Written By: Kristof E-Mail: Kristof.firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: This story is a work of pure fiction, but also in a small amount faction, since based on real-life elements. I don't claim to have the right tactical views or correct versions of the aforementioned events. This is just what I came up with. If this is not entirely clear to you, then do not proceed.Also, no names, with the exception of Solana, Clinton and Milosevic, have any affiliation with existing persons. Should they match the name of any person, living or dead, it is enterily coincidental. Neither the author, nor this fic are affiliated with the Walt Disney Company for use of the name 'Kit Cloudkicker'. Again, although the name matches their character, they are two completely different entities and should be regarded as such. Most of all, enjoy reading.
Lyrics quoted below are all property of The Offspring and were written by either Dexter Holland or Greg K. I don't claim to own these lyrics. They were used with the utmost respect for my favourite californian punkband. Lyrics were taken from the albums Smash, Americana and Conspiracy of One, I suggest you listen to them sometime and unlock that extra dimension in this fic.
For all who lived near, it was only an abandoned factory, shabby and about to collapse. Nobody came near, purely out of lack of interest. A couple of people tried and confirmed what most people knew: the place was absolutely abandoned.
But underground, there were several square miles of shimmering concrete, the real purpose for the ‘keep out’ signs. Underground, only known to the rats who happened to stumble onto the concrete walls, lay Sector. Officially they didn’t exist, and for most people above ground in the quiet region the name was even unknown, but a select few knew. And those select few were more than enough to keep Sector alive.
A tired kid lay quite snug in his bed. It had been his heaviest mission yet, but there were no breaks for him down here. His own conscience never seemed to let him alone and time was always against him. There were concessions for him and his problems, offcourse, one of which was a private room. But concessions had a price and the child knew that he couldn’t slip up even once. The dreaded lightbulb flickered on and the bell rang…the start of yet another Sector morning. From this point on, he had exactly five minutes to get out of bed and get his uniform on, something he had learned a long time ago.
Half awake, the boy walked through the narrow hallways, dragging his feet as usual. Every day, the way to the assembly area seemed to get longer and longer. Today, however, Ian had decided to wait for him, but not to congratulate him on his last mission
“Hey, Kit boy!” Ian shouted at the approaching boy. He was a few years older and loved to make that clear every time the two talked
“Not now Ian” Kit mumbled as he strolled past his colleague. Ian gave chase, determined in continuing his little egotrip
“Just a quick question: how blind is your Lieutenant if he still considers you a level 39 sniper?”
“Ask him yourself” the boy pressed himself against the wall to let his lieutenant pass and gave him the usual salute “Sir!”. While passing, the lieutenant silently pressed a clipboard in Kit’s hands and moved on. Ian peeked over Kit’s shoulder to catch a glimpse
“What’s it say?”
“Private Kit Cloudkicker, we regret to inform you, yaddayaddayadda, despite excellent state of service, some more bullshit, degraded to level 36, sincerely some moron from Oversight. Now ya happy?” the boy sighed and gave the clipboard to his fellow sniper “Guess we can’t all be level 40 like you”
Ian leafed through the pages, describing the situation leading to the degradation. Oversight was extremely fast if it came down to lowering someone’s rank. His eye fell on a trajectory calculation
“1 inch from your lieutenant’s ear? Missed the main guard? Ran out of ammo?? Kit, what happened?” Ian looked at his friend, only to see he was already further down the hall. Ian quickly ran to catch up with him “C’mon man, don’t be that way. So what if you had a bad day?”
“I hardly think they’d demote me for a bad day, Ian, this has been going on for a while. And for the record, I didn’t miss that guard, he was wearing Kevlar, I just didn’t see it” the boy was willing to leave it at that, but Ian grabbed him by the shoulders and pushed him against the wall
“What do you mean, you didn’t see it? You see everything, that’s why you’re a sniper for christ’s sake! Snap out of it and get help or you’ll get yourself in trouble. I’ll cover for ya this once, but you have to promise me to get help! Promised?”
Kit felt like Ian was about ready to choke him or start fighting. The older boy had taught him almost everything he knew, and if he messed up, it reflected badly upon Ian. He knew what his mentor was going to pull just to get his sorry heiny out of trouble and he knew he wasn’t worth it. For the hundreth time, Kit was indebted to Ian, and all he could do was give his word
“Good” Ian let go of Kit’s shoulders “now, I’m going to the armory. Wait for a few hours and then ask your lieutenant if you can inspect your rifle again, because you think something was wrong with the scope. By the time I’m done with it, something will be wrong with it, capiche? The counselor is down the hall to your right. Go see him”
Ian gave Kit a last push against the wall and hurried to the armory. The guard was sure to let him in, since he was there almost every free minute of his life to practice. For Kit, it was the first time he’d go to see the counselor, so his knock on the door was a silent and hesitant one. A rather welcoming voice urged him to come in. As he opened the door, the woman was organising her bookshelf
“Ehmm.. hi. Do you have any time for me?” Kit said silently, the woman smiled back
“I always have time for those who ask. Sit down” the counselor sat down at her desk herself and motioned Kit to sit down on the couch against the wall “I’ll be with you soon”
“Thanks” the boy sat down in the couch, relaxing a bit “so…how does this work?”
“Easy as pie! You tell me what’s bothering you, I ask a few questions, we talk about it and by the time you walk out the door, you’ll feel a whole lot better” the counselor stood up, took a clipboard and sat down on a chair near the couch “Tell me what’s going on”
“Hard to explain…”
“Let’s start with the basics. I don’t have any info on you, what’s your name?”
“Cloudkicker, Kit Cloudkicker. I’m a sniper on the 8th Assault platoon, ‘cause I know that’s what you’re about to ask…”
“Okay, go on, don’t stop now” the counselor encouraged while she noted
“I arrived her when I was 6 because no orphanage would have me. I was deemed an incurable troublemaker that needed discipline but nobody was willing to invest time…I suppose this was a last resort. The first days were hell, like they usually are, but I managed…the heaviest blows came afterwards, during the training, that showed me just how weak I was considered to the other kids… you have any idea how hard it is to hear your trainer say you’re worthless?” Kit looked at the counselor, but all she did was take notes and nod him to continue “guess you don’t…anyway, it was at about that time I met Ian…”
“Ian?” the counselor interrupted
“Ian McGregor, the sniper of 1st Assault…”
“Ah, the level 40, my best customer. Did he recommend you to come here?”
“He ordered me to come here…” Kit looked at the counselor and noticed her frown when he started talking about orders so he decided to explain “you see, after my first mission, we were to meet with a contingent of the 1st to escort us back home. We were ambushed by Tango’s that had followed the 1st and were looking for an easy kill. I saw Ian take out half the enemy squadron before they were in range for automatic weapons…and I shot one out of a nearby tree, Ian hadn’t seen him. It was my first kill…”
“I see. I guess he was thankful then?”
“No way, far from it” the laugh was the first positive thing to exit Kit’s mouth since he woke up “I never saw anyone that mad before…he told me I should have ‘reported the position of the contact’ so that he could have taken care of it. There was no way to tell, but I knew he was amazed at that shot. So he must have put in a good word somewhere, because next thing I knew I had another trainer and was taking classes about the physics of a sniper bullet”
“What level are you now?”
“Just been demoted to level 36”
“Really? Want to talk about that? I mean, Ian never does anything else but bore me to death everytime he missed a shot…” the counsellor smiled, noted something and tapped the armrest of the couch “lie down sweetie, it’ll be a lot more relaxing”
“Okay” Kit eagerly took her proposal, seeing a good chance to rest a little more from his mission the other day “Ehhmm…I suppose I should tell you I don’t go freely in that entire demoting incident. I had the perfect view, green light for the shot, the contact stood still and…”
“You choked” the counsellor completed, knowing everything that went on among her future patients “your shot missed, alerting the enemy to your presence and the bullet soared somewhere of an inch from your lieutenant’s ear to impact somewhere near your best friend”
“Haven’t talked to Danny yet…he’s avoiding me…” Kit turned his head away, staring at nothing in particular “and I didn’t miss!”
“You didn’t mean to miss, but you did. No need denying it: if the bullet didn’t arrive where it should have, then you missed. Feels bad, doesn’t it?”
“NO! YES! AUUGH” Kit sat up, jumped out of the couch and started pacing around the room “What do you want me to say???”
“This is the first time I see you express emotion so violently. What sore spot did I hit?”
“I didn’t want to shoot! Can you understand that? I didn’t want to kill that guard!”
“Typical sniper problem, sit down” the counsellor never lost her calm voice and simply pointed with her pencil to the desk. Kit sat on top of it, crossing his legs “somehow I think sitting like that makes you more comfortable”
“It does, kinda…I sit like this more often than lie down in a couch” the boy scratched his head and looked away “listen, I’m sorry for going off like that, I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately”
“I think I have a pretty good idea. That black jumpsuit you’re wearing, that’s your problem! That, and the responsibilities attached to it”
“I don’t wear this for the good looks Ma’m, I either do my duty or get kicked out, which is what’s going to happen if I don’t improve my score ratio”
“How do you feel, when you see a man from a distance through the scope of your rifle? Is it merely the improved visual representation of your foe, or…?” the counsellor didn’t finish her sentence, but looked into Kit’s eyes when the boy turned his head towards her again, making it clear she wanted him to finish the thought
“I see a man, that never did anything wrong to me. Yet, I hold his life in my hands. All I need to do is pull the trigger, and that man ceases to be…I can’t do that no more…” the vibrating undertone in Kit’s voice was the sign for the counsellor that he was about to cry. He had reached into his deepest thoughts, only to convey them to the counsellor he didn’t know at all
“Even Ian has those doubts, you know? It doesn’t make you any less of a sniper. It’s not wrong in itself…but what is wrong, is to miss on purpose and endanger other people’s lives” the counsellor kept looking into Kit’s eyes, seeying the first tears appearing “if you don’t want to shoot, then don’t! Tell them you don’t have a clear shot or something”
“I…I had to! Once I took the guard out, the entire attack would start. The entire operation started or ended with me and I blew it! I BLEW IT, YA HEAR?!” tears now flowed freely from Kit’s cheeks, but he kept sitting as he sat, only the quick rise and fall of his back indicated his sobbing while he leaned forward to conceal his grief. The counsellor quietly walked towards him, taking a box of tissues with her. When Kit came to himself again, she offered him one. The boy eagerly accepted and wiped his tears “Sorry” came the quick apology when Kit realised how vulnerable he must have looked. The counsellor just smiled and sat down on the desk, next to Kit
“Don’t be. I’m glad to see you’re not screwed up yet…this life can do that to you” a strange statement seeing the circumstances
“’Not screwed up yet’? I just cried my eyes out, that ain’t normal for me!”
“Maybe you don’t realise it, but it is. Every soldier has a point where he snaps and ends up here. Some wait too long, or don’t want to be helped, and those are the ones in wheelchairs begging for nickles on the corner because they want to buy a weapon to shoot themselves. The desperate ones start acting paranoid, the healthy ones -the ones I reached in time- are the ones that come in here looking all tough and walk away with red eyes and wet cheeks. That’s the response I hope for, it shows you have a lot of pent up emotion, but are still able to express it. And there’s only one way to get rid of that nagging feeling inside of you, Kit, and that’s to tell someone why it hurts, why you disobey orders and why you break down on a battlefield and cry”
“You know, don’t you?” the look shared between the two said enough
“Someone told me…care to talk about it?”
“Who told you?”
“Does it matter? Wanna talk about it?”
“I didn’t know what to do…I missed the opening shot and the entire guard platoon was running outside. I started doubting myself…could I really go on? What I did wasn’t too smart…I dumped my ammo and…”
“You took cover, covering your eyes and ears, trying to drown out the fighting…they saw you break down Kit, but they don’t blame you, and you want to know why not?”
“I got the idea you’ll tell me anyway…”
“Because you were the last of the platoon to do it. They all got scared like you once…I had them all in my office once. Now, all I need to know from you is this: were you scared of the fighting, scared you might not survive this time, or were you scared you lost your touch and that might kill someone you know?”
“Scared I might kill someone I know…like Danny…that’s bad, isn’t it?” Kit looked at his counsellor while she leafed through his file
“Not really. Tell you what…I’ll squeeze you in between a few other patients this week, and we’ll work on that confidence. Take the day off, get some rest –because I’m sure you can use that – and I’ll see you tomorrow at 0900. Deal?” the counsellor noted the agreement and the appointments and extended her hands. As the usual sign of agreement amongst colleagues, Kit shook it. The woman gave him a tap on his back and sent him on his way.
Many miles from Sector, more specifically in the mansion of Lord Bourgon de Thionville, strange activities were taking place in the early morning light. Secluded from the rest of the small surrounding community, military units took their places in transport trucks. These trucks, marked only with the UNESCO symbols, quickly sped off, closely monitored by their owner, Lord Bourgon himself. His military advisor quickly noticed him and decided to give him a situation report. Before he could, the Lord had a few questions himself
“Are we still on schedule?”
“Yes sir. The moles are ready to make their move. We should catch up with the truck line at the East River. The plates have been validated by our man on the inside. They’ll never know where these trucks came from, let alone that they can retalliate”
“Good, good…what’s the status of our project overseas?”
“Our third platoon has been pushed back, but second and fifth are making excellent progress. First reported an attack to their positions and are marshalling their manpower. Fourth has been dispatched to their aide”
“I see…” the Lord took the clipboard out of the advisors hands and signed a few orders “Order First to surrender. Fourth is to destroy their camp completely, no survivors, and Third…” the Lord scratched his beard and gave the clipboard back to his advisor “send in the bombers…eradicate them”
“Sir, we will lose two platoons in a very cricitcal fase of our operation”
“On the contrary…” the Lord looked at the leaving trucks “I’m giving you the biggest army in the world. I will order my contact to sign over BELKOBAT to you…I’m sure you can provoke something”
The advisor smiled, finding a perfect way to fit this into the master plan “I love small countries…and their small armies”
“Quarters inspection” a quick knock on the door and the shout warned the occupant of the room that his room was about to be ramsacked by an officer in search of contraband. Used to this ritual, Kit walked out of his room and assumed a waiting pose next to his door. A quick glance down the corridor confirmed that all of his friends had done the same. The inspection team split up and each took a different room. Occasionally, one of the inspectors would comment on the state of the room, or about the organisation, and very rarely about what they found. They seemed in a good mood since all of the people Kit knew to be ‘able to locate certain things from time to time’ got off with a small warning. When the inspector entered his room, he was called inside. When he was out of sight of all other privates, the inspector shut the door and started his inspection
“Anything you would like to declare before I start? It saves you the time later on” the inspector dryly stated while his eyes fell on the closet
“No sir. This room is up to code and complies with all military standards set forth by Oversight”
“You studied your line well…” the officer mumbled and opened the cupboard, rummaging through the blankets and information manuals.
While Kit’s attention drifted to other regions, someone knocked on the door. Since the officer ordered him to open the door, Kit greeted his new visitor and was rather surprised to see Ian. Without explaining, the older boy entered and shut the door again. About to make a comment about this behaviour, Kit was adressed by his rank and designation by the officer.
“Private Cloudkicker…are you sure you have nothing to declare?”
“I do not alter my ealier statement”
“Very well…’Lieutenant’ McGregor, place the private under military arrest”
Dryly, the older boy complied, cuffing Kit’s hands behind his back. Puzzled, the boy hadn’t even noticed that the officer had adressed Ian with a higher rank. His surprise got even bigger as the officer pulled a rifle out of Kit’s cupboard and showed it to him.
“Private Cloudkicker, can you tell me what this is?”
“It appears to be…” Kit squinted, trying to place the make and look of the rifle “a Lee Enfield Mark 4. A sniper rifle sir…it appears to be a vintage 1943 model”
“Do you collect these?” a few manipulations later, the officer was looking into the chamber and took the clip out
“Then why does it contain live ammo?” the officer tossed the clip to Ian. The boy turned it around to read the serial number
“This clip was stolen from the armory two weeks ago, sir. No doubt about it”
“But…” Kit started his protest but Ian shut him up by putting his hand in front of Kit’s mouth
“Do you want to add any comments, Private?” the officer reacted, having heard the partial protest. Ian removed his hand but gave Kit a squeeze in the shoulder. Understanding the signal, Kit set aside his remarks and replaced them with common sense
“No sir. I choose to remain silent during the following proceedings”
“Very well. Lieutenant McGregor, was the weapon stolen from the armory?”
“No sir. The armory does not keep Enfields. We use a bit more sophisticated material”
“Please refrain from commenting on our armory, Lieutenant. Take the Private to the brig and hold him there until further notice”
“Yes sir” ‘Lieutenant’ McGregor guided his friend out of the room and pushed him in the direction of the holding cells. When they were out of earshot, Kit tried his luck
“Let me go. Tell them I overpowered you”
“Sorry, orders are orders. Any preferences on the cell? You get first picks”
“Got one with a seaview?”
Ian let out a small laugh and urged Kit back towards the brig. They were stopped by a guard on duty. The gruff looking sentinel barked out a ‘stop’ and looked straight at Ian. Over the head of Kit, both shared a look and the questioning began
“Questioning of potentially dangerous element, authorisation of Oversight”
“Very well, you may pass. However, Oversight is already questioning a private in the interrogation chamber, I suggest you find another secluded spot for questioning”
“Allright. I’ll take the prisoner to the messhall. Send in Oversight after they’re done in the interrogation chamber”
The guard nodded and sent Ian on his way. The new Lieutenant pushed Kit ahead of him towards the messhall. The officer that had made the bust earlier was waiting for them at the entrance, carrying the rifle in a guncase. Suddenly, a strange feeling washed over the busted private. Offcourse he was feeling like someone had framed him, but he also knew that it was against standard procedures to take a prisoner away from the cellblock for questioning, even when the interrogation chamber was occupied. What was really strange, was that the confisquated weapon was taken along to the interrogation spot, and not secured in the armory like it should have been. The officer opened the door and Ian shoved Kit into the dark messhall. By the sudden darkness, Kit lost his orientation and stood helpless in the obscured room. The door slammed shut behind him and every shred of light disappeared.
Not a sound was heard in the dark room, not even the dripping of the faucet that had been broken for ages. Kit knew how big the messhall was, and tried to remember the layout as he slowly walked forwards. Footsteps were heard, and the boy turned into the direction of the sound. Before he knew it, someone grabbed him from behind, took him in a stranglehold and roughly turned him around. The lights switched on with a sudden flash.
Kit’s attacker let go of him as the boy stared surprised at his platoon, all wearing night vision goggles. The banners hanging from the ceiling betrayed their meaning, all labeling ‘Happy 13th!’
“I can’t believe this is happening…” the boy muttered to himself while the platoon started singing ‘Happy Birthday’. He turned around, looking for Ian. The older boy stood right behind him, flanked by the officer, smiling and grinning. Kit looked at the officer
“Sir, how long does it take to open the handcuffs?”
“Just a moment” the officer smiled, knowing exactly where this was going. With an evil grin, Kit turned to Ian while the officer took his key
“In that case, you have ‘just a moment’ headstart…”
“Aw, c’mon, as if you were gonna…”
The same moment the officer took off the handcuffs, Kit made a tigerleap for Ian, before the boy even had a chance to finish his sentence
Lord Bourgon sat quite comfortably in his TV chair, watching the usual news channels. It had been a few hours since he launched a decisive part of his plan, and information was scarce due to time differences…all that would change once he launched the next part of his scheme. Usually, CNN would have covered things like this immediately, but for some reason the news channel remained silent on the whereabouts of BELKOBAT. Either something went wrong with their plan, or it was being kept under wraps.
Offcourse, it was a good thing when news channels were kept ignorant of developments in Lord Bourgon’s plan, but today it was irritating. His contacts hadn’t answered in hours and the last thing he knew was that his military advisor had taken control of BELKOBAT. If something had gone wrong, it proved the people around him were incompetent…the Belgians bought anything thus far.
“…relating to the Kosovo report, a recently received message from the UN Headquarters in New York. A small contingency of the Belgian armed forces, more specifically BELKOBAT 4, has been rumoured to have crossed the border of the disputed zone and crossing into Serbia. Even though Mr. Solana has been unavailable for comment, the commander in chief of the Belgian army denies all allegations. The confusion on the terrain, however, is great. President Milosevic already warned the international community that this action would not be taken lightly, and has been considered an act of war. Tension that had been building in the region for some time seems to have come to a violent outburst as both Serbian as UN forces are massing in the Kosovo area. NATO is still refusing all military ground support, but has offered their airforce, should President Clinton decide to once again initiate air attacks. There is great confusion of who is now in charge of the Kosovo operation…”
Singing sounded through the otherwise dead silent Sector corridors. The birthday party kicked off the right way with a small fight between Kit and Ian, allthough neither boy had fought to win. After a minute, both had gotten tired of the charade and shook hands to take on the Lieutenant.
For Kit this was heaven. He had no way to estimate how long he’d stay alive, given his current mission status, so he decided to enjoy what may be his last birthday to the fullest. The songs died down, and smiles formed on the faces of Kit’s friend, sitting in half a circle around him. Ian stood up and hit his pocketknife against his glass of rootbeer. The murmuring died down…
“Okay, fellas…we all know why we’re here. First, we’re here to celebrate our friend and guardian angel, Kit, the still level 39 sniper…” Ian smiled, while the rest of the platoon laughed at the face Kit made out of utter surprise
“…even though he doesn’t have the biggest sense of humor, even though I wouldn’t even want to walk on the battlefield without a helmet when he’s sniping…I kinda like my ears” once again, the crowd started laughing, while Kit, despite the way he was being bashed, faked embarassement and smiled through all of it
“Aw c’mon, this ain’t fair…the Lieut still has his ear…”
“No I don’t!” the Lieutenant yelled, having tucked his ear under his cap. The crowd cracked up completely
“…We still got him this token of our appreciation, in hopes that he might hit something from now on..” Ian continued while the Lieutenant got up and hurried out of sight. The platoon went silent as the officer returned with a guncase. Kit knew what was in there, and could only shake his head ‘no’ while Ian confirmed his suspicion
“Kiddo…we all chipped in, and we got you what is commonly regarded as the best sniper rifle around…except for the german K98, which we would have gotten if Danny hadn’t blown his money on gum…”
“It was worth it!” Danny yelled to nobody in particular, unwrapping yet another bubble gum
“…anyway…your birthday present…” Ian continued while he motioned the officer to put the guncase on the table and open it “a Lee Enfield Mark 4, 1943 model. Carry it with pride…an’ hit something from now on, for god’s sake!” while the platoon started laughing, Kit took the rifle out of the case, which was proudly marked ‘Kit Cloudkicker, ace sniper’ in gold lettering. The weight seemed just perfect, the dimensions and scope flawlessly crafted with care. Feeling a tad more emotional than he would ever want to admit, the boy put the rifle back in its case.
Even though the Lieutenant didn’t want this party to end, he had the duty to inform and command his platoon. At least he felt a bit better, seeing how his sniper was smiling again. Buying the Enfield from a collector he happened to know suddenly seemed a small thing, even though it had cost more than any member of his platoon would ever know. But duty called, and the officer saw himself forced to stand up and shut his platoon up.
“I know I won’t make myself popular by doing this, but…what the heck, I don’t really care, not like I was popular anyway” the officer started with a joke, and managed in spawning a few laughs “but…Tomorrow, assembly at the underground transport by 10.00 hours. Survival training, and all I’m going to say is: pack warm and be prepared. There’s still plenty of rootbeer to go around, and a bottle of champagne for those who can stomach it, but don’t be too long. Oversight was pretty creative on the training…” the officer added cryptically while he left the room, leaving a stunned platoon behind. Danny was the first to break the silence
“Man, he knows how to wreck the mood”
“Don’t mind him” Ian started as he put a bottle on the table “champagne for everyone!”
‘Champagne for everyone’…in the foggy mind Kit now owned, it was the only thing heard. The boy had never really drank before, and opportunity made the thief…and time made the hangover. The bell had rang a few minutes ago, but Kit decided to try his luck. Perhaps the security camera in his room would pass over him, oblivious of his presence, or perhaps the hall security wouldn’t storm in for a very unpleasant conversation. A buzzer sounded in the room, followed by a voice….his Lieutenant tried to convince him to get up before security caught wind of his absence in the Assembly area
“Had a good party yesterday?”
“Could you turn down the volume, please?” Kit pleaded weakly as he pulled the pillow over his head. As only response, the voice sounded louder through the room
“I heard it got pretty late. Sounds like you’ve been drinking too”
“Put a sock in it” blending deed with word, Kit threw his spare pair of shoes at the intercom system
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that, private. You are to report at the transport at 10.00, remember? And you have an appointment with the counsellor at 09.00”
“Aw damn! You’re right. What’s the time?”
“8.30…we let you let you sleep in late. Now get up”
A quick knock alerted the counsellor of the arrived patient. Despite her usual ‘come in’, nobody entered. Wondering what the problem was, she opened the door herself, seeing a heavily packed Kit Cloudkicker in full combat gear, complete with helmet. He looked rather tiny, carrying the large bag, and the woman was having a hard time not to laugh. Kit dragged himself into the office and threw off his backpack. As the finishing touch, Kit put his helmet on top of the backback and slumped against it, exhausted.
“I’m tellin’ ya, Oversight went nuts on this one”
“Oversight or you? Remember that I’m here to evaluate and improve your mental state, you can tell me anything” the counsellor smiled, cheerfully implying what Kit had been thinking all along
“I’m a tad overpacked, aren’t I?”
“Just a little. I feel you need professional help here…” putting down her notepad, the counsellor opened the backpack, rummaging through the contents
“They warned us to pack as complete as possible, so I simply threw my entire closet into my backpack. There might be a few ‘unnecessary’ items in there” Kit clarified, standing up to join the counsellor in rummaging
“Uhuh…I see…tell me, what was the clue this time?”
“The clue, m’am?”
“Aw, c’mon” the counsellor chuckled, stopping her digging for a minutes “they always give a clue before a survival training”
“Well, there was one…’pack warm’”
“Ah, the classic” the counsellor smiled and started unpacking the backpack, under continuing protests of the private that spend half an hour packing it. When she was done, she ordered Kit to take off his bandolier and weapon belt. Just when Kit thought he would never understand, the counsellor started explaining “I’m not going to say where you’re going, but I know. I also know what you’ll need, which is a lot less than what you packed. So let’s select the basics. What do you know you’ll need?”
“Food, clothes and weapons” Kit recited his survival course
“Okay, now let’s try to find out which kind you’ll need of each category. Field rashions handy…” the counsellor picked up two packs of rashions and put them in the large side pockets in Kit’s combat pants, running almost all the way from his knee up to his thigh. Adding to his soon-to-be-diet, she put two candybars in each pocket “…and a little something for when you’re really hungry. Clothes…knowing where you’re going, you’ll have to choose between a winter jacket or a bodywarmer” to demonstrate, she held up both items: the longsleeved camouflage white winter jacket and the camouflage white sleeveless bodywarmer. Feeling the weight, she put the winter jacket down and opened one of the small pockets in the front of the bodywarmer “what’s this?”
“Kevlar m’am. I kinda converted my bodywarmer into a bulletproof jacket…”
“…by adding a few pockets and cramming them full of Kevlar plating. That was good thinking, but I don’t think you’ll be shot at with an assault rifle. So the winter jacket is our garment of choice…unless you ‘adjusted’ that one too?” smiling, the counsellor handed the winter jacket to Kit. As if she suddenly remembered something, she quickly went to her desk and started opening and closing the doors of the built-in cabinet furiously, clearly searching for something. With a loud “Ah-hah!” she stopped her searching, took something and closed the cabinet. She came back and handed Kit a white sweater “here ya go…in case you still get chilly”
“Thanks” the private smiled, packing the sweater carefully in his backpack with the rest of the necessary supplies.
“I suppose you got the rest of clothing…boots, pants, shirt and jacket?” the woman squinted and rubbed her chin, as if judging Kit’s appearance
“Okay then, on to the next item on the list. Weapons…I’m not really an expert on that field. I know there’s offensive and defensive weaponry…”
“We’re not raiding a heavily defended enemy base here…”
“So why pack any weapons at all? It’s only extra weight. There’s only one gun you need…”
“I know, a flaregun” Kit reacted by swiping the item and hanging it in his empty gun holster. Something felt wrong “I dunno about this…I feel like I’m defenseless”
“Yeah, you’re right. There’s something else you need”
“I know just what I need” Kit rummaged through the stack of unloaded items and quickly located his hunter knife. He clipped it to his belt and felt a whole lot safer
“Do you know one of the three rules of Darwinian survival?” the counsellor started cryptically
“Don’t get killed?”
“Darwin, Kit! The biologist? ‘Evolution of the species’?” the counsellor tried. Unfortunately, biology seemed to be a very low priority in the education process at Sector “Anyway, one of his main laws was ‘survival of the fittest’. He found that the species which was the best adjusted would survive. In order to survive, a species needs to adapt and improvise…not pack an assault rifle. Do you really need the knife?”
“Let me have this one. Rome wasn’t built in one day either” Kit retorted, not willing to give up his knife
“Touché. Allright, we have the basics. Now what?” the counsellor asked, not to get the information, but to test her patient
“A map, a compass and perhaps a few extra’s”
“Exactly. A map” the woman talked while she gave Kit the items “ a compass and perhaps a few extra’s” Unnoticed to the private, the counsellor packed a few comic books she had found between the pile of unloaded stuff. A bell startled them both and the speaker system jumped alive, broadcasting it’s message through the corridors
“Notification for 8th Assault: Mission commences in T-minus 2 minutes. All members are to report to the rendezvous point before expiration of timeframe. Repeat: underground transport departs in 2 minutes”
A sudden frenzy broke out in the corridors as 8th Assault hurried to the underground transport system. Kit closed his backpack, put on his helmet and opened the door. He suddenly paused, as if waiting for something.
“Good luck, Kit. Be safe”
Having heard what he wanted, the private jogged out the door and through the corridor, carrying his distinctively lighter backpack.
Time was precious before a mission, and it showed once Kit arrived at the transport. Half of the platoon had already found a seat by the time he got there. They were all packed like mules, taking whatever they could carry just to be sure to have everything.
Kit quickly entered the wagon and looked around to find Danny. Even after everything that happened, Kit’s friend still remembered to save him a seat. Grateful, the private sat down next to his friend and strapped himself in for departure. Suddenly, everything slowed down.
As fast as the past minute had seemed, now that he had arrived the world seemed to have come to a full stop. Time creeped by, the large digital clock overhead seemed to have stopped completely, giving Kit the time to glance around in the futuristic looking transport. It scared him a little, Kit confessed to himself, the small capsule with enough seating for a single platoon, half opened when stopped and fully closed when in transit. It vaguely reminded him of a subway, but no subway was capable of the speeds this transport could reach. Lost in thought, Kit didn’t notice how the clock overhead crept down to zero, and the mechanics of the transport became active.
“Danny…” Kit started, looking ahead to the half hour trip of hell “got some gum for me?”
“Sure” the kid responded, fishing some bubble gum out of his pocket and giving it to his friend “but I thought you didn’t like gum”
“Well, this is an exception” Kit responded cryptically, unwrapping the gum and putting it in his mouth.
The capsule started closing, the top slowly sliding over the lower half. There were no windows, and hardly any lighting, giving the whole a rather unsettling atmosphere. If anything would go wrong with the oxygen system once the top closed, the transport could easily double for a titanium-steel coffin. Luckily, the oxygen system started hissing its contents into the transport, and started pressurising the cabin. In an attempt to drive off the pain in his ears, Kit started chewing the gum. His trick was successful, but he kept chewing, knowing there would be a lot of pressure changes later on. Some of his teammates hadn’t thought ahead like him, and were now covering their ears with their hands, waiting for their inner ear to stabilise by itself.
Even though this transport was fast and sturdy, it was never revealed to civillians, partially because of the crude pressurising system which killed the entire first testing crew. It was only mildly adjusted for Sector use, and there were still a lot of bugs in the mechanics, which is why Oversight always tried to avoid using the underground transports.
A rumbling in the cabin alerted the Platoon and warned them to brace themselves. The engine of the transport sprang to life, projecting its exhaust flame against the now fully raised blast deflector. It heated up and built inertia, until a warning light appeared in the cabin, accompanied by a computer voice
“Warning, departure imminent. 5G expected during departure under current conditions”
After the warning, the entire platoon, including the lieutenant, gripped the armrests of their seats and checked to make sure they were properly strapped in. Two and a half seconds after the warning, the lights flickered off…and three seconds after the warning they were already 100 feet away from their point of departure. Nothing was heard inside the cabin except the rumbling for a while, until in the front wall of the transport a number of lights started flickering in a set pattern and loud beeps overpowered even the rumbling of the engine.
For those who had managed to stay awake after the blastoff, this was a confirmation of their small victory, for the others it was a wake-up call.
Ever so slowly, half the platoon woke up, including Kit and Danny. They knew that they wouldn’t see the entire blastoff, since the sudden increase in pressure and gravitational forces always knocked the younger kids out. They both hated the transport, and so did most Sector kids…but there was no time for complaining when they had a mission to go on.
“Everybody awake? Sound off” the lieutenant commanded, only half awake himself. Alphabethically, the members of the platoon stated their names and ranks. After completion, it became clear that everyone was awake and had survived the blastoff without much harm. The otherwise talkative platoon remained silent for quite some time. Not only was the ride still bumpy and rather intense, the badly pressurised cabin made that nobody had much oxygen to spare for talking. When the burning in his lungs became a bit too much, Kit took the oxygen mask hanging above him. When the rest of the platoon had followed his example, the chatting began through the built-in microphones.
“Bumpy, fast and uncomfortable all the way. Gentlemen, the underground transport” the lieutenant started, hating the transport as much as his platoon did
“For the fastest in out of control travel, join sector and you’re sure to scare yourself witless” someone chimed in, it was hard to tell who through the rumbling and static
“From New York to San Francisco in twenty minutes. Tickets available for all those who are not afraid of dying in a horrible crash”
“Mach 2 in hard chairs, affectionados only”
“Experience the joys of spaceshuttle speeds…without wings!”
The jokes about their discomfort and fears kept coming, until someone posed the inevitable question
“Yo, Lieut, where we heading?” the someone was Kit this time, his curiosity had only been amplified by the counsellor
“...so asks the lightly packed young gentleman in the third row” someone retorted, Kit was pretty sure it was Danny
“Where we are heading is a big mystery to us all. Although I am blessed with this knowledge, passing on this blessing would not be wise. All I may say, from the higher might that blessed me…”
“OVERSIGHT!” the entire platoon shouted, gotten used to the phrasing of their lieutenant just before a mission
“…the force’s name shall not be spoken, blasphems” the lieutenant quipped back and continued his phrase “…all I may say, is that this ordeal is but the first part of our spiritual voyage. We will, after our souls have ended their hasty voyage, soar through the air, to the place where our souls will come to rest”
“Where YOUR soul will come to rest and ours can start walking back!” Kit retorted, laughing
“AMEN!” the rest of the platoon laughed in their microphones
“Nicely spoken. And so it shall be, bringer of quick ends. Now, my angels, gather strength…and get ready for kickback”
A light switched on in the front wall. This time, the blast would come from an entirely different angle.
Since there wasn’t a brake system solid enough to stop the capsule before it smacked into the blast deflector at the other end of the tunnel system, the designers had figured out a better way to avoid a lot of fatalities during a stop. The front of the capsule slid open, revealing another rocket engine.
When travelling at Mach 2, it would be stupid to start braking when the target is in sight. Just past halfway, the front engine started firing, slowing down the transport gradually. Incrementially, the rear engine powered down and the front powered up. The passengers were pulled against their seatbelts and strained as much as possible to avoid being squished.
“Instead of being knocked forward, enjoy a long solid braking, only in the underground transport”
“Power steering, power braking and lousy airco”
“Are we going forward or backwards?”
“When the front becomes the back and the back becomes the front, you know for sure you are a member of the Sector forces”
As if to punish all the jokes, the lights in the cabin fainted and died, along with the control system in the front wall. The front engine stopped completely, while the rear engine powered up again and propelled the cabin forwards to insanely high speeds.
“To all those who came before us…” started the dreaded prayer. Before long, the entire platoon chimed in, talking as if in one voice
“…to those who lived and those who perished. To all who have seen this moment in all its terror, guide our souls to safer grounds. The unworthy are on their way, hoping for forgiveness. Our lifes’ ends we hold in sight, may the Lord forgive us”
After the prayer, which was almost sung, silence reigned. The entire platoon realised something was going horribly wrong. They had prayed for forgiveness before, usually just before entering a battlefield when they realised their mission was a near-impossible one. So far, it had always helped them.
Seemingly coming as a divine reward, the backup systems for the controlling computer came online and analysed the situation.
“Warning, 50 seconds to fatal impact. Adjusting engine controls to compensate”
The rear engine shot off, transferring all power to the front. The passengers were knocked forward, together with all loose packs that were scattered around the floor. The heavy equipment hit the front wall and destroyed the glass parts of the control system, exposing the circuitry. Sparks shot everywhere, miraculously missing the passengers in the front row. The warnings beeped again
“30 seconds to fatal impact. Critical counter velocity achieved, braking power inadequate. Initiating emergency brake procedure”
In a hail mary attempt to prevent a fatal accident, the computer gave the order to emergency braking. The wheels below the transport collapsed, grinding the capsule against the underground. A strong hook shot out the back and anchored itself into the track. It tore up the track and underground, trying to drag the out of control transport to a safe stop.
“15 seconds to impact. Emergency braking in effect, impact cannot be avoided. Brace, brace, brace!”
A highly decorate officer stood on the catwalk, well above the receiving grounds. He was overlooking the tunnel, awaiting the arrival of the platoon. Some of the technicians were panicking, but the officer couldn’t think of a good reason why.
The technicians, however, were aware of the technical difficulties aboard the transport. Off course they hadn’t told the Oversight liaison officer: they’d be insane to risk their jobs and lives that way. Clouds of dust shot out the tunnel with great force once they had lowered the blast deflector to make way for the careening transport, and the technicians quickly ran for their lives.
The officer didn’t know what he was seeing when the transport shot out of the tunnel and slid to a stop in the center of the receiving room, scattering dust and debris everywhere. The floor behind them tore open, rendering the billion dollar tunnel and receiving complex useless. After the frenzy of panicking technicians, dust and sirens, an eery calm settled over the complex while everyone wondered what happened to the passengers.
As if to ridiculise the entire panic, the top of the transport fell off, revealing the passengers. On first glance, they all seemed alive, a few of them were even laughing.
The joy of having survived the potentially fatal accident overpowered the platoon and soon they were all bursting out in laughter, unstrapping themselves and sifting through the mess of backpacks to claim their personal equipment. The medics that had scrambled hastily, slowly retreated back to where they came from, a bit disappointed none the less. The technicians helped the platoon out while the officer took the elevator down.
“Heya Lieut” one of the technicians greeted the commanding officer of 8th Assault “seemed like a bumpy ride. Anything else you’d like to smash today?”
“As a matter of fact, there is, Joe” the lieutenant dryly stated while he took his gun and aimed at a particular spot near the ceiling. A single shot later, the sign that had once proudly read “Over 50 runs without an accident” was no more. Laughter went around the complex, as everyone seemed to sympathise with the way the lieutenant had phrased his opinion about the transports.
“So, are you going to shoot the pilot too, if your flight isn’t satisfactory?” the Oversight officer shouted across the main hall while approaching the group that slowly got into greeting position
“No sir, just the copilot” the lieutenant joked, receiving a very cold stare in return “my apologies, sir”
“Next time, ask permission to speak freely, lieutenant” the officer came to a stop, one inch away from the lieutenant’s face
“Sir, I ask permission to speak freely”
“Don’t be such a windbag, Ross” the Lieutenant stated in his usual dry voice. The platoon held their breaths. Much to their surprise, the officer burst out in laughter and gave the lieutenant a quick hug
“Too true, son. Too true” he took a step back, inspected the lieutenant, adjusted his slightly out of place helmet and took him by the shoulders “I wouldn’t know what to tell your mother, lord knows she’s worried sick about you”
“Is this, by any chance, the reason why you will not be participating in the exercice, sir?” Kit asked innocently, never moving from his position in the greeting line. The entire platoon was having a hard time to supress smiles and laughs, while the officer pulled up an eyebrow and approached the insubordinate private
“That depends. Are you, by any chance, the one that almost shot my son’s ear off?”
“Yes sir, but next time I’ll aim better” once again, said innocently, but with an undeniable underlying meaning
“Enough already, private” it was the usual ‘when-all-else-fails-use-the-rank’ remark, the only defense of a dominant but old officer “if you don’t aim better next time, I’ll get you in trouble”
“Sir?” Kit asked rather confused, afraid the officer hadn’t gotten his earlier joke. The officer leaned in closer and whispered to Kit
“My boy’s ears are way too big. He kept hearing everything at home. Absolutely no privacy with him around. Next time you get the chance, trim his ear for me, wouldya?”
“HEY! I HEARD THAT!” the lieut shouted, cracking up Kit and half the platoon
“Okay! Enough of the nonsense! Check the equipment for any damage. Report everything, even a scratch, because what we have in store for you guys is no walk in the park” the officer shouted out, serious all of the sudden. Without hesitation, the members of the platoon started to unpack.
Lord Bourgon was not pleased at all…the reason of his irritation was currently talking to him over the phone, his absolutely incompetent and irritating accountant. The poor man had dared to comment on the way the lord was spending his money, and decided to do him a favor…a mistake he was now explaining over the telephone…
“…and I wasn’t really trying to slow down the actual development plans, or the opening date, but dates can be rescheduled, and I think it would be better if you just waited until the end of the month to collect your usual income from the bank and only then finish…sir…” the trembling voice defended desperately
“Mark…allow me to explain this to you very briefly. You are, in a way, my Public Relation manager. You watch out over my image and see to it that the public sees me as a very gentle person, a generous person…or I will have to kill you. And as for my money, I spend it as I see fit. You have delayed the opening of my satellite station long enough. Now, I want you to start a campaign for my future television channel, give the plans to your assistant and then come straight here. And Mark…”
“Forget everything you saw about the invitations and bank balance. That is well outside your responsibility”
“So, all in all…two busted compasses, five torn maps, thirteen damaged shirts, nine flareguns that won’t flare anymore, a couple of broken watches and…” the Lieutenant looked again at his clipboard “a ripped comicbook…” The officer’s eyes travelled over his group, wondering who could have reported something that unprofessional. During his inspection, he noticed Kit was working hard to look innocent. Even though he was supposed to issue a formal investigation to punish the private that wanted to charge the cost through Sector funds, he decided to let it be and checked the box marked ‘replace all items’. Sure enough, he couldn’t just let this slip without a comment. Reading his clipboard again, and making sure that this time Kit was watching his reaction, he shook his head and looked around the group. Mistaking this gesture for the dreaded ‘someone is gonna get it’ look, the boy quickly looked in the other direction to focus on his packing. For the Lieutenant, this was all he needed to know. Tapping the back of the clipboard with his free hand, he made his way to the now obviously scared private, all the while drumming a tune
“Do you recognise that tune, private?” the officer made the boy jump into a quick greeting position
“Sir, no sir…should I?”
“’Ghostriders’…everybody knows it, I guess my sense of rhythm is a bit off…”
“Sir, yes sir”
The officer frowned at the statement and Kit quickly covered up his tracks
“I mean, I recognise it now, sir”
“You see! I told you everybody knows it. It’s even the title of a comic book. Ever read it?”
“Yes sir…that is to say, I have read certain issues of it”
By now, the entire platoon was eavesdropping on the duo, and some brave souls even dared to step closer with the intention of bailing out their buddy should the need arise.
“I see…then tell me…” the Lieutenant leaned closer to the private and showed him the clipboard “what issue did you lose exactly? I mean, there were hundreds of this series, we gotta know”
“Aw, jeez…” Kit yelled out as he realised the officer had been pulling his leg the entire time. The platoon started laughing and Kit turned around to face them, shouting “It’s not funny!”
The commotion was over rather quickly as the platoon regained its military precision and organised in orderly lines. The Oversight officer started inspecting the troops, periodically commenting on a badly fitting jacket or an untied shoelace. After this last ordeal, the platoon started to move out.
By the gate to the airfield, they were halted again. The Lieutenant ran forward to meet a technician and both of them took post at opposite sides of the gate. The massive gate opened and let in a stream of sunlight. For the platoon that spent most of its time underground, the light was blinding, but all of them bit through it until their CO shouted the familiar command
In a studied and trained moved, the platoon reached for a shirtpocket and took out their sunglasses. Most members of 8th Assault made do with the standard equipment they had been given, but some had already earned the right to use their own, custom glasses. That was why, when the platoon marched out to the waiting transport plane, Kit observed his surroundings through the latest Ray Ban’s. Nobody slipped by the inspection without sunglasses, and the officer was soon back with his platoon. On the hot airstrip, the usual unmarked C-130 was waiting for them.
Orderly, and under the watching eye of the Oversight officer, 8th assault took their seats and secured their packs. Once the officer left, however, the order disappeared and the members of the platoon started chatting away. Kit smiled at the proceedings and the disappeared hierarchy, took his old CD-player and started his usual Offspring CD. It was on the tones of Nitro that the plane left the ground.
‘We are the ones, who are living under the gun every daywe might be gone before you know it
so live like there’s no tomorrow’
[The following was translated from Dutch, out of the journal of BELKOBAT’s communication officer]
Our campfire burned brightly in the obscure forest. There was little to fear at night, and it was not that much for the light or heat that the campfire burned. It burned out of habit, just to ease the wrecked nerves of the batallion. In our situation, however, one could argue that this was a habit worth breaking.
This could not continue. I decided to take action and sneaked past the guard. I managed to kick out some of the fire before my commanding officer woke up and caught me redhanded. He treathened to shoot me as a traitor, but I know he was bluffing. For the third time since communications ceased, I tried to reason with him, make him realise the futility of our efforts and the danger that lurks around us. I now know that I need not expect help from my colleagues. For the first time since we landed in this godforsaken land, I am afraid…I am truly afraid.
Some kids suddenly jerked awake by the shout and the bangs on the fuselage. They had been able to find somewhat of a comfortable sleeping position on the benches lining the interior of the C130. Rubbing the sleep out of their eyes, they quickly rubbed again…they had to be dreaming.
Kit had been sitting silently, and most people figured he was asleep. Few knew that the batteries of his old CD player had long since given out and that most of his attention had been focused on the position of the plane, especially on the everchanging landscape. What he had seen coming for a few hours now, hit most members of 8th assault like a thundershock. In utter silence, he grabbed his pack, made his way to the cargo door of the plane and jumped down onto the permafrost.
It took some time for the platoon to form an acceptable formation, and most knew that the CO wouldn’t mind a disorderly column, provided they’d pass this exercise. Some time was enough for Kit to find a new pack of batteries in his backpack and refresh the power of his ‘moodenhancer’. Knowing full well that a CD player would never pass for standard equipment, the young sniper hid it with his field rashions. It seemed, however, that Oversight indeed had something special planned.
At the shout of officer, the entire platoon stood at attention, awaiting new orders. It was clear to see that everyone was nervous
“Allright, time for another survival drill. Frankly, Oversight is disgusted with your test results. There’s too much fat and too little muscle. We see that a lenient attitude towards this issue is getting us nowhere. So, to make sure we are making you sweat enough, we’ve added a little twist to this exercise. Platoon…give me your shoes!”
The entire platoon looked at eachother in disbelief. Obviously, the officer meant bussiness this time
Immediately, the platoonmembers reached for their shoelaces and started taking off their shoes, under the continuous encouragements of the officer “one, two, three, hut two, three…c’mon….” Finally, after one minute that seemed like an hour, the entire platoon handed their shoes to the officer and retook their place.
Kit suddenly realised how cold the underground was. Oversight had indeed outdone themselves. It felt like the circulation in his feet was cut off, numbing them and sending the cold through his entire body.
“The assembly point, presuming you’ll live to find it, is located 40 clicks north by northwest from EXACTLY this position. The C130 will be waiting there. And, oh yes…once this bird touches down on the strip, it’ll wait for EXACTLY two hours. Not one minute more”
Having said this, the officer turned to enter the old transport plane. Once onboard, he turned for the last time
“You may use whatever resources you have available to make it. DISMISSED!”
While the C130 stormed down the improvised runway, 8th assault opened their packs to get our their spare pair of shoes, thankful that they had remembered to pack them. When Kit had searched his pack for the third time, he suddenly remembered the pair of shoes under the intercom system. He quickly found Danny
“Dan, my man…please tell me you remembered to bring back my shoes this time” Kit hinted, referring to the pair Danny still owed him. Danny just looked at him with eyes filled with a mixture of regret and shame
“Dan?! Don’t do this to me!” Kit grabbed Danny by the shoulders
“I’m wearing them man…sorry”
“You don’t have another pair?”
“Sorry…can’t help you this time…I’ll see you at the assembly point”
All Kit could do this time was stare and watch Danny’s form disappear in the thick fog surrounding them all. After all was said and done, it always came down to one thing
Dog eat dog, every dayon our fellow man we prey.Dog eat dog, to get by
“hope you like my genocide” the sniper almost sighed in time to the band blasting through his headphones.
“Mark, mark, mark…” the lord sighed, shaking his head while pacing around his accountant, knowing he had full control over the situation. His henchmen were selected either for their courage, or their intelligence. Now clear from his expression, Mark had been one of the latter. Cowering in the antique chair, Mark was counting the last seconds of his life…or at least his career. To make matter worse, Lord Bourgon stood behind him and put a hand on his rightshoulder, his voice thundering throught the office
“I really don’t know what to do with you, Mark…I gave you a job, gave you a house, a car, a driver and even paid for your aunt’s eye operation…is this your thanks?”
“N-no, sir, I’m grateful for everything….” Mark tried, but stopped as soon as the lord’s grip on his shoulder tightened
“When I want you to talk, I’ll tell you so!” the lord hissed close to the accountant’s ear
“Sorry sir” Mark cowered, knowing very well when his boss was far from happy
“It’s really beyond me how you could suddenly have the idea to browse through my personal files, break through my security and concern yourself with matters outside your responsibility”
“It was never my intention to search for anything incriminating…sir. But the accounts didn’t quite add up, so I searched for the origin of the funds…” Mark defended, having overcome his initial fear
“So…” the lord sat down across his accountant, staring hard into his eyes “what exactly did you find?”
“I’m…not sure sir” Mark swallowed hard, seeing no safe way out of this. How could he possibly tell the man in front of him what he knew?
“You’re not sure? My accountant, the man I handpicked myself for his excellence is unsure of what he found in confidential files?” Lord Bourgon smiled back, knowing the weakpoints of all his employees…oddly enough, most shared the same weakness: pride
“Someone booked a large amount under ‘miscallenous’ and ‘other expenses’, sir. I was rather shocked, since I’m the only one permitted to book amounts exceeding ten million dollars”
“I see. Perhaps your error in judgement may have a positive outcome after all. Mark, I’m willing to forgive you, on one condition…” Lord Bourgon stood up and stared out the window behind his desk, observing nothing in particular
“Anything, sir” It wasn’t an idle statement: Mark would have gone to the ends of the earth to redeem himself
“Very well then. I want you to make a digital copy of those files and destroy the originals” the lord stated matter-of-factly
“But sir…it’s a federal offense to destroy those files…according to law, we’re obligated to keep them for at least five years, and even then we should have them ready for an eventual audit”
“Mark…” Lord Bourgon turned around to stare his accountant in the eyes again “I’m willing to reward your vigilance but not your stupidity! Those files can mean the end of our company, and that will put everyone out of work…and you would be responsible. That would…anger me, Mark. You don’t want to do that…”
“No sir” Mark was now shaking as a leaf
“If, on the other hand…” the lord continued, starting to pace around behind his accountant again “those files were to disappear, no harm would come of them. With the digital copies, we’d be able to find the culprit and your presence near those original files will arouse no suspicion…” A hand fell on Mark’s shoulder again, discomforting the accountant considerably…his boss always seemed to do that when he wanted an employee to break yet another law “See, Mark…we can’t let one dishonest person ruin everything we built. We built it all together, Mark…it’d be a shame to see it all ruined. Would you do me this favor?”
The hand remained on his shoulder, squeezing it, while Mark seemed to decide wether he should stoop to this new low…but the lord had raised valid points. How could he shame the trust of someone who had done so much for him, even on a personal level. Swallowing hard, the accountant came to a decision
“You’ll have the disks on your desk in the morning, sir”
Darwinian survival…it had meant nothing to the boy a few hours ago. His opinion had changed a lot since the landing…with no shoes, walking 40 kilometers on a frozen underground of an artic wasteland, improvisation was the only way to go.
The first few kilometers had been hell. Despite his light backpack, he didn’t seem to get anywhere, and he surely was never going to make it to the assembly point in time. All he had was a hunter knife and a white sweater…
Practical reasoning had soon replaced sentiment, and the sweater was quickly cut in half. Wrapped around his feet, it was at least to some use now. Despite the primitive insulation, Kit’s feet started protesting every few steps. It felt as if the bloodcirculation had stopped completely, and in his knowledge of hypothermia, Kit knew he was contracting a bad case of frostbite. He also knew that walking slower was of absolutely no use under these circumstances.
All he was sure of was his timeframe. He had seen the C130 circle overhead for a while, until it finally disappeared on the horizon. That meant the lieutenant was making sure to delay the landing a little, so that his platoon had time to get to the assembly point. That would spare them a very long walk back, a possible new exercise and offcourse suspension of the latecomers from Sector ranks. All that was more than an hour ago. At best, the suffering sniper had 40 minutes left to make it. To increase his odds, he started a light run, under continueing protests of his frozen feet.
Meanwhile, the first members of the platoon were returning. They had left markers along the way, offcourse, just to make it easier on those coming behind them. That was the unspoken agreement. The C130 was waiting, hatch closed. Only the door to the cargo area was unlocked. Inside, the heating was working overtime. There was no use prolonging the suffering of his platoon, so the lieutenant had made sure to have enough blankets aboard…he had always been soft at heart.
As the first lucky kids climbed aboard, their mood of hatred towards Oversight was replaced by a feeling of gratitude towards their CO. Amazingly, Danny was the third to make it back to the waiting plane.
“Kinda chilly out there” he joked, closing the door behind him.
“Hadn’t noticed” the kid known as Mike quipped back, while he tried to warm himself
“No wonder since you’re wearing everything you own” Danny shot back, grabbing a blanket for himself “Sure feels good to see that someone has a heart around here”
“Don’t mention it, partner” the CO casually exclaimed, finding a good spot on the bench “speaking of partners, where’s your counterpart?”
“My counterpart, sir?”
“The other part of your pair…don’t you think I don’t notice my troops teaming up? Don’t worry though…friendship is about the only thing that’ll keep you standing. So, where is he?”
“I don’t know, sir. I suspected he’d be here ahead of me…he always is…” Danny reasoned, sitting down near the door
“Well, he ain’t here, Gumboy” Mike shot, knowing exactly where to aim “He’s getting slow…slow AND soft”
“He ain’t getting soft. As I recall, you’re the one who started calling yer mama on the battlefield, Mike” Danny smiled and leaned back
“I got shot, Dan. Try it some day, you’ll hate it too”
“Ya didn’t get shot” the CO mixed himself in the argument, knowing every file by heart by now “according to the medics you got scratched by a stray bullet. Could have been painful, but not anything close to getting shot”
“Yeah, yeah…at least I had a reason to start crying”
“What’re you getting’ at?” Danny shouted while he jumped up, ready to show Mike every corner of the plane
“Fellas, fellas, calm down already. Mike, we all respect your usual tough attitude, we’re not gonna keep hammering on that one incident. Just don’t do it to others, perhaps we’ll shut up about you too. And Danny…you gotta know why Kit ain’t here yet”
“Well…he’s barefoot…he didn’t bring his second pair of shoes” Danny admitted, looking at the half frozen shoes on his own feet
“Then where is his third pair? Or did they get lost in his laundry?” Mike joked back, but regretting it when Danny felt obviously uncomfortable
“I ehmm…I’m wearing ‘em. He once loaned them to me, an’ since I forgot to bring a second pair…”
“Pretty low, Dan-boy” Mike retorted immediately
“Ow, put a sock in it, Mike” the CO surprised everyone “and Dan…you got two choices. Either you go back out there and search for him…”
“I ain’t going back out there”
“Then I don’t wanna be you when he gets in”
The offices had always had that certain dusty atmosphere. It was annoying at first, but in the end, it turned into one of their charmes. Mark could remember the place when it was in it’s early phases. Where his desk stood before, when they installed the first computer, when his colleagues started…it was the place he and the lord used to build their empire. Although they had never been friends, anything Lord de Thionville asked him, Mark considered a friend’s favor.
“Working overtime?” someone behind Mark asked, startling the accountant. As he turned and beheld Matthew, he suddenly relaxed
“Got some stuff to finish, yeah” he said, continuing his work on the computer, scanning the documents
“Me too. So much work for that TV-station…we’re accountants, Mark. The lord can get better planners than us!” Matthew complained, resuming work on the invitations
“He asked us anyway…just do what you’re being paid for” Mark slowly retorted, feeling bad enough to be doing this in the first place. He couldn’t use complaints from a colleague right now. At the same time, that colleague started to wonder
“What are you doing here anyway? Calculating our paychecks?” Matthew dropped his work and started to walk around Mark to look at the computer screen. The accountant knew that getting caught redhanded while embezzeling money would land him in jail for sure.
“None of your business Matthew” Mark stood up, flipped off the computer screen and started pushing his colleague away from the computer
“Aw, lighten up. I’m just checking for my bonus this month” the cheery Matthew retorted, jumped around Mark and swiped the document from under the scanner. His eyes travelled over it rapidly, having gotten used to the same administrative phrasing “donation to the Kosovo Liberation Army…? Three million smackers?? Mark, what’s the meaning of…”
Before he could finish his question, Mark tore the document out of his hands. While it landed on the floor, neither Mark nor Matthew made an effort to grab it. Matthew just stared blankly into Mark’s eyes and read nothing but regret and sorrow there
“Is he making you do this?”
“Nobody is making me do anything…just…” Mark sighed deeply and turned back to his work “just put that paper in the shredder, go home, and forget what you saw”
As he watched Mark sink back into his chair, Matthew picked up the paper and stared at it for a second. All he could do is wonder why…why did it have to be Mark?
The shredder did its job quickly and effectively, turing the paper in small, illegible shreds. Mark didn’t even look up to check, and resumed his duty. Matthew left the room, stepped a few paces into the corridor and leaned against the wall.
He once again looked at the paper he just stole and closed his eyes.
The C130’s engines were running on low RPM to warm them up. Spending a few hours in the icy cold had almost completely frozen them over, but the time had come to leave the place behind. The purr of the engines was almost one of satisfaction, as if the machine was looking forward to returning to its usual hanger. For the pilot, things were running smoothly. Or were they?
In truth, the pacing and concern of 8th’s CO was driving him nuts. He acted like it was the first time one of his ‘troopers’ didn’t return. All the manouevres to delay the departure had proved ineffective, and the time had finally come to leave this frozen hellhole. The pilot told himself that nobody would stop him from leaving as soon as possible.
“Lieut….” A certain Rick tried, the pacing CO didn’t even need to hear the rest
“Save it, he’s coming…any second now” he once again stared at the frozen hill behind the airplane, thinking to see a tiny blur
“Sir…it’s time to close the hatch” the pilot poked his head in the cabin
“Not yet, give him another minute” the lieutenant grabbed a pair of binoculars to stare at the dot
“How many minutes have you given him already? Close the hatch or I will” the pilot snapped. Until the lieutenant and half the platoon gave him one of their patented stares “ehmm…sir” To quote it in military terms, the pilot felt a little bit ‘outgunned’ and retreated back into his cockpit. He had control over the hatch on his main console, but closing it now would be suicide…and perhaps even murder.
Out of his mood, the pilot started taxiing the plane to the other side of the runway. In the back, he could here a lot of yelling and stomping. Perhaps they had spotted the missing soldier, perhaps they were about ready to lynch the pilot. Just to be safe, the pilot switched on his intercom
“Calm down fellas. I’m just moving the plane. If he’s not in by the time we’ve turned around, I’m closing the hatch”
In the back, the stumbling increased while the plane gained speed.
Little did the pilot know that the missing soldier had just stormed down the hill and was now trying hard to catch up with the speeding plane. His CD player, on its last bit of power, was blasting ‘Killboy Powerhead’ at full volume through his headphones. It seemed to give him wings, while he made a quick leap at the open hatch. A hand caught his and pulled him in. The hatch closed quickly. The pilot smiled and took off.
While the lieutenant helped his sniper onto the bench, Danny cautiously approached with a blanket. Kit didn’t seem to move until his friend was close enough. His fist quickly shot out and hit Danny in the stomach. While the platoon’s assaulter doubled over, the sniper spoke his first words to his friend
“Now we’re even”
The target dummy fell, riddled with bullets of a heavy caliber. This was all the marksmanship required of a soldier. Although the small form holding the assault rifle would be an uncommon sight in most places, the mansion of Lord de Thionville was an exception. Behind the shooter, his military advisor kept watch and whistled
“Nice shooting Tex”
The shooter only replied by dropping the empty clip of his automatic weapon and replacing it with a full one. Another burst echoed through the room, deadly striking another target dummy. The wooden representation of a foe chipped off and broke in half. After a while, only clicks were heard, yet another clip spent fully.
“Good accuracy, but you need to learn how to save bullets”
The shooter dropped the empty clip and reached for a new one. The Lord’s advisor stopped his hand a few inches from the object
“I said it was enough for today”
“Spoilsport” the shooter retorted, took off his safety goggles and tossed the weapon to his trainer
“I don’t know why I’m wasting my time with you, David” the advisor sighed
“Because my dad pays you half a million a month, Rudrick” David answered casually and headed for the door. Rudrick locked the weapon back in the rifle case and followed his annoying pupil. In one of the impressive marble hallways, he caught up with him
“You know, you can kill someone with a single bullet”
“I know” David shrugged and grinned “but it’s not half as much fun. By the way, the gun jammed three times”
“It only jams once every 250 shots, David. It’s one of the best in its class” the hand around the handle of the case tightened its grip until the knuckles turned white. If David hadn’t been the son of the boss…
“So grease it again…tss, so hard to find good help these days” having said that, David opened the door to his father’s office and entered without knocking as usual.
The lord hardly looked up from his work to greet his son. Rudrick closed the door behind him and kept himself on the background, knowing better than to walk up the Lord’s desk. His pupil, however, had no such manners and sat down on the edge of his father’s desk. He quickly grabbed one of the expensive cigars and lit it. Without looking up, his father took it away from him again and put it back in the box
“Shooting, training, fighting and loud music, yes. Smoking and drinking, no”
“Aww, pops, get into the new millenium” grumbling, David sat himself down in the sofa near the right wall
“Rudrick, how did he do today?” still, the Lord didn’t look up
“450 rounds for twenty targets, sir” Rudrick stated from the back of the office. David shrugged again
“Had to make sure they were dead, that’s all”
“A bit…excentric, indeed…” without looking up, the Lord took his letteropener and threw it full force at the sofa. David narrowly dodged the object while his father slammed his pen down on the desk and stood up “AND TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE”
“Whoa, calm down pops. You could’ve killed me with that thing!”
“Then at least you would have grasped the concept of accuracy! How do you dare to call yourself a sniper?” the Lord steamed. David stood up, his jaw set resolutely
“Because I don’t miss a single shot”
Lord Bourgon de Thionville lost his temper and selfcontrol. He lashed out at his son, giving him something to think about. David’s eye would have a nice shade of blue and purple for the coming days. While his son tried to regain his posture and picked himself from the floor, the Lord’s rage seemed to suddenly focus on Rudrick, who had stood grinning through it all
“Just exactly what are you laughing at?!”
“Nothing…sir” Rudrick stammered and slowly backed away
“I want to see some progress for a change. By 9 am tommorow, I want 2nd on phase line bastogne, the bombers over targets D5 through 7 and the perimeter around the conquered camps shut tight, is that clear?!”
“Yes sir” Rudrick resolutely said, knowing when not to mention the fact that phase line bastogne had been lost to enemy forces
“At least you serve some kind of purpose” the Lord grumbled and turned back to look at his son “From now on, you will train with the M40 rifle”
“The M40?” David asked while slowly getting back to his feet “But that’s a bolt-action rifle”
“I know. At least that way you might actually learn how to shoot properly” Lord de Thionville sat back down at his desk and returned his attention to his work while both his son as Rudrick silently left
Time creeped forward, seconds dragging out into minutes. For the first time since the councellor met him, Kit was late for his appointment. It was too bad too, she had some great news for him. Knowing full well when to question the break in habits of one of her patients, she stood up and set course for the barracks of 8th Assault. Halfway, she met her patient, helping himself along the way with a pair of crutches. Her heart seemed to skip a beat for a second, but the smile on his face seemed to make her worries vanish.
“Sorry I’m late…I left on the usual time” the sniper excused, slowly working his way towards the counsellor’s office. The woman helped him on the way until he broke yet another habit by quickly sitting down in the couch
“Seems like Oversight really went out of his way on this one” she joked while taking her trusty clipboard
“It’s as much my own fault as anyone else’s. I forgot my second pair of shoes, Danny used my third…thanks for the sweater”
“Oh, don’t mention it. Was it warm enough?”
“According to the medic, I would have lost my feet if it hadn’t been that warm” Kit’s face suddenly changed dramatically from the friendly smile that had been there just a few minutes ago
“Last time we got together, we discussed your anxiety about hurting your friends due to a lack of skill, is that correct?” the counsellor inquired
“Yeah, but that’s not what’s bothering me anymore” Kit sighed “right now, I’m not concerned about that lack of skill, far from it…I’m scaring myself”
“You’re scaring yourself?” the counsellor frowned
“Yesterday, I hit Danny instead of being glad he pulled me in the airplane…while I was in that icefield, all I could think of was hate towards Danny and superior officers. I’m kinda glad you didn’t let me take that machinegun” Kit confessed slowly
“I didn’t get a report about agression towards your colleagues…” the counsellor leafed through the pages attached to her clipboard and frowned “all I got was a report you passed the training with good scores but were lightly injured while doing so…medical report still pending”
“Frostbite. Should be okay in a few days. If Danny had just brought his own second pair, all this wouldn’t have happened”
“Odd” the counselor frowned “just a few minutes ago you said it was as much your own fault as anyone else’s”
“I know…there’s just so much I can’t keep inside anymore” the sniper sighed “I just need to vent some steam”
“In that case…” the woman said cryptically while standing up “I have a surprise for you”
The walk had taken some time, but the sniper was about to find out it was going to be worth his while. The video conference room was usually reserved for higher officers, if and when they needed to contact the ever elusive Oversight.
Today, however, the looks had changed drastically. On the large half-circle table, only one chair was present. Since it was opposite to the video screen and camera’s, Kit figured they wanted him to sit there rather than on the ground like usual. As soon as he settled in and the counsellor left the room, the conference room darkened.
For a while, nothing happened. To fight obvious nervousness and boredom, the sniper started to look around him. Much to his surprise, his old CD-player stood on the table, within his reach. Expecting his usual music, Kit plugged in his earphones and started the CD. Instead of the usual intro, something completely different happened. A familiar voice filled his ears, although he had never heard this one before. Out of surprise, he checked the CD and found Offspring’s latest. Looking around the room further, he also found another stack of CD’s and an electric guitar. Just out of curiosity, the boy took the guitar and played a few notes. The screen in front of him flickered on, showing a shadowed face
“Glad to see you like your presents” the hollow voice started, while Kit continued to play for a little while, seemingly uninterested
“You’re late for my birthday, you know?” he said finally, stopping his guitarplay
“I take it that you know who I am?” the voice had something familiar, but also something treathening
“The Big Kahuna…cut out the bullshit, we all know who you are” Kit retorted and resumed his guitarplay
“Attracted by loud music, precise, dangerous….one of our best. Seems they haven’t exaggerated…”
“Thanks for the praise, let’s get to the point, shall we?”
Without answering that remark, the figure visibly pressed a remote control. His appearance was replaced with that of a heavy motorised brigade assaulting a reinforced tank position. The battle went on for a while until Kit laughed
“Poor bastards. They’re fighting themselves to death, ain’t no way they’ll win”
“As we had assumed, your analysis is correct” the voice returned, while the scene now showed the burning wrecks of jeeps and APC’s
“So, who are they? Some new Russian terrorist group? And why the hell were they attacking an Abrams platoon?” the guitarplay was now taking on a steady tune, as it seemed the sniper’s interest went more to his new ‘toy’ than to the answer
“Actually, you just saw the third brigade Army Rangers trying to attack a terrorist position” the scene locked, froze into a picture and shrunk until it was only a small square on the top left of the screen, again showing most of the shadowy figure. The guitarplay suddenly stopped
“We have terrorists using M1 tanks? There’s a first” the voice showed some concern
“There’s more” several more pictures flashed over the screen, each taking a permanent spot in a row on the top of the screen
“The hell….? That looks like an entire strikeforce!”
“Correct, again. The most concerning about this force is that nobody has succesfully identified it yet. They are assaulting targets worldwide, posing as either Russian, NATO, US or European forces”
“I can see how that might be a concern” the guitarplay started with renewed vigor
“Actually, Kit, this is now your problem” the voice stated matter-of-factly
“Yeah right. Sniper versus M1 main battle tank…that oughta draw a crowd, for a few seconds at least” the sniper laughed, not in the least concerned
“Last week, a contingent of BELKOBAT has been misdirected directly into Serbia, I’m sure you heard of it”
“Yeah” the sniper laughed, now devoting his entire attention to the guitar in his hands “those Belgians…can’t even read a map right”
“Actually” another tactical report flashed over the screen, showing friendly and enemy positions. The positions moved, until they reached the present
“They had it…” Kit stood up slowly, coming closer to the screen “Two motorised brigades to the north, an advanced scout platoon to their east, and a Russian tank plat…” a sudden realisation hit Kit “what’s that Russian platoon doing to their south? Kosovo is a demilitarised zone”
“You’re looking at classified intel data. We believe the Russians are in fact the decoy force which has been active on a global scale…”
“And they’re pushing them north, right into the waiting arms of those Serbian platoons…the Belgians are being set-up for a very nasty fall…”
“Milosevic has already treathened to send troops back into the Kosovo area. This is the only provocation he needs to start another full-scale assault. Unfortunately, experience learns us that an air campaign would not do us much good…”
“And Clinton is not about to commit political suicide by sending groundtroops…Bad karma in that region. Is that what this is all about?”
“I am aware of your current medical condition. That almost cost you your participation to this operation. However, since the team will only depart in two days, it will leave you enough time to get familiar with the situation, and gain your full capacities in the meantime. As you see, it will most certainly be worth your while”
“Who else is on the team?”
“There will only be three members. The team, called Tricolor Marines, will consist of you, to provide overwatch and perimeter security” Kit’s most recent identification picture and complete file flashed over the screen, until the picture froze in the upper left corner of the screen, which was now clear of the assault pictures “Ian McGregor, for operational control and assault sniping” Ian’s face appeared on the screen and joined Kit’s on the top “And Daniel Bannister, Close Quarters combat and supressive fire” all three pictures now stood neatly in a row, while the darkened face stared back at Kit, seemingly expecting a reaction
“What’s the plan?” It was all the reaction needed to get everything underway
“The team is to locate and secure BELKOBAT4. Expect them to be…less than cooperative. After they have been located, the team will take them west, into territory controlled by the UN forces, avoiding confrontation with any hostiles encountered. Conceal every evidence of the Belgians ever having been in Serbia. Furthermore, conceal your own identities. To aid in this task, you will be disguised as NATO peacekeepers…”
“Bluehelmets?” Kit asked, using the preferred nickname for NATO troops while hinting to the obvious problems of mixing those with stealth movement
“Yes. It is imperative that, when caught, there is absolutely no connection with this institution. We answer to no one and intend to keep it that way”
“I don’t intend to get caught. But with a blue marker on my head, I would attract more attention then when wearing my usual…”
“So noted” the voice said irritably “feedback is always appreciated, but bear in mind that our finest strategists have worked on this plan for days”
“Get in, grab ‘em, get out? I could have thought that up in five minutes” Kit laughed, starting his guitarplay again
“Very well. Since you seem to have an answer to everything, tell me this…how do you intend on getting near the Serbian border without getting shot?” the voice had changed tone. A slight agression crept in…
“Air insertion. We take an unmarked plane, parachute near one of the refugee camps, pose as refugees, cross back into Serbia and get those Belgians to the nearest NATO checkpoint” Kit paid almost no attention while he said it. The screen flashed again, a new face appeared
“This is Black Mantis. He’s quite possible the most lethal hitman alive. His preferred weapon is the crossbow, sometimes using arrows coated with a paralysing poison”
“Tell me why I should care?”
“He works for our mysterious nemesis, and was last reported in the Kosovo area. We suspect he’s the one driving the Belgians forward with false communications. He will not hesitate to go to any lengths to accomplish his mission”
“…which includes killing us on sight. Thanks for the warning, I’ll keep it in mind” Kit muttered, standing up to leave
“This is an opportunity too good to pass up. Termination of Black Mantis is a mission priority. Shouldn’t prove to be difficult for a trio of hawkeyes, should it?”
“That’s gonna cost ya extra, biggy” Kit sat back down, staring at the screen
“As I suspected…” the voice didn’t seem surprised at all “after all, your teammates have also set their conditions. They both have agreed to the following…”
“Shoot” Kit leaned back in his chair, now staring at video footage of a military academy “what the hell is that?”
“That…” the footage froze into a picture and replaced the others “is Greenwood Academy. It has been one of our decoy operations for quite a while. If you should choose to accept the additional task, you would be transferred there every weekend, and to train new recruits who prove a handful to…conventional methods”
“Why’s that so great?”
“Cadets of Greenwood are allowed to leave for home every friday night” a new picture of a man and woman showed on the screen “meet Jim and Mary…your new parents. At least, that’s what they’ll be for the weekend. That is the reward for the death of Black Mantis”
Kit stared at the screen for a long time, trying to make up his mind. It sounded tempting to say the least. Something he had wished for ever since he arrived….especially the woman’s face was familiar
“Mary’s our counsellor…”
“Indeed, she is. She has agreed to this …. without much hesitation” it was a euphemism not to say she had volunteered for it
“If, and only if, Mantis is there when we get there…” Kit stood up to leave “We’ll do it”
Shot after shot sounded through the room. The target dummy was spared for once, every bullet missing it, impacting at a safe distance away. The shooter shouted in frustration while he pulled the trigger once again, missing for the hundreth time that day. He pulled back the handle on the barrel of the gun and slid it forwards again. He hated fully manual rifles.
Yet another bullet punched a hole in the sandbags behind the dummy. Having spent his last bullet for the day, the shooter tossed his rifle back to his trainer and looked at his poor performance. The safety goggles shattered against the ground, another victim of the shooter’s frustration
“Could be your eye, David” Rudrick said, not sounding very concerned
“Guess it could be that…” David turned around and received a slap in the face from his trainer
“You’re useless! Unless you have an entire arsenal and automatic weapons, you’re barely able to defend yourself!” Rudrick shouted, furiously
“I’m sick and tired of your comments, Rudrick. If you think you can do better, be my guest!” the quick gesture towards the dummy was all the trainer needed to load the rifle, aim quickly and fire. A little surprised by the sudden shot, David jumped back. The bullet neatly struck the wooden enemy, shattering the head. The pupil stared in amazement, but came to his senses quick enough to catch his own rifle, tossed back by Rudrick
“Now, we won’t leave here until you get it right”
“You could have killed me…” David muttered, regretting it immediately when the open hand of his trainer forcefully made contact with the back of his head
“I won’t repeat myself!”
With the shots in the background, Rudrick had all reasons to be proud. He had conquered all critical positions, bombed every target and was well on his way to make a decisive move on the battlefield. Things were looking up for him.
Slow, asian music played through the room. It was a rare sight to catch someone in the gym at this hour, but a lucky passer-by could now have found two. Both figures moved in unison to the slow rhythm, practicing their moves.
The Kata was yet another rare spectacle to be seen in this place. Most people understood sparring or punching the bag as a means of training, but both Kit and Danny had invested their time in the martial arts. Those who didn’t understand the philosophy behind it, found the dance-like routine stupid. But with patience came skill, and with skill came accuracy, a deadly skill for anyone trained in the old ways of fighting.
The figures jumped up and kicked in mid-air, as if trying to strike an invisible enemy. An observer would only now note that Danny was practicing barefoot while Kit had decided to wear sneakers. They both landed perfectly, balanced on the landing foot and spun around to repeat their entire routine in the other direction.
It had been a full day since the team had accepted its mission. They had been swamped in information, ranging from tactical air reports to guard routes around most Serbian border crossings. They took long hours to devise a ground plan and even longer to decide upon their supplies. After that entire ordeal, they tried to calm down for the long day ahead, each in his own specific way. For Ian, that meant picking off targets at the shooting range to convince himself he still had his touch. For both Kit and Danny, relaxing meant meditation, and the Kata was by all means a form of meditation. Intense concentration guided their moves through the complicated routine, the first never wanting to disappoint the other by slipping up.
Their fighting dance came to a close after a series of high kicks. Both warriors turned to eachother and punched at eachother’s face. With a fully stretched arm, both stood facing eachother, a hair dividing their faces from the other’s fist. It was the ultimate test…they hadn’t strayed from their positions relative to eachother, and neither of them had to pay the price for it. Both bowed to eachother to end the Kata, while a slow clapping sounded from the other side of the room, followed by a whistle
“Dance the night away!” the voice was so unmistakebly familiar that neither of the two had to turn around to identify it
“Blasphemer, Ian, you’re nothing but a blasphemer” Kit turned around to his friend
“Perhaps we should demonstrate one of our deadly kicks?” Danny started, turning to face the approaching Ian
“I think it’s about time again…” Kit concluded. Under a loud ‘HA-YA’, both kicked at Ian’s face, stopping just before hitting it. Ian stood still, gotten used to this routine. He just inspected the feet up close for a minute, until the martial warriors decided he was convinced of their power.
“It’s good to see you guys haven’t lost your sense of humor” Ian said as sarcastically as possible
“Aw, just take it like a sport and let me see your new swiss cheese design” while the three headed for the showers, Ian proudly produced his target sheet
“That’s what I call focused and accurate” proud of his work, the sniper showed his companions his newest trick. All bulletholes stood neatly in rows, each an even spacing away from eachother. Ian considered it the ultimate in concentration, Kit and Danny couldn’t really grasp the beauty of it
“You’re sick, man” Kit gave the paper back to Ian and set down on the dressing room bench. He carefully started to remove his shoes
“How are the feet coming along?” Ian asked concerned while one of the shoes came off
“They didn’t seem to bother them during the Kata” Danny shouted at the two, from out of the showers. Pretty soon, the sound of running water was heard
“Seriously, how are they?” Ian asked again while Kit peeled his socks off. They revealed feet with toes in several shades of blue “Aw, jeez man…”
“They’re fine, just gotta keep them warm” Kit interrupted his friend, leaning against the lockers while standing up
“You can barely stand on ‘em” Ian remarked, his arms crossed and mimicing his most paternal stance he could muster “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“I don’t have the choice. We were picked for this, we gotta go through with it” slowly making his way to the showers, Kit made a pitiful sight. Ian followed him, waiting at the front of the showers to continue talking
“We can always get someone to replace you. You stay here for a few days, get back on your feet and we share in the glory” Ian shouted at his friend, trying his best to be heard over the noise of the shower
“Where would you get someone on such a short notice?” Danny shouted back
“3rd is eager to send someone into action”
“A bit too eager for my tastes” Danny turned off the water, got out of the shower and into the dressing room
“Yeah, well, they deserve the chance. I trust them” Ian confided in his friend while Kit shut off the water
“Trust them with your life?”
“You trust your own feet?”
Good music, warm surroundings and a footbath. If the room hadn’t smelled like antiseptics, it would have been heaven. The infirmiry was a familiar place for the sniper and his friends, even if only for the monthly checkups they had to endure.
The TV-set and stereo were additions made only to stop the place from looking too much like a hospital. By all definitions, the place now looked more like a private clinic than a general hospital…they had to give the decorator that much credit. The face staring back at them from the screen was most likely the person that had financed it all, but they doubted if it had been his taste in decoration.
The tunes of ‘One fine day’ overwhelmed every other sound. When the song had started, it sounded innocently enough…but when the guitars broke in, general mayhem had broken loose. All three were now loudly singing along with the punkgroup, both the doctor as the mystery on screen had given up all attempts to stop them.
Tricolor Marines had been called here for a reason. Mission time was only 15 hours away, and they still had a medical checkup scheduled. Not only did they need a clean bill of health, they also needed several shots against possible infections or diseases present in the war-torn country.
For Danny, it mean a full condition check. He would carry the most weight and carry the most armament. He had been under the doctor’s attention for almost half an hour before he was finally approved for the mission. All Ian really needed were a few pills to calm his nerves…that, and a few cups of coffee to wake him up afterwards. Both had been approved for the mission easily, but Kit had reasons to go last.
Outside, so he knew, would be someone to take his place immediately, should the doctor decide that he was not going anywhere any time soon. The pressure was getting to him a little, heightening his bloodpressure a tad. Realising how stressful these missions were for the kids, the doctor overlooked the high bloodpressure and went straight to the heart of the dispute, Kit’s feet. They had been soaking in a warm footbath for some time to get the circulation running smoothly for a few minutes. When ordered, Kit lifted his feet out of the footbath and put them on the table he was sitting on
“How are they doing?” the doctor asked, used to no-nonsense answers
“Can use them pretty good if I wear the right shoes. Can’t walk on them barefoot though” Kit winced a little when the doctor started flexing his toes and checking the sensitivity
“Been treating them like I told you?” turning away from his patient for a second, the doc picked up a few blunt pins
“How else would I treat them? I’d like to keep my toes, you know?” Kit eyed the pins in the doctor’s hand and tried to assess their potential use. The doctor noticed his attention
“Relax, I’m not going to incapacitate you just before a Black Op” when the attention of his patient had dropped a little, the doctor quickly pressed one of the pins against Kit’s toe
“YO-OW…” the sniper complained, more surprised than in pain. He quickly regained his sharp wit “are you a doctor or a sadist?”
“According to my application, I gotta be a little of each” the doc retorted while putting the pins away “after all, how else could I send a kid like you on a covert operation?” patting the sniper on the back, the doctor gave his consent
“I’m going?” the puzzled sniper inquired
“Few rules tho’” the pair of boots and socks given to the sniper summed up the whole of the doctor’s rules in an instant “socks at night, boots during the day, combination if needed” when Kit was about to jump off the table, the boots were waved in front of his face “no exceptions”
After sheepishly putting on the boots and tying the laces, Kit jumped down to the ground and opened the door back to the waiting room. Ian and Danny interrupted their conversation quickly when their friend entered and gave them the ‘thumbs up’ signal. Taking his place with the rest, he noticed a strange tension in the air
“What’s wrong?” Kit asked, knowing very well what had been discussed behind his back
“In truth” Danny leaned forward to offer Kit some gum. The sniper eagerly accepted “we didn’t think you’d make it through”
“Well, in truth” Kit popped the gum in his mouth “me neither. So what was the discussion about?”
“Both were discussing who would replace you” the hollow voice sounded through the room, still sending a chill down everyone’s spine
“I appreciate the honesty, biggy. And while we’re all being honest, tell me…is this a covert op, or a black op?” at Kit’s question, both Danny as Ian held their breath. It was a question nobody dared to ask under normal circumstances. Even the shadowed face seemed to be taken aback for a second, until he realised that they were at least entitle to the truth
“Officially, BELKOBAT4 is not in Serbia. Thus, there is no rescue mission…”
“Black op” all three sighed at the same time
“I may have anticipated your further questions…” the hollow voice sounded while a heavy silence fell and even the stereo was shut off “Upon failure, there will be no retrieval. Identification is not an option. If you are identified in the field, make sure the unit never reports to base…even if that is a main battle tank, Kit. Should you be identified, killed or fail this mission, your personality records will be destroyed and your birth certificate revoked. You should then feel no more duty to report back to base and consider yourself free of the commitment you started when you joined Sector ranks. I expect no casualties on this mission”
“Except for Black Mantis” Ian observed
“Bring back his crossbow as proof of termination”
The team sat in silence, trying to take it all in. After all they had heard, the little enthusiasm they had left disappeared and they finally realised tomorrow was not going to be ‘one fine day’.
“This had better be good” the lord grunted, still half asleep. Few people dared to wake him at 4AM, Rudrick was usually one of them.
“There may be a serious flaw in our operation, sir…” the advisor started, knowing his boss was very impatient at this hour. He closed the doors of the office behind them to assure privacy.
“If your idea of a briefing includes insulting me in the middle of the night, you are doing a very good job, Rudrick” Lord de Thionville said tiredly while sitting down. The overzealous advisor raised the fake bookshelves and revealed the tactical viewscreen. It sprung to live and showed a plane taxiing on a runway, several hundred miles away.
“This” the advisor dramatically exclaimed while pointing at the screen. He was unable to work the hint of fear out of his voice “is a Sector flight”
“Sector or US, this is none of my concern, goodnight”
As only reply, the advisor turned up the volume and music was heard in the background. Having heard most of his son’s music, the lord recognised ‘Living in Chaos’ immediately and sat back down, thinking
“These aren’t regular marines…” he finally concluded. The fragment ‘wouldn’t wanna be you’ kept haunting his mind. As if the music was chosen to taunt him…did they know they were being watched?
“They’re Sector special forces, enroute to the Serbian area” Rudrick completed, while calling up the entire profile on the Tricolor Marines.
Before the lord could finish his question, the hatch of the plane opened and a sniper took aim at the center of the screen. By now, the entire office was quaking on the sounds of ‘Special Delivery’. The song couldn’t be more symbolic even if they tried
…one day I’ll be meeting you for real,you’ll feel bad like I feel…
A dry shot was heard and just before the two conspirators lost video and audio, they caught the last line of the verse
And I’ll blow you away!
Kit laughed while he closed the hatch again and high-fived the rest of Tricolor Marines. He didn’t know for sure who was watching them, but Oversight was sure that he would be watching them. They had flushed the mole out of their organisation months ago and learned of the Kosovo conspiracy. Everyone agreed that this would be the best way to send a clear message.
They had carte blanche on the exact details of the destruction of the camera, but somehow they realised even oversight must have known how they’d do it. After all, why else send three crazy gunmen on this mission?
These marines didn’t pride themselves with being stealthy, far from it. They enjoyed subdueing the enemy with sheer strength. It added to the humiliation afterwards, when the survivors learned they had been defeated by kids.
The plane took off for the next phase of the mission, and the unknown dangers of a war-torn region.
Lord Bourgon de Thionville slowly rose, seemingly not caring about what had just happened. He strode towards the door and past Rudrick. Somehow, he seemed to change his mind and turned back to his advisor, slowly
“Yessir?” the fear-stricken advisor inquired and jumped as his superior grabbed him by the throat and pushed him against the wall
“I WANT THAT ORGANISATION TERMINATED!”
“You think they’ll make it?” one of the oversight officers asked to the darkened figure on the screen. The whole of oversight sat assembled around an oval table, as usual when a black op was in progress.
“We chose them unanimously, did we not?” the hollow voice returned as only answer
“We don’t question the knowledge assembled here” another officer started
“There was no other viable option”
“To my recollection, we had agreed upon a single man mission and doubted between the two possible options…” a third officer continued
“We asked option number one…he refused to go without subject K. We then asked option two…he too refused to go without subject K. We found subject K prepared to go, but not without options one and two. Since both options agreed to go as soon as subject K was willing, we did not need to choose” the hollow voice rationalised
“Option one in itself would have done well…option two would have been doubtful. However, subject K is a temporary liability and may interfere with the work of option one and two”
“I agree. But subject K was an essential part of the incentive to motivate options one and two” this explanation effectively shut the entire council up until one voiced the question everyone had on their thoughts
“Do we intend to deliver what we have promised to the participants of this mission?”
“That will depend entirely on the outcome of this mission”
The droning of the engines sounded hard inside the plane’s hull. After a few hours of getting used to it, the three marines tried to catch up on some much needed sleep before the mission. The benches in the back did fine for both Danny and Ian, Kit had gotten inside the cockpit and was asleep in the copilot chair, feet on the dashboard. The pilot didn’t seem to mind, actually glad he would have someone to talk to on this long run.
“What’s Sector to you?” the boy that seemed asleep asked, startling the pilot a bit
“An unusual question…” the pilot said softly while adjusting some sort of dial on the radio
“I’m serious” not moving from his position, Kit took the flightplan and gave the pilot the correct VORTAC frequency “125.7, inbound radial 270”
“Thanks kid…where did you pick that up?”
“Dunno” the sniper tossed the flightplan back to its place on the dashboard and closed his eyes again “guess I was a navigator in an other life or something”
“How many kills so far?” the pilot’s question raised the sniper’s eyebrow
“45 this year, guess you deserve to know that”
“No shit?” interested now, the pilot glanced at his temporary copilot reclining in the chair
“No shit. That’s what Sector means to me, it’s my way of life…so what’s Sector to you?”
“A new place to live, a clean record and immunity for my earlier mistakes…” it was a cryptical answer that was clearer than water
“That and one hell of a salary huh?”
“Amen kid…amen…” the autopilot took control of the trusty C130 and executed a perfect turn to the next navpoint. With all the electronics on the bird, the pilot only needed to take off and land…and be able to fly escape manoeuvres “so, what are they paying you for this?”
“Fringe benefits” came the yawning answer of the sniper while he sat up and stared out the front windshield “Been doing this kind of stuff for about 7 years…already have a college fund, trustfund and retirement fund, what else do I need?”
“Friends?” the pilot tried
“Got them in the back” the sniper laughed
“Those two lunatics?”
“Yup. The three of us have been dubbed the Tricolor marines…crème de la crème of Sector forces” the sniper laughed again “guess that says a lot for Sector huh?”
“You guys don’t laugh enough” the pilot observed
“Why should we?” Kit’s mood immediately changed from happy to dark “we’re on our way to get killed”
“Pretty dark perspective if you ask me…”
“Yeah, well, I ain’t asking, flyboy” Kit snapped back, staring out the side window “this mission has a survivability rating of less than 20 percent, that’s a fact”
“Well, according to Oversight ratings, I have 10 percent a chance of slipping under the radar net over Kosovo, but you don’t hear me complain, do you?”
“Well, the air crews haven’t failed us yet” Kit lightened up a little and even smiled a little while he fixed his eyes on a point at the horizon
“Neither have the groundcrews, you gotta believe in yourself”
“Time flies don’t it?” Kit murmured and watched the European coast come into view. Their flightplan took them over Spain and Italy before arriving in the Kosovo region. The sniper quickly jumped out of his chair and banged hard on the door to the back “FEET DRY, GEAR UP!”
“Feet dry already?” the pilot repeated while looking out of the windshield, seeing the dark mass approaching. As he was trained to do, he took his radio and called in “Battlewagon 1, descending to mission height. ETA to special delivery, three hours”
“Roger” a new voice travelled over the radio. A small sportsplane closed with them until the wingtips were nearly touching those of the large C130 “Pizzaboy ready for signal transfer”
“Signal transfer?” the sniper asked, seeing the pilot grin from ear to ear
“This is where I earn my half a million a year kid…better buckle up” that said, he adressed the team in the back through the intercom. The intercom light buzzed on and Ian went to answer it
“What’s up, Kit?” expecting his pal instead of the pilot, Ian started casually
“He’s getting ready for the signal transfer…I suggest you buckle up, unless you’d like to inspect the top of the cabin a bit more closely”
“Are you sure this bucket of bolts will hold out?”
“If it don’t, we go for a swim…”
In Madrid, well outside the city limits, a team of ATC’s was watching the congested skies over the popular european vacation country. Chartered planes, as well as scheduled flights, fought for parking space and priority landing clearances. A lot of low-cost carriers counted on those planes crowding the skies, most of them based in the economically bad climate of Spain. Sympathising with these companies, the ATC always seemed to grant them priority.
During these early hours, it was common to see erratic readings. Everyone was getting tired, the next shift was on its way and the older systems frequently malfunctioned. But everyone was on their toes in this case. A few short minutes ago, a domestic sportsplane had reported engine problems just off the eastcoast of Spain, barely within radar range
“…repeat, PB376, losing altitude” it was heard even in the old C130. Everyone had strapped in by now and the pilot switched off his transponder…it was time to go for the gold. A timer started the countdown
“Tell me why we gotta this?” Kit asked, checking his seatbelt again to be sure
“Easy. Pizzaboy takes over our radar signature, sends an identical transponder signal and gives us a good excuse to drop below the radar”
“Sounds easy enough”
“Did I mention we need to look as one radarblip?”
“How do we…”
Before the question was asked, the timer reached zero and the pilot started a barrel roll over the small Beechcraft sportsplane. Pizzaboy responded by initiating a barrel roll himself, timing it to be right-side up while the C130 was upside down. Both continued this crazy ballet until they suddenly dove to the ground beneath them. All the twists and turns had completely scrambled the signal sent back to the control tower and it seemed as if PB376 was going in for a crash…
Through the open radio connection, the frantic voices of the ATC’s could be heard, shouting something insisting in Spanish. Nobody aboard the planes cared as the ground rushed closer and the pilots tightened their grips on their control yokes. At 1000 feet, the Beechcraft ‘pizzaboy’ couldn’t keep up any longer and levelled off. The C130 rolled rightside up and continued a shallow dive to the surf of the Spanish coast.
Silence reigned the airways. Silence and static…it was all the radio’s received. While Battlewagon descended further, Pizzaboy did his best to get back above radarheight with his self-sabotaged engine sputtering. Glued to the radarscreen, the ATC’s waited in silence, hoping for that one sign of life…god knew they couldn’t use a planecrash right now. Seemingly as a reward for their silent prayers, a radarblip showed on the screen and the radio jumped alive
“This is PB376, mayday. Engine failure imminent. Please reroute all planes from my vector”
“Roger, PB376. Rerouting all non-priority flights to Reus Municipal, you are cleared for Madrid direct”
While the ATC’s started their task of getting every plane out of Pizzaboy’s way, the black C130 levelled off at 300 feet and flew directly under the smaller craft. Nobody on the ground would be able to distinguish the engine roar of a sputtering Beechcraft out of the thunder of the C130’s powerplants. Both pilots smiled, successful in perhaps the most difficult manouever ever. The pilot smiled back to the sniper in the other seat
“I hate you man…” the boy managed weakly, trying to distinguish north from south
“Attention homebase, Battlewagon is now changing callsign. New callsign for Battlewagon is now Silent Thunder”
“Roaring like thunder…” Ian started over the intercom
“striking like lightning…” Kit continued, remembering this verse all too well
“coming at ya…” Danny shouted through the intercom, having his part in this ritual too
“they don’t stop, Sector special forces…” the pilot finished
“BLACK OP!” everyone shouted in unison, getting ready to complete yet another mission.
You can’t kill a man when he’s got no hope,
You can’t kill a man when he’s…
God help me!
“Seems they made it after all” Rudrick stated the obvious while staring at a radarscreen
“Get a trace on PB376 and alert someone in Madrid. I don’t want them getting further than the airstrip!” Lord Bourgon said slowly while looking out of the window, staring at the Greenwood Academy bus leaving his driveway. The weekend had passed too quickly…
“Okay, listen up” the lieutenant started, calming down his platoon seated in the briefing room. In a minute, he had their undivided attention as usual “Most of you will already know what’s going on, but in case you’ve missed the newsflashes, we got a serious situation developing at the UN” with a quick press on the remote he was holding, the lieut brought up the already infamous footage of soldiers storming in a UN meeting, firing their guns wildly around. The few talking memebers of the platoon fell silent
“Belgians?” one of the attentive kids in the front row observed, seeing the tricolor flag painted on their green helmets
“These people have been identified as Team Calisto. A group of hitmen for hire…it seems someone is trying to smear the reputation of the Belgian nation as member of the UN” the lieutenant continued as he froze the footage and locked it on the screen “gentlemen…strap on your flakjacks, ‘cause 8th is going in. We’re going in without sniper and without first assaulter, so this will be an all out offense, assisted by 1st, who are also missing their sniper”
“Yeah, what’s the deal with that?” someone shouted from the back rows
“Officially, they’re on a reconaissance mission in the Serbian area….”
“Listen, we all know what our missing members are doing right now and unless we finish our mission, there’s no point in them risking their lives. If we are to stop these guys, we’ll need to fight them on all fronts. It may be dangerous, it may not be glamerous, but it’s our job. And once we’re inside, we’ll show these guys the meaning of…” the lieutenant encouraged
“CONCENTRATE FIRE!” the platoon shouted in one voice
“Gear up! Transport in 5 minutes…dismissed”
“Pizzaboy to Silent Thunder” the transmission came over the secure channels to avoid detection. Both planes had been flying in the odd formation for almost an hour…
“Go ahead Pizzaboy”
“Time for us to part ways. We’re in the Madrid system…good luck man”
“Roger, Pizzaboy. Don’t worry, I’ll make the delivery with extra cheese. Silent Thunder, rolling on”
After the long time, the C130 turned and continued along a new vector…it was its time to bring a stormcloud over Italy. Pizaboy continued along its path and entered the Madrid glideslope with relative ease. Despite the engine trouble, the landing went smooth as silk.
From the other side of the strip, a spotter watched the crippled plane coming in…and cursed softly. Walking away from his colleages, he went to his car and picked up the handheld radio
“Spotter 1 to Eagle’s Nest…the birds have flown, it’s a set-up!”
Loud cursing and a sudden silence followed the statement…the spotter could very well imagine what had happened to the radio on the other side
Staring at the remains of the crushed radio, Rudrick knew that now was not a good time to ask his boss for instructions. Seemingly reading his mind, Lord de Thionville stared at him
“Warn Mantis that visitors are heading his way…and if he values his life, he better makes sure they never come back!”
“Part one is complete, sir” an obscure officer informed a nearly invisible person
“As was to be expected. Were they followed?”
“No sir, but Pizzaboy reported multiple spotters on the far end of the strip”
“Spotters at this hour…we can be certain they were counteragents. It seems the signal transfer worked well”
“Yessir. Continue with the mission?”
“It’s too late to stop them now. What is the status of the teams dispatched to deal with Team Calisto?”
“Casualties are still coming in sir…”