"Okay so lets go over this one more time to make sure we got it." Amber spoke loudly into the microphone at her throat, trying to be heard over the thrum of the rotors above them.
Camilla nodded and gestured for everyone to lean in over the map that was displayed on Hex's palmtop.
It was the following day and Alpha force was aboard a UN Iroquois inbound for their landing zone (LZ) in Solambia.
Everyone had to wear noise-cancelling earphones and use an internal microphone system to communicate with each other within the helicopter, since it was impossible to compete with the noisy engine.
The friends gathered around the small glowing screen; it showed large regions of red around the perimeter of the country with an area in the middle shaded green. As Hex had explained earlier; the area in the red represented area that was known to be under the direct control of the army, this area included the capital of Lomadia, while the green was the more rural part of the country with scattered villages and a greater population.
A blue marker right on the fringe of the red and the green, represented their landing zone or LZ where the helicopter would quickly drop them, before returning back the way it came to get to Egypt.
"Because of fuel and safety considerations for the helicopter, this LZ is the furthest we can be dropped into the country" Camilla explained, looking around at the alert faces of her friends, who hung off her words.
"From here we need to cover approximately twenty kms or Klicks, due north to reach this small village here" she traced her finger up the map to a second blue marker, designated waypoint Bravo.
"Here we rendezvous with our contact in the village and leave in a vehicle they have organised for us to use. We would use our trucks but frankly, we can only afford to airdrop resources in at this stage."
Li smiled at the idea of being called a resource of the UN.
Alex took over the final operations brief clearing his throat. "Once mobile we will navigate our way around the green zone, picking up routine UN supply drops and delivering these much needed supplies to the isolated rural communities. " He glanced up at his friends uncertainly, "Any questions at this stage?"
"How long can we expect to be doing these supply runs for Alex?" Amber asked carefully. She noticed that Alex still had a slightly drawn look about him, but at least his gaze looked focussed on the task at hand.
Looking across at Camilla, she met his eyes discretely and nodded.
Alex sighed and looked around at his best friends in the world. "We have a relief and extraction plan organised for a weeks time and hopefully by then the UN is also able to launch a larger operation. At the moment they are having to scramble resources from neighboring countries because of the Cairo airport bombing. "
"I know it doesn't sound like much," Camilla confessed, "But it is a gesture of good will that will hopefully break ground for further aid to be accepted by the Solambian people."
Amber nodded, the answer seeming acceptable to her.
Paulo spoke up next. "Alex, what are we providing in the way of medical care for the people we meet?"
Camilla answered his question, sounding like she had read her answer directly from the mission briefing handbook. "In addition to delivering much needed food and water, any basic medical care we can provide the local populace is encouraged, but obviously limited within our time constraints."
Paulo nodded, seemingly satisfied and turned to gaze out the open side door, unsure whether he was prepared for the suffering they might face. What if it was like back at the airport, where there had been so many people badly in need of aid and they weren't able to provide it? Paulo hated the feeling of weakness he felt back there, under equipped and under trained for what occurred. It was an odd feeling he realized, if his friends hadn't been there he would have almost given up in desperation.
He needed them to stay strong, just as much as they depended on him to do the same.
"Guys" Alex addressed them seriously, snapping Paulo from his thoughts, "The tactical situation at the moment is extremely precarious, it is vital to the success of this mission that we avoid any contact with the army. It is for this reason we are flying so high over Solambian airspace at the moment, while they do not have radar we are trying to stay out of sight."
"Sneaking in the back huh?" Hex wryly commented, as the group relaxed back into their seats, the mission briefing complete. He watched the sky zip past, his boots seemingly hanging suspended in space. The decision to let Alex enter the house still weighed heavily on Hex's mind and he felt like he had let the team down. Firstly, he should never have allowed his friend to take on such a burden and secondly, he should have been able to come up with an alternative.
You're the smart one the one who sees patterns the others miss, his mind screamed at him, you should have found a way that didn't require Alex to kill a man.
"We are fifteen minutes out" Amber shouted into her mic, having caught a signal from their pilot in the front. The pitch of the rotor changed as the helicopter began to drop in altitude.
Alex decided to check over his kit once more to ensure it was all in order, a nervous habit, as he tried to focus on the mission at hand.
Paulo stared around the metal cabin, admiring the beast of a machine that diced its way through the sky towards their destination. While it might not be the most comfortable mode of transport, he thought as he looked at the canvas jump seats the group sat on, it is a very reliable vehicle.
Like Hex, Li also stared out the window into the abyss. Seeing the open empty air caused the tableau from earlier to resurface in her, a man falling away from her in terror, hurtling towards the unforgiving concrete. Oh god! I killed a man, she realized desolately. I've pushed another man to his death, she corrected herself, remembering the Scorpion and the well. In her mind there was no question that they had both been evil men, but did that make it right?
She thought back to the concept of Bushido; the Japanese way of the warrior she had adopted with her martial arts, it promoted the close relationship between life and death. Thinking of it like that made her feel a bit better; theoretically since they had tried to kill her, they had faced each other as warriors and she had simply emerged as the greater combatant. It would also justify her killing of those evil men, as acting in a manner to ensure her survival and that of the others.
No shame or dishonor in that, she concluded, finally feeling her inner peace return.
Amber turned to the blond girl next to her, who was staring out the cargo door with a distant look in her eyes.
"So what's your story Camilla, how did you get in with the UN?" she probed.
Camilla turned to the contrasting girl, considering whether to respond, before flashing her a slow smile
"Well I was born and grew up in Sierra Leone with my parents, they were a doctor and a teacher who brought health and education to the poorest areas. I fell in love with Africa and the outdoors as we moved around, going where my parents felt needed. Naturally, I slowly picked up the different languages as I traveled. My parents did so much good with their work, I couldn't imagine doing anything else when I grew up."
Her smile vanished suddenly replaced with a hard stare "When they were killed by local militia, I was 14 and that just fired me up more. I decided right then that I wanted to try and help the people held prisoner in their own countries by the grip of violence and oppression." Her voice remained steady, but she discretely looked away to hide a tear in her eye.
Li was speechless and it was finally Amber who put her hand on Camilla's shoulder and whispered "That's horrible Camilla, that must have been so difficult." Amber's voice cracked, clutching her necklace "My parents died when I was young too, also doing something they believed in."
The three girls folded into a hug as the boys watched quietly and the pitch on the helicopters roaring lowered.
"That explains a lot" Hex mused, as if he was putting more pieces of a puzzle together.
Before Alex had a chance to comment, a harsh chattering and a whirlwind of sparks on the deck made him jump.
"Get down, Get down!" He screamed, realizing the cause "We are taking fire!"
Bullets tore against the metal hull of the helicopter, ricocheting and whirring away, as lines of pockmarks began to appear along the sides and undercarriage. The pilot gritted his teeth in frustration trying to dodge the incoming rounds hammering into them upon their descent.
In the back of the rig, six teenagers had climbed from their seats and braced themselves against the doors or lay flat on the floor.
Looking up from his position behind the front ledge of the cargo door, Paulo gasped in horror when he saw ragged holes start appearing in the glass canopy. His blood froze when he heard a scream, as the pilot was hit by incoming rounds and without thinking twice, he squeezed through the narrow gap into the cockpit.
From the floor, Hex saw his Argentinean friend rush to the cockpit at the same time the helicopter jolted and started to drop. Realization dawned on the hacker's face and he leaped to his feet to assist his friend.
Amber screamed in terror, sliding across the floor towards the door, as the helicopter tilted dangerously sideways. Catching hold of Li's outstretched hand, she slowed to the edge, her feet kicking wildly out into space. Camilla grabbed her other hand and between the two girls they managed to grapple Amber back into the tilting helicopter, seconds before a line of welts opened up in the metal where she had been lying.
Paulo roughly pushed the pilot aside with no time to treat his fatal wound; he clutched the cyclic and drew back, which to his great relief lifted the nose of the ailing bird. Hex brushed past him into the empty co-pilots seat, as the helicopter continued to lose height and begin to roll and pitch more violently.
"Do you think you can fly it?" He yelled at their new pilot.
Paulo shook his head sadly "No it's too late and she's too banged up, but I think I can slow us down." His face set in grim determination, "But I'll need you help, you keep an eye on the pitch. We need to perform an auto-rotation, you know it?" he asked.
"Yeah. In theory." Hex answered somewhat hesitantly. My years of video games are about to finally pay off, he thought before returning to the task at hand.
In the back, the girls huddled behind their window and Alex was finally able to get a glimpse of what was shooting at them. 300 meters below them, parked up on an empty dirt road was a single pickup truck, referred to as a Technical because of the machine gun that was mounted in the rear tray. Its reign of fire was at a temporary halt, while two dark-skinned men in khakis hurriedly tried to load a new belt of ammunition into the 7.62mm chambered, automatic weapon.
Alex's mind went into overdrive.
"We have to do something to stop that gun," He yelled at the other three over the chaos.
It was Camilla who thought of it and started picking up jerry cans of fuel and other lose items and hurling them out the open door. Alex nodded in agreement as they all joined in. "Everything but our packs" he screamed and watched as a tool kit hurtled to the ground, missing the Technical by metres.
In the cockpit, Paulo noticed the lightening of the vehicle and his eyes flicked away momentarily, as he saw a chain and strop swing out of their side door. At least the others are keeping busy, he thought grimly, as the chopper continued to lose height at an alarming rate.
Catching onto the other's plan and noticing the limited angle of the fixed weapon shooting at them, Hex leaned over to yell in the new pilot's ear. "Get us over top of it, we'll be harder to hit!" To which Paulo didn't respond, he simply gritted his teeth and focused on the collective in his hand and pedals under his feet.
They were running out of things to throw when Li noticed that as they dropped, they were drifting closer to the Technical. With a final toss from Amber, the only thing left was the seats and stretcher frame they had all been sitting on before things turned sour. With a wild look in her eye, Li started to undo the clips that held the chairs to the ground, the others quickly got her idea and crouched down to help.
Seconds later the machine gun started up, spewing out hot lead again and the final clip was released on the chairs. Amber, Camilla and Alex held the chair by the door until Li, who was aiming, gave them the thumbs up. As one they slid the sturdy frame out of the open door, where it was quick to build up velocity. It came to a crunching halt, as it plummeted straight onto the rear of the technical, silencing the machine gun and crushing its two operators.
The cheering in the back was short-lived and rapidly morphed into screams of terror, as the ground rushed up quickly at the doomed chopper.
The ailing vehicle careened dangerously; smoke pouring from numerous holes while it bled altitude at an alarming rate.
"Everyone hang on!" Hex shouted from the front.