After passing the mid-way point in my novella last week, it’s time to give readers a sneak peek! This scene is from the end of the first act, or as I prefer to call it, the ‘lead in’ to the rest of the story. It only gets better after this.
Boots thudded on the ramp behind Chizon as he waved men past him. A bullet pinged off the armor and he flinched. Another one sprayed dirt up near his boots. With a scowl, he grabbed Michaud’s shoulder as the man went by.
“Get me a bigger gun. There’s a rack of ‘em near the ramp.”
The soldier saluted and sprinted up into the gunship. A sound of straps being unclipped drifted down, then he whistled and tossed a massive weapon to the captain.
“Locked and loaded, sir, just open up! I’ll cover you from here.”
Chizon nodded and hit the dirt, flipping open the bipod under the gun. Rounds screamed out of the woods and spattered paint off the aircraft’s armor. He watched for a second, trying to pinpoint the shooter. Another burst echoed and he saw it. Several hundred feet up the hillside, a branch fell from a tree, cut off by the bullets.
Grinning in satisfaction, he pulled the trigger, sending a stream of tracer rounds toward the trees. Streaks of red flashed in the wake of the bullets, pointing out the Russian position to the gunners in the second gunship circling above. Chizon shouted into his radio.
“Enemy firing on the landing craft. They’re tracer-painted, take ‘em out!”
A second or two passed as the gunship maneuvered. Then, area Chizon had marked began to disintegrate under a barrage of incendiary rounds from the aircraft’s waist guns. The slow pounding of the big cannons was comforting, even if it did make his ears hurt.
He grinned to himself; the word “air-support” gave a soldier the same warm, fuzzy feeling that “backup” did. Locking the bipod, he tossed the machine gun to Michaud, and sprinted up the ramp. A quick glance around assured him that everyone from the encampment was accounted for. Sergeant Nichols and Gambler squad had already been extracted by another gunship, from the safety of their position on the ridge.
With a shout to the pilot, he dropped into a seat and began strapping himself in. The ramp began to close, creaking under the strain of the hydraulics. A speaker switched on and the pilot’s voice echoed in the troop bay.
“You know how combat extraction goes in these babies, gents. Hold onto your boots!”
Chizon winced and got a good grip on the straps above his seat. He leaned back, pushing his head against a button on the wall. A steel clamp locked down on his helmet, bracing his head and neck against acceleration.
The whining roar of the jets firing up drowned out even the blast of the gunship cannons. Fuel poured into the hot engines, blasting fire as the afterburners lit. Metal groaned and the craft shot skyward, slamming its passengers into their seats.
Chizon gritted his teeth, fighting the acceleration blackout. His knuckles went white. Entry and extraction were the worst parts of any mission; relying on someone else to keep him alive wasn’t something he did well. The only thing protecting the passengers from enemy fire was the pilot’s skill and the aircraft’s armor.
Of course, he had to admit that protecting wasn’t the only thing that mattered. Return fire was equally important. The craft shook as the gunner opened up with his cannons, laying down suppressing fire. Chizon’s smile was cold. With two gunships in the air and raining high-explosive rounds on the forest, the Russians didn’t stand a chance.
The pilot leveled off, speeding the craft west, away from the battle-zone. A few seconds later, the thud of the cannon ceased. Glancing around, Chizon could see that the whole platoon was as relieved as he was. They’d survived extraction.
Someone started a cheer, but the captain raised a hand, a frown suddenly growing.
“Hold it, lads. You hear that?”
The compartment went quiet as the soldiers strained to hear. A crackle from the pilot’s speaker drew their attention.
“We’re free and clear, guys. No-one on our tail and no missiles, either. Good extr…”
He broke off as something exploded in the distance. For several tense moments, the rumbling boom continued, with no word from the pilot. Finally, the speaker buzzed to life again.
“The Russians just shelled their own encampment, gents. Looks like you made yourselves too unpleasant to keep around. The whole place is a big crater already, but the shells are still coming down.”
Hydraulics hummed and metal squeaked, then a rush of wind battered the platoon. The loading ramp was opening. They stared out, eyes wide as they watched the defenses they’d just evacuated dissolve in a blaze and cloud of smoke. Rounds still screamed out of the sky, pounding the wreckage into dust and ash.
Sergeant Benz glanced across the compartment at Chizon curiously.
“Whose cards just hit the table, sir? Yours or theirs?”
The captain looked back at him, expressionless.
“The world’s afraid to call my bluff, sergeant.”
What did you think of this sneak peek? Please, comment (or opine) below; I’d love to hear your thoughts!