Wildlife Security Solutions, LLC – Contract #1, pt. 12

It took almost twelve hours to re-plan, re-target, and otherwise un-fuck the coming mission among the newly formed cabal of soldiers and pilots. Akula had made sure Silverback was drug out of the room and sent to a recovery bed, which took both Grizli and Nosorog to accomplish. Once the blubberous ape had reimagined consciousness, he’d stormed over the meeting room in a rage. It took only a unified glare from the Shark, the Spider, and the Dragon to send Silverback to his office to scream at Kontrol, which Akula assumed was still going on even now. 

In a positive vein, the mission coordinator and targeting team on the Moskva had been amicable to the change. In fact, they’d been expecting it. The senior targeting officer had pointed out to them over radio that, “Blowing up empty buildings doesn’t work for NATO, so get us a bearing on the real problem!”, which told the sailor all he needed on what the warship had been passed by its own command. 

The packets of printouts provided promptly by Silverback’s aide on Akula’s demand had laid out much of their problems very clearly. First and foremost was the reasoning for the mission deadline, as Silverback had been resolute in why the strike had to take place so soon. Solomon provided that key piece of intelligence with a transcript of one of many ‘sessions’ Ri had endured deep in the interrogator’s pit. The Korean was precise in pointing out that a private cargo transport, flagged in the neutral colors of Ethiopia would arrive to acquire the secured nuclear materials. From there, it would fly through Syria, Afghanistan, and China before the Kim regime got their hands on millions of dollars worth of raw materials so graciously given by the NLD. Knowing that, they all agreed that letting the cargo airliner arrive would constitute a failure of their mission. That information would be passed along to the main Russian garrison stationed in Syria, with their recommendation to force it to land and arrest the crew.

Though stacks of pictures taken both from satellites, bribed human sources, and stolen social media, they’d figured out that the L-39 and G-2 just that had come forward to Al Jufra were indeed armed and had even flown since their arrival. This was in part thanks to the North Korean team Ri and Kim had brought along, who did more than just work to refurbish the larger Tu-22s. How long would it be until they dared to come further east and find Haven? Unlike the tank-mauling Su-25s Kontrol had allocated them, even the basic training jets could pose an issue through panicked tastics and a lucky shot. Despite Rasahdi’s continued protests this his proxy forces in the LUA could use the resources, the military minds agreed that none of those jets would fly again.

And then they found an Osa, which sent Drakon on a tirade of swears worthy of Tolstoy. Even in the corner of one satellite image, the outline of the mobile surface-to-air missile system was unmistakable. But it wasn’t its existence or capability that gave Akula the same icy concern as his flying partner, it was that the Osa then vanished in all other images. Other, more primitive anti-air weapons such as other ZPU-2 trucks had taken planned, defendable positions around key areas, which told them there was at least one smart person on that airbase. Yet the Osa seemingly vanished into the sands and shadows, leaving no tracks or radar emissions. Through almost five years of imagery and signal collection, it had only been seen the one time. Through all their intelligence and reporting, credible or not, Libya had not seen an active Osa unit since NATO destroyed the national government. Was it destroyed somewhere? Does it even function? Or does it wait in one of these many buildings like the viper? 

The Spook Schedule gave them no comfort either. It contained not only the expected increase in American and NATO activity that would watch them work, but a second page of complications. As Akula had feared, the approaching Moskva and its partner submarine was attracting increased attention from the US Navy, the Hellenic Navy patrols Greece kept around Crete, and even the Israelis. All of which would be watching the Motherland’s finest, and by extension, Wildlife’s newfound surge in activity. Even if it was understood among all those in this planning gaggle to keep as much of this to themselves as possible, none of them were so diluted to think that theirs was a secret mission anymore.

Looking at all the facts, the timelines, and the resistance they knew about, it was decided that Wildlife’s assault required surgical precision and flawless timing. When it was finished, and everyone who would take part agreed on it, Akula nodded his own satisfaction in their overhaul. So meticulous was their timing that the missiles would herald their arrival immediately into Al Jufra. Confusion and chaos would be their armor, and no warning would be given to anything that raised a weapon at them. With such rapid response required, the gathering had agreed that Drakon and the other pilots were to be airborne already, ready to finish off whatever the Navy left weakened, with special focus given to the still-unlocated Osa. In those same moments, Akula’s team, Pauk, and whoever else they could fit into the newly-arrived An-74 would parachute in in separate clusters to secure key parts of the airbase. 

Hammering out those details took another six hours, whatever food could be whipped up quickie, and a lot of shouting. After much drawing, erasing, and vulgarly vibrant venom, the fighter pilots and Drakon agreed on their air corridors so they didn’t interfere with the air drop or get shot down by cruise missiles. After which, most everyone in the planning huddle was drained or frayed. But without Silverback’s commanding beltline, there had not been an agreement as to whose shoulders this entire burden would fall on. Perhaps he’d reached beyond exhaustion when he said it, or the rest of his peers were also too tired to argue, but when Akula ordered them to break for rest and smaller team briefs, it became clear to the Shark who was calling the shots on this operation. On my head will rest their caskets, in my hands I cradle their blood…blyad, Pasha’s never going to believe this…

Akula was the last to depart the meeting room in the bungalow. A caved in hallway that had been partly-cleared gave him a visual to Silverback’s personal teleconference center on the destroyed terminal where he could see the outline of the gargantuan overseer hunched over his desk. An empty bottle of smuggled-in swill stood next to him, a mostly-empty bottle next to that. For a second, the Shark almost praised the ape’s ability to acquire and hide so much alcohol, as well as ration himself. But that respect was broken by the soreness he still felt in his knuckles and the disgust of almost being fed to disaster a second time. 

“You can’t repeat the mistakes of Afghanistan and expect to survive, Silverback…how much samogan will it take to get that through to you?” Akula muttered to no one before heading outside. Though the oppressively hot sun had risen to beat down on the icy-acclimated sailor, the sounds around him kept his temperature cooled. The sizzle of soldering and wiring as Nosorog prepared a new rig of breaching charges. The paced, precise, and patient shots Volk took on the pistol range to better his aim. The sounds of a petite flower writhing in pleasure as Grizli thanked her for helping his recovery along. For just a moment, the Shark let his mind settle on the normalcy around him, how these were the sounds that coccouned him now.  

But that blanket contained no water. Gone was the soft rush of water lapping against stone on the moonlight night. The stream of the calming Pechora River could not reach him here, not could the tempered roar of Barents Sea. He could not take up his father’s axe and bring down a mighty snow pine to heat his home, now emptied, for Pasha’s work all but demanded a small apartment rental in Moscow. It was as if the sands he stood on reached up to slap him, reminding him that he didn’t belong, that there was too much to do now. 

With the gains in the hourglass draining back into the Libyan wastes around them, Akula headed back for the comms truck. Glancing at his watch, and converting the time zones in his mind, the Shark swore to himself She’s off-shift by now…one hour, that’s all it took. May Andre let you sleep well, babchoka.

Still, he penned and sent a short email to her, for when next she was at work. By the time she read jt, the predators would be preparing to draw blood like they never had before in this contract. 

He hadn’t fully appreciated just how long he’d been awake until he rose from the computer terminal again, and the rush of exhaustion washed over him like a brutal wave. Grimacing, Akula shook the feeling from his eyes. A shark that stops swimming, even for a moment, will drown. There was still a lot left to do, such as walking his team through weeks of mission prep and questions in a few short hours.

*****

Part 12 of the Libya contract, and the building blocks for the big operation align. So many variables, but too many risks not to move forward. And when a predator is forced to hunt in a very dangerous and unpredictable situation, rarely do things go smoothly…

I hope you all enjoy.

Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

Bolo Squadron – To the Skies and Beyond

If there was one problem with the BTL A-4/Y-Wing, it was age. In the early days of the Rebellion, back when aces like Jon Vander, Horatio Salm, and Kyr Birnakari flew them into battle, the old bomber could stand toe-to-toe with the might of the Imperial fleet and come out without a scratch. Even when their previous Commander was cutting his teeth at the Battle of Endor, the wishbone-shaped starfighter could still hold its own, though the sleek and dagger-tipped TIE Interceptor would rip it apart nine times out of ten in a straight up fight.

Now, in Brinn Yelah’s age of Bolo Squadron, the Y-Wing was the starfighter you called when the B-Wing or X-Wing wasn’t available. And its pilots knew it. Most of the New Republic used the old slug as a training fighter anymore, if they used it at all. The few frontline squadrons that still used it took either a level of insanity, or sub-par discipline. Both of which General Tovolo Pellius worked to mitigate under strict training and an open-door policy of leadership. It was an approach Brinn had come to admire in her time as his wingman.

When he’d been killed in action, Bolo Squadron became hers. To include its legacy, its quirks, and all of its burdens. She wasn’t Pellius, she never would be. It took the majority of her mental prowess outside of flying and tactics just to remember Krull’s Life Day, let alone all ten of his clutch!

So when the entirety of Bolo Squadron got their tails, asses, and other various posterior joints handed to them in a training exercise barely an hour ago, she could read the self-doubt and self-anger among her pilots as they trickled into the cargo bay-turned speak-easy one and two at a time. 

“They look like all their childhood pets were just beaten…” Krull murmured quietly, scaly lips hovering over his frothy tankard. 

Brinn’s frown deepened at the observation, because she knew he was right. In this last simulated run, they’d been ambushed by an enemy squadron of TIE Interceptors in a maelstrom of high winds and no visibility. By all accounts, the Y-Wing’s shields and sensors should have won them the day with the right tactics. Instead, they’d been massacred.

A fact that sat in Brinn’s stomach like a spiky stone as she downed a long pour of maintainer-brewed spiced rum. “Do we even know who flew against us in that sim?”

Krull shook his head, “Best I could find is that is was a group of transiting pilots on their way to another assignment. Just stopped over here on Taibius to refuel and chow down.”

That didn’t do Bolo Lead any favors to help her feel better. She stifled a groan of anguish and rested a hand on the R2 unit next to her. In turn, Rattler gave a sad hoot at seeing her so defeated. 

“No, it’s not your fault. You did right by me. We just got outflown, outgunned, and utterly stomped. And by a bunch of tourists, no less…” Brinn reassured the droid, as much as she was trying to talk herself up.

“At least Rowan got one…” Krull added, pointing a talon at the quartet of flyers at a nearby table. Among them, the youngest Bolo sat back with his arms crossed, staring into his glass like it should levitate to his lips. 

One for twelve isn’t a good record, even for a bomber squadron…she thought. Which she knew was the wrong answer. “It was a great shot, even if it was blind. Certainly made the TIEs think twice anyway.”

“We’ll have to re-run that mission again, you know.” Krull pointed out, draining his mug in one long gulp. “Once all the pride heals.”

Bolo Lead nodded, taking another tumbler of rum off a passing server droid and draining its top third. “Agreed. I just wish there was a way to help them think of how hard they fought, instead of how hard they died.”

“Well, what would Pellius do right now?” Her lover asked half-rhetorically. They both knew what he’d do. It was just a matter of getting her to think of it, and say the words. 

“He always had a chant or a song to pull us up by the ass. That man should’ve been an artist.” Brinn admitted, draining the rest of the glass without a second thought. “We haven’t done one since we lost him.”

“Which means all the young-bloods don’t know a key part of Bolo tradition and need to be educated.” Krull nodded safely, tapping his own R5 astromech, which in turn popped open a top panel to reveal a speaker.

Brinn shot him an incredulous look, before looking over the room and all the down-turned looks at filled tankards and snifters. “You think it’ll work? I’ve..hells, pre-mission briefs are stressful enough. I’m not him…”

“I know, I’ve heard you sing in the shower,” Krull countered with an almost human slyness to his serpentine smile. “But I’ve got your back, ky’lianna. Every time.”

The squadron leader felt her cheeks light up slight at that. A feeling that was amplified a moment later with the end of her tumbler. “Rattler, give me a countdown.”

Shooting it’s understanding, the astromech began a rhythmic, bass-powered countdown beat, which the other R2s and R5 droids picked up on and mimicked. This garnered some confused looks from the younger Bolos, but the veterans of the unit went still in curiosity. 

Not a second later, the ringing ‘clang’ of metal on metal joined in as Krull banged the bottom of his mug on the table. An excited murmur built among the seasoned pilots as they filled in their juniors what was about to happen. 

She could feel that same energy, inspiring and frightening all at once, building in her sternum. This one’s for you, Tovolo… we’ll do you proud!

Not allowing herself to think anymore about things like hesitation or restraint, Brinn stood suddenly from her seat and vaulted herself onto the bar’s countertop, much to the shock of the server droid. Now committed, her voice began to carry the words of one of Bolo Squadron’s oldest decrees.

Stronger than the mountains and as sharp as steel

Limitless, out on a quest for the glory of the heroes

It took only the first measure for the senior flyers to recognize it and stand, singing along with her in various successes of pitch and tune. Chief among them was Krull, who’s deep, savage register added that primal edge to the warrior’s ode.

Greater than the tales of the greatest gods of all

We will take our rightful place in Odin’s hall

Brinn had forgotten about the dropout before the chorus’ build-up, so hearing her own voice singing out alone startled her for a brief moment. But that uncertainty was washed away by sheer exhilaration. This wasn’t just something she didn’t know she needed. They needed this, and it was her role now to support her wingmen.

How far does the sky reach?

We will strive to be greater than man

Grow, We’ll become the warrior

Rising above, sword in our hands

Unconsciously, her fist raised to the sky to challenge any who flew their stars. Empathetically, it was joined by her pilots, now smiling and howling along with her. Even the junior flyers who had never heard the words understood the sentiment and the feeling of focus.

Reaching for our destiny

Glory be to the chosen ones

Warrior

Let your hammer rise to the sky and beyond

We have just begun

To cap off the first verse of Bolo Squadron’s anthem, she took up a small glass and downed its contents in one gulp. To her relief, it was simply filtered water, but the action was mirrored by her squadmates enthusiastically. 

Reach for the horizon, aim your gaze to the unknown

Tread into the fiery storm and watch their minds get blown

Braver than the bravest warrior of all

A strength so fierce and powerful as from the god of war

The energy surging through the squadron was infectious now, bringing Brinn to crush her fist to her chest in dominance of their destiny. The other Y-Wing pilots eagerly joined her, slamming fists into tabletops and their own breasts, or stomping their flight boots on the deckplates. When the background dropped away again to let her voice ring out clear and true, it was joined in echo by a unit now unifying in self-confidence once again.

How far does the sky reach?

We will strive to be greater than man

Grow, We’ll become the warrior

Rising above, sword in our hands

The chorus washed over them all this time, a measure of renewed determination and aggressive pride. Wingmen clapped their drinks together, astormechs pipped and hooted their excitement, even the typically-dull server droid was bouncing along with her words now. 

Reaching for my destiny

Glory be to the chosen ones

Warrior

Let our hammers rise to the sky and beyond

We have just begun

For a strong beat, only the ravenous roar of their combined energies filled the room. On a whim, Bolo LEad held up her hands to quiet them, drawing their attention to her with eager anticipation. Above all things Brinn had built up within her chest and her words in this moment, now was the time to drive home her pride in them. She would elevate them as Pellius and Krull did for her, she would make them feel like they could fly right now to glory and victory.

There is a legend that’s yet to unfold

The story untold

We will be greater than all

Fierce as a fireball

Whatever hesitation or reserve Brinn had left was now melted away, thanks to equal parts adrenaline and intoxicated rush. All of that energy, all that pride in her pilots and how they sang with her now, belted forward in a raw power that she’d never harmonized before. The understanding was dawning on her now, just how powerful a moment like this was. Not just for them, but for her own release. Did you sing like this when no one was listening, Tolovo?

Burning free

Our destiny

We will be fearless and strong

Into the sky and beyond

A tidal wave of howling, cheering, and confidant roars filled the room and the surrounding corridors with the harmonies of proud pilots once again. Brinn couldn’t keep the smile from her own lips, even if she felt as red as her home sun. Watching her pilots, her friends and family, remember what it was like to be themselves again, filled her with a pride she’d not known before. Looking up through the ceiling to the infinite galaxy, she nodded to Pellius and raised her glass one last time to him.

*

Unbeknownst to Brinn and the rapturous Bolos, they were no longer alone in the drinking establishment. Somewhere after the second chorus, a quartet of different pilots had picked up on the rambunctiousness and hunted down its source. Much to their surprise, the four aces found the very squadron they had just eviscerated in a simulated mission earlier in the day. Granted, the lead ace at the head of the quartet had planned to meet with Bolo Squadron tomorrow to go over the mission before they left.

“Wow, talk about a set of pipes!” the fourth pilot admired, nodding his head. The raucous level of warrior’s cheer was enough that his compliment could only be heard among the smaller group, but it was all he needed.

“Seriously! Must be nice to fly for a boss that can carry both a squadron and a tune.” jeered the third ace, smiling broadly in his assertion.

“It’s good to see them in high spirits. I was worried we went too hard on them in the sims.” Added the second man, tallest of the bunch. “You were ruthless in taking her down, Wedge.”

Nodding his understanding, General Antilles looked back to Tycho. “Had to be done. Now they know a bit more of what they’re gonna face when they ship out with us.”

Colonel Celchu returned the nod, “Agreed. They’re rough, but they’ve got the intrinsic talent the campaign needs.”

Leaning into the conversation, Major Wes Janson couldn’t help himself. “Don’t you worry, boss. I’ll get them flying with proper insanity. Maybe they can trade us some of those wicked songs!”

“Last time I heard you try to carry a tune, you had half a bar try to jump you!” Major Hobbie Kilvian jabbed.

“And the other half wanted an encore!” Wes countered, giving Wedge a gentle elbow tap. “Besides, no way Wedge would allow us to be second at anything! I bet the boss has a great soprano!”

“Wes, I will not be pitting the reputation of Rogue Squadron or any of its members on a karaoke battle.”

*****

It’s been a long time since a song has hit me like this one does. It’s got a power to it, a drive I can thrive on, and it just fit in my mind with the tales of Bolo Squadron, even if they haven’t had many of those exploits written down yet. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea in music, but it makes me feel like I could fly without wings.

I hope you all enjoy.

Wildlife Security Solutions, LLC – Contract #1, pt. 11

Just as Pasha had promised, the announcement dropped that evening, yet it didn’t arrive through coded email and a mountain of paper. Instead, in the middle of dinner, Silverback’s scrawny welp of an aide had sprinted into the mess tent and summoned Akula. “Pardon, sir. But you’re required in Silverback’s conference room at once per his order.”

At first, the Shark glared up from his finely-prepared slop and pryaniki, making the messenger recoil from Akula’s ice-blue eyes. The palpable fear made Grizli bark out a laugh next to Akula “I think the little pudel just shit himself!”

It was when Pauk let out a barbaric howl of excitement that the Shark sat back in his seat. This was the first time one team lead had been summoned in such a way, and now the two most experienced soldiers had been called in unison.  And then a third man had stood, one of squad leads Akula had yet to meet, followed by one of the Su-25 pilots they’d been eating with.

“This is it, brat’ya! This is where we smash the Dawn back to Allah!” Pauk cheered as he left the tent, with others yelling and applauding in return as the majority quickly picked up their eating pace.

Akula’s team was less enthusiastic, turning inward to query the Shark. Nosorog was first to ask “They don’t know, do they?”

“Nyet, or at least I doubt it.” the team lead replied. “I imagine this is where Silverback fills us in on the master plan that Kontrol has crafted for us back in their cubicles.”

“Blyad, I can’t wait to hear the rest of this…” Grizli grumbled, finished off the last bit of pastry on his tray. 

The Shark nodded at that, as he wasn’t too keen on whatever bloodbath was about to drop on their laps. “Gear up and…”

The rest of his order was drowned out by the streaming howl of four massive turbofan engines blasting forward to slow a landing Il-76 transport that had just touched down outside. Most everyone left in the mess tent stood to look at the ungainly albatross coming to a rolling stop outside while a throng of ground-crew ran out to meet it with directions to a parking spot.

The fact that they’d now seen another large arrival in only a week’s timeframe was strange enough, but another shrill whine drove the excited murmur up several octaves as a second, smaller transport aircraft drifted down gracefully behind its larger cousin. Akula recognized the trailing An-74 light transport and commando airlift from the many combat exercises he’d played in among the ice and snow. Its arrival filled in a key prediction in the team lead’s mind. Wherever we’re going, we’re being air-dropped in…der’mo… 

“And?” Volk prodded, making the Shark pick up his dropped thought.

Akula scanned the room, watching the other teams start to vacate mostly-eaten meals and run out to the runway. Those who had been in Libya as part of the original contact, he could read the anger in their faces. The release of now having even a hint of a plan of what they were going to do. The new faces, unaware of what they’d signed onto with this contract, were excited for far different reasons. Part arrogance, part lies, neither of which breed survival.

“…and standby for now.” Akula amended, weighing the options. “Head to the terminal and start checking parachutes, as many as you can.” 

Thankfully, the rest of the team nodded in understanding and rose to depart, leaving Akula to follow the squad leads to Silverback’s bungalow, which had once been a luxury quarters for some uber-rich sheik near the airfield’s former main control tower. He was the last to arrive at the briefing, taking an open seat next to Drakon. Across from him, the Spider nodded his greeting, and the Shark returned the gesture, only now noticing that Pauk now sported a gash from cheekbone to neck and around to his back. 

In another vein of disturbing, Solomon was also present in the gathering. The through interrogator gave Akula a cool nod upon seeing him, though all the Shark could see was the faint stain of blood soaked into the monster’s shirt. How did they bribe you out of your pit, vampyr?

Also present at the meeting was Rashadi, who kept his face professionally impassive, simply scanning the room and everyone in it. Silverback, knowing he was in charge of the meeting, looked to be puffing his chest up just that much more in some laughable attempt to show his dominance. “Comrades, this is it! Thanks to the intelligence gathered by Kontrol and by our teams here, we’ve located where these mongrels got their hands on the makings of a nuclear weapon.”

An excited hush overtook the room as a projector flickered to life on the edge of the hastily-assembled metal table they sat around. With it, the ape’s little helper monkey pulled up a PowerPoint file which began with the satellite image of a large airbase to the southwest of Haven. Like much of the former Libyan military, it had been utterly ravaged a decade ago by Western cruise missiles in key areas. Now, in this most recent image, most of the damage had been repaired or mitigated, and Akula could make out several groups of people milling about, working on various tasks. Many of the concrete aircraft hangers had remained unscathed, even if they were now nothing more than junk pits. Several broken down combat aircraft and helicopters also sat in the open, rotting under the unforgiving sun and sand.

Immediately catching the Shark’s eye, however, was the small row of short-range, cheaply imported L-39 and G-2 training jets that looked to be not only armed, but also in flyable condition. And I thought only our ‘allies’ in the LUA had sovereign reign over the airspace…

Drakon also was quick to notice this, as he heard her swear several times over. It wasn’t often she flew with air-to-air missiles, as she hadn’t been contracted for that mission. Do you still remember how to hit a bullet with a bullet, Liliya?

But much to Akula’s surprise, the largest trophies still stood intact, even if decrepit. Sitting comfortably on their aprons, in varying conditions of repair and refurbishment, were a dozen Soviet-era Tu-22/’Shilo’ supersonic long-range bombers. The initial brief Pasha had given him only mentioned them in passing, as they hadn’t flown in decades. Yet in the presentation before them, at least two of the old war machines appeared to be in much better condition.

“This is Al Jufra Airbase, formerly the center-point of Ghadaffi’s long range aviation and firepower.” Silverback began, trying to push his voice out with his chest to help project command in his presentation. “Despite the multiple strikes it has suffered by NATO, there is more than enough clear runway, equipment, and hardened shelters for anyone to use. As such, Kontrol assesses that this is the NLD’s eastern-most base of operations.” 

This immediately struck a sour note in Akula’s ear, as it was an admission of a suspicion he’d seen in his off-duty reading. The Libya Unity Army was losing and losing fast. Even on their last mission a week ago, the NLD wasn’t supposed to be beyond Bin Jawad in force, let alone so far south as Al Jufra. By next week, we’d be on the defensive or overrun…no wonder Kontrol sent us tanks!

Taking a laser pointer from his breast pocket, the gregarious gorilla circled one of the larger concrete bunkers in the northern corner of the airbase. “And here, in this munitions storage bunker, is the source of all our headaches.”

Silverback gestured to Solomon who rose from his chair like the undead walker his pale skin and sunken face made people think he was. “Over the past week, with your assistance,” he nodded towards Akula and Pauk. The former gave only a small nod, while the Spider wished to hurry the brief along. 

With a taxed grin, the interrogator continued, “we’ve gathered invaluable human intelligence on the extent of international involvement with the New Libya Dawn’s takeover of the nation.”

The torturer paused for Silverback to nod, before continuing his delivery, “The man brought in by Akula’s team is Ri Il-Sung, who I suspect is a serving member of one of the regime’s illicit acquisitions program. Navuk has extracted that he holds a Doctorate in nuclear energy from the Université de Lorraine in Stuttgart, Germany. As well as the honorary rank of Lieutenant General in their mainstay Army.”

The room was silent as the gathered minds wove the information together into a dark tapestry of unwanted conclusions. Aklua let out a small ‘huff’ under his breath as he recalled Nosorog’s words. Perhaps you were right, Rhino. Things would be much simpler if we’d just killed that old pervert.

“The target brought in by Pauk is Kim Chang-ja, major general of the Korean People’s Army Air Force, who holds many hours in the Iluyshian IL-28. For this reason, he was sent to inspect the NLD’s latest holding of Libya’s Tu-22 base. He was expressly told that he would bring one of these back to Kim Jong-Un personally as a Hero of the Democratic People’s Republic.”

The elder overseer looked to them, wearing a smile that made him look imposing even to the Shark. “And in thirty-six hours, we’ll finish the job those fucking Yanks left behind and leave the whole base burning!”

A few excited murmurs picked up, especially from Pauk. But Akula kept his tone unwavering when he spoke up, “And how do we propose to seize a base triple the size of our own? With the handful of armor that was bought for us and a few kind words?” It was half-sarcasm, and half a test to see if Silverback would enlighten them with what the Shark already knew. 

The egotistical ape happily bit down on the bait, “Nyet, Shark, We rain down enough missiles from your sea-faring brothers to make them beg for Allah’s mercy!” The slide changed again to reveal the sailing timeline and courses of the inbound naval flotilla of two warships, raising the excited murmur to a cascading roar. Yet despite the Spider’s energized eagerness for bloodshed, the Shark remained unconvinced. You just couldn’t resist showing off your ‘strategic brilliance’, could you, Silverback? 

Yet beneath the tide, Akula could pick up on notes of concern from the masses. On the surface, the plan itself was brilliant in its simplicity. Or at least it should have been, in his eyes. As harended as Al Jufra was, would it stand up to a focused, concentrated pounding by two of the Motherland’s finest warships? Just bury all that nuclear material under a thousand tonnes of fire and sand and let time digest it. 

“And then what?” asked the Spider, arms folded across his chest. “So we blow up anything these sandrats have and storm the base, what then?”

“After the initial engagement, our contract is to occupy Al Jufra and ensure all nuclear materials, components, and technology are removed from the base.” Silverback began.

Rashadi was quick to inject, “Without destroying the useable combat equipment that remains. The Unity Army will make use of it in the continued struggle to restore the national government.” This caveat earned their benefactor a subtle, but angered glare from Silverback, which Akula picked up on.

“Except for the larger bombers, those will be targeted and destroyed. We will not allow either an extremist movement, or the North Korean government, to take possession of such vehicles. International treaty stipulates this clearly.” the bulbous overseer shot back, trying to assert his order over the Qatari that right now paid their bill.

“AFTER, and only after, all non-indigenous troops and personnel have been cleared from the area.” Rashadi shot back with equal abrasiveness. “We’ll not have another party or government bringing unnecessary pressure into Libya. The national power struggle is fractured enough as is.”

An unnerving beat of silence filled the room, as the disparity in leadership and direction usually kept to Silverback’s office and teleconferences now laid bare. Akula could see the many sides of absorbing such a fracturing, from Pauk’s unchanged anger to Drakon’s cringe of uncertainty. Even he felt the confidence level seeping out of the room like a hemorrhaging wound, and shit leadership has already gotten us mauled…

“So which comes first, the missiles or the cattle-rounding?” Drakon asked to break the quiet. Akula had his suspicions, and he didn’t like them. No way you got the actual Navy involved if there was a chance of bombing North Koreans…means Kontrol told Sevastopol we’d clear them out first.

Silverback glared at the pilot’s brazenness, as if she were questioning the masterfully crafted battle plan. Looking over at the Qatari briefly, a small grumble escaped sunken lips as the overseer replied, “In order to ensure accurate targeting and minimized non-extremist casualties, we will be moving on Al Jufra with our own capabilities first.”

The previous tide of excitement turned to anxiety and apprehension as Silverback laid out the coming night’s operation. As Akula had predicted, his team and Pauk’s would be airdropped in close to the base’s perimeter after Drakon and the Su-25s made their initial bombing runs on the active combat jets and any sort of anti-aircraft measures the satellite image had captured. Fortunately, the images showed little in terms of heavier firepower, but both Shark and Dragon shared a knowing nod that there would be something the planning phase missed.

From there, Akula’s team would round up the Koreans working on the flightline and the bombers and move them to an open patch of the airbase where they would be free of any blast shockwaves. Because Al Jufra supported larger aircraft, it had plenty of open room next to its long runway to make that easy. Meanwhile, the Spider and his remaining men would be sent to secure the nuclear materials building, flush out any Koreans from there, and get them away from the incoming strikes. Other, newer teams were assigned as fire support and building cleaners, charged with searching each and every hanger, equipment shed, and half-destroyed rubble pile on the base to ensure only native Libyans and other NLD jihadists would die in the second phase of the mission. 

Once the missiles had fallen and the airbase secured, the Unity Army would move in with a full force from the east and take possession of the base the following day. And all of this was to be done with the least amount of equipment damage possible, lest any of the teams risk a contract fee reduction or another blacklisting. 

The Shark hated the plan, both its unnecessary complexity as well as its politically-coddling construction. The first wave of airstrikes risked their element of surprise as well as being shot down by something they’d not seen this far. Even as capable as they were, two ground-attack jets would run out of munitions long before they wrought the needed damage to truly shut down the airbase. 

Then came the international issue, as trying to pull a bunch of non-cooperative North Koreans out of their defendable positions and herd them like uncooperative cattle would be stupid at best. Kontrol didn’t provide them an accurate head-count, so Akula and Pauk could easily miss someone, and it only took one desperate Korean to shoot them all in the back. 

Then there was the delayed naval missile strike, which would allow plenty of time for the NLD forces to fight back or run back west to Sirte, dragging the war on even longer when a substantial blow could be dealt right then and there.

So the Shark was thankful when the Spider slammed his fist into the table first, as it ensured there was common thinking among the pawns who would be carrying out this insanity. “This is a bullshit plan!” The newly-scarred soldier aimed an enraged finger at the Qatari funds master. “If they’re paying for cruise missiles, then we use them! I’m not taking my team into a death trap to get shot up by these mongrels trying to save a bunch of juche-fuckers who’ll be shooting at us, too!”

It was then that Akula stood up from his seat, moved the projector aside gently, and unplugged it. Keeping his calm by clenching his fist hard enough to force it into a paler white, he glared at Silverback. “If there are Korean soldiers, uniformed or not, working with these insurgents, then they are enemy combatants and will be treated as such. We both know there’s no way those hermits will admit they had troops here publicly.”

Silverback stood as tall as he was able, which pushed Akula back thanks to the sudden intrusion of blubber. “Political matters aren’t your concern. Your contract is to follow MY orders, and I have advised Kontrol that we won’t be inflaming tensions without express permission.”

“So we’re gonna shield these fucks from our own contract? We take away what their Dear Leader sent them here for, they’re going to attack us!” Drakon exploded from her chair. “Why not just ask me to suck all their dicks at once?! It’s insulting and ridiculous that you think this is the best option!”

“Der’mo, she’s right, Silverback. I may be new blood here, but I know a shit plan when I see it. This is the same kind of trap we flew over in Chechnya, and I’ll not lose any more wingman to this kind of filth.” the Su-25 pilot concurred, sitting upright in his seat. Akula was sure to file away part of the declaration for later, So that you never meet our Rhino, else he demands revenge on you, too. 

“Shut up, all of you!” Silverback exploded, shoving the Shark back and gesturing with jiggling fervor at the dissidence before him.  “None of you have the a…” the gargantuan gorilla began, before the calming fist the Shark had been arming finally flew, connecting with Silverback right in the temple and laying the larger man out. 

“You’ve had that a long time coming, cossak…” Akula growled as he stepped over the fallen overseer to confer his aide. “Advise the Moskva and the Severodvinsk that we’ll be sending them an updated mission profile and launch window.”

Before the frightened assistant could eek out a complaint nod, the Shark turned to the rest of the assembled table. “New plan; we let the Navy take out the heavy guns, the fighters, and anything else they can from afar.  Then we roll in and secure both the bunker and anything not on fire. Understood?”

Pauk’s wrathful grimace turned to a nod full of conviction. Drakon also gave her approval, as Akula knew she would. The Su-25 pilot at the table also gave an approving nod after mulling it over for a moment. 

Only Rashadi, looking aghast at the scene that had just played out in front of him, threw up his hands in disapproval. “No! Unacceptable! The clients have specifically directed that…”

“Call it an unavoidable loss in battle. Fuck, blame the Dawn or the Koreans if you like, say they sabotaged anything they couldn’t escape with. But if it fights us, it doesn’t get a warning.” Akula snapped. “Your people made this contract to help you win this war and save whatever it is you think is important in this shithole sandbox. Now let us do that as your blood money intended.”

The Qatari worked his jaw several times, and the sailor waited to see what venom came spring out. With an exasperated breath, Rashadi turned and stormed out of the room, phone already in hand to call his masters. With that oversight departed, Akula turned to the rest of his leads. “We need every image and piece of intelligence we have on Al Jufra since the NATO campaign, and an updated Spook Schedule. If we do this, we do it right. And if we can find Sova or any of his team…we bring them home.”

****

Part 11(!) in the on-going Libya operational mess. International warfare, lethal and not, is a very tricky thing to manage. Originally, I couldn’t decide between breaking up all this planning and arguing into smaller parts, or putting if forward as one massive chunk. Much feedback would be appreciated on how much is too much, or how tight a scene feels is too tight when the rest of the world is still out there.

I hope you all enjoy.

Parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10