Arrows of the Leviathan - Chapter 12 - Danger Close
“Firefly, you are cleared hot, danger close, engage hostiles.” Gideon snapped out.
Down the alleyway, all was quiet. A small cat scurried from one overflowing dumpster heap to the next in search of the day's meal. Suddenly, a ripping sound filled the air as the GAU-9 35mm Gatling guns opened up. Two wholly owned, designed and operated Emerson Outcomes A-11's unleashed their fury on the rooftops, sending up a plume of choking smoke.
The A-11 had been designed as a replacement for the United States Air Force A-10 Warthog. A close support weapon, the A-10 had been beloved by allied ground forces and regarded with terror and fear by the enemies of the United States. When funding cuts threatened to eliminate the aircraft, David Michael Emerson had personally designed the A-11 in just two months. The A-11 Razorback was the unholy union of a pancake and an A-10 Warthog. The wing surface was a large flat circle, with a cockpit tacked onto the front with two vertical stabilizers in back. When the mission required it, the A-11 had the capability to open its wing surface like an aperture to reveal a large ducted fan. This gave the Razorback the abilities and range of a fighter jet with the ability to hover in place and loiter for a long period of time. The A-11 was optionally manned or could be remotely piloted. With the United States due to join the CPC and facing severe budget cuts, the United States Air Force was unable to purchase the craft. Emerson pressed the ten speculative prototypes into service with his private military corporation, Emerson Outcomes.
The cat dashed for cover as the massive rounds landed all around. In front of them, Daniel watched as a robed figure jumped from the four-story roof to get away from the inferno of fire, screaming all the way down. He landed just before the charging MRAP. He and his gun were crushed beneath the enormous wheels.
“Plenty more where he came from,” Daniel remarked, still scanning the sky, the road, and the crude latticed balconies that hung off the tan buildings of the old quarter.
Seeing movement, he stood, flipped open the top hatch of the MRAP and aimed automatically. There was a piercing shriek, and the man fell from his balcony hiding place behind a screen, dangling a RPG as he fell.
“Another one for the good guys,” Gideon muttered.
When the MRAP reached the mouth of the alley, they turned right, speeding up on the smoother surface of a well-traveled road. More white-robed men lined the edges of the flat roofs along this commercial street, crouching behind the rooftop walls and lying in wait. At street level, Daniel caught sight of what had to be a woman enveloped in black, just two terrified eyes peering out through a shop window. He barely held his fire.
The A-11s carried on with their grim reaper routine, eliminating the insurgents with bursts of depleted uranium rounds. The rebels decided it would be a good time for tea instead of glorious death and the streets became nearly deserted. The local’s cars pulled off, often all the way onto the sidewalk, and dashed for safety in shops. Gideon drove the multi-ton weapon like a fierce banshee, the GPS guiding him forward. His goal became the temporary security of the desert. If they could get there, their chances of survival went up exponentially.
At last, the vehicle broke out of the urban area and crossed the ring road. They were on open ground in the eerie silence of the sand dune covered desert. Through a shifting haze of dust, they could see the airport away to the north. A commercial jet slowly lifted into the air, as those with the pull to buy tickets and pay bribes to the new Caliphate got out of this freshly minted hell.
The comm crackled again. “Sweep complete. See you on the flipside.”
“Thanks, Firefly Six.”
Ignoring the palm-lined entry road that led to the air terminals, the MRAP approached the airfield directly from the south. Effortlessly, the vehicle broke through the feeble chain-link fence that made the only barrier. They roared onto the tarmac. Though they were not of the woods yet, there was a palpable sense of relief.
The same could not be said for the hundreds of US Marines desperately searching for transport away from this desert. They scurried around the area, like an anthill underfoot, each Marine more desperate than the last. The scene was barely controlled chaos. US Marines were hurrying to get out of the area and load onto a sole contracted Emerson Outcomes Transport. Mortar fire cracked the earth and sprayed the skies with debris.
At last they heard from Crazyhorse. "Move quickly," Crazyhorse said, his urgent tone filling the cabin. "Our ticket out is almost here. You have three minutes."
Daniel turned to speak to Gideon, his voice flat. “We're not going to make it.”
Gideon was not concerned. He was a glass-half-full kind of guy. He had not always been, but that was another time and place. Gideon and Daniel had been in worse scrapes. In his mind he listed them. There was that time in Venezuela, Djibouti, and, oh yeah, that time in Saigon. This was under control, and they would surely meet far worse in the future. "Chillax," he said, a faint grin on his face. "We always make it."
As the trio’s MRAP made its way down the apron of the airport, two Humvees with markings of the Saudi National Guard suddenly peeled out from a hangar complex and began to pursue. In top mounted turrets, two men with .50 caliber machine guns opened fire on the lone Durandal.
Gideon desperately tried to evade, dodging back and forth as mortar fire fell all around. The two pursuing Humvees raked the MRAP with machine gun fire. The assault was harmless, but they had to lose their tail before they got to the transport.
As a bureaucrat, Thierry was considerably less experienced with life or death situations. Somehow, the dust from the street had managed to make its way even inside this new MRAP and Thierry was covered in it. Deathly afraid, he thought back to his girlfriend as he slid around in the back of the heavily armored vehicle. Maybe, just maybe they could patch things up and make it work, he decided. Maybe settling down wasn't the worst thing.
The radio crackled with the voice of their old friend, Crazyhorse. “We’re trying to hang on here, but we can't hold out much longer!”
Thierry leaned up to the front and spoke into the receiver. “What happened to that State Learjet? They’re supposed to be on standby, waiting for me.”
“Learjet? State Department?” Crazyhorse responded. “Oh, yeah, they took off 15 minutes ago. Got shot down by a Manpad. You lucked out.”
“That remains to be seen,” grumbled Thierry as he sat back.
Daniel was keeping an eye on the situation behind them and noticed that one of the Saudis in the pursuing hummer was standing up and preparing to fire an enhanced RPG. Gideon jerked the wheel hard to the right. The MRAP, despite its incredible bulk, went into a spin.
In a perfectly smooth motion, born of years of practice, Daniel popped the top hatch and took careful aim despite the spinning Durandal. He fired one bullet, which hit the man with the RPG directly in the forehead. The Saudi slumped forward and his brain sent one final neurological impulse to his trigger finger. The RPG fired inside the hummer, blowing it sky high.
The wind had picked up and dust and sand began flew like a swarm of angry bees. Visibility was almost nil as the MRAP powered its way across the desert runway. Gideon and Daniel desperately charged towards the rendezvous point.
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