Book: Transmission

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Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant Michael Tate cursed what he suspected was the same fly for probably the two hundredth time. The pest was about to start trying to crawl into his ear again, but he ignored it and stayed perfectly still.  His cheek was resting against the stock of his M40A5 sniper rifle, right eye peering through the high power scope.  He was dressed in a ghillie suit with multiple branches of sagebrush stuck through the weave to further break up the outline of his body.  All but invisible, he lay on a sandy ridgeline half a mile away from Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.

Tate had been in position for close to 24 hours, taking the occasional catnap, but had been awake far more than he’d slept.  Next to him, equally well concealed, was Sergeant Michael Blaine.  Michael T was white and Michael B was black, but they had become as inseparable as twin brothers the day they met at the Marine’s Scout Sniper Basic Course in Camp Pendleton, California.

Michael T had impressed the instructors from day one, many of them privately commenting that he would be the next Carlos Hathcock, arguably the best and most well known American sniper in history.  Certainly a legend within the Corps, and any comparison to him was high praise.  So when Michael T had spoken up after Michael B washed out of the shooting part of training, he was given what he asked for.  Michael B became his spotter, joined to his hip for as long as the two were in the Corps.

The pair had been at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, on the Arizona/California border when the attacks occurred.  They had stayed there for the past month, helping defend against the infected that started stumbling out of Southern California.  Until the Russians invaded.

Admiral Packard had been a busy man the past couple of days.  There were still several intact military bases within the continental United States, and many more special operations units still able to fight.  As soon as it was known which American bases the Russians chose to occupy, he had ordered Marine Scout Sniper teams into each area.  Not to start picking off Russian officers, but to observe and report on what the invaders were doing.

Hedging his bet, he had also ordered a small team of Force Recon Marines into each location.  These teams were equipped with a specialized Humvee, called an Avenger that had pods of SAMs –Surface to Air Missiles – mounted on the back.  The teams were under orders to ignore any Russian helicopter or attack aircraft, but to engage any transport aircraft that was believed to be taking American technology to Russia.

Michael T had been watching the previous night as an American MRAP had pulled up to the same hangar.  What looked like a civilian female, two Russian Spetsnaz, a female US Air Force officer and a big guy that had to be SF had climbed out.  They’d wheeled a Sci-Fi looking helicopter out of the hangar, and while the Air Force officer had fueled it, three packages, a full body bag and an injured man had been loaded into the aircraft. 

When they were ready to go, the civilian woman had kissed the SF guy on each cheek, and then he and the Air Force officer had climbed aboard.  Moments later the helo had flown directly over his head at no more than 50 feet, and he’d been amazed at how quiet it was.  That was when he realized it was a Stealth Hawk.

“Badger 25, how copy?”  Michael T mumbled into his radio.

“Copy 5 by 5.”  The reply was almost instant.  Badger 25 was the small Force Recon team set up in a valley a few miles north and east of Michael T’s location.  In line with the main runway at Kirtland.

“Red force guppy in 5.  Be advised, he will have twelve, one – two, guard dogs.”  A large Russian cargo plane would be taking off in five minutes, and there would be 12 fighter escorts.

“Copy.  Guppy in 5.  One – two dogs.  Badger 25 ready.”

Michael T had watched as crate after crate had been loaded on a giant Antonov AN-124 cargo plane, followed by another of the Sci-Fi looking helicopters he now was sure were Stealth Hawks.  He had also kept an eye on the attractive blonde woman, barefoot and wearing a skirt, who had kissed the SF guy goodbye.  She had watched the loading of the aircraft with a keen interest, not even taking her eyes off of it while speaking on a large, satellite phone.

The jet was taxiing to the main runway where six of the Mig fighters sat waiting.  Once it was in place, the remaining six Migs would form up at a safe distance behind, all thirteen aircraft taking off within a minute of each other.  Michael T watched them jockey around as all the pilots got into position.

The Antonov’s pilot’s face was large in his scope, and he wished he could put a round through the man’s head.  The plane wouldn’t go anywhere, and while they might look, the Russians wouldn’t find him or his brother.  But, his orders were clear.  Observe and report, only.  He could not engage any target for any reason, other than self-defense.

A moment later the lead Migs throttled up and raced down the runway, quickly leaping into the blue sky.  The Antonov had started rolling at the same time, but the much larger aircraft was heavily loaded and needed nearly the full length of the runway to get off the ground.  As soon as its tires left the tarmac, Michael T notified the Force Recon team.  The remaining Migs were in the air in moments, racing to gain altitude. 

The Russian Air Force is neither incompetent nor stupid, but they are human and susceptible to human arrogance.  Their mistake that day was thinking that the only possible threat to the lumbering jet was from other aircraft.  They were well protected against that threat with a 200 mile radius CAP around the base as well as the 12 escort fighters whose only purpose in life was to protect the Antonov.  What they didn’t take into account was the possibility of a surface to air attack.

No routine ground patrols were occurring to prevent an enemy from setting up on their airfield.  No low-level helicopter patrols of a buffer zone around the base.  Nothing.  This was good for the Marines.  It had made their jobs much easier, and increased the likelihood that they might successfully evade what was sure to be a swift Russian response once they shot the plane down.

“System is on automatic.  Badger 25 bugging out.”  Michael T heard over his radio earpiece.  Acknowledging the transmission, he wished them luck.

The Marines had set the Avenger’s system to automatically track and shoot any aircraft that came within range of its sensors.  Then they had gotten the hell out of the area.  Hopefully they would be able to put enough distance between them and the Avenger that the Russians couldn’t find them.  They would probably have five minutes at the most from the time the first missile left the pod mounted on the rear of the Hummer.

The Antonov pilot had never flown in a combat zone before coming to America.  If he had, he likely would have gained altitude as quickly as possible.  He also would have requested and been granted permission by the air traffic controllers to spiral up as he climbed, keeping his aircraft in vertical alignment with the air base.  But he did none of this.  Instead he flew straight ahead, slowly gaining altitude.  Civilian passengers would have appreciated the smooth and steady take off, but they wouldn’t have liked the results.

One minute after the Antonov’s landing gear left the tarmac, the giant plane had only climbed 2,000 feet.  Ten seconds later it entered the Avenger’s sensor range, the Boeing made system locking on in a fraction of a second, analyzing the signature, and firing a missile.  The Marines had programmed some additional instructions into the computer that controlled the missiles, and quickly the remaining seven SAMs rippled out of their pods and sped skyward.  Each of them was locked onto one of the Migs, the fighters still below the missiles’ operational ceiling of 15,000 feet as they loitered, waiting for the much slower cargo jet.

Five seconds later the first missile struck the base of the Antonov’s right wing, the warhead detonating.  The wing sheared off and thousands of pounds of jet fuel ignited, the plane vanishing in a thunderous explosion that blew out windows all across Albuquerque.  Two of the Migs that had been targeted successfully evaded the SAMs, but five more weren’t so lucky and met the same fate as their larger brethren.

Irina Vostov stood on the tarmac, staring northeast in horror at the massive fireball.  The smoke trails from the missiles still visible in the clear air, she cursed the Americans.  Had the Major betrayed her?  Taken the vaccine and given her the nukes only to destroy them before they could be used?  Was he mad?  Didn’t he understand?  Anger overcoming her fatigue, she pulled out her satellite phone and punched in her uncle’s phone number.

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Next: 13. 1