“Keep the drone near the ship,” Deckard told Cody as he prepared to launch his toy airplane. Thankfully, he had more than one. “I don’t want it getting brought down by electronic counter-measures or otherwise being spotted by the enemy.”
Cody hurled the drone off the deck of the ship and into the air. Using his tablet to control the drone, it spiraled over the Carrickfergus as it gained altitude. Night had set in and everyone knew that the coming movement was going to be perilous in the dark but on the other hand it would limit the enemy’s visibility as well. It was safe to assume that an opponent this sophisticated would have access to night vision and thermals but just like Samruk, the arctic would severely limit their battery life.
“Okay, I’ve got something,” Cody announced. “Thermal signatures on the other side of the ice floe.”
“How far out?”
“Hard to say, a couple miles I would guess.”
“Okay, get me your best guess at a distance as well as a direction. We’ll initiate the movement. Keep the drone up, then bring it back to refuel, and send it back up when we are ready to make contact with the enemy.”
Deckard turned to prepare the movement across the ice.
“Hey,” Cody said, stopping him. “I heard you are playing Dungeons and Dragons in your free time or something?”
“D&D is great man. I have some 12-sided dice and a dungeon master guide at my work station if you ever want-”
“Hey, fuck you dude. That is work related shit.”
“No, I am a big fan. My character has gone into legendary status.”
“Go fuck yourself Cody, I have shit to do.”
“Fine. Fuck you then.”
* * *
One by one the mercenaries scurried down a cargo net that had been hung from the side of the ship. They slipped down and landed on the ice floe before moving out and establishing a security perimeter. No one was more cautious about the landing than Deckard. He still didn’t feet quite right after his accidental swim in the arctic sea. Getting crushed between the Carrickfergus and the ice floe seemed like a better fate than going for another dunk in the water.
With the two platoons deployed out on the ice, the more experienced men in arctic and winter operations took the lead to guide the others through the darkness. Ice floes were dangerous to begin with, even more so at night when you could run into a lead, a opening or crack in the ice, at any time. Also present would be pressure ridges. While leads happened where the ice was pulled apart, pressure ridges were created where the ice had been pushed together. Aside from that, new leads could appear as the ice cracked and new fissures were created as the ice came apart.
Deckard chambered a round into the chamber of his Kalashnikov, the others quickly following suit. They were going into combat in the most inhospitable environment on earth, and this time they were all looking for some payback after a string of embarrassing defeats.
There was one thing that scared every former Special Operations soldier more than death and that was failure. They had lost men and with everything happening back in the world it was clear that the stakes didn’t get any higher. Once again, Deckard and Samruk International found themselves shadow boxing an elusive enemy.
Fanning out in a series squad sized wedge shaped formations, the mercenaries crept forward, their boots crunching through the snow. It was really the sound of the arctic, or lack of sound, that really drove home how far away they were from everything. Other than the wind in their ears and the snow under their feet, there was absolutely nothing. In the dark, they were isolated, each man looking back and forth every few steps to make sure he wasn’t isolated and alone.
The formation moved north east towards the enemy position. From what little Cody had been able to surmise from the drone’s imagery, the enemy had docked their boat alongside the 5-foot thick ice floe and looked to be offloading personnel and equipment. In a quick planning session, Deckard and the others gave it a high probability that the enemy would be flying out the nuclear weapon on a aircraft with ski wheels for landing on the ice. They would do it tonight, under the cover of darkness. Deckard had to make sure that didn’t happen.
A clenched fist was held up by Jacob, who was leading the movement, which was than passed down the line by the other mercenaries. They were taking a tactical pause, something developing up ahead. Jacob cut a hard right and led them around a lead that they had almost walked right into in the darkness. The movement wasn’t especially strenuous since they were on an almost nearly horizontal plane with little snow, but nerve-wracking none the less.
Half way through the movement, someone broke squelch over the radio net.
“Six, there is a new thermal signature.” It was Cody. “Looks like an engine block.”
“Can you tell what it is?”
“I can’t see shit. I’m barely keeping this thing in the air with all the wind!”
One day they were going to have to water board Cody until he learned proper radio procedures.
The mercenaries continued through the night, crossing over several pressure ridges, one of them almost six feet tall. As they got closer to where the enemy had docked, Deckard gritted his teeth. If they had more radar mounted machine guns operational, they would quickly come under fire. His only hope was that the wind and snow interfered with those systems if they had them.
Then a high pitched whine sounded in the distance. It sounded like a massive lawnmower closing in on them as the buzzing sound got louder.
“Get down!” Jacob barked over the radio as he threw himself down on his belly. The mercenaries dove to the ground as a hovercraft emerged out of the darkness and sped right passed the formation, seemingly unaware of their presence, as it bounced by on its rubber skirt. Deckard reached into his jacket and pulled out a small Insight SU-232 thermal sight which he wore around his neck by a lanyard to keep it warm against his chest.
Pressing the rubber protector around the lens against his eye, the thermal sight activated. The black and white image showed the white-hot displayed engine block in the rear of the vehicle. It looked to be a fairly small hovercraft, maybe a two seater with a storage compartment in the back.
“That’s it,” Deckard said to himself. “They are transporting the nuke to a suitable place for an aircraft to land.”
“Exactly what I was thinking,” Kurt Jager said as he crawled up alongside Deckard.
“Otter,” Deckard said as he keyed his radio. “Make sure the snowmobile teams are ready. The enemy had the device loaded in a hovercraft. We might need an intercept.”
“You got it boss.”
The Samruk mercenaries waited for another few minutes to make sure the coast was clear and that another hovercraft hadn’t been off loaded from the enemy vessel, or that others were not following behind on foot. Finally, Jacob gave the all clear as they moved out in the direct of the hovercraft. Under the moonlit sky, they had visibility of about fifty meters, but the hovercraft had quickly outpaced them. Cody provided updates to help guide them in once it appeared the hovercraft had stopped in a large open patch of ice.
It took another twenty minutes of walking before they made it to where the hovercraft sat idle. The men shook out into an assault line and crawled forward. Unfortunately, they were not lucky enough to have a pressure ridge to use as cover. They were sitting ducks out in the open. At least for now, they would have fire superiority. Just to be sure, they detailed one squad to turn around and pull security to make sure they didn’t get any unpleasant surprises.
The hovercraft sat in the open, waiting.
Sergeant Major Korgan was policing the line as he crawled from position to position, making sure that everyone knew to hold fire until the airplane had landed and was within range of effective fire. Taking out the hovercraft and capturing the device that was almost certainly on board would be a coup, but taking down the enemy aircraft would ensure that none of the enemy could be evacuated along with it, essentially stranding them in the arctic.
From there, Deckard would be happy to let the U.S. Navy sail around and blow their ship out of the water at America’s leisure while he and his men took a vacation to Fiji.
The men worked their fingers inside their gloves, trying to keep them warm. They had on enough cold weather gear for the time being, but they would freeze if they were exposed to the elements for too long. The irony was that they ran the risk of overheating under their parkas during the movement, but then froze half to death if they were stationary for too long.
The cold was starting to make Deckard sleepy, a dangerous situation that could quickly lead to hyperthermia if he actually passed out on the ice. He was grateful when the door on the hovercraft flew open and one of the passengers jumped out onto the ice. Deckard looked at him through the thermal sight, noticing an Israeli bullpup rifle slung over his back. He didn’t believe for a moment that they were up against Israelis but they had sold those guns all over the world, making them a much more deniable weapon for black operations.
He realized that this was the first time that they had actually gotten eyes on the enemy. Thus far all they had done was fight robotic proxy forces. Deckard scrutinized the image in his thermal sight as their mysterious foe walked around the hovercraft, wondering who he was and what he was thinking. Was he about to deploy some flares to guide in the aircraft?
The mercenaries nearly jumped out of their skin as they heard a massive fissure crack in the ice. A new lead opening under their position could kill them in seconds. The ice continued cracking, the sound reverberating across the empty ice. Then, a few hundred meters from the hovercraft, Deckard saw something rising up out of the ice. Huge blocks of ice slipped and fell off the black form emerging out of the ocean beneath their feet. A black tower pushed right through the ice floe and rose into the air.
With the tower growing taller and taller, the ice in front of it and behind it was propelled upwards a well as it cracked down the middle around the shape underneath it. The ice undulated and flexed outwards like a wave as the tower sank back down into the water for a few seconds. Then it was propelled back upwards, smashing against the ice again and forming a hill on either side of the tower before coming to a stop.
“Fuck me,” Deckard said, exhaling a white cloud as his breath froze in the air.
They were evacuating the nuclear weapon by submarine.
Sheets of ice were pushed off the top of the submarine mast and Deckard could make out several forms moving around up top through his thermal sight. He was trying to zoom in and get a better look when the batteries froze and the screen blinked out.
Meanwhile, the hovercraft pilot jumped back inside the craft and powered it up. Skidding across the ice, the craft powered its way closer to the submarine, coming to a stop alongside where it was bulging out of the ice floe.
Deckard reached down and keyed his radio again.
“On my mark, give me a mad minute. Unload everything you’ve got of them. Only put 7.62 on the hovercraft or we risk covering ourselves in radioactive material.”
Fedorchenko and Shatayeva radioed back to confirm the order.
The driver was back outside of the hovercraft and opening the bay doors in the rear. It was going down now. If they got away, the next thing any of them knew that nuclear bomb would be creating a mushroom cloud over New York City or Washington DC.
Resting his elbows in the snow, he tucked the stock of his Kalashnikov into the pocket of his shoulder. Looking down the iron sights, he took aim at the rear of the hovercraft. The creeping feeling of impending doom was once again sneaking up on him. Deckard had seen enough combat to know that he had to act now, not let himself be paralyzed by fear of what could be.
Deckard milked the trigger until the stock recoiled back into his shoulder.
Then the whole world exploded, turning into a game of Star Wars as red and green tracer fire created a storm down range from the mercenaries. Bullets sparked against the hovercraft and the submarine. Their remaining Carl Gustav and a half dozen RPG rocket launchers shook the ice as they blasted the submarine. A few shots went wide, but more than a couple scored direct hits, creating brilliant yellow flashes that briefly illuminated the ice floe around them.
Muzzle flashes continued to light up the darkness, looking like dozens of strobe lights at a night club as they peppered the enemy with automatic fire. Deckard’s radio started blowing up with flurry of traffic that he wasn’t able to keep up with over all of the shooting, garbled transmissions as squad leaders attempted to give orders over the cacophony of machine gun fire.
“Cease fire! Cease fire!” he yelled.
After a few more sputters of gunfire, the Samruk mercenaries managed to ratchet it down. They lay in the prone, watching for signs of life. The submarine mast was now a smoking tower. Getting his thermals back up for a few seconds after having it under his parka, Deckard could make out several gaping holes in the submarine where Anti-Tank rounds blasted it.
“Six,” Cody said over the radio. You’ve got a lot of movement back at their ship. It looks like they are prepping a couple more vehicles.”
“Launch the snowmobiles to intercept.”
They watched and listened for signs of life in the kill zone but nothing moved.
The mercenaries loaded fresh magazines into their rifles and new belts into their machine guns before getting to their feet. They re-arranged themselves into a tighter assault line and began stalking forward across the ice floe. A loud groan could be heard over the sound of the wind in their ears, the submarine scraping against the ice as it slowly began sinking.
“Six, this is Frogman,” Rocheniore said over the radio. “We are en route to intercept the enemy snowmobile team.”
“Roger, Deckard confirmed. We’re counting on you to cover our six.”
Scanning for targets, none of the Kazakh, American, and European mercs saw anything moving. They were a couple hundred meters away from the hovercraft and the submarine, which was still sinking, when they noticed the ice beneath their feet vibrating.
“Another lead opening in the ice?” Fedorchenko said from Deckard’s side.
The ice was now visibly vibrating, bouncing around the snow on the surface. Several of the mercenaries slipped and had to be helped back up to their feet. They stumbled along, heading towards the hovercraft.
Then the ice snapped open, flashing like bolt of lighting right in front of their eyes. The chasm opened, the ice tilting, and sending the mercenaries falling to their knees or flat on their face. The crack continued to grow, racing up between the submarine, the hovercraft, and the Samruk troopers.
Deckard’s mouth hung open as the ice tilted backwards, sending them slipping away from the direction of the submarine. They skidded across the floe, and without any ice axes to help them gain purchase, they were at nature’s mercy. They each slid about half the length of a football field and then finally, Deckard’s stomach turned upside down. The sheet of ice was now pitching forward. An object in motion, stayed in motion. They were about to slip right off the side and into the crack, into the dark waters below.
“Brace yourself with something!” he yelled.
Down on his knees, Deckard slid towards the ice valley in front of them. As the floe tilted down, he could see the churning arctic water. No one would be able to pull him out this time. Letting his AK-103 hang by its sling, Deckard slapped at his chest rig, his hand closing around the handle of his knife. Yanking from the klydex sheath, he twisted to face the ice, and slammed the black fixed blade knife into the ice.
The knife successfully stopped his collision course with death. One of the Kazakhs was not so fortunate. As he careened across the ice, Deckard reached out and grabbed him by the sleeve, holding on to his hard point in the ice with one hand. It felt like he shoulder was about to pull out of its socket, but he had held on to his team mate.
Deckard and the young Kazakh watched in horror as several of their friends were too close to the chasm and unable to find something to break their trajectory forward. Two Samruk mercenaries slipped right off the side, their howls disappearing into the night. Another formed claws with his hands as he tried to dig into the ice, but to no avail as he was unable to scramble away from the edge. He too disappeared into the water.
The sheet of ice they were on was leveling out, but there was now a huge lead in the ice between them and the enemy. Echoes could be heard all around them as the ice floe cracked again and again. The entire island sized sheet of ice was breaking up.
“What the fuck is this shit,” Deckard grunted.
It was no coincidence that the ice floe started breaking up just as they got the drop on the enemy. Reaching down, Deckard pulled his knife out of the ice and slid it back into its sheath. It was a Company Knife, made for commandos, mercs, and black helicopter types by Newt Livesay. Reaching down, he helped the Kazakh trooper to his feet.
“Six, we’re not going to be able to intercept. The ice is cracking up all around us. What the hell is going on?” Rocheniore radioed him.
“Good question. Get back to the Carrickfergus.”
Just then, two black snowmobiles powered over a pressure ridge in the distance. From across the chasm, Deckard watched them tear through the snow and pull up alongside the destroyed hovercraft. They got off snowmobiles and began unloading something out of the back. Deckard pressed the thermal sight up against his eye.
Four men in black balaclavas unloaded a large plastic case that looked to be about the size of a refrigerator. They held onto the carry handles at the side of the case and set it down on a sled attached to the back of one of the snowmobiles. Meanwhile, the submarine had completely slipped back beneath the ice, its status unknown, but it couldn’t be good.
“On my tracer fire,” Deckard ordered.
Leveling his AK-103, he sent a stream of red tracer rounds at the snowmobiles on the other side of the ice floe. The Samruk mercenaries joined in, cutting loose on the enemy one more time. The balaclava clad men were already on their snowmobiles, vanishing into the dark.
Deckard’s jaw tensed as he lowered the smoking barrel of his Kalashnikov.
Everything about this was wrong.