Atlantic Bridge – 8 –
Above Southern France
A gibbous moon hung low in the sky, the dark clouds like a veil alternately revealing, then hiding it from view like some exotic dancer. The twin-tailed troop carrier silently glided over the drop zone, 10,000 feet above the Gorge du Tarn. The ten men were sat in two rows of five in the cramped compartment just behind the pilot. Ben Tobias, having got his wish, commanded the small strike team. He stood and on the pilots signal, pushed a large cube out into the night. It disappeared from view, into the blackness.
“Go, go, go!” shouted Tobias, as one by one, illuminated in the ghostly green light above the door, the nine men under his command leapt out with military precision. With a curt nod to the pilot, Ben followed his men, and the pilot immediately resealed the door and banked hard left, coasting as long as he dared before firing up the engines to take him home.
Ben’s black silk paraglider opened at 5,000 and he experienced the familiar tug as his descent was dramatically slowed. He began to manoeuvre. He only had the illuminated compass on the raised panel on his chest to gauge his location, but he seemed to be on track. Passing low over a field of seemingly hundreds of large boulders, Ben knew he’d steered correctly. He was somewhere on Le Causse. He’d been briefed on the strange rock formations he would find there. He gathered his gear and stowed it in a safe place, flicked his earcom on and proceeded to rally the group.
He couldn’t raise Clarke or Kaufmann. This was bad news. He delegated Percy and Vann to begin a search. “Withers, Stevenson, Bryan, Thompson and Foster, I’m setting the signal on the package, rendezvous there, ASAP. Percy, Vann, report in when you’ve located Clarke and Kaufmann.”
Ben was worried. From an operations point of view, he envisaged the worst case scenario. Two men injured, possibly dead, who constituted a huge security risk if they failed to locate the bodies before the enemy, plus the added problem of less manpower to manhandle the equipment for the operation. He put such thoughts aside, and set off in search of the cube that had preceded them down.
He had been trudging across the fields for only ten minutes when Corporal Vann came on line in his ear.
“Kaufmann found sir, D.O.A.”
Shit, thought Ben, then answered, “You know what to do, Corporal.”
“Roger that, sir” replied Vann, and was gone.
Ben knew Vann would be following strict operational procedure, burying the body and delegating Bob Percy to continue scouting for Clarke. He resumed his trek towards their supplies. Within minutes, as the signal grew stronger, he could make out the faint outline of the cube, draped in its silken chute, as the clouds parted to allow the moon a ghostly appearance. Ben sighed with relief. As he began unclipping the container, the rest of the men gradually arrived from across the plateau. He delegated pairs of them to inventory the equipment, check for damage in the drop, dismantle the container and bury the pieces with the chute. An hour later, they were ready to move, and still no word from Vann or Percy. Suddenly, his earpiece crackled to life. “It’s a negative on Clarke, sir, no sign whatsoever. Should we keep searching? I estimate we are two minutes from your position.”
“No, Corporal” said Tobias, resignedly, “Head for the beacon and we’ll move out in ten.”
This was not good. Was Clarke injured, or dead? What would happen if he was found? That would depend on who found him of course. Clarke, if he wasn’t completely incapacitated, would be able to take out any imminent danger with his machine pistol. He didn’t like to think what would happen if he had the misfortune to be discovered by Fundamentalists or their sympathisers. Every man on the team had what was morbidly referred to as an “Escape Capsule”. The only escape it offered was death, but even that was preferable to what the Alkies might do to you. Ben put a mental lid on his morbid reverie and turned to see Corporals Vann and Percy arriving.
“Okay men, double check weapons and rations. Bryan and Thompson?”
The two men replied in unison, “Sir?”
“You’re responsible for the inflatables. Guard them with your life. No pun intended, but if we lose either one, we’re dead in the water. Carry your machine pistols only, the rest of us will split the extra weaponry and supplies.”
The two men nodded affirmatively.
“Right, North West, on my heading” said Ben, checking his compass,” We should be at the precipice to the gorge within thirty minutes. I want us down that rock face in double-quick time. We’ll take a moment to rest at the bottom before commissioning the inflatables. Okay men, move out, and quietly.”
The depleted strike team set out across the plateau, eight shadows teased by the moon, their silent sentinel.
© Kev Moore 2008 All Rights Reserved