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|Chapter 28: Blood and Time|
“Hi,” Eric said with more than a little unease, as he took a seat across from Jansen, who would not meet his eyes.
Keith, still standing by the door, said, “I’ll take a walk, back in a few.”
The sound of the door closing behind Keith was replaced by an awkward, oppressive silence. After several long seconds, Jansen, still staring at the bottle of scotch in his lap, said, “Sorry… I blew it and I know it.”
Eric could tell that Jansen was indeed sorry, and that was enough to mollify Eric’s own hurt feelings. Feeling a little more at ease, he replied in a quiet voice, “I’d never use you . If you don’t know anything else about me, please know that.” After a pause, Eric continued, “Keith told me why you reacted the way you did. I guess I understand… but next time, talk to me before assuming I’m an asshole, okay?”
Jansen’s eyes remained focused on the bottle. “You’re right. It was just the way you said what you said. All of a sudden, it was like I was back in high school, with a broken heart. I saw him, not you. At least I think I did.”
Eric sensed Jansen’s sincerity, but then came the recollection of the words themselves, ‘Eric, go fuck yourself’. The hurt that thought engendered crept into Eric’s voice as a hint of anger as he said, “But you used my name, so you were angry at me too. I get that, under the circumstances–”
Jansen’s eyes shot up to meet Eric’s. “I wish I could take that back. I should have trusted you.”
The earnest expression on Jansen’s face, coupled with his sad tone, caused Eric’s heart to melt a little more. “Or at least talked to me, but ya know what? Sometimes, friends fight. And that’s what we are, first and last – friends… right?”
Jansen nodded, relieved that things were not as bad as he’d feared, but feeling a tinge of sadness; friendship was good and to be valued, but Eric’s use of the word seemed to preclude what might have been. Jansen’s smile faded slightly at that thought, and he said, “Thanks Eric. You’re right, and friends should trust each other too. I’ll try.”
Feeling as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders, Eric got up and walked around the coffee table, settling onto the couch beside Jansen. “You can start by sharing that scotch.”
The first trace of a smile crept onto Jansen’s lips as he handed Eric the bottle. Eric took a long, deep swig, and then leaned back before saying, “I don’t want to lose you as a friend, no matter what. Let’s drink to that,” and handed the bottle back to Jansen.
Taking one deep pull, Jansen winced from the burn before replying, “Sounds good to me. I don’t want to lose you either. I never did.” Jansen took another pull before handing the bottle back to Eric.
Eric could tell that Jansen was still a bit down, though he couldn’t discern the reason. Trying to cheer him, Eric playfully nudged Jansen’s shoulder with his own. “You’re drinking good scotch, in an island resort. What’s there to be down about?” Eric asked with a smile.
Feeling Eric’s bare skin rub against his own, Jansen felt there was plenty to be down about, given what he thought might have happened, had he not flown off the handle. ‘I can’t tell him that, not now, maybe not ever,’ Jansen thought, and decided that he had a good friend in Eric, and that was something to be thankful for. Forcing himself to smile, Jansen said, “Yeah, if you overlook the pesky little detail that we’re stuck on top of an erupting volcano.”
Chuckling, Eric nodded and took another drink before replying, “Yeah, that’s a bit of a nuisance, I guess. Helen said we’re getting out of here in three days, so it’s not so bad.”
Genuinely cheering up, Jansen arched an eyebrow. “Nuisance? That’s not exactly the term I’d have chosen,” he said with a laugh. Eric’s answering innocent shrug was met with derisive laughter, and Jansen added, “Musicians sure have an odd way with words.”
Grinning, Eric shot back, “At least we’re literate, unlike strippers…”
“That’s exotic dancers, you ass,” Jansen said with a grin, realizing too late that he’d fallen for Eric’s verbal maneuver.
Eric grinned as he said, “I notice the illiterate part didn’t bother you.” Eric took another drink and turned thoughtful for a moment before asking, “Are you still going to teach me to strip?”
Chuckling, Jansen replied, “I’ll try, but I’m thinking the music is wrong.” Jansen waited for a moment and then answered Eric’s puzzled look by adding, “I think the theme from Mission Impossible is more appropriate for this gruesome task.”
Keith opened the door, to be greeted by the sounds of laughter. Smiling, relieved that Eric and Jansen seemed to be getting along again, Keith pulled up a chair and said, “I guess you two buried the hatchet?”
Jansen grinned as he replied, “Yeah, and I’m just glad we didn’t bury it in my head.”
Keeping his curiosity at bay, though wondering if the subject of a kiss had come up, Keith asked. “I ran into Helen. She said we’re leaving in three days, on a passing cruise ship. I’ve never been on a ship before, it sounds great.”
Nodding, Eric remembered something he had to do and said, “I’ve got to get to the airport to talk to those pilots. Let’s give that a try tomorrow or the next day. I’ve got a car arranged.”
Wilhelm took shelter behind a rock as he watched the ongoing assault on the two bunkers. His men had driven the Iranians back a hundred yards, more than enough to verify that the bunkers were indeed the outer ends of deep lateral tunnels bored into the mountainside. The presence of armed troops was further confirmation, though one that Wilhelm would have gladly done without. The Iranians were good, he had to concede them that; they were making him pay a price, in both blood and time, for every foot of advance: falling back by echelon, taking cover, and contesting almost every inch.
Blood and time. In a cold but professional calculation, Wilhelm knew that he could afford one, but not the other. Time was critical and they were already behind schedule.
That left blood.
Felecia’s orders regarding which bunkers to examine had made up for some of the delay by causing them to skip bunker seven, but they had only saved a minute or so. As Wilhelm was well aware, every second counted.
Wilhelm moved towards the entrance to tunnel nine, keeping low. He had to have a clear line of sight down the shaft or his radio would most likely not reach his assault force. Speaking into his radio, he issued new orders, “Assault team nine, break contact. Let ‘em follow you out. Sappers, rig the tunnel, claymores, fifty feet in.”
That part was easy: pull back, let the Iranians follow, then fill the shaft with a blast of high-velocity ball bearings from claymore directional anti-personal mines. He’d have preferred to blow the shaft completely, sealing it, but he needed to keep his options open until their target was attained.
The plan was both simple and ruthless; the team in tunnel eight was making better progress, so Wilhelm was closing down one prong of his attack and focusing his available force on the most successful avenue; tunnel eight. That was standard tactical thinking. What made it ruthless was his follow up orders, as the two teams joined forces in tunnel eight. “Press home the attack, charge ‘em, keep going, double-time.”
If it weren’t for the fact that his men knew that their lives depended on accomplishing the mission fast, they would have likely balked at those orders. They would have had good reason: charging a well-defended position was a great way to take high casualties, and mercenaries were, as a whole, less inclined to take personal risks. They fought for money, and remaining alive was a prerequisite for getting paid.
The tunnel was twenty feet in diameter with a flat, graded roadbed. The Iranian troops, each armed with the ubiquitous AK-47 assault rifle, had taken what cover they could find. Wilhelm’s team had shot out the lights, so the Iranians had little warning when out of the dust and smoke, twenty men charged down the tunnel. A brief and brutal firefight ensured, but by weight of numbers, Wilhelm’s men cleared the tunnel of its defenders.
Upon receiving confirmation, Wilhelm made a final radio call. “Horst, converge on eight. We’re in.” Knowing that Horst would, per procedure, relay the news to Felecia, Wilhelm ran forward into the tunnel to take his place with his men.
Five hundred feet into the tunnel, they encountered a closed gate made of heavy steel bars. That told Wilhelm that there were probably more defenders within. Using sappers and shaped charges, hoping like hell he didn’t bring the mountain down on their heads, they blew the gate and resumed their double-time advance, shooting out the lights as the went. Their night-vision gear was infrared, which worked by detecting heat differences. In total blackness, it gave them an enormous edge on the Iranian defenders. They needed it: three times, they took casualties from lone gunmen who shot from cover. Wilhelm did a fast nose count and felt his gut clench as he realized that almost half his force was now gone, dead or badly wounded. He had his own special dread regarding the gravely wounded. Felecia’s orders had been explicit: no one could be left behind to fall into Iranian hands. Part of Wilhelm’s duty to his men would not be an easy one; he had orders to kill those who were too badly wounded to be moved and would otherwise be left behind. He was well aware that it was for the best and motivated by compassion, but it was a duty that turned his stomach more than any other.
The mercenaries charged forward, fanning out as the tunnel entered a massive underground gallery. Wilhelm’s men lashed out with a fusillade of bullets, taking out every light source they could directly see. It was not quite enough; as the echoes of gunfire faded, Wilhelm found that he could still partially see without his night-vision gear, due to the indirect glow of a few remaining bulbs. There wasn’t time to hunt down and destroy them all. The dim light took away the mercenaries’ largest tactical advantage, but as if to balance the scales, lady luck smiled upon another aspect of their venture; the centrifuge galleries, where the enriched uranium was separated further to yield weapons-grade material, were to their north. The area they’d entered was a large machine shop and assembly area. Glancing around, knowing that logically his quarry should be close, Wilhelm saw a lone solid steel door, set into the west wall of the gallery. Nodding once to himself, hoping that he was right, he ordered his sappers forward.
Magnified by the confined quarters, the crump of the explosives shattering the hinges of the steel door hit Wilhelm and his men like a wall. The concussion slammed into their ears, nearly deafening them. An Iranian soldier, sheltering behind a milling machine fifty feet away, took advantage of the moment to open up on the attackers. He hit three before the answering fusillade of fire ended his life.
Inside, past the steel door, Wilhelm looked around at his surviving handful of uninjured men, and then at the room itself. One wall was occupied by an unintelligible mass of electronic equipment that Wilhelm had no reason to care about. His focus was on his quarry, occupying bomb racks in the back wall of the chamber. They looked, in his opinion, like elongated oil barrels. Advancing at a run, he stopped at arm’s length from one of the eight cylindrical devices, and reached out to touch its steel shell. The access hatches on four of the devices were missing, and a quick glance inside confirmed that the nuclear cores were not present.
Pulling out his Geiger counter, Wilhelm waved his most technically able man to his side and pointed at the four remaining devices. “Joachim, let us see if these contain their physics packages. We were briefed that those would be stored separately. I don’t see them, but my guess is that these four may be assembled devices. Let us hope so, or we have more searching to do. Check for anti-tamper mechanisms.” Wilhelm judged that risk low, given the radioactive mess that such a charge would make inside the facility. However, he stuck to his motto: Always make sure.
The crackle of the Geiger counter, which began as soon as Joachim removed the first access hatch, lent further credence to their suspicions. What they had before them were four complete uranium core nuclear devices, which used a simple gun-assembly design. Joachim, who had once been an ordinance technician, confirmed it a few moments later. They had what they had come for and to their delight, four of the devices were stored in an assembled state. Instantly, he dispatched a runner with the news.
Finding the bombs in an assembled state had been a possibility Wilhelm and Felecia had discussed, though both had judged it remote. Still, there had been clear orders issued from The Scar if it should occur, so Wilhelm asked Joachim, “How hard would it be to detonate one of these?”
Joachim shrugged, peering into the bomb case. “I see an electronic command circuit. It would appear that a specific code is needed to fire the main charge and propel the uranium hemispheres together. Given half an hour or so, which we do not have, I can probably bypass it. An easier way would be to detonate the main charge by other means. Given this design, there is no need for it to be symmetrical. One of our shaped charges would suffice. We are fortunate that this is not an implosion core; those are far easier to failsafe. This is essentially a gun that fires a giant bullet containing a subcritical mass at another subcritical mass at the far end, thus assembling them into a sphere of above critical mass. It is simple, so simple that a variant of this design was used for Hiroshima without ever being tested, so sure were they that it would function. The American Trinity test was plutonium, you see, and–”
The adrenalin rush of combat was easing, and Wilhelm felt himself relax a little. With a laugh he interrupted to say, “Enough, Joachim, we have not the time for history lessons. All I need to know is if it will work. Rig this one.” Wilhelm sent one of his remaining men back as a runner, to lead Horst’s force in. Wilhelm had a dilemma; from the look of the unassembled nuclear devices, he thought it highly likely that, somewhere close by, were several more ‘physics packages’ – the nuclear cores containing weapons-grade uranium 235. Part of his mission was to retrieve them all. He dismissed the thought; there was no time for further searching, and they already had four intact bombs. Then, leaving Joachim and his remaining men to guard the prize, Wilhelm set out in search of their most vital remaining need; transportation. He guesstimated that the bombs weighed over a ton each, which meant that he needed some heavy forklifts or at least some sizable powered cargo carts. A truck would be better, but he had little hope of finding one inside a mountain.
Horst on the other hand had touched lucky. One of his recon teams a hundred yards to the north had found a truck, complete with keys in the ignition, abandoned in apparent haste, cab door open, outside of a bunker. The only problem; it was still mostly loaded with crates. That issue was an easy one to solve; his men had disconnected the remaining tie-downs, put the truck into reverse, and floored it. They’d slammed on the brakes at fifteen miles an hour and the sudden stop, combined with a twist of the steering wheel, had been enough to send the containers scooting off the flatbed and onto the dust of the road.
At Horst’s direction, they’d backed the truck into the tunnel, racing to keep up with Horst’s advancing force.
The truck, interrupted once by the staccato crackle of gunfire as another Revolutionary Guard made his presence known, was able to back to within yards of the steel door at the entrance to the bomb storage chamber.
As the drinking continued, Eric could tell that things were almost back to normal between Jansen and himself. The friendly banter with Jansen and Keith – who had joined in the drinking – felt good, though Eric could tell that there was still an unaccustomed distance with Jansen. Something was still bothering Jansen; of that, Eric was sure. However, with things almost back to normal, Eric decided to let sleeping dogs lie.
When it came time to go, Eric stood up to leave. “Thanks, guys. I’m going to crash. See you in the morning.”
Jansen stood up beside Eric, his unease returning, and said, “Thanks… We’re cool, right?”
Eric nodded once and gave Jansen a reassuring smile. Eric hesitated for a moment, and then with a grin pulled Jansen in for a hug. “Yeah, count on it.”
Eric held Jansen tight, and the dancer returned the heartfelt embrace. Reluctantly, not really wanting to leave, Eric pulled away and headed for the door. “G’night, guys. Catch ya tomorrow.”
The first warning came from Felecia’s perimeter guards in the form of a softly spoken radio call. “Hostiles, inbound. Three two-man elements, on foot and keeping cover, coming in from the south. Range, five hundred yards. Several more, range one thousand, coming in from the north.”
“Let ‘em get closer in, but open up immediately if there’s any sign they have night vision gear,” Felecia replied, and then glanced at her satellite photo.
General Bradson leaned over the map and began to point, “They’re converging on us, so that tells us two things; they’ve got command and control back and they know where we are. The ones from the south will be perimeter tower guards who fled in that direction, but the ones from the north, those’ll be from the Revolutionary Guard main force. This is recon, and you can bet the main force, or a big chunk of it, will be coming in pretty close behind. They’ll also be whistling up help from their air force. Recall your men, Fel, there’s no more time.”
The conversation was interrupted by the crackle of the radio as Horst reported, “We found four of what we came for. Loading now. ETA at rendezvous ten minutes. We’ve left a little surprise.”
“Not soon enough; they’ll be on us by then,” General Bradson said to Felecia.
Felecia told Horst, “Expect hostiles, we’ve got recons inbound, expecting main attack to follow. Get here as fast as you can. Do not enter the area north of the aircraft under any circumstances.”
Horst turned and
ran into the tunnel, wondering if it would be
too late to matter.
It was the ‘four of what we came for’ that set the General’s mind awhirl. ‘If she’s not after chemical weapons, then what? Biological? But to come all this way for just four weapons’ he thought, and then, as if touched by the icy hand of death, he knew…
The General glanced back at the satellite map. There was one thing that would verify his suspicions regarding what was in the massive underground complex: High-tension power lines. Centrifuge arrays, running on magnetic bearings, would use enormous amounts of power, and that necessitated a lot of power lines. The wires themselves would be too small to see on the photo Felecia had, but the towers and clearings should be visible… The General began to let out a sigh of relief, but then he saw them; a string of transmission towers, running north from the highway towards the cluster of eight buildings. En-route, they passed within a hundred yards of the first bunker. Glancing at the eight metal buildings, it was apparent that they had no need for such vast amounts of power… ‘So that’s what they did, they ran the power lines down from a tower and into a tunnel, leaving these buildings and the remainder of the line as a decoy,’ the General thought, and in that instant, he knew that Felecia had handed him an enormous dilemma.
“I hope your men are in full-body MOPP 4’s,” the General said, knowing that there was no way they could have stowed enough of the bulky protective suits on the plane. Then he explained, “One bullet in a uranium hexafluoride tank or centrifuge piping and you’ll have a lethal cloud that makes nerve gas look like a health tonic.”
Felecia’s hand twitched on the butt of her pistol. “If that’s a fishing expedition, I’m not biting,” she said.
General Bradson shrugged. “I saw the power lines and know about the underground facility. There’s not much else that would need a massive, secret underground complex, equipped with vast amounts of electricity. I guess their rekindled nuclear program is even further along than the experts thought. Don’t confirm it if you don’t want to, but you’re after enriched uranium. Now, I’ve got something to say that will surprise you; I’ll help you get it, willingly, if you’ll let me wreck that facility.”
Felecia arched an eyebrow in surprise. “Even if it takes more time,” she asked.
“Yes, even if it means we might not make it out. Leave me behind if you have to, but that facility cannot be allowed to exist. Nuclear weapons in the hands of those fanatics… We must prevent that, by any means. Let me have some satchel charges, an RPG, and let me do my country one last service. Just get my son and the other Marine to safety,” the General replied with resolve.
Felecia shook her head. “No need for heroics, Walter. I’ve come too far to lose you now. Besides, I think we’ll need you to get us out of here. Don’t worry about the facility. You heard Horst mention a little surprise. That means we’ve rigged up some demolition charges,” Felecia said, technically telling the truth, “and that facility won’t be a concern, shortly.”
The sweat and brute force of twenty strong men sufficed to drag and roll three of the cylindrical bombs from their racks, through the chamber, and up a ramp onto the truck, where they were secured with chains.
After giving the order to move out, Horst stooped by Wilhelm’s side. “Are you sure about this?” he asked, his voice colored by sorrow.
General Bradson took cover next to Felecia on the crest of the closest embankment. Using his night vision goggles, he looked past the flashes of light from the perimeter, where Felecia’s men were exchanging fire with the surviving members of the Iranian recon force. On the northern horizon, he could see the advancing main force coming in at a jog, a mile north of their perimeter. “Half an infantry battalion, from the look of it, well spread out, in company-sized units,” the General said tersely. “They’ll be on us in under five minutes.”
“I’ll pull my perimeter force back and get them in position, and let the Iranians have fun with our mines,” Felecia said, hoping that the plan she and General Bradson had come up with would work
“They’ll pause at the mines, but then they’ll charge. They used that tactic a lot during the Iran-Iraq war. Sometimes, the best way to get through a minefield is at a full run. I just hope they don’t have any mortars or we’re toast.”
The first detonations from the mines cracked through the air and Sartip Qassem Jaffari-Reza, feeling winded from the two mile jog, came to a halt but remained standing as most of the men in his advance element dived for the ground. His orders were both instant and loud, “Up, now, and forward! They can’t have many mines. Follow me.” There were times when a commander had to lead from the front, and this, he judged, was one such time. Ignoring his aching lungs, he ran forward, pistol at the ready, and following his example due to fearing his wrath, most of his men joined up.
A few more detonations, this time behind him, along with some resulting anguished screams, informed that Sartip that his force had encountered a single line of mines, now behind him. Five hundred yards ahead, the C-130’s silhouette was plainly visible and almost in range. Over his command radio, he huffed, “Open fire at the plane when you get to two hundred yards. Aim for the engines first, enemy second. Keep moving. Destroy that aircraft!”
Watching her perimeter troops taking up their new positions near the plane and unlimber their RPG-7 Rocket Propelled Grenade Launchers, Felecia said, “This had better work.”
General Bradson didn’t need a radio, not at that range. “RPG teams, fire!” he yelled, and then clicked on his radio to tell the C-130’s pilot, “NOW!”
The RPG troops, without waiting for Felecia’s confirmation, obeyed. Ten RPG-7 rounds, designed to punch holes in armored vehicles, arced skyward, their launch flames lighting up the night.
The lobbed, unguided rounds had large targets: the square embankments running north from the C-130. Some slammed into the dirt, but four found their mark, descending into the centers of the squares and punching through the storage containers within. With a thunderous roar, the RPG warheads smashed open the mustard-gas canisters and shells, releasing a cloud of heavy yellow vapor into the night air.
The C-130’s pilot rammed the throttles forward to eighty percent, and the plane’s turboprop engines roared to life. The propwash howled from the C-130’s engines, turning the mustard gas cloud into a whirling maelstrom of death, pushed it north and causing it to fan out. The light breeze served to push the deadly gas a little to the east, as planned.
Sartip Qassem Jaffari-Reza, now at the head of his men, had seen the RPG launches and assumed for an instant that they were intended for his force but fortuitously targeted in the wrong place. That impression lasted until the flashes of the detonating grenades lit the embankments to his south and west, none more than a hundred yards away. It was then, when he heard the howl of the motionless C-130’s engines, that he knew, with perfect, emotionless clarity, that he’d lost his life. He yelled into his radio, “Gas, move north at once.” That would save some of his men, he hoped. Clicking off his radio, he called out of the men around him, “No hope for us, but we can take them,” he gestured towards the C-130 with his pistol, “to death with us. Attack!”
The Sartip felt his lungs and eyes begin to burn as the first wisps of mustard gas arrived on the artificial windstorm. Dropping to the ground, ignoring the pain, he yelled, “Fire,” and raised his pistol, firing wildly in the direction of the intruding plane from three hundred yards away. The staccato chatter of some of his men joining in with their AK-47’s met the Sartip’s ears, and he silently cursed the intervening embankments, which precluded a direct line of fire to the enemy aircraft’s engines.
A second volley from the reloaded RPGs arced through the night, landing on another set of embankments just as the first ragged volley of shots from the choking Iranians cracked through the night. General Bradson winced as he heard several rounds pinging into the fuselage of the C-130.
The incoming fire faded out over the following seconds, as the released gas ended the life of Sartip Qassem Jaffari-Reza and almost a quarter of his command. For hundreds more, hit by lesser doses and suffering the burning, choking horror of the effects, they would soon envy their dead comrades.
“That won’t hold them for long. A lot of ‘em got clear to the north. They’ll circle west, get upwind of us, and attack,” General Bradson said.
“And that’s the direction my men are coming from,” Felecia said, trying in vain to come up with some other means to delay the Iranian forces.
Over the radio, the General ordered the C-130’s pilot, “Turn the plane, prepare for immediate downwind takeoff to the east.”
At the Revolutionary Guards base, a platoon of artillery troops was hard at work, unlimbering three M101 howitzers. Consulting his plotting table, the young officer made his calculations and then barked out deflection and elevation settings. These were duly entered, and the officer, with sweating palms, watched as his men loaded in the first of the 105 millimeter high-explosive shells. After checking his radio link with the sentry on the mountaintop who was acting as a spotter, the officer reviwed his ballistics calculations one more time.
In the forward end of the C-130’s cargo bay, Brian Bradson and Private Johnston were alone; every available mercenary had been deployed outside. The two Marines had wanted to join them and help with the defense, but François would not allow them any weapons.
Not taking any chances at being overheard, Brian leaned close and whispered, just loud enough to be audible over the roaring engines, “Earl, my Dad passed me a warning. I think he’s expecting trouble and from what we’ve seen, he’s right. I kept a grenade and I’ve also got this,” he said, as he pulled a piece of paper from his uniform pocket and began to unfold it. Private Johnson checked his own pocket, and finding paper in it, he nodded once and withdrew it. They were handwritten and identically worded. Remembering the penlight his father had given him in the Jeep, Brian fished it out and used it to examine both pieces of paper and then read his own, with Private Johnson following along over Brian’s shoulder. Once he was done, Brian pocketed both pieces of paper and said in a shocked voice, “So that’s how Dad plans to get us across the Straits. Holy fucking shit…”
The old flatbed truck, with twenty surviving mercenaries aboard, raced up to the C-130. Horst leaped down from the cab just as Felecia approached at a run with General Bradson.
Felecia glanced at the men who were leaping off the truck and said, “Drive it up the ramp, now. We’ve got a large enemy formation inbound. What’s the ETA on the rest of our force?”
General Bradson paled as he heard the driver put the truck in gear. “We can’t take that kind of weight, we don’t have the fuel,” the General yelled.
Felecia yelled at the driver, “Back it on, now.”
Horst watched for a moment as the driver swung the truck around. Horst then gave a loud command the men on the ground, “Follow the truck up, covering fire from the bay doors.” To Felecia, he said, “We’re it. No friendlies coming. We nearly ran into the Iranian advance elements, they’re about five hundred yards behind us. We took some fire from ‘em and had to detour south. That delayed us.” He checked his watch. “We’ve got three minutes left on the surprise package.”
“Wilhelm?” Felecia asked, looking again at the surviving mercenaries, already dreading the answer. Horst and Wilhelm had been with Felecia for years, and she’d come to think of them almost as sons.
“No chance. Sorry. I’ll explain later, if there is a later,” Horst said, as he turned his attention to getting his men on the plane.
General Bradson walked up the ramp as the truck backed up and onto the plane. He cringed as he heard the deck plates groan under the load, and as soon as the truck was in the cargo bay he yelled, “Shut it down, parking brake on, and stay on the brakes. There’s no time to tie it down.” With that done, he raced for the cockpit. As he ran past the truck’s bed, he spared a momentary glance at the metal cylinders, assuming that they were simply storage casks for the enriched uranium – he hadn’t had time to notice the access hatches and electrical plugs that would have disproved that theory. That changed nothing: he’d long since decided that he could not allow the mercenaries to deliver potential weapons of mass destruction of any sort to The Scar.
“Ready,” the first of the Iranian howitzer crews reported.
“Fire,” the young officer said, while covering his ears.
A brilliant flash and thundering roar lit the camp as the old howitzer belched smoke and flame, sending its first thirty-three-pound shell hurtling downrange.
© 2009 C James
Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"
Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions.
Thanks also to Shadowgod, for beta reading, support and advice, and for putting up with me.
Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice.
A big "thank you" to to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice , and to Captain Rick for his advice.
Any remaining errors are mine alone.