Faulkner / ASSAULT
1. Where Angels Fear
[Mission day 1]
[2335 hours local time]
[F-35 Lightning II Stealth Bomber, somewhere over the center of Australia]
“Angel Chariot, this is Heaven. How copy?”
“Heaven, this is Angel Chariot, clear copy, over.”
“Angel Chariot, we have zero five bogies now airborne in your proximity. Repeat, zero five bogies. Expect enemy craft approaching from your six. Anticipate interception in one seven mikes, confirm.”
“Angel Chariot confirming zero five bogies, interception in one seven mikes.”
“Confirmation acknowledged, Angel Chariot. Proceed as planned. Good luck. Out.”
The voices in his ear fell silent, and Lieutenant Ryan Chisnall glanced around at the vague shadows that were the five other members of his team, crouched together in the impossibly small space in the bomb bay of the aircraft. A space that was not designed to hold human beings.
The other members of the team couldn’t hear the voices of the pilot (snug in the cockpit somewhere above them) and their mission controller (safe thousands of miles away at the Operational Command Center). Only Chisnall had a link to this channel, so the others did not know that five enemy jets were heading their way and the first would be right on their tail in less than seventeen minutes.
He decided not to tell them.
A ripple of fear welled up from his gut, stretching dark fingers out around his chest. His heart began to race as a tingling sensation spread from his fingertips to his shoulders.
He took a deep breath and expelled it slowly, humming to himself as he did. Panic, not the circumstances, was the killer. That was what his combat instructor had rammed home again and again. Fear is your friend, keeping you sharp. But panic is the unclean spirit, twisting your soul, consuming logic, training, and, finally, you. So Chisnall hummed to himself and, in doing so, banished the panic to the far corners of his mind.
“Okay, final sys-checks,” he said in a steady voice.
The noise inside the fuselage of the plane would have deafened a corpse. The bomb bay had been heated and pressurized for this mission, but not soundproofed. With the continuous roar from the other side of the bomb bay doors, it was like being in front of the speakers at a thrash metal concert. If they hadn’t all been wearing comm units, talk would have been impossible.
One by one, each of the team members’ systems checks came up on his HMDS. Five of them had sys-OK, including him, but one was showing a problem.
“Angel Three, you’re showing a helmet breach. What’s going on, Hunter?” Chisnall could barely see Specialist Stephen “Hunter” Huntington, although he was no more than a few feet away from him. The darkness in the fuselage was almost absolute. The only light came from the ready lights on the six half-pipes on the floor beneath their feet.
“Just scratchin’ my nose, Angel One,” Hunter replied, and his sys-check lit up before he finished speaking.
“Picking your nose, you mean,” Private First Class Trianne Price said.
“This is Angel Five. I have visual confirmation, over,” Private First Class Blake Wilton said. “He was definitely picking.”
“Mate,” Sergeant Holly Brogan said, “if Hunter could pick his nose, would he have picked that one?”
Hunter’s voice came immediately in Chisnall’s ear. “Angel One, I wish to report Sergeant Brogan for breach of regulations, subsection C, paragraph six—intentionally dischargin’ a joke that’s older than my grandmother, without regard for the safety of others.”
“Is not Price your grandmother?” Specialist Janos “Monster” Panyoczki asked.
“Bite me,” Price said, and there was a muffled thump on the comm.
Chisnall grinned. Nearly eighteen, “Phantom” Price was the oldest member of the team.
The pilot’s voice cut across the banter. “Angel One, this is Angel Chariot, how copy?”
“Angel Chariot, this is Angel One. Clear copy,” Chisnall replied immediately.
“Angel One, I have six greens showing on my board. Please confirm you are ready to Echo Victor.”
“Angel One confirming six sys-OKs. All angels ready to fly, over.”
“Echo Victor in approximately one four mikes, confirm?”
“Confirm Echo Victor in one four mikes.” Chisnall checked his pulse again. Fourteen minutes until the EV, which was just a short way of saying they were going to be ejected from a fast-moving jet at 32,000 feet.
“Four mikes! That’s crap,” Wilton said. “Let’s go now. I can’t wait to stick it down those Bzadian throats. Booyah!”
Chisnall thought he could hear a tremor in Wilton’s voice, despite all his bravado.
“You know we can’t,” he said. “We have to wait until the pilot fires off chaff. As soon as one of the Pukes gets missile lock on us, we are out of here.”
“So hit the chaff and let’s go,” Wilton said.
“Wilton, ya plonker,” Hunter said. “If Angel Chariot releases chaff before one of the Pukes gets missile lock, then the Pukes start saying to themselves, ‘What’d he do that for?’ And the last thing we need is a bunch of suspicious Pukes on our six.”
“Yeah, and if the Puke gets a shot off before we EV, then we’re CFC!” Wilton said.
“CFC? What is this CFC?” Monster asked. “Not in the SMTPA manual.”
“Crispy fried chicken,” Holly Brogan informed him.
Chisnall shook his head. “If we don’t jump in the chaff, then we might as well take out a front page ad on Google, telling the Pukes we’re on our way.”
“I know it, LT,” Wilton said. “But that don’t make it any easier to sit up here with our butts hanging out waiting for the first Puke fast mover to kick us where it hurts.”
“You think?” Price said.
Silence spread like a thick cloud through the confined space. This was it. The real thing. A combat drop over enemy territory. A first for all of them. Chisnall couldn’t see their faces, but he could sense their tension.
The timing had to be perfect. A second wrong either way and the mission was compromised or they were dead. Which pretty much amounted to the same thing.
The Operational Command Center, with its all-seeing satellite eyes, was back on the comm to the pilot of their aircraft.
Excerpted from The Assault (Recon Team Angel #1) by Brian Falkner. Copyright © 2012 by Brian Falkner. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.