The Pelindaba Nuclear Research Facility, South Africa
Captain Frank Banner looked around the airplane as they prepared to parachute into a hot landing zone. This was his Special Operations Team, hisfirst command, and as such, it was a team he was very proud of leading.
He couldn’t believe just how calm the men remained. He was their leader, yet he was drawing strength from them. Here they were, about to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, parachute into a foreign country, probably get shot at, and all of that at any minute. It amazed him more and more with every mission just how calm these guys could remain in these pre-insertion moments.
He couldn’t help but notice that this plane was a little older than their usual transportation. It didn’t matter. While sitting in the back all they needed was a large empty place to wait. This one came with fold down seats along the sides of the aircraft, which was a real plus, so it served their purposes just fine. It was not a plane designed for comfort, but for utility.
They were given this assignment because they were the most geographically logical choice to a totally unexpected hot spot that had the necessary skills, and the ability to respond rapidly. That alert had come in from Africa Command, or AFRICOM, a mere ninety minutes ago. The only instruction given to the team at the time was to board the plane with full combat gear and be ready to jump. Once in flight, they would receive an additional briefing. Being good soldiers, they followed those orders to the letter as rapidly as possible.
That briefing had been shockingly brief. The voice on the radio had said that there were at least ten armed men inside the Pelindaba Nuclear Research Facility in South Africa.
The reactor facility, or so the person conducting the briefing had said, was like almost every other nuclear power facility on the planet. What that mattered to the current situation, Frank did not understand, but the voice felt compelled to throw that factoid into the discussion.
Essentially, the facility had a nested series of defenses that were supposed to prevent this sort of thing from being possible. It also had several different shielding structures that would prevent radiation leaks in case of accident. Those radiation shields would also stop non-armor piercing rounds. That was a double-edged sword for this mission. The team could protect themselves behind those structures, but currently there was an enemy already using them as a protective barrier.
Captain Banner couldn’t help but ask the briefer if they could just surround the facility and wait them out, assuming they could enlist the aid of some of the local friendlies. Apparently, doing so would give the bad guys time to disable the safety equipment and induce a radiation leak that would kill everyone for miles. The only advantage that seemed to be playing in their favor was that there was obviously something inside the facility that the perpetrators of this madness wanted to get away from there with while it was still intact. Otherwise, they would have already blown the place up. The latest intelligence claimed they had already gotten far enough into the facility to gain access to radiological materials, and it was being assumed that was their motivation for the hostile activity.
It other words, for the enemy to accomplish their likely mission, they had to come out at some point. That was one bit of good news. Of course, it was assumed the team could get on the ground and in position the invaders could make their way out with a treasure trove of nuclear or radiological bomb-making materials. Something told Frank it would be spectacularly bad news if they couldn’t get down there soon.
Frank couldn’t get the question Sergeant Fisher had asked during the briefing out of his head, “Why did any of this matter to the United States, or are we on this as a ‘held a friend’ mission?” It was not normally the type of question a soldier would ask, but if was not without purpose. It was intended to see if this was a serious military response, or just a perfunctory, “go try, but don’t get hurt, or blow too much stuff up.”
This one turned out to be far more important that just a political response.
As they were informed, way back in 2007 four armed men had entered that same facility and made, what was thought to be at the time, a poor attempt at making off with some nuclear material which they wanted to use to build a nuclear bomb. This research facility had some sort of experimental refining capability to make the high purity materials needed to fabricate some very dangerous devices. It was now the consensus of the intelligence agencies in the loop on the current situation that the incident had been a test run in preparation for a real operation. If those materials, or worse, the plans for the refining capabilities ended up on the loose, and in the hands of the wrong people, it could be tragic. They had to stop this for the sake of every nation on the planet.
The people conducting the briefing had referred to this group of approximately ten armed men as “alleged terrorists.” Frank always rolled his eyes at that phrase. He never cared about guilt or innocence in the court of law sense. His job was easier than that. Once bullets start to fly it was much easier to see who a bad guy was, and who was an “alleged” bad guy. These particular “alleged” terrorists were already firing at the local security team, and as a result had graduated to actual terrorists in the mind of everyone on the airplane.
These bad guys were especially bad, as well as dangerous ones. They likely wanted to build a nuclear weapon in the worst way, and they seemed to be happy with just one. A nation that wanted hundreds of these weapons, in Frank’s opinion, wanted them as a deterrent to prevent an attack against their populace. A group that wants just one, that group has a specific target in mind.
They had to be dealt with before they could escape the facility and disappear from plain sight.
Frank suddenly realized just how rough the plane ride was becoming. No one on his team would ever complain. Special Operations Units dealt with all manner of harsh conditions while doing their jobs. Frank knew, as did everyone on the team that this could be the most important mission of their career. In one way, a real global balance of power could shift based on the results of what was happening on the ground at that very moment; if they were only allowed to get on the damn ground and get to work, it might just shift the balance in favor of the good guys. So, far, they just kept circling – like a giant aerial circle jerk.
If a terrorist group, or terrorist state – getting harder to tell those two apart – obtained those types of weapons or even the material to make them, a large number of civilians would die. If they did not die as a direct result of the bombing, then it would be due to the ensuing panic. Captain Banner could not quite understand why there was any kind of hesitation in letting them go in and try to prevent that from happening; yet the pilot just continued to circle, with no signal for them to get into position to jump.
Somewhere up the chain of command, someone had to be vacillating.
Frank’s headset crackled to life, “Captain Banner, Warrant Officer Choi. We have been on station for thirty minutes, have you received any word on when we will get the order to go?”
“Chief, you know as much as I do,” Frank replied. The Warrant Officer was getting anxious.
“Roger that, Sir,” came the terse reply.
Frank knew these men were all as professional as they came. For any of them to even ask the question spoke volumes about the pressure being felt by all.
He pushed the button on the intercom, “Major Wilkins, this is Captain Banner, any word from AFRICOM regarding insertion?”
“We have been told to circle and wait for orders from higher authority. We do have a SITREP. From what little radio chatter we can manage to pick up from the ground we can tell they seem to say there is an unknown sized force putting up a fight larger than what we had been told to expect. Apparently, it is also getting difficult to tell who is who down there. Additionally, whomever is in there on the friendly team seems to know what assets we have in the area because they are asking for immediate air support as well as troops. We have passed that word up the chain of command, and been told that it is all under consideration,” came the reply from the pilot.
Frank wondered for a moment what exactly “under consideration” meant, but decided he would only get pissed if he found out.
“Roger that, Major. How high up does this go?” he inquired.
The airplane violently shook with turbulence. Frank barely noticed anymore. At that moment, his mental focus was one hundred percent elsewhere.
There were men on the ground under fire, and his team could help. The men under his command would all want to provide that help, no matter what the personal risk. It seemed like the decision makers were either incapable of taking a risk, or perhaps even worse, incapable of making a decision.
There was a stockpile of material at risk that could cause the death of untold numbers of men, women, and children at some as yet unknown spot on the globe. The fear of this type of terrorist attack has been around for years, and it was their understanding that there were many groups out there that if in possession of one of those devices would target the United States Homeland.
Frank could not comprehend why there was any sort of delay in them getting into the fight. This theft had to be stopped. The world was already a dangerous place. It would get a great deal more dangerous if this ended badly.
“Captain, I think this one is coming straight from the White House,” answered the pilot.
Excellent, a politician is micromanaging the endeavor. To make it worse, a politician who was having multiple political problems, and was known to allow politics to drive all of his decision-making. Wonderful, just wonderful! Frank wanted to know how long until the focus group decided if the jump would be popular or not. That was assuming the night’s activity ever became public knowledge. He supposed if they were successful, there would be a press conference. If not, it might leak, and that was the problem.
“Assuming they let us in there, how hot of a landing will we have?” Frank asked.
“Our equipment can’t get very precise visuals, but even from this altitude, we can see distinct explosive flashes. Someone has been using RPGs, but which side is using them, we can’t be sure. Those ten alleged terrorists appear to be bunkered down pretty well, or there are more than ten of them. We do now know if the nuclear material has been compromised, but they appear to be equipped with enough firepower to either hold their positions a very long time while they acquire it or shoot their way out when they do obtain possession. That is assuming the situation on the ground doesn’t change,” the pilot reported.
“Thank you, Major,” Frank answered.
The flight continued in relative silence for another twenty-five minutes. The plane would shake, the plane would rattle, but it continued to circle. There was nothing to worry about from an equipment standpoint. The entire team had their gear strapped on tight since before takeoff. Everyone ready to go, no matter how rough the ride, no matter how long they’d had to remain in the air, or how hot the landing, the team would follow Captain Banner out the door.
The young Captain couldn’t take it anymore. He unplugged his headset from the intercom system and made his way forward to the cockpit. Once there he heard the pilot arguing with whomever was on the other end of the radio to let the team go in. He heard the Major say that there had been no anti-aircraft fire, and they could get the team on the ground without risk to the aircraft or crew.
Finally, the pilot noticed Frank, “Well, Captain, it looks like someone back in the land of the free believes we should be living a riskless life. Apparently, you Green Berets are no longer allowed to get so much as a skinned knee.”
“I know you said the White House, but seriously, who is calling the shots? What kind of desk riding asshole are we dealing with?” Frank asked.
“Sir, as I have come to understand it, this one is coming straight from either the President, or someone in the room with him,” answered the Major calmly.
“Well shit, let me revise my previous statement. I am sure that the President knows some vital piece of intelligence we don’t. Let’s follow orders gentlemen,” the men in the cockpit kept their bearing, but all understood what he meant. There were just as tired of the endless political crap as all soldiers had become. Theirs was supposed to be a life spent defending something. But, right now, someone was down there, attempting to do harm onto others, and even though they were in position to lend aid, someone was preventing them from taking action.
Without warning the radio came to life, the Major put a finger to his ear and turned to look at the cockpit visitor, “Looks like you and your men are finally going to jump. Three minutes, you better get in position.”
Frank made his way to the back of the banking aircraft, “All right gentlemen. Get up! We have work to do.”
The men stood, their combat gear still strapped to them, and made their way to the back of the aircraft. They stacked up in the right order, and silently waited for the door to open.
They waited, ten seconds, then twenty seconds passed, and finally, the door opened. They needed no prompting, no speeches. They poured out of the plane with Frank in the lead. Everyone had their tactical radios on and operating from the moment the order was given to stand.
Frank was glad he had one of the new helmet visors equipped with a miniature heads-up display like what fighter pilots used when in the cockpit of one of the multi-million-dollar fire breathing beasts. It showed him the exact glidepath to take during a ump and gave some navigational assistance once on the ground. If enough situational awareness was known thanks to satellite and drone networks, it would even superimpose the known enemy locations and make their job much easier.
He watched the altimeter numbers rapidly decrease. Four thousand feet. Three thousand feet. Pull the cord.
Frank felt his entire body jerk as the main chute opened. The descent was still rapid, but not nearly as impactful as it would have been without it. With the new parachutes, and the nav system this team would hit the bullseye of the landing zone every single time.
The landing point for this mission was a short half-mile away from the firefight. Frank could already hear and see that someone down there was shooting at someone else with large caliber weaponry. Soon they would be in a better position to tell who was on which side and get a better idea what kind of weaponry they were up against. At this distance it was impossible to tell much for certain.
Two minutes after Frank touched down the entire team was on the ground, silent as ghosts. The men assembled on Frank’s position.
“I will take point with Sergeant Fisher. We move in at best possible speed, find the internal security force that should know we are on the way by now, if they are still alive. Do not hesitate, if you see a tango, eliminate that tango at the best possible speed. If they have managed to obtain the Special Nuclear Material, it will be in heavily shielded containers. Remember, hand grenades and rifle rounds from our gear will not be able to penetrate those containers. From this point forward, unless necessary, we will keep radio silence,” he instructed the team.
About a year before there had been an intelligence leak that ended up on the internet showing anyone who wanted to know how to triangulate the US Military’s position with some simple electronic equipment lashed together in the right order. What they said would still be scrambled but given away their position was not on Frank’s to do list.
As they approached the nuclear facility, they finally got a better look at the firefight in progress. It was impossible to tell who was exactly where at this point. Neither group appeared to have taken notice of them on their descent or approach. Frank quickly hoped the security team would realize they were here to help, and not open fire on the team.
The facility was a nested series of buildings, each one increasingly harder to destroy than the last. However, the outer layer of defense was a simple chain link fence with a single strand of barbed wire at the top. That was the only bit of good news that could be seen.
From here on in, it was thick reinforced concrete walls and solid steel containment buildings, depending on where in the facility the bad guys were located.
They set about to locate and secure whatever remained of the security office. It should have cameras monitoring every single room in the facility. From there it was possible that they could get lucky and see what parts of the facility were under the control of the tangos. Perhaps Captain Banner and his team could also determine if they were still on their way in, or if they were now on their way out of the area.
When Frank made it to the main building entrance, he started to see the telltale signs of what had been an intense firefight. From the amount of damage and spent rifle rounds on the ground there were either more than ten guys inside, or those ten were a hell of a lot better armed than the “intelligence” briefing had indicated. Frank decided they should slightly slow their pace and exercise just a bit of caution.
Everyone stacked up with their backs to the reinforced concrete retaining walls that surrounded the main reactor building. Frank inched closer to the entrance and quickly took a look around the corner before pulling back behind the wall.
There were no tangos to be seen. Frank used hand signals to inform the team about the lack of danger from humans at the corner. Booby traps were always a concern. Knowing it’s better to stay stealthy as long as possible they slipped silently around the corner, vigilantly scanning for booby traps, and into the compound sticking to the shadows whenever possible.
The door to the security building was thirty feet past this entrance. The closed the distance in seconds, silently, not knowing what to expect inside.
Once inside they found the security and surveillance room was right where they were told it would be. Unfortunatley, there had been a large explosive detonated in the room, and nothing remained that would be useful in gaining any kind of situational awareness.
“Shit,” Frank cursed. This whole thing was starting to go sideways. These intruders were covering their own ass. That meant they were not just off the street thugs with an idea and some gear, they were an enemy to be taken seriously.
An unexpected explosion rattled the building followed by a larger burst of automatic weapons fire than they had been hearing, coming from the adjacent building. It sounded like it was coming from the location the nuclear material could be accessed from its long-term storage.
As they made their way toward the firefight, they could see what remained of the security team was pinned down behind a large storage container – forty feet tall, cylindrical, and with each passing moment becoming more riddled with bullet impacts. The attacking for was obviously more than the ten men they had been told to expect. The enemy had large caliber automatic weapons, and rocket-propelled grenades at a minimum.
So far, neither side seemed to realize that a group of newcomers was about to join the fight with the violence and precision that only a team of special operators could deliver.
Frank took up position behind the rusted front end of an old two-and-a-half-ton cargo truck that looked like it had been built in the 1940s. He knew the truck would offer Sergeant Fisher and his own rear-end some reasonable protection. Frank watched and waited as the remainder of the team picked the best available fighting positions and angles to engage the terrorists; he corrected himself, “alleged terrorists.”
Using a flurry of hand signals, he let the team know the plan. They would start firing as soon as Frank let the first rounds fly.
Frank took careful aim at what appeared to be the terrorist’s heaviest machine gun position and swiftly pulled the trigger. The team opened up as one. The had joined the battle. It was time to earn their combat pay.
Bullets impacted three of the enemy positions. Concrete chipped away from the walls, adding more danger to the deadly projectiles that were flying around. The tangos stopped firing at the security team, apparently surprised by this new development.
The new incoming fire he and his team were putting out was heavier and far more accurate than what the security team was able to produce. Two of the terrorist positions had stopped moving after the initial volley leaving six known enemy positions for Frank and his team to deal with.
Frank took aim at the closest of those remaining and continued firing. Just as he pulled the trigger, and RPG was launched from one of the flanking positions and streaked directly at one of the team’s locations.
He watched helplessly as the shot tracked towards two of his men. The position that two Sergeants had taken would not protect them from a direct hit. They were forty feet away from Frank’s position, and there was not a damn thing he could do to save them.
The two men saw the RPG coming their way, their eyes went wide, they started to turn but it was too late, RPGs were too damned fast. It hit, and all that could be seen was a fiery explosion followed by dust, debris, and a fine red mist that had once been men under Frank’s command. His teammates, his friends, now dead.
They continued to return fire. Everyone knew the risks. They would mourn the dead later.
Once the dust settled back to Earth, the only evidence that could be seen to prove there was once a living human in that location was a severed arm about ten feet away from the blast, and a disembodied leg laying in a slowly expanding pool of blood. Small globs of unidentified matter were splattered against the walls. The bloody remains may not have been from the same person. Only time and DNA would be able to determine which body parts belonged to which of his soldiers. It was not the first time he had lost men under his command, and it stung just as much each time.
Focusing on the battle, he looked up to make count of how many terrorist positions were left. They were down to three.
There was no good way of getting a clean shot at any of them. They had elevated, shielded positions. They had put themselves in a fantastic defensive spot. They were the exact locations Frank would have chosen if he were trying to perform their mission. He touched Sergeant Fisher on the shoulder and pointed to the door of the building the tangos were holding and signed his intention to take the fight to the terrorists. Sergeant Fisher indicated he was ready with a thumbs up and a feral smile. This is what they lived for, doing damage and harm to those who would do harm to the good people of the world.
Captain Banner sprinted for the door with Sergeant Fisher right behind him. Their hearts beat faster with each step as they ran. They went up two flights of stairs to the level the enemy fire was coming from.
Just a right down a long hallway, then a left, and they could clearly hear automatic weapons fire coming from at least two of the rooms. The sounds of battle were so loud that it was hard to tell if it was coming from two rooms or three. Perhaps the men on the ground had taken one more of their positions out. Maybe they just couldn’t hear well enough because of the continuous ringing in their ears.
Frank made his way to the first of the doors and braced himself behind the wall for a quick second. He stood, kicked the door, and burst into the room with Sergeant Fisher right on his tail.
Without a second thought, they quickly dispatched the two men firing out the windows with short bursts to the back of their heads from their M-4s. The bullets went in clean enough but came out taking the front half of the terrorists’ heads with them. What was left of the tangos fell to the floor with a very disturbing wet sloppy sound. The walls of the room had become decorated with blood-red mosaics complete with chunks of grey matter that was starting to slowly slide down the walls leaving dark red gelatinous streaks in their wake. These two were down, for good. The Green Berets did not have to double check them for signs of life. The faceless men were now crumpled on the floor, blood still flowing from the mess that had been their faces. To make matters worse for whomever ended up cleaning up this mess, their other bodily functions relaxed, and the smell of feces intermingled with blood and cordite.
In the room was an array of weaponry. There was an older Russian model PKM machine gun with bipod mount, a small stack of RPGs and a launcher. With all the firing still going on, it seemed the short in-room gunfight had gone unnoticed by the other tangos.
It was now obvious they had two more rooms to clear. Frank looked at Sergeant Fisher, “Let’s get the other two cleared, and end this.”
They could hear another RPG being fired out of one of the two remaining rooms and into the compound below. It was most likely aimed at other men on their team. This had to stop!
Sergeant Fisher yelled over the sounds of battle, “Sir, I can handle one of them alone if you can handle the second.”
Frank knew it wasn’t the way they were trained to do these kinds of things, but he also didn’t want to lose more men. They had the advantage of coming in from behind, so he decided they could afford to take the risk, “You got it, Sergeant!”
Frank sprinted down the hall. The sounds of automatic fire could still be heard coming from two different rooms. Frank was behind Sergeant Fisher by a few steps. The Sergeant took the first room, and Frank continued down the hall. His target was only two doors away. Once both soldiers were in position, they attacked in unison.
Frank burst into the room and fired at the first of two targets. His shots were well placed and lethal. The second target was in the middle of reloading and had been caught off guard. Frank turned his M-4, pulled the trigger, and nothing happened.
The weapon was jammed.
The tango instantly realized what was going on and charged.
Frank threw the jammed, useless weapon on the ground. He went for his handgun, but the terrorist was moving too damned fast and had a wicked looking knife in his hand that was at least six inches long.
The terrorist plunged the knife at Frank’s face, and he instinctively reached up to grab it. Its razor-sharp blade plunged into the flesh of his left hand and cut deep. Frank let out a yell of anger and pain that sounded like it came from something that wasn’t human, but he was sure it came from him.
Frank pushed back on the knife and saw blood pulsating in streams like a water fountain with every beat of his heart. He knew the knife must have nicked an artery by the way the pulsating fountain of red liquid kept spraying out onto the floor. If he didn’t end the fight soon, he knew ran the risk of bleeding to death.
Frank got his legs underneath his target and threw the smaller man across the room, where the man hit the wall with a sickening thud. Adrenaline had to be doing most of the work as Frank’s muscles were tired and blood loss was making its presence known.
Captain Banner’s world slowly compressed inward, he pulled out his pistol and put ten rounds into the tango’s head ending the confrontation.
Frank sank to the floor and put as much pressure on the wound in his hand as he could. He knew that he had to stop the damn bleeding, or he was in deep shit. A few seconds later, Sergeant Fisher came in the door. Thank God he was one of the team’s medics and appeared to be in good health after his own brawl with the terrorist from the room down the hall.
Frank suddenly realized there were no more sounds of a firefight. He looked down and saw that his uniform was soaked in his own blood.
Sergeant Fisher knelt down beside him. “Looks like you have a little boo-boo, Sir,” the Sergeant jested as he calmly pulled out a medical kit.
“I think he fucked up my hand,” Frank said, indicating the now dead terrorist and knowing that shock would start to set in if he didn’t get the injury dealt with quickly.
“Well, I can fix that, just don’t go all crybaby on me,” Sergeant Fisher fretted, getting to work.
Five minutes later the bleeding had stopped, the hand was wrapped in bandages, and Frank was holding it close to his chest. Sergeant Fisher retrieved the jammed M-4, cleared and reloaded it for the Captain as they walked out of the building to rejoin what remained of the team.
Once outside they discovered that, aside from the two dead team members resulting from the original RPG attack, there were only some minor injuries. At least he hadn’t lost any more soldiers.
The pair went over to where everyone had gathered with what remained of the internal security team.
“Sorry we ran a little late,” Frank reported to what appeared to the local in charge. “To the best of your knowledge do we have any more bad guys running around?” he asked no one in particular, hoping someone in the group knew the answer.
A tall man of at least six feet four inches in height answered, “No Sir, we don’t. You have done us a great favor. We were almost out of ammunition. If you guys hadn’t come along when you had, more of them would have gotten away.”
“More of them?” Frank snapped closing his eyes, wishing he hadn’t just heard that. “You mean some have already left the area?”
“Yes, I am afraid they did. Four men with a truckload of nuclear materials.”
“Fuck,” he said, thinking quickly. “Does the truck have any kind of identifying marks?” Frank asked while trying to maintain composure. Now he was even angrier about the delayed insertion then he had been mere moments ago. These guys were real pros. The left a team behind, knowing they were likely to die, to cover their escape.
“Unfortunately, no, not really. It was a very generic truck. We have ten that look just like it in this facility alone. We lost track of it less than two minutes outside the gate, unfortunately without getting a really good look at it. They also took out our cameras in the initial assault, so we don’t even have it on video,” admitted the man, almost apologetically.
“So, let me get this straight, we have four or more unknown military aged males, on the loose, with no way to track them, and they have a truckload of some really nasty stuff. How much material could that truck carry?” he inquired, not sure he really wanted to know the answer.
“Easily hundreds of points of raw material with shielding materials.”
“Wonderful,” was all Frank could say. Doing the after-action report was going to make this a very long night.
“Mr. Choi,” Frank called to the Warrant Officer, “Can you call for our helicopter evac? We need to make a report, and this one needs to be in person.”
The Captain sat down. The stab wound in his hand was starting to send throbbing sensations higher up into his arm. This was going to be a very long night.
AP NEWS FLASH: More trouble for the President today as polling shows him to be at his lowest popularity rating ever. The majority of Americans think the country is headed in the wrong direction.
AP ECONOMIC NEWS: The markets ended mostly flat today, on light trading. Investors appear to be sitting on the sidelines, not wanting to jump into the market with uncertain economic policy direction coming from Washington. It is thought that the FED meeting tomorrow will answer some questions, which is expected to cause investors to get back into certain, very specific sectors such as technology and manufacturing.