Twenty-one thousand feet above Ayers Rock, the Chinese SU-32 High Altitude Troop Deployment squadron was preparing to release its payload.
The squadron consisted of thirty planes, most of them filled with yellow thermal suit-clad soldiers. Over a thousand in all. Four of the large-scale planes contained vehicles and crates of equipment—the same sort of equipment the great Luhu-class ship carried into Giza.
Inside the SU-32s, lights were flashing, alarms sounding.
Soldiers made last minute checks of their gear, each one leaning forward awkwardly, in obvious discomfort at the bulky PPC powered parachutes strapped to their backs.
The parachutes were HALO, high altitude-low opening design, meaning the wearer could be deployed from a radar-safe height and freefall quickly to the lowest possible release ceiling, effectively coming in unnoticed.
The PPCs also had the added benefit of a powered landing and take off. Each one was basically a fan with a two-stroke engine attached to the jumper’s back, allowing for three hours flight at up to forty miles an hour flight speed.
The lead plane signaled the squadron that the drop zone had been reached.
Slowly, the big rear fold-down door opened. An icy wind blew ferociously into the cargo bay.
Green light filled the rear of the plane.
The soldiers rose to their feet in unison and trudged rearward against the wind in two lines toward the opening.
A man in red coveralls hooked a safety line to an overhead cable and walked down the narrow passage between the soldiers to the end of the plane.
He signaled the soldiers to adopt the ready position for the jump, then made his way back through the men ensuring each one was hooked onto the release line.
The final alarm sounded over the tinny speaker system, and the troops yelled a chilling battle cry as they jumped in pairs out into the troposphere.
Most of the large group of Aboriginals at Ayers Rock had split up and dissipated overnight, and returned to their various tribal groups.
The few that remained were waking up to the morning sun. About thirty men, women and children had camped at the base of the mammoth rock.
Scattered embers from the previous evening’s bonfire still glowed red.
One of the elders was still laying on the hot, hard sand.
He rolled onto his back and squinted his eyes as the bright sunlight struck him in the face.
It was Jardarra. The old man who had spoken of the singing rock to Oliver Benson last night.
As his eyes adjusted to the dawn, he lay still, staring into the wide blue expanse above him. High up, a couple of spinifex pigeons circled lazily. He watched them dreamily through half-closed eyes.
Then abruptly, the pigeons stopped circling, and darted off in different directions.
Jardarra noticed some smaller birds, tiny specks, higher than the pigeons had been. Little specks of yellow…
But they weren’t flying—they were falling!
And growing bigger.
The old man strained to sit up. He shielded his face from the sun’s glare to get a better view. The specks were now misshapen blobs. He had never seen creatures like these before.
Some of the other tribespeople began milling around Jardarra. They saw the concerned look on his face, and they looked up too.
One of the men began to recognize the shapes. People!
There were people falling through the sky… but, like nothing he had ever seen.
The first wave of PLA paratroopers switched on their rear-mounted fan engines. The roar could be heard from the ground.
The soldiers, who had been rapidly falling, now powered away spectacularly as the fans kicked in. They quickly leveled out to a shallow decline, speeding through the air at forty miles per hour, and steering left and right with the aid of handles that rolled comfortably over their shoulders and met in front of their chests.
The soldiers were communicating via headsets with earpieces and chin mikes.
The drop leader shouted directions to his men as they approached the steep face on the side of the rock opposite to where the Aboriginals had been.
Jardarra watched as hundreds of the troopers cascaded downwards in a slow-moving spiral that covered several hundred square feet in a perfectly balanced formation.
Each soldier in turn released his chute, powered up his fan, then steered towards the rock face.
Some of Jardarra’s people decided to take a closer look.
A group of fifteen of the fittest young men began running across the hot sand around the rock. They carried boomerangs, nulla nullas, and spears.
Jardarra noticed the men taking off and frowned. He wasn’t particularly happy with this idea. As beautiful as the parachute display had been, something deep inside him, some instinctive warning, told him there was nothing friendly about these people at all.
Twenty miles to the northeast, another force of soldiers was speeding towards Ayers Rock.
Sitting in two rows in the back of a MH47 D/E Chinook helicopter were twenty-four of the most professional, highly-trained, experienced and motivated, battle-tough hardass special forces in the world—the 75th Ranger Regiment.
The Rangers were the elite of the elite army special forces, attached to USASOC, the US Army Special Operations Command at Fort Benning. They had a history of rapid deployment under extreme conditions, infiltration and exfiltration, conducting direct action operations in any location around the globe.
This particular group had been stationed in South Korea, gathering intelligence, offering support to partisans at the border to the north. Their Ranger ready status meant they could be packed up and shipped out within hours, battle-prepared.
The Rangers had swapped their jungle greens on the journey from Korea, and were now dressed in jumpsuits sporting the dull pink and yellow patterns of desert camouflage.
The pilot of the Chinook turned to his navigator.
“How’re we doin’?” he said in a gravelly voice.
The navigator was perched in front of a bewildering array of high tech equipment—TFR Terrain Following Radar, FLIR Forward Looking Infrared, ECM Electronic Counter Measures. He busily pushed buttons and turned dials.
A screen showed the desert terrain to the southwest. Dry river beds and trees and rocks and plains were all shown in bright multicolored graphical images. A large object in the centre, colored in dark red pixels, portrayed Ayers Rock.
The navigator punched a button on the keyboard, and instantly a grid appeared, superimposed over the terrain map. The grid had measurements shown in five mile by five mile squares. Ayers Rock was two and a half squares away.
“Almost there, boss… coupla minutes,” said the navigator.
Twenty paratroopers wearing yellow jumpsuits buzzed across the north face of the rock, then turned sharply under the power of their bulky fans. They flew in like airplanes landing on a runway.
As they hit the ground, they began sprinting to compensate for their landing airspeed, at the same time shutting down their fans and slowly coming to a complete halt. It was a maneuver they had practiced hundreds of times, and was perfect in its execution.
Each one then ran into the shadows of the rock, and watched as others circled down and landed in groups of twenty.
The first few groups removed their powered chutes and took up positions in covered areas amongst the boulders and crags.
The majority of the remaining paratroopers glided down in pairs, each pair physically guiding a large crate or small vehicle attached to a soft landing parachute.
And finally, the last fifty or sixty soldiers remained airborne, circling the region in a wide sweep on their PPCs.
These troops were heavily armed, carrying stingers and grenade launchers along with their standard issue Type-95 Bullpup assault rifles.
On the desert floor, approximately four-hundred Chinese troops were now methodically transferring equipment from the drop zone to the north face of Ayers Rock. The operation had been planned down to the finest detail, each man knowing exactly which crate to carry, or vehicle to move.
At the face, almost directly in the centre, was a crevasse just wide enough to allow a vehicle—a Beijing Jeep—to pass through.
Some soldiers had already gone ahead of the vehicles into a little known section of the rock that had not been accessible to the throngs of tourists that visited the area.
There was no access by road to this part of the rock, and anybody who was adventurous enough to attempt the journey on foot was usually turned away by the Aboriginal caretakers who had declared it sacred ground.
Even if a tourist had made it this far, it was unlikely he would know what the Chinese soldier who was leading this expedition knew.
The soldier had passed through the crevasse into a large open area surrounded by red stone walls rising hundreds of feet upwards, curving inwards to almost meet in the middle at the top, and thereby creating an open seam about a foot wide.
The seam allowed just enough sunlight through to adequately illuminate the natural land bay.
The soldier walked seventy yards across the land bay to the wall furthest from the entry point, and watched as the jeeps continued rolling in.
Behind the vehicles, hundreds of troops guiding boxes and crates and other pieces of machinery on motorized trolleys, and still more troops loaded to the hilt with all manner of weapons followed closely.
Once the area was completely filled with troops and vehicles and equipment, the lead soldier took a few steps up onto a small flight of stairs that had been formed from the rocks. Bizarre symbols and markings in purple—purple rock that had been inlaid on the existing rock—guided the man as he stepped up. It was obvious these symbols weren’t of Aboriginal origin.
The stairs led to a hollowed out section of the main wall. The soldier climbed into the hole and disappeared from view.
Inside the hollow, the soldier reached up and found a small ledge hidden in the darkness above his head. Carefully, he ran his hand along the ledge until he found what he was searching for. Something small, round and flat.
A disk mounted on a panel.
It was a button.
The soldier pushed the button. There was a bone-shuddering clunk! The ground shook, and he ducked out of the small niche and vaulted back down the rock stairway to join the other troops standing in the bay.
All of a sudden, the entire bay began to vibrate.
Around the edges, where the ground met the walls, the sand began to resonate. The vibrations became deeper, more resonant, and the army of men used whatever means they could to stop themselves from falling.
Abruptly, the vibration stopped.
One more loud, metallic clunk.
Then slowly and smoothly, the entire area where they stood, began to sink and lower into the desert floor like a gargantuan elevator platform.
The five US Army helicopters led by the Chinook arrived at Uluru traveling at over one hundred and fifty miles per hour and maintaining altitude at forty feet above the ground.
Their speed and low altitude gave them only a brief advantage though, and within seconds, the Chinese forces hiding amongst the rocks on the main rock face were retaliating, firing with every available weapon.
A dozen vapor trails shot out from the rock towards the choppers, signaling the release of stinger missiles. The choppers peeled off in five different directions, narrowly avoiding the rockets.
Two of the choppers circled around in a small arc, back towards the outskirts of the rock and then stopped where they were, hovering for a moment.
Suddenly, a dozen nylon ropes snaked out from the side of each chopper, and in an instant two dozen Army Rangers and Air Commandos abseiled to the ground.
As the choppers sped off, the men scattered in every direction, taking cover in tufts of tussock grass or behind rocks and trees. Within seconds they were returning fire at the Chinese soldiers.
The Ranger commander, Captain Deveson Greig, took four of his best men aside. “We have to take out those stingers on the rockface!” he shouted above the noise.
Two of the blackhawks were now lending air support to the rangers on the ground. They flew in tandem directly towards the rock, firing their twin six-barrel miniguns.
Tiny explosions shattered the hard rock and sent splinters of shale flying as the guns peppered a forty by forty foot area of the wall.
Captain Greig and his small team rushed directly towards the rock, firing with everything they had.
“Go! Go! Go!” the commander yelled.
Above them, the choppers zoomed in at full speed, firing the whole time until, at the last moment, they pulled up sharply narrowly missing the wall, and skimmed over the top of the huge monolith.
Dozens of yellow uniforms lay scattered and spread over the rocks, covered in blood and dust.
The rangers on the ground moved in closer, stealthily darting from cover to cover, sometimes crawling on their bellies along the ground amidst the tall desert grasses until they were at the base of the monolith.
Behind them, another wave of Rangers closed in.
There were about twenty of them, seventy yards from the rock, taking turns to fire in small groups as another group reloaded, and another group advanced. Yard by yard, they repeated this advancing procedure as they closed in on the Chinese.
Then without warning, came a series of loud gun cracks from nearby.
Six rangers fell to the ground simultaneously, shot to pieces.
Their comrades looked around—then…
Out of the sky, fifty PPC motorized Chinese paratroopers circled above the rangers, shooting down on them. It was like picking off chickens in a chook yard. No cover, no protection.
Then things got worse…
Some of the paratroopers were carrying grenade launchers. They were firing down on the vulnerable ground soldiers with grenades!
“Spread out!” Greig ordered his men.
The 75th regiment fanned out wide, dropping to the ground in a single movement, rolling onto their backs. Then they started returning fire. Laying on their backs, they aimed up into the air and picked off the flying Chinese squadron, who themselves now became sitting—or flying—ducks.
One of the blackhawk pilots saw what was happening and decided to join the action.
He sped away from the battle at the rock and flew straight towards the PPC troopers, miniguns blazing.
The powerful guns cut down ten of the Chinese soldiers instantly.
Half of them exploded violently as the bullets ripped through their fan engines and ignited the fuel tanks. The other half were simply ripped to shreds by the searing metal bullets, and plummeted to the desert floor under the power of the engines mounted on their backs.
The blackhawk buzzed through the pack of PPCs, flew a few hundred yards along its flight path, and then turned sharply for a second run.
This time the Chinese were prepared.
Four stinger launchers were raised as the chopper headed back towards the group.
On the ground, the rangers desperately tried to pick off the soldiers who were holding the rocket launchers.
Captain Greig ran forward, then dropped to one knee and carefully aimed upwards.
Crack! One down.
The Chinese trooper’s body started flitting around erratically, driven by the fan motor on his back. Completely out of control, he powered awkwardly downwards and slammed chest first with a sickening crunch into a craggy boulder.
But there were too many paratroopers in the air returning fire. More rangers were hit as the chopper continued speeding in.
Three stingers on the rock. Three stingers in the air.
The ones in the air took aim.
Whoosh whoosh whoosh.
They all fired at the same time. This time the chopper was unable to evade. The rockets slammed into the blackhawk. It exploded in a thunderous ball of heat.
And, in a twist of irony, the momentum of its speed kept the molten mass of steel and fuel moving forward into the pack of Chinese paratroopers, right towards two of the very soldiers who fired the stingers.
The twisted wreckage slammed into the men and carried them downwards, screaming all the way to the ground.
The group of paratroopers became abuzz like a swarm of angry bees, flitting about, darting down towards the rangers, firing their weapons rampantly at anything that moved.
Suddenly, two rockets exploded in mid air. Right amongst the paratroopers. Body parts flew out in every direction. Blood and guts rained down on the Special Forces soldiers who were diving for cover anywhere they could.
The Chinook came screaming in from the direction of the rock, firing another volley of rockets which slammed into another cluster of Chinese soldiers hovering above the rangers.
More body parts.
Only fifteen of this group of sixty PPC troopers remained.
On the ground, the Rangers casualties were less, but still substantial. Of the twenty-four who made the drop from the choppers, sixteen were still alive—fourteen able to continue fighting, not counting the Commander’s primary group.
Those fourteen now made a direct run for the north face of Ayers Rock, dodging the hailstorm of bullets and grenades raining down on them from the sky.
The Chinese soldiers amongst the rocks were pretty much pinned down by two of the blackhawks, which were firing a relentless tirade of minigun rounds in a wide-area pattern, plus Captain Greig’s group who were concealed below, and letting off round after searing round towards the Chinese.
The Chinese scattered themselves amongst the rocks like cockroaches.
A few moments later, the rest of the Rangers hit the wall at full speed, disappearing into the shadows below the Chinese troops. They moved stealthily through the shadows along the wall, and then climbed to a position just feet below the Chinese soldiers.
To the surprise of the Chinese forces, the blackhawks ceased firing and turned away.
What they didn’t know of course, was that this was done to allow the Rangers below to scale safely up the rocks right under their noses to pull off a shock skirmish.
It happened the instant the blackhawks turned away.
As the PLA troops moved out of their cover to see what was happening, and to fire off some chaser rounds, the 75th Regiment rushed upwards through the rocks and let loose with a barrage of assault weapon ammunition.
The assault was instant and decisive.
Most of the Chinese on the rock face didn’t stand a chance as they were hit from below.
A wave of bullets tore through their yellow suits, instantly staining red with blood. The Rangers had to dodge the falling bodies as they continued firing.
The mini-coup was over in less than a minute, the rock littered with dead Chinese soldiers.
At that moment came another loud explosion.
A second Blackhawk had been hit whilst attempting to finish off the remaining PPC troopers buzzing around a couple hundred yards above the desert floor.
The fan-powered paratroopers decided to cut their losses and took off to the east.
Another Blackhawk helicopter gave chase, flying off into the sun as the Rangers on the rock began their short descent to the ground.
Deep inside Ayers Rock, the gigantic platform was still slowly descending.
Although completely artificial, its appearance was remarkably natural. Sand and small stones covered the entire surface. A few scattered boulders added to the authenticity, easily fooling anyone who might have made it past the native landlords, they themselves not even aware of the rock’s amazing secret.
A secret that had lain dormant for thousands of years.
And now, on this strange moving elevator where hundreds of men in yellow suits stood with machines and weapons were hidden fifteen very curious and very frightened young Aboriginal men who had managed to slip in with the soldiers unnoticed, and were wishing very strongly they hadn’t.