June 1st, 1995
Sudentor Air Base
Alexander Finn stormed into the ready room, report in his hand, grimace on his face. The grizzled flight lead had just received orders from Central Command regarding the deployment and objectives for his flight for the next (and, though nobody wanted to admit it, probably final) offensive of the glorious Belkan expansion. Nobody really liked the war, not even its most “fervent” supporters. At best, public opinion regarding the conflict was a grim distaste. At worst… well, public opinion at its worst didn’t bode well for general peace or the good health of the brass at Central Command. Things had been bad in Belka for a long time now, almost as long as the twenty-six year old Major could remember. There had always been a lot of pressure on him, even since childhood. The political and economic unrest had influenced him for most of his life, as his father had been killed during a riot (Hoffnung police forces had never been known for their diplomatic prowess or gentle threat handling) and he had been forced, at the age of 12, to become the secondary breadwinner and caretaker of his household. Child labor was, of course, illegal, so his mother had resorted to applying for a job at one of the many industrial sites in the city while Alexander worked odd jobs: repairing houses, fixing appliances, painting houses, and even facilitating the occasional illicit trade deal or message delivery. On top of all that, he cared for his two younger sisters. As soon as he turned 17, and was confident that the next eldest child, Elisa, was ready to care of her sister and mother, he applied for early enlistment in the Belkan Air Force and started as a flight mechanic. His potential as a pilot, however, was realized after an Air Force Colonel responsible for a surprise inspection found Alexander in his room behind the controls of a cardboard MiG-29A, memorizing the cockpit layout and dreaming of the day when he would be shattering the skies with the might of the powerful Belkan Air Force. After acing a test designed to strain a MiG trainee’s knowledge of his own aircraft, he was rushed into flight school and eventually awarded his wings and an aircraft, an older-model MiG-29A assigned to Regent Flight of the 6th Tactical Air Squadron. Life was looking up for the Finn family, despite the increasing sense of general unrest. The world was on the brink of chaos, and everyone knew it. Nobody knew who would make the first move or who would be the first to give in under the immense international pressures, but for now, there was no time to worry. For Alexander, it was the time to enjoy what he could, despite the demands of Air Force life, and to know that for the first time in several years, his family would not worry about its next meal or dread the next housing check.
Of course, there were minor international tussles. One incident regarding Alexander’s flight of MiG’s and two Ustian F-16’s almost erupted into something much larger, but thankfully, nothing followed and everything was covered up. The Ustians had been the ones to open fire, and they were thankful for Belka’s willingness to move past the incident and consider it the accident it actually was. In reality, the MiG’s had never left Belkan airspace, but the rookie Ustian pilots had been testy and nervous that day, given the recent increase in Belkan border air patrols.
And, of course, the domestic situation was never really resolved. In fact, Belka was even forced to sell some of its lands to the neighboring countries of Fato and Sapin, but the effort was in vain. The world watched Belka’s every move with nervous anticipation, waiting for the day when Belka would reveal its cards and make its intensions clear. Economic unrest plagued the faltering country’s citizens, and Belkan stock crashes and scares dominated the world’s headlines almost daily. Everyone knew, but refused to realize, what was to follow. It simply could not happen.
That was before the war.
Now? Glatisant, the Schayne Plains, Tauburg. Hoffnung.
That night was the fuel for whatever fire remained burning in the souls of Belkan warfighters on every front. That night was the embodiment of their humiliation, of the shocking gall of the Allied forces in their bold intrusion onto Belkan soil. That was the night when a city burned in the flames of the instruments by which it had been made great, the night when mothers and children became victims of war, not just their fathers and husbands.
For Alexander, it was a night of sorrow. How else could he cope with what he had seen? Bombs bursting in crowded streets, a skyscraper falling as he banked sharply around the city, trailing an Ustian aggressor? What about the missiles falling among neighborhoods, neighborhoods that he knew well, where he had lived? What about his street, well lit by fires and explosions, just visible from where he was flying? What about it, crowded with panicking families hurrying to escape the city, all those barely visible faces wiped from the streets before his very eyes by two Ustian F-4 Phantom jets?
The Belkan defenders had fought with distinction, and Regent Flight claimed seven kills as recompense for its one loss. Four of those kills were Alexander’s, his ferocity born from the desperation of anger and his thirst for revenge. Of course, that night, he became an ace, but that distinction was bitter to him and the pin that he wore weighed him down with the memories of the deaths he had witnessed and the grief that accompanied his thoughts.
His thoughts, at the moment, were focused on his upcoming mission. Regent Flight would be redeploying to Anfang (near the Belkan coast) to participate in a classified regrouping and counterattack. Before that, however, they were to serve one last time on the Belkan front in a final effort to delay the Ustian advance. For some reason, he was privy to a vital piece of information, perhaps offered in explanation for the hurried orders to redeploy – Central Command was planning a single bombing sortie destined for the Ustian capital, Directus. Alexander could only guess as to the payload of the mission, but the intentions behind it were clear: to destroy as much as was possible beyond Belkan borders before the last offensive. Regent’s final mission on this front was to escort those bombers – with an impressive record of 27 kills, his flight was one of the most effective in the Belkan Air Force. Those were the orders he carried down the dim halls of Sudentor Air Force Base.
June 4th, 1995
15 Miles Southwest of Sudentor Air Base
“Regent Lead, this is Sudentor ATC, reading three possible bogies bearing zero-eight-one relative to zone seven. Advise you break off and pursue.”
“Sudentor ATC, this is Regent Lead,” Alexander replied, “we are currently RTB and are nearing bingo level fuel. Could you possibly direct Titan flight to intercept?”
A short break in radio contact.
“We have already vectored Titan Flight, but they are still 10 minutes out. You are the closest intercept option we have, Regent. Central Command orders you to proceed to intercept. Titan Flight will be there to support you, ETA upon intercept commencement will be five minutes, over.”
“Roger, Sudentor. Will contact. Out.” Alexander sighed as he shared the bogey information with the rest of his flight and banked towards the source of the signal to intercept.
“Say, Lead,” Regent 2 started, “you don’t suppose this contact has anything to do with that Galm team, does it?”
“Negative, Burke,” Alexander replied. “Galm doesn’t usually show its face unless there’s some sort of major offensive happening. This is just a flight of three we’re dealing with… probably just a reconnaissance flight or something. Can’t be a bomber flight, they don’t even have escorts. Don’t worry about it. You’ll be fine.”
Another period of silence.
“Flight, are you seeing anything on the long range scans?” Regent 4 asked. She came from a wealthy family, not that it mattered here. But it showed in her voice – she was obviously somebody accustomed to getting what she wanted.
A chorus of “no’s” and “negative’s” answered her question, until Regent 6 spoke up.
“Lead, I’ve got a single contact here. It’s a bit fuzzy, looks like there’s some jamming going on here. It’s almost like they’ve got an electronic warfare plane up there. Toggling XMAA, lock solidifying. I’ve almost got tone.”
Realization hit Alexander like a brick wall. “Flight, the three bogies are decoys! All planes, evasive maneuvers! 6, disengage, disengage!”
Tracers tore down from above, whizzing past Regent Formation. Alexander heard the *thock, thock* of bullets hitting his fuselage as he rolled and pulled downward. Regent 6 looked mildly confused for a moment before a burst of tracers holed his plane and sliced the tail end off his wingman’s MiG, turning his aircraft into a fireball and sending his companion into a reckless tailspin. The rest of the flight scattered in all directions, calling for information and announcing engagements. Alexander leveled out in time to see a formation of four jets punch through the remainder of his flight, guns spitting. They flashed past him, and the roar of their engines almost deafened Alexander even through his helmet. “Regent Lead, engaging,” he reported, and rolled after the formation to pursue.
“Roger, Regent Lead,” Sudentor ATC replied, “go trail and follow, clear to open fire. Titan Flight is 4 minutes out, scrambling base flights.”
Alexander punched the acknowledge button on his console as he curved upward into a high-g turn and rolled to the right to stay on the enemy formation’s tail. He could make out the fuselages of the enemy planes – they were Ustian F-15’s. One broke off, rolling down and left to pursue Regent 2, who was busy pursuing the fourth bogie, tracers spitting out of his nose in an effort to score a shot on the enemy. Alexander followed, cycling through his weapons, and placed the Ustian right in his crosshairs. Twin triangles spun out of the corners of his HUD, superimposed right on top of the enemy fighter, rotated, and finally stopped and matched. They turned red as a high-pitched whine emitted from Alexander’s helmet speakers.
“Regent 2, get out of there! I’ve got tone on your tail!”
Burke pulled up violently, jets thundering, as Alexander thumbed the missile release button and unleashed a heat-seeking missile. Its engine flared, and smoke erupted behind it as it raced towards the enemy F-15. Its pilot rolled and snapped down, and the missile curved sharply after it as Alexander followed suit. The missile, however, couldn’t quite make the curve and shot off into the azure. Alexander, tight on the aggressor’s tail, gradually nosed up until, a couple seconds later, his gun sights were ahead of his target. Still recovering from the dive, the two planes pulled up as one, and Alexander unleashed a flurry of 30mm bullets into the sky where his opponent would be a second later. Still pulling up, he kept his thumb on the trigger until he scored hits on the Eagle. It trailed smoke, and Alexander leveled out as the enemy pilot ejected and deployed his chute.
Suddenly, the radar image cleared. Regent 4’s voice crackled to life in Alexander’s ear, laced with panic. It was unlike anything Alexander had heard before, coming from her.
“Regent Lead, I’ve eliminated the enemy electronic warfare plane, but now I have two tangos riding my tail. Requesting assistance!”
Alexander looked up and saw the remains of the Ustian EW plane streaming downwards, cloaked in flame and smoke. Below it, Regent 4 sped away from the wreckage, pursued by two of the Ustian interceptors. Tracers bracketed her jet, closing, and suddenly a bullet shattered her canopy. Four ejected – right into a stream of tracers. Her lifeless jet tumbled past Alexander’s jet, followed closely by her limp body. He couldn’t do anything but watch both objects as they plummeted towards the earth below. The two Ustian fighters split, one heading back towards the main fray (where the rest of Regent Flight was busy engaging the remaining Ustian) while the other fighter continued its dive towards Alexander’s jet. Its gun flashed. Alexander pulled into a sharp climb, turning as he did so, putting the Ustian F-15 right in the center of his gun sights. He hit the afterburners, accelerating until he was plastered into his seat, and held his fire as the distance between the two fighters closed rapidly. He couldn’t miss this shot. The instant before the two fighters flashed past each other, both pilots triggered their machine guns. They shot past each other, one trailing smoke, the other triumphant.
Alexander leveled out, now about 5000 feet above the main engagement zone, and took stock of the situation. Three of his fighters were down, two of his pilots dead. Alexander could see Regent 7’s chute descending floating serenely back down to earth as he banked right and started a graceful descent towards the rest of Regent Flight. It had finished off one of the remaining Ustian jets, and while the last enemy pilot fled the engagement zone, Regent 2 dropped altitude and started flying back to base. His MiG was trailing smoke, and it was obvious that it was badly damaged. Alexander ordered the two remaining pilots in his flight to form up on his location, and they held position in formation until Titan Flight arrived to relieve them.
June 4th, 1995
Sudentor Force Base, Pilot Rec Room
In the end, Regent Flight barely made it back to Sudentor Air Base. Regent 2, Burke, landed just three minutes before flames from his plane reached the fuel tanks and exploded his MiG (unfortunately injuring two firefighters who, unaware of the severity of the jet’s damage, were standing a little too close), and the remaining three elements of Regent Flight were flying on fumes by the time they landed. Alexander, guiltily, felt nothing more towards his fallen pilots than vague sense of sorrow. To be fair, though, he refused to think about Rita, pilot of Regent 4. He wouldn’t allow himself to.
Of course, there was never actually a romantic connection between them, although Alexander often wished that there had been. They were the only two pilots of Regent Flight who had made it through the whole war together; most of the pilots who came in were quickly transferred to different units to help fill the gaps made by the almost constant aerial sparring between Belkan and Ustian forces. They had been best friends, however, and had shared almost every combat mission together (before his promotion, Alexander had been her wingman). Now… now she was gone, and Alexander could not allow her to dominate his thoughts. Thinking about her would only drown him in grief, and that was not something he could allow to happen at this point in the conflict. Every mission was critical, and even one emotionally compromised major could lead to the defeat of an entire squadron, and that, in turn, would place even more stress on the stretched frame of the Belkan military.
This particular patrol mission had been the first that Alexander had led, and the first time he had flown with the pilots of Regents 6, 7, and 3. Really, the major had almost no connection with the other pilots who had actually died, and while the thought of losing his squad members plagued him, he couldn’t allow himself to slip into the same kind of grief that had plagued him after the bombing of Hoffnung.
As for the remaining flight members, Burke had been with the squad for almost 5 combat missions, and that was as impressive a record as any in a war where great pilots were in even greater demand in an increasingly greater number of locations. Regent 5, Lukas, had only been with the flight for two missions. Though he was a quiet man, he fit in well and was quickly becoming an integral part of the flight. Like many servicemen and women, he had relatives who had been victims of the disaster at Hoffnung, and he was prepared to do whatever it took to make the Ustians pay for every innocent life that they had taken that night. Now, with three pilots missing and their replacements arriving fresh from flight school the next day, Regent flight would once again be a flight of almost complete strangers, only all the colder for Alexander.
This time, he wouldn’t have Rita.
June 5th, 1995
South Belka Munitions Headquarters, 3rd Level, Sudentor, Belka
Richard Collins stood at attention before the Sudentor representative of the Chief of Belkan Intelligence, hands at his side, gaze fixed half a meter above the officer’s head. For the Official, this was an almost weekly ordeal – interviewing the new intelligence recruits who had passed basic indoctrination and the battery of screenings they were subjected to. This was his third interview today, and after he finished with this “Christian Schumacher” character, he was free to go. He really didn’t know why he was forced to conduct these interviews, as, really, there was no chance any spy could pass Intelligence training, indoctrination, screenings, and then the initiation coursework without being spotted by someone along the way. It was virtually impossible – all recruits were monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and had had their family and social lives reconstructed and scrutinized on a scale that would terrify anyone scared of the thought of a “Big Brother.” With a full file, an official could literally put a recruit’s life back together backwards, on a day to day basis, and then examine any given 12 hour period in that recruit’s life since his 5th birthday. The system was invasive, yes, but effective. The net had been catching spies since its initiation in the late 80’s, and established Belka as the most difficult country to infiltrate in the world. The Official figured that he was here as a sort of “last trial” for any infiltrators. He may have been unwilling to carry out this particular facet of his job, but he was by no means lazy or idiotic. He knew a quisling when he saw one, and his self-assurance put him at ease.
For Collins, however, the air seemed to hum with tension. It couldn’t have been the air conditioning; the Representative Head of Intelligence was icy enough to lower the ambient temperature without any help. His mission had been in the works for years now, and the smallest social slip could render all of that work useless now. Inventing a life, day by day, was no small task even for a team specially trained in the art of deception and invention; even the smallest discontinuity could spell disaster. That work had been done and tested, and now it was his turn to feel the pressure. His Belkan was, of course, flawless, his inflection nearly perfect. His knowledge of idiomatic usage was extensive, as was the knowledge of the town where he supposedly grew up and the surrounding countryside. Now, however, he had to keep composure during this interview (conducted entirely in Belkan) and avoid conveying a sense of unease through even body language. Even the slightest perspiration in a room of this temperature (he was sure the official kept it at a frigid 58F solely to make recruits uncomfortable) would indicate that he was nervous. The Official would ask, nervous of what? And then the game was already lost – the official would have the advantage (and, of course, all the time he needed) and could easily sit and ask questions all day, until eventually Collins’ Belkan faltered or until a discontinuity appeared. Then he would be caught, trapped, imprisoned, and his government would deny his very existence. Much more relied upon this interview than the fate of a half-effort mission.
The Official looked up from the recruit’s file, which, though impressive, gave him nearly no indication as to the character and appearance of the recruit himself. He was fit, of course. That was expected. His facial features weren’t Belkan, but his family had apparently immigrated to Belka well before the economic crisis. His uniform was flawless, the folds crisper than the air around it. The Official found this impressive. It meant discipline, and an attention to detail that many recruits these days lacked badly. He traced the suit’s lapel up to check his tie, and finding its composition satisfactory, followed it back to the recruit’s chest, where the badges and patches he had earned in the training course were displayed. It was often said that you could read a man’s military career on the ribbons he wore and the distinctions he earned. This ribbon stripe read highly-trained-incredibly-deadly-pencil-pusher. He had qualified in all but the most stringent of firearm and urban warfare courses (each recruit was allowed to pursue one other practice during training, and he had obviously chosen firearm proficiency). Not a bad choice, and an even better one diplomatically – Intel pukes were often made fun of by the armed forces due to their lack of perceived skill in the war arena. That was something this recruit wouldn’t have to worry about, at least until these qualifications expired and he had to renew them.
Collins held at attention while the official looked his uniform over. He knew that the man was criticizing every fold and wrinkle, and knew that he would read his training career from the badges on his chest.
The Official stood up. Seconds melted into the passing stream of time more slowly than any glacier. A single bead of sweat materialized on Collins’ face, sliding slowly down past his left eyebrow and down to his chin. It fell, splattering like blood on the black polished steel floor below. Collins could have cut the cords of tension in the air with his knife, if he had really wanted to.
The Official glanced down at the files on his black marble desk and back up at the applicant, and offered his hand to Agent Schumacher, no questions asked. “Welcome to the Agency, son.”
Collins took it, and found himself trapped in a viselike grip that, he imagined, he could never escape as long as the Official deigned to hold it. The thought scared him.
“Let me show you to your office. 47th level.”
They matched pace for the entirety of their descent. It wasn’t something Collins intended to do, nor was it something that he found amusing in any way. However, his lifelong career in the Special Forces had drilled many things into his brain, one of them being a strict adherence to discipline and order. Apparently, the pace at which he had walked for most of his adult life matched almost perfectly with the pace the Representative Head of Intelligence had either adopted or drilled into his own life. Neither of the men was willing to alter that pace, so they settled into an unnervingly militaristic, synchronized march down the myriad black steel hallways of the underground corporate headquarters.
Being a government subsidy, South Belka Munitions arranged for the presence of government and intelligence personnel in their headquarters by constructing a mammoth underground structure, complete with bunkers, its own company of the Belkan Army (to provide security), a supercomputer array, 30 levels of offices and situation rooms, and a hardline to Belkan Central Command. That wasn’t mentioning the defense network around the headquarters composed of SBM’s finest and newest weapon technologies, the base-wide surveillance program, and the underground fighter hanger located on the 20th level.
“As you probably know,” the Official started, “Intelligence offices are located on Levels 30 to 50, and command offices are located on Level 80. Your room will be on Level 40, and you’ll work in 47.” He paused as they passed two Belkan soldiers on patrol. 0927 hours. As soon as the clicking of their steel-toed boots were out of hearing range and around a corner, he resumed. “Do you have any questions regarding the duties that accompany your new job?”
“No, sir, I do not,” Collins replied. He had received a packet containing his official orders the day before, and he knew well the kind of job he had applied for in the intelligence branch – data compilation. Due to the massive amounts of information obtained by Belkan spies and agents on a daily basis, Belka had switched from the traditional method of hiring a single consultant to prepare raw data for a conference or briefing to relying on a large number of data composers who prepared briefs and forms on a request basis. For example, a data consolidator might have four to five files to complete on any given day; he would find the relevant data, examine it, compile it, and send it off as a completed brief to his superiors. It required a lot of trust, but Belkan authorities had plenty of that when it came down to their Intel Recruitment strategy. Data Compilers had to go through several special and rigorous courses during their training, and Collins had performed well in all of them. In Belka’s eyes, he was fully qualified. More importantly, however, it gave him an excuse to be among the files and data repositories on the lower levels – nobody would look twice if they witnessed a DC rooting through file cabinets or pulling low-classification documents up on the station’s computers.
From the 20th Level they entered a lift, which bore them silently down to the 45th Level. They were stopped by a woman behind a glass security station. Her black Belkan MP body armor absorbed the blue glow emitted by the translucent computer screens flanking her position at the desk.
“Hello, Director. Identification, please.”
The Official laughed, pulled out his identification card, and handed it to her through a thin slit in the glass. She swiped it through a slit in her computer screen, and the text boxes around a picture of the Director’s face flashed green to indicate a verified identity.
“Computer also indicates that you’re heading to Level 47 with a new DC. Give me a sec to print out his identicard also.”
She typed a couple commands into the keyboard embedded in her desk, and a plastic chip with Collins’ face and fake identity slid out from underneath. She swiped it to confirm its validity, and handed both cards back to the Director through the slit. The Director took the chips from her, nodded his thanks, and then handed Collins the card with the name “Christian Schumacher “ imprinted on the front, below his picture and above the magnetic data strip. The two figures proceeded, again in lockstep, down two levels further until they arrived at Collins’ door. Collins swiped his card, turned the handle, and stepped inside. It was a sparsely furnished cubicle 5 meters by 5 meters by 5 meters, complete with desk, chair, shelf, and computer display, all painted a glossy black. The Director wished him luck, stepped back, and closed the door. As room SBM-47/C sealed, Collins couldn’t help feeling like he was trapped. Of course, he could open the door at any time and walk out at his leisure, as long as he completed his daily quota.
But he couldn’t quite shake the feeling of entrapment.
June 5th, 1995
Sudentor Air Base, Main Runway
Alexander watched as a flight of three MiG-31 interceptors and two MiG-29As landed on Sudentor Air Base’s main runway. They were painted with the standard Belka Air Force color scheme, but they had the insignia of the 6th Tactical Air Squadron, Regent Flight. This confused him; Regent Flight operated MiG-29’s exclusively, not MiG-31s. On the other hand, though, the extra jet in the formation (five flew in to replace two dead pilots and two wrecked jets) meant that his flight would have a full 8 members again. They had been operating on a 7-flight basis for months, as the Belkan Air Force had been too stretched out to spare the extra fighter. He assumed that the two MiG-29As would be for his pilots who were currently stuck without a plane – both Burke and Regent 7, Joseph, had escaped from their jets uninjured and were still in flying condition. The three MiG-31s, however, must have been flown in and landed by the replacement pilots, and it bugged Alexander to know that his flight was to be mixed now. Everyone knew that the 31s were much faster and more powerful than their counterpart 29As, but as long as they were all on the same team, Alexander guessed he could work with fast. He wasn’t worried about subordination, not in the least – he inherently trusted his fellow Belkan pilots. But he was unfamiliar with the 31s’ abilities and strengths, and he needed to know how to use them to their maximum effect. He knew the 29A inside and out, and he had always flown in one. He knew how they performed in a dogfight. The Foxhounds, however, were completely foreign to him.
He’d have to make do with what he had, however. And he had to adjust, quickly. A storm was coming, but not a storm of mere cloud and rain. It was a storm of vengeance, fast descending on Ustio. It was a storm that Alexander would take personal pleasure in executing – not that he enjoyed killing civilians, of course. The mission’s main target would be the military industrial complexes outside of Directus. Not even Alexander Finn, arguably the man with the most reason to bear enmity and hatred towards all Ustians, would stoop so low so as to target civilians. It just would not be done.
But for those who served the Ustian military?
A storm was coming.
June 5th, 1995
South Belka Munitions Headquarters, 47th Level, Sudentor, Belka
Richard Collins leaned back, a hard day’s work done. He had managed to wade through 4 data requests, which was pretty impressive by itself. He was startled, however, when the door to his office was forced open and the MP he had encountered on the 45th Level stood silhouetted in the light coming from the hallway, flanked by two Belkan Army soldiers in full battle gear. With a gesture of her hand she told them to wait outside while she stepped into the cubicle and closed the door behind her. She slowly and deliberately paced up to the front of Collin’s desk, sidearm protruding ominously from the holster on her hip. She turned, faced him, and smiled under her visor before taking her helmet off completely.
Her name was Annabeth, another agent of the Golden King assigned to espionage in Belka.
She leaned over the desk and started speaking quickly. Her tone was earnest and distressed. “Listen, I don’t have much time in here. The guards outside think I’m performing an inspection and computer search on a suspected agent of the enemy. I’ll tell them you’re clean, but while I’m here, I’m your only contact. You will not be allowed to speak to me after this meeting. Do you understand?”
Collins nodded quickly, eager to receive any information or help she might bring.
Annabeth continued, “In the combination-locked drawer in your desk, you’ll find a Belkan standard-issue handgun, with silencer and 40 rounds of ammunition. The combination is five-oh-eight-one-three. Use only in an emergency. Next, I have your security clearance for levels 90-110, where the information we need should be located. Your extraction will be tomorrow, at precisely 1900 hours. If you miss this time, we will leave you. If, for any reason, you must contact a fellow agent, you must attempt to force an entrance into a locked room somewhere in the 42-48 Level block, which is directly under my jurisdiction. I will hold you on Level 10, where we have another contact waiting for such an occasion. That is all I have to say. Now please let me perform that computer search so it gets logged in Central Control.”
She moved around to Richard’s side of the desk, sliding him a new false identicard as she did so. A few typed commands later, his computer was found clean, she had walked out the door, and the footsteps of her armored guards had receded. In all senses of the word, Richard was alone.
June 5th, 1995
Sudentor Air Base, Main Runway
Canopies opened, engines wound down. Maintenance crews swarmed the newly arrived jets, attaching hoses and various appendages onto the fuselages of the MiG 31’s and 29A’s, while members of those crews assisted the pilots as they disembarked. As Alexander strode down the runway to meet them, those pilots finally reached the ground and, joking and roughhousing, started to make their way towards the barracks. One of them, upon spotting the rank indicator on Alexander’s uniform, quickly got the other pilots’ attention and gestured towards the Major. Immediately, the group of pilots shaped up, neutralized their smiles, and made for the officer. As they reached him, they stopped as one, threw their hands up in near-perfect salutes, and awaited their relief. Alexander took one look down the line, and, satisfied, saluted and put them at ease.
One of the pilots stepped forward. He was a tall man of perhaps twenty-three years (Alexander had not had the time to read the briefs of all his new pilots), with an air of confidence and assurance. He was Belkan through-and-through, from his appearance to the manner in which he spoke when he introduced himself as the flight leader of the assembled pilots. As a lieutenant, he had led the flight from Northern Belka down to Sudentor on the southern border, and looked weary from the journey. Alexander offered his hand, and the man took it.
“Colonel Marks of Aggerman Air Base offers his greetings, sir,” the man started, “and apologizes for the need to mix your squadron. He says that your upcoming assignment requires a full-strength flight, and the 31’s were the only jets he had available. I’ve trained with these pilots, sir, and I can vouch for their quality. They’re the best we’ve got, and they are damn good. Damn good, sir.”
Alexander smiled at the last statement, and, stepping back, spread his arms. Gesturing to the other pilots from Regent Flight who were now making their ways down the runway to meet the new pilots, he addressed all the new members of his flight. “Welcome to Sudentor, pilots. As you all know, I am Major Finn. I’m honored to have you all under my command, and if you’re half as good as the Lieutenant here says you are, you’ll do just fine out here. The Ustians don’t know what we’re capable of. Currently, it is 1135 hours, which means you have a little less than four hours to clean yourselves up and grab some food and sleep. I want to see all my pilots,” (he looked towards the arriving group) “to be in the briefing room by 1530 hours for a 1600 hours departure. Lukas, Burke, make sure your new squad mates feel at home. That’s all I have for now, dismissed.”
He turned sharply, and started the long walk back to the barracks to read up on his new pilots and try to get some rest. Lukas and Burke led the greeting party, shaking hands affably with the new members of the flight and introducing themselves and the rest of their companions. Members of the Regent Flight were known for their friendliness and their outgoing nature; what many didn’t take into account is that they needed those things if they were to survive for long in the skies. They had to trust the pilots who had their backs, and with so many casualties, and with so many replacement pilots, they simply could not afford to be at odds with their squad mates. In shattered skies, the cost of unpreparedness was death.
June 5th, 1995
Sudentor Air Base, Briefing Room
Major Finn, as was customary after any sort of meeting with his superiors, walked pointedly into the briefing room. His disposition indicated that he had not particularly liked what he had heard, but his posture spoke only of disciplined, passive acceptance. The orders he carried were preposterous. He had always thought that what he considered as a major misallocation of military resources would be seen by his authorities as a grand display of Belkan might, and this proved it. He’d seen it coming. Already the dull roar of jets filled the air above him as flights pulled from the muster in the North flew south towards their destinations in Sudentor Air Base and various other major Southern Belkan airfields. Nobody had seen it coming, but preliminary reports indicated that the Allied forces to their south and across the Round Table were discretely shifting jets and forces around to take advantage the Belkan muster. All Alexander could do was his duty, and so, face set, he began to brief his flight. It would be a dark day.
A flight of five of the new Belkan Air Force SU-35’s roared overhead, gleaming silver in the noonday sun. Finn walked the runway with the rest of his squadron, helmet in hand. Their MiG’s, a mottled green, sat ready on the runway – they were fully fueled and armed for air-to-air combat. There were few nations who could supply a squadron so fully armed with ease – and, at this point, not even Belka was among those. Air crews stood by the pilots’ jets, ready to help them into their cockpits and complete the final checks. The flight wasted no time; Finn tossed his helmet to the nearest crew chief and mounted the ladder to his MiG. He started to spin up his jets while his ground crew ran final checks on his weapons and tracking systems. His chief helped him into his helmet and seat harnesses, then started to double-check Finn’s cockpit systems. Alexander looked across the runway to where Typhoons of Titan Flight were completing their pre-flight checks and wheeling onto the staging strip. The airfield was a flurry of activity; fueling and arming two full flights of fighter jets was no small task.
Then, with a final thumbs-up and salute from its crew chief, the first Titan roared to life. Its afterburners flared as it lumbered onto the runway and prepared for take off. Its pilot, as was customary for Belkan pilots, gave his mic a triple-click to notify the tower that he was ready to take off. Upon receiving a triple-click in response, he saluted the Belkan flag, hummed the first five notes of the Belkan national anthem (for luck), and kicked his jet into full afterburner. The fighter jumped ahead, racing down the runway until it finally lifted up off the ground and started gaining altitude. Already, the second member of Titan Flight had wheeled to the runway from the staging strip and was triple-clicking the tower.
Meanwhile, Regents 4 and 5 had finished their checks and, having received final takeoff instructions from the tower, had begun queuing up behind the rest of Titan Flight. Finn received the salute from his crew chief, and rolled into line right behind Regent 4. Now, it was just a waiting game. He, and all the other pilots, had received detailed takeoff instructions from the control tower beforehand. There were simply too many fighters in the skies above Sudentor for the air traffic controllers to handle in real time, so each flight had a predetermined set of instructions (like altitudes, bearings, and speeds to reach) that they had to follow in order to minimize the risk of collision. Each pilot knew exactly what he was supposed to do. It was the Belkan way.
Now the final member of Titan was ripping down the runway. Regent 4 was next, and it wasn’t long before he was airborne either. Finn stared down the long expanse of concrete and took a deep breath to steady his hands.
Raise the right arm, bent forty-five degrees at the elbow. The hand should form a straight line with the rest of the forearm, with the tip of the third finger barely touching the corner of the eyebrow. Now look at the flag. You’ve got it. Now give it to me, Airman!
“Our Belka, glorious...”
June 5th, 1995
“Keep ‘em peeled, Titan.”
Another long break.
So much goddamned silence.
Silence from their enemies. Silence from Sudentor and the flights around them. Silence from Titan Flight, too.
Too much goddamned silence.
Suddenly, Titan Five’s voice flew in through the speakers, the rushed stream of speech peculiar to untested rookies.
“Sir, my radar shows seventeen repeat seventeen hostile IFF signatures ahead – ten bombers, seven fighter escorts. Bearing one-three-seven, 11 o’clock low!
Titan Lead responded immediately, and coldly.
“All Titan flight, peel off and return to base. Repeat, do not engage. Return to base.”
“WHAT?” Alexander roared in response. He furiously keyed Titan Lead’s radio channel into his communicator and communicated, in no uncertain terms, his exquisite unhappiness with the current situation.
Titan Flight, however, offered no response as its fighters peeled off by the number and headed back into Belka and out of the Round Table. Finn seethed, but no amount of cursing or threatening reprimands could turn their fighters back. The Titans had shut off all communication.
“What now, Boss?” Six asked nervously.
Alexander thought for a few seconds, and then opened a channel to his squadron. He said, “Flight, we will not turn back. We remain loyal to the Belkan order. Stagger formation – Two and Three, you go front and high. Four and Five, hang back a bit. Rear and low. Seven, Six, and Five, I want a delta formation centered on me. Let’s take the center at median altitude. Stick on me, got it?”
The flight signaled acknowledgement. Regent 2 and Regent 3 accelerated and climbed ahead of the main formation while Four and Five dropped back and below. Within 30 seconds, everyone was in place.
Two and a half tense minutes later, Three’s voice came in over the radio. He said, “Lead, I have RADAR contact with what looks like a group of bogeys. Twenty plus, escorts counted, given by what I can see.”
Alexander responded, “Right. Alright Regent, let’s give ‘em hell.”
He booted up his weapons computer, and then tried again to check into Sudentor ATC. They weren’t responding, just as they hadn’t done the entire flight.
Three’s voice, again: “Lead, I’ve got visual contact. Looks like… ten Osean, seven Ustian bombers, fighter escorts interspersed. Revising earlier estimate… looks like 25 aircraft total. Fighters flying zone cover, they’re not full-on. Hit at the flanks and from above and below; avoid the killzones directly to the front and rear. Engaging, engaging! Two, guns guns guns!”
The radio feed cut off as the first two fighters engaged, ripping through the enemy’s formation. Even at the distance he was at, Finn could see tiny silver and orange flashes and even two distinct bursts of light. He turned to his own flight element, saying,
“Alright, squad, raise elevation one hundred, repeat, one hundred meters. Turn to bearing five-seven, spin up the guns.”
Already, the enemy formation was rushing up before and below his formation. He flipped over, and dove into the Ustians, aiming to avoid their fighter escorts and engage their bombers. Tracers spit up at him from the bombers’ ceiling turrets; he jerked his MiG around to avoid them. Suddenly he was inside the formation, tearing past bombers and fighters alike. Out of nowhere, a flaming tracer hit his fuselage, bashing his head into the glass of his canopy. Disoriented, Alexander squeezed off a rushed burst of tracers at the nearest bomber, barely grazing its side. Suddenly, he was out on the bottom end of the formation, spinning, fighting his plane, trying to regain orientation. There was no rest for the weary. A piercing tone smashed into his skull, and automatic reflex told him that an enemy had a lock on his plane from above. He shot off flares, then twisted and pulled up, craning his neck in a desperate attempt to catch a glimpse of his attacker. The last two members of Regent flight thundered past his cockpit, hammering his already aching head, spitting out bright orange tracers at a bomber and an Ustian fighter. Alexander caught a glimpse of his attacker – and of the missile he had shot. Again, he slammed his fighter to the side, hoping to sweep past the missile and come up beneath the enemy fighter. It worked beautifully, and as the Ustian adjusted his flight path to counter Alexander’s move, Finn, feinted right and then jerked left, climbing all the while. The two fighters passed in a flash, and, for an instant, Finn glimpsed the inside of his foe’s cockpit. It was an older model of the F-16, and, as the two pilots gazed into each other’s visors, Finn saw that the other pilot was already wrestling to bring his jet up from its dive and to the pilots’ left. Alexander countered immediately, rolling his fighter upside down and to the right. He wanted to “cross the T,” reaching his enemy’s intended destination before that enemy did, and then squeeze off a few shots before the Ustian had time to react.
The two pilots met again just a few seconds later, but, again, Finn was unable to take any shots. The adversary had known that Finn was trying to do, but since he was already committed to the maneuver, he had sped up and beat Alexander to the engagement zone. The Ustian was good. There was no way he could have been an Ustian national, though. Their air force couldn’t raise pilots like these. He was a mercenary, then, but Finn didn't care. He fought with honor and ferocity, and had already gained Alexander’s respect.
In Area B7R, though, good isn't good enough. The Ustian pilot made his first - and final - mistake. He assumed Alexander would try the same maneuver again after failing the first time, and dove down and to the right in order to meet the Belkan head-on.
But Finn wasn’t about to chance another head-on encounter with this pilot. After flashing by him that second time, he leveled out, dropped speed, and snap-rolled to the left - bringing him right behind the enemy F-16. The Ustian was committed to the dive now, but couldn’t see his adversary.
Finn grinned ferociously. “I’ve got you now,” he thought. He lined up the F-16, got tone in his headset as the spinning triangles glowed read over the enemy plane, and squeezed the trigger. There was a loud whoosh as the missile on his right wingtip flew away. It speed ahead in a cloud of smoke and flame, detonating mere feet away from the Ustian’s left wing. It wasn’t a kill, but it was enough to shake things loose. The F-16, stricken and rattled, started trailing smoke and dropped to a lower altitude. Finn leveled out behind it. He could have bagged the kill if he really wanted to. All it would have taken was a stream of bullets across the right wing. But Finn respected the Ustian too much for that - instead, he dipped his right wing in an aerial salute to his neutralized opponent and then started a steep climb to rejoin the rest of his squadron.
They had done well in his absence. Regent Flight was in fine form, darting in and out of the bomber formation and throwing tracers at the lumbering B-52’s. Two lines of smoke were streaming down towards the ground, but Finn was certain that more bombers had been shot down. The bomber crews’ frantic pleas for help may well have gone unheard. The Ustian escorts were nearly worthless, too scared to drop into the middle of the formation and brave a knife-fight with the skilled Regents. Instead, they orbited the central fray, taking nervous shots at the MiGs whenever they strayed outside the bombers’ groups. Some of the Ustians had even turned tail. With the few aggressive pilots gone, survival was the order of the day.
It was incredibly easy, then, for Alexander to penetrate the fighter screen and settle in right behind a B-52 near the rear of the formation. Regent 3 was tailing the bomber to Finn’s left, spitting bullets in short bursts in attempts to take out an engine on the bomber’s wing. Flight chatter was minimal, as each pilot was intensely focused on the fight ahead of him. The Regents were virtual grim reapers in the skies over B7R that day.
With a final scream of frustration, the lead bomber in the Ustian formation ordered the bombers to break off the attack and flee the airspace. With over half of their bombers destroyed, the Ustians no longer had the slightest chance of successfully completing their mission. To continue further would be the height of folly, nothing more than a waste of lives and resources. The bomber just ahead of Alexander peeled right, eagerly accompanied by its fighter “escorts,” and joined the remainder of the Ustian force in long flight home. Alexander called his flight back into formation behind him, wheeled the area twice to tally and confirm kills, and then turned back towards his own base. Fortunately, no Regents had fallen. Another good day to add to Regent Flight’s record.
Finn still could not connect to Sudentor or to any of the other Belkan jets that had been in the sky just that morning. It was almost like everybody had completely disappeared. Gone somewhere else, maybe?
What the hell is going on?
June 6th, 1995
South Belka Munitions Headquarters, -107 Floors, Sudentor, Belka
*Clack, clack, clack, clack*
As the guard’s footsteps receded down the hallway, Agent Richard Collins darted across into another bank of servers. He flattened himself against a stack and held his breath as another guard, clad in full Belkan combat armor, padded down the row behind him. He felt a frigid bead of sweat slide down his temple as he fumbled with the magazine release on his Belkan service handgun. Eight rounds left in the magazine.
The soldier would reach the end of his row of servers in just a couple seconds, and then patrol down the row that Collins occupied. As he emerged into the central walkway and turned the corner, Richard wheeled around the opposite corner, finding himself in the row that the guard had just inspected. He held still there until the Belkan had traversed another four rows. Only then did he bring up his arms, and, hands shaking, slide the magazine into the composite handgrip of his firearm with a distinct *click.*
“Just three more levels.”
June 5th, 1995
Sudentor Air Base
The MiGs of Regent Flight were greeted by a motley collection of support crew and vehicles. The taxi craft were nowhere to be found, and so Finn was forced to leave his squadron parked on one of the staging strips that branched out from the central runway.
Having wound down his fighter’s jets, Finn tore off his restraining belts and oxygen mask and released the locks on his canopy. A ground crew member quickly wheeled a ladder up to the cockpit, then fumbled for the helmet that Alexander threw at him. The unfortunate crewman may well have not bothered with the ladder; the Major’s descent was so rapid that onlookers started, sure that he had fallen rather than disembarked. Finn blew through a refueling team standing nearby, shouldered past an intelligence officer who seemed to be helping a fire crew, and made straight for the frenzied crew chief.
“What,” he growled, “the hell is happening?”
The chief, who was attempting to manage half of the aircraft and an assembly of inexperienced helpers, ran a hand through his distressed hair and gave Alexander a pleading look. Then he muttered, “Oh,” and snapped a hasty salute.
“They’re all gone.”
“Excuse me, Airman?”
“S- sir, please!” The Chief stuttered. “I don’t understand either. It happened at around 1630. A caravan of black trucks rolled onto the central runway and then the base commander -”
“Black trucks? You must be joking. What unit were they assigned to? Did they have any markings?”
“Just a squadron patch that I’d never even seen before, and an acronym. AWWNB, I think it was. But then the base commander came in over the PA, said something about a new world order and the true Belka, and then ordered everybody onto the trucks. Most people went. Base security, command staff, off-duty pilots, most of the ATC staff, and even half of the maintenance crew. The commander was too preoccupied with the withdrawal to punish the people who stayed behind. They just left as soon as they could.”
“Could you see where they were headed?”
“They took the nearest northbound interstate, sir, but there’s no way of telling where they headed after that. Oh, and get this. All the flights that flew south to B7R this afternoon? They turned around. Hundreds of them flew right back up over Sudentor at around the same time that the base was evacuated. They were all headed North, too.”
Alexander stepped back, at a loss. His pilots had gathered around him and were looking at him, expectantly. Finn turned back to the crew chief.
“Get these planes refueled and rearmed. Get them ready to take off at a moment’s notice.”
Then he turned to his squad.
“All of you, get some food and rest. I have a feeling that tomorrow will be a defining day, for better or worse.”
June 6th, 1995
South Belka Munitions Headquarters, -108 Floors, Sudentor, Belka
“Okay. Three, two, one. Go time.”
As soon as the elevator doors slid open, a gloved hand reached inside the compartment and grabbed the lapel of Agent Collin’s uniform. A gruff sergeant yanked him out of the lift and into the hallway, where Richard was greeted by the very impartial barrel of a Belkan service handgun.
“He- hey, no! You’ve got to help me!”
“This entire facility is on lockdown! What do you think you’re doing here?”
“Look, I’m just a DC! I was on Level 107 when somebody started shooting. I wasn’t going to just stand there, was I?”
The guard shifted uncertainly and glanced at his partner, who shrugged and lowered the assault rifle he was aiming at Collins’ head. He turned back to Collins and, after a moment’s thought, said,
“Alright. Fine. But first, but your hands behind your head and stand against the wall. Yes, the wall. Move. That’s it. Now spread your legs. You will now be subject to search, pursuant to Army Court Order 709. You have neither the right to object nor to resist. Any attempt to do so will be met with appropriate action, or, if deemed necessary by the lead officer, deadly force. Do you understand this declaration as it has been recited to you?”
Collins grunted affirmation, and the sergeant, his piece spoken, proceeded to search him. The Belkan wouldn’t find anything, thanks to a tiny screwdriver hidden in Collins’ boot and a removable panel in the lift’s wall.
Richard really wished he hadn’t been forced to shoot the Belkan guard on the floor above. It complicated things. A lot of things. He was supposed to be able to just swipe into the security station on Level 108 on his way to 110 without raising any suspicion. He was, after all, just a Data Compiler. But the incident on the floor above had forced him to think quickly. He couldn’t just shoot his way down to Level 110 - even if he did survive the encounter with the 20-odd guards stationed in those three floors, and even if he still managed to get the information he needed from the servers there without being shot in the back, he would be stuck at the bottom of the most heavily-guarded facility in the world with no way out and nowhere to go. Not even Annabeth could help him down here. So he decided to play the innocent bystander, a terrified DC who had nearly witnessed the brutal murder of a Belkan soldier and who had run to the nearest people who could help: the guards in the security station below him.
But he couldn’t exactly swipe into the floors below with his primary fake ID either. “Christian Schumaker” was technically still on Level 104, after receiving clearance from the security station on 101. If the computer here on 108 scanned his identicard, it would reveal that he had pulled documents from a computer on 107 - a level he wasn’t currently authorized to enter. That alone was grounds enough for detainment, even without the dead guard on the floor above.
So as the armored soldier escorted Collins to the glass security station, Richard pulled the second ID that Annabeth had slid towards him the night before and handed it to the MP through the matte plastic slit in the front glass viewscreen. Hopefully, it would have preprogrammed clearance for every floor in the facility - courtesy of the computer geniuses back home. It was Collins’ one and only trump card.
The MP inserted the identicard into a slim steel box on his desk. As soon as he did so, a text window appeared in the glass in front of the officer, displaying Collins’ face and a fast-scrolling read-out of all the relevant details. It strobed cobalt blue twice before flashing green and vanishing.
Apparently, normal computers are overrated this far down in SBM.
The guard threw a thumb over his shoulder.
“There’s a safe room down the hallway to the left. Shelter in place there until we give the all clear. Don’t,” (with a glare), “do anything screwy.”
Collins pretended to nod nervously, then retrieved his identicard from the Belkan. As he started to make his way down the hallway, he realized how fortunate he was that the MP didn’t insist that one of the guards escort him to the saferoom. In fact, the two guards that had initially confronted him had already returned to their posts near the lift door and weren’t even focused on him anymore.
Using this to his advantage, Richard opened the door to the saferoom and stepped behind it, and then used it to shield his motion from the guards up front as he continued down the hallway. It seem as if he had entered the room as he had been ordered. Richard knew that there was a secondary elevator at the other end of the floor he was on, and that it was now his only way of getting where he needed to go. He turned a corner and broke into a jog, expecting that a Belkan officer would be patrolling the hallway any time. He punched the lift button, stepping in just as a patrol rounded the corner behind him. Fortunately, this Belkan wasn’t very attentive either and didn’t notice a thing.
As the lift slid silently down to Level 109, Collins began to formulate a plan. The guard station on 108 was the final gateway to the floors below, and everybody heading through had to make a stop there first (the elevator was programmed to refuse movement below 108 until a validated identicard had been swiped). Thankfully, Collins was already past that hurdle. But without Annabeth’s handgun, he was stuck without a weapon. It would be a major disadvantage if Collins were to be stopped by a guard or intelligence officer. Of course, he had been trained extensively in hand-to-hand combat, but it would be difficult to eliminate a fully armored Belkan soldier without creating a major ruckus.
The lift doors opened. Collins tensed, ready for a fight, but there were no guards stationed at the entrance to the secondary lift. The Belkan ground forces here had gotten sloppy; months and years of confined deployment without action had taken their toll on the troops’ preparedness.
Not that Richard was complaining.
Here, like Richard’s office, the walls were a sleek, shiny black - almost like some sort of glossy composite. Richard wondered if they could stop bullets – if the Belkans had the ability to make entire buildings out bulletproof composites, what else were they capable of? SBM itself was a testament of Belka’s terrifying industrial prowess, but nobody quite knew all of Belka’s technological abilities. The Allied troops that were beginning to advance on the Waldreich would undoubtedly begin to encounter new and horrible devices. SBM could (and would) be a major hurdle in the way of Oso-Yuktobanian armies as well - Richard had already witnessed, firsthand, the astounding capabilities of some of the defense measures in and around the facility. Once he completed his primary mission and pulled the data from 110, all he would have to do is get out alive – hopefully in enough time to warn the Allies (and his own country) about what lay ahead of them.
Emmeria wasn’t really involved in the Belkan conflict. But should the Allies fail, and should the Belkan Army push into Osea again, Emmeria could be drawn into the fight by the inexorable force of war. To make matters worse, the Belkans and Estovakians had, militarily, begun to make tentative connections (even though the two countries were diplomatically neutral towards each other). That was Emmeria’s nightmare scenario. And with the Ulysses asteroid looming over the heads of world’s leaders, the Estovakian government was ramping up its military capabilities. If the Belkans traded their technological capabilities for trans-Ceres naval and army support, things would get ugly quite quickly for both Osea and Emmeria. The Golden King’s army couldn’t rely for support from Yuktobania’s forces in that scenario, either. They had joined the war somewhat grudgingly in the first place, and now they were severely overextended. Estovakia’s entrance would force Yuktobania’s armies to retreat back to their own shores and prepare what defenses they could against the combined enemy forces.
That’s why it was absolutely vital that Richard Collins return safely to Emmeria with the supremely secret information hidden in SBM’s deepest levels. Knowledge of Belka’s experimental weapons systems would give the Allied forces a way to start learning how to counteract them. If Emmeria liked the systems enough, too, they might even try to reverse-engineer some of them and donate the blueprints to the Allies’ overworked military industries.
Those advantages alone could win the war.
Richard was almost across Level 109 when, just paces away from the primary lift, the clacking of Belkan steel-toed boots shattered the silence. Richard had long since drowned out the endless, gentle whirring emanating from the server rooms, so the lockstep marching easily startled him out of his reverie. It sounded like two Belkan Army soldiers were approaching from the hallway ahead and to the right of Richard’s position. The lift was directly down Collins’ hallway, but if he sprinted across the intersection ahead, he would be spotted. The game would be up.
Collins’ only option was to fight - the nearest server room was across the intersection, and he wouldn’t make it into the one behind him before the guards reached the crossroads and scanned all the hallways. He had a precious few seconds to prepare for the encounter. He sidled up to the corner, bunched his muscles to make a spring, and braced himself to fight. As the guards emerged from the hallway, Collins leapt out from his cover, quickly throat punching the guard nearest him. Pivoting on his forward foot, he spun around and roundhouse kicked the choking guard’s partner. Surprised, the soldier ducked and threw up his hands, barely deflecting the wicked-fast blow. Collins, maintaining the initiative, recycled the momentum from his kick and launched himself into the armored private, bringing them both to the ground in a heap of Kevlar and flailing limbs. They grappled, slipping on the glossy black floor. Collins reached for the soldier’s gun holster, but the trained Belkan grabbed his wrist and forced him into an arm-bar. Richard knew the consequences of giving up now. With a scream of pain and a sickening pop, Richard forced himself against the hold and dislocated his shoulder. Biting through the excruciating pain, he turned himself over, planted his feet against his adversary’s hips, and summersaulted the surprised Belkan soldier over and onto his back. Richard grabbed an unfamiliar instrument from the guard’s utility belt, shoved it through a gap in his body armor, and pulled the trigger. The guard jerked erratically as powerful volts ripped through his body, finally going limp as he passed out.
The first unfortunate soldier was still doubled over, hands holding his throat as he staggered around the hallway and wheezed for breath. Richard lurched over, holding the taser in his one good hand. A dosage of voltage took care of him quickly, too.
Now, Richard was truly out of time. It would be a matter of minutes until these bodies were found and the manhunt closed in around him. Richard gritted his teeth, and, with some effort, re-set his shoulder. He quickly liberated one of the guards’ handguns and dragged both of the unconscious men into the server room next to the lift. He called the elevator, entered 110, stepped in, and waited.
The lift doors opened into a single, black hallway. Servers lined the walls; there weren’t server rooms on this level because the level was a server room. At the very end of the channel that led through the banks of servers, there was a single computer terminal. Richard walked over. Sweat began to bead on his forehead - the waste heat from the computers around him was sweltering. He slid his identicard into the slot next to the monitor and the computer came to life. The monitor flashed the emblem of the Belkan Intelligence Services and then went straight to displaying the list of files available. The Belkans’ arrogance would be there downfall here - years of using preemptive measures against spies had weakened their preparedness for an actual intrusion.
But something gave Richard pause. There were only two files available for viewing, cryptically entitled Affiliations and Project X. Collins opened Affiliations. The screen suddenly filled with a list of files hundreds of entries long, each entitled with the name of a major nation or organization.
There was no way Collins could possibly read all the entries. He plugged his portable data drive into a port on the monitor and started to download all of the available files. One file in particular, however, caught his eye. The organization in the title was one that Richard had never heard of before, but there was no time to open the file. Guards would flood this room any minute now, and Richard had to get the data on Project X too before he evacuated.
But who the hell were “The Generals”?
Richard gave in to his own curiosity. He opened the file and began to skim through the first few dozen lines.
He wished he hadn’t.
Ten lines in, all the color drained from his face. His breathing became shallow.
It couldn’t be.
Richard frantically navigated away from the file and returned to the main file menu. Then he opened Project X.
The screen spat out a series of blueprints, schematics, and specs for the most terrifying instrument of death that Richard had seen yet.
Richard swore. There was no way any country in the world could fight this.
“I have to get back to Emmeria.”
And that’s when the soldiers broke in.
June 6th, 1995
Sudentor Air Base
Major Alexander Finn of the Belkan Air Force had a massive headache. Not of the administrative kind, either.
He moaned and ran a groggy hand over his face as alert sirens split his skull.
Never drink vodka when you have to be at ready stations at any given time.
“Oh, would you just give it up already?” Alexander gestured towards the klaxon at the far corner of his combination bedroom-office.
Finn settled unsteadily on his feet, and then trundled over to the bathroom. He splashed cold water into his face, calmed his hair, and thanked whatever god there was that he didn’t have to shave.
He shrugged into his flight suit as he emerged from his room and broke into a jog. Burke and Lukas emerged from their respective rooms, tripping over each other as they spun in wild circles in vain attempts to shove arms and legs into jackets and flight suits. Alexander brushed past them on his way to the command room a wing away.
By the time he had reached the combat control center, he had commandeered a cup of coffee from an aide and was ready for action. As he strode in, the five men on duty jumped up and saluted him, then quickly turned back to the data streaming across their screens. Alexander walked up and positioned himself so that he was looking over the shoulder of the Lieutenant at the command station.
“Situation?” He asked.
“Take a look for yourself, sir.” The officer replied.
On the screen to Alexander’s left, an official transmission just seven minutes old was still being displayed and repeated. It read:
Belkan Central Command
Dinsmark Regional Directive Facility
ATTN: Sudentor Air Base, Hoffnung Air Base, Waldreich Regional Army Command
_Connection Established (0555)
DIRECT: PROVISIONAL COMMANDING OFFICERS, 6TFS, 299TFS, 9SBS, 3, 47, 32, 55 INF BRIGADES, 5 ARMORED DIVISION
HAVE EXPECTED YOU TO RETAIN POSTS. BELKAN COMMAND SITUATION REMEDIED, COMBAT OPERATIONS ARE TO RESUME AS WELL AS ABLE. STANDBY FOR SPECIAL COMBAT ORDERS:
BELKAN ARMY ELEMENTS ARE TO WITHDRAW FROM WALDREICH REGIONS IMMIDIATELY. NON-NEGOTIABLE. COMMAND IS DIRECT.
BAF FLIGHTS WILL ASSEMBLE AT GIVEN (ENCLOSED) COORDINATES AND PROCEED TO RALLY POINT 203 TO MEET AND ASSIST STRATEGIC STRIKE FORCES FROM AGGERMAN AIR BASE. BELKAN AIR FORCE ELEMENTS ARE TO REACH DIRECTUS AT ALL COSTS; PROVISIONAL FIGHTER WING COMMANDERS ORDERED TO DEFEND BOMBERS UP TO AND BEYOND 90% CASUALTY RATE.
RECOMMEND OPERATIONAL FLOOR OF 5000 (FIVE THOUSAND) FT.
RECOMMEND AVIOD FLIGHT OPERATIONS ABOVE WALDREICH REGION.
RECOMMEND SAFEGUARD FLIGHT CREWS AGAINST RADIOLOGICAL THREATS. RADIOLOGICAL THREAT STATUS: LIKELY.
BELKA’S GLORY EXPERIENCES RESURGENCE TODAY. COMMAND AND COUNTRY EXPECT THAT EVERY MAN AND WOMAN DO THEIR DUTY.
OUR BELKA GLORIOUS.
_Enable Protocol 68156-Hv01
DOCUMENTS ENCLOSED <ID Req.> <Redirect_SAB_CO>
Edited by Kingstone, 30 January 2016 - 01:04 PM.