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Interlude: From another view
Nichols


“Try the 256.97th frequency,” suggested Nichols.

Major Langley sighed and changed their long-range radio’s frequency once again. Just like the previous hundred times, they listened to the sound of static for a minute before they both concluded that absolutely nobody was using it.

“Staff Sergeant, I’m afraid to report that just like the previous fifty times we tried this, we are getting nothing.”

“We could do without the snark Reina…” Nichols growled.

Staff Sergeant Karla Nichols and Major Reina Langley have been trying to reach Rhino and Bull squads for the past two hours now, or since Rhino got shot out of the sky, but so far, they were unable to reach anybody. And the worst part was that it wasn’t just them. Nichols wasn’t sure when it started, but they were unable to communicate in any way or form with anybody, both inside and outside Blackfortress.

The only thing they were able to determine so far was that they weren’t dealing with mechanical or electronic failures. They were being jammed, and from the looks of things, by the same thing that got Rhino and Bull. Unlike the ground team however, they had the option of leaving the island and coming back better prepared.

Or at least on paper. In practice, it was more complicated.

“Look I know we discussed this…” said Reina after the two of them sat in silence for a while “…but I’m starting to like my ‘let’s leave and call in the cavalry’ idea more and more.”

“We still have specific orders to avoid doing precisely that,” replied Nichols once again, although much more flatly this time.

Langley rolled her eyes once again as she placed her feet on top of the controls panel. “Orders won’t keep us in the air once our fuel runs out…”

The worst part of this whole situation wasn’t just that they were cut off from the rest of the world, or even that they were held in place by political red-tape due to General Thompson and Admiral Hsu not wanting to reveal just how easy of a target Blackfortress was at the moment. No, the worst part was that they were unable to do anything other than hovering.

They couldn’t drop supplies because the SAMs would shoot the boxes down way before they reached the ground. That was also why they couldn’t land or try to launch missiles at something. The Skyraider had plenty of weapons and there were two APCs and an entire tank sitting in the cargo-bay, and yet they couldn’t deploy any of those things.

The more Nichols thought about their predicament, the more frustrated she got. And just like half an hour ago, she hit her side of the control panel in her frustration. By now there was a small dent on that part of the console.

“Staff, we talked about this too…” reminded Langley once more.

The past two times this happened, Nichols usually explained what was bothering her so much.

This time, however, she got up from her seat, and as an idea appeared in front of her eyes, she grabbed her wrist terminal from the back of the cockpit. As she expected, it wasn’t receiving any sort of signal, though for once she didn’t mind. She quickly rolled through her programs until she finally found a calculator, and she began to type in numbers.

“Oh look, you’re not hitting something for a change!” exclaimed Langley as sarcastically as possible.

“That might change soon depending on how this goes.”

Nichols typed in a few more calculations, and after all of them showed what she expected, she felt a smile crawl up on her coffee-brown face.

She turned towards Langley who was staring out into the night sky. “Langley, how much can we see from up here?”

“Well if we knew where Rhino and Bull were, we could track them no problem. The Skyraider has its own scopes, so we don’t need those burned-out satellites.”

“So if I told you to drop something heavy from this height, would you be able to send it down precisely to the marked point?”

Langley didn’t answer for a bit as she did some calculations of her own. “I think so. Give or take ten meters.”

Nichols nodded and then showed Langley her terminal. “Can you pull this off?”

Langley looked at Nichols’s terminal, and the more she read it, the higher her eyebrows climbed up.

“You want to drop a T-Croc onto a SAM site?!”

“Not just a T-Croc…” replied Nichols excitedly “…a T-Croc loaded with tank shells.”

Langley stared at Nichols for a few seconds and then burst out laughing. “As much as I want to say that you need to have your anger issues checked and that bombing things is not always the solution…”

“…you won’t because it’s a good idea?” finished Nichols.

“Hell no, it’s dumb as hell, but it sounds way more interesting than just sitting here waiting!”


*

The plan, which was to drop an APC, fully loaded with explosives, on top of the SAM site that was sitting in the residential area next to the city’s military base, was probably the craziest thing Nichols was going to do in her life. Loading up the APC and preparing it for its purpose was the easy part. Dropping it at the right time and then praying that the SAMs won’t be able to blow it out of the air in time was the hard part. A normal missile or a bomb would have been taken out by the AA guns no problem. The former because of the heat signature the missile's booster emitted, and the latter because of its vulnerability.

What Nichols was counting on was the sheer weight of the payload and all the armored plating on the vehicle. The average general-purpose bombs most bombers were equipped with weighed between 0.5 and 1.5 tons. A tank shell was around 270 kilograms, whereas a normal T-Croc was around 13 tons.

In other words, the final weight of the payload would be around 16 tons. Sixteen times as heavy as the average bomb, which, theoretically at least, was going to result in a faster descent. And since the APC didn’t emit any heat signatures and had a very different profile from the average bombs, heat-seeking missiles and scanners wouldn’t be of much use for the enemy. If all that failed, the T-Croc also had a lot of armor plating that could hopefully handle a few anti-air rounds.

Whether or not it would work in practice was a totally different question, but they wouldn’t lose much either way since they can’t deploy the APCs if they can’t land. This way, there was a chance that at least one of the SAM sites would receive enough damage to give a chance for their supply drops to make it down in one piece. And if that failed, then at least they could land and then get everybody off this cursed island.

As Nichols was preparing the shells in the cargo-bay, she was trying to figure out which of the APCs to sacrifice. Both were built the same way, and both had the same specs, and pretty much the only different thing was that one of them has been used by Sergeant Schmidt and Cole ever since they had gotten into Rhino, and had their initials carved into its chassis along with Rhino's squad emblem. As poetic as it would have been to use that T-Croc as a bomb, Nichols figured that it wouldn’t be a good idea to piss off Patterson even more. Especially after his squadmate gave his life in a foolish attempt to save the radio of one of the gliders.

Once she got the last shell ready in the second APC, she decided to open Rhino's T-Croc out of curiosity to see if there was anything different in it. The cramped vehicle didn’t have much space for storage since the two rows of seats inside already occupied most of it, and the ladder at the front of the passenger compartment needed to be clear all the time. As such, the passengers either stored their things in their laps, or in that single storage box near the ladder. Nichols climbed inside to check that box when her eyes caught something on one of the seats.

A small metal-box, about the size of a smaller pencil-case. Something seemed familiar about it, but she couldn’t quite recall why she thought that. She leaned closer and picked it up, and then sat down in one of the seats as she inspected it. There weren’t any markings or decorations on it, but it looked weathered and old.

Once she found where it opened, Nichols pulled the lid up.

The wave of memories hit her like a truck, and Nichols closed the lid immediately. She could just put it back where she found it and then launch that vehicle instead of the other one. Cole would be beyond pissed, but it might be for the best for both him and her if that thing disappeared. The temptation to do just that was almost too strong for Nichols, but in the end, she shook her head and opened it again.

Inside the box were the dog-tags of all the soldiers who had perished under the command of Lieutenant Cole Patterson. Without a fault, everyone’s was there, starting from Sergeant Kent R. Fischer until Corporal Ian Rockfield.

As Nichols expected, she found Charles Hodson’s as well. That one seemed somewhat more weathered and worn as if it was taken out or held more often than the others. Nichols wasn’t surprised at all to see that, but what caught her off guard was that only one part of the tag was there. The ones that the Aftonians used were made from three pieces. Two of them contained the soldier’s name and personal details so that one could be kept, or buried, and the other could be given to their families, while the third piece was a sort of blank sheet that soldiers could get custom inscriptions or symbols on. Hodson’s was missing the third piece, and Nichols wondered why Patterson didn’t have it stored.

Her radio suddenly turning on made Nichols jump up and bash her head into the side of the APC.

Damn it!” she exclaimed as she gripped her head in pain.

“Uh… should I call you back later?” asked Langley.

“No, but you need to work on your timing!” snapped Nichols. Once the pain faded away, she continued. “…sorry. What is it?”

“Just wanted to let you know that I’m almost above the target area.”

“Right, I’ll have the payload ready in a minute,” said Nichols, and then she turned off her radio.

She looked at Hodson’s tags once more before she closed the box. Nichols then put it into the vehicle’s storage box, and afterwards she continued preparing the Crocodile Bomb, as she decided to call it.


*

“Opening the cargo bay doors…” announced Langley.

Nichols was sitting in the cockpit now as well. The Crocodile Bomb turned out to be just as ugly as they expected it to be, but it should serve its function.

“Preparing for deployment,” announced Nichols once the doors opened. “…ejecting payload in five,”

She placed her hand above the button that would eject the clamps that held the vehicle in place. “Four…”

Nichols took a deep breath.

“3,2,1, boom!” she spluttered before she slammed the button.

The Skyraider creaked as the clamps let go of the Crocodile Bomb. A few seconds later the vehicle slid out from its compartment and then began its one-way trip down towards Blackfortress, rapidly speeding up on the way down. Nichols was disappointed that she couldn’t be on the ground to see the carnage but considering the situation on the ground, she quickly realized how much better off she was right now.

“First missiles are away!” exclaimed Langley.

As they expected the Surface to Air Missile systems began firing their projectiles at the Crocodile Bomb. The first one was already less than a hundred meters away from it, and a second later…

A second later the missile flew right over their bomb.

Since the vehicle wasn’t emitting any sort of heat the missiles were unable to lock onto it, and at the speed, it was falling it was practically impossible to hit it with dumb firing. The grin on Nichols’s face got bigger and bigger and when the bomb was only seconds away from reaching the bottom she almost jumped up in her happiness.

Precisely three point six seconds later the Crocodile Bomb came crashing down right on top of a missile launcher. The following explosion lit up the surrounding neighborhoods and the tank shells that flew everywhere from the APC’s explosion turned the whole thing into one big cluster bomb.

Pieces of the rocket launchers, the streets, the T-Croc, and the nearby buildings were flying all over the area wrecking everything that wasn't vaporized by the explosions, and Nichols couldn’t help but feel like an excited little kid who hit every pin on the bowling field. In a way, that was precisely what they did, except their bowling ball was much heavier, and much more expensive.

As the smoke slowly cleared, Nichols just noticed that Langley was laughing the whole time. “My world, talk about a bull’s eye!”

“We nailed those bastards for sure!” agreed Nichols as she patted Langley on the shoulder.

“You’re damn right we did!” she replied excitedly. She zoomed in more to see the damage they did, but even without it, Nichols could tell that their plan had worked flawlessly.

“I wish we had some champagne right now…” added Langley.

Nichols was about to suggest looting through the Aftonians tank on the off chance that they did have a bottle when the plane’s console suddenly beeped. Both of them turned off the part of their brain that was celebrating and they focused on the console.

“Did they fire missiles at us?” asked Nichols.

“No but… this doesn’t seem right.”

Langley leaned closer to the console and quickly ran a diagnostic. After it ran down the console was still beeping, resulting in Langley grabbing the back of her head with both arms. “How in the...”

“Reina, talk to me.”

“…we have an incoming call.”

Nichols tensed up. She had no idea who or what called them, and especially not how they were able to do so, but it was no coincidence that they called after they bombed a SAM site. Something was off here.

“I’m not sure if we should take it,” she concluded.

“I know, it seems suspicious as heck. Buuut…”

“…you’d never be able to sleep again because you’d always wonder what would have happened if you picked it up?”

“Yep.”

Nichols rolled her eyes. “Fine, but if we get shot down, you’re buying a new dropship.”

“Deal.”

Langley pressed the beeping part of the console. A moment later a screen appeared on the cockpit’s window, which was not showing anything. Nichols was about to comment on it when out of a sudden the screen changed colors. A man, or a woman, wearing a dark grey pilot helmet with shaded visors was looking into the camera.

“Evening. I assume the bomb that almost landed on one of my colleagues was yours?”

The man was speaking in a very synthetic sounding voice, which was hopefully due to the voice filter of the helmet.

“Indeed it was, and we have more where it came from,” replied Nichols.

“Is that so?”

“Yes,” replied Langley this time. “…and I’ll be more than happy to drop another right now unless you tell me what the hell do you want.”

The man on the other side of the screen nodded. “A trade. I’ll tell you where the other SAM sites and your two squads are, in exchange for access to your comm systems.”

Nichols and Langley looked at each other, and then back at the man. “We can’t exactly communicate with the outside world,” said Langley.

“No, but your aircraft can act as a relay point for our radios.”

Nichols leaned a bit closer to the screen. “Yes, we know. We stuck around for precisely that reason, but due to the jamming signal, we can’t contact anybody. Same goes for the ground team.”

The helmeted man leaned back a bit from his camera. “That’s debatable,” he stated as he got up from the chair he was sitting on until now.

Behind the man were three bodies who were all lying in their own blood. All three of them were wearing a dark grey and green body armor.

“The signal only affects certain frequencies and wave-lengths,” continued the man as he turned the camera he was talking into to another object. “…which does not include the enemy’s radios.”

He was in some sort of communications room that was littered with blood, bullet holes, and a whole bunch of computers. The camera was facing towards a rather unique looking computer that had multiple antennas and a headset attached to it.

Nichols leaned closer to the screen. “Just… who are you?”

The man put his hand into one of his vest pockets. “That changes by the day Sergeant Nichols,” he said as he pulled out an orange badge. “…but for now, call me Agent Cipher.”

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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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