2: Beneath Orion, Worlds Apart 03bySpartan22©
V -- The Angel in His Dreams
In the dark of the night, Wayne dropped to one knee catching his breath while Patton doubled over trying to suck in as much oxygen as he could. Reaching inside one of his pockets, Wayne grabbed a flex pack of water, tossing it to Patton without saying a word. Luke would have verbally thanked him, but since he was out of breath he settled for a nod of thanks. Tearing the pack open carefully, trying to control his shaking hands, he drank every single ounce without spilling a drop. He noticed the Lieutenant doing the same thing.
Patton reached in his survival vest and pulled out the radio, looking over at Wayne. Wayne nodded in agreement with unspoken words. The two exhausted Airmen took cover behind a formation of large rocks on the downward slope of a hill, listening intently through the darkness of night.
The only sound that could be heard in the quiet dark was their rapidly beating hearts; after several minutes, their best judgment told them there was likely no one around. Patton quietly moved the radio up to his mouth, quietly trying to get a hold of the Airborne Command Center known as Watcher.
Wayne pulled out his night vision goggles, trying to adjust the setting with the full intent of using them to scan their surroundings. After unsuccessfully trying everything he could think of to get them to work, he silently cursed, realizing they must have been damaged in the crash. Still, even though they were damaged the NVGs were better than his regular vision.
After repeatedly trying to contact Watcher, Patton eventually shook his head since each radio call was met with no reply. He figured they were out of range since no one responded to their emergency call.
Wayne checked every pocket of his gear and uniform for his GPS emitter but it was nowhere to be found. He came to the conclusion that it was either lost when the helo went down or while running from the enemy. Patton's had been destroyed in the crash. They would have to rely on radio contact, and so far they weren't having any luck.
They quietly discussed their options. The best plan was to circle around to the back side of the mountain and head towards the peak for better radio reception since the search and rescue crews would most likely be looking for them in that vicinity, based on their initial linear path of where they were last seen -- leading away from their downed helicopter. What the search and rescue didn't know was that Wayne and Patton had taken several sharp detours in order to avoid random local herders in the area.
Right now they were in the last place anyone would be searching for them.
If Wayne and Patton could get a hold of Watcher, wherever they might be flying up at altitude in the night sky, then they could coordinate their position based off of landmark references, how long they ran (fortunately his watch survived the crash), and their estimated running speed.
Even without their GPS, Patton was confident he could figure out the distance they travelled mathematically. He had done it before.
As for the direction they traveled, that would be a little trickier. They had a basic idea of the helicopter's magnetic heading when it went down, but neither of them exactly had time to pull out their compass while evading capture and possible execution. They had a general idea based on the time of day and location of the sun, but that was about it.
The riskiest part about the plan was that the enemy was also looking for them and had a known presence on the other side of the mountain -- exactly where they needed to go. They could only hope they didn't cross paths.
But if they did, they'd be ready.
Wayne and Patton were both exhausted, but they knew they had several more miles to travel. Without a sound, the two U.S. Airmen knew what they had to do. Braving the darkness of the night and the unseen enemies deep within, they pulled out their rifles and carefully pressed forward into the pitch black unknown.
Six Years Earlier
"Dude, stop staring at her, you're gonna creep her out," Aaron told Luke, fidgeting with his old outdated camera. "This isn't the way we're supposed to fit in our freshman year. We're not at Suisun Middle School anymore. We're Mustangs now at Remmington High. This is the big time!"
Luke blinked, adjusting his glasses closer to his eyes. "I'm not staring," was all he said, despite his inability to remove his eyes off of the smiling blond-haired girl in the locker bay. Aaron bumped him with his shoulder, snapping Luke back to reality.
"I wasn't staring," Luke bashfully told Aaron, rubbing the back of his head, trying to ignore the silly grin on Aarons face. "She looks familiar. Didn't she go to Suisun?"
"No, I think she went to Grizzly Bay. I think half of our school and half of her school ends up here at Remmington after middle school. Hey, I'm gonna split. They have some information about the audio/visual club in the student center I wanna look into. Meet you on the bus? "
Luke nodded to his friend, "Yeah, see you on the bus."
First grade. That's where he remembered seeing her for the very first time. The memories came rushing back as he recalled the young girl with the blond pigtails back in his elementary school class.
Shockingly, they even used to play together long before either of them were old enough to fit within a social circle. They even had the same teachers from first through third grade, but that was the last time they would really be together, especially since she ended up going to a different middle school.
Those days had long since passed.
Quietly he slunk into the locker bay, avoiding eye contact with the blond-haired girl. She looked like an angel; it's no wonder he was drawn to her even in elementary school. How could he take his eyes off of an angel? Well, easily, if he was either in awe or fear of her. And he was both.
His eyes remained ninety degrees off of center; she was barely in his peripheral vision. Still, he couldn't miss how she was dressed. Her short pleated miniskirt and little white sweater hypnotized him. Underneath the sweater she wore a lime green halter-top, and for a freshman, she was... gifted. Very gifted. That sexy lime green color stood out as if it was as bright as the blazing sun.
He hugged the locker walls tightly, moving carefully towards his own locker with his back to the girl and her friends. He tried not to eavesdrop as the giggling girl talked to her friends, but it was impossible.
"...I don't know, probably go to the mall this weekend. I still have a lot more back-to-school outfits I need to buy. I swear, there's nothing good out this season! I mean, who's in charge of the fashion industry this year? All I'm saying, is considering this is my freshman year, they've been extremely disappointing."
"I don't know, Kaylee," the other girl started...
Kaylee. I haven't heard that name since elementary school, Luke thought to himself. I remember now. What a beautiful name...
"I think you're over reacting. I mean, I like my dress," she said, twirling. "And you've got a pretty cute skirt on, and it even goes with your bright green top. That's hard to pull off."
Luke envisioned Kaylee beaming at the compliment as he carefully opened his locker, bringing a smile to his own face.
One of the guys with Kaylee slammed Luke's locker closed. Luke recognized him and thought he was a freshman, but he was big enough to be a senior. "Hey nerd, are you eavesdropping?"
He could feel his stomach sink. Without turning around, he said, "No, I... I'm j-just grabbing my work for the bus."
"Get out of here, you can get it later," the Neanderthal said, angry and unamused. The other guys laughed while the two girls quietly giggled. "The locker bay isn't big enough, even for a shrimp like you. You're crowding us."
"Oh leave him alone, Bradley," the red-haired girl said, shaking her head but still smiling.
"I'll leave him alone when he takes off, Audrey," the big freshman -- Bradley -- said. With one big swipe of his paw, Bradley knocked all of the books out of Luke's hand. They scattered across the locker bay floor.
At first, Luke's eyes darted back and forth between the three guys; he wasn't sure what they were going to do. He took a single step back and then cautiously went down on his knees to pick up his books.
"Ugh, so immature," Kaylee said while rolling her eyes, gracefully bending down like a princess and grabbing one of Luke's books that landed by her feet.
She held out the book, but Luke froze. Initially he looked at Kaylee but his heart began to race uncontrollably. He thought he was going to hyperventilate. Luke quickly averted his gaze by looking down and past her in order to deliberately avoid eye contact.
"Here, take it," she said, slightly irritated, though it seemed to Luke that she was trying to be patient. Eventually he reached out and took the book, slow and cautiously. His hand accidentally brushed up against hers. It was electric; all the hairs stood up on the back of his neck and goose bumps covered his entire body. He half expected to get slapped, but Kaylee didn't seem to even notice.
He tried to thank her, but nothing came out.
Kaylee stood up and looked at the others. "I'll see you guys later. I'm off to tan."
The small group disbanded and left the locker bay, all three guys laughing at Luke and shaking their heads as they walked passed him.
Still kneeling on the ground, Luke watched them all walk away with Kaylee in the lead. He wasn't sure what to think, but he couldn't take his eyes off of her. He stared at her until she vanished out of his sight around the corner.
Adjusting his glasses back upon his nose, he knew he should have been angry, but he couldn't help the smile that crept up on his face.
"Dude, what took you so long," Aaron asked Luke, his friend wheezing down the bus isle. "You almost missed the bus!"
The bus engine rumbled as it pulled out of the school parking lot; Luke tried to catch his balance as he sat down next to Aaron. "Man," Aaron laughed, "I think the drivers pissed at you! He always waits for people to sit before he rolls out."
"Yeah, took me a while to get my books," Luke said with a goofy grin on his face.
Aaron looked at him questioningly, and then it hit him. "Dude," he exclaimed, hitting him on the shoulder. "You stayed to gawk at that blond-haired hottie! I knew it! Did she catch you staring at her butt and smack you down?"
Luke shook his head, "No, not exactly; one of her friends did. It's ok, though."
Laughing, Aaron said, "Ok, whatever. She's out of your league though, so be careful. Besides, a girl like that has like a million boyfriends and guys like me and you wouldn't even make a roster that size."
Luke snickered, "Don't ruin my fantasy. Give me this one moment. I won't ever have another minute with her like I had in the locker bay."
"It's all good. As bad as the first day of school is, it sounds like you had a good ending."
"Well, I will say that I learned one thing about me that I didn't realize until today," Luke said, staring off into space.
Thinking about her halter-top, Luke told Aaron, "My new favorite color is lime green."
Lurching up from the ground with lightning speed, Patton startled Wayne, making him jump. Wayne grabbed his shoulder to keep him from standing all the way, whispering through gritted teeth, "Relax, Luke! We're still out here in enemy territory, so stay quiet."
It was still dark. As his senses slowly started to return, he began to remember where he was. The Lieutenant had already slept the first shift; it had been Patton's turn to sleep and Wayne's turn to take watch. Luke couldn't believe he was already awake; it felt like he had just closed his eyes only moments ago.
If he had his way, he would have closed his eyes again despite the danger around him just to take a chance at falling asleep once more and reuniting with the angel in his dreams. If only that blissful memory could have lasted just a few more seconds.
Instinctively reaching down on the ground next to him, he grabbed his rifle and brought it to his side. Blinking his eyes, Luke tried as hard as he could to wake up because he knew it was time to move out. His shoulder was still screaming in pain, but Wayne had done as much as he could to bandage it up and sterilize it with the limited materials and medical supplies they had with them. But it felt like it was getting worse.
"Did you sleep as shitty as I did," Wayne asked Luke quietly.
Patton sighed, trying to stretch out his shoulder, "Like an insomniac in a bell tower at the stroke of midnight."
He thought he heard a quiet chuckle from Wayne.
He didn't want to push aside the memory of when he first met Kaylee, especially in her cute outfit and that amazing lime green halter-top -- he remembered it just like it was yesterday -- but now was obviously not the time to dwell on the past.
If he was unfortunate enough to be caught and killed on this night it was appropriate that his dream replayed the first time that they met, at least as quasi-adults, as if the events that already happened were being rewound just for him so he could see it unfold one last time. He considered himself lucky to at least have recalled this one last memory of Kaylee.
But like his dream, Kaylee was part of his past and had no place in his present or future. Besides, thinking about her would do no good out here in a foreign land where his life was at risk. There was no time to wait, though; it was time to move.
Besides, he had already recently burned that bridge with Kaylee. She was no longer his girl.
VI -- Burning Rain
One Month Earlier
Not a single noise could be heard in the large drab hangar despite hundreds of Airmen from the Flying Wing gathered together, all standing at attention. Every single one of them remained quiet and listened intently as the Colonel took the stage, knowing that this mission briefing wasn't going to be like any of the others.
Colonel Ray, the Operations Group Commander, told the crowd to take their seats. "As of 2100 Zulu time tonight, Operation Burning Rain will commence," he bellowed in his deep voice, leaving no doubts that the mission briefing was all business.
Pointing to the large movie screen featuring two satellite images, one geographical weather picture, and the briefing itself, the Colonel said, "This operation will supersede Operation Eagle Rage, and it will be ten times as dangerous. Thanks to our Intelligence, we recently acquired the location of five of the top ranking terrorists."
The entire bottom half of the screen projected individual profiles of each of the five enemies.
He continued, "Intel has reported that for the first time ever the five terrorist leaders and their respective operating cells are meeting together to finalize plans for terror activities across Europe and the United States. In recent light of this new development, the Pentagon has given us orders, through Central Command, to take them out."
The crowd listened intently; everyone knew this was big. Luke, like everyone else in the room, digested every last detail, making sure he knew the mission details cold. There was no room for error, not from anyone; but there was also a feeling in the room that everybody was willing to do everything within their power to get the mission done.
After a deliberate pause, allowing every single person in the room to take in the impact of his words, Colonel Ray continued the briefing as the slides shifted to a geographical overview of a small village at the base of a mountain range.
"The enemy will be meeting in a compound just outside this village. Our Global Hawk will be in the area, fully armed, watching closely and ready to take them out. However, we will also need to insert Special Forces in case anything goes wrong, or if one of the five doesn't show up to the party. B-52 and B-2 bombers, callsigns Bane and Slaughter respectively, will be standing by for direction from our black ops teams on the ground."
The Colonel cleared his throat, looking intently out into the crowd, "This is where both Pave Low Squadrons come in. Reaper Squadron will fly them into enemy territory as already briefed. Be on guard; you will be in deeper territory than you ever have before. Ghost Squadron will stand by with Para-Jumpers, ready to fly off of alert if things go south and medical assistance is required.
"The bombers, A-10's, Pave Hawks, and just about anything else with rotors or wings will be controlled by Watcher, our Airborne Command Center, so stay up on the radio frequencies."
He signaled for his executive officer to kill the presentation. The screen immediately went dark. Looking over the crowd, Colonel Ray stood tall and said, "Now, listen to me carefully. This isn't Vietnam; we aren't carpet-bombing the town. The high-precision GPS-guided munitions will limit the collateral damage. So, once the bombs drop, we expect retaliation. Most in the local town are loyal to the insurgents and will not hesitate to come out of the woodworks and take a shot at you. Even if we are fortunate enough to have a low casualty rate tonight -- God willing -- this operation has the potential to change the face of the war. In most ways for the better, but in some ways, for worse. Leaderless fanatical disciples have the potential to be unpredictable. Taking the terrorist leaders out will help in the long term, but the short term could prove a difficult and painful road."
A hush fell across the crowd.
"Remember why we are doing this and who we are protecting back home. We're protecting all of our brothers and sisters in the United States of America, but it's bigger than that. Think for a moment. Each one of you has someone back home that you love; just like every other American, you are protecting them as well. Who is that person that you're trying to protect the most?"
Luke thought about his parents, his sister, and most of all he thought about Kaylee.
The Colonel continued, "Intel has reported that over the last two months, we have found and raided three separate terrorist locations, each one with plans in motion to attack the United States." After a brief pause, the Colonel yelled, "OUR HOME COUNTRY! Trying to kill our brothers and sisters. Trying to take away our freedom. Trying to hurt those we love. That should piss you off. It pisses me off.
"Remember we have a unique opportunity tonight to cripple the terrorist regime. I've laid out the mission briefing, and now each and every one of you must carry it out. Success depends on you. Am I clear?"
In unison, the group roared out a thunderous, "Yes, sir!"
"So again, maintain sharp focus, fight like you've trained, and remember why we are doing this. We do this so our country will stay safe, so others may live, and so others back home may sleep peacefully even with the knowledge that there is a monster out there. They sleep peacefully because they trust us to protect them from that monster. And we WILL NOT FAIL them. Good luck, and Godspeed."
Colonel Ray departed the stage, walking down the aisle as the entire room snapped to attention.
"Carry on," he said as he left the hangar.
Patton and the rest of his crew looked at each other while the rest of the Airmen disbanded the hangar as well.
"This is crazy. We have a chance to snuff out some of the really bad guys. Still, I can't believe we're doing this," Wayne said.
"Nonetheless," Westwood told him, "You heard the man. Reapers or Ghosts, we're just the pawns in this game like it or not. We'll follow orders and get the mission done."