The interior of the Casa 235 was cramped, claustrophobic, and hot.
The passengers rocked around the inside of the plane as it skirted low over the surface of the earth to avoid surface-to-air missiles. They flew blacked-out, in the dark, the free fall jumpers sitting on the cold metal floor while their bodies quickly heated up the Casa’s innards. Sweat beaded and then ran down their faces. After a few hours their stomachs churned and their heads swam. Burdened by the rucksacks clipped into their parachute harnesses, weapons, and other gear, it got really humid really fast.
Deckard closed his eyes as he began to get dizzy. This was the most dangerous part of the mission, the part where you have time to think. Time to doubt your preparations, your training, your mission. Time to doubt yourself. And when you blew off all your very rational fears, you just doubted in general because you had nothing else to busy yourself with. But like all good soldiers, Deckard possessed that psychopathic part of his brain that allowed him to arrogantly push on, figuring he could somehow survive.
It wasn’t like he planned to live forever.
The loadmaster standing near the ramp of the aircraft indicated that they were twenty minutes out. They could already feel the aircraft gaining altitude. This would be a straight high altitude low opening jump. No high-speed HAHO sky-pirate business, no wing suits. Just pop your chute and get to the ground without dying.
Liquid Sky snapped their Ops-Core helmets on; then, flipped on their oxygen tanks before securing the rubber oxygen masks over their faces. Then, they began the long, slow, and painful process of dragging themselves to their feet. It was then that another feeling washed over Deckard. He stood on shaky feet but the ghost of a smile was on his face behind the oxygen mask. He was going to war. Not with the Syrians, but with his own kind. He had witnessed the scalpings, the murders first hand. He had two options, join Liquid Sky and fully commit, or complete his mission.
Deckard would complete his mission.
War was the only time that life made sense to him.
Everything was finally starting to come back into focus.
The Operator was at the rear of the plane, standing next to the ramp alongside the TORDs bundle that he was tethered to. The bundle sat on rollers right next to the edge of the ramp. The freefall jumpers did one last check of their own and their teammates’ equipment to make sure everything was in place. As they reached altitude, the loadmaster lowered the ramp. He was a contractor, working for who only knew what company.
When the green light came on, Rick helped roll the TORDs off the ramp, The Operator chasing it into the night. Bill held the drogue chute that would help stabilize The Operator in free fall. He released it into the night as the bundle jumper disappeared off the back of the ramp. The rest of the team waddled out the door right behind him, nearly on top of each other as they leaned forward and fell off the back of the Casa.
Deckard was the last one out.
At night, you intellectually knew that you were jumping off a plane, thousands of feet up in the sky. You knew a thousand things could go wrong and you could die. But in the dark, with your hearing restricted by ear plugs and only a single dim light to show you the way off the plane you got tunnel vision. You focused on what you had to do, your equipment, the actions you were required to do one step at a time. The night helped you focus, your brain not really registering the gravity of what you were doing.
Deckard was still smiling when he went off the end of the ramp, knowing that this would be a one-way trip.
He could smell the fuel and feel the heat from the engines as he fell. Riding the hill of air off the back of the plane, he pivoted his hips forward, kept his arms out at his sides, and made sure his knees were bent, but out. With the rucksack hanging between his legs, he wouldn’t need to have his legs as outstretched as normal in order to get into a stable body position.
A light stick was rubber-banded to the altimeter on his wrist. A small slit was cut in the wrapper so that just enough green light escaped to light up the dial. He looked at it briefly as his body seesawed in the air. At 17,500 feet, he was having a hard time getting stable in the air. The other jumpers were out there, somewhere, but he couldn’t see them in the dark.
Deckard continued to wobble in the air. He tried to sink his hips lower and get his arms and legs out in the most symmetrical pattern possible. Nothing seemed to be working and he knew that at this point he was just going to have to ride it out. Keeping his eyes on where he thought the horizon was, Deckard glanced again at his altimeter.
Suddenly, he dipped down. Trying to compensate in free fall was difficult and now the wind resistance against his body spun him right around onto his back. Deckard was now falling at 6,000 feet above the surface of the earth, on his back and looking up at the stars. He made one attempt to do some sort of situp in the air and get himself turned back around, but with all the kit he wore, that simply wasn’t happening. He was frozen in position.
Gathering his wits, Deckard brought in one arm and held his hand against his chest. With the other arm still out, it acted like a giant rudder in the wind and propelled him back over onto his stomach. Deckard turned his wrist towards him and looked again at the altimeter from the corner of his eye.
Careful not to accidentally grab the hose running to his oxygen mask, he pulled his ripcord grip. The MC-5 parachute deployed above his head, the leg straps biting into his thighs as it felt like he was being dragged upward. In reality, he was just slowing down, losing descent speed as the parachute grabbed some air for him.
Once he had a canopy above his head, Deckard checked for the three S’s. Square, stable, and yanking down on the parachute toggles he found that, yeah, it was steerable too. With a starry sky and a sliver of moon showing through the clouds, the freefall jumpers were able to get into a file formation as they glided towards the ground.
A few hundred feet above the drop zone, Deckard pulled the release tab and dropped his rucksack on a nylon tether beneath him. When he heard his rucksack hit the ground, Deckard pulled his toggles half way down to put the parachute at half breaks. Keeping his feet and knees together, he impacted the rocky ground and flopped over on one side.
He came down hard, same as every jump, but was alive. He pulled one brake line in hand over hand, collapsing the parachute. Deckard was more than happy to free himself from the parachute harness and get his AK-47 into operation. Next he balled up his parachute and packed it inside an OD green kit bag he had brought along with him.
A few other silhouettes could be seen walking against the skyline so it didn’t take long for Liquid Sky to link up. Their drop zone was right next to a river so the team loaded large rocks into their kit bags with the parachutes and then one by one they hurled the parachutes into the river to sink them to the bottom. The last thing they wanted was to leave a bunch of military parachutes laying around to telegraph their presence in Syria.
The Operator had no problem landing the TORDs. Inside the cylinder were the two mustard gas bombs along with stretchers that they would lay the weapons in to help carry during transport. It would take at least two men to carry each one of the bombs. The others would walk point and pull security for them.
Deckard hefted the weight of the metal poles up onto his shoulders as he took the rear of one stretchers and Paul took the front as they walked. They had a couple of kilometers to move through what had been viable farmland before the war broke out. Their next task was perhaps the most risky part of their mission and the part that none of them were looking forward to.
The link up.
Their client had a line of communications with them and assured Liquid Sky that the road had been paved for them, but the bottom line was that they were about to link up with the most dangerous and ruthless fighting group in Syria. Al-Nusra. They were Syria’s version of Al Qaeda, Islamic extremists, terrorists who killed anyone who didn’t buy into their version of Islam. Many of them were foreign fighters. They came from Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Chechnya, and even from American, Canada, and Germany. They came to fight. They came to die.
Liquid Sky came to fight as well, but there were only seven of them with nothing but the weapons and equipment on their bodies to defend themselves in a denied area with thousands of enemies around them, both rebels and regime forces.
As they neared a road intersection, Bill told them to halt. Those carrying the two packages postmarked from Libya were happy to set their load down. Bill got out his red-lens flashlight. This was where they were supposed to meet with Nusra. A bunch of former American soldiers joining forces with hardcore Jihadi terrorists who beheaded Shias, Christians, Jews, and Alawites alike in village squares just for shits and giggles.
Fuck me, Deckard cursed himself internally.
Bill flashed the bonefidis. Three red flashes of his light directed towards the road.
Two red flashes answered in return from the road.
Deckard drew the bolt back with the charging handle on his AK and did a press check to make sure he had a round chambered.
Here we go again.