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Interlude: Clipped wings
Nichols


“We’ve got three aircraft coming in hot!” yelled Langley.

Nichols took her legs off from the control panels right away and then turned towards the screen Langley was looking at.

Three fast-moving planes were flying towards them, and the Skyraider’s onboard targeting computer identified them as Gredrurgian JKP-7 fighter planes. These aircraft were lightly armed and fast, and Nichols had no idea what they were doing in Blackfortress, much less why they were on an intercept course.

“Find a way to get them off from our tails,” ordered Nichols “I’ll try to get some answers out of our GIS agent!”

Agent Cipher has been in almost constant contact ever since his mysterious call after the bombing. He proved to be an excellent asset since he and his two colleagues were giving constant sitreps from the ground, making it easier for Nichols and Langley to track the enemy’s movements. She still felt that something was off about the GIS agent, though she figured that now was not a good time to be picky.

After setting the radio’s frequency to that of the agent’s, Nichols hit the call button on the control panel. A few seconds of beeping later the man appeared on her screen. He was standing in some sort of office, and Nichols noticed that for once the agent wasn’t wearing his body armor, but just a long-sleeved grey shirt. She could see that the man’s shoulders were almost angular, most likely due to him wearing some sort of under armor.

“Staff Sergeant?” said Cipher instead of saying hello.

“Three JKP-7s just popped up on our radars and they are heading right for us! Know anything about that?”

Cipher stared at his camera instead of answering. “We only had two of those here, and Agent Hunter already sabotaged one before it took off.”

“So? You’re saying they’re not real? I’m just hallucinating them?!”

“I am saying that the enemy just called in reinforcements.”

Nichols yelled a curse and then turned back to her screen. “Great! Can we land anywhere before we get shot down?”

“Your Alpha squad managed to take out another SAM site. You should be able to land at my current post, in front of the city hall.”

“Any enemies?”

“Plenty. Rhino is on their way here as well, no doubt to fix that problem.”

“All right. We’ll try to make it, but if we get shot down, you go and give them hell agent!”

“Will do,” agreed Cipher before he turned off his terminal.

Nichols then turned back to Langley. “Can we make it to the city hall in one piece?”

Langley shook her head. “Maybe in two! There’s just no way we can outmaneuver these planes for that long.”

Nichols nodded and then turned back to her console. “Then get as close to the hall as you can and activate our guns. Might as well take a few of these bastards to hell with us!”

“Right away Sergeant!” replied Langley happily.

She pressed a few buttons on her console and afterwards the lights inside the cockpit turned to red, indicating that the plane switched to combat mode. Nichols unlocked both of their 30mm machineguns, and as soon as the screen showed “ready” above both of them, she turned to Langley. “Cannons online. Do we have any payload left up here?”

“Other than you? Nothing.”

“Keep us in the sky then! I’ll work the MGs!”

Langley nodded without saying a word. The distance between them and the Gredrurgian planes decreased rapidly. Their Skyraider was almost in their missile range.

“Anything you want to get off from your chest?” asked Langley suddenly.

“Yeah! You and Schmidt would make a good pair!”

Langley turned towards Nichols so fast that she almost fell out of her chair. “What?!”

“Ah, we’re in missile range!”

As soon as she said that, each of the enemy aircraft launched a missile at them. Nichols did a quick test-fire to check if the cannons worked properly, and then placed her right hand above the flare launch button. She counted down from three and then pressed it.

Two out of the three missiles flew right after the red-hot flares, while the third one continued its way towards the Skyraider.

“One left,” Nichols stated. “Spin kick?”

“Spin kick!”

Langley aligned the thrusters into a forward position, and when the last missile was only 500 meters from them, she quickly turned all off, except for the ones at the back that controlled their horizontal angle. The Skyraider made a 180-degree flip downwards, and as soon as the plane faced towards the missile, Nichols opened fire.

It exploded moments later, only a hundred meters from them.

Langley turned the thrusters back on and re-aligned their plane as quickly as she could, which creaked and groaned from the sudden unexpected maneuver and the shockwave of the blast. It certainly wasn't designed for dog-fights.

“We’ve got another three heading towards––” Langley yelled.

Another red dot popped up on their radar.

“Make that four, I just picked up another craft and its missile!”

Nichols stared at the four dots that were closing in on them, and then looked at the ammo counter on her screen. She stared at it for a few seconds before she unlocked her seatbelts.

Avoiding four fighters at the same time was hard enough with a proper fighter jet, but the giant hunk of a plane that was the Skyraider would never be able to make it down to the ground in time.

Luckily for them, they were not part of the Skyraider.

Nichols got out from her seat, and after putting her armored helmet on, she made her way to Langley. “Come on. We’re bailing!”

Langley looked at Nichols dumbfounded. “Are you crazy?! I don’t have a jetpack and this plane is our only means of evac––”

“You’re not dying over this stupid ass island as long as I have a say in the matter! Now get your ass moving!” snapped Nichols.

Langley was about to retort when a ping sounded off from her console. A fifth dot appeared on it. She hit her console angrily, and then she got out of her seat without saying anything.

The two of them ran down to the cargo bay of the Skyraider after enabling the autopilot. Nichols slammed the left bay door’s “open” button as soon as she reached it, and then turned towards Langley who was now wearing her pilot helmet.

“So how am I getting down there in one piece?” she asked, her voice synthesized from the helmet.

“In tandem. Come here!” said Nichols, who then hugged Langley as strongly as she could. Once the bay door was fully open, she took a step forward and then jumped outside.

The rush of cold air that Nichols felt whenever she made a high-altitude jump always filled her with a sense of freedom and power, and this time was no different. However, since she had to make sure that she didn’t drop her best friend on the way down, she felt a lot more fear than usual. As they were falling, Nichols was trying to catch a glimpse of the Skyraider. It luckily didn’t take long for her to find it, and she managed to see the dropship right before it was hit by the first missile.

At first, only the tail thrusters blew off, but which each missile hit more and more places blew off, and by the end, only the top half of the cargo bay had remained intact. Their Skyraider, along with the only long-range radio Rhino and Bull had, was gone.

As was their means of evacuation.

Langley did not say a word on the way down. Even when Nichols turned her body skywards at 300 meters to turn on her jets, the only thing she did was hold onto Nichols tighter. As she activated her jetpack, the g-forces on their bodies increased with every passing second. Nichols, and most likely Langley, felt her bodyweight increase more and more until the two of them eventually slowed down enough for the feeling to subside.

The two of them hit the ground at around twenty meters. Nichols wasn’t entirely prepared for the landing, and when they finally hit the top of a four-floor apartment building, she fell right on top of Langley, who groaned up as a reply.

Nichols got off from her as fast as she could and helped her up. The Major took off her helmet afterwards, and then stared at Nichols.

“You’re…” she started as she was trying to catch her breath. “…you’re heavier than you look… did you know that?”

Nichols playfully punched her in the arm, but before she could say anything, she saw the debris field of the Skyraider rain down at the city hall’s courtyard and its surrounding area. The orange patch of grass in the courtyard was filled with all sorts of trees and vegetation, and in between all the plants and stone pathways were a few stone monuments and statues as well.

It was rather pretty, but the sight was ruined by the shower of burning Skyraider parts. One by one the pieces of their dropship hit the ground, with a few of them landing on trees or nearby vehicles, crushing them in the process.

“Well… what now?” asked Langley, still staring at the destruction.

Nichols handed one of her noise-reduced gauss pistols to Langley and then pulled off her assault rifle from her back. It was an 8mm assault rifle, which did not have a stock, but instead a 60 round drum magazine. It was designed for close-quarters combat, though Nichols used it fairly often at longer distances. “We join the ground team, we find Agent Cipher, we find some goddamned answers, and then we all go the fuck home and never come back here again!”

Langley nodded. “In that order? Because I’d rather skip to the last part!”

Nichols nodded in agreement, and then the two of them quickly made their way down from the reinforced building they landed on. Just like the reports had said, the buildings in the center looked more like bunkers than homes. The unified look of the architecture reminded Nichols of Sapphirian cities, though the buildings and structures were all painted in different colors, and generally, there was a lot less sapphire blue on everything. There were much fewer rivers and lakes around as well, which she was eternally grateful for.

After Langley made her way down as well, the two of them began running away from the debris field. The sound of Nichol’s light power armor made a lot of noise as she ran through the streets, but as far as she could see there wasn’t anyone nearby.

“Karla, we might want to get inside asap!" suggested Langley. "I don’t think those jets are just going to ignore the crash site.”

“Right, but where? The city hall?”

“That’s our best shot right now, and maybe Agent Cipher could help us locate the others.”

Nichols wasn’t entirely sure if trusting the GIS agent to give them a hand was the right call, but he had been a valuable help so far, and they did not have many options. In the end, she just sighed, then looked at Langley. “Lead the way then, Major!”

With Langley at the front, the two of them turned towards the courtyard and began advancing towards it. As they passed a few more buildings and crossed a wide street, Nichols could hear the sounds of vehicles driving around nearby. When they arrived at the courtyard’s electrified fence, they quickly realized where the noises came from.

Four pickup trucks were driving around the area, with each of them having a manned machinegun on their truck beds. There were also a few more parked inside the football field-sized courtyard, and instead of risking a firefight by blowing the fence open, Nichols and Langley crouch-walked away from the electric fence and looked for another way inside the hall.

They kept to the orange-colored bushes and trees outside the fence the best they could as they moved around the area, eventually finding another entrance in the form of an underground garage at the back of the city hall. There were only a five or so guards there, and from looking at their hastily attached armor vests and their guns that were sitting on the ground next to them, they were almost definitely not expecting anyone to attack.

Nichols slowly aimed her weapon at the closest guard when Langley suddenly put her hand on the gun. “Staff, look!” she whispered, pointing at the driveway outside the guard post.

As Nichols turned there, she saw another enemy soldier arrive, but this one’s armor was all wrong. Unlike the other soldiers and mercenaries that had the black or dark grey and green armor, this one’s was more of a light brown, tan color, and there was some sort of drawing on her scout helmet. As the NCO inside her became more and more frustrated by that soldier’s obvious breach of uniform regulations, she almost didn’t notice that the soldier was still gripping a sniper rifle in her hands and was literally sprinting towards the garage’s entrance.

“We’ve got an incoming vehicle from the north!” the soldier yelled as she continued running.

One of the guards immediately jumped up from his chair and reached for his rifle. He and two others quickly dashed off into the city hall, while the remaining two opened the fence for their newly arrived comrade.

“Quickly! They’ll be here any––”

“Now!” Langley yelled suddenly.

Both of them jumped out from the bush they were hiding inside as Nichols switched her gun to full auto, and they opened fire at the enemy. Their combined fire immediately cut down two of the four enemies, while the sniper and the one remaining guard sprinted behind the small shack that housed the fence’s controls. Nichols and Langley ran through the now open fence, right towards the shack. They were about to flank the soldiers from the two sides when Nichols heard a very loud rifle go off from behind it.

She gripped her gun tighter and then went around the shack’s corner.

The tan armored soldier was standing there with her back towards Nichols, next to the headless corpse of her former ally. The Staff Sergeant looked at both of them for a moment and then smacked the remaining soldier in the back of her head right after.

The hit sent the woman down to the ground with a thud, but it didn’t knock her out. Nichols was about to try it again when the soldier turned over to her back, with a double-barreled revolver in her hand. “Stand down Staff Sergeant!”

Nichols stared at the woman for a moment but didn’t lower her gun. When Langley finally arrived and pointed her pistol at the soldier, Nichols spoke up again. “How many of you are in that building?”

The woman turned her head around to see Langley’s gun pointing at her and then turned back to Nichols as she put away her revolver.

“Twenty-seven, but that’s about to change.”

“How so?”

The woman reached into the pocket in the front of her armor and pulled out a very familiar orange badge.

“Because we’re about to assault it, along with whoever is in that APC on the other side! You're welcome to join!”

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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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