Back onboard the Dromedary, which signage actually identified as the very unoriginally named Camel 4, Top was taking reports from the different squads as they moved through the airship. 2nd had the perimeter secure, with a fire team ready to act as a QRF if needed. 3rd was working their way down from the two crow’s nest positions, meeting some resistance, but they were nearly to the bridge. 1st had cleared the main cargo hold pretty rapidly, and now the Bravo Team was moving down what should be the main passageway that ended at ladders leading up to the bridge and engineering. Suddenly the point man reported contact with a group that included three women and they were heading towards the forward area of the airship.
Top’s orders were straightforward. “Run them down quick, don’t let them get behind any doors. 3rd, get the bridge secured NOW.”
The point man and the rest of the fireteam took off after the group, their squad leader racing to catch up, when one member of the group stopped and turned to face the Zouaves. It was an older woman in a long brown dress. Weapons came up as she raised her hands in apparent surrender.
“Get out of the way lady!” yelled the point man, his Thompson leveled at her.
“No, I don’t think so” replied Aunt Sarah. The last thing the point man saw were spear like tentacles erupting from her hands.
Top heard the screams, then the shots of several Thompsons which most of the Zouaves carried. He raced forward, followed by the Alpha Team. Turning into the main passageway, they were greeted by what could only be described as a slaughterhouse. The body parts of the 1st Squad Leader and his Bravo Team littered the floor, their blood all over everything. Standing in the middle of it all was a figure out of a nightmare. Female form wearing a brown cloak, but not human, not with all the bloody tentacles it was displaying. The thing looked up at Top, gave a blood-filled smile, and said “Oh good, more prey.” Top didn’t hesitate. His finger was already squeezing the trigger on his BAR as he snapped it up to his shoulder and sighted on the creature’s head. The first three rounds impacted on the its torso, but the next five exploded the head and the creature went down.
Top lowered his BAR, and then noticed the creature had stuck him in the left thigh with one of its tentacles before it died. He sagged against the wall to his right and yelled “Medic!” Then he keyed his radio, “2nd Squad, send your QRF in, break, Renegade, we have multiple casualties down here and could use some back up.”
The reply was not what he was expecting. “Negative Top, we have our hands full up here. Hold tight.”
As the medic arrived and started to see how he was going to remove a tentacle, the radio keyed again. “Top, Sniper 3, Renegade is currently fending off two other airships. No other movement on the ground. I recommend pulling in the full 2nd Squad to reinforce what you have already. We’ll keep overwatch here.”
“Roger Sniper 3, good idea. Break, 2nd Squad, fall back into the Dromedary and trade spots with 1st. 1st Squad, fall back to the cargo bay and secure the entrance. 3rd Squad, gimme a SITREP.” Then to the medic, “Would you hurry up! I have a fight to get back into.”
As soon as the announcement from Captain XO finished, Puck began to move the Renegade laterally so the gunners could get a shot at the engines on the other side of the ship. While he was moving, he caught sight of two other airships taking off from the docks. “Look alive people, two airships are taking flight, looks like a pair of light cargos, dachs-class by the look of them.”
“This is Badger in the Crow’s Nest, we see them. It looks like they’re just trying to get away from the action, they’re going straight up like they’re scared!”
“And you would know what that looks like!” replied Puck
Andrew chuckled, got his composure really quick, and then replied “Keep an eye on them Badger! Tesla’s, who has acquisition of the other engines on that barge?”
Martin replied, the laughter easily heard in his voice, “Tesla 5 here, we got them, stand by.”
Andrew watched as more Tesla arcs reached out in a very precise manner, enveloping the other engines in the blue sparking that indicated both a direct hit and a complete disruption of the engines. Now that airship really wasn’t going anywhere.
Up in the Crow’s Nest, Badger looked at Bajan who was laying on his back, quietly laughing while acting like he was still working on the rail gun feed system. “What’s so funny?” He turned to look at the two interns who were trying to recover from their own laughter, but instead looked like cats who had gotten some canaries and now they were playing innocent.
Badger gave them a stern look and said, “Do I need to threaten to eat you?”
The two interns looked at each other, an amused look still on their face. They turned back to Badger and the female started to talk. “Do you know any German?” Badger shook his head no. “Dachs in German means Badger.” At that, Badger rolled his eyes and said, “Ugh, ok, now we need to find a way to get back at Puck for this…”
He didn’t get a chance to finish as he saw the intern’s eyes get wide and the male started to point over Badger’s shoulder. This caused Badger to whirl around where he saw the two Dachs-class airships, each of them now had a Tesla protruding from where a false panel was falling away. “Q-SHIPS!” Badger yelled as he reached for the rail gun handles, just as the first Tesla fired. Badger ducked out of instinct since the blast was coming right at their position, he glanced back to yell at the interns to duck as well when the blast washed over the top of the Crow’s Nest and the two interns took a direct hit, literally frying them where they stood.
“GAHH!” He cried out. “No one is going to believe that I didn’t set this up.” He then keyed his intercom. “Those two airships are Q-Ships! They’ve got Teslas!”
Down on the main gun deck, Andrew saw a Tesla blast wash over the #7 Tesla mount, then he heard Badger’s Q-Ship announcement. “Starboard side Teslas, switch to air-to-air and fire on the airships!”
This was followed immediately by Captain XO, “Puck, start maneuvering on those airships!” To which Puck immediately acknowledged and began to increase their altitude and maneuver the Renegade into a more advantageous position so that all of the weapons on the starboard side could bear on the two Dachs. Andrew then called over the intercom, “Badger, weapons free!”
“Roger!” yelled Badger, then he sighted in on the nearest Dachs and let loose with a round from the rail gun. The outer sheaf of the round immediately separated, allowing the 25mm tungsten core to fly straight, true, and very fast at its target. It impacted immediately above the Tesla that had fried the interns, and passed completely through the airship, slicing through everything, and potentially anyone, that was in its way, exiting the other side to land who knows where. Generally, the Renegade did not use the rail gun near populated areas for just that reason.
“Bajan! I need another round!” yelled Badger.
“Got it, stand by!” was the immediate reply. Bajan quickly cycled the feed mechanism as Badger adjusted his aimpoint. “UP!” yelled Bajan, and Badger pulled the trigger. This time the tungsten core went straight into the tesla just as it fired on the Renegade again. The combination of energy from the tesla, coupled with the kinetic energy of the rail gun round, produced a spectacular explosion that tore that section free of the hostile Dachs and caused the entire airship to lurch upwards and to the side. It was obviously in trouble now, and Badger saw several of the Renegade’s Teslas impact on the airship as well. Bajan yelled that another round was loaded, and Badger sighted in on where the engine room should be, and he fired again. The impact caused the enemy airship to immediately wallow and lose all control, sinking rapidly back down towards the docks due to the lack of power and the holes already in it.
Now Badger turned towards the other airship. This one was sparking with multiple Tesla hits, and it was obvious that it wasn’t going anywhere since the engines were completely idle. He heard Redleg order the Teslas to cease fire on it and for the Grapple Guns to get ready to secure it for a boarding party. Badger knew better than to fire on a ship that was being captured, but he was still in a murderous mood due to the two interns being killed, so as soon as Bajan announced that another round was loaded, he shifted back to the first airship that was quickly falling below where he could engage, sighted in to where he thought the bridge would be, and he fired a final round. His reward was a small explosion from inside the airship that blossomed into several secondary explosions.
“Badger! Cease Fire!” yelled Captain XO.
“That guy killed my two interns, he had it coming.” Snapped Badger, but he also let go of the rail gun and instead shifted over to the minigun while Bajan called down to the medics and requested bags for the remains of the interns.
Down in the CIC, Captain XO looked at the current status of the Renegade and its forces and he made several decisions at once.
“Bold Air Hussars send one squad to take control of the remaining Dachs. Parasites, launch a two-plane CAP, hold the other two at the ready. Puck, as soon as the Hussars have that airship, get us back into a position to support the Glider Zouaves. Redleg, get the ventral Tesla’s back on air-to-ground, leave the rest at air-to-air for now. Top, I need a SITREP, what’s going on down there.”
“Top here. 3rd Squad has secured the bridge and reports that the girls have been taken into a forward hold. They’ve taken no casualties and are pushing the opposition back. 2nd Squad has relieved 1st inside, they’re moving to catch up and see if there’s another way into that forward hold, also no casualties. Alpha Team of 1st Squad has the main cargo hold and the entrance secure with one walking wounded, the rest of the squad is KIA. Sniper 3 is still reporting no hostiles outside. I’m up and mobile again thanks to the medic. We have no idea what that thing was that sliced through the 1st Squad Bravo Team; the body is dissolving, just like the ones at the ambush that Redleg described from this morning.”
“Understood Top. Let us know if you need any more support, we’re coming back into position over you.”
“Roger” said Top, as he moved forward with the medic to catch up to 3rd Squad. He found them at the doors to the hold, wiring in explosives for a breach.
Micah was not happy; nothing was going as planned. The Commander had assured him that their intel was excellent, that the plan was perfect, and that with god on their side there was no way they could fail. Now he stood in the hanger of their transport, just he and Efraim the only survivors of the mission so far, along with a few of the crew that had fallen back to the hangar. Aunt Sarah not being here was just another example of how the mission was failing. He watched as Efraim helped finish securing the oldest girl into the backseat of the mercenary fighter; the youngest was with him and would go in the second fighter. That was another part of the plan that had now gone wrong. The fighters were only supposed to be used for the final leg of the journey, not the entire thing. He hated to rely on heathens to accomplish HIS mission, but he saw no other choice at this point. With the Renegade outside and intruders inside, he was out of options and he was determined to accomplish his mission of returning these two betrotheds to Gilead even if no part of the plan was going right.
The Renegade was another part of the mission that went wrong. What was it doing here? Anti-slavery mission? That made no sense. The Renegade has a fearsome reputation as an air pirate, especially if you were a Muskovite, but there was no history that it pretended to be a champion of anything other than its own wallet and drunken debaucheries. That also led back to Micah’s first question, why here? Everything he knew was that the Renegade operated in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, so it’s appearance in Scotland was a shock to say the least.
He noticed Efraim getting down from the fighter, the launch crew prepping the catapult. Both would launch just as soon as the other betrothed was loaded. At that moment, two simultaneous explosions occurred. The main door into the hangar blew inward, as did a ceiling panel above. Intruders moved expertly into the hangar from both locations, double tapping anyone that resisted. Efraim was one of those that immediately started shooting at them, his rounds catching one of the intruders low in the legs, but then he was taken down by two shots to the head from one of the Thompsons that the invaders carried. Micah didn’t try to fire at the intruders, he simply wrapped an arm around the youngest girls upper body so that she was pinned directly in front of him, put his head behind hers, pointed his Smith and Wesson .357 at her head, and started a slow and careful movement towards the other fighter. Others in the launch bay were surrendering and the intruders took them under control, which reduced their overall strength and gave him a bit of a plan. He glanced at the catapult controller who was cowering behind his consol.
“Launch the fighter!” he yelled. The controller looked up at him, nodded, spoke into his headset. Once he heard the fighter’s engines start to whine, he pressed hard on the launch button. One of the intruders saw the movement and fired two quick rounds that dropped the controller, but the fighters launch was now impossible to stop. The electro-magnetic catapult sent the fighter racing out of the bay, its engines firing as soon as it was clear.
Turbo heard the call from the Renegade, the launch of a fighter. He banked his F-4 to the left and saw another F-4 racing away from the Dromedary airship and climbing. He knew he would have a significant speed advantage, so he completed his turn and got right behind the other plane, a Sidewinder missile already growling with a good target lock. He keyed in the GUARD frequency and started talking. “Enemy Fighter that just launched from the Dromedary airship. Turn around and head back to land or I will fire and destroy you.”
“Hi there” came the response that sounded entirely too cheerful for someone under missile lock. “I don’t think you really want to do that, say Hi to the nice man behind us sweetheart.” Turbo’s eyes got wide at that response, they grew even more when he heard “Um, hi? This is Morgan McCall speaking.”
Turbo blinked hard and then his eyes narrowed; this could be a spoof. “How do I know she’s really onboard and this isn’t a radio game you’re playing.”
“Well, you can come up and take a look. I’m now at my cruising speed, and since you aren’t encumbered by drop tanks, I’m guessing you won’t have a problem getting closer. You can even use your wingman to cover me, not that I plan to do anything stupid. I don’t get paid if I don’t deliver.”
Turbo looked right, made a hand signal to his wingman to cover him, then he pulled up slightly to get above the other Phantom, added a little acceleration, then he inverted in a classic “Top Gun” move so he could close with the other fighter and see who was in the cockpit while his back-seater got a video camera going.
The other pilot looked up and waved. Turbo heard him say over GUARD “Wave to the other airplane, make sure your visor is up so they can see your face.” Now they were as close as they could get, Turbo made a quick glance at the rear seat and saw Morgan waving at him. His RIO announced, “Yep, that’s one of Redleg’s daughters. I’ve got some good footage of her waving at us.” Turbo slid his fighter to the side before banking fully away. He got back into a normal orientation for flight and started to parallel the other aircraft.
“So, trafficking in kidnap victims doesn’t bother you?” he asked.
“Dude, don’t try to tug at my heartstrings. I’m just a Transporter, it’s a job, nothing more. The client hires us to transport someone, we do that. As long as they pay our rates, we don’t care what the circumstances are. Now you’re welcome to follow me to my final destination, but since I have drop tanks and you don’t, I doubt that’s going to end up well for you.”
Turbo grimaced, the guy was right. All of those extra tanks gave him twice the range Turbo had, and that’s assuming he didn’t rendezvous with one of the airships that served as a neutral party and refuel point over the Atlantic. That would only extend his range and make it more unpredictable. He banked away, called on his wingman to break off, and then replied “If any harm comes to that young lady while she’s in your care, you better pray to whatever you worship that we never find you, so travel safe. Turbo out.” With that, Turbo headed back to the CAP location.
Back in the hangar bay, Micah’s latest plan was to get the girl into the other fighter, have the pilot hold her hostage so that he could work the launch controls, and get them away. Due to the cowards that surrendered, there were only a few of the intruders left in the hangar so it just might work. He had no illusions about surviving, but he’d also been ‘dead’ before so who knows how this might turn out. He started to move towards the other fighter when a loud voice yelled “HALT!” He stopped and looked at someone that was obviously the leader of the intruders, even though he was injured.
“I don’t think so” Micah replied. “You aren’t going to do anything stupid as it’s pretty obvious that you’re here to rescue this young lady, which I can’t allow you to do since my job is to see her returned to her future husband.”
Top looked at Grace and her captor, and immediately keyed his radio. “Renegade, we have a hostage situation here.”
Up on the Renegade, Andrew heard the report from Top and the request for additional support. XO acknowledged and ordered grapples to the open hangar bay on the Dromedary and a squad from the Hussars to deploy. Andrew supervised as two Grapple guns put lines into the entrance of what they had quickly deemed the ‘launch tube’, then Viking and his 3rd Squad immediately zip-lined down to the Dromedary. Andrew wanted to be there, the father inside of him screaming to do something else. XO seemed to read his mind and spoke over the intercom, “Let the Zouaves and Hussars handle it Redleg, they know what they’re doing.”
“I know” Andrew said after keying his own intercom handset, “I just feel like I need to be there.”
“And how do you think you’re getting there?” remarked XO. “I know you haven’t done the zip-line training.”
Andrew was about to reply when another voice spoke up. “Perhaps I can help” said Vlad, and with a blur, Andrew and Vlad were off the airship. Talia and Smoke Cooper just stared, their jaws dropping. Talia started to point at the spot where the two had been standing, when Smoke started blubbering “Wha-wha-wha-what was that?” At that moment they both noticed that XO was trying to get an acknowledgement from Andrew; he was seeking further confirmation that Andrew wouldn’t try to go over to the Dromedary. Smoke looked helplessly at Talia, who gave a very lame shrug, and then stated, “You need to answer him, I’m not crew.”
Cooper grimaced, then he keyed his own intercom. “Uh, Captain XO…”
XO cut him off, “Don’t say it Smoke, don’t you dare tell me that Redleg went down to that other airship.”
“Ummm, it’s not exactly Redleg’s fault” replied Cooper, “Vlad showed up and they both, well, they both disappeared.”
There was a pause for several seconds, then XO said, “Maybe this time Vlad will stay gone.” Then the intercom switched off.
Cooper looked at Talia, who was also looking at him. “I hope Vlad brings Andrew back with him first.” Talia got a stern look on her face and replied “He BETTER.” With that, Cooper decided that if Vlad didn’t bring Andrew back, then no bonus could be big enough to cover Talia’s anger.
Down in the launch tube of the Camel 4, Andrew and Vlad appeared in a blur. “What was that?!” exclaimed Andrew, “I think I’m going to hurl” he continued as he bent over in sudden exhaustion while also trying to reorient his inner ear to whatever it was Vlad just did to the both of them.
“Trade secret” said Vlad. “Now quit being so melodramatic, it’s unbecoming of an officer.”
“Have you been around the rest of the crew much? Being melodramatic is commonplace” replied Andrew as he stood up straight with a grimace on his face.
At that, Vlad merely grinned, and the two of them headed down the launch bay and caught up to 3rd Squad. Viking had just finished deploying his troops when looked back at the two of them in surprise. “How did you two get here?”
“You know how Vlad keeps reappearing onboard after Captain XO finds a way to get him off the airship?” replied Andrew. Viking nodded, then Andrew continued “Well I’m pretty sure he just demonstrated it for me. I might live.” Vlad growled a quiet “Stop it”, then Andrew winked at Viking and asked, “What’s going on?”
“See for yourself” was the reply. Andrew looked around the corner and saw an F-4 with pilot, and Top with 3 of his Zouaves holding weapons on someone that had a hold of Grace. Andrew heard Top saying something about how the other guy wasn’t going to get away, then he froze when the reply came. “I am most certainly going to get away, it’s the will of our Commander and therefore it is god’s will also.” Andrew shook himself, it couldn’t be, then the guy holding Grace shifted a little bit and Andrew caught a glimpse of his face. He turned to Viking and said, “Remember the part of my story about the MP at the lodge that threw me across the room?”
Viking gave Andrew a puzzled look before replying, “Yeah, so what?”
“That’s the MP” Andrew said matter-of-factly and pointing at the person holding Grace hostage.
Viking’s eyes got big as saucers. He looked at the guy holding Grace, then back at Andrew. “I thought you killed him?”
“So did I.” Andrew then thought for a second. “Who’s your best marksman?”
Viking looked a little wounded at the question, “I am of course, can’t have anyone out-shooting me.”
Andrew nodded. “Ok, I’m going to step out to talk to him. Get ready to take a headshot when the opportunity presents itself.”
Viking gave Andrew another puzzled look. “When the opportunity presents itself? How are you going to pull that off, and what about the guy in the plane?”
Vlad spoke up then. “Leave him to me.” Then he was gone. Andrew and Viking looked at each other again, shrugged, and then Andrew said “Trust me” before he moved around the corner. Viking decided he may as well set up to shoot.
Micah knew some other intruders had made their way into the airship from the launch bay, but he wasn’t expecting the girl’s father to walk out into the hangar. Looking at him from behind the girl, Micah called out “Well now I think I understand why the Renegade is involved. So, did you hire them? That must have cost a pretty penny. What did you pay them with, your wife?”
Grace also saw her father, and the ghost of a smile started to cross her face. When the alarm had sounded, she and Morgan both knew it was the Renegade. They had no idea how they’d been found, but they knew it was them. Even when they were taken from the room with Aunt Sarah and brought to the hangar, they knew everything was going to be ok. When Morgan was placed aboard the jet and it took off, that’s when Grace got scared. Morgan was always her rock, the one that she drew strength from. All she could do after the jet took off was pray. Now, seeing her father and the others from the Renegade, she knew that her prayers were answered.
Andrew smirked at the former MP, who was obviously trying to bait him, while at the same time he was grateful to see his youngest. More importantly, it was even more obvious from his question that no one had a clue about Andrew’s association with the Renegade. “I think I just heard you say more words at once than in the entire time I knew you at Fort Carson.”