Deckard launched himself off the ramp of the airplane and into the darkness. He still had trouble stabilizing as he exited the aircraft and rocked from side to side for a few moments as he rode the hill of air down through the sky, his body riding along with the forward throw of the plane on exit. Seconds seemed to stretch on forever, but he finally got stable in the air and assumed a position called a high lift track position in normal parachuting, that is, with his arms extended but swept back and his legs extended all the way out.
Unlike a HALO jump in the military, he was wearing a wing suit which would provide additional lift and therefore, more forward-glide during freefall. The sheets of material stretched between his legs and out from his arms. An ancient dream was now achievable: human flight.
Turning his head slightly, he could make out the sleek forms of four other Liquid Sky members flying behind him in the moonlit night.
Pivoting his hips and shifting his legs, Deckard was able to steer by using the wing suit like a giant rudder. Splotches of gold floated beneath him as he soared over the city. Manila.
He got on azimuth, heading west, over the city and pointed towards the ocean beyond. He was dumping altitude, dropping a meter for every couple of meters that he traveled forward. The wind howled in his ears as the cityscape below him shot by.
Angling himself downward, he picked up speed as he flew towards his target. Through the wind goggles he wore, Deckard could now make out the outline of the Aquino Building. He was moving at nearly a hundred and twenty miles an hour, and the rooftop was the smallest dropzone he had ever had to hit in his career.
It was coming up fast.
The other Liquid Sky members floated alongside him, each maneuvering slightly away from each other to clear their airspace. In the night they looked like giant flying squirrels in their wing suits. One operator dropped his hips to try to adjust his trajectory. At this point they were all trying to make small adjustments to get on the right track before deploying their parachutes.
To his right, one of the wingsuit parachutists peeled away from the formation. He was too far off the required fight path and was having trouble getting stable. He would have to deploy his parachute and land safely at a secondary landing zone on the ground. Deckard didn’t notice, he was completely fixated on his target.
The leading edge of the target building was coming up. Deckard reached back and deployed his pilot chute. The drogue caught in the air and yanked out his main parachute. Everything was a blur of motion as Deckard’s world swayed, his parachute opening above him. He was looking down into the lights inside the rooftop swimming pool.
He was too low.
Deckard reached up to grab his toggles to try to steer while he still had some space to maneuver. Below him, he saw another jumper slam right into the side of the building and through the plate glass windows. His parachute never had a chance to deploy at all.
Deckard reached out but the edge of the roof was still a good ten feet away. He sunk beneath the lip of the roof and was staring at his reflection in the windows. His heart was in his throat as he made impact.
The scene froze in front of his eyes.
Feeling his boots make contact with the floor, he stood up. The harness had lowered on its pulley system at the end of the scenario. The blinking word RESET flashed in his goggles. He flipped the visor up on his forehead and looked across the dark room. Everyone was quiet. It was their tenth time through the same scenario and none of them were getting any better.
He squinted as the lights came back on.
“Not a single person made it on to the rooftop,” Bill scolded them. “Take it from the top.”
Deckard stretched his neck, his arms, and legs as he was still secured in his parachute harness and couldn’t start walking around while tethered into the metal frame.
Each of them wore a parachute and black S-Bird wing suits made by TonySuit. Following the Special Operations adage, train as you fight, they used the same gear in the simulator that they would use on target. The S-Bird wing suit would allow them the forward glide they needed to jump from an airplane, fly into the restricted airspace over the city of Manila, and then land on their objective. This model wing suit also came equipped with escape sleeves. Normally the wings of the suit had to be unzipped manually after the jumper deployed his parachute so that he could reach up and grab the parachute’s toggles in order to steer it. There would be no time for that on this gig, they would be right on top of the objective by the time they got silk over their heads.
Later, they would add their combat equipment to their rigs. At the moment the kit loadout was still being finalized as Ramon collected intelligence on the target in the Philippines. As it stood, it didn’t really matter what kit they carried on objective if none of them could even get there in the first place.
A gray-haired technician sat in the corner of the warehouse. He was behind a computer, clicking away with his mouse as he began to reset the training scenario.
The simulator and the software were created by a company called ParaSim. The scaffolding structures were lined up next to each other, five in a row for the Liquid Sky operators. Nadeesha was working intel and logistics for them at their staging area and would not be going on target.
At the top of the scaffolding was a series of electronic pulleys and servos that moved the suspension lines that each parachutist hung from during the simulation. The suspension lines would reel themselves in and out and reposition the jumper’s body based on what was going on in the simulator. It would even release and drop the jumper down to the floor when he landed on the ground in the simulation.
Sensors were hooked up to the parachute ripcord and toggles so that the jumpers actually used their gear in physical reality, and got real time feed back inside the virtual reality simulator. A modified flip-down night vision goggle headset was worn on the helmet of each jumper but the normal night vision goggles were replaced with a virtual reality screen. The simulator could replicate all sorts of different scenarios based on the inputs added by the technician behind the computer.
Windspeed, jump altitude, weather conditions, and much more could be adjusted on the software side to give the most realistic experience possible. In this case they had the sub-contractor, where they were now located in Australia that ran the staging site, and programmed the exact scenario they had in mind for their mission. It was constantly being updated based on the feedback sent from Ramon who was already watching the building in Manila.
They were still working out what their jump altitude should be, what their pull altitude should be, and what their angle of attack should be as they came in on the objective building. Beyond that, they were all still having trouble controlling their wing suits.
“Come up five hundred feet on the jump altitude,” Bill told the technician.
“Got it, resetting now,” the technician announced.
Deckard flipped down his VR goggles as the suspension lines began to retract and pull him up into a freefall position.
“Don’t fuck it up,” he heard Bill say, his voice echoing in the warehouse.
Then they were jumping out of the back of an airplane over Manila and blasting over the city again. Deckard overshot the target and slammed into another building.
Everybody else died too.
Rick pushed a piece of plywood into position and held it for Deckard. While holding a half dozen nails in his mouth, Deckard began nailing the plywood into the wooden frame that they had spent the day constructing. Each of the Liquid Sky members were covered in sweat, their clothes soaked through while they labored in the Australian heat.
Nadeesha weaved her way through the mock-up they were building with a clipboard in her hand.
“When you finish with that I need you two to help Paul frame out the dining room.”
Rick and Deckard looked at each other as she walked off. She was taking her role as foreman a little too seriously. Using the pictures that Ramon was taking of the objective area, they were building a scale model of the rooftop apartment they were going to raid. Once they finished building it, they would run through it, training with guns that shot paint pellets.
Nadeesha kept pushing them to work faster. They still had a mission brief to do and then it was back into the simulator until they didn’t suck anymore.
Deckard finished nailing the plywood in place, and then went to go find Paul.
Back in the warehouse, everyone was relieved to be able to sit in the air conditioning for a while. Nadeesha had just gotten off the phone with Ramon and was now ready to start the brief. A map was laid out on the table alongside some overhead satellite photography taken from Google Earth. The next step would be to make a three-dimensional model of the city to help conduct talk-throughs of the mission.
Bill turned on a tablet and passed it around. It showed a thirty-something Filipino with a goatee and eyeglasses.
“This is our target, Kanor De Jesus. He runs a finance network for the moose limbs. Some of them are targeting the royal families in the Gulf States, so the client wants this guy out of the picture. The problem is that various players, including JSOC, have already tried to kill him. Five botched assassination attempts in the last two years. These days he doesn’t ever leave his rooftop apartment. The building is locked down with security from top to bottom. It would take a battalion of soldiers to fight their way up to the top. He knows there will be another assassination attempt and has taken precautions.”
“For some reason De Jesus just doesn’t sound like a Muslim name,” Zach remarked.
“It isn’t. This guy is a businessman; not a moose limb. His MO is providing financing to individuals and small cells that conduct terrorist attacks back in their home countries. Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait, Iraq, and so on. He has a network that goes out and buys pre-paid cards. You have to show identification to buy the cards, but not to reload them. So De Jesus has some local patsies buy the cards, then he has his men reload them with cash, all the way up to 10,000 dollars which is more than enough to get into the Middle East and run a small-scale terrorist operation. Sometimes he will hand out multiple cards anyway.
“The thing is, these attacks he is funding are becoming so frequent that each country’s intelligence services are having a hard time countering them. He is using swarming tactics. Remember those anus bombs?”
“Butt bombs?” Paul asked.
“A couple moose limbs stuck HME,” Bill said, referring to home made explosives, “along with a cell-phone detonator right up their poop chute.”
“These fuckers have lots of practice playing butt darts so I’m sure it wasn’t that big a deal. They almost killed the intelligence minister of Jordan a few months ago with one of those attacks. The other went off and killed a bunch of people in Riyadh during Ramadan.”
“Killing their own people,” Zach remarked. “Fucking savages.”
Deckard said nothing. He wasn’t at all surprised. That was how groups like Al Qaeda operated. Muslim or not, you, your wife, and your kids were going to be turned into corpses if you didn’t believe in AQ’s bronze-age worldview.
“The thing about these pre-paid cards is that they are an easy way to transport large sums of money across international borders, and they are completely untraceable. It allows terrorists to access funds in ways that would set off trip wires otherwise. If they were moving cash around in some other manner it would get picked up by banking software and red-flagged by American and foreign agencies.
“There was also an IED that injured a Saudi prince a couple months back. The scale of the attacks is increasing while the duration between them is decreasing. De Jesus is handing out these pre-paid cards to moose limb motherfuckers like it is going out of style. But this is what really has the client freaked out,” Bill said as he grabbed the tablet and flipped to a new picture.
“This guy works for the People’s Liberation Army with the General Staff Development’s Third Department.”
“The what?” Rick asked.
“Uh, it’s like China’s version of the NSA.”
“Not really,” Nadeesha chimed in.
“Well, then tell us knuckle draggers what the fuck this guy represents.”
“He goes by the name Dai Kexue, a mid-level executive with a state-owned manufacturing consortium. His real name is Major Shen Banggen.”
“And what does he do for Red China?” Rick asked again.
“He facilitates certain programs and projects, only a few of which we know anything about. We do know that the Third Department is invested in securing China’s cyber infrastructure and protecting its national security, but it isn’t anything like the NSA. The Third Department takes a more holistic approach to national security called informatization. This means that their cyber security initiatives work in tandem with China’s efforts to secure its place in the global marketplace, continue its economic growth, and compete commercially.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Paul asked, clearly frustrated.
Deckard leaned forward and began to speak.
“It means that Major Banggen is tasked with ensuring that China has total information dominance for political, economic, and military purposes. Baggen is clearly working with De Jesus as part of a Chinese shaping operation. They are facilitating outcomes in the Middle East that they feel are favorable to China and unfavorable to the United States.”
“I still don’t get it,” Paul said rolling his eyes.
Nadeesha blew air through her teeth.
“It means we have to kill De Jesus,” Deckard said.
“You should have just said that in the first place.”
“You guys can go bone-to-bone and see who is bigger later on,” Bill told them. “Nadeesha has been compiling the intel that Ramon has gathered so far and will brief you on the general layout of what you will find on the rooftop of the Aquino building when, and if, you make it there.”
They slept in cots in the warehouse. The team was cut off from the rest of the world and kept in isolation. The technician who ran the simulator would bring them food in the morning and other odds and ends they requested.
Bill woke the team at nine in the morning. Using replica M4 rifles that shot paintball pellets, they began clearing the mock up that they had begun constructing the previous day. Most of De Jesus’ apartment was framed out, but it still needed some work. Still, they were just familiarizing themselves with the floor plan. Bill only set up a few paper targets inside for them to shoot at.
Deckard had to give it to Bill, as unprofessional an outfit as it was, Liquid Sky had a pretty squared away training plan for this mission. He was using the crawl, walk, run method to train up the team and prepare them for their mission in the PI. The simulator, the mock up, using the kit they would have on the mission, it all made sense and greatly increased their probability of success.
After a few hours in the mock up, Bill called them back to the warehouse before they got burned out and lazy running through the wooden structure again and again. The human mind reached the point of diminishing returns after a while.
Then it was right back into the simulator.
Bill was the first one to stick the landing on the rooftop. Deckard was the second but was still hit or miss. Then Paul made it in the next couple simulations. Zach made the landing once, but just barely. Rick still had a big goose egg for a score in the simulator that night. It was early in the morning when Bill decided they were done for the night.
They were getting better.
At least they had a high degree of confidence that their target wasn’t going anywhere.
After lunch they drove out to a nearby airfield with their parachutes and wingsuits. A small prop plane would take them up. It was basic familiarization with their equipment. Some of them, like Deckard, had hundreds if not thousands of jumps but had never used a wingsuit before. It wasn’t exactly standard issue after all.
As they waited for the plane to spin up, Deckard heard Zach and Paul talking about how they wished Nadeesha was coming along so they could sabotage her parachute and be done with her once and for all. Liquid Sky wasn’t like a military unit. It wasn’t a brotherhood. It was like the mafia. Everyone was guilty and that guilt was the only thing that bonded them together. That and fulfilling their own self-satisfaction, be it for drugs, for money, for pussy, or whatever it was.
Finally, the pilot indicated that he was ready for the first lift. They set their altimeters and got onboard. They quickly rose to 12,000 feet. When Bill opened the door, the air that rushed in was damn cold. They would have to glide to their drop zone.
Tucking his limbs in, Deckard dived out the door of the plane then, extended his arms and legs to begin tracking forward. With his arms swept back and his legs fully extended, he could feel the lift being generated by the wing suit. He was tracking several meters forward for every meter that he dropped. With the rest of the Liquid Sky team, he glided towards the drop zone.
As they dropped in altitude, it really became possible to see how fast they were moving in relation to the terrain below. With a wing suit, a jumper could get going up to a hundred and twenty miles per hour. That became apparent as the shrubs and desert of the Australian outback below blasted by. At four thousand feet, they deployed their parachutes.
These were much smaller parachutes than the military used. The T-10C static-line parachute and MC-5 HALO parachute had to be able to carry two entangled jumpers to the ground, with all of their combat equipment. By contrast, civilian parachutes did not have any such requirements and were true sport parachutes. They deployed faster and dumped altitude faster. The margins for error were also much smaller.
A MC-5 had 370 square feet of material in the parachute. Their civilian parachutes had about 150 square feet of canopy.
The reality was, they would be deploying their chutes about 500 feet above the target. That wasn’t a small margin of error, it was no margin of error. They knew this. There were no high fives or woots when they touched down on their drop zone. Everyone knew that this jump had been child’s play and didn’t even begin to compare to the insert they would be attempting in Manila.
That night was spent diving through Manila in the simulator.
They had perfected the variables at this point. The jump altitude was finalized, the approach path was on target, now they just had to learn to compensate for the variables that they couldn’t control, like wind speed. They also had to have split second timing when it came to deploying and steering parachutes. They only had about ten seconds from the time they pulled to the time they were hitting the deck on top of the Aquino building.
Bill was hitting the rooftop about half of the time. Deckard was hitting it about the third of the time, but he was quickly getting used to the wingsuit’s aerodynamics. Zach and Paul were still hit or miss. Rick hadn’t stuck a single landing.
It was the eleventh simulation that night. Deckard zoomed over metro Manila, letting the gold-lit buildings guide his way. He had every landmark, every hit point memorized by now. Crossing the river was his first heads-up; then the oval-shaped Rockwell East Tower told him he was getting closer.
The ground was coming up to meet him. He was gliding and dropping at the same time. Running out of air, running out of time. It had to be perfect.
He cruised over the helipad on the top of the Roxas building, just a hundred meters over the roof. The Petron Mega-Plaza passed on his right flank. He shifted his legs to steer left. Next he blasted right between the Four Seasons and the Grand Soko Makati. Suddenly he was over Velasquez Park.
This was it. Reaching back, he yanked out his pilot chute and released it into the wind. The parachute deployed, the pulleys on the simulator lowering him from a freefall position to a vertical position as if he were really under canopy. The Aquino Building was right at the tip of his feet.
Only under canopy for a few seconds, he steered as close to the center of the building as he could with his toggles and yanked down on them at the last moment to brake. The suspension lines on the simulator suddenly went slack, dropping Deckard to the warehouse floor to simulate a real landing.
The screen froze.
Chalk up another touchdown. In the virtual reality goggles, the other jumpers were listed as they hit their assigned dropzone. Bill, Zach, and Paul all made it to the top of the building. Rick was still shitting the bed.
“Rick,” Bill bellowed in the empty warehouse. “Unclip from the simulator and de-kit. You’re done.”
“What do you mean I’m done?”
Deckard could hear the voices talk back and forth before he flipped up his goggles.
“Exactly what it sounds like. You are not hitting the dropzone. You’re done.”
“That’s fucking bullshit.”
“What’s bullshit is that the most cherry fuck on this team is hitting his targets and you aren’t,” Bill said referring to Deckard. “I said, fucking de-kit!”
Deckard flipped up his goggles in time to see Rick unclip from the simulator and unceremoniously drop his goggles and parachute on the cement floor. Tearing off the wingsuit he tossed it and stormed outside, the heavy metal door slamming shut behind him.
“Nadeesha!” Bill yelled. “Kit up and get in the simulator. The rest of you are done for the night.”
Nadeesha looked up from the folding table where she had been going over intel reports and working on the layout of the objective.
“You waiting for a second invitation, sweet pea? Kit the fuck up. You’re in for an all-nighter.”
“What the hell is this,” Zach said in shock. “You’re taking Rick off the team for some squall?”
“I need pipe hitters on my objective, but that pipe hitter can’t even get to the objective. If Nadeesha can get her piss flaps to the top of the fucking building, then a squall trigger-puller is better than no trigger-puller.”
“She does intel and logistics, not operations,” Zach said as if Bill needed reminding.
“She only has to be operational for all of five minutes on target and I don’t have time to find someone new. Ramon has the remote devices on batteries to watch the target, but now he is busy working logistics for our infil and exfil.”
Apparently Nadeesha didn’t need to be told twice. By the time Deckard had unclipped from the suspension lines and shrugged out of his parachute, Nadeesha was already set to go in what had been Rick’s simulator station.
“So, since you don’t think she is up to it,” Bill told Zach. “I want you to brew a fresh pot of coffee for her.”
Then he turned to the technician working the computer.
“Feed her a cup after every five simulations once she starts getting tired. I want her going all night. She has a lot of catching up to do to get up to speed with the rest of us.”
Deckard unzipped his wing suit and set it down next to the parachute. Nadeesha was being pulled up by the pulleys into the freefall position. The VR goggles were down over her eyes. The wing suit was going to need some further adjustments for her smaller frame, but they would work that out later. Rick wasn’t that tall to begin with.
Fuck that dude anyway.