managed to seal the hatch manually when the rest of the gravity emitters failed in the bay. Hand over hand she pulled herself up to the cockpit. As she was struggling with the pilots harness, and doing an emergency startup, her world went bright white then black.

Captain Figstrex was struggling just to breathe, his pain was that immense. He thrashed at the chair’s armrest. His legs kicking and stomping the deck of the bridge, the captain’s tail was whipping wildly around behind him, the sounds of the tail striking everything within reach was muted by the suit. Morning Dawn and her captain felt the explosion of the fuel and the coolant in the shuttle bay. Somewhere from deep inside himself Captain Figstrex registered the death of the Cartoov that he had fallen in love with all these many years. He lurched forward out of his chair from the massive amount of pain from the shuttle bay explosion. The searing pain from the re-entry into a planet’s atmosphere wracked his body and mind. It was the emotional loss of Cartoov that caused him to stumble and fall forward, his head catching on the corner of the helmsmen’s console. The force and the momentum of the fall violently twisted the Captains neck, snapping it.

With the death of her Captain, Morning Dawn had moments before she would revert to her basic AI and her own unaugmented intelligence and plummeted to the planet with limited control. A moment was a long time for an AI that could do a thousand trillion computations in one second. Those moments were all she needed to set her plans in motion.