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Old 12-30-2010, 06:48 PM
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Default In the Summer Sky: Bird of Prey

"Guns up!" Sergeant Harris hissed as the fireteam squatted in a muddy fen. Fifty meters ahead, a group of Pact infantry had crossed into an open field just beyond the high grass and stunted, twisted undergrowth of the marsh. The eastern european soldiers looked exactly like the NATO troops observing them: dirty to the point of being nearly unidentifiable and carrying ragged packs and worn-out (yet probably well-effective) weapons.

"Private" Carl Briggs shivered as ice cold swamp water began to seep into his flight boots. He was technically a Lieutenant in the United States Navy's fleet air arm. Although he'd been shot down in March, it seemed like a million years ago now...
"Goldbrick Zero One this is Snakeye Actual," the voice on the other end of the radio shouted. Pops of static from the push-to-talk mic being held by a groundpounder were probably nearby tank fire or artillery.

"Snakeye Actual, Goldbrick Zero One check." Briggs responded. "We are IP in zero-six minutes, we have your marker."

Briggs' bombardier-navigator, Mike "Feather" Weathers was head-down in the console of RADAR screens, sensors and tracking devices of their A6E's suite of combat computers that would direct them to their target.

"Sp-spike," stammered the voice on the other end of the radio. Nervousness was edging into Snakeye Actual's voice - whomever it was - and Briggs knew the Seargeant, Corporal, Captain or whomever was relying on the A6's deadly payload to make it out of their predicament alive.

"Got him!" Weathers announced. The heads-up display marker slewed starboard and Briggs pushed the stick right to bring the nose back in line with the karat on the display "gunsight". Grey puffs of gunfire and dull orange smudges of artillery impacts could now be seen, a deadly tableau playing out before them. Above and behind, a second A6E, Goldbrick Zero Two, held port and rear, ready to follow up zero one's strike.

Briggs snapped the bomb-laden A6 over on its back. The panorama of battle before and below them came closer and closer. Weathers deftly worked the combat computers, ready to release the Intruder's payload if the automatic release systems failed. "Locked!" the B/N called. Briggs rolled the A6E back over, the tactical displays showing an eerily pristine ghost of the chaotic terrain rolling beneath them. "You're hot!" Weathers shouted. He began to call off the range-to-target increments in 100 meter delineations as they scrolled down his display, marching towards release. "Release!" Briggs yelled as six five-hundred pound bombs and two containers of cluster bombs were ejected over the target, a Soviet armored company.

"Shack!" came the yell over the radio from Goldbrick zero two, then that attack aircraft began its run, dealing similar damage to the now-smashed Soviet armored thrust.

"Another day at the office!" Weathers said and peeled back his O2 mask, long enough to give Briggs his best chow-eating grin. He clipped his mask back in place -

A flash, a flash too awful to contemplate, one that ate at the very substance of vision and the human soul. Voices screaming, no, insturments, metal, static hissing like a snake over the intercom then nothing, nothing but the shriek of air rushing past the blunt nose of the doomed attack jet.

"MIKE, MIKE!" Briggs screamed. His B/N had his hands clapped over his face, oblivious to anything else. His mouth was open in a rictus of pain; if he was screaming, Briggs couldn't hear it over the rush of air just outside the canopy. All the insturments were deadlined; even the altimiter was frozen in place, but the Intruder's nose was down and Briggs could tell they were losing altitude quickly. He dared to glance straight ahead - a mushroom cloud loomed kilometers away, a grave-marker for some city, town, bridge or unlucky troop concentration.

Mike had just looked up to hook his mask back on, had been staring straight ahead, he was blind now...

Briggs scanned the cockpit a final time and pounded furiously on his B/N's shoulder, gesturing frantically at his ESCAPAC-II harness with his other hand. Soon they'd be out of altitude and out of time. Weathers turned to Briggs, his face still twisted with agony. One eye was filmed milky white already, but the other pupil was undialating. Thank God. He nodded and blinked tears away, understanding Briggs' gestures.

Fortunately, the ejection system was wholly mechanical and unaffected by the electromagnetic pulse which had killed every other system in their jet. Spring-fired pinions triggered the cutting charges and blew their seats through the A6's canopy.

A rush of air, too much, twisting, falling, Goldbrick Zero Two banking hard, the roar of its engines as they turned to watch their companions' descent. How? How had they escaped the pulse? No time, falling, falling to earth...
The impact with the ground smashed the breath out of Briggs. Something loomed over him, someone, a shape, a helmet, a gun.

"...ddy? Hey, buddy? Get up, airdale, get up! C'mon!" A soldier was dragging Briggs to his feet. "C'mon, man! We gotta get clear, wind's blowing this way, we gotta get out of the zone! That was a ground burst, couldn'ta been more than fifteen clicks off."

Briggs pushed the soldier away. "My...my navigator, my buddy, where...where is he?"

The soldier looked up and around. "I don't see another 'chute man. I saw two come down but I don't know where the other guy went." Briggs frantically looked around. Mike Weathers was out here, blind in one eye, possibly injured from the low-altitude ejection and as in danger from the fallout as Briggs and the soldier.

The trooper shook Briggs by his collar. "Hey, hey. We'll find him. He's out here, we got a few minutes...Hey did you guys drop on the Sovs, back five or six clicks back there?" He pointed south.

Briggs nodded woodenly "Yeah. Yeah that was us...us and that guy," he gestured in the direction Goldbrick Zero Two had flown.

"Well, attaboy man, you guys just busted up a whole Soviet tank brigade; you got this whole sector some breathing room." The entire time, the soldier - whose nametag read DAVIS - had been urging Briggs towards a nearby treeline.

"Once the fallout blows over we'll getcha back to 1 MAF, they got a whole bunch of Navy guys, they round 'em up and get 'em back to Bremerhaven and so on back to y'alls ships, a- hey!" Davis took off at a run. Hanging just inside the treeline was another parachute, with a limp form dangling in the shroud line. Briggs followed as quickly as he could move his shock-numbed body.

Weathers hung motionless, his head at an acute angle. It was all too obvious that he'd become snared in his own shroud lines and died when they'd pulled taut in the tree branches.

"Man," Davis whispered. "I'm sorry."

"We've got a while, right?" Briggs gestured towards the general direction of the looming mushroom cloud.

"Uh...yeah, not too long but a little bit, yeah."

"Then help me." Briggs started to cut the shroud lines to lower his former B/N to the ground.

Minutes later, Weathers lay on the ground, covered in the sea-grey parachute. Briggs picked up a few stones and laid them on the silk, weighing it down. He drove a branch into the soft earth and hung the navigator's helmet there.

"I'm sorry, pal." Davis said again.

"We went through school at Whidbey Island together in '93. Our wives knew each other...a million years before this goddamn war." Briggs said, his voice hollow-sounding.

"C'mon, pal, they're expecting me back at brigade, we'll get you home."

A nudge on Briggs' shoulder brought him out of his reverie. "Hey, trooper, let's roll." Cpl. Davis stuck his hand out to help Briggs back to his feet. "The Sovs moved on, time for us to do the same before they double back on us."

Briggs stood with Davis' help and slogged out of the water onto relatively drier land, shifting his pack and rifle on his shoulders. He glanced into the uniform grey sky, watching an unidentifiable black bird pinwheel a thousand feet above.
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