Cody overhanded the miniature unmanned aerial vehicle into the air.
The wind caught the UAV’s wings as the small electric engine buzzed along drone’s single prop. The drone itself was French in origin, while the sensor package had been bought in the UK and Austria. Cody had assembled the drone himself in his workshop several weeks prior. Turning away from the deck of the ship, the computer hacker quickly ducked back inside and handled the small control unit.
Using two joysticks retrofitted to a tablet, Cody could look through the drone’s cameras and steer it where he needed it to go. On the screen, broken ice scattered throughout the sea quickly gave way as the drone climbed to a hundred feet above sea level and flew over land. Maneuvering the drone in a long lazy arc, he flew around the cove, looking for signs of the enemy. Flipping a switch, the thermal camera kicked in. White splotches on the tablet would indicate the infrared signature given off by human body heat.
As the drone circled around the cove, everything looked clear.
Leaning up against a bulkhead, he put the drone in a loiter route over the objective area. It would have a little under an hour of fuel before he had to return it back the Carrickfergus and attempt to land it on the deck. Reaching into his pocket, he palmed a radio and held it up to his mouth.
“This is Fapper-1,” Cody said into the radio, barely holding back a laugh as he gave his self-selected callsign. “The coast in clear. No signs of a ambush on the cliffs.”
“Roger,” it was Deckard’s voice. “We’re about to get underway. Can you give us a pass straight up the cove and see if anyone is active down there?”
“On it,” Cody said.
Pocketing the radio, he went back to the control unit, glad that he wasn’t going to be out there paddling in the Russian arctic.
* * *
With the Carrickfergus’ barge deck lowered, twin Zodiac FC470 boats were launched simultaneously. The black inflatable boats each carried ten mercenaries, making for a total of a 20-man assault force. They were going in light, but it had been decided that sailing the Carrickfergus into the cove could end catastrophically if the enemy had another ambush prepared. Better to go in with the Zodiacs while their mothership cut off entry and exit from the cove.
The coxswain of each Zodiac steered the gas powered engine, taking them on a slow approach through the mouth of the cove. At the head of each boat was a PKM machine gunner, ready to lay down some cyclic fire if the need arose. The riflemen sat on the sides of the Zodiacs, their eyes darting around, looking for targets. Rocky cliffs lurched by on both sides of the mercenaries as the Zodiacs slipped inside the the cove. Coxswains eased them around drifting sheets of ice.
Deckard looked up as Cody’s drone buzzed overhead like a giant paper airplane.
As the rubber boats edged around the rocks, the submarine graveyard came into view. The aquamarine waters parted as the boats churned forward. In the distance were a dozen dark red and brown rusted submarine hulls. Back in Tampa, SCOPE had done some analysis and determined that most of the decaying husks were Tango-Class attack submarines. Now they were just fading vestiges of the Cold War, abandoned in a forgotten corner of the globe.
The PKM gunner at the head of the Zodiac shifted, the black barrel of his weapon sweeping across the submarines as he scanned for signs of the enemy. The subs were in a state of obvious disarray, some laying on their side, half in the water, and half out of it. Beyond the tangle of rusting metal, was a dock and large industrial crane.
“Six, this is Fapper-1,” Cody voice came over the command net. “I just lost the drone, over.”
“What does that mean?” Deckard hissed in response.
“It had plenty loiter time left. All of a sudden the engine went down and it began to go into a spin. Then the video cut out. I don’t know what went wrong. It could have been a gust of wind, over.”
“Catch anything on video before it went down?”
“SHIT,” Cody cursed, his tourettes acting up again. “No, nothing.”
Deckard wasn’t about to abort the mission just because the drone went down. They had gotten some good situational awareness from its surveillance feed before the UAV crashed at least. Now they had to get in there and do the grunt work.
Once they were a hundred meters away, Deckard radioed to Fedorchenko in the other Zodiac.
“Do you see any signs of the enemy ship?”
The Kazakh platoon sergeant turned and looked at him from the other boat which was cruising ten meters off their right flank. His dark eyes were wide as they drilled into Deckard. He shook his head in reply.
“Carrickfergus,” Deckard said as he bumped up radio channels from the assault net to the command net. “This is Six. No sign of enemy activity. They were never here or we missed them. I’m taking our element deeper into the AO to look for signs. Maybe there is something we can use to pick up their trail again.”
“Understood Six,” Sergeant Major Korgan replied from the bridge of their ship.
The head of the cove was a tangle of rusted, twisted steel that looked like it belonged on the set of a a Mad Max film set in the ice age. Deckard directed Fedorchenko to take his boat to the dock while his team would explore the submarine graveyard. Deckard was already having a bad feeling that this would be a dry hole.
Still, as they approached the nearest submarine that had been scuttled along the shore, Deckard looked carefully through the snow flakes swirling in the wind. He couldn’t get over the feeling that they were being watched, even though Cody’s drone didn’t pick up any thermal signatures.
The nose of their Zodiac rubbed up against the submarine’s deck. The PKM gunner immediately jumped off an scrambled up the hull. Deckard and seven other Samruk International mercenaries lumbered up in their cold weather gear and jumped onto the sub. The coxswain stayed on the boat, making sure they were ready to leave at a moments notice.
The mercenaries quickly found a hatch and descended into the belly of the Soviet-era submarine. Deckard pushed his goggles up onto his forehead, his eyes adjusting to the darkness. They stepped carefully, avoiding rusted out portions of the deck as they walked through the corridor towards a light in the distance. The submarine was literally coming apart at the seams as it was exposed to the elements for years on end, including the water freezing and then melting each year.
Stairways leading to no where with rust brown railings made it feel like they were in a haunted house straight out of some Cold War nightmare. It was evident to Deckard that no one had been here in a very long time.
At the end of the corridor, the sub was blasted open where the torpedo tubes were located, the tear in the hull leaving a gap of a few feet to the next submarine. The mercs hopped across the gap one by one onto the submarine which was laying on its side. The wind cut into their faces again, forcing Deckard and the others to pull down their goggles and pull up their face mask.
“Six,” the ear bud connected to Deckard’s radio cracked. “The dock…clear.”
Fedorchenko’s voice was cutting in and out, his words full of static.
Fedorchenko had cleared the docks but there were about a dozen abandoned submarines in the cove. He might as well search as many of them as possible just to be sure. It wasn’t like they had any other leads. The mercenaries crawled down the hull as it began sloping down into the sea.
From where he stood, Deckard could see that there was another submarine hull just under the surface of the water adjacent to the one they were on. Trudging through a inch of water wasn’t a big deal in boots. They could use the sub as a underwater bridge to make their way over to the next section of the submarine graveyard.
Deckard spoke to the Kazakhs in Russian, instructing them on which route to take. The PKM gunner went into a prone position behind what was left of the submarine mast while the rest of them shuffled down the side to the submarine that was just barely submerged. Deckard took the lead, slinging his AK, and sliding down the edge of the hull on his ass. For a moment, he fell through the air, then his boots came down on the top of the sub with a splash.
Waving the other mercenaries after him, Deckard sloshed through the ice water as he walked along the top of the submarine. His greatest fear of course was that the aging submarine would give way under his weight and he would tumble right through the fuselage and into the cold waters, but even after decades of sitting in the cove it was probably unlikely. Submarine hulls had to be extremely strong, made with hardened steel to withstand the pressures found in the depths of the ocean.
Looking over his shoulder, Deckard could see that the other mercenaries were lined up behind him. Their PKM gunner was still up above on the other submarine, ready to provide suppressive fire if they needed it. Keeping his rifle at the low ready, Deckard scanned for targets. He could hear the low creaks and snarls of metal against metal that echoed through the cove as the elements took their toll on the Soviet subs.
Reaching the far side of the cove, Deckard put an arm out to grab onto the next submarine. There was a rust encrusted ladder rung sticking out from the fuselage. Just as his gloved finger tips reached out and brushed against the ladder, machine gun fire seemed to blast all around him. Deckard was suddenly propelled backwards. One hand tightened around his rifle while the other reached out in vain to find something to brace himself against.
He flew through the air and came down hard on the top of the submarine, then continued, somersaulting backwards, and rolled off the side into the arctic ocean. Disoriented, Deckard suddenly realized why it felt like a giant iron hand was crushing his chest. He couldn’t feel his arms or legs. And he was sinking.
Sinking deeper, as everything began to go dark.
* * *
Fedorchenko was stunned as he watched the submarine that Deckard and his men were crossing swing around without warning and pop up out of the water. The cigar-shaped black ship didn’t look like any submarine he had ever seen. The ship executed a sharp left turn that tossed the Samruk mercenaries over the side like rag dolls in a gale force wind. Arms and legs went spinning and kicking through the air before they splashed down in the freezing water.
With its nose now pointed towards the mouth of the cove, the ship rose even further out of the water, almost like a hydrofoil, and shot towards the Carrickfergus. Fedorchenko, squeezed his radio’s push to talk button.
“Incoming ship!” he shouted. “Tag it! Tag it!”
The black ship was just a few hundred meters from the Carrickfergus now, set on a collision course.
Nothing but static came over the net. That was when Fedorchenko realized that they were being jammed. That was also when he realized that green tracer rounds from machine gun fire were zipping right over his shoulder.
* * *
Nikita’s eyes were like saucers as he was still in disbelief at what he had just witnessed. His boss and a half dozen of their men had just been condemned to Davey Jones locker as they impacted the icy water. What had been another partially submerged decaying submarine was now a sleek jet-black speed boat racing straight at the Carrickfergus. It must have been a few hundred feet in length and looked like a giant spear heading right at them. Up on the deck, Nikita set down his HK 417 rifle and reached for a Mk14 grenade launcher.
Looking like a giant pistol, the Mk14 featured a cylinder which held six 40mm grenades. He knew he wasn’t going to sink it with a couple high explosive grenades, they probably wouldn’t even penetrate the hull but it was what he had. Leaning over the railing, Nikita fired as fast as he could pull the trigger, walking his shots across the black ship as it bore down on him. Muffled explosions popped off across the ship to no visible effect.
The enemy vessel was only a few hundred meters away. He plopped out the empty HE canisters and plopped in a a tracking round. Closing the cylinder, he looked up as he tucked the stock of the Mk14 into his shoulder.
Nikita’s stomach fell out from under him. The ship was about to ram the Carrickfergus and take them all to watery graves at the bottom of the ocean. None the less, his finger tightened around the trigger as the ship came into ram them.
Then it was gone.
The black ship dropped down under the water, chunks of ice and water sloshing into the space the ship had just occupied. With the crash of waves, the ship surfaced on the other side of the Carrickfergus. The wake created by the surfacing ship rocked him as he stood on the deck, forcing Nikita to grab onto a railing to support himself.
Taking off at high speeds, the demon ship had disappeared as quickly as it had revealed itself.
* * *
Fedorchenko watched in horror as the coxswain below tried to navigate the waters between the submarines and rescue his drowning team mates, only to see him driven away by machine gun fire that traced geysers of water back and forth in front of the zodiac as the guns tried to triangulate in on him. The coxswain was forced to veer away and take cover behind one of the submarines.
Meanwhile, the Kazakh mercenary sergeant had taken a knee behind the old crane as staccato bursts of the machine guns filled the air. The shots were coming from behind the docks. The mercenary Sergeant cursed. The enemy had left a stay-behind force to ambush their pursuers.
Then an automatic grenade launcher started firing. White flashes ripped across the dock as the grenades exploded around Fedorchenko’s position.
“One ‘o clock, fifty meters,” someone yelled above the gunfire.
Finally, one of the mercs had announced the enemy position. It sounded like Nate, the former MARSOC Marine that they had just hired. Fedorchenko peaked out from behind the crane and his head was nearly taken off as the machine gunner vectored in on him instantly. Sure enough, not fifty meters away, he could see the muzzle flashes coming from inside an abandoned building. A frontal assault would be suicide.
“Nate, lay down a base of fire!”
The former Marine quickly got their element’s PKM gunner on target, walking a 7.62 autofire onto the abandoned structure.
“Flank left, follow me!” Fedorchenko dashed from behind cover and leapt off the dock as more tracer fire sought him out. He hit the ground, stumbled, and quickly regained his footing. The Kazakh found himself in the middle of dozens of bright red 55-gallon drums. They were brand new, easily standing out by comparison to everything else in the cove which was old and decrepit. Their intelligence estimate seemed to be correct, the enemy had set up a fuel depot in the cove.
With the other mercenaries following his lead, Fedorchenko stayed low and flanked around the machine gun position. Nate and his gunner were going cyclic in the meantime, drawing the enemy’s fire. Hopefully they were drawing enough fire to distract the gunners from the twin Zodiacs out on the water behind them. Their men would freeze to death in that water in seconds rather than minutes.
Crawling up behind a pile of rotting rail road ties, the mercenaries formed up. Now within hand grenade range, one of the Kazakhs primed a frag and chucked it through the door. Once the grenade cooked off and detonated, a secondary explosion also blew the aluminum roof off the building. With the booby trap blown, the mercenaries ran towards the structure and through the open door. The smell of sulfate stung their nostrils as they entered and cleared the room.
Two PKM machine guns and one AGS30 grenade launcher lay on their sides, knocked over by the grenade blast. There wasn’t a person in sight. The three weapon systems had been mounted on tall tripods and oriented out the windows. Fedorchenko bent down to examine the odd configuration that the crew served weapons had been set up in. On top of each was mounted a green metal square that was about one foot by two feet in size. Wires ran from the square to a control unit for each gun as well as a battery pack. The charging mechanisms on the weapons was controlled by an automated solenoid.
They were normal Russian infantry weapons that had been fitted with a radar tracking and targeting system. Once again, the enemy had left drones behind to ambush their pursuers. They had also jammed their commo, further disrupting their normal standard operating procedures.
The bad guys got the drop on the mercenaries with superior technology.
Fedorchenko snarled. More than any of that, they had simply been outfoxed, outflanked, and out planned by an opposing force that absolutely had their shit together.
He turned and ran out of the building as the Zodiacs circled the cove, looking for survivors.
* * *
Will slammed his fists down on the table.
“Son of a bitch. I died again.”
“How much more time are you going to waste playing video games?” Craig asked.
“It’s not just that I’m losing, it is that they are not interested in me. I’ve been going head to head with suspected intelligence proxies on the PvP server.”
“Player vs. Player. It is where the players in the game go to test their characters by dueling with each other.”
“Yeah, great. Whatever.”
“The problem is that they don’t have any reason to give a shit about me. They need some…”
Will was silent for a moment as his jaw hung open.
“They need some bait dangled out in front of them.”
The corners of Will’s mouth were slowly tugged up at the corners.
“You’re scaring the squares in this office Will.”