How exactly Yenot had uncovered and delivered unto his team such a pristine Western-made pickup truck, Akula had no idea. Nor did he care to find out. The moment he stepped behind the wheel, the level of comfort of the cooled leather seat surprised him. Even laden in concealed gear once again, there was little distraction or discomfort as he ran his hands along actual wood inlays and modernized electronics. Makes driving 200km almost a pleasurable thing!
By the time his team arrived on the outskirts of Sirte, midnight was giving way to the first hour of the day. But unlike their previous excursion, the streets of the city were still alive with fire and violence. Even from the highway, they could see glowing crimson fire clawing its way into the blackened sky, with glowing tracer rounds leaping up from the western-most streets trying to tear down whatever was hiding in the skies.
This also led to a very concerning symptom of the larger war. The once-clear streets heading toward their target were now choked with wreckage, bodies, or guerrillas running toward death and the glory of Allah. For the moment, the frantic extremist fighters paid them little mind, since they were driving toward the battle themselves, but Akula knew that ignorance wouldn’t last the moment one of them took a good look at the four pale-skinned infidels in their midst.
“Yebah’eto! Why the fuck is this happening now?!” Grizli rumbled, annoyed at the several new layers of complications to their mission.
“Doesn’t matter. Stick to the hit! If the target isn’t there, we take his computers.” Akula amended their original plan, parking the truck a dozen blocks shy of their intended destination. Scanning their surroundings to make sure no one was obviously watching them, he signaled to his men to take a defensive position behind the vehicle, and for Nosorog to prepare the explosive drone for launch. The original Phoenix-2 micro-UAV easily fit in the giant Chechen’s palm. Adding the small quantity of high-temperature FOX-9 to melt through the metal casing and wiring of the target building’s circuit box was a feat of engineering mastery only the Rhino could design to make his little pet Pop-Feniks.
But adding even a few ounces of explosives, along with the needed impact detonator, cut the small drone’s range in half, so now there was little margin to miss. And if Akula were on the opposite side, he’d have invested in a small UAV counter-jammer. Something as small as an old CB radio could be enough to scramble the control link and send their Pop-Feniks down into the wrong building.
Signaling for Volk to cover the exposed side of their team, Akula gave Nosorog the go-ahead. Swiftly, the Chechen stepped back a dozen feet, clicked the small propeller of the drone until it engaged, then came sprinting forward and launched the package into the air like a suicidal paper airplane. Its high-pitched ‘buzz’ from the tiny motor sang out like an annoying bird from every wall and made the team lead swear under his breath. Even in the dark of night, it would only take one suspicious soldier to score a lucky hit and royally fuck their plans over.
Grizli flipped up the small video screen attached to the Feniks’ handset controller to watch through the UAV’s tiny forward-mounted electro-optical eye while the Wolf brought his ShAK-12 rifle’s scope up to scan the upper stories of the nearby buildings, of which he saw only darkness and flames. To cover, the Rhino leveled his RPK-16 where Volk had been looking, which impressed Akula. Seemingly gone were the threats of the morning, or the near-treasonous in-fighting that had boiled over. How much was that fee increase? the team lead pondered for a second before compartmentalizing that away for later.
“Fuck, fuck, come on, look away!” the Bear whispered in anger, and the echo of a three-round burst up the street confirmed Akula’s worst fears. With a tap to the shoulder, the team lead sent Volk sprinting to the cover of the corner of the intersection they were parked in. Sure enough, the Wolf’s eyes found a trio of fighters pointing to the sky and trying to steady their aims to shoot the Feniks down. Taking a knee for stability, Volk emptied his chest of breath and fired. The first man went down never seeing his death, and the second had only registered the sound of the shot before the round blew out most of his heart. The third, on panicked instinct, began to sprint across the road towards the neighboring building, but the Wolf’s aim was precise. One round to the hip sent the man shrieking towards the ground and the next silenced him for good.
Unconsciously, Akula let out a breath of relief as the drone continued on its way, now better camouflaged by the noise of street warfare. In the brief seconds before the Feniks was to reach the target’s rooftop, the team lead made note to press Silverback on why he didn’t know their supposed contracted allies in the LUA were pressing a westerly offensive into Sirte without telling them. There’s easier ways to try and kill us, you fucking ape…
“Visual on strike zone, marking descent.” Grizli whispered, though none of the team spared the second to look at the display. If they had, they would have seen the two men on the rooftop, one of which was aiming an old Soviet-made Dragunov sniper rifle to pick off unfortunate targets. The partner spotter, carrying exceptionally expensive night-vision goggles, turned up to look at the Feniks the moment before it impacted. As far away as the team was, the detonation was little more than a ‘pop’ among the rest of the chaos.
With the remote control handset now useless, the Ukrainian ripped the hardware in half and tossed part of it away in the street, with the other half staying in the back of the truck. Akula signaled his team to move forward to the next street-corner, and then to the next, which they did as one fluid motion. With each stop, they would ensure the path was clear, and tap the man in front of them in the affirmative to move.
Halfway to where they were supposed to be, Akula ordered the team to freeze and cover. For at the next intersection south of them, a cobbled-together jalopy of a flatbed truck came screaming up the road, packed full of eager young jihadists. The vehicle only slowed long enough to disgorge its complement of berserkers before peeling into reverse to fetch more. Thankfully, the newly-arrived fighters immediately found themselves under fire from the west and dove for cover, paying no attention to the Wildlife team’s position for the moment.
Volk led the sprint to the next street up, with Akula running backwards to keep their rear clear of any pursuit. Only when the team was at the final street-corner before their target’s safe-house did they stop again. Thanks to the Feniks, one of the two-man rooftop team had been mostly blown down into the street, which had attracted the attention of several of the building’s population.
What this had also done was draw out the ZPU-2 armed truck right up to the intersection ahead of them, and its gunner was scanning the area right in their path. Swiftly, Akula stepped back from the corner and tapped Volk forward, as their overall most accurate shooter. The Wolf snuck only a moment’s glance around the building, but that was all the anti-air gunner needed to fire. With a shout of alarm, 14mm shells began tearing man-sized holes into their cover and the building behind it, blasting the team with shattered stone and torn metal.
“Pull back!” Akula shouted, and the team started their backwards gaunt away from the devastation to the previous traffic junction so they could sweep around the opposite side. Their careful pace also meant that the already-alerted guerrillas came running their way once the anti-air turret ceased firing, with the first NLD soldier firing at them before they could find immediate cover. Five rounds cut into the street at their feet, with one passing through Akula’s concealing outer shirt before the Wolf dropped him with a round in the eye.
The quartet rounded the first corner available to them, placing the fire team squarely in a private garage. Akula signaled for them to cut through the residence, and Grizli took the lead with his shotgun for the clearing path. They split the entryway door, two men on either side, before the Rhino opened the door for the Bear. Immediately, the Ukrainian filled the entryway and connecting hallway with 12-gauge shells, the roar broken only by the agonized wails of the surprised NLD fighters who had been hunkered down in the house. To ensure they wouldn’t pursue or suffer, Akula shot each body one final time with his SR-1 pistol. Let Allah pull the lead from your hearts and laugh at your misguided waste of a life…
While the building provided cover from the technical’s gunner seeing them, the Saiga’s shredding shots did echo through the hovel, and from his position still in the garage, Akula could hear the truck-mounted gunner shouting something in his native tongue. The Shark followed his gut and wagered that reinforcements were going to flank the building and cut them down. The team lead popped one of his three 40mm grenades into the AK-74’s under-barrel launcher and moved back to the street opening. Sure enough, he could hear the cranking of the ZPU-2 rotation collar as it scanned the streets ahead of it.
With a nod and a hand signal, Akula ordered Grizli and Nosorog through the building’s interior, which they swiftly swept into, the Rhino naturally at the front of the charge. Volk ran to the opposite end of the bay opening to cover the crossfire, holding up three fingers, then three again. Too many to deal with using just the grenade, we’ll have to keep their attention!
To respond to the Wolf, Akula gave his own three-count. Using that last second of peace to calm his nerves and steady his breath, the Shark peeked back around the corner, rifle raised to about the right angle he estimated it would take to arc the grenade into the truck. At that same moment, the Wolf also emerged far enough from cover to fire into the truck’s back windscreen and cabin. Instinctual fear and alertness made their pursuers jolt their attention in their direction, but not with enough focus or discipline to fire back.
In a blink, Akula fired. The ‘thoonk’ of the 40mm explosive leaving its chamber alerting the cannon’s gunner to what was coming and shout for his fellow fighters. Now divided between being shouted at and the renewed sounds of shotgun blasts across the block, there was a split-second of hesitation.
The VOG-PM explosive landed just under the exposed bed of the gun-equipped truck. Shards of steel and high explosive ripped into the vehicle’s frame and wheels, as well as the flesh of the gunner and driver. Such force also tore into the remaining ammo stores in the ZPU-2. Unspent gunpowder easily fed the growing detonation, tearing the remains of the cannon from its housing and sending bits of barrel and bone dozens of feet in the air.
Not to be spared, the two closest fighters to the truck also vanished in the plume of all consuming fire, with another being impaled by a large section of truck frame and sent backwards several yards. Two soldiers closest to Akula’s covered position were blown forward by the sheer shockwave, only to be dropped in the street by precise rounds courtesy of the Wolf.
The final man, now very conscious of his own isolation, succeeded in diving into the cover of a street-corner shop’s wreckage Taking the chance, and needing to press the initiative, Akula ordered Volk forward. Expertly, the Wolf sprinted to the other side of the street, before moving forward towards the burning wreck of the truck.
Also expertly, the last remaining guerrilla had waited until the pair were separated before coming back around the corner, his RPG-7 anti-tank rocket launcher loaded and armed. While he hadn’t counted on the weapon choice, Akula had kept his eyes on where Volk was going, not where his teammate was now, so the sudden appearance of the human obstruction triggered a three-round burst from his AK-74.
At least one of the rounds caught the fighter in the side, spinning them around towards Akula at the same instant he pulled the trigger. In a wild spin, the rocket-powered projectile popped out of its tube and kicked on its motor for only a moment before smashing into the house above the Shark’s head. Hundreds of pounds of stony debris tore free of the upper-level wall and showered the street in small meteorites. On instinct, Akula sprinted inside, nearly tripping over the bodies already splayed out across the floor. Hastily, he followed the carnage to a street-facing door that had been blasted open, where he slowed long enough to shout “Derzhat!”
Now slowly stepping through the exit, Akula was half-pleased to see Grizli’s shotgun leveled at him. The Ukrainian hulk nodded before sweeping back around to press forward towards their target. Once again, Akula and Nosorog stood side by side.
“Nice shot, was hoping to do that myself.” the Chechen begrudgingly praised.
“I’ll leave you the next one, if it will help you sleep.” Akula chuckled before gesturing for the Rhino to move up to the target domicile.
From the pre-mission intel they’d been provided, Akula had expected the target’s location to have fortified doors, and this assessment had been correct. He could feel the cold steel under layers of carefully applied paint to better conceal the entrance from a passing view. Like in Bin Jawad, the Rhino took from his backpack a patch of high-explosive reaching from street-level to ceiling and attached it to the door’s pivot area.
Having already been ahead of them, Grizli came circling back around with a newly retrieved Volk. The smaller man now sported fresh gashes on his arm and cheek, and the knife on his hip was coated in thick crimson.
“Clear?” Akula asked the smallest team-member. The Wolf gave a curt nod and moved aside.
Once Nosorog had the charges in place, the team moved around the eastern corner of the building in the scant few seconds the Rhino had set the timer for. The sound of a six-inch thick door ripping itself from weakened hinges and crashing to the ground was much louder than the blast used to pry it open. But among the rest of the night’s battle symphony, it drew little attention at the moment. The now-smoking doorway revealed an immediate narrow stairway leading up, begging them to tempt fate so they would get stuck and mowed down in a hail of bullets.
This time, Akula gave no warning, loading and firing another 40mm grenade up to the next level. The shriek of Arabic surprise, followed quickly by the deafening blast of the contained explosion didn’t surprise the team, nor did the tumbling body of a young woman still clutching an automatic rifle when it hit the street. Swiftly, Grizli and Akula entered first, followed by Nosorog and Volk at the rear. When the stairway split to open up to the second floor, the rear pair paused to canvas the level, while the forward two continued upstairs.
Though the battle raged outside, the interior of the building was now uncomfortably quiet. Grizli had also taken notice of the lack of resistance, slowing his stalking pace to a careful creep. The ascent leading up the third floor had been sealed by another, smaller door, though this one was made of more common sheet metal. Carefully, the Bear studied the barrier, before gesturing with the barrel of his weapon at the handle. There, Akula could make out the worn-groove of a wire wrapping around the doorframe and to the other side. “Tripwire.”
“Means he’s not expecting to come down this way. Could be another way out.” Akula confirmed. With a pat on the Bear’s shoulder, the two men descended back to their comrades on the second floor, who had posted on either side of a blown-out window. Around them, the burnt and torn remains of papers, padded the floor of what may have been a family room once upon a time.
“IED on the next level, target could have escaped outside.” Akula passed on, signaling to Nosorog to check out the trapped door and for Volk to peek around the wall. “North face looks clear, no exit.”
Without a way to check the opposite face for an escape route from there, Akula simply stood by for the moment. It only took the Rhino that long to peer under the doorway with a collapsible mirror he kept on hand and carefully cut the tripwire free. Now disarmed, the Chechen called Grizli back to the front, stepping as far to the side as the hulking explosives savant could to allow the Bear to ascend higher.
“Sukin syn!” Grizli suddenly called out, causing the other three men to race upstairs. Inside, they found absolute carnage, but not of blood and bodies. Mostly-burned maps and shredded documents had been tossed everywhere, likely by the last remaining sentry before she’d been forced to defend the entryway. A computer tower and several radios were also laid in waste on a side table, all shot. Even the cheap television on the far wall had been subjected to multiple rounds.
I’m sorry, Pasha…all that work, all for nothing… Akula let himself sigh. Nosorog let out an angry growl and slammed his fist through the table, broken electronics clattering to the floor. “I don’t understand! Why defend this room now?! There’s nothing here!”
“Doubt she knew that.” Grizli responded with a snarl. “Wonder if she was a wife or just a slave…”
“Or just a junkie.This looks high-quality, not street-made.” Volk added, pulling a small block of ice-blue capsules from under a mound of tattered map remains. The bag itself was neatly, but subtly, marked in Hangul along the seal. It was a find that made the Shark’s shoulders sink in realization. That’s one way to fund and maintain control over an army of faith-driven pigs…and an easier source of payment than traceable cash transfers.
It was then that Akula realized that, for all the firepower al-Nujood had been documented with, none of it was here. Nor had they seen a way to access the top floor. Snapping a fist up to silence his team, the Shark gestured to the ceiling, which all four men now scanned for any difference or alteration.
The sound of wood metal scraping against wood surprised the team, with each man glancing over to see Volk pulling a chair with him towards the corner frame of the stairwell door. Perplexed, Akula watched the Wolf run his hand along the edge of the cut-out before pushing on a small indent that no one else had seen. With a ‘click’, a well-painted handle dropped from the ceiling in front of him, which Volk then pulled on. In turn, this dropped a false tile of scrap-wood colored like the rest of the ceiling stone, followed by a cheaply-made ladder.
“How did you know about that?” Nosorog inquired sternly, to which the Wolf pointed at the barely discernible rise of the button’s inset in the wall. It was intuition that genuinely surprised Akula, but also called into question how little he knew about the Wolf in his midst.
“Good eyes, shchenok.” the Bear whispered, before taking position at the bottom of the ascent. The Ukrainian had barely the time to raise his Saiga before the familiar ‘click!’ of a pin popping from a spring-triggered handle. Followed by the sound of metal bouncing along stone. “Grenade!”
Even diving away from the opened attic, Akula’s mind raced with certainty that he would not be standing again. He was too close to Grizli, too close to the end. Forgive me, babochka…Andre deserved better than this.
Yet the Bear didn’t run, nor did he flinch. Instead, Grizli jumped into the air as high as his behemoth frame could go, which gave him the reach to catch the incoming explosives in his hands. And with a desperate flail, the two American-made M67 grenades went flying back the way they came before supersonic shards of hot metal and the concussive blast filled the room.
Part 6 in what may be the story I’ve loved writing the most since I started writing ever. There’s a lot of fun to be had with the 4-person power team, especially when they can conflict so drastically. Plus, writing a dynamically dark and merciless street-fight like this was also a great exercise in trying to wrap my mind around something NOT starfighter/pilot-related.
I hope you all enjoy.