July 12th, 2024
The South China Sea
It still amazed Daniel that an aircraft the size of the Norseman could fly so gracefully, cruising steadily as it entered the skies over Hong Kong. The plane had dropped out of supersonic speeds to prepare for a landing. Standing behind the pilots on the upper deck, Daniel looked out of the wide cockpit window at the familiar ramble of skyscrapers in the far distance. Distant hills and boats became larger. He remembered happier, less complicated days spent in this city. He had spent a month here and met a delightful Irish banker. A redhead, full of energy, and flush with cash. They had spent an exciting few weeks together. He saw a tiny glass spire and recalled that it contained Tia’s apartment, he remembered, in the tony Midlevel area. Where was she now? He wondered. Probably down there somewhere, flashing her beautiful smile at a joke or maybe out on her usual run along the harbor. A small part of him still ached to be down there, planning drinks after work and worrying about bills like normal people.
The aircraft gracefully glided in towards a magnificent hotel, their target. Daniel consciously cleared his mind and focused on the on the task ahead. An enormous dome shape, the structure had a modernistic honeycomb lattice ornamenting the exterior. Daniel wondered if Joon and Costanza meant to land this massive vessel on the gaudy mini-palace’s roof. The main airport was on an artificial island to the east, and it seemed too late to swing around towards it. The massive dome of the hotel loomed up in front of them, shifting his thoughts back to the here and now. God knows how many hours it to design, let alone make, but the honeycomb effect reflected the sunlight back, making it appear it was encrusted with diamonds.
Lawan's husky voice came loud and clear over the intercom. "Boss, we just got a call from Reyes. She says that Loki's in trouble and we have to move."
Markus took immediate control of the situation. "Order her to protect him at all costs and provide cover." Daniel could hear Lawan rogering the command and relay it back to Reyes on the ground. Markus turned to him and Gideon. "We're going in hot. Lock and load, gentlemen." He dragged out a white box marked in Cyrillic from a shelf in the nearest bay. Yanking it open, he pulled out a pair of headsets and tossed them to Daniel and Gideon.
As he pulled it over his head, a part fell over his eyes, and he put his hand up to correct his mistake. He felt Markus' hand on top of his hand, fixing the eyepiece into place.
"Prototype Augmentation systems. Vision enhancement, the whole deal.” Markus smiled grimly. "Trust me, you'll like them. Precise distance vision, even in low light or thick air. Turn on the crosshairs with that blue button on the outer rim of the left eyepiece. Notice how it shows you the range?”
The men tried the crosshairs briefly, "Nice toy," Gideon offered. Daniel wasn’t so sure. He was deeply skeptical of any new gadget, especially one he hadn’t trained with. As he panned about the interior of the plane, he saw the goggles pick out Gideon and Markus in solid green, and highlight the weapons by their side in blue, indicating their characteristics. The displayed range and average accuracy of the weapon allowed Daniel to make some quick figuring about how he could best his opponent. He decided this could be useful. He looked over at Gideon, who was looking back at him with a quizzical look on his face. The headset made for a rather unusual fashion accessory on Daniel’s oversized friend. He couldn’t help but laugh as the two headed over to their gear to pick up their rifles.
Over the intercom, Lawan asked, "Switchblade?" Markus nodded, prompting Lawan to press a small lever by his side and an elevator dropped from the ceiling.
Daniel was just reaching into his bag to pull out his IWI X95 Micro-Tavor assault rifle when a command from Markus made him pause.
"Gentlemen, your new weapons!" Markus couldn't contain his childlike excitement at this unveiling of new technology. He walked over to the smooth wall directly behind the elevator and pressed a black button. For a moment, there was a small whirring sound. A movable panel raised up to reveal several small square items with a carrying handle. Markus took one out, shook it, and to Daniel and Gideon's amazement, a spring-loaded mechanism activated and a fully formed assault rifle appeared as if by magic. Markus reached into the cavity and pulled out two more devices and threw them to his partners, who caught them with looks of surprise on their face.
Gideon was intrigued, but after a moment replied with a “No thanks,” and tossed the item back at Markus. He reached into his sea bag and pulled out his specially modified Mk 48 Mod 3 machine gun. Daniel knew this was Gideon’s favorite weapon, going all the way back to his first days as a SEAL. The machine gun fired heavy rounds, 7.62×51mm, which Gideon greatly preferred when engaged in a firefight. This firearm was suppressed, and Gideon had made several alterations to the weapon, including a carbon fiber butt to reduce its weight and make it more compact. Special optics completed the package.
“I need something with a little bit more power,” deadpanned Gideon.
“Suit yourself,” replied Markus. “But that thing is pretty hard to conceal.”
“I have my ways,” said Gideon as he replaced the large machine gun into his sea bag and swung it over his shoulder. The large duffel looked like a toy on the back of the enormous man.
Daniel considered reaching into his bag and pulling out his rifle, but decided that the advantages of these new and highly concealable assault rifles outweighed taking the larger Tavor.
Markus pressed a button on the side of the rifle which snapped back into its original position, and he entered the elevator followed by Lawan, Gideon, and Daniel. It probably could have held one or two more battle-dressed special forces operators, but it would have been tight. The elevator ascended smoothly to one of two convex bulges that stood out from the Norseman's ceiling. When they reached the side of the bulge, Lawan depressed a lever on its near side. A panel slid open at once, revealing an interior just large enough for four men.
Lawan entered the doorway, and one at a time the others followed him. The three in the back strapped themselves into deeply padded seats set into the walls. Lawan climbed forward into what appeared to Gideon to be a cockpit area. Gideon was confused. The last few minutes had been like drinking from a fire hose. And now here he was on the top of the Norseman, in a cabin of seemingly a separate aircraft.

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