Twenty

"Prepared for takeoff!" Markus barked as he tapped away at a tablet.
Daniel and Gideon exchange a quick quizzical glance at each other. Prepared for what? thought Gideon. Suddenly, the door they had climbed through slammed shut; then a second door slid over as well. “Some pressure lock” mused Gideon. Suddenly, another door on the exterior of the Norseman instantly slid back, revealing beautiful blue sky through the cockpit. No turning back now, thought Gideon. The machine and their lives were now in the hands of their green pilot, Lawan.
Gideon opened his mouth to ask Markus a question, but the sentiment was forced out of him by sudden acceleration. As Gideon’s heart ended up in his throat, he considered the experience was not that different from the launch of a catapult from an aircraft carrier. The craft, which Lawan and Markus continually referred to as a Switchblade, was thrown forward, then hung in the air. Then they began to fall, tail first.
Even though he had flown in helicopters and other aerial craft a thousand times before, nothing could prepare Gideon for the Switchblade. He had never flown in one that was going backward, and he was sure this was not correct.
"Woahhhhh!" Gideon bellowed a half whoop, half scream as he felt his stomach drop. His face twisted into a look that combined both shock and amazement. He did his best to not show fear to his fellow passengers. He mentally said a prayer asking for forgiveness and mercy.
Out the window, Gideon watched with a mix of fear and awe as the Norseman sprinted away from them, then banked hard, leaving them in a freefall in this infernal contraption. Gideon's mind started a mental checklist for a parachute jump.
The switchblade was a small craft. Gideon noted that it had a lot of windows, and it could not survive very long in a fight. Probably designed to piggyback on the Norseman and use speed and stealth to get in and out and survive, thought Gideon.
A loud thump ended his thought process. Out of the Switchblade's window, he could see a thick blade detach from the roof and begin to rotate. The blade whirred softly as it rotated around to form wings.
Though the ride made him a bit nervous, he couldn't help but feel the excitement of it all. His attention was grabbed by a plume of smoke in a rear window. Afterburners heated up and flames burst out, accelerating the plane over the city skyline. “Woooohoooo!" enthused Gideon, surprised by the sudden acceleration.
Gideon turned to Markus in amazement and was surprised to see a slight smile on the man's face. Of course, he had done it before, thought Gideon, but it would have been nice for him to share before we took off.
The switchblade banked and cruised over the massive Norseman that it had just detached itself from, then dove straight for the bay. The view below the men was unparalleled as the switchblade soared over the bustling city, heading for the massive domed skyscraper. The Switchblade swerved between the buildings as the wings unfolded from the delta configuration into parallel and then began to spin, picking up thousands of RPMs each second. The little switchblade had transitioned from an airplane to a helicopter.
Markus grabbed a tiny cable that was attached to a clasp that was hanging from a roof winch. The cable was as thin as fishing wire. He looked at his colleagues. "Time to hook up," he ordered. He clipped the line onto his harness. Daniel and Gideon followed suit, reluctantly.
“These lines aren’t nearly thick enough to support our weight!” challenged Gideon.
“Carbon nanotubes. They could support the weight of an elephant. Even in your case, I think they’ll manage.”
The cabin fell silent. The switchblade was surprisingly loud and bumpy, and Gideon mentally reviewed the mission ahead. He subconsciously checked their various pockets and pouches for all the necessary equipment.
Like a patient fisherman over an ice hole, Lawan brought the Switchblade to a virtual standstill hovering over the roof of the hotel. Gideon wasn't sure, but he could have sworn that he heard a giggle from the cockpit as the floor suddenly dropped away beneath their feet and Gideon hung in space. He decided an imprecatory prayer was appropriate for whichever egghead had designed this damned machine. The floor fell away below them, and Markus and Daniel disappeared. With a final glare towards Lawan, he checked his line and depressed a button to drop him to the hotel’s roof.
The craft hovered above the garden roof of the Great Spire Hotel. The three men landed one after another, each swiftly detaching himself from the line. Markus waved to Taksin, who saluted sharply in return. The floor door closed smoothly like a bomb bay, but then both side doors of the switchblade opened, revealing the interior as the transport whirled away.
With their eyes sweeping before and behind, the trio ran towards the helipad entrance of the hotel. Once inside, they coolly stepped onboard an elevator. The hotel was decorated lavishly. Even the elevator that the trio entered was ornate, with a domed top and hexagons of crystal clear glass.
Markus spoke into an inconspicuous sensor grill beside the elevator door. "Room 1343," Markus muttered in a gruff voice. The elevator began to travel sideways without a sound, hugging the side of the tall atrium that ran up through the hotel from the elegant ground levels far below.
Gideon watched in amazement as the exuberantly decorated interior of the luxurious hotel appeared all around him, fragmented, reflected and fractured by beveled seams in the hexagonal sheets of glass. The elevator was suspended on a vertical structure that pivoted on an axis around the inside of the entire building at the top level. The configuration allowed direct access to rooms without any pampered guest having to walk more than three paces.
Ignoring the overdone decor, Gideon watched as Daniel looked down from the moving elevator and took notice of two men dressed in black, rapidly ascending in an open-topped elevator across the atrium from them.
As the shady characters rose past an open bar level about halfway up, each man noticed the trio above and pulled FN SCAR assault rifles from under black trenchcoats. They opened up with automatic fire on the vulnerable group.
Daniel had already registered that something was not quite right. Just before the bullets flew, he screamed out to his group, "Down!" The mercenaries hit the floor with a thud.
The glass shattered all around them as bullets destroyed the transparent exterior and hit the reinforced floor. Their elevator continued to move sideways, but far too slowly for Gideon’s taste. The elevator began to bounce slightly and wobble from the impact of the high-energy ammunition.
Markus and Daniel hit the release on their rifles, which extended into combat-ready weapons. Gideon swung the duffle off his back and cocked his Mk 48. After a quick nod, Daniel and Gideon scrambled across the plush carpeting and broken glass of the elevator. The duo took up positions to shoot over the edge at the enemies below.
Markus pulled a device that appeared to be a flash-bang grenade from a concealed pocket and pressed a button on the weapon’s housing. A sequence of lights blinked, and he pressed the button again to make a selection. He heaved it out into the middle of the atrium where it exploded in midair, filling the building with blinding light. The attackers howled as they were instantaneously blinded. Without hesitation, Markus bounced to his feet and put a bullet in each of the assailant's heads.
The elevator came to a stop, and the door popped open with a cheerfully ironic ding. Before them stood a stunningly attractive woman with clear olive skin. Her high cheekbones and thick dark hair that revealed a Latin American heritage. Her brown, nearly black silky hair was noticeably long with only wisps of curls framing her face.
Her cheeks were slightly rosy, and her lipstick was a dark red that could seduce any man. She was the perfect package, an incredible body, dainty yet strong, with a gorgeous face. Despite her beauty, she looked cold, dark, and dangerous. She wore a dark, skintight athletic outfit that left little to the imagination. Gideon guessed that she was the honeypot version of going loud, breaking down the door and mowing everyone down with a submachine gun. She held an M9 Beretta pistol pointed at the ground.
She looked at the trio with dark brown eyes. She spoke with authority, a slight Colombian accent evident in her words.
"I'm Reyes," she announced in a voice that was all-business. "We need to move.”

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