In the windowless motor pool, the three men stood together on the concrete floor. Old-style florescent lights flickered in the slightly arched ceiling, one buzzing and popping. The men were inspecting three Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, each equipped with a Vee hull designed to deflect IEDs, and six five-foot-tall wheels to carry its 15-ton weight.
Daniel had trained on simulations of the Emerson Corporation’s new autonomous Durandal XR34 MRAPs, but didn't believe the technology was far enough advanced for them to be in active service. But, here were three massive machines, waiting in the embassy's motor pool. They towered over the standard SUVs next to them and looked as fierce as fifteen tons of metal can be. The wheels stood as high as his chest. Tan colored advanced ceramic armor protected the underside and sides of the MRAP from explosions. The windows were jet black, made from shatterproof tempered glass. Infused with a lattice of graphene, these windows could withstand point-blank 50 caliber machine gun fire.
“Might as well saddle up,” he said. “Which one you want, Gideon?”
"Set the others to autonomous escort, I'm driving this one!" Gideon sounded like a child who had just discovered his birthday and Christmas presents at the same time. Daniel rolled his eyes, remembering countless cross-country journeys with Gideon at the wheel. The number of times they had almost spun out of control or overtaken a car in the face of an oncoming truck laden with goats or a camel was almost too many to count. While the ride would be wild, Daniel knew that he would be in safe hands. He ushered Thierry into the back and took his traditional shotgun seat.
“Set the others to autonomous escort,” Gideon commanded with a grin. "I’m driving this train.”
Gideon took the driver seat as Daniel and Theirry climbed inside the beastly machine. Caro set the destination for the Riyadh International Airport, and one of the autonomous vehicles hummed to life and took the lead.
The three MRAPs leaped out of the underground garage onto a side street of the city, the three men sealed securely inside the second one in line. At the corner, the convoy turned onto Embassy Row, swiftly sweeping by the local mosque, and turning right at an abandoned traffic circle.
Passersby, both innocent civilians and some of the rioters, gawked at the size of the vehicles, unaware that only one of them had a human driver. Gideon led the armored cars towards the main highway out of the city, smashing any cars who didn’t move fast enough out of the way. On a typical day, Riyadh traffic was a lawless melee. Now, it was official. Panic had set in, and thousands were desperately trying to leave the country for the safety of CPC controlled nations in Asia, Europe or the United States. Their odds of succeeding, Daniel guessed, were poor.
Daniel, beside Gideon up front, glanced up through the transparent roof portal and then out his side window. Covering all fronts was a useful habit. Daniel turned around to see how his passenger was coping with Gideon's rally style of driving. Thierry simultaneously looked sick to his polyester dress socks and deeply worried. He caught Daniel's eye and gave an unhappy smile.
"This is a significant wrinkle in the CPC's plan. They can't afford any rogue nations," Theirry offered.
Gideon snorted loudly as he rocketed past a convertible, sending a wave of air through the driver's gutra. "You mean that someone has a problem giving up their sovereignty?" A sad look crossed over Thierry's face as he turned to face out of the window.
Daniel was about to say something when a sudden movement caught his attention. A roadblock was ahead, designed to capture any escaping westerners, either for beheading, extortion or ransom. These terrorist-preneurs had underestimated the size of their catch, and it was going to cost them. Two guards stood by, dumbfounded at the massive vehicles headed their way. A bearded figure was fiddling with something wrapped around his waist and looked up as the convoy of MRAPs approached.
As they neared him, he ran from his hiding place, stood in front of the first MRAP and shouted.
Then Daniel was too busy to think. The terrorist pressed a detonator, and a massive explosion destroyed the first MRAP in the group. Engulfed in flames, it flipped front to back towards the men’s vehicle as Gideon took sharp evasive action. The unmanned vehicle landed on the other side of the road, scattering cars and pedestrians.
The terrorist’s scream was lost in the massive explosion that ripped his body apart. The thought flickered through Daniel’s mind that the man looked deeply unhappy for someone supposedly on his way to paradise.
Daniel instantly threw open the top hatch when he saw another man in flowing white rushing forward to Gideon’s side of the MRAP. Daniel cut the terrorist down with automatic fire from his m4 rifle.
To his side, Gideon wrenched the steering wheel hard, careened around the flaming wreck, its metal sides glowing amidst the flames and billowing smoke. Sensing additional danger, Daniel readied his assault rifle. Sitting in shotgun, he knew that he was on the first line of defense. Daniel wished that one of these MRAP’s had come with an automated minigun turret that he’d trained on, but there’d been no such luck. He guessed that these had been intended for VIP transport between the embassy and some prince's palace to avoid the omnipresent IED’s that had plagued the kingdom for the last few years.
Gideon grabbed the mike from the seat in-between them and squeezed the transmit button hard. "Crazyhorse, we've been engaged!” Gideon said into the cold, metallic receiver. ”We request assistance, we’re over ten mikes from the airport, over." That ten minutes was going to feel like ten hours if they couldn't shake their assailants. Nothing about their journey so far suggested their enemy was going to give up and go home.
The radio crackled with static. Crazyhorse's rough voice mixed with the radio interference. "This is Crazyhorse," he said, grimly. "We are unable to assist. Saudi National Guard units are defecting to Kahtani. You're on your own."
He couldn't tell for sure, but Daniel thought he could detect a smile in his old pal's voice. It would be just like him to find this situation humorous. As he gripped the door handle as the MRAP swung hard around a corner, he felt thankful that Gideon had the wheel. He looked across at his enormous friend whose scowl alone could kill. Gideon was focused on the road and world ahead of him. Without a doubt, Daniel knew that he wouldn't want anyone else with him in this desperate situation.
A gasp came from the back of the vehicle as Thierry saw the enormous roadblock that had been erected across both lanes of the wide city street. Whoever was funding these guys also had the police in their pocket. Numerous armed Saudi police milled amongst the ragtag insurgent uniforms.
"Is there another way round it?" he asked Gideon, knowing the answer before he'd even asked.
"Can't round it, can't go over it, got to go through it" yelled his partner as he had done on so many occasions before. Daniel could hear the bullets from the automatic rifles on the street rattle off the windows and doors and told Thierry to duck. The small arms fire was harmless, but Daniel knew Gideon would not appreciate comments from a backseat driver. This was a fine way to make sure the diplomat wouldn’t resort to his default setting of hot air.
The rate of fire slowed as their assailants realized what Gideon had in mind for their little roadblock. The MRAP ripped through the central car, hurling it into the air and sending a spray of broken glass to the ground. The glass tinkled as it rained against the MRAP's sturdy siding, and Gideon turned the MRAP sharply into a narrow alley.
The darkness of the alley swallowed the MRAP, and Gideon and Daniel began to warily look around. Something didn't feel right to Daniel and some ancient part of his brain reacted to the movement on the roof. Before his rational mind could intervene, he yelled "RPG! RPG! RPG!"
The terrorist missed the MRAP which Gideon and Daniel were occupying, but the enhanced penetrator round did connect with the trailing XR34. Behind them, the autonomous Durandal detonated in a flash of light and heat. Other men on the roof appeared, took aim with rifles and began to pepper the MRAP.
From inside the armored vehicle, Gideon knew that going it alone wasn’t going to work. "I've got a plan," he shouted to Daniel. "See if you can get the Emerson contractors on the horn."
The sound of automatic rifle fire followed them as they spat out of the alley onto a street running parallel to the highway. Daniel picked up the radio receiver, twisted a few knobs, and then passed it to his friend.
"We're under attack at grid coordinates 24X, requesting support. We are on an escort mission with a VIP." He turned and smiled to Thierry in the back. "If the CPC won't protect us," Gideon said in the most soothing voice he could muster. "Then maybe Emerson will."
The MRAP careened into the narrow street, bouncing off parked cars and dodging RPGs from the rooftops. An abrupt turn took the vehicle down a narrow alley, where the MRAP’s sides gouged lines in the sunbaked brick homes.
“Come on, come on, where are those VTOLs?” Gideon muttered, his eyes on watch constantly for trouble, his hands tight and agile on the controls.
As if to answer him, the comm crackled. “This is Firefly six, we are prepared to engage.”
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