Mid-Week Flash Challenge – The Pale Lady’s Moor

Have you ever heard the tale of the Pale Widow’s Moor?

It’s a story that can’t be told without a whiskey and a prayer for all those poor lads she’s taken to their deaths…

The oldest stories go back to that madman Robert the Bruce, when he called his men to war.  A young Scotsman named Brennan Eogain had just taken his wife, the young maiden Maeve. They say her ruby hair could ensnare the sun and hold it down each day, and that those pale plus eyes made the rivers jealous. Either way, Brennan was a lucky bastard, no doubt.

But a lady’s luck doesn’t carry well into war, you see, and the lad never came back. Dunno where exactly he died, some say at Dunbar, others say Bannockburn…either way, all that was left was the widow at An t-Oban.

They say she would go the docks every morning after Brennan left and stay until the moon’s rise, be it rain, shine, or snow. And they say, when she was finally told that her love wasn’t coming back, she let out a wail so heavy and burdened with pain, it shattered a nearby cliffside and sent it into the crushing tides!

But she didn’t stop going to the Moor, oh no no. She’d promised to wait for him, you see. For he’d promised her that his birlinn would find its way back up the river to her waiting arms, and she’d be dammed if she’d be the one to doubt him.

And so she waited.

No one’s sure when she finally died, really. Some say one day she lost hope and just walked into the water and drowned. Others say the bitter cold of a bad winter took her. Others still say she was attacked and murdered by another man trying to woo her. 

Either way, she didn’t stay dead. By the time of the Wooing, some two hundred years later, whispers came of a lady in white, standing by a broken old dock, just staring out to the horizon. Back in those days, just seeing her would send most men to their priests to beg forgiveness. But a few brave idiots tried to see her face, this legendary beauty. You can guess how their story ended, and it would be as good a guess as anyone’s. 

After this, most people worth their salt stayed away from that Moor. Oh sure, you’d get your church-folk or some skeptical so-and-so every now and then who’d come by to see if she was real. There’s even record of one poor holy man, Lithicius, or however you say that. Came all the way from the Pope’s arsecheek to see the Lady. They say what he saw on the Moor drove him so mad, he skewed himself on his own cross.

The real madness came in 1945, U-1206. That goose-stepping wanker got one of his subs lost up near Oban, so the skipper took a risk and popped up for air. Word is, he saw the Lady staring back at him, and was so taken, he ordered his tin can to run right to ground! Naturally, his crew was smarter and didn’t listen, but it was too late. If ya believe it, one of the crewman who tried to drag the captain back in was the spitting image of Brennan himself! 

Finally, after all many hundreds of years, he’d kept his promise! Brennan had come home to his love! So she didn’t wait, she came for him. So what do you do when you see this spectre of an angel floating over water towards you, probably wailing in joy long lost to words?

That’s right, they ran. Tired to turn about and get back to the sea. But you can’t outrun love, even if it’s so old. She’s why that old Kraut boat sank off Peterhead. Not by the Navy or by our bombers, not even by the will of God…no, she went down because the Pale Lady.

Did she go down, too? Hard to say. We’ve heard nary a word about her since that fateful day. But… no man who’s dared to seek the Moor have ever come back by this pub.

So what do you say? Do you tempt Fate to see the Widow? 

********

A little spooky Flash Challenge, since this week belongs to the dead, the un-dead, and the very stubborn

I hope you all enjoy.

New Horizons Air Service: Mission #1 – Wildlife Tagging

10 April, 1970

Draco:

The whine of a starting heartbeat was what first pulled him from his sleep, but it was the ‘thrum’ of two six-cylinder engines coming to life that put the smile on Draco’s lips. As he’d expected for one of their workdays, Aadi was first to taxi out to the runway, for the Indian flyer the most vital role. It would take his O-2A Skymaster the longest to make the trek from their base outside the boundary of Redcliff to wherever in Rhodesia they were being sent today, but without Aadi, no one else would be taking off. 

The ringing of the red phone next to his headboard before their Indian compatriot had even taken off concerned him, so when Doug ‘Draco’ Downsen lifted the receiver, his voice was flat when reciting their cover-company’s catchphrase, “New Horizons Air Service: your vision takes off with us.” The red phone rings, and we take our wings… he privately mused, trying to wake his mind with the morning sun.

“Prepare to copy.” the calling voice responded promptly, snapping Draco to alert. The distinct properness of the English meant the caller was one of their contract controllers, probably at the British Embassy in the Rhodesian capital of Salisbury.  One of only three locations on the continent that would have our numbers, and direct calls mean direct work.

“Reports of ZANLA gatherings at makeshift camp. Coordinates: 18°40’32.3″S 27°09’48.6″E. Confirm support request.”

“Draco confirms, airborne in ten.” He responded. In that response, Doug confirmed to the controller he understood this was a combat mission and of pressing urgency. His caller gave no reply, simply hanging up on their end, and the pilot immediately took to the large area map printed up on his wall. Weather-tanned fingers traced their way to a spot deep in the Sikumbi Forest, making him scowl. Lots of tree cover, very low visibility overall…“BLU-32s it is then.” 

With that decision made, Draco picked up the whistle hanging from the wall and gave it one long blast, followed by two short tweets. Outside of his one-room stone hovel, the two English-speaking Rhodesian maintainers leapt from their makeshift table where a morning game of checkers had been going and set to work pre-flighting his A-37B Dragonfly. Even early in the morning, the rising sun was beating down on the cheap canopies hastily built over their parking spots. Already, Doug had to wipe sweat from his brow as he quickly zipped up his flightsuit. 

“Bossman! Eh, Bossman!” one of the ground-crew called to him as Doug emerged, dressed and helmet in hand. No matter how many times  Doug told his crew chief not to call him that, Chanda still used the nickname to summon the pilot. “What is it, Chanda?”

“Only one 32 left, so we balanced you out with two 81s on the other wing,” the mechanic reported.

The news made Doug grumble. “Did we put in an order for more?”

“Aye Bossman, but no deliveries yet this month.” Chanda shrugged, adding a new hot item to do as soon as he was airborne: Find out what the hell is taking Santa so long…

Filing that action item away for later, Draco was quick to the cockpit while his ground-crew went over the Dragonfly one last time. Doug had come into this contract with doubts, especially when they saw their operating base near Redcliff, which was little more than flattened dirt strips covered by steel plates for makeshift runways. Yet the expedience and the professionalism of their maintainers had impressed him, which he knew was part of a larger plan. If it were up to me, I’d smuggle you guys out in an instant. Damn Brits sure left you guys hanging when they gave this place up…

When he clicked the throttle open and cranked over the igniters, the two J85 engines at his sides purred to life like a waking jungle cat. It was the sound that washed any distractions from his mind, for now it was time to earn his paycheck. “Tower, this is Draco. Taxiing out for takeoff.”

“Right-o. Good hunting!” came the response from the Special Air Service air traffic controller, and his unmistakable Queen’s-speak. Officially, being a private airstrip owned by some local fancypants that didn’t actually exist, New Horizons was officially a ‘contract safari and transport’ service. How long that lie had held, Draco had no idea, but Rhodesia’s various powers were always peeking in on their flight activity and radio chatter, so only the bare essentials were ever shared on the airwaves. Doesn’t help when Pavel gets a job…I bet those plane-spotters go nuts seeing his FLAGON out here.

“Draco, airspace is clear, takeoff when ready.”

“Cheerio!” Doug responded and pushed the throttle forward with a smile. His Dragonfly chattered forward over the runway grates before its power overcame gravity and lifted him into the morning sky with a satisfying roar. Once his gear was up and he cleared the airstrip perimeter, Draco banked into an easy left climb to make his way to his objective. “Saadhuk, this is Draco, airborne for wildlife tagging in Sikumbi.”

“Suprabhaat mere bhaee,” Aadi greeted him. “I’m at checkpoint Zhom-One now, tracking bullfrogs near Lusulu, will advise.”

That told Draco enough, despite English not being Aadi’s first or second language, and he checked his fuel gauge to make sure this tanks had been topped in case he had to sprint back to help his unarmed comrade, jotting down the current levels in the tank and checking speeds at his altitude. “How nasty are they croaking?”

“May be hungry for tea and crumpets.” Aadi replied and Draco nodded to himself. “Copy all, I’ll save some tags for them too.” Doug fully counted on having to drop his heavy load on whatever was in the forest he was heading to, but the GAU-2B minigun in the Dragonfly’s nose was fully loaded, and bullets were far easier for their supply line to come by. 

Speaking of… “Any word on when Santa’s gonna show up?”

“No idea, Draco. Hope soon, I’ve got a busted gauge in here.” Aadi  replied, and the American could pick up his partner’s annoyance through the barriers of static and language. “Anything serious?”

“Depends, how serious is airspeed?” Aadi chided, making Doug snort a small laugh. “Oh, you mean that thing you don’t have any of?”

“Mujhe kaato, yaank!” came the Indian’s scathing reply.

“Hey, don’t blame me, it’s what we’ve got to work with. Maybe we’ll have good news waiting for us when we get back.” the American chuckled.

“I pray so. Good luck out there!” the pilot from Kariat acknowledged, signaling Draco’s cue to put his eyes to the ground and keep his ears open.

The flight from the airstrip to his assigned coordinates was just over twenty minutes, but it may as well have been a blink for Draco. In his mind, he rehearsed his approach to the target spot, the classic dive from above and when to release his bombs, even considering his breakaway if someone tried to shoot back at him. Da’veed mentioned some of these guys got their hands on a guided missile from somewhere, but no one’s seen it…

Sprawling out under him was an ocean of greenery and thick treetops, the kind of place most people would fight to save or blockade to avoid tarnishing. Draco canted his right wing down to drink in the eden a thousand feet below, picking out small clearings and man-sized openings in the branches for any signs of people or movement. As he’d expected from the printed map back at the base, there wasn’t much of anything to use for landmarks around the target area, so the Dragonfly swept around the forest in lazy half-circles and slow passes.

“Come on, show me something…” he muttered forty later, half-so to his aircraft, and half to the earth beneath him. By now, if there was anyone below him to target, they at least heard his aircraft above them. So do you run, or do you hide in the brush for another day?

The answer came when he caught a glimpse of a rocket motor igniting in-between two clustered groves of trees, and Draco instinctively banked hard to his starboard. Barely a second later, the tell-tale corkscrew engine trail of a missile stabilizing itself raced up to meet him. Only a panicked dive forced the SA-7 man-portable air defense missile to overshoot and detonate harmlessly behind him. Draco pulled the Dragonfly’s nose back toward the sun to set up his run, half-terrified, half enraged. Looking over his shoulder, he could see several specks of colored clothing massed around vehicles and boxes, at least one of the trucks was weighed down with the long barrel of a field gun.

“Gotcha!” he called out to no one, tightening his loop around until he felt the blood rush into his brain, then back to his feet. Once his nose pointed to ground again, he could see that the shooters below realize they’d missed him and were scrambling back to their trucks. A few braver one decided to make for the armed technical truck and start turning the field gun up towards him. For a moment, he wondered if the guerrillas below really knew what they were facing or why, but such thoughts didn’t sign his paycheck.

As he’d done dozens of times before, Doug pulled the trigger on the Dragonfly’s control stick and banked away, increasing his speed with more throttle. The BLU-32 napalm-filled bomb dropped effortlessly from his left wing and sailed screaming into the lush greenery. Scraping through the tops of the treeline, the fuse in the falling warhead sparked, and the brush roared in gelatinous wildfire covering a hundred feet in every direction. Unused small-arms ammo and gasoline quickly detonated, doubling the size of the forest’s destruction. Pulling away at 400mph, he could see a few unfortunate souls trying to run in every direction away from the blaze, at least one carrying the fire with him deeper into the woods.

To his surprise, Draco caught the moving reflection of sunlight against metal, and a line of cars racing along the sole flattened path to escape him. There were too many to stop entirely, even if he spent all his cannon rounds, but at least I can make them run like bitches! The American pilot watched the frightened convoy barrel through the underbrush and over exposed roots before they encountered a long open stretch of sky, in which the Dragonfly had darted to face them nose-to-headlight. When caught staring at the aircraft coming in a howling dive to less than fifty feet, some of the cars sped up to get under Draco, whereas others spun around to hide back in the trees. 

With a beat between each press, Doug popped the two 500lb iron bombs off his right side, ensuring one fell on the speeding line of traffic, and the other hit the turnabout spot where others were panicking. Both explosions sprayed pieces of cars and people into the sky, sending those who witnessed the assaults scrambling in every direction. As the Dragonfly roared back into the sky, its pilot gave the grim scene another look. Looks like the hyenas and vultures will feed well tonight…

“Draco to Saadhuk; all done tagging the wildlife here, any frogs on your end?”

“Nothing yet, brother. Care to assist? At checkpoint Lusulu-Six now.”

Doug checked the map on his knee, charting out some quick math to see how long he could burn holes in the sky with the fuel he’d spent so far in high-speed dives. “Sure, I’ll hit L-Eleven through Seventeen, call it an hour on-station before I give up on toads for the day.”

“Teek hai,” Aadi confirmed, “I hear Santa landed last night in the mainland!”

That brought a smile to Doug’s lips as the Dragonfly climbed easily into the late-morning sky. Which means fresh supplies at last! “Ho ho ho, indeed!”

Two hours later, and still with a full magazine on his nose, Doug peered out of his canopy at the flatlands and plains left under his belly as his Dragonfly grew more and more thirsty. In the distance, he could make out the horizon where their contractor’s airfield had been cut out of the brush. It was nothing like the bombed-out ricefields and cobbled-together villages of Seoul or Yeoju he’d first flown over nearly twenty years ago. That and the old Sabre was a lot less comfortable…

“Unidentified aircraft on heading one-two-six, this airspace is under restriction of the Rhodesian Air Force. State name and purpose of flight,” the harsh voice cut in over his radio. Draco’s pulse immediately doubled and his grip on the control stick made his knuckles white. Looking over his left side, then his right, the American caught sight of the distinctive jungle camo pattern and centerline intakes of two Hawker Hunter FGA 9s gaining on him at dizzying speed. They must be pushing near max throttle…wonder what gives…

“Air Force Patrol, this is New Horizons Air Service out of Station Diana. Operating callsign Delta-Hotel-Niner-Six-Niner-One.” Doug replied from memory. He’d been intercepted by the Rhodesian Air Force before, as his Dragonfly had no hope of outrunning the much faster Hunter. And these dirt-huggers need all the practical training they can get chasing a cooperative target.

What was odd about this time was that, being so close to base already, that the SAS controller didn’t warn him they were coming in. And to come in so fast, so aggressively?

After a moment of staring down the eyes of the two Sidewinder missiles each interceptor carried, Doug’s pursuer hailed back, “Callsign confirmed, Delta-Hotel. Be advised, search-and-rescue operations are active in this airspace. Withdraw at once or you will be fired upon.”  

“Copy all, Air Force, I’m RTB now.” Doug assured them, as he had no interest or fuel for a dogfight he was sure to lose. With that, one of the Hunters snapped onto its port wing and turned away as hard as it could manage. The second staying with Draco a few gut-clenching seconds more before following his wingman. Only when they were gone did the American remember the need to breathe in.

He was about to key his channel to the airfield’s tower, but the shining white reflection of a twin-propeller King Air 100 sitting on the taxiway brought his smile back and buried the dread. “Merry Christmas.” he said to himself as he pulled the lever down to pop out the Dragonfly’s landing gear. “Tower, this is Draco. Fresh tags up in the jungle, and so happy to see a friendly face!”

“Huzzah! That daft bastard sure kept us waiting!” responded the tower controller, proper English now a little more slurred and a little forgetful about the intrusion into what was supposed to be private airspace. I’ll just have to punch him later to remind him that drinks come AFTER everyone lands…

Once the Dragonfly touched down and was linked up for its slow tow back to its parking shade, Doug popped the canopy open and practically leapt down from his fighter to sprint to the hooch hut, where he knew their supplier would be making merry and collecting his coin. Sure enough, he could hear the laughter of the boisterous Canadian, followed by rapid-fire swearing in Mandarin Chinese.

Doug entered the hut in time to see the more-rotund northerner pulling a stack of the Queen’s bills out from under the tip of a knife that had been planted in the table by a visibly angry woman, still in her flight-suit and jet-black hair in a messy bunch. “You! You charge too much! You charge American half that for his ammo!”

Santa shook his head, his snowy beard jiggling along with the man’s stomach, “Not at all, princess. You go though cannon shells faster than anyone else in this shithole! If you wanna keep tearing up dirt, it’s gonna cost a little more! It’s not like I’m making any profit here!”

“Nǐ pàng, chòu zhū!” Shu yelled back at Santa, clenching her knife as though she were about to drive it through the many layers of blubber protecting the man’s heart. The towering Taiwanese finally scoffed in her relentment, sheathing her knife back into her boot and pulling another roll of high-value bills from her breastpocket, and tossing it at the seated freight pilot. “I want GOOD missiles this time.”

“The very best my Canadian brothers can buy from these Yanks.” Santa nodded, pointing at Draco with the cash still in hand. Shu turned, glaring down at Doug with fiery jade eyes that should be the desire of most any red-blooded man. His female counterpart only gave the American a ‘huff!’ before side-stepping him and heading back to her own bunk The many pieces and parts of Shu’s CF-5 still laid bare on the makeshift hanger floor, as her aircraft had gone well beyond its much needed maintenance period. 

“You’re really charging her more for rounds than me?” Doug asked, only when the slender Eastern pilot was out of whisper-range.

“I have to, Dougie. Your damnned Customs agents are getting better at finding my suppliers…I almost didn’t get your 32s back here this time.” the larger man growled, pouring Draco a shot from whatever bottle of pisswater was next to him. Draco sat down across from their resident smuggler and clinked his glass with Santa’s, sending the cheap liquor down with a ‘hiss’. “Ugh, what is this shit?!”

The larger man laughed “Only the best distilled jet fuel in Soviet Germany!  Pavel was practically awestruck I brought him any. Heard he had a bad day up there.”

Doug nodded, spinning the glass absently in his grip and making a note to ask that Red bastard about that later. “Speaking of gifts…you hear of anyone else flying guns down here?”

The Canadian sat more upright, more focused now on his company than his drink, “Why are you asking?”

“Because someone took a pot-shot at me with a goddamn SAM, and the local Air Force guys lost someone today, which I’d bet my entire day’s pay on being from another missile shot. These rebels and grass-fighters are getting some good shit in-country.” 

Santa nodded, not looking up at Draco. “Is that so? Hmmm…”

“You’ve heard something.” Doug sternly replied, finger pointing through the beard and at his company’s sternum.”

“What makes you say that?” the Canadian replied, more curious than shocked at the accusation.

“Because you tug on the corner of that soup-catcher on your face whenever you’ve got good news, or a secret.” replied the American fighter jock.

Santa dropped the hand that had been unconsciously tugging at the longest wisps of facial hair, and chuckled. “I’ll keep that in mind for our next poker game. And you’re right, I may have heard something about it last time I was in Hanoi. Wasn’t clear on the details, but this has that tell-tale Soviet stink on it.”

“You think you could track down the who? You know Pavel or Shu would jump at the chance to take down a few Commies, doesn’t matter which flavor.” Doug asked, sitting back in his chair. He didn’t share with the cargo hauler that he’d heard about this possibility from their resident Israeli before today’s mission. Because I need to know how Da’veed knew about it…  

“And risk losing a valuable lane into both Red China and the Motherland? Not a chance, bub.” Santa punctuated the point by tapping his meaty finger on the table, which was suddenly cushioned by a few large bills from out of Draco’s wallet. “Then again…those poor Ruskies sure do hate what the Vietkong make them drink. Bet some Moskva homebrew could loosen some lips.”

Doug nodded, but paused a beat before asking the real question that was on his mind the moment he’d seen Santa’s King Air on the tarmac. “Any mail come in?”

The Canadian shook his head, “Not this time.”

Doug sank back a little in his seat, though he didn’t mean to. The sound of fluid refilling his glass drew him back into the conversation and away from the moment of weight that news put on his shoulders. “She’ll write again, Dougie. Just be patient.”

“Yeah…” Draco replied, draining his shot without really tasting it this time, staring out across the runway at something that was thousands of miles away, but never really there anymore.

A slapping hand on his back pulled Draco back to the moment, and he looked up to see Santa holding a combined roll of a massive payday. “Come on, someone needs some sensual chocolate. This one’s on me.”

Doug laughed a bit at that, deciding that the Candaian’s offer of a few hours of sinful distraction was due. “Just like Gimpo. Do us both a favor and don’t try to buy any more of the girls’ citizenship this time. Don’t need you busted on human trafficking charges.”

“Whatever do you mean, Yankee? I’m telling them it was your idea!”

*****

The (maybe) opening scene in what was going to be my NaNoWriMo mission this year. It’s also been a wonderful exercise to actually try all those planning and preparation tricks one hears about in school, like storyboarding and plot-mapping.

I hope you all enjoy.

Wildlife Security Solutions LLC – Contract #1, pt. 2

They drove east-southeast into the rising sun, the highway long since vacated by traffic thanks to warfare and poverty. Any poor herder they passed averted their eyes and technical rickshaws  driving past ignored them, despite the 100km/hr speed Akula kept their dilapidated ride at. All the while, their cargo had not ceased screaming more Korean at them, which the team ignored. In a bold move, the man did try to maneuver his arm out between the seats around an hour into the drive, to be met by Grizli’s elbow pinning it down to the rear seat none too softly.

“Come Comrade, he only wants a feel,” Akula chided.

The Ukrainina laughed a booming chuckle “Then he can beg to see my cock just like his wife will!”

At ten kilometers out, Akula pulled off the main road. After Grizli pulled the half-naked Koren screaming out of the trunk, each man came around to reclaim their Kontrol-provided phones from the glovebox, all of which had been turned off. After which, the last man out pulled out the Beidou navigation tablet from its stand on the dashboard. Volk handed it to Nosorog so the massive Serb could snap it in half in his grip. 

Meanwhile, Akula pulled a piece of timber and a strand of rope from the floorboard. Once his team confirmed all gear accounted for, he tied the steering wheel to the seat and set the wood to the accelerator so that the pedal was smashed down. Swiftly, he set the car back in gear and watched it launch itself into the flat emptiness of the desert rocks and sand, where it would either run out of gas or plow into a natural barrier. One more piece of trash in a shitpile country, the team lead groused as the wreck sped away.

There were two good reasons for stopping here, and Akula made sure his team understood them well, in case some fortunate streetrat took him down. The first was operational, as their orders were to conceal as much of their movement as possible. It was the same reason no man carried a phone, radio or transmitter of any sort on their person when engaged in a mission. “Damn Americans watch everything, even as they choke on their own gluttony…” Pasha had once told him, to which Akula had only shrugged. It wasn’t his place to think about such things, only to lead his men.

The second was their own safety, as every team assigned to base defense was to shoot any approaching vehicle that came from the road. Akula’s team had been on this rotation three nights previous and some dumbfuck of a merchant came across their location trying to sneak away from his wife. Volk’s shots had been accurate and silent, and what was left of man and machine was now being crushed in the Mediterranean’s tides.

Once the car had taken off in its kamikaze, the men began their run back to ‘Haven’, which was little more than concrete boxes and cheap aluminum domes built around a long-abandoned runway. The airfield itself had once been a spot for tourists to go spend their hard-earned dinars to hop into a helicopter and take a majestic flight around the Libyan coastline, no doubt drinking in the awe of the Mediterranian.

Naturally, because it was a strip of asphalt long enough to serve as an airfield, the Americans and their Western allies had spent a billion dollars bombing it out of existence in 2011. In the ensuing vacuum of power, no one but the desert vermin had given a shit about it, or on it, because no one wanted to devote anything to rebuilding the nation, especially not the Arab League that had begged for the bombing campaign. Since the end of the West’s campaign, their little plot of land had been fought over a dozen times until one side of the Libyan struggle called for a Security Solution.   

The 10km run itself would be an arduous one for most, with the shifting sand and the warming morning, not to mention the risk of some venomous vermin trying to take a swipe at them. But Akula’s men had done little else but train in their doldrums before the mission, and no man grunted complaint or displayed weakness, lest their call-sign be changed to ‘Kiska’. Even Grizli, hauling an incensed and indecent senior Korean that still shouted at them betrayed no signs of strain as he carried the extra burden like a lumberjack would haul a freshly-cut tree.

At less than a kilometer into the run, Akula’s fist snapped up from his side, and his team froze in place. Rifles immediately went up and scanned their four horizons for the sound, a rumble among the wind. At first, it was just the echo of a distant roar, but it was moving, and with haste. After a moment, Volk was the first to pick up on the deep ‘thum-thum-thum’ of rotor blades cutting into the still morning. “Chopper!”

Each man dove belly to ground, weapons toward the approaching intruder. The Korean was smart enough to take note of the opportunity and try to stand for a sprint away from them, but Grizli’s amusement was professionally buried under training. As soon as their passenger stood to sprint away, the Ukranian grabbed the man near the achilles tendon and twisted, popping the ankle joint out of the socket and dropping the senior man screaming into the sand.

Akula cursed both the shouting and their prone position in the middle of a flat stretch, but it was the sole defense they had against an overhead attacker in this terrain. As long as they were still, even the bulky vests and rifles could blend into the sand and be missed by a human eye not careful enough to be looking for them. 

That anger quickly turned towards confusion as the droning rotors grew closer still. If they’re looking for us, we’d be dead a dozen times already…Akula thought. Quickly, the team leader pulled his goggles from his side and to his eyes, which gave him the familiar greeting of an ancient serpent splashed on the tail of a Mi-28/HAVOC ground attack helicopter. Seeing that Drakon was their pursuer pleased Akula, though her flying towards them at maybe five meters off the sand stilled his heart. What’s that crazy bitch doing?

Drakon gave no signs that she’d seen them, or cared that they were there as she passed right over them at over 250 kph, spraying them all with cutting sand and noise loud enough to even silence their unfortunate cargo. Such haste concerned Akula, and his team quickly scrambled to their feet to continue the run home. Not a minute later, Akula could make out the concealed fire-bunkers where one of their comrades would be watching them through a rifle’s scope. As procedure demanded, Akula brought his team to a fast walk and pulled a reflective tag from under his armored vest, turning it to catch the light as to reflect a blue shimmer to the guardpost. Had something gone wrong, and Akula was being coerced in any way to sabotage his teammates, he would have shown the other side and given an orange reflection. Upon which, the sniper would immediately kill him and all those next to him.

Their entry into the base was muted by the deafening whine of the helicopter’s engine powering down, though he needed no words to instruct him. Every team member entered one at a time, surrendering their rifles and any remaining explosives, keeping only their sidearms and Volk’s knife. No one dared try to take that again after one poor new recruit lost his thumb all the way to the wrist. 

Upon seeing Grizli carrying the Korean, however, their inspector froze and shouted over his shoulder “Silverback! We’ve got a problem…”

Unlike his powerful name, Silverback was as portly as he was tall, a privilege earned by service dating back to Afghanistan and Bosnia of which he still reminisced. Much to the nuisance and boredom of all who heard his blathering. “What the fuck is this, Akula?”

The team leader gestured to a metal chair, which Grizli happily dropped his passenger on. With a snap of Silverback’s fingers, the checkpoint inspector ran over and handcuffed the unwanted guest to the seat, while the half-naked Korean still wheezed insults at them. “We found him at the target location” the team lead began, “He was…engaging in foreign relations.”

A point Grizli expanded upon with a laughing pelvic thrust, though neither the senior man nor the elder hostage found it amusing. Turning a scolding finger back to Akula, Silverback countered “Why not just kill him?”

“Not part of the mission,” Akula replied simply, deciding at the moment to also hold his tongue on the laptop they had recovered which was in the bag on his back. Pasha deserves first crack at such a present.

Silverback glared at his subordinate, then gave a defeated sigh. “Well, did you at least get anything useful from him?”

“Just his Dear Leader pins from his rather fine shirt!” Grizli bellowed in laughter, though this time even Nosorog cracked a microscopic modicum of a grin.

Silverback nodded, and Akula could see that they were both thinking along the same lines. You wouldn’t be finding just any Korean making deals with extremists and filth. He wanted the uranium.

“Should I have my men begin the interrogation?” Akula asked, wondering just who on his squad would even be the most capable of doing so.

“No, give him to Solomon, he’ll figure this mess out.” Silverback ordered, and Akula suppressed a ‘hiss’. Knowing that Solomon was here made the team lead uneasy, as the ex-Spetsnaz Siberian was nowhere near as subtle in his tactics as Akula was. But it also spoke to the fee that their hiring agent was coughing up fto compensate Wildfire.

For just a moment, Akula let a feeling close to pity enter his mind as one of the other guards pulled the Korean out of the chair and through the checkpoint, but he crushed that sensation under facts. You should have prayed the Americans found you with a drone bomb instead…

Silverback gave a ‘huff’ of disappointment before asking Akula “Any more surprises?” The rotund man glared at Grizli “No other hostages you decided to rescue?”

“Nyet” was all Akula replied with, which seemed to appease his superior. 

“Then file your report with Kontrol.” Silverback waved dismissively.

“No new mission?” Nosorog asked, annoyed.

“Not yet, but expect one when Solomon finishes his work.” Silverback replied, turning away from the group and starting his return waddle to their command shack. With that, Akula turned back to his men, frustration clear on his brow. “Eat and get rest, it’s all we can do for now. We drill before first light tomorrow.”

Looking up from his personal blade, normal sheen still matted with the previous nights’ blood, Volk nodded and sheathed the weapon, turning towards the mess tent. Akula had little doubt that the quietest of his team would have succeeded in his interrogation, so to be shut down so quickly would cloud the wolf’s mind until he had something else to focus on.

Grizli stretched, slapping the sting from his leg and shaking his head. “My favorite time of day; more stitches.” Yet he said it with a smile, and Akula knew why. For the deployed medic was a pretty little ballerina from Pskov that had caught the Bear’s eye. And with such thin walls and open air, the whole encampment now knew how loud she could moan.

Akula just shook his head as the Ukranian happily strode off to the nurse’s dome, when he noticed that Nosorog had stayed behind and was glaring. “Silverback was right, you know. Should’ve just shot that Korean.”

The Shark glared back, despite the Chechen’s impressive height advantage. “And this is why you answer to me, zhopa.” Akula extended the full knife-hand towards the cement box where their surprise passenger was taken. “Those backwards juche-fuckers don’t send people anywhere without expecting return on investment. We figure that out, we get more work.”

“Now we waste more time here in this wasteland, waiting for the West to blow us up, too. Sure, that’s worth it, worked great for Elistanzhi.” the Rhino growled back before turning away from Akula and beginning a fast march to the outdoor weight racks, kicking every single chair and table out of his path.

Watching his fuming comrade for as long as he could, Akula didn’t unclench his fist until the Chechen was out of sight. He knew full well that kind of anger, as deep and hot as it was, was going to get them killed at some point. Honestly, if some of those plates fell on that bastard’s neck, I wonder if anyone would hear or care… 

Unlike Nosorog, the team lead has spent the Chechen Wars at sea, breaking ice flows in Murmansk and diving through sub-zero waters to harass encroaching Western interlopers. Bin Jawad was the farthest south he’d ever been, and Akula was not a warm-water predator, but in this moment, his muscles ached to conquer waves and push back the tides. “Instead, I get to manage a blood-raging giant with a knack for explosives. Trakhni menya.”

Now angry himself, Akula shook the thought from his mind and headed towards the opposite end of the encampment, where the main satellite communication van was parked. If there was one person who could get his head right after dealing with Norsorog, it was Pasha. 

********

Part two of what may force itself to be this year’s go at NaNoWriMo, much to my surprise. The more I write them, the more I enjoy them!

I hope you all enjoy

Mid-Week Challenge: The Frozen Hunt

In the frozen wasteland of northern Siberia, the howl of thunder echoed through the sky. Stones shook and snow was ripped from the ground as the F-5E Tiger II tore through the morning sky. With clenched fists and gritted teeth, Lt. Pavel Dobrow pushed the aircraft as close to the ground as it would allow, for the Tiger shook and snarled at him so close to the earth.

He could scarcely spare a glance skyward to catch the flashes of silver against the frozen grey clouds. A mile above his cockpit, vigilant and primed to stalk him, two MiG-21 interceptors swept back and forth along the air corridor Pavel was supposed to be in. It was their mission to hunt him, and stop him from raining fire on the undefended targets ahead, and if they spotted him, the pursuit would be short and disastrous for Dobrow.

So the Soviet flyer took a page from the West’s playbook he’d heard so much about and took to the ground. A gamble that paid off evenly as the MiGs were now behind him and falling into the horizon. His continued success at evading his comrades both invigorated and terrified him, as did the Tiger’s razor-thin margin of control at such a low-level of flight. 

“Anadyr Control to Bort 95, report altitude and heading. Deviation was not authorized.” Pavel’s home airbase controller sounded irritated and slightly drunk, the only two ways to keep warm so close to the Arctic Circle. 

Still, Dobrow did not respond, as those were his orders as commanded by his Senior Major. Let Illych deal with those pigs, my mission is to win today!

A break in the rocks where the ocean had eaten into the land slammed Pavel with a wall of frozen wind and spray. The Tiger shuddered and hissed as ice found its way along its wings and body, forcing the pilot to pull its nose up. Which was all it took for his radar receiver to turn from green to yellow, and his main display to alert him that he was now being tracked. No doubt Control is calling the hunters now…

Pavel checked his fuel, his current airspeed, then the map on his leg to see where his target was supposed to be set, and his conclusion made him growl. Too far to outrun them, but too close to turn back! 

“Bort 93, exercise is terminated! Ascend to flight level five-zero and return to base!” the controller yelled at him now. And so Dobrow began to comply, pulling the Tiger into a slow ascent and a soft starboard turn. On his nose, the two MiGs were still racing toward him at close to sound-splitting speed. Slowing his breath and switching his simulated weapons load from Safety to Standby, Pavel let the hunters come to him.

“Not bad, comrade! You almost stood a chance in that Yankee trash!” one of the pursuers chortled in victory as they closed in. Right in line with Pavel’s mental countdown.

No, comrade Colonel, you never stood a chance… When his count reached zero, Dobrow clicked his weapon selector to the simulated 20mm guns on Tiger’s nose and squeezed the trigger. Two dozen fake rounds leapt from the Tiger and caught the MiG dead-center of its round nose, jolting the Colonel in surprise and forcing the pursuers to overshoot Pavel.

“You maniac, Dobrow! The tower called exercise over!” the now ‘dead’ Colonel screamed at him.

To which Pavel just shook his head. “Be sure to tell the Americans when our ground controllers have had enough!” He pulled the Tiger into as tight a loop as it could manage and dove groundward again. On instinct and training, the MiGs had pulled up and away, the Colonel’s wingman faithfully in position and not chasing Dobrow yet. This gave him precious seconds to point his aircraft back at his target, letting gravity add to his speed and thrust. As the Tiger raced under five hundred feet, the Colonel let his wingman loose, and the second MiG roared after him on full afterburner.

It was all over a second later. Once the marked target was dead on his nose, Pavel hit the bomb release. At that same time, the Tiger’s warning receiver screamed at him, alerting Pavel to the fact he was now dead thanks to a missile kill. 

“Bort 66 confirms enemy kill. Better luck next time, cossack!” Pavel’s hunter bragged.

A moment later, a thousand simulated pounds of fire and iron painted the rocks in smoke and death, bringing Dobrow a smile. “Tell that to all those dead riflemen below.”

**********

Something for a new Mid-Week Flash Writing Challenge I managed to stumble onto. Busted the word limit slightly, but the mission could only end on victory or death.

I hope you all enjoy.