It wasn’t his sniper rifle, but Chad could easily be talked into having an M134 minigun of his own to play with now and then.
He short-bursted just two to three seconds at a time—which at four thousand rounds per minute was a daunting couple hundred rounds each time he hit the trigger. When he was on the hustle with his combat rifle, he might shoot a round or two per second. With his sniper rifle, he only ever had to fire it once per target. The minigun might not hit with every round the way he did—Delta Force training wasn’t about wasting ammunition—but…
“Hoo-ee doggies! Just lay down now, dudes. Daddy’s got a brand new toy.”
“Easy, hotshot,” Carmen, the way-cute redhead on the big Chinook helicopter’s other gun practically laughed.
“Suppressive fire. That’s what I’m talking about! Suppressive, hell. This thing is a shredder.”
The twin-rotor helicopter was making its second pickup of the night.
He’d been the first: out doing solo recon deep in the Colombian jungle. Just before sunset, the Night Stalkers’ MH-47G helo had swooped in, he’d strolled up the rear ramp, and twenty tons of twin-rotor helo had flitted away with no one the wiser. A couple of other helos had circled high above on guard duty but weren’t needed.
Their second pickup—in the last of the failing dusk—wasn’t going so hot. Masses of groundfire ripped through the humid, cloying air. One of the joys of the jungle: a man got wetter just standing still than he did running around in most other places.
On the “even worse” side of the list, the Chinook’s starboard gunner had just taken a hit right through the gunner’s window. It had to be pure luck—put enough lead in the air and you’re bound to hit something—their current enemy’s rather boring tactic. Had to be, because none of these cocaine-running Colombian hillbillies could shoot that well on purpose.
No fountains of blood sprouted from the gunner’s upper arm, which meant the dude’s arteries were still flowing in the right direction. Chad had slapped a compression badge on the arm, then tossed it in a sling when it was clear that the bone had been shattered. “Better have someone look at that when you get back to base.”
“Ruddy hell yeah!” The guy agreed weakly with a posh British accent.
Then Chad had stepped up to the swivel-mounted, six-barrel Gatling Minigun himself and patched in to the intercom before giving it a try.
He’d never fired an M134D except during weapons familiarization on the Fort Bragg range—certainly not from the vantage of a hovering helo. This weapon delivered a whole new level of hurt to the bad guys.
The extract being run by the 160th Night Stalkers was a textbook setup. Hover at the edge of a steep canyon with sixty feet and twenty tons of monster, twin-rotor helo hanging over a whole lot of nothing. Lower the three-meter-wide rear ramp onto the edge of the cliff, and wait for the cavalry to come trotting out of the jungle. Just to add some spice, the pilots were facing out over the canyon and couldn’t see s**t behind them, but they were Night Stalkers and had it nailed.
Except just like all such scenarios, Chad knew full well why they ended up in textbooks…because they always went wrong. This time proved to be no exception.
The jungle ended a hundred meters away, except for just a few scattered trees. Those had forced the helo to hover out at the cliff edge to avoid catching a rotor blade on some wax palm or giant mahogany with helo-crashing in mind.
The good guys had appeared at one end of the clearing while the bad guys were shooting madly from the other.
And from the side.
And from behind the friendlies—which was very unfriendly of them.
Normally an MH-47G Chinook didn’t fight—it was the cargo van of Special Operations Forces. They left the dirty work up to the big hammer of the Black Hawks. Except there was so much going on tonight, the two Hawks they’d brought with them were too busy to defend the Chinook as well.
So, Chad leaned out as far as the gun would go and blasted showers of lead back into the jungle’s verge. The Minigun did a good job of making would-be shooters keep their heads down. Thankfully, these guys weren’t exactly quick learners and he kept picking them off in groups of two and three.
“If I was on the other end of this, I’d be diggin’ a hole.”
“Wouldn’t stop me from finding you,” Carmen called back as she, too, blasted away. She wore a ring, but maybe it was one of those phony “Keep Away” signs that a guy could sometimes talk his way around.
“I dunno. When I dig down, I go deep.”
Didn’t earn him the right kind of laugh, so maybe the ring was real.
He picked off someone with a heavy machine gun and his ammo monkey. Good to have that out of play. The 5.56 mm ammo was a pain—all most of these guys were throwing. But the .50 cal stuff could really hurt—punching holes in people and helicopters—until it suddenly wasn’t anymore because he’d blasted it out of existence.
The friendlies were approaching in an MRZR. The four-person military ATV was fast, but not fast enough—they were getting hammered on the long crossing through the sparse trees.
Chad went to unleash his new toy on another section of the unfriendly types.
Pull trigger. Electric motor spins the barrels up to seven hundred RPM, and it starts throwing an impressive line of 7.62 mm rounds into the night. Every fifth one a tracer that shows up brilliant green in his night-vision goggles. It was the strange half-light at end of day where his NVGs were better than nothing, but not by much.
Might as well be firing blind.
For half a second, sweep right.
At a full second, shift and sweep left.
Second and a half—a hellacious grinding noise from the machine and the ammunition belt just stopped moving. The barrels still spun, but the comforting buzz-saw roar of sixty-six supersonic rounds per second wasn’t happening.
He let the electric motor spin down.
When he grabbed the barrels and gave them a test spin, they moved just fine. Hot as hell, but he wore gloves, so it was okay. Hot barrels were normal on a Minigun.
He looked down at the wounded Brit leaning with his back against the hull.
“Sounds like you sheared the pin in the delinker. Two-dollar part, but takes ten minutes to replace it.”
“We’ve got, like, thirty seconds.”
The guy shrugged, and even in the NVGs, Chad could see him wince at the pain in his arm.
“Got a jam here. Starboard side. Not clearable,” Chad reported over the intercom.
“s**t!” Carmen was not happy. “Damn Delta Force operator comes aboard and breaks my hundred-thousand-dollar weapon system.”
“This ‘damn Delta Force operator’ didn’t do it to you out of spite.”
“Like I’m gonna believe that shit.” Too bad she was taken—woman had a mouth on her and kept her sense of humor even when things got bad.
Without comment, the pilots twisted the big helo on its tail. They kept the ramp on the ground and rotated the nose around until Carmen’s weapon had almost a full sweep of the jungle, which meant she had to work twice as hard.
“You guys are so damn good,” he called out to the pilots as he unlimbered his HK416 rifle. Twenty-round magazine and he only had two spares on him. He’d just gone from a loaded four-thousand-round kicker-case bolted to the deck…to sixty.
As the view on his side was now over the night-shrouded canyon, he strode over to join Carmen. Maybe he could get some shots out the edge of her gun window.
He was halfway across the eight-foot-wide cargo bay when it hit him.
The MRZR raced aboard, shot up the length of the cargo bay—and slammed into him.
He heard a scream and a curse, but he wasn’t sure which one was his as he was thrown forward.
Chad landed on his back between the two pilot seats and his helmet smacked hard against the main console.
“Nice one, cowboy.” Captain Roberts looked down at him. “You just shattered our central screen with your head. Haven’t you broken enough already?”
“Guess not,” Chad managed to admit and wondered about his own body. Was he in shock? He wasn’t feeling any pain. Had his body armor saved him…or not? Experience told him that if he was hurt, he would be feeling it soon enough.
“Well, it’s not getting any better. They just knocked out one of our engines.” While Roberts flew, the copilot’s hands were moving fast. First he pulled the engine fire T-handle and then did more of whatever it was helo copilots did during a crisis.
Chad lay on the radio console that ran between the pilot seats and wondered if he should try getting up. It seemed as if perhaps he should.
He raised his head first. Good sign, his neck still worked.
He could see his left foot was caught between the MRZR’s bull-bar bumper and its winch.
He could feel his foot! Another good sign, implying that his spine had remained intact. Attempting to twist his foot free transmitted loud and clear that there was nothing wrong with the nerves in his knee. Ow!
The driver was looking at him in some surprise.
Even being dressed like a Spec Ops solider—in armored vest, helmet, and enough weaponry to suppress a riot—couldn’t hide that the driver was seriously female.
The MRZR’s brakes had worked before Tanya had entered the battle, but she hadn’t used them much since then.
Either they were shot out on the crossing or her impact with the side of the Chinook’s rear ramp had killed them. The helicopter had twisted just as she’d been racing for the ramp, wanting nothing more than out of the hellhole they’d entered.
At least two of her team were injured—one had nearly blown out her eardrum with a scream as the MRZR slammed to a halt.
Worse, their jungle target had been a dry hole. The senior leaders of the drug lab who were supposed to be there had left an hour before her team struck, but they’d left plenty of cartel troops in place.
The guy she’d hit raised his head to look at her with the twinned cyborg eyes of night-vision goggles. She heard the helo laboring as it struggled to pull back from the cliff. It went nose high—not a good sign.
And the MRZR began rolling backward. She slammed it into first gear—with the engine stopped, that should have been her parking brake. But the helo deck’s angle was increasing and it wasn’t enough. No chains in place yet to tie it to the deck.
“Out! Out! Out!” Tanya yelled at her crew.
First she stiff-armed Marta beside her, knocking her out of the passenger seat and onto the cargo deck. Then Tanya jumped out and pulled on Carl’s shoulder to drag him out of the rear seat as Max jumped out the other side. Carl flopped down to the deck like a bag of steaming dogshit as the MRZR continued rolling backward. She snapped a monkey line onto his vest’s lifting ring so that he didn’t slide away before she was ready to bandage him up.
“You gotta be kidding me!” The man she’d hit was being dragged by the vehicle as it continued rolling backward down the steeply slanted cargo bay. His foot was caught in the front bumper. A glance showed that the rear cargo ramp was still down, filled with yawning darkness.
She grabbed his hand, but it was too little, too late. In moments they were both sliding along the steel deck. Shouts followed them, but no hands were quick enough.
If she was being smart, she’d let go.
She wasn’t being smart.
And his grip on her wrist was so powerful, it wouldn’t matter if she did let go—because he didn’t.
He kicked free of the MRZR just as they bumped over the rear ramp hinge. She almost got hold of a load tie-down ring, but their momentum ripped it out of her fingertips.
They were launched out of the rear of the helicopter, falling through the night, down into the dark shadows of the jungle-lined canyon.
The plunge into warm water so far below made Chad feel like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Wild West, where men looked like Robert Redford and women looked like Katharine Ross. Of course the jungles of Colombia weren’t exactly arid American Wild West.
But any sense of a cute movie-scene-moment was fast replaced by a desperate need to breathe. Chad struggled to the surface in time to see the Chinook regain some degree of control and limp away, trailing black smoke thick enough to blot out the first of the stars.
It was far too dark to see if there was anyone on the tail ramp looking for him. His NVGs were gone along with his helmet. Both were probably at the bottom of the river staring at a brook trout. Fishing with night vision—there was an idea he hadn’t thought of. Spear gun and a snorkel—he’d be set.
He hoped it was a trout. Piranha were only in the a****n, right?
Hopefully someone on board had noted his abrupt departure from the aircraft. Maybe even some sympathy points from the redhead.
A short, sharp explosion on some rocks, which were rapidly disappearing astern as the river raced him downstream, told him of the MRZR’s final resting place. And good riddance to it. Damned machine. Though it wasn’t the machine’s fault. It was that damned woman dri—
A Black Hawk rushed down into the canyon. So they had missed him. That was gratifying. Along with apparent survival and no obvious crippling injury from being run over while inside a helicopter, it wasn’t such a bad night after all.
The river narrowed, picking up even more speed, and raced him under overhanging trees. The Black Hawk pulled up sharply and disappeared from view. The exotic leaves—that were way bigger than he was—blocked all sign of the searching helo. No chance they’d find him anytime soon.
That’s when he remembered that he wasn’t alone. The female driver had fallen with him, their hands clasped together until the fall began.
“Keep your voice down. We do not know who is to be listening.” The woman’s voice came from close behind him. Her voice was slightly stilted American—fluent enough, but as a second language, with a background accent he didn’t recognize. German…ish.
He twisted around enough to face her as the river rushed them along, but there wasn’t much to see in the darkness.
“We should be getting out of this river.” Woman driver or not, she had the dead calm of a Spec Ops soldier no matter what the danger.
“Perhaps we should wait.” There was just enough starlight to see quite how fast they were rushing by the rocks and trees of the narrow canyon. It was going to hurt if they tried to get out of the water here.
“Waiting for what?”
“Wait for—” Then he heard the roar. Not the roar of an incoming rocket. No helicopter sounded like that, American or otherwise. No. It was the roar of—
They grabbed each other just as the waterfall flipped them out into space and they began the long fall down to an unseen pool.