INT – DAY – Kat’s office in BLDG 1701
She sits at her desk, Councilor Darch on her computer screen. He’s a very thin, almost cadaverous, with intense eyes, perfect hair, and immaculate shirt and jacket. THe office behind him looks lavish and large.
Kat: How the HELL am I supposed to know they’d see your guys and head south low and fast so your SAM couldn’t get a shot? He didn’t say ANYTHING to me before they lifted.
Councilor Darch: Don’t YOU advise him?
Kat: I’m his LEGAL adviser. I don’t know WHAT he’s doing most of the time, and even THEN he’s constantly running hypotheticals by me. I’m NOT a mind-reader!
Councilor Darch: (angry) I’ve paid you a LOT of good money! I expect GOOD information!
Kat: Everything I’ve passed you IS correct. You get what I can afford to give! Now get off this unsecured connection, and let me see what I can find out!
The screen goes blank, and Kat leans forward, elbows on the desk, and puts her face in her hands, sighing, looking tired.
EXT – Evening – training field
A temporary camp with tents and a few simple container-sized pre-fab buildings are set up on an area near a simple firing range at the foot of a high ridge/low mountain, one that can be seen in the distance from the space-port of Adelaide. The recruits are sitting in small groups scattered about, working on cleaning weapons and gear. Harbin roars up in a light truck, brakes to a halt in a cloud of dust, and hops out almost before it’s stopped.
Harbin: Buck! Brenneke! Foster! Sabot! Plumbata! I need you five volunteers to fall in!
The five of them scramble up and over to him, and fall into a more-or-less straight line in front of him, rifles at port arms.
Harbin: You have some recreational parachute experience, right?
Buck: Yes, First Sergeant!
Harbin: Good. We got some size four brain-cells with a size seven attitude and a mobile SAM battery that are giving the Colonel and our friends aboard Tajemnica a problem. The agreed-to arms level contracts here severely limit what we can do, and OpFor is keeping friendlies tied up at the moment, so they offered us a one-target contract to deal with it for them. Think you’re up for a drop-in live-fire field exercise?
Foster: At NIGHT? Right NOW?! FOR REAL?
Harbin: Yes, at night. In the dark, too. A potentially hot LZ, low altitude jump, in a wooded area, voice-only communication, against an air-defense unit. Very limited allowed electronics, weapons, and transport methods. Lots of ways to have fun, even more ways to get yourself hurt, lost, or killed. No air cover or support, just us and what we drop with.
The five of them look at each other, surprised and uncertain.
Harbin: I normally wouldn’t ask this of recruits, but you’re better than the average ‘cruits and Tajemnica is getting shot at. Right now WE are what they’ve got. Can’t order you to go, because it is not training or a contract you’ve signed. If you go, you’ll get combat contract pay and coverage, even if the bad guys don’t show up to play target. No shame to not want to get shot at in a night-drop you haven’t trained for.
Sabot: So who goes if we don’t?
Harbin: Me, Kaminski, Kaushik.
Foster: Who else?
Harbin: Whatever spirits seem to watch over the Captain and his scatter-brained ship.
Plumbata: Just the three of you?
Harbin: (shrugging off their skepticism) Plenty of targets for everyone.
Foster: Didn’t sign up for push-ups. I’m in.
The rest of them nod agreement, saying various forms of “me TOO!” together.
Harbin: Grab your packs, weapons, and field kit, we’ll get ammo and the rest back at the pad. You have 90 seconds.
The five of them scatter at a run to grab their equipment.
Harbin: Meplat! Cannelure! Ogive! Grab your gear! Armor, rifles, and kit! You get to learn how to play bad-ass crowd control muscle! MOVE! You have eighty seconds!
INT – night – Tajemnica’s bridge
Helton, Quiritis, Cooper, Lag, Bipasha
Ship AI: (OC) I am picking up some very unusual communications between Lt Kat, Councilor Darch, Seymore, and an unidentified fourth party. I believe the information distribution pattern is useful.
EXT – dusk – Landing pad D9
Harbin and the five recruits stand next to a truck full of gear. They are securing parachute bag straps to bags and bundles in the back of the truck. Tajemnica glides in, ramp already lowered, right behind the truck. Harbin jumps in, and backs it rapidly onto the ramp, tromping on the breaks, causing a fair bit of the equipment in the back to spill out the back end onto the ramp. The recruits sprint up the ramp to help empty the rest of it, and Kaminski and Kaushik help toss it in, too. In a few moments, it’s all on the deck. Harbin roars off the ramp, stops it very close by, hops out and sprints back to the ramp, hopping on as Tajemnica is already lifting away into the encroaching darkness.
INT – Night – Tajemnica ramp
Dim red lights. Stacks of gear are piled on the edge of the raised ramp, with many streamers of the static lines leading from the bundles up to the a clip-line above them. The three Plataeans and the recruits are dressed in light armor, with jump harnesses, and three large piles of gear next to them in drop-bags and hooked into heavy netting with cargo chutes on top. The red light blinks, and the ramp starts to lower. The air swirls around and makes things flutter around a bit. Allonia gives Kaminski a quick hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. He smiles at her, nods.
Kaminski: Back before you know it. WITH my shield. Good luck here.
Quiritis: (OC, through speakers) Gear 1 and group 1, READY!
The lights flash again.
Quiritis: Quiritis: (OC, through speakers) Group 1, GO!
The men push one pile of gear off the edge, and it drops into the darkness. A moment later, Kaminski and two of the recruits leap after them, automatic rip cords trailing behind them, then going taught, then streaming out into the night.
Quiritis: (OC, through speakers) Group 2, READY!
The lights flash again.
Quiritis: (OC, through speakers) Group 2, GO!
Harbin and a recruit shove their piles over the edge, then go after them.
Another short pause.
Quiritis: (OC, through speakers) Group 3, READY!
The light blink again.
Quiritis: (OC, through speakers) Group 3, GO!
Same as before, stuff goes over the edge, a very brief pause, then Kaushik and the last two recruits jump after.
Allonia looks out into the night, the wind swirling her hair a bit, and she hugs herself like a cold chill is going through her, and she has a worried look on her face.
INT – night – Kat’s office
She is looking even more tired, and is facing the screen, with a VERY angry looking Councilor Darch on it.
Darch: THEY managed to kill TWO missile teams for SURE, and I’ve not heard from the other two! You said it WASN’T ARMED!
Kat: IT ISN’T, GODDAMIT! Tajemnica’s sensors are pretty good, they must have been seen. If YOUR idiots managed to get themselves killed somehow, it ISN’T MY FAULT!
Darch: (yelling) I don’t HIRE idiots! I hire the best, except for YOU! Four ManPADS teams positioned for a clear shot, then NOTHING! Not a DAMNED WORD!
Kat: ManPADS? Those are not allowed in the Zone! How do you know they are dead?!
Darch: They were not IN the declared zone. A flyby showed a LOT of damage to trees and the ground where some of them were, they must have been fired on!
Kat: OK, if you can’t get anyone at the RC, then you’ll have to move the main SAM battery.
Darch: If they move, they’ll be seen!
Kat: There are some wooded valleys about fifteen kilometers from the pick-up point. Right on the edge of the declared zone. They can shift a couple of launchers fast, be there and set up for the trip after next, if they are any good. Move in fast and tight, keep electronics off during transit for a low profile, stay on the valley road. That should be close enough. I can pass intel that that’s a safe direction if they stay low. A heavy SAM will never have an easier shot.
EXT – early dawn – hillside ambush
Dim pre-dawn light, everything black and gray and silent. A brushy hillside overlooking a wide, shallow, somewhat wooded valley with slender pines, with a narrow road down the middle of it. Harbin and recruit Sabot sit in a hastily dug and camouflaged mortar pit about 400 meters from the road. There is a light mortar set up, with a dozen rounds ready to fire lined up on the side, fuse pins still in, a small note card under each one. They have two heavy rifles with scopes and nearly lunch-box sized magazines in them, with several more magazines at the ready. They also have their normal suppressed rifles with magazines and bandoleers ready to use or grab and move with. Harbin is checking the angles on the mortar.
Harbin: OK, range and angle that black rock next to the white one near the curve.
Sabot picks raises his optical range-finder, a binocular-like device with a short tube sticking out on each side, and fiddles with it.
Sabot: Middle of the road, next to black rock next to white rock. Five eight-five meters, forty-one degrees.
He looks at a printed card for a moment, then makes a few notes on the card. He sets the card down, and picks up another mortar round from its canister. He puts one propellant increment on its base, and lays it down.
Sabot: All laid in. NOW what?
Harbin: We wait.
Sabot: … What if they don’t come?
Harbin: We wait longer. Pray if it makes you feel better.
There is a long pause, a tense look on the young man’s face.
Sabot: What if there are too many?
Harbin: We get the SAMS, THEN we worry about how many there are. Keep your mind on the mission. We are SAM hunting. SOME “what-if’s” are fine – worrying about shit you can’t do anything about just wastes calories. Intel says a couple of launchers, a few support trucks, maybe a platoon of guys. Now, tell me the drill again.
Sabot: Start at the left, fire, read the next card and adjust, drop, and go down the line to the right, read, adjust, pull safety, drop, repeat. When we are out, shoot any SAMS that are not burning with the fifty. Then trucks. Then soldiers. Keep my hands off the clackers.
Harbin: (nodding) Good. Remember – only as fast as you can be accurate. Fast misses don’t count in this game. READ the card, adjust carefully. Don’t worry about anything else until you are done with that.
Sabot: … Why not the soldiers first?
Harbin: SAMs can shoot down Taj, guys with rifles can’t, and the heavy trucks will stay on the road. I don’t think you will, but you’d be amazed how many people freeze up in combat. With your head down, and not worrying about what an exploding head looks like in your scope, you’ll do fine dropping rounds on them. Once the SAMs are down, THEN we worry about saving our own skins and the rest of it. Let ME worry about the people, and selecting good targets – you just lay waste to the roadway and vehicles on it. Now, then, I suggest you work on breathing: in slow, hold, out slow, hold.
Harbin stands, takes a final look around. He stretches, flexes, adjusts his gear a little, takes a sip of water from a canteen, then squats down in a corner of the gun pit.
Harbin: Been a long night. Wake me in two hours, or if anything interesting happens.
Harbin adjusts his helmet, hunkers down a bit, closes his eyes, and appears to fall fast asleep. Sabot looks at him in amazement, and shakes his head.
Fade to black