Deckard fell towards the earth, nearly going end over end as he struggled to maintain a positive body position. Glancing at his altimeter, he waved off at 6,000 feet, looked back at his altimeter and then reached for his ripcord at 4,500 feet. When he gave it a yank, his head snapped to the side. He had been pulling on the tube running from his oxygen mask to the bottled O2 strapped under his MC-5 parachute. Making another attempt, he reached in and snatched his ripcord. He pulled it but nothing happened; the metal grip separated from the steel cable which would have pulled the pins and released his parachute.
He didn’t bother to look back at his altimeter, but knew he was burning altitude fast. Tracing the main lift web on his parachute harness, he grabbed the floating cable and pulled as hard as he could. He was pins-out somewhere around 2,000 feet. The pilot chute was out, but caught in a wind bubble on his back where it bounced around but failed to catch in the air and deploy his main parachute.
Then, the CYPRES system detected the barometric pressure at low altitude, indicating that something was wrong. The computer was a fail safe in case the jumper was knocked unconscious. To his horror, the reserve parachute deployed just as the pilot chute finally pulled his main parachute out of its deployment bag.
Two parachutes, both with forward drive, were now over his head, his reserve and main parachute snaking around each other and becoming intertwined. With two canopies over his head, cutting away and pulling his reserve was out of the question. All he had was a main and a reserve and they were both deployed already.
Deckard reached up and grabbed the suspension lines of the reserve parachute, desperately trying to prevent it from entangling itself around the main parachute. If his main chute was collapsed by the reserve there was no recourse or corrective measure which could save him. His biceps were burning as he pulled and separated the suspension lines, but the reserve chute was still trying to drive forward. Since it was anchored to the parachute harness, and to Deckard, it kept trying to make a U-turn back into his main chute.
As the main parachute began to collapse, Deckard felt weightless, the ground rushing up to reach him. Somehow he managed to survive the landing. Shrugging out of his parachute harness he put his M4 rifle into operation and moved out.
The enemy was quickly advancing. Joined by his teammates, Deckard opened fire. A single round fired from the rifle before it jammed. Deckard executed the malfunction drill by muscle memory without consciously thinking through the steps. Slapping the magazine, he racked the bolt and tapped the forward assist. Pulling the buttstock back into the pocket of his shoulder, he aimed down the sights and squeezed the trigger on the first enemy he spotted. The hammer dropped on the firing pin but the rifle did not discharge.
Now his teammates had to pick up their rate of fire to compensate for Deckard’s weapon being out of action. He performed the malfunction drill again. Slap, rack, but no bang. The man to Deckard’s left went down under a hail of gunfire. Slap, rack, but nothing. Deckard dropped the magazine, pulled the bolt to the rear and inspected the chamber. It looked clear. Loading a fresh magazine he attempted to shoot again. Nothing.
His other teammate on his right side collapsed like an empty coat. Deckard slapped the magazine, racked the bolt, and squeezed the trigger but the weapon still would not fire. The enemy was right on top of him. He was still attempting to get his rifle back online when the terrorists swarmed in on him.
That was when Deckard woke up.
His chest heaved as he tried to catch his breath, his mind taking a few moments to recognize his surroundings. He was in an apartment in Las Vegas, a temporary safe house where he was waiting out a different kind of storm. Forty-eight hours ago, Deckard and his crew had smashed through a conspiracy that stretched from Mexican drug cartels to a Private Military Company that had been training Iranian terrorists in the Nevada desert. Since clearing out of Area 14 on a Department of Energy training site, Deckard and his teammates from Samruk International had been in hiding. No casinos for them, not while half the world was wondering what the hell had happened out in the Nevada desert.
He stretched his back while he lay on the couch and felt his back pop.
Deckard and Samruk International were what had happened. They had taken on the cartels and their puppet masters. They walked away from that fight, the enemy didn’t. But they had walked away with something else as well. While busting into a top-secret facility, a special activities center for the G3 Communications Corporation, they had retrieved several bags worth of sensitive documents.
Pat had made a phone call to an old girlfriend in town and secured them a place to stay until some of the heat died down. After spending an entire day sleeping and eating, Deckard, Pat, Aghassi, Nikita, and Kurt began moving around the apartment. With little else to do, they sat around the coffee table poring over the intelligence material they had collected while Nikita busied himself cleaning his HK 417 sniper rifle.
Sitting up on the couch, Deckard felt the soreness deep in his muscles and joints. He had run himself ragged during the campaign in Mexico until he literally collapsed. After getting a few bags of saline solution by intravenous drip, he went right back into the fight. When they first got to the apartment, he collapsed onto the couch. It was less like sleep and more like a coma. When he woke up he was dehydrated and his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth.
But after a few solid meals, sleep, and drinking lots of water, he was starting to feel a lot better, even though his body was still recovering from the wounds and abrasions he had taken along the way. Meanwhile, the rest of his Private Military Company, Samruk International, had been flown back to Kazakhstan. Having left Frank and Sergeant Major Korgan in charge of the two platoons, they had paid the men and then put them on leave for some much needed R&R.
Deckard looked at the files and folders strewn across the table.
The CEO of G3 Communications was still out there. Deckard would attend to him, but at a time and place of his choosing. Right now, the CEO was no doubt prepared for him after learning about Samruk’s hit on Area 14. The documents they had recovered pointed in other directions. G3 was not just running illegal operations in Latin America but also in the Gulf States. One document in particular caught Deckard’s interest. It was a company roster for a G3 subsidiary registered in the United Arab Emirates.
The roster listed over a 150 employees by name along with their place of birth, passport number, phone number, blood type, and their duty position within the company. Interestingly they were all coded into the roster under the number 11. When looking at the index for the roster, number 11 listed that position as “maintenance.” Deckard had a hard time believing that employees from the Ukraine, South Africa, Pakistan, and England were all hired and flown to the UAE simply to be janitors.
More curious, there was a small cell isolated within the roster. They were not listed by name but rather an alphanumeric designation ranging from O-1 to O-7. The cell name was Liquid Sky. No passport numbers were listed but they were all Americans, aside from one of them whose place of birth was listed as Sri Lanka despite being a US citizen. They were the only Americans working within the entire company in fact.
Deckard sat alone in the early morning light, unable to fall asleep after the nightmares. What he had uncovered in the documents thus far was grinding at him.
There was also a target deck within one of the binders of people who appeared to have been eliminated by Liquid Sky. Pat’s gal pal was a nurse and still at work, so Deckard logged into her computer and downloaded some software that would allow him to search the web anonymously. He started tracking down the names in the target deck. Many of them did not come up in any of his searches which was to be expected if they were third-world terrorists or, for that matter, intelligence professionals who didn’t want to be found in life or death. Some names did produce search results.
One was a Saudi prince who disappeared and was found a week later in the desert with a bullet in the back of his head. It was written off in the media as an inter-familial feud within the royal family. Another was a Somalian warlord who had been reported by the Associated Press as being killed by a Predator drone strike, but according to the logs in the target deck, he had actually been killed two weeks prior. A third target was an Al Qaeda terrorist emir in Yemen. They were bad guys, or at least baddish, until he got halfway down the list.
The turning point seemed to be in 2011, when the targets shifted from being exclusively Islamic extremists and corrupt Arabs to pro-democracy demonstrators, protest leaders, and human-rights advocates in the UAE, Yemen, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and throughout the Arab world. Just as the Arab Spring picked up momentum, it seemed that Liquid Sky had received new taskings. The client had to be the leaders of the Gulf States who wanted both Islamic extremists and anti-monarchist, anti-dictatorship protestors off their backs.
The fat cats in the Gulf States were content to rake in oil money and bang Russian hookers but needed American expertise to maintain their position in society. American Special Operations expertise. Who was holding down the pro-democracy movement in the Middle East? Who was helping to keep the Arab world a dictatorship and a breeding ground for terrorism? It looked like one arm of that apparatus was called Liquid Sky, a group of renegade military contractors.
There was one name listed in the target deck that had not reached his expiration date. One that was scheduled in for service within a weeks time. Would Liquid Sky be alerted that their OPSEC was blown when Area 14 had been set ablaze? Deckard scratched the stubble on his face.
Liquid Sky’s next target was currently located in a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan.
He was the last name on the list.
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