Unto the breach pos 4, p.31

Unto the Breach pos-4, page 31

 part  #4 of  Paladin of Shadows Series

 

Unto the Breach pos-4
 



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  “Hello, Viktor,” Gretchen said as she lifted the first box out of the door of the helicopter. The pilot had not stopped the rotors so there was very much dust but that was why she had been given goggles.

  “Gretchen?” Viktor said, surprised. He took the box of rations, though, and tossed it to the next man in line. “What are you doing here?”

  “Somebody had to unload the helicopters, yes?” Gretchen said, tossing him another box. “The new crew chief said we may be trained as crewmen. We are privates, now. The pilots are women, why not?”

  “What does Father Makanee think of this?” Viktor asked, grinning.

  “He sulks, what else?” Gretchen siad, grinning back. “Women are for cooking and making babies and beer. Not for flying around in helicopters. Much less in combat. Father Kulcyanov has blessed us, though, and our mission. We are soldiers now.”

  “Are you going to be in combat?” Viktor asked, worried.

  “The crewman mans the machine-gun,” Gretchen said, gesturing to the door gun. “You tell me.”

  “Hopefully not,” Viktor replied. “I’d hate to be at your funeral. I would hate to have to deal with… Does the Kildar know about this?”

  “I don’t know,” Gretchen said, shrugging. “But I think he likes strong women, yes? So this is good. As to funerals, I think I would hate to be at yours, brother. So I agree to take care and you do so as well.”

  “I’ll try, sis,” Viktor replied.

  * * *

  “Damn.”

  Dr. Arensky looked at the rip in his shirt and shook his head.

  “I wish they’d given us a hammer. There are nails sticking out all over. That’s the fourth rip I’ve gotten in my clothes!”

  “For a scientist, you sure are clumsy,” Gregor chuckled from the corner.

  Arensky had taken to walking up and down the small room whenever he wasn’t puttering with his cultures or cooking. Both he and Gregor were putting on weight from the latter and he’d decided to fight it by pacing. Gregor hadn’t argued or complained unless he neared the room’s sole door. Unfortunately, there were several nails sticking out of the roughly constructed wall. And he’d managed to find all of them.

  “Is there any way you could get me a needle and thread?” Arensky asked, fingering the tear.

  “I’ll see what I can do,” Gregor said with a shrug. “Don’t tell me you can sew as well?”

  “Who else was going to fix our clothes?” Arensky asked. “Oh, Marina learned eventually. But I didn’t get paid enough to buy clothes just because a collar was worn out or a sleeve ripped. This shirt is nearly ten years old, it’s been mended, even rebuilt, many times. I suppose you can’t even call it the same shirt anymore.”

  “You are a wonder, doc,” Gregor said, his eyes still closed. “I’ll get you the needle. I need my socks darned.”

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  “Fuenf minuten!” the loadmaster yelled, holding up five fingers.

  So much for “an English speaking crew”, Captain Guerrin thought. The pilots spoke English, but the only language he and the Ukrainian loadmaster had in common was German. Guerrin had spent several tours in Germany in the course of his career and picked up the language readily. He should have concentrated on Ukrainian.

  The good news was that the military attache, who did speak Ukrainian and had been a Hercy pilot upon a time, was along as a passenger. He’d smoothed things out quite a bit and been really helpful with figuring out the slightly different configuration on this bird.

  The AN-70s were brand new aircraft, the first new aircraft produced by Ukraine since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. So new the two the Rangers were using were the first the Ukrainians, themselves, had been able to afford.

  The original design process had started back in the ’80s, intended by the Soviet military as a replacement for the by then venerable fleet of AN-12 Cubs. With the breakup of the Soviet Union and the accompanying economic disruptions production of the first prototype was halted then started then halted several times. Finally, in 1995 a protype was completed and entered testing. Unfortunately, on one of it’s first tests it collided with its chase plane and crashed, killing all seven of its crew.

  However, the AN-70 was “the plane that wouldn’t die.” Antonov produced another protype in 1997 and continued testing with the first production planes coming off the lines, finally, in 1999.

  Produced primarily for short-range, high-capacity hauling in underdeveloped countries the AN-70 was a turbo-prop, short-take-off-and-landing bird similar in many respects to the C-130 if considerably larger with a maximum payload of 130,000 kilograms or 100 jumpers vs 20,000 kg or 64 jumpers. It also had one of the most advanced designs of any cargo aircraft in the world with significant use of composites as well as a very high end avionics suite.

  Compared to even the newest generation of Hercules’, it was a thoroughbred next to a cart horse. Among other things, it flew more like a fighter than a “trash-hauler.”

  There was also a shit-load of room for the jumpers. They had a hundred and thirty jumpers with them. They could have, would have, cut a few if all they had were a couple of C-130s. As it was, if the mission hadn’t been so high level classified, they could have taken twenty or thirty “strap-hangers” and still rattled around like peas in a pod.

  “STAND UP!” he shouted at the nearest jumper, flashing the same five fingers.

  All through the aircraft the Rangers started struggling to their feet. Given that they had a rucksack over a hundred pounds in weight on their knees and a parachute on their back, it wasn’t the easiest maneuver in the world. On the other hand, they’d all done it dozens of times so they were up pretty quick.

  “HOOK UP!” Guerrin shouted to the lead jumper, making a hooking sign in the air, then did so himself, albeit to the inboard cable.

  Four cables ran down the interior of the aircraft, two about a foot from the skin, the “outboard” cables, and two about a foot apart running down the middle, the “inboard” cables. Jumpers hooked to the outboard cables, jumpmasters to the inboard.

  Guerrin secured the cotter pin through his static line cable connector and then caught the eye of the lead jumper.

  “CHECK STATIC LINE!” A sign of yanking on the static line.

  Check to make sure you’re hooked up, check that the opening was “outboard” so just in case it jumped open, against all reason, you’d still have your chute pull out of the bag and open. Check the pin, check to make sure the line wasn’t around anything. If the static line got under your arm, for example, you would suddenly have a piece of nylon rope cutting into your bicep under pressure and screaming by at over a hundred miles per hour. In any airborne unit you saw the guys with “static line arm.”

  Getting it around your neck was worse. You didn’t see them much after the jump. Maybe at the memorial service.

  “CHECK EQUIPMENT!” A pound on the chest like Tarzan.

  He and the assistant jumpmaster checked each other cursorily. Honestly, it was all Pentagon safety bullshit. You’re jumping it, you’d better have checked it. But you had to make the show.

  “SOUND OFF FOR EQUIPMENT CHECK!” Lean forward with hand to ear.

  The cry was repeated then from the front of the bird the troops sounded off, coming down in a string. The last one, the lead jumper, Specialist Serris, leaned forward and gave him an “Okay” sign and a big grin.

  “ALL OTAY DUMPMATTAH!”

  Christ, he’d told that joke once. Guerrin was prior service. He’d done time in the Rangers as an enlisted then gotten out and gone civvie. It was only after 9/11 that he’d come back in, riding an OCS ticket, a few contacts and some luck into a Ranger commander slot.

  But “back in the day” as they said, Eddie Murphy was still on Saturday Night Live and doing his Buckwheat routine. Thus the “accent.” They did it all the time on jumps, just for shits and giggles.

  He’d told a squad that just fucking once. So much for “opening up to the troops.”

/>   “DOOR CHECK!” he shouted at the Ukrainian load master, pointing at the door. The hell if he could remember the German for that.

  The loadmaster opened the door and the captain stepped to the opening. He took a good footing then grabbed the door edges and began his check. There were a lot of ways for a static line jump to fuck up and airborne and Ranger units had managed all of them at one point or another. One of the real killers was having a rough or sharp spot on the door edge. On the leading edge, it meant a cut hand, no big deal. On the trailing edge, though, it could mean a cut static line. And then, well, you had your reserve but bottomline you were fucked. Pull your reserve, dump your gear and hope like hell you didn’t hit too hard.

  Modern “steerable” parachutes were designed to drop a standard-weight jumper at nine feet per second. The problem being that gear weights had gone up. So even if you dropped your ruck, you were still looking at thirty pounds over “standard” weights the chutes were designed for. Then there’s the fact that “standard” weight, due to increases in size in the American public and the generally heavier nature of Rangers, were not “standard” in the Batts. And even nine feet per second was damned fast when it was you hitting the ground. About ten percent of the jumpers in any drop, even in training, got injured on impact with the cold, hard earth.

  Reserve chutes dropped you at a “standard” seventeen feet per minute.

  He’d hit with a reserve once. It wasn’t something he wanted to experience again. So he checked hell out of the door.

  But the Ukrainians, thank God, knew what they were doing. The molding around the door was as fresh as right out of the factory. Well, okay, it was darned near fresh from the factory. There wasn’t anything wrong with the door.

  Door checked he leaned out and looked forward. There were still mountains in the way but he’d seen the approach maps; they were going to be looking at mountains right up until the jump. No problem. The Ranger motto is “The Whole World Is A Drop Zone.” The area they were going into was actually much better than their usual training drops. The stone walls were going to be interesting, but that’s why they had steerable chutes.

  He could see an opening in the mountains, though. Probably their valley. Which meant they were close. He ducked back in and looked at the jumpmaster who held up two fingers.

  “ZWEI MINUTEN!”

  “TWO MINUTES!”

  “WHOOF! WHOOF! WHOOF!… ”

  Guerrin shook his head again and leaned back out. The troops had also picked up that he was a UGA graduate. So it naturally became “Bravo Bulldogs.” On a level he should be proud, it was a sign the troops thought well of him. But at moments like this it was a pain.

  He could see the valley now. They were high. The birds were going to have to drop like a stone to get them down to anything jumpable. For that matter he noticed the air was pretty damned thin; it was a bit hard to breath.

  He popped back in and looked at Serris, hoping he could get this across.

  “HANG ON,” he yelled, suiting words to actions by grabbing a stanchion by the door. “WE’RE DROPPING!” He made a motion with his hand pointed down, like an aircraft in a dive.

  Serris looked blank for a moment then nodded, grabbing at one of the folded up seats with the hand not holding a static line and shouting to the guy behind him.

  “Dreizig seconds!” the loadmaster shouted.

  “THIRTY SECONDS!” Guerrin screamed. “HOLD THE FUCK ON!”

  Whether the word got back or not, Guerrin saw virtually everyone grabbing something just before the nose of the bird tipped over. And it was a dive, a hard one.

  “HOOOOOOOO-WAAAAAAAH!”

  The bird rang with the cry and Guerrin had to grin, even with what felt like his entire last month’s meals coming up in his throat. He could feel his feet half leaving the ground. The pilots were really having fun, that was for sure. Oh, hell, face it, they were all having fun. Even if this was an admin drop it felt like combat, coming in in a “friendly nation’s” bird, nose down and screaming at the DZ. It felt fucking hot.

  Guerrin leaned out and he could see they were right on the DZ. Still diving.

  “Zehn Sekunden!”

  “Serris!” he shouted at the lead jumper. “Stand in the door!”

  Fuck the new regs. The way they were maneuvering Serris couldn’t just stand up. He was going to be lucky to make it to the door without sprawling on his face. He needed something to hang onto and the old way, standing in the door, grabbing the edges, was going to work better.

  Guerrin took another look out and could see they were flashing over some small town stuck in a tiny valley. Just out the door, practically on the same level as they were jumping, was some sort of castle. Fucking cool.

  He grabbed Serris’ hand and practically dragged him to the door, slapping the hand onto the trailing edge as the bird leveled out, hard. Just as it did, the light flashed green.

  “GO!”

  Serris bailed followed by the stick but Guerrin kept his eyes out the door, keeping count at the same time. There were mountains in their way, coming up fast. He started to raise a hand and then did so as the red light came on.

  “HANG ON!” he screamed, grabbing the new lead jumper’s risers as the plane banked up. The jumper, a sergeant from third platoon, lurched into him but stayed on his feet.

  “Stand by!” Guerrin called, pointing to the stanchion on the forward side of the bird’s troop door and shoving the sergeant to it. There was no way he could just stand in the middle of the open area, any more than Serris could have.

  Sixteen out on his side. They might get more on the second pass. Maybe less, probably more. Thirty-two jumpers, including himself, on his side, just like a Herc. One more pass, maybe two. He had to wait for the assistant JM to go. Probably no way he’d make it out on the second pass.

  He’d considered having one of the, many, other qualified jumpmasters in the unit cover the drop. Technically he should have been the first guy on the ground. But the situation on the ground, according to everyone, was pretty together. He had been more worried about the quality of drop support. Thus the fact that he’d be the last guy out.

  The bird had nosed up then banked, hard. The bank was right so he was looking at sky but looking through the other door, over his shoulder, it was apparent that the pilots were staying pretty low. Low enough that you could practically count the damned pine needles. He’d have been happier with a little more AGL.

  Bank, level out, bank another of those screaming dives and…

  “GREEN LIGHT! GO!”

  The Rangers had been able to count, too. He looked over at the assistant JM and shrugged and nodded to him. Up to him to decide if he could make it out on this chalk.

  The assistant, Sergeant First Class Jose J Clavell, the Third Platoon platoon sergeant, just nodded and looked back out the door.

  Last jumper on Guerrin’s side and he had… a little room. Looking over his shoulder Clavell was… gone.

  “Tchuss!” he shouted at the Ukrainian load-master as he threw himself out the door, red light and all. The reason for the red light was clear since the bird lurched upwards just as he was clearing it.

  He’d just started to count and then felt the one hardest separation he’d ever felt in his life. The ascending bird had practically ripped his chute cover off. He felt the chute open, though, and looking up he had a good canopy. Whew!

  Looking down, though…

  “Fuck,” he muttered. Drop altitude was supposed to have been eight hundred feet, above ground level. And it probably had been. But going out late he’d ended up exiting over a damned at least two hundred foot ridge, covered in trees. This was really gonna suck…

  * * *

  First Sergeant Kwan hit the ground like a sack of shit, as always. He could instruct on a proper PLF, parachute landing fall, and had as a Black Hat in the Jump School in Benning. But he always hit like a sack of shit himself and so far, so good. He’d sustained injuries in jumps but only in cases where a g
ood PLF wouldn’t have mattered worth a damn. Like that one time he hit a fence-post covered in barb-wire. That had really sucked.

  This time, though, he could tell it was a good hit. Nice spot. Plowed field. Comfy.

  He popped a riser, hit the quick release on his harness and rolled to his feet, scanning the area. No yells for medic, which was a very good sign. He was usually about the last guy down in a drop. If nobody was screaming for a medic it meant no major injuries.

  He started to gather his chute and then paused as, through a break in one of the stone fences he saw a cluster of locals headed his way. Women locals by the skirts and blouses, carrying sacks just about the size to pack a chute in.

  He stood up and began bundling the chute as the women spread out, one or two towards each jumper. None of them were armed, so he didn’t see a security situation. He wasn’t sure about swarming Rangers with… damn they were good looking! women just after a jump, though.

  “His” gal had reached him by the time he had the chute bundled, though, so there was no stopping it now.

  “We take,” the lady said in heavily accented English. “Clean, pack, give back. You go. Duty.” She pointed towards a cluster of houses to the south. That was the designated assembly area.

  “Okay,” Kwan said, dubiously. “Take care of it. That’s US Government property.”

  “Clean, pack, give back,” the gal repeated, grinning. “You go. Duty. Beer.”

  “Yeah,” the First Sergeant said, suddenly alarmed. “I’d better get going.” They had better not be serving his Rangers beer already.

  * * *

  Guerrin swung back and forth, kicking his feet like a kid on a swing and working out the pain in his left arm. He’d taken a hell of a bang coming down through the branches of this… oak by the look of it. But the canopy had caught on the upper part of the tree, leaving him dangling about twenty feet off the ground. There was a procedure to get down but, given that the ground was covered in scrub and rocks, he was already banged up and this was a training jump, he was planning on staying here til somebody came by with a ladder.

 
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