Book: Transmission

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Igor grabbed Irina and I grabbed Rachel and we all ran for cover behind the large rocks I had been behind when the Russians had landed.  I noted that Cummings was running out into the desert, towards the firing that was directed at us, but didn’t have time to do anything about it at the moment.  Bullets were spattering off the rocks as we ran, and I spun to run backwards and fired a long burst of full auto fire out into the desert.  I didn’t have a target, but hoped I could make our ambushers keep their heads down long enough to reach safety.

A bullet smashed into my chest, knocking the wind out of me and I stumbled, nearly falling.  Igor had already propelled Irina behind the rocks and pulled me to safety as more rounds struck all around us.  I reached to where I’d been shot, thankful for the ballistic plate in my vest that had stopped the bullet.  It had still hurt like a son of a bitch, and if I didn’t have a broken rib I certainly had a bruised one, but I didn’t have a hole in me and I was still alive.

The Russian pilot had started the Hind’s engines and the rotor was just starting to spin when I heard the distinctive sound of an RPG being fired.

“Down!”  I screamed, wrapping one arm around Dog and the other around Rachel a second before the high explosive struck the helicopter’s rotor housing. 

The explosion was loud and violent, but the helicopter had been designed to withstand this very type of attack.  Its hull was dented and burned, but the rotor continued to speed up.  Moments later there were two more RPGs fired in series, the first to arrive penetrating the windshield and destroying the cockpit and everything in it.  The second one struck the rotor head and sheared it off, sending it spinning away to smash into the windmill, which collapsed under the impact.

Cummings was still running.  Running towards the ambushers that I could only assume were Russian troops sent by Barinov to put an end to the coup.  Raising my rifle I hesitated a moment.  This was the fucking White House Chief of Staff and I was only a step removed from pointing a weapon at the President.  Then I remembered my oath when I’d enlisted in the Army. 

Well, I remembered part of it.  The part about defending the country against enemies, both foreign and domestic.  Fuck it!  We had an unelected president plotting with an invading enemy to ambush American forces.  I don’t know what the original intent was when the whole domestic enemy thing was added to the oath, and I didn’t care.  As far as I was concerned, betrayal deserved only one response. 

But I had spent too long making my decision.  More enemy fire started hitting the rocks and I had to duck behind them without putting a bullet in Cumming’s well barbered head. 

“What the hell?”  Rachel shouted in my ear.

“Son of a bitch betrayed us!”  I said.  “Him and the President.  There’s a team of Russians out there sent to take us out and get the SADMs secured so they can’t be used.”

Irina and Igor were also having a conversation in rapid Russian.  She looked worried.  He looked pissed off.  I was curious.  Our attackers had RPGs.  The rocks we were behind would provide some protection, but not enough.  Why weren’t they attacking?

“Why didn’t we see them?”  Rachel asked, fear making her eyes large.  She sat hunched low to the ground, both arms wrapping Dog into a hug.

“They were in place ahead of us.”  I answered.  Irina and Igor had finished their conversation and were watching me, listening.  “Night vision only lets us see what we could see in the day.  It’s not magical.  They can still conceal themselves.  They’re probably also using thermal blankets to hide their body heat from the FLIR in the Stealth Hawk.”

Irina nodded her head.  “That’s what Igor thinks as well.”

Before she could say anything else a male voice speaking Russian shouted out.  Irina and Igor tilted their heads to listen.  After a few moments she turned to me and translated.

“It is Colonel Kirov.  He is my commanding officer.  He knows I am here and orders me to surrender immediately.”  She said in a quiet voice.  Fear, whether of the man or the situation I couldn’t tell, was apparent in her face.

“So he’s GRU.  How many soldiers will he have with him?”  I asked.

Irina consulted with Igor before answering.  “He’ll have at least one squad of 7.  Possibly two.  He likes to do things on a grand scale, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he brought two squads when he only needs one.”

“Spetsnaz, or regular Army?”  I asked, shrugging out of my pack and starting to remove the ballistic plates from my vest.

“Spetsnaz.  Definitely.”  She answered.  “What are you doing?”

“You’re forgetting, Irina.  I grew up here.  I know this country like the back of my hand.  They don’t.  Would you ask Igor if I can borrow that laser designator he has attached to his rifle?”  I continued to lighten the load on my body so I could move quickly and quietly in the dark.

 “You’re not doing what I think you’re doing.”  Rachel said, but Martinez’ voice in my earpiece distracted me.

“Dog two six.”  I answered her; glad we were using encrypted radios the Russians couldn’t eavesdrop on.

“You must be having a hell of a party down there.  The herd has changed direction and is coming straight for you.”  Damn it!  The RPGs, gunfire and exploding helicopter had been loud, and that noise had alerted the herd to our presence. 

“How long?”  I asked, reaching out and taking the small laser unit from Igor, nodding my thanks.

“You’ve got 15 minutes at the most before you have a whole wave of sprinters crashing the party.  Ready for extraction?”

“Negative.”  I spent half a minute filling her in on what had happened and what I was going to do.  Irina spoke softly to Igor, translating what I was doing.  With confirmation from Martinez that she was ready, I shared the rest of my plan with Irina and handed her one of the SADM keys.  She took it and wished me luck, then turned to Igor to explain in Russian.

“Stay with Irina.”  I said to Rachel.  She reached out and took my hand and I could tell she wanted to say something.  Maybe argue my plan, maybe not.  Either way, I didn’t give her the chance, turning and crawling towards the rock face to our rear.

As I moved, Irina shouted back to Colonel Kirov.  Her job was to keep his attention focused on her.  It was apparent that they wanted her alive.  I was almost certain they wanted to take her back to Russia for a very public trial and execution.  A reminder to anyone else with treasonous thoughts of what happens when you plot to overthrow the government.

The rock face I crawled towards looked like a solid, vertical chunk of stone that stuck up out of the sand.  It was actually two solid, vertical chunks with a narrow path between them that was well hidden.  A thorough and time intensive search of the area would have found it, but I seriously doubted the Russians had gone to that level of effort.  I knew it was there because on more than one occasion I’d used it when I was a teenager.

Leading deep between the two massive hunks of sandstone, it twisted, turned and climbed until reaching the highest point for at least 10 miles in every direction.  That high point was a great place to spread out a horse blanket and “watch the stars” with a girl. 

What I didn’t remember was just how narrow the damn path was.  Guess I’m a little bigger than I was when I was 16.  Several times I had to force my way through when the path narrowed, and once I had to remove my vest to squeeze my body between two boulders.  Behind me, I could hear Irina shouting in angry Russian, still keeping the Colonel occupied.  At least I hoped she was keeping him busy and he hadn’t already sent his troops forward to capture or kill my friends.

A faint sound from behind caused me to stop and spin, but it was just Dog, nails scraping on a rock.

“What the hell are you doing here?”  I asked him in a low voice.  He looked at me and wagged his tail, then came up and bumped my leg with his head. 

“OK, let’s go.”  I said after almost telling him to go back and stay with Rachel.  Then I heard another sound and I didn’t even have to turn my head to know who it was.

“You can’t do anything you’re told to do, can you?”  I asked Rachel as she slipped easily between the boulders that had given me problems.

“We’ll discuss the fact that you’re not in charge later.”  She said.  “Right now, we’d better get moving.  It’s already been five minutes.”

Shaking my head I kept going, soon reaching the part where we climbed.  A few minutes later we emerged on top of a giant rock.  Dropping to my stomach I motioned Rachel down and crawled to the edge that overlooked the ambush site.  With the NVGs back in place I had a view that would be the envy of an owl.  I could clearly see the Colonel that was talking to Irina, and in a large semi-circle around him were 12 soldiers.  That meant there were probably two more I couldn’t see, and it was those two that worried me.

Sniper team?  Or were they advancing on Irina and Igor?  I kept looking, spotting Igor just arriving at the debris that was all that remained of the windmill.  He was crawling on his belly, using the minimal depressions in the terrain to stay hidden.  Irina was still huddled behind the rocks and I could clearly hear her and she was quite animated.

Turning and looking farther out I scanned again.  Where would I be?  300 yards away another group of large boulders sat tumbled together.  Taking my time, I started checking every horizontal surface, nook and cranny, finally spotting the two man team.  They had a commanding view of the ambush site, the sniper with his rifle trained on the rocks Irina sheltered behind.

Moving slowly I positioned the laser on the flat rock in front of me and turned it on.  A focused beam of light that was invisible to the naked eye shot out and struck the rock a few feet below the sniper’s position.  It was clearly visible in the NVGs and I took a moment to adjust it until I was illuminating the rock about a foot below the two Russians.

“Boomer three, Dog two six.”  I said softly into the radio.

“Boomer three.  Better step it up, sir.  Females at your location in five.”  Martinez answered immediately.

“Copy.  Target is painted.  Red force is now exposed and oriented southeast to northwest.”  I said.

“Fox one.”  Martinez replied a few moments later. 

She must have been close, because it was only a couple of seconds before the Hellfire missile arrived, homing in on the reflected laser light.  The warhead struck the rock a foot below the two men, but it could have hit ten feet away and had the same effect.  I didn’t know if this was a missile equipped with the 20 pound anti-tank warhead, or the 18 pound metal augmented charge.  It didn’t matter.  The detonation killed both men and vaporized their bodies and equipment a fraction of a second after the missile’s arrival.  It also blew a chunk the size of a truck out of the side of the massive boulder.

I quickly moved the laser to shine on the GRU Colonel’s chest, noting that Cummings was standing next to him.  Both men were staring at the rocks where the Hellfire had detonated.

“Target two painted.”  I said quickly.

“Fox two.”  Martinez answered almost instantly. 

Kirov knew what was coming and started running.  But it was too late.  The missile faithfully homed in on the laser and struck the ground a few feet behind him and only a couple of feet to Cumming’s left.  Both men, and a couple of the Spetsnaz were blown into a few million pieces in the blink of an eye. 

Martinez had been close, the Stealth Hawk streaking overhead only a few seconds behind the Hellfire.  Immediately opening up with a minigun, she began shredding bodies.  Three more Russians went down under the withering fire, but these were trained, combat hardened troops.  They didn’t break and run, nor did they freeze under the attack. 

Ground fire erupted as all of the ones still alive targeted the helicopter.  I had my rifle up and ready, drilling the grenadier a few moments later when he raised an RPG in the direction of the attacking Stealth Hawk.  Martinez looped out of range of their weapons and I checked on Igor.  He was looking in my general direction and waving.  He was ready.

“Extraction now!”  I called on the radio, turning the laser to reflect off the ground at my feet so Martinez could spot me easily with her night vision. 

Circling the area she approached from behind and brought the big helicopter into a hover behind the protection of the rocks.  Rachel, Dog and I ran, Rachel hopping through the open door then turning to grab Dog when I lifted him up.  I scrambled aboard and shouted for Martinez to go.

She spun the aircraft and the deck tilted and I started sliding out the door, catching myself at the last moment by grabbing on to a flailing safety tether.  Pulling myself back in I snapped the tether in place and shouted at Rachel to hold on tight to Dog as I dug a Fast Rope extraction line out of a locker.

Clipping it into place I kneeled at the open door, ready to push it out as we came into a hover over Igor’s position.  The minigun started firing and I heard a couple of pings as Russian bullets hit the helicopter.  Kicking the line out the door I watched it uncoil and hit the ground a few feet from Igor’s prone body.  He fired another burst at the ambushers before jumping up and dashing to the rope.

He got his foot in a loop in record time and Martinez lifted him off the ground and moved to Irina’s position.  She dropped a little altitude and Irina dashed for the line and Igor’s waiting arms.  He wrapped her up after getting her foot in a loop and on my shout Martinez spun us around and climbed to clear the rocks.  Just before we were clear of the battle there was another ping followed by a loud explosion from the tail of the Stealth Hawk.

Even over the roar of the engines, rotor and air flowing through the open door, I could hear Martinez start cursing in her native tongue.  A moment later the helicopter began vibrating, the shaking rapidly growing worse.

“Oh shit!”  Rachel screamed.

I snapped my head around to see what was wrong.  She was staring through her NVGs out of the open side door.  I looked and the breath caught in my throat.  A seething mass of infected was directly beneath us, stretched out for miles.  The size of the herd had been described to me, but nothing prepares you for seeing three million infected people, all moving together with the sole intent of killing every living thing in their path.

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Next: 30. 1