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Authors: M. L. Buchman

Light Up the Night

BOOK: Light Up the Night
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Copyright © 2014 by M.L. Buchman

Cover and internal design © 2014 by Sourcebooks, Inc.

Cover art by Don Sipley

Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc.

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T
o Mike, for teaching me the joys of flight.

Chapter 1

Second Lieutenant Trisha O'Malley waited ten kilometers off the north coast of Somalia for the mission “Go!” moment. She held her AH-6M Little Bird attack helicopter at wave height, exactly at wave height. The long metal skids were practically being licked clean by the rolling crests heading ashore from the Gulf of Aden.

Through the large openings to either side of the tiny cockpit where the doors would be hung, the smell of the hot night ocean wafted thick with salt and bitter from the dust blown off the achingly dry land. Nobody flew a Little Bird with the doors on. She didn't know why they even ordered them. The only time they were used was to protect the birds when they were parked in harsh environments; a piece of plastic could do that. When they flew, the doors were off. Having them off also added freedom of movement to the tiny cockpit, and far more importantly, the visibility was much better.

Not that visibility was such a big deal at the moment. Outside the forward glass-and-polycarbonate windscreen, which reached from below her foot pedals to almost above her head, was nothing but impenetrable darkness. That was one of many things Trisha liked about the Little Birds. The console swept up between the pilots' seats but was confined to a narrow column on the front windscreen that stopped below eye level.

Flying an AH-6M was as close to flying with nothing between you and the sky as existed. No door beside you and bullet-resistant protection from below your feet to farther back than you could tilt your head while wearing a helmet. Everything a girl needed for a good time.

The console itself was dominated by a pair of LCD multifunction screens that could be switched at the tap of a button from engine performance to weather radar to digital terrain map. It made her feel like those science fiction movie heroes in superpowered suits, as if rather than flying a chopper, she herself was wearing a weaponized suit that happened to be in the shape of a helicopter.

Though there really was nothing to see at the moment. Even through her night-vision gear that projected infrared images from the cameras mounted on the outside of the chopper onto the inside of her helmet's visor, there was nothing to see ahead. Except more waves.

To her right hovered the DAP Hawk
Vengeance
with Chief Warrant 3 Lola Maloney commanding, and beyond that Dusty James's transport Black Hawk, the
Vicious
. To Trisha's left, if Chief Warrant 2 Roland Emerson weren't sitting shoulder to shoulder with her in his copilot seat, she'd be able to see the two other Little Birds of her flight formation,
Mad
Max
and
Merchant
of
Death—Max
and
Merchant
for short
.

When she'd named her bird
May
, everyone thought it was some stupid woman joke. But any fool who teased her about it being the
Merry
Month
of…
or
Mayfly
soon learned that it was short for
Mayhem.
She never had to explain it twice.

There was no “Go!” command and no need for risking that extra bit of encrypted communication. The mission “Go” had been given fifteen minutes earlier when they'd spun up their rotors and departed the USS
Peleliu
amphibious assault ship floating forty miles out in the Arabian Sea.

Now fifteen seconds to start of mission, she wound up on the throttle in her left hand. At five seconds to “Go!” both the bird and Trisha's body were humming with the need to get moving.

The clock on her dash hit 03:00—and she was gone. The
May
didn't fly, she leaped. Not like a racehorse, like a greyhound. With the collective full up and the cyclic forward, Trisha was tilted nose down five feet above the waves and a hundred meters in the lead of any other bird in the flight, right where she liked to be. They closed formation quickly, but she liked setting a higher standard even on this, her first operational flight. It had been two long years of training, and she was way past ready.

Even with the low-noise blades and engine baffles, the roar inside the craft was loud enough that you wouldn't want to try a conversation without your headset. You could do it, but your voice would get tired really fast. Despite the full-enclosure helmet, she could feel the familiar beat of the machine and whine of the high-speed turbine engine against her body.

Everything in tune and running true. Sounded like an idea for a song, not that she could write music.

Three a.m. should be the sleepiest moment on the Somali coast. Intelligence said the guard change was at oh-four-hundred. Everyone else should be asleep.

Everyone except the Night Stalkers of the U.S. Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (airborne). SOAR(a) ruled the night, the most elite Special Operations Forces helicopter team on the planet.

Tonight they'd be ruling the northern coastal town of Bosaso, Somalia, on the Horn of Africa. Or at least one corner of it. They wouldn't be engaging within the third largest city in the country, because the pirates had made the mistake of using a compound outside of town. The local authorities were clamping down hard on piracy and, even if just for public image's sake alone, they wouldn't have been as tolerant of the pirates if they were right in town.

She'd expected to feel some serious nerves. It was her first mission-qualified flight for the Night Stalkers. She'd spent five years with the 101st Airborne flying Cobra attack and Little Birds. She had planned that the day she hit the five-year minimum-experience requirement, she'd walk across Fort Campbell and knock on the 160th's locked gate for an application. Instead, an invitation to apply had been waiting for her that very morning.

Trisha smiled at the memory of that. Her old friend Major Beale had kept track of her despite roaring up the officer ranks. Trisha hadn't West Pointed in, though she could have. Instead she'd made her parents crazy by taking the NYU education that she'd paid for herself, then enlisting and bucking her way up from private. Though stepping back to the basics of Office Candidate School after she'd been a noncommissioned officer for several years had been tough. She didn't want any advantages; she'd long since understood the value of learning the hard way. She'd no more climb up the broad ladder of her father's political heft than she would clamber up the lace-draped tiers of her mother's social one.

Two more years had passed since she'd been accepted to SOAR. She was used to leading entire flights and planning operations for the Screaming Eagles. Not so with the Night Stalkers. They'd spent two years showing her just how little she knew. She was glad to simply be allowed to fly with them.

“One click,” Roland said over the headset. She and Roland were the same rank, though he'd been in a year longer than she had. He was there in case she fucked up.

No! Trisha admonished herself. He was there as her copilot. If he were there to cover for her, she'd be in the left seat and he'd be in the right-hand pilot position. All they both cared about was doing this mission and doing it right.

One kilometer out. Fifteen seconds to shore.

Right on cue, the breakwater came into view. A massive pile of car-sized concrete blocks protected the small harbor from storms coming in off the Arabian Sea. But it wasn't ready for the storm that the Night Stalkers could unleash.

***

Navy SEAL Lieutenant William Bruce squatted in the dust, wearing the standard clothes of a mercenary soldier looking for a quick buck by joining the Somali pirates. Bill wore camo pants, a dark tank-tee, and a black sweatband. He carried a very battered but immensely serviceable M-16 which marked him even more clearly as a merc for bringing his own weapon with him.

Most pirates wielded out-of-date Russian crap, some of it from all the way back to WWII, that was as likely to explode in their hands as to actually fire. He had a Russian TT-30 semiauto pistol in the back of his waistband, a reliable enough weapon though he preferred a Sig Sauer, spare magazines in his thigh pouches, and a rusting but very sharp hunting knife strapped to his thigh. He fit right in.

Bill checked his watch. Oh-three-hundred sharp.

The choppers should be here in three minutes, if they were to be trusted. There was a laugh. A decade in the Navy, the last five years as a SEAL, and he still didn't trust the Night Stalkers. He really should try to get over it, but he didn't see that happening anytime soon. They were dead reliable, anywhere on the planet, any time. But this was Somalia, and though it wasn't their fault, he couldn't help himself. He would never trust them on Somali soil.

Well, the time was now or never, and he'd have to bank on them actually showing up and doing it right. He slid up behind Abshir, the night guard assigned to the hostages taken in their latest successful piracy, and dropped him with a hard chop to the neck. He could have come from the front, Abshir knew him, but Bill didn't want to risk his undercover role being identified. Nor was Bill willing to kill the man in cold blood simply to protect his identity.

The local warlord, Mahan, would probably have the man shot for failing his guard duty, but that would be his choice. It wouldn't be any great loss to the world. Abshir was a nasty piece of work with a deep strain of cruelty that even the most hardened pirates rarely possessed.

Bill slipped into the low building holding most of the prisoners, dragging Abshir with him. Let Mahan think that the prisoners had overpowered the guard.

All of the male hostages were asleep. No one on watch. No one waiting for the least opportunity to escape. It just showed how easily civilians became dispirited, and this was only the second week of their captivity.

He began waking them quietly. At first they'd thought he was attacking them, and he lost almost thirty seconds convincing them they were about to be rescued. The boat's owner, Wilkin something Junior, was the slowest of the bunch. Senator's son. No one ever said he was a bright bulb, just rich and related to the right man to require an immediate rescue. Who would name their kid Wilkin anyway? And Junior was just salt in the wound, like the father hadn't learned from being stuck with it himself.

Eleven, six passengers and five crew, taken off the hundred-and-fifty-foot pleasure yacht
Gracie
in the Arabian Sea. The same number of SEALs that fit in a twenty-two-foot rubber boat along with all of their gear.

What the idiot yachties were doing out there alone in the constricted throat of the Gulf of Aden, he didn't want to know. Anyone transiting the Suez with even half a clue on board would wait for a military escort convoy before braving the waters between Somalia and Yemen. The Somali coast was one of the four most dangerous stretches of water on the planet, and they'd gone sightseeing. Probably on their way to explore the Straits of Malacca off Indonesia next. There they wouldn't be hostages, they'd just be robbed or dead if they resisted at all.

He knew the civilians would take another minute or two to get their acts together, so he told them to stay silent and be ready. They hadn't even asked about the women of their crew yet, a crime that made him think the men were the ones he shouldn't bother rescuing.

Bill slid out the door and moved in the darkest shadows of the moonless night, tight against the adobe walls on the right side of the street. At the last doorway before the cross street, he turned in. The three women yachties had been separated from the others and were tied to beds. So no guard. They were battered and bruised, but he was pretty sure that they'd only been mishandled, not raped. It had taken some risk, but he'd convinced Mahan that unless he wanted serious retribution after they were ransomed off, he'd better not let his men make a holiday of the ladies.

They were gagged, so he didn't bother to wake them gently. They wouldn't be making any noise. He just slashed their bonds and had them stumbling ahead of him before they were fully conscious.

Just as he reached the first building to collect the rest of the men, he could hear the choppers. The low thud of helicopters with quieting technology, sliding up to the beach. He'd only heard the stealth-rigged choppers once before. It was a unique sound that he would have ignored if he didn't already know it. Bill did his best not to be impressed that they were releasing those assets to any task less than taking out the next Osama bin Laden.

At least the Night Stalkers were punctual. Now if they could just resist being shot out of the sky.

***

Trisha checked her clock as they crossed the beach. 03:02:54, six seconds early. She liked being early.

That was one of the things the Night Stalkers had taught her. How to hit a mark within a thirty-second window, whether it was a thousand meters away or a thousand kilometers.

Also, no warm dots of infrared heat on her night vision that might be a flock of pelicans. Mission briefing had warned they traveled in large flocks along the Somali coast and could cause problems if you flew over one and spooked it aloft, especially at night.

Their appointed meeting place was by the large compound at the west edge of town. It stood separate from the hovels that littered the edges of Bosaso.

The center of town had some two- and three-story buildings, clumps of scrub grass, even a few carefully nursed palm trees around hotels and government buildings. Out here at the western edge of town any trees had long since gone to fuel cooking fires and any grass was dead. Not much survived the dry season that lasted, well, all frickin' year. This place was dismal. Thorny acacia bushes, about the only thing that grew in the sandy orange soil, were called desert roses when they “bloomed” with multicolored windblown plastic debris.

April got them two of the five inches of rain that fell all year. In September, they were screwed. Dust was a major issue. So the Night Stalkers formation flew in side by side, rather than in a line, so that no one ate anyone else's dust as they arrived over the land.

BOOK: Light Up the Night
11.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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