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Welcome to my home on the web! My name is Erik Larson and I am the author of the action/adventure novel Lone Star Daybreak; a novel set in a speculative future in which Texas leaves the United States to form a separate country. Some short stories that take place in the world of my novel are at the right. I encourage you to read them and get a taste of what's ahead in my story! Aside from that, I have some of my favorite links here and I also comment on events in the world and on subjects that interest me. Thanks for stopping by and have fun!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Lone Star Daybreak: The Devil's Chariot-- Part Two

In Part One, TDF attack pilot Caroline "Claws" Sagahun was yanked out of her normal day-to-day existence by the kidnapping of her mother, a Mexican mayor who is also an important Texas Defense Force agent.  A rescue mission is being launched-- and the fate of the TDF itself may be in the hands of Sagahun and her fellow warriors. 

It was game time.
“Claws” Sagahun and “Buckle” Godfrey had closed their canopies.  Sagahun was sitting to the rear, in a slightly elevated position, and Godfrey was sitting in the first cockpit.  The sword-like rotor blades drooped over them and the stars were out.  To the rear, eight DART operators were finishing loading into the cramped cargo/passenger space behind them.  A remaining seat allowed for a door gunner or crew chief to ride back there as well—and this space would be utilized to either care for casualties (hopefully, not an issue) or to carry their extra passenger—her mother, who would hopefully be unharmed—out on either her ship or one of the other two.  The loading-out had been left to the head of the ground mission, The Anointed One.  Sagahun didn’t want to know whether he was putting Mom on her bird or another.  She had to remain focused.  No matter how well or badly the mission went, they had to return safely without leaving a debris trail over Northern Mexico or turning the mission into a mess otherwise.
“We’re ready to go back here when you are, Lieutenant.” She heard the slam of the doors shutting behind her.  They would remain closed throughout the flight, until it was time to rope the troops down.
“Hatchet One to Hatchet Group.  Commence startup.”  She turned the switches for the electrical and hydraulic systems on.  The beast began to wake up.  She activated the APU next, heard the whirring noise start, and then released the rotor brake.
Several more of her panels lit up as Godfrey, working from the front cockpit, was activating and checking the weapon systems.  He could fly the aircraft from his position as well, which was a plus; particularly on long missions.  Next, she started the port engine. The five-bladed rotor began to swoop-swoop-swoop over her head.
Beside her on either side, the other two choppers were getting ready to fly; with both of them already having engine start.  Both had their troop doors closed.  Making sure no one was lagging behind or wandering was a major concern on the ground—it was a good way to get sliced into fajita meat in the darkness if you didn’t watch yourself around the deadly tail rotor.  She had seen one ugly accident before and didn’t care to see another.  She put her head down again and started the starboard engine.  The thunder above and around her built.
“Weapons all a go up here. Radar good and on standby.”
“Roger that, thanks.”  One more expensive improvement on their bird was a millimeter-wave radar above their rotor, mounted atop the mast.  She adjusted the cockpit air conditioning and took a sip of water from the hydration pack she had carried aboard with her.  After mounting and adjusting her night vision system, she turned the cockpit displays down to accommodate them.
The other two helicopters had turned their tail-lights on, signaling that they were ready for lift-off and waiting.  She checked in one more time with Buckle, increased collective, and lifted off.  Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Hatchet Two lift off to follow her as the scrubby terrain and trees hurtled past her in the green and black world of night vision.  After everyone checked in, they shut down all lights and were reduced to blackbodies that would hopefully defy identification to any unplanned observers.
“They’re up.”
Schweer looked at the mission display.  The three gunships were threading a very precise needle across the U.S./Mexican border.  Avoiding being sighted by border police of either side was a major consideration.  They had some contacts with their own side, and many fewer with the Mexicans.  They would count on neither.
“Any changes at the objective?”
“None known.  Desert One has checked in and is positioned for the refuel.  We were going to include some technical support for any problems that cropped up with the birds, but there wasn’t time to do that.”
Schweer nodded. 
Desert One
The flight in was a low-level affair.  One bonus with Mexico was that the lack of infrastructure there meant fewer power lines sticking up.  With all of their lights out and them moving along at a cruising speed of 217 kilometers per hour, they were hard to see and harder to identify.
Sagahun held the collective as she descended down towards the three trucks.
They bumped down on Mexican soil and were joined by the other two birds, going one to the left and the other to the right of her own ship.  They could carry 3,307 pounds of fuel in their chopper and would be topping off both coming and going at this location.  A helicopter’s fuel supply was everything—including lift.  It only stayed in the air through tricks of physics; namely the five bladed rotor that was driven by the two thirsty engines, and the tail rotor that fought against the action of the main rotor to keep them flying straight.  A fixed wing could glide for a distance when it ran dry.  They would fall like a brick under most conditions, with a five bladed guillotine swirling over them.
The men ran towards their fuselage with the hose.  She was glad that the DART operators would be in the back to oversee them.  She had no idea who they were and the idea that even one of them could be on a payroll for other than the TDF frightened her.  They were extremely vulnerable until they could take off again. 
Then again, she decided, it didn’t pay to get worked up about that now, as they had to visit them once again on the return trip.  She called up The Anointed One on the phone in the back.
“Does the refuel crew know our objective?”
“Idea.  When we return, let’s put a mask on our passenger.  No need for them to know what we have been up to.”
A pause.  “Good idea.”
And they took off again.  Sagahun was happy to see her fuel tanks back at full. There had been no incidents. 
“Desert One reports all aircraft up and gone again.”
Pat Howell looked over at John Schweer and winked.  “Curse broken.”
“Not till the second touchdown.  Have our DARTs on the objective perimeter updated?”
“Every half hour.  Nothing reported.  It’s quiet as a tomb.”
“Two minutes to objective.”
Sagahun heard the reply in the back and guided the Hind over the next rise.  She switched down the weapons on her pylons.  Firing any of them within feet of the descending DART operators would be very hazardous to their health.  They had not been needed yet.
And then, suddenly, the objective was glowing in her view a kilometer away.
The compound was square-shaped from the rows of fencing and barbed wire and the four guard towers at the four corners.  She saw the main building and the four smaller buildings about twenty-five yards to the west.  Back in the day, they had been storage sheds and the kitchen and dining room for the camp.  She imagined that the cartel had desecrated the place she once knew in all sorts of ways.  The pleasant memories of yesteryear were gone like the wind and it was only fitting that she was returning to this place in a death machine.  She decreased speed and descended towards the ample roof of the main building.  She heard the doors slam open and the DART team would be dropping the ropes into the blowing darkness underneath her.
The Mi-35 is anything but stealthy, and three of them quickly draw attention.  The whine and rotor clatter of Hatchet Flight became evident as soon as they went over the rise, and the alarm in the compound went up immediately.  Cartel gunmen began to spontaneously drop as the DART team on the perimeter began to take opportunity targets running around between the buildings.  Rattles of automatic weapons fire began as the defenders aimed towards the black monsters descending towards them.
Sagahun heard the clunk-clunk of bullets striking the helicopter and sharper cracks as they struck her armored canopy.  She gritted her teeth.  She was over the building now and about twenty feet from the roof.  She heeled the helicopter back and felt the bird buffet from the turbulence and the weight of the operators swinging down the ropes and onto the building.  The wait seemed like an eternity.
“Hatchet One, this is ground, we’re off and drop the ropes.”
She hit the release button and the ropes flew off of the mounts inside— they didn’t need them dragging along.  She pushed the chopper forward and tried to stop being a sitting duck.  The armament switches for the pylons were turned back on and she raked the Hind into a circle, pointing its deadly nose back towards the compound.
The guard towers were decapitated as Hatchet Two and Hatchet Three took advantage of the wait to pour 23-millimeter cannon shells into both of them; blitzing the cabins and the men inside of them into bits of debris.  Hatchet Two moved to deposit its troops next.
In the front of Sagahun’s chopper, Buckle worked his 23-millimeter double barreled cannon with gentle, short bursts.  A man running with an RPG-7, one of the few weapons that could threaten them below, vanished in explosive pops as the shells struck near and on his feet and exploded; cutting his body into a bloody mess.  Other gunmen dropped behind cover to fire away at the howling spectres, only to discover that there was precious little that was any good cover against rapid fire cannons with explosive shells.  They continued to vanish in bloody confetti.  A few gunmen, who were either more experienced or wiser, simply tried to find a place to hide until the armored beasts and their guns were no longer scuttling around above them.
On the roof, the Flex-X charge went off and blasted an entryway into the main building; it had been set to go above one of the hallways as measured from the roof layout. The DART operators had seen several rounds go up through the roof as they waited.  Speed was essential.
A fragmentation grenade went down into the space and the operators were in on the heels of the explosion; owning the hallway and cutting down two cartel gunmen who were caught in the open.  The next room received a concussion flash-bang; a less than lethal grenade that would stun everyone in the room for a few seconds—which would be a few seconds too long to resist the violent assault of the DART operators.
Fuentes had been sitting handcuffed in a chair when the thundering above had begun and the sounds of explosions and gunfire had commenced.  The men in the room had looked at her and at the doorway—and back at her.  They hadn’t expected an assault, and hadn’t been told what to do with their hostage in the event.  One of them clicked his AK-47 to the fire setting.  He wasn’t going to shoot a person worth hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars without orders, but he’d be cursed if they took her away from them.
The room exploded in a jarring thunderclap and arc-welder flash.  Fuentes jerked her feet and fell to the ground in the chair despite herself.  The room was suddenly filled with the clatter of suppressed automatic weapons.  The AK-toter raised his rifle and managed a short burst before he was cut down.  Fuentes looked up to see a goggled Anglo in a helmet.  Americans?

“Texas Defense Force, ma’am.”
The other two sticks of eight commandos fanned out through the upper floor and had the upper story under control in a little under one minute from the time of entry.
“The main building is under control.  The DARTs have control of both floors.”
There were cheers.  Howell waved.  “Casualties?”
“Two reported.”
“What’s the status on the hostage?”
“No information yet.”
In the barracks of the compound, the cruel-faced man who had overseen the kidnapping of Fuentes stuffed two more heavy, curved magazines for the AK-47 into his coat and keyed his radio again.  He’d tried to organize the personnel but it was proving difficult.
“Who are they?”
He looked at the questioner.  “Does it matter?  Find an RPG.  Or something heavy.  These small arms are little good against those aircraft.  Noisemakers.”
The underling nodded swiftly and raced off.  He was more afraid of the man and of the cartel’s response to failure than he was of the strange attacking helicopters, at least for the moment.
But it was a good question.  He jogged towards the entrance.  There were men screaming in Spanish and he saw two wrecked bodies lying in the yard.  Smoke was everywhere.  Were the attackers Mexican Army?  He thought everyone in the area had been paid off well enough to alert them if something like this was coming.  Were they the dreaded U.S. Seal Team Six or Delta?  He was certain that neither organization used the distinctive Russian Hind assault helicopters; the fearsome gunships that the normally unflappable Afghan resistance fighters had named "The Devil's Chariot" during the 1980s Afghan War.  That was if the Mexican government would stand for such a ruthless assault being staged in the middle of Mexico by the U.S..  He doubted it would be the Russians in here.
Fuentes, it seemed, would indeed have an interesting story to tell them if her questioning could be resumed.  They had avoided inflicting significant harm on her to this point.  For that, he was deeply regretful.  Who was this hellish assault force that had besieged them working for?  And how in the name of the Virgin had they known she was here?
“Hatchet Two, Hatchet One.”
“Go ahead.”
“We have trouble. Convoy approaching the compound on the road, to the west, estimating two and a half klicks.”
“Roger that.  We’ll take care of them.”  Sagahun dropped their nose forward and began to run out towards the interlopers.  The ground team still hadn’t checked in regarding her mother, and the compound was rapidly becoming Swiss cheese from the firefight between their forces and the cartel soldiers, who were forcing them to disintegrate the remaining buildings piecemeal in order to suppress an assault on the main building.  Was her mother alive or dead?  The worry and anger over her mother began to flow through her body and give her black intentions regarding the convoy headed towards here.  She was going to burn them alive—every one of them.
The driver shook his head with disgust again as he continued to endure the foul mouths of the two women behind him, carrying on—they were the girlfriends of two of the senior men of the cartel who operated out of the compound up ahead and were impatient to get to the alcohol and other debauchery that was awaiting them on arrival.  The convoy was intended to reinforce the compound, and they had had to bring tents along to accommodate everyone; although the two princesses had made it clear that they weren’t sleeping in those.  It was time to check in with the compound before they arrived and he keyed up the radio.
“Is anyone there?  I don’t want you shooting us up when we roll in, please respond.”
There was a bright flash ahead of them.  Something had gone off near the compound, and that was definitely not good.  He slowed down.
“Why are you stopping?”
He turned around.  “Be quiet.  Something is wrong.”
Sagahun centered her bird’s nose on the bright spots of the vehicles in the HUD.  Buckle was lasing the first vehicle, and fired their first Vikhr missile.
The missile blew out with a whoosh and began its death spiral towards the now doomed SUV in the lead.  The missile had a single control surface and fixed fins that gave it a distinctive winding flight trajectory.  Despite this quirk, it was highly effective and lethal.  The missile hit the SUV like an express train and detonated its HEAT warhead inside of it.  The vehicle exploded apart and pieces of it flew for hundreds of feet amidst a fiery column of smoke and flame.
The driver of the second vehicle watched the first one turn into an inferno and ducked.  Pieces of the SUV and the carbonized purse of one of the now disintegrated women in the first vehicle starred and cratered his windshield.  Dios Mio!!  He threw the vehicle into reverse and tried to pull off of the road in a preparation to bail out.  He didn’t know exactly what was happening, but clearly they were being ambushed and the last place they wanted to be was sitting on the road.
He hit one of the vehicles behind him in a jarring crash. 
“You fool!”
He rammed the vehicle into park. “Get out, fast!  This thing’s a target!”  He stole a glance at the picture of St. Jude staring down from the rear view mirror at him, mournfully.
“Good shot.”
“Just getting warmed up.  Which way you reckon the wind’s blowing?”
A second Vikhr left its tube and spun into the second vehicle in the column as Sagahun barreled them in.  It vanished in a second sunburst.  She saw the driver managed to dash out of the thing just in time to save himself, but was knocked to the ground by the concussion and perhaps some energetic debris.  He sprawled onto the road.  Sagahun turned the nose and lined up the gun pods with the vehicles on the road, which had stopped and were shedding hot FLIR-spots with guns.
She fired and the guns vomited rapid fire death, covering the vehicles with a river of hot 23-millimeter fireflies that chopped vehicles and gunmen apart in fragments and explosions.  The entire column of vehicles sprayed into a long trail of flame and smoke as she hurtled overhead and began another turn. 
Her gunner took charge of the pylon-tip miniguns for the next pass.  The guns were designed to turn side-to-side as they fired, laying down a carpet of 7.62mm rounds over an area in front of the helicopter.  Buckle picked out an axis of the enemy massing—it looked like they had all jumped into a ditch.  An RPG sizzled out and looped through the air behind them; the shooter not leading them nearly enough.  The miniguns began their sizzle and tore the ditch up like a tiller; filling every body in the way with multiple rounds of ammunition.
Gunfire lanced up from the few remaining people on the ground with the presence of mind to shoot, but most everyone else was running in whatever direction they had started, with little mind except to get away from the monster that was killing them all.  Gunmen who had executed rivals and civilians who had gotten in their way with smugness and impunity found their resolve and courage shattered against the harrier that was swooping around overhead in the dark.
Sagahun saw the vehicles were now a melting line of ruined chassis and burning rubber—literally.  There were some survivors, but they were far enough away from the compound that they posed no threat to the operation.
Hatchet One, this is ground.  The objective is secure and our package is alive and okay in the main building.  We are preparing to move towards the PZ.”
Sagahun felt a huge weight lift off of her chest at the news, but wondered if the choice of PZ location hadn’t been a mistake.  The football field was certainly a good landing spot, but it was also right next to the buildings and hostiles that managed to survive their attack.  She acknowledged and turned back towards the compound.  With her mother and the ground team secure, anything remaining in that compound was to burn.  Where they made a desert, they would call it peace.
Dark eyes stared out from the side of the burning barracks as dark forms scurried out of it.  He saw a muzzle swing his way and ducked back behind the wall.  The thin wooden walls of the barracks wouldn’t even stop a pistol round, let alone rifle fire.  The building had absorbed a fair number of cannon shells and it, like the other buildings save for the main building, was rapidly catching fire and would be an inferno within a minute or two.  Embers were already blowing. The compound was proving to be a gate into damnation for the people here tonight, and it was beginning to take on the physical resemblance that was appropriate for the shattered bodies now devoid of their souls, lying chopped on the soil. 
He doubted that he would survive this debacle, anyway, when the leadership found out that their hostage had been shot out from under them along with one of their most valuable bases. The storage sheds now burning had held considerable amounts of money and equipment.  A burning American twenty dollar bill fluttered down next to him.  He just wished he could know who had done the shooting.
He eased back towards the corner with the AK-47, having shoved the selector down to full automatic.  Several bullets whistled through the air and punctured the wall as he did so.  He fell backwards and stuck the AK around the corner, firing off the magazine in the general direction of where he’d seen the people moving.  The weapon finally ran out and a 5.56mm bullet smacked through his forearm.  He dropped the assault rifle and rolled away.
He looked up to see a stranger in an American MICH helmet, but with strange camouflage and stranger intense eyes staring at him with a raised MP-5.  The suppressor can framed the deadly bore.  He wanted to ask the man who he was and what manner of organization they had made the mistake of crossing, but ultimately, like he’d said earlier, it didn’t matter.
“Well, so it is,” he said.  He went for the pistol on his hip, but both he and the intensely gazing soldier knew he’d never make it.  The man stitched him with a burst that began at his pectoral and ended in his head, and he joined his comrades in the nether world below.
Hatchet Two had touched down and had received nine passengers while the other birds hovered for security.  Fuentes was going on that chopper.  They tensely watched the compound for signs of a counterattack, but it seemed that everyone there was either taking cover in the now deserted main building or was dead.  For Sagahun, this was proving to be the worst part of the operation.
They were once again vulnerable.  Hatchet Three landed next, once Two had finished loading and secured its doors, and for some reason, they were now waiting.  Hatchet Two was now flying a patrol around the objective.
“Hatchet One to ground, what’s the holdup?”
“Two wounded on the second stick.  We are having to litter them in.”
She grimaced.  “Clear.”
“Hatchet Two to Hatchet One.  We have a second convoy approaching. Request we engage them.”
Buckle weighed in from the front seat.  “Man, this is getting out of control.”
She wanted to shush him, but it wasn’t practical to do so.  Out of control?  In her opinion, this entire butchery had been out of control.  One wondered what he considered “in control”.
“Negative.  Hold on here and maintain security for Three.  Me and Buckle will handle this.”
Hatchet Two acknowledged with some obvious disappointment, and they flew off again. 
The compound’s defenders had gotten off some frantic transmissions for help.  The first convoy Sagahun had savaged had contained little save for gunmen with light weapons.  Someone had decided earlier that more was needed, and so the second convoy had also been sent from nearby Ciudad Jiminez, and was much better tooled up.  The lead vehicle had picked up the radio calls and it had been clear that either Mexican Army troops or perhaps the Zetas were launching an attack on the compound.  So much for operational security, the leader thought angrily. 
Far ahead, there were shimmering flames.  They pulled close enough to examine the spectacle with binoculars.  It seemed apparent that the first convoy they had sent was little but barbecued meat and burned shells of vehicles.  There was no evidence of Mexican Army vehicles.  That meant that the Zetas had probably hit them.  They no doubt wanted their hostage, and the ransom, for themselves.  From the damage, it was certain that they had a large force with heavy weapons.  In the distance near the compound, gouts of smoke and flame were going up and he could hear a staccato popping of explosions.
Immediately, he gave orders to stop the vehicles and dismount.  He had no intention of driving into an ambush.
Buckle fired the Vikhr.
These vehicles weren’t lined up on the road.  She didn’t see anyone around them.  The missile spun into the vehicle and blasted it.  It would be more difficult to target the remaining vehicles, which had obviously expected trouble and had dispersed.  Suddenly, there was a flash from the ground and a fireball climbed up.
“Smoke in the air!  Watch out!”  The staring IR sensors on her chopper, which had been silent so far, alarmed.  The hot baseball was steering towards them.  She ignited the countermeasures launcher and shot out a stream of flares as the missile closed in.  Thankfully, it went for the flares and shot past them as the Hind scuttled sideways.  She turned the helicopter and ducked closer to the ground as she shot up to maximum speed.  The new arrivals had surface to air!
Now this was a new situation.  These weren’t going to be as easy to handle as the first convoy.
From his hide near the vehicles, the leader of the second convoy had stared with disbelief at the Russian Hind chopper roaring towards them, spitting fire.  Fortunately, they had taken the pilfered U.S. Stinger missile system with them when they dismounted.  They had missed but had hopefully put the fear into their attackers.  Whoever they were.  Had they gotten the Russians mad at them now?

“Claws.  We need to make our pickup.”
“We can’t do that while that convoy is there.”
“Yes, we can.  They are a good three klicks off of the objective.  Have Two and Three maintain security while we load up.  We have time.  We just need to hold them off of the objective long enough to load, and our mission is accomplished.”
She started to argue, but she realized he was right.  Wasting time and ammunition on vehicles and men that couldn’t threaten their mission wasn’t wise, or fuel smart.  Without replying, she turned the chopper away from the planned attack run and headed back towards the compound.
Claws put her bird down with a semblance of grace while the other two choppers orbited overhead, and she saw eight figures duck and run towards them.  The compound was ablaze and she turned up her night vision goggles briefly.  She heard the doors shut.
“All aboard back here.”
She turned up the engines and lifted off.  It was tempting to make another run on the convoy, but with the prospect of facing more missiles, and the fact that it was outside of the mission needs, she had to pass.  “Hatchet One to Hatchet Group.  We’re egressing.  Time to go.”
Hatchet Three chimed in.  “What about the second convoy?”
“They’re no threat to us.  Leave them alone.  Let’s stick to the mission.”
“Roger that.” From the front cockpit, Buckle nodded satisfaction.
“All aircraft have checked back in at Desert One.  Two casualties.  Our hostage is bewildered and frightened, but is safe.  Casualties are stabilized and will be OK till we get them Stateside.”
Cheers.  Schweer smiled at Howell.  Now the curse is broken.”
Howell nodded.  “I hear Punta Cana is particularly nice this time of year.”
“Never been there.”
“I think it’ll be a good start for our mayor.  What do you say we send her daughter and sidekick with her?  I think all of them can use a vacation.”
Hatchet Flight had crossed the border and had landed well before sunup.  As soon as they had done so, the compound had been detailed and a large cover had been thrown over the odd third helicopter to hide it.  It would be flown back to its regular base when security allowed it.
Sagahun had met her mother inside of The House along with the other DART team members, and there had been a good after-mission party and debrief, along with the cerveza that Sagahun had been planning on before the world turned upside down.  Once the fun—and alcohol—had worn off, they set about post-flighting the birds and placed the unused ordnance back in bins and on trucks, to be taken back to El Paso like so much nondescript furniture.  Fuentes had left in a sedan with darkened windows for TDF STRACOM for a debrief and a change of identity.  She could never be known as her old self.  The Sinaloa Federation had, like all of the other major drug trafficking organizations, a long memory and a longer reach.
On the news, reports that Fuentes was missing now circulated.  Neither the Sinaloa Federation nor the Mexican government would say what had happened to her, and the Texas government released a statement indicating that they would not pay a ransom for her, nor had any idea why one would be demanded of them because of her, as they were unaffiliated.  And so, Marta Fuentes became one more missing person, lost in the carnage of the Mexican drug wars.
NSA Headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland
“What happened down there?”
The U.S. NSA, in part due to the mandates of the Global War on Terror, had been keeping an electronic finger on the pulse of the Fuentes kidnapping.  Mexico’s ever-troublesome drug cartels had been drawing more and more of the U.S. intelligence community’s attention, as more of what they did affected the United States.  They had themselves identified the location where she was being held, and had been preparing to report the matter to the CIA.
And then, the lights had gone out.  Something had attacked the compound.  Satellite photography had shown the compound on the morning after, burned to the ground, with melted vehicles on the roadway leading into the compound.   Mexican Army troops, who had cautiously investigated the location, had found shell casing from Russian 23-millimeter guns littering the area, and the guidance fins from what appeared to be a Russian AT-16 Scallion antitank missile near one of the wrecks.  Called a “Vikhr” by the Russians, it was commonly only used on attack jets and helicopters.
“From the shell case dispersal, we’re thinking that aircraft hit the convoy.  Reportedly, several drug cartel survivors found in the area say they were attacked by choppers.”  The Mexican government was accusing the U.S. of the operation, and complaining they should have been consulted.  After the U.S. had done the Bin Laden raid, many governments around the world were imagining U.S. involvement when mysterious, bad things happened in their countries.  Nonetheless, you couldn't blame them for accusing the U.S. in the affair.  A full scale war had erupted in the valley where the cartel compound was-- a war that the cartel had lost, and badly.  It seemed that the only thing that had saved the surviving cartel soldiers was the decision by the attackers to call it quits and withdraw.
“It’s the phantoms.  Again.”
The speaker was referring to an as yet unnamed strange military force with Russian weapons, that was popping up around the globe and doing dirt to various rebel groups and terrorist organizations on the Russian government’s undesirable list.  It had happened in Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and in Asia. Who were they?  What was their ultimate objective?
No one knew.  Yet.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
“You know, Mom isn’t sure about you and me alone together out here.”
Sagahun and Godfrey were walking along the beach.  “Well, I have orders directly from Mr. Schweer himself.  There’s something I’m supposed to give you that he specified could only be done in private.”
“Ohhhh… really?”  She turned to face him.  “Now, I know I should have listened to Mom.”
“It’s not what you think.”
She gave him a saucy look.  “What am I thinking?”
He reached into his back pocket on his trunks.  “I need some swimsuit top, here.”
He took her top in his left hand and stuck two fingers underneath.  He raised his right hand and took a silver object, placing it next to the top.  She looked down.  “What is it?”
“Careful, stay still.  It has pins on it.  It’s breast-unfriendly.  These are Texas Defense Force combat pilot wings.”
He finished the presentation and made sure the backings were attached firmly.  She jiggled her top.  “Uh… feels a bit weird.  I’ll have to try them with a more appropriate top on.”
“You’ll have to wait a while.  They’re not to be shown in public, obviously.” He put an arm around her.  “You did a good job.  And, you happen to be the first TDF Hind helicopter pilot awarded combat wings for a mission.”
She leaned into the hug.  “Hope it’s the last time.”
“Yeah, for real.  You going to wear those till we get back within eye-shot of the resort?”
She smiled.  “I’m going to try.”

*** The End ***













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