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Chapter 5: Operation Black Knight
Schmidt


“Suicide mission my ass!” exclaimed Richards. “We’ve been through way worse before, haven’t we?” he said while nodding at Corporal Winters.

“You mean the dissidents that tried to attack Ashen? Those were hardly a threat, compared to the rebels in Grarrak and Esmos.”

“Grarrak didn’t seem that bad from what I’ve read…”

Sergeant Daniel Schmidt lowered his eyebrows and smacked Richards in the back of his head with his robot arm. “How bad was this, huh?” he scoffed.

If it was only the two of them, Richards would have probably hit back, but instead, he just put a lid on his mouth, which was something Daniel approved off. That idiot didn’t know what he was talking about.

It was around 15:30. They had about half an hour before their planes took off and they headed towards Blackfortress. Daniel was part of Rhino squad, which sadly didn’t consist of all 40 soldiers of Rhino platoon, but rather just Patterson’s squad and the platoon’s medic, Ira, plus a few tagalongs. All of them were now grabbing their gear except for Major Jefferson who was busy coordinating with the other officers, and they all had plenty of time to sleep before they travelled to Baldock city’s airport, which showed on the team’s morale. It was important to keep the mood up before tough missions, and they’ve been doing a great job in that regard so far.

As Daniel attached the scope to his APGM type Marksman rifle, he saw Nick turning away from the squad.

“Hey! Cole! Can I ask you something?”

Patterson was standing near the entrance of the hangar they were inside of, about ten meters away from the squad’s tables, and was looking at something on the outside. He did not take his eyes off from whatever he was looking at when he replied.

“Sure.”

“Do we know who’s going to pilot that big-ass Sapphirian plane that will carry our gliders?”

“Yeah, it wouldn’t hurt to know whose dirty hands we’re putting our lives in…” added Private Ira Cote, the squad’s medic.

Patterson didn’t reply for a few moments. “We do, which is precisely why I’m feeling rather irritated…”

Daniel raised his head, and saw the puzzled and in some cases, concerned looks on the squad members' faces. It probably wasn’t the best idea to tell the squad that their pilot sucked, so Daniel put his rifle down to the table and walked over to his commanding officer while waving at Nick to follow.

“Come on Cole, you know it’s a bad idea to scare your people before a mission…” whispered Daniel when he got close enough.

“I’m aware, but what do you want me to say?” Patterson replied. “We’re putting our lives into the hand of someone who has no concern for the lives of Aftonians from what I’ve seen…”

Nick raised an eyebrow when Patterson finished. “Who’s this guy anyway?” he asked.

Patterson nodded at a group of people on the outside. “Not a guy, and from the looks of things, not just one either.” He stepped away from the wall he was leaning on to and pointed at the group of people he was looking at.

Two Sapphirian women were discussing something with Major Jefferson. The dark-skinned and black-haired woman on the right was wearing a modular and somewhat bulky looking dark blue armor, equipped with a jetpack. The other woman, who had a pale white skin and red hair, was wearing the blue overalls of the Sapphirian Navy’s air force.

It seemed like Patterson knew at least one of them.

“My friends, let me introduce you to Staff Sergeant Karla Nichols,” he said, pointing at the one in the heavy armor with the two gauss pistols. He then turned to the other one. “…and Major Reina Langley.”

Daniel finally understood why Patterson was pissed. “Nichols… wasn’t she the one that got Hodson kill––”

“You’re damn right she was. And she’ll be coming with us apparently…” he grumbled.

Nick scratched the back of his head. “I feel like I’m missing some context here…”

“Let’s… just say that Cole and Nichols never really saw eye to eye on things,” said Daniel.

Jefferson noticed the three of them standing over there and excused himself out of the conversation. As he walked towards them. Nichols and Patterson exchanged a glance. The woman seemed more surprised than angry, something that could not be said for Patterson. Jefferson saluted all three of them, and after they did the same, he spoke up.

“Our pilots are ready, and I think the same goes for Bull squad. What about Rhino?”

“Ask them yourself, Major,” said Patterson loud enough for the squad to hear. “Are we ready, soldiers?” he shouted.

“Sir, yes sir!” came the reply from everyone.

Jefferson nodded then spoke up again. “Alright Rhino, head to the gliders! Staff Sergeant Nichols will instruct you on how to properly attach your parachutes if you haven’t been able to do so. If you can’t find the planes, look for the giant flying brick that the Sapphirians call a dropship.”

North and James laughed at that, and then they, along with the rest of Rhino made their way out of the hangar towards the aircraft. Rhino squad consisted of Private Cote, Corporal Richards, Private Crawford, Private First-Class Tibor, North, Nick, Patterson, and Daniel, with Major Jefferson being the squad leader. Daniel and Nick were about to follow them when Major Jefferson grabbed Daniel’s right shoulder.

“Sergeant, I need to have a word with you.”

Daniel raised an eyebrow, but he figured it was something technical related.

“Alright, I’ll catch up with you guys in a minute.” He said to Patterson and Nick.

The two just shrugged and went after the rest of Rhino.

“What is it, sir?” asked Daniel.

“Look, I know he’s trying to hide it, but I can see from a mile away that Patterson has an axe to grind with the Staff Sergeant.”

“Well, can you blame him?”

“Not really, and I trust him to not lose his head. But if something happens…”

Daniel knew where the Major was going. He did not want Patterson to endanger the mission, and he wanted Daniel to keep an eye on the Lieutenant.

“Don’t worry sir, he probably knows what’s at stake. If he doesn’t, I’ll remind him.”

“Good, that’s all I wanted. You can go now.”

Daniel nodded and ran after the rest of his squad. Once they reached the gliders, Daniel whistled when he saw the SDS Skyraider parked in front of their little gliders.

These monumental drop ships were propelled by four shipping container-sized engines, and their angular belly could carry up to thirty soldiers and three vehicles at once, and it even had teeth in the form of two 30mm autocannons at its front. These vehicles were designed for the sole purpose of getting the Sapphirian Jet Troopers to their intended drop point at high altitudes, but due to their strong engines, they also served well as transporters.

The AMC’s small dark brown and red gliders on the other hand could only hold about ten soldiers plus two in the cockpit, but their low weight and the toggleable light reflecting panels on the outside made them into excellent stealth vehicles, which were precisely what they needed right now.

Major Langley was already inside the Skyraider’s cockpit and she waved at Daniel when he walked past the front of the cockpit. Most of the soldiers, including Patterson, were busy discussing either the mission or some other unrelated topics. Kingsley on the other hand was standing somewhat further away from the group, with crossed arms.

He was obviously thinking about something, and Daniel was curious about what it was.

“Something bothering you, Cap?”

He got caught somewhat off guard by Daniel’s question, but he didn’t lose his usual determined attitude. “Just thinking about some past missions that started the same way...”

“So you stormed heavily defended cities before with planes made out of cardboard?”

Kingsley chuckled, then turned towards Daniel. “Nope, this is a first, but I’ve had my share of interesting missions. Most of them with the 32nd.”

“Yeah… remember that time when we had to hike through the Grenade Peaks in Gredrurg just to get to the AO?”

“Right, and then by the time we got there the whole thing was taken care of by the local police…”

Daniel shook his head happily as he thought back to some of these missions. “You have to give props to the cops though for taking on an entire dissident force on their own.”

“Indeed. And if you think about it, we seem to be doing the same thing here. Us few taking on the big guys…”

Major Jefferson’s clapping interrupted their discussion as he clapped his hands. Everyone went silent, as the Major, Captain Kingsley, and Captain Brown stepped up on top of a longer crate that was probably moved here for this purpose. Once everyone stood into proper lines and columns according to their squad and their ranks, Jefferson spoke up.

“Soldiers, Pilots, Medics, and last but not least, Mechanics.”

Daniel and Hopkins both straightened themselves out when they were mentioned. He was technically a driver, but Daniel spent just as much time repairing vehicles as driving them.

“You all came from different backgrounds, from different divisions, and some of you from different countries. But today, you all share a common goal. And make no mistake, what we are about to do today may go down in history as one of the boldest, and quite possibly the bloodiest battles of Azuno.”

“I think Grarrak already took that title, sir,” Dresden interrupted, who was the usual second in command of Rhino.

Jefferson did not seem to mind the interruption. “Yes, Grarrak... We all know what went wrong on that mission, and some of us lost more than just a few fingers in that fight,” he said while looking at Daniel in the end. “I can assure all of you that none of us want to repeat that incident, but we also need to keep in mind the facts we’re dealing with. Captain Brown?”

The Sapphirian officer stepped forward. “As you all know, Blackfortress was built to last. In the years since its construction, the defenses have only gotten thicker and more complex, and according to the latest schematics that Admiral Hsu had managed to acquire, the city houses five different SAM sites in different regions. On top of that, it has two military bases, and according to the SOS message, an artillery site as well. And these are just the bigger constructions.”

“Yeah, we also built a few dozen gauss turrets around the western part of the city,” added PFC. Tibor.

“Indeed, and the city center is a whole other story. That region is surrounded by a pretty much impenetrable, thirty-meter tall defensive wall, with numerous guard towers and turrets around it. However, we have ways of getting into the city center without much resistance if we are careful, and we have objectives outside the city center as well. Captain Kingsley?”

Kingsley stepped forward this time. “We have four objectives, ladies and gentlemen. The first and foremost is the reactivation of the GCSA tower and general reconnaissance of the area. Who invaded the city? How did they do it? Why did they do it? These are the questions we need answers for.”

“And what do we do once we have them?” asked Private Jason.

“Then comes the second objective, which is to disable the northern SAM sites, so that Big Brother can land and pick us up once we took care of the secondary objectives.”

Big Brother was the codename for the Skyraider, which was going to be manned by Langley and Nichols. The gliders didn’t require much skill to fly, and as such Daniel and Dresden were selected to be the part-time pilots.

“Our first secondary objective” Kingsley continued. “is to locate and neutralize the terrorist leader, who we knew absolutely nothing about. The two outposts inside Blackfortress make excellent command centers, and as such we suspect that he, she or it may be holed up in one of them.”

“And the other objective?” asked Patterson.

“We have reason to believe that the person who sent out the SOS message might still be alive. We do not know what state Mr. McConnel could be in, but he’s quite possibly our best source of information at the moment.”

Captain Brown raised his head when McConnel was mentioned as if he had heard that name before. If that was the case, at least they’d have an easier time finding either the man or his corpse.

“However,” resumed Kingsley. “…before we can get to work, we’ll need to make it to the ground in one piece first, which is where Miss Nichols comes in.”

Patterson rolled his eyes when the Staff Sergeant took a step forward. She was holding her armored full-face helmet in her hands, and Daniel noticed that the Sapphirian’s Staff Sergeant insignia was painted above the helmet’s yellow visor. She was visibly proud of her rank. When she spoke up, her deep and confident voice made people pay more attention than usual.

“As you all know, the AG-49 gliders were not built for combat, and although they don’t have heat signatures and have built-in reflector panels, they can still be spotted if somebody knows where to look. As such, it is imperative that you don’t get spotted on your way down. Major Langley and I will circle the island at a high altitude for the duration of the mission, but we will not be able to provide fire support until the SAMs are taken out.”

“And what about communications, ma’am? We won’t be able to do much in that regard with the GCSA tower down,” asked Richards.

“The radios in the gliders are strong enough to reach our Skyraider. If you can link your radios to the gliders, I think it would be possible to use the Skyraider as a relay point.”

“She’s right,” said Weiss, the team’s radio and signal specialist “...I should be able to rig and tune our radios properly on our way to Blackfortress.”

Nichols looked around the team while avoiding Patterson’s glance.

“Any questions?” she asked.

Patterson raised his hand. Daniel wasn’t close enough to kick his side to stop him, so whatever happened next was something that he could not prevent.

“Yeah, I do.”

Daniel prepared for a lengthy list of accusations on Cole’s part.

“What happens if we somehow lose contact with each other, either due to jamming or equipment failure?”

He let out a sigh of relief, which must have seemed weird for the others around him.

“If that happens,” Nichols answered after a moment of pause. “then it will be up to you and the other squad leaders to improvise and complete the objectives. It’s not ideal but frankly, there isn’t much that we could do in that case.”

Patterson nodded.

“Now, as for the support,” Nichols continued. “The 6th Sapphirian Squadron and the 9th Aftonian Aerial Strike Force are both standing by for our orders, and if needed they can bring in cargo planes for mass evacuation. They’ve been given the order to take off at a moment’s notice, so even if everything goes south, we’ll have EVAC available.”

“Funny to hear that from you…” muttered Patterson, just low enough that she couldn’t hear it.

The Sergeant stepped back, and Jefferson took her place.

“Does everyone understand the plan?”

Everyone replied with a form of yes.

“Good. I won’t lie to you my fellow soldiers, there’s a pretty good chance that some of us won’t make it back, but when has that ever stopped the Aftonian Military Corps or the Sapphirian Navy?”

“Never!” came the reply.

“Damn right! If there is one thing that history proved time and time again is that soldiers, no matter who they are, or where they came from, are never afraid of the impossible, and this time will be no different! For all we know, Blackfortress’s defense force has been completely eradicated, which means that we are the only ones who can save its people. They are counting on us to help them, and you can bet that we will! So, gear up my comrades, because we are storming the gates of hell today!

Jefferson raised his fist high.

“For Azuno!”

“For Azuno!” yelled both squads.


*

They’ve been flying for about three and a half hours now when Langley spoke into the radio.

“Dear passengers, I advise you all to take your seats as soon as you can because we are getting in range of Paks. ETA twenty minutes.”

Daniel nodded at the loudspeaker as he stepped away from the window he was gazing through and walked back towards the second cargo bay of the Skyraider. The gliders were attached to the Sapphirian drop ship’s tail, and the soldiers were able to move in and out of the vehicles during flight. Most of them remained inside, but Daniel and a few others decided to stretch their legs a bit. As he was walking towards the gliders, he ran into Nichols, Nick, and Patterson having a conversation.

He immediately changed directions and walked towards them to defuse a possible fistfight.

“…spent the last few days teaching that droid how to wield two rifles at once, and believe it or not it can actually shoot quite accurately that way,” explained Nichols, who was now wearing her helmet.

“Huh. Well what do you know, we’ll be out of our jobs by next year at this rate…” replied Patterson.

“I think that’s still far off. I mean there’s only like what, a hundred droids in service?” Nick said.

“Ninety-eight Mark IVs, but the number of the Mark III units is probably around five hundred,” answered Nichols.

They were clearly talking about the IR Droids developed by Atros Robotics throughout the past few years. The Sapphirian Navy had acquired a few to test if they were smart and fast enough to be used on the front lines if needed, but what surprised Daniel the most was the fact that the two of them were having a conversation instead of choking each other.

“Wow, these two can have a civil conversation?” Daniel gasped as he walked over to Nick.

“Trust me, I’m more surprised than you are…” replied Nichols.

Patterson shook his head. “Yes, laugh it up. Anyway, what do you think about these droids Danny? You saw a few of them when you were in Ashen, didn’t you?”

“A few? Every third shop I went into had at least one of these guys inside!”

“Waste of talent if you ask me,” Nichols remarked. “…why would they spend years working on “smart” droids only to use them for menial tasks?”

“Well obviously so that lazy bums like me don’t have to do those tasks,” replied Nick rather cheerfully.

The atmosphere felt lighter than it was before, and Daniel appreciated that. Personal grudges between squad-mates led to deaths most of the time, and Daniel had plenty of experience with grudges.

“Well, I think it’s best if I go back to the cockpit. Wouldn’t want to miss the sights,” said Nichols.

“Right. We should get seated as well.”

Nichols nodded, then walked off. Daniel was about to wish good luck to Nichols when she suddenly turned around.

“And Cole…”

Patterson raised his head.

“For whatever it’s worth, I’m glad that it’s you who came along, instead of yet another Aftonian jarhead.”

The unexpected compliment surprised all three of them, but before Daniel or Cole could answer Nichols walked off.

Daniel turned to Patterson when she left. “Shit, for a second I was worried that you two would kill each other.”

“They were about to, but I happened to be here to distract them with dumb questions,” answered Nick instead of Patterson.

“Oh? Well, thank you for your service, Private!”

Patterson rolled his eyes then looked at Nick. “You sure you don’t want to go with Kingsley’s team?”

“Not a chance,” he replied while smiling “…I trust the cap, but you’re the only I know who definitely won’t leave me behind if I get separated from the squad.”

Cole smiled as well. “That I won’t. With that said, we still don’t know what awaits us in that city, so it would be best if we avoided that situation altogether.”

Nick shrugged. “It would be a rather boring mission if we knew what we were walking into, wouldn’t it?”

Patterson chuckled, and after patting Nick on the back, they boarded the plane. Patterson and Nick both climbed into their respective seats while Daniel took the pilot seat. The control panel was rather barebones compared to the other aircraft and vehicles he had seen before, and it was quite weird to see no fuel or throttle indicators either.

After staring at the dashboard for a while longer, Daniel shook his thoughts away, fastened his seatbelt, and began preparing the glider for its flight.

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About the author

Commander DuctTape

  • Hungary

Bio: I'm just an average dude from Hungary who has way too much time on his hands. I started writing a couple years ago as a hobby, partly because I wanted to practice and improve my English, and partly because there's just something amazing about inventing new worlds and people from scratch and then writing about their deeds and adventures.

At this point I honestly can't imagine myself putting down my writing pen ever again, and I would like to wish lots of luck to every other writer out there with their projects!

Favorite genres: Science Fiction, Adventure, Military

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