Chapter 30: Sky raiders

“Thanks, but we won’t need it!” Nichols replied as they hastily grabbed onto the gear.

The plane quickly left the ground, and along with the landing gear the three of them ended up inside the gear’s storage bay shortly after. Stowing away like this would have been a horrible idea normally given the cold temperatures high in the air and the general lack of oxygen, but they weren’t planning on staying there for long. Patterson was quite proud of his plan to distract the pilots with the vehicle’s radio for long enough for the three of them to sneak on board.

The whole thing went almost exactly how he had planned it, apart from the truck getting blown up by a rocket.

That part he could have done without.

“So,” said Nichols while she took out her two noise-reduced gauss pistols. “You sure you’re okay with me being here?”

Patterson had worked with Nichols before today’s mission many many years ago, and she didn’t seem to have changed much since then. She was still as stern and disciplined as before and was still wearing that full-face armored helmet with the thin yellow visor on its front. The only difference that Patterson had discovered today was that she didn’t seem to mind Aftonians as much and was generally less… tense, compared to Klosaap.

“It’s not like I had a choice in the matter since Langley stayed behind to cover the civvies. You’re our only pilot.”

“Right,” she answered. “...I'll take that as a maybe.”

Riley looked at both of them. “I feel like I’m missing some context here…”

Patterson just waved him away and turned to Nichols.

“So, according to Nick’s tracker, Kingsley’s on the top deck near the cockpit. All we need to do is fight our way up there, take him and anybody else standing in our way out, and then turn the plane back and save everyone in Paks.”

“And hopefully get the deactivation codes,” added Riley.

Nichols nodded. “Straightforward enough. I like it.”

“Glad to hear it. Now Riley, how do we get out of this room?”

Riley quickly looked around until he found a vent. He crouched down and started taking it off. “Right, so according to Hopkins and Daniel, this vent should lead us straight to the plane’s cargo bay, and from there we can just take the stairs up to the top deck.”

Patterson shook his head. “This seems like a pretty big oversight regarding the security of the plane…”

“It is,” Nichols replied. “The newer models had these removed, but it seems like the Captain got one of the older ones.”

“Another point for old tech!” Riley exclaimed when he finally removed the cover.

The ventilation tunnel was quite cramped, but Patterson figured that they should be able to squeeze themselves through. Well, at least he and Riley. He wasn't so sure how nimble Nichols was in that armor of hers.

“You think you’ll fit?” asked Patterson from Nichols.

She crossed her arms. “What is that supposed to mean?” she replied in an offended tone.

Patterson realized what he just said and apologized. The Staff Sergeant growled at him and then climbed inside the vent.

She did fit inside.

It took them a while to make their way through, but once they got out, they found themselves in a mostly empty cargo bay with only a few containers and a chained-down motorbike near the cargo ramp. The group made their way through the barely-lit cargo bay with ease, until they ran into two guards at the stairs leading to the next deck.

“I’ll handle this,” said Nichols.

She quickly jumped to the top of the containers using her jetpack, and before the enemy could react, she shot both of them in the head. She rolled her pistols around her fingers then jumped down from the container.

“Not bad, Sarge,” remarked Riley.

“Oh you haven’t seen anything yet, Private!” she replied with a smile in her voice.

The three slowly walked to the top of the stairs, with Patterson being at the front. He borrowed a shotgun from Agent Zenovich since his rifle didn’t have a single round left while Riley took one of Rockfield’s revolvers, due to the hole in his left arm.

They went through two sections of the passenger deck before they ran into the second group of soldiers.

Patterson carefully looked inside the room the soldiers were in, and other than the four NAF soldiers was somebody sitting on the floor with a bag on his or her head. If Patterson had to guess, that was either a hostage or somebody who tried to run away.

“Loud or silent?” whispered Nichols.

“How far are we from the next set of stairs, Riley?”

“It’s literally right outside that room, but it doesn’t lead directly to the cockpit,” he replied.

“Then let’s stay silent for now,” said Patterson as he took out a knife from his vest.

He then slammed the door open with his shoulder and threw the knife into the back of one of the guards. Nichols rolled in after him, and shot down two others, while Riley tackled the last one and started hitting him with the butt of his pistol until the man eventually stopped moving.

They made considerably less noise than Patterson expected, and as he took his knife back, he also pulled off the bag from the hostage.

Patterson didn’t recognize the red-haired young-looking man, but Riley did. “You again?”

“Riley! I thought I was dead for sure!”

Nichols put away her weapons and pointed at the hostage.

“You know this guy?”

“We’ve met before, but I don’t actually know who he is. He surrendered to us after we took out his allies, and I let him go because we didn’t have the time or motivation to drag him along.”

Nichols shook her head. “It would have been a lot easier to just leave him tied up, but considering what’s happening in the city, that might not have been a good choice in the end.”

“Yeah, I reasoned along similar lines.”

Patterson looked at the man. “How did you end up here?”

“I got spotted while I was trying to escape the city.” he hastily explained “The others dragged me all the way here and were about to shoot me for desertion. Thanks for preventing that…”

Nichols looked at Riley again. “You know him the best. What do you want to do with him?”

Riley put away his gun and took the knife from Patterson. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t let you go. Just don’t get in our way.” He then cut the ropes and the red-haired man was yet again saved by the AMC’s soldiers.

“I think it’s best if I hide in the toilets for now. Let me know when we land.”

“Will do, but before you go, I’d like to know your name,” said Riley.

“Alex Santos, from Rocketenburg.”

“Alright Alex, stay safe.”

Patterson suddenly grabbed his shoulder. “Uh, one question. Do you happen to know where your commander was planning to fly this plane?”

Nichols turned to Patterson. “You want to attack their base, don’t you?”

Patterson nodded. “As soon as everyone else is home, yes. After what they did here today, I won’t rest until there’s anything left but ashes of their HQ.”

Alex looked at the two of them for a while as he tried to recall anything. “Can’t say that I know the location, but if you can get to the cockpit, the navigation logs might have something.”

Patterson patted Alex on the shoulder. “Alright, thanks. Now find a hiding spot!”

While Alex found a hidden place on the plane the rest of the group went up the stairs. There was a larger room in front of them with windowless doors. Patterson grabbed his shotgun and ran to the doorway while Riley and Nichols stacked up on the other side.

“We’re going loud now,” said Patterson.

The two nodded, then Nichols kicked the door open only to find themselves looking at an Aftonian soldier who was playing poker with four other NAF soldiers.

“Oh…” said the Aftonian, who Patterson recognized as Corporal Hernandez.

Nichols immediately aimed her guns at the soldier which resulted in the soldier and his men doing the same followed by Riley and Patterson. It was four against three.

“Nice of you to bring Sergeant Bitchface here Lieutenant! Real thoughtful!”

“You can shut the hell up, traitor!” Nichols retorted.

She didn’t waste any time and jumped to the ground with Riley as they opened fire while Patterson blasted away one of the soldiers before leaning back behind the wall. He felt a bullet graze his left shoulder, but it seemed like the shoulder plate of his vest prevented any damage. Hernandez jumped behind a seat while one of the soldiers charged right at Patterson with a knife. Patterson’s team all took shots at the soldier and sent him flying right back the way he came from.

His partner decided to attempt the same thing through the other doorway, but Patterson changed his mind with his shotgun. The last NAF soldier realized that this tactic wouldn’t work, and instead, she threw a shock grenade at them, but to her surprise, the grenade came flying back into her face. Only Hernandez remained standing all of a sudden.

“Fuck this!” he shouted.

He laid down suppressing fire at their position then ran right out of the room after pressing the alarm button. Nichols and Riley got up from the floor and along with Patterson, they followed the traitorous soldier. They followed him through two more rooms before they finally reached Captain Kingsley’s private cabin, right next to the cockpit.

Kingsley apparently took the precaution to close the cockpit’s doors and barricade it with a shelf to prevent the pilots from getting hit, and Patterson also noticed that he was wearing a parachute.

They were about to exchange fire when something transparent rose up from the floor and separated the two sides. It looked eerily similar to a bubble shield, and when Nichols aimed at Hernandez and fired her guns, the bullets bounced off from it. The same thing happened when she tried to run through it.

“Not so fast Sergeant. We need to talk first,” said Kingsley.

“You don’t deserve to say a word you goddamned traitor!” shouted Riley.

Kingsley rolled his eyes. “Would you all get over this? We are all aware of what I did, so let’s just skip the part where you chastise me and get to the point.”

“What point?” Patterson asked.

“The reason behind our attack,” Hernandez replied.

Patterson would have very much liked to shoot them down right now before they ran out of time to get the plane back, but frankly, he wanted to hear the man explain himself.

“It’s not like we can do much with this shield here…” said Patterson.

Kingsley seemed grateful that they decided to listen. “Appreciate it, Cole. Jefferson no doubt told you that I was looking for Riley’s drive, but I doubt he knew why.”

“Can you get to the point already?” asked Riley, still gripping his revolver tightly

“That "drive" is the black box of the Danuvee and contains the ship's logs from the day it crashed. Amongst other things, the data on it could finally tell us why and where our ships crashed, and more importantly, who was behind it.”

Riley lowered his gun a bit. “But why didn’t you just send someone to steal that thing?” he asked, and Patterson noticed that he started shaking. “…why did you feel the need to plant a fucking nuclear missile into my home?!”

“McConnel, do you have the slightest idea of how much the information on that drive is worth?” Hernandez asked. “That thing is the sort of information that nations are willing to go to war for.”

Patterson shook his head then yelled at them. “Which is precisely what you idiots ended up orchestrating! And for what? You’ve kidnapped thousands of people, and now you are going to blow up an entire city for a damned history book?!”

Kingsley stepped forward. “See, this is precisely why I left the AMC! Everyone I’ve met didn’t seem to care about humanity’s past, and that we are making the exact same mistakes we did hundreds of years ago, that in the end, led us to the loss of Earth! We’ve only been here for less than four hundred years, and we have already had three major global wars and countless smaller conflicts. We’ve got a chance for a fresh start when we landed on Azuno, and instead of taking it, we went back to killing each other because we assumed that somebody sabotaged our ships!”

He stopped talking for a moment. “You Aftonians are the worst offenders. Your whole nation was built up with war and conflict in mind, to the point where your general has more pull than your own goddamn emperor!”

Nichols slammed her fist into the shield. “Says the man who ordered his soldiers to detonate a nuclear bomb inside a city! You can pretend that you’re doing the right thing, but that won’t change the fact that you are a megalomaniac psychopath! How can you justify blowing up Blackfortress and destroying Sapphiria’s economy just so that you can find answers about an event that happened centuries ago?! Nothing is worth that!”

Kingsley sighed. “You keep missing the point! That flight log would contain a complete record of what happened with the ships on that day. It would finally reveal the “why”, the “how”, and in the Bluehammer’s case, the “where” as well.”

Patterson suddenly remembered his conversation with Platoon. “You don’t want the answers… You want the Bluehammer, and more importantly, the things that are inside it!”

Kingsley nodded. “Amongst other things, yes. That ship has been sealed and forgotten ever since we crashed. Hell, it might even contain the schematics for the Pharnax drive that the ships used to travel here! And, if it turned out that the ships crashed because somebody wanted them to crash, then those people might still be out there, and we will need every weapon at our disposal to beat them.”

“Take a look through Azuno’s history and you’ll find plenty of weird things,” Hernandez continued “I admit that our methods are a bit drastic, but if that’s what it takes to get to the bottom of our disaster, then I am willing to do whatever it takes.”

Nichols stepped back from the shield, and Cole noticed that it started blinking. “I am not willing to look past what you had done today. No matter your reasons.” scowled Nichols in a stern voice as she raised her guns.

Kingsley sighed and reached for his sidearm as the shield started blinking faster.

As soon as it disappeared, they were ready to open fire, when Kingsley quickly jumped to the right and pressed another button. Their guns went right up to the roof of the plane out of nowhere, possibly due to some kind of magnetic force activating. Patterson thought that Nichols would fly up too, but it seemed like her armor was made out of non-magnetic materials.

“You’re not taking me down that easy!” Kingsley shouted.

Patterson and Riley charged at Kingsley with their fists while Nichols went up against Hernandez. Kingsley didn’t pull out a knife, but instead grabbed a chair from the floor and threw it at Riley who got knocked down. Patterson retorted with a left hook to the Captain’s jaw. He attempted to do the same with his right, but Kingsley dodged it. He quickly grabbed a handle on the wall and kicked Patterson in the torso with both of his legs, sending him down to the floor.

Patterson got a quick glimpse of Nichols head butting Hernandez before he jumped back onto his feet. This time Riley attacked Kingsley with the same chair, but the captain jumped away and the chair ended up hitting the makeshift barricade instead. Kingsley quickly switched places with Hernandez who then charged down Patterson and knocked him down to the floor once again. He managed to hit the lieutenant in the face twice before Riley pulled him off from Patterson and kneed him in his torso. The corporal staggered back, which gave an opportunity for Patterson to stand up and return his favor.

He was close to knocking Hernandez out when he kneed Patterson in the groin. He felt an immense pain from the center of his body, which gave Hernandez the chance not only to kick Patterson off of him but to also take a grenade out and pull the pin on it.

“Karl! Don't!” Kingsley yelled.

Hernandez wanted to throw the grenade at Riley, but Patterson was quick enough to kick it out of his hands from the floor and send it flying to the unoccupied spot in the room between Nichols and Hernandez.

The explosion didn’t hit anybody, but it blew open one of the windows of the plane, and the room decompressed, the air sucking out everything apart from the nailed down furniture and the life raft on the wall.

Riley and Patterson managed to hold onto the nailed down couches just in time, but Nichols, Hernandez, and Kingsley weren’t so lucky. Hernandez almost got sucked out the hole, but he caught a piece of furniture, while Nichols managed to catch one of the couches using her jetpack to slow herself down. As Kingsley flew out, he grappled onto Nichols’s leg, and before she could fry his face with the jet flames, he jammed a knife into her jetpack's electronics.

Fear and anger took over Patterson’s body. He quickly looked around the room for anything that could help, but with their guns stuck on the roof, he had awfully limited options. The only way he saw to save Karla Nichols, the woman who was personally responsible for the death of his friend, Charles Hodson, was for Patterson to kick Kingsley out of the plane.

He looked at Riley, who was looking at Patterson the exact same way Nick did when he charged down the sniper.

“Sorry Riley, but it's not your turn yet!” he shouted. “Get our people home!”

With that, he let go of the couch he was holding onto. As he was sucked out of the plane, he managed to kick Kingsley in the face and send him flying out of the plane as well.

The last thing Lieutenant Cole Patterson heard as he was sucked out from a high-altitude cargo aircraft was Nichols’s desperate scream.


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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