“Wait a minute,” Martinez said, pushing forward past Scott. “We’ve got native Russian speakers. Can we draw them in? Maybe get them to set down? If we can get our hands on that beast I can fly it and we’ll get to Idaho a hell of a lot faster.”
“Captain?” Crawford turned and looked at Irina who stood silent in thought for a few seconds.
“I can probably convince them I’ve captured the Bradley and have American prisoners, but…” Her voice trailed off.
“But, what?” Crawford prompted.
“Depends on the flight crew,” she began to explain. “If they’ve been in a combat zone the pilot will be experienced and land a hundred meters away and drop the soldiers, then take off and go into an orbit around the area. If it’s a new pilot then it might work.”
“How many men will be on board a patrol?” The Colonel asked, checking on the advancing helicopter. It was still over two miles away.
“Two to four,” she answered after consulting with Igor. “Depends on available manpower. Igor says it will most likely be two but he doesn’t guarantee that.”
The Colonel nodded his head in thought, his eyes still pressed to the periscope. If they were lucky they just might come away with a helo that could fly around in Russian controlled airspace without attracting attention. If they weren’t, then they were all dead. The HIND could flit around like a fat bumblebee and put a couple of armor defeating, high explosive missiles into them.
He wasn’t overly confident in being able to hit it with the TOW missile. TOWs were designed to engage and defeat ground targets. Tanks and APCs (Armored Personnel Carriers), not helicopters. To succeed, the HIND would need to stay nice and stable, not bouncing all over the place like combat helicopters tended to do.
“OK, we’re going to try it,” he said, decision made. “Irina, get on the radio and convince them. Tell them you’ve got a high-ranking American officer as a prisoner. Scott and Martinez, get some weapons hidden on your bodies. You’re our Trojan Horse if we can convince them to take us on board.”
Irina snatched a headset off its hook and settled it on her head. Adjusting the short-range HF radio to a new frequency she began transmitting in her native tongue. Soon she was obviously engaged in a conversation, but no one other than Igor had a clue what she was saying to convince the HIND’s crew that she was one of them.
Crawford watched tensely as the big helo settled into a hover over a hundred yards away. The stubby wings bristled with missiles and he could clearly see the multiple barrels of a rotary canon mounted in the nose of the aircraft. His hand hovered over the fire control for the TOW system. The turret was perfectly aligned with the target, the pilot having flown directly at them after the Colonel had already engaged the computer.
“He’s cautious, but he’s landing,” Irina said.
The HIND descended, landing gear just brushing the small state highway. The troop door opened and four Russian soldiers jumped out. They scanned the area as the helicopter lifted back into the air and began a tight orbit. Crawford quickly hit a button that shut down the targeting system so the computer didn’t rotate the turret to track the helo and alert the pilots that something wasn’t what it seemed.
“We need to go meet them,” Irina said, removing the headset.
“Let them get a little closer,” Crawford said.
Tension was high inside the Bradley as they waited, Irina moving to where Walker sat and releasing his harness. Martinez stayed close in case she needed help with the man.
“You are General Walker,” Irina said, pushing her face close to his. “Give us away and if the soldiers out there don’t kill you I’ll personally hold you down while she castrates you. Understand me?”
“It’s time,” Crawford said. “Good luck.”
As previously arranged with Igor, he and Irina made a production of pushing Martinez, Scott and Walker down the ramp and into the open. Igor stayed behind them, rifle up and aimed at their backs. Irina moved around the small group as they got into the open and strode purposefully across the asphalt to meet the soldiers.
Approaching the men, Irina pulled out her GRU credentials and held them in front of her. She was counting on the paranoid secrecy of the Russian military and intelligence services. Since there was theoretically no need for these men to know that she had been labeled a traitor she was fairly confident they wouldn’t question her authority.
The man in the lead was a Sergeant, a Corporal and two Privates following him. She zeroed in on the slightly older man, immediately berating him for the helicopter having taken off. She was playing the roll of a GRU officer and as she screamed at the NCO she saw the fear in his eyes.
He apologized profusely and activating his radio began yelling at the pilot to bring the HIND down to pick up the infuriated woman standing in front of him. The three men at his rear, who should have been spread out and watching the “prisoners” standing behind Irina were too scared to move. They stood immobile behind their Sergeant who was listening intently to his radio.
When the transmission that Irina couldn’t hear ended he swallowed nervously and looked up.
“Comrade Captain,” he said in Russian. “The pilot reports that he is under instructions to clear any GRU officers who present themselves and ask for assistance. If I may have your name-“
That was as far as he got before Irina exploded into a tirade truly worthy of the best actress to ever grace the stage or screen. She called the Sergeant every derogatory name she could think of and threatened him with punishments that had gone out with the collapse of the old Soviet Union. Wrapping up her tirade she held her hand out, demanding the radio so she could speak directly to the pilot.
Shaking with a terror that only the KGB or GRU could induce in a Russian soldier, the Sergeant quickly ripped the comm unit free of his uniform and handed it to her. Moments later she was repeating her tirade, screaming at the pilot over the radio. Scott and Martinez were getting nervous, exchanging quick glances.
They trusted that Irina wasn’t betraying them but were worried that her act would backfire on them. But apparently the deep-seated fear of the GRU within the ranks of the Russian military that they’d always heard of was a reality. A few moments after the end of her latest tirade the HIND came out of its orbit into a hover and slowly descended to the pavement.
Waving the soldiers forward so they were in front of her, Irina began marching towards the helicopter. The Sergeant was happy to sprint ahead of his small squad and put some distance between himself and the crazy, angry GRU Captain.
Walker was sweating heavily as they approached the HIND, his eyes darting in every direction. He was looking to escape but Scott picked up on the signs and nudged Martinez, nodding at Johnnie Ray. They moved until they were walking on either side of him and Martinez hissed a warning that none of the Russians could hear over the noise of the idling HIND.
Reaching the nose of the helo, Irina came to a halt, both groups taking their cue from her and also stopping. Waving her arms emphatically at the two pilots seated in the cockpit she gestured at the ground in front of her. The two men exchanged looks then turned back to stare at her. Scott and Martinez slowly began moving apart, making sure they had good sightlines on the four soldiers.
That was when Johnnie Ray saw his opportunity and bolted. He made it three steps before Igor hammered him to the ground with the stock of his rifle. Seeing the opportunity, Irina shouted at the Sergeant, telling him to load the captured General into the aircraft.
The Sergeant gestured and the two Privates leapt forward and picked up the unconscious man, dragging him to the open side door. Going with the flow, Igor motioned Scott and Martinez to follow and the group collapsed in around the soldiers that were pulling Walker along, the toes of his shoes scraping across the rough asphalt.
Irina held them back at the door, roughly grabbing Martinez’ arm and seemingly forcing her through the opening. She followed, turning and giving Igor an almost imperceptible signal.
“Do not kill them,” she said to Martinez in a low voice as she moved quickly to the cockpit, drawing her pistol as she made her way forward.
Martinez went with her, a pistol appearing in one hand and a dagger in the other. The Corporal saw the weapons come out and shouted a warning, spinning and raising his weapon to bear in the direction of the two women. A shot rang out and he fell to the ground, a red hole in his temple from the pistol in Scott’s hand.
The two Privates supporting Johnnie Ray froze in place, their mouths open in shock. Cursing, the Sergeant began to lift his weapon but stopped when Igor stepped forward and pointed his rifle at the man’s face. Scott had already swiveled and was covering the other two with his pistol.
Between the roar of the idling engines and the noise cancelling headsets the pilots wore they didn’t hear the gunshot, and the location of the group was out of their line of sight. Unaware there was a problem, the chief pilot jerked in surprise when Irina suddenly appeared next to him and jammed the muzzle of her pistol against his neck.
The co-pilot reacted faster than she had expected, pulling a Makarov pistol from a holster sewn into the leg of his flight suit. He was lifting it towards Irina’s head when Martinez arrived. The seat back and the man’s body were between her and the weapon that was swinging onto target and she had no option other than to ram her dagger into the back of his neck, just below the lip of the Kevlar flight helmet he wore.
He died instantly, slumping forward. The seat harness was all that kept his body from coming to rest on the flight controls. Martinez reached around and took the pistol from his dead hand, then removed a matching weapon from the pilot’s holster. Irina had her weapon hard against his neck and he remained still as Martinez disarmed him.
“Do you want him to shut it down?” Irina shouted.
“No! Don’t let him touch anything!” Martinez shouted in response to be heard in the noisy cockpit.
Irina shouted instructions in Russian as Martinez stepped back slightly. Slowly, the pilot unbuckled the harness then reached up and disconnected a thick electrical umbilical that connected his helmet to the helicopter. Under both women’s watchful eyes he cautiously pushed himself out of the seat. As he was turning to climb over a console Martinez saw his eyes flicker to a small panel with a red button covered by a clear plastic safety guard.
In a flash almost too fast to see she flicked the bloody dagger forward, holding the blade an inch in front of the man’s face. A drop of the co-pilot’s blood dripped off and splashed onto the panel the man had looked at.
“Nyet!” She said in a loud voice.
They remained unmoving for a few long seconds until she took the dagger out of his face and motioned him to keep coming. She didn’t know what the button would do, but if it was something he was willing to risk his life to press she knew it wouldn’t be good.
The pilot kept coming, even slower than before. The helmet’s sun visor was lowered and he looked like a large, bug-eyed insect when he finally emerged from the cockpit. They herded him back and out the side door to join the rest of the captives.
Johnnie Ray was still unconscious, lying in a heap on the pavement. Scott and Igor had disarmed the three soldiers and had them face down on the ground ten yards away. After removing his helmet, Irina sent the pilot to join them. Martinez looked in the direction of the Bradley where Colonel Crawford had been covering them with a TOW missile in case things went bad and the HIND needed to be shot down. She waved an ‘all clear’ and a moment later he emerged from the rear and trotted over to them.