The air was hot, sticky and heavy with the buzzing of insects under the afternoon light; ground shaking as shells exploded around the small unit of four soldiers dressed in jungle fatigues. Just on the edge of a clearing, they took cover behind felled trees and whatever else could shelter them from the endless barrage of fire from across the grassy clearing. Captain Green wiped some dirt from his eyes, sweat beading on his dark skin, as he tried to survey the situation; munitions zipping across the open grasslands.
“FF this is The Colonel; do you copy?” The scratch of static and dead air screamed back into his ear piece as he cupped it in attempt to contact his pilot. “FF, do you copy, over?” Again, nothing. He took cover, again, as another flurry of fire rained down on them.
Green turned back to his unit. “Squawk! Where are you?”
“Here, Colonel,” Squawk replied. His small body was perfectly covered by a boulder overgrown with moss and ferns under the shadow of a large tree. He was so perfectly tucked away that only the occasional hot round zipping by gave his position away.
“I can’t hear; I think we’re being jammed. See what you got on that.”
“On it, boss.” Squawk quickly went to work with some gear he pulled from a pouch on his harness. After a few moments of knob turning and button pushing he looked up, smiling. “You got ears, again, boss. Go.”
“Flying Fists this is The Colonel; do you copy?”
After a couple pops and crackles a familiar and friendly voice broke through. “Got you five by five, Colonel, finally. Stand by I am in route.”
“Negative, FF. The LZ is hot. I repeat: the LZ is hot. Abort extraction and Romeo Tango Bravo.” Green took cover, again, as more fire zipped past, just missing his head. Mad Man, the unit gunner, stood up from his cover just behind The Colonel and laid down a curtain of fire back toward the shooting. The Colonel looked back to see the happiest of grins across Mad Man’s long, pale, thin face.
“Did you copy, FF? I said the LZ is hot. Abort extraction and Romeo Tango Bravo.”
Inside the cockpit of his VTOL pod extractor shuttle, Pilot first class Bailey tapped his heads up, quickly scanning his topography maps. “Copy, Colonel. Confirming change of LZ. Move to…” he looked at a quadrant just west of their current position and smiled, “2.11 north by 36.4 west. Rendezvous in T minus 5 minutes.”
“No, FF! Damn it, I said-“Another barrage of fire cut him off and the unit went deep into their cover. “I am going to beat that kid senseless.” He looked back to his unit. “Maps! Where is 2.11 north by 36.4 west of here?”
Maps, who made it visibly known she hated her nickname every time someone used it, tapped up her heads-up visor and searched her surveys. “That… that can’t be right, sir. That’s nowhere.”
“What? Of course that’s somewhere. Where the Hell is it?”
Another hail of gun fire made them drop back under their cover. Maps peeked out, again. “I mean that’s not anywhere we can go, sir; it’s about three feet off a cliff in midair.”
Bailey pulled hard on the yoke as munitions exploded around his ship. He tapped his comm as the hail call came up. “FF, are you nuts?”
“Not that I know of. Why; what have you heard?”
“FF, that’s nowhere.” Cupping his ear piece, from where he was taking cover, Green could just barely hear Bailey was under fire. “That sounds like engagement, FF!”
“Yes, sir. I picked me up a play date, so I’d be getting busting to those coordinates ‘cause I’ll be coming in fast and hot. You got…” Bailey checked his heads-up displays. “…four and thirty three left.”
Squawk leaned over from his cover, popped off a few rounds, and called out. “What the Hell is he planning?”
Green shook his head. “I don’t think you want to know.” He turned to Mad Man. “I hope you packed it.”
“Never leave home without a Standard Issue Big Gun, boss.” He quickly dropped his pack and began pulling pieces out of it.
“Good, you have our six with cover.” Green then turned to Maps. “You got point. We need to be at that spot in four and…” He checked his watch. “… twenty two, exactly. Squawk, you follow and try to keep an open group channel. We need to know FF’s position as precisely as possible.”
Another barrage forced them to the ground. “Wait,” Maps interjected, “why? What’s going on? What’s he doing?” Then it suddenly hit her. “Son of a bitch, no. No! There has got to be a better, sensible retreat. What about regula-“She was cut off by another barrage. The enemy line was advancing on their position fast.
“You were saying?”
Maps groaned as she got to her feet in a crouch. Squawk worked his transmitter with one hand as he pulled his side arm with the other. They all turned back to Mad Man who had just finished snapping the last piece into a rather frightening looking mini gun. “Right, kids,” he said with a smirk, “here we go!” And, bracing himself with one foot, unloaded his own barrage of fire through the brush and into the open field.
That must have caught their pursuers off guard because all fire stopped. “Now,” Green ordered. The four hustled through the tree line in formation heading north and west. Gun fire resumed slowly and every few paces Mad Man stopped to lay down more cover fire. Enemies were now entering the tree line from the clearing; they could be heard breaking through bushes and yelling their own commands. But Green’s unit was already reaching the other side of the small forest.
Mad Man spun on his heels to lay down another cover barrage. But a few shots in the gun sputtered. He quickly fumbled with it as Green ran back. Return fire zipped by as Mad Man tried to work the gun. Green gripped the over barrel handle to get his attention.
“Damn it, man; move!”
“Hold on, I just need to-“
A few rounds pelted the tree just to their right. The final round struck Green’s forearm. It sparked with cracked metal, splinters of soft, artificial skin, followed by a slight spray of fluids. They dropped into a crouch under the shrub level.
“It’s okay; just machine, no flesh.”
“Let me get up and running and I’ll-“
“Drop the gun and move, solider. I’ll leave you here rather than miss our only pick up.”
Mad Man opened his mouth in an attempt to argue, but an erupting branch over their head cut him short. He threw the gun down and they both sprung to their feet and into a sprint. “Squawk! Where we at,” Green barked out over his comm.
Maps and Squawk had already made position and were low, looking back at the tree line, ready to lay cover fire. Behind them the cliff edge loomed a hundred feet or more over the valley floor; jagged rocks greeting any would be jumper. “T minus one and ten, boss. I’d pick up the pace, if I were you.”
Green and Mad Man emerged from the forest line as a maelstrom of blind fire spewed out around them. Looking ahead, Green could see the shuttle doing its best to avoid taking fire. Bailey was a damn fine pilot for sure, and the shuttle was more agile than its pursuer, but he was out gunned and out throttled.
As he saw the shuttle bank high and begin an angled descent at their position he got back on the comm. “Okay, we got one shot at this. At T minus zero everybody goes straight off that edge.”