The Tip of the Iceberg
The jet-black Pegasus dropship cut through the night sky. The dropship, with its stealth package, was designed to be almost impossible to pick up on radar or thermal scanners. In the bay of the craft sat 12 soldiers in hulking powered armor colored the same jet-black as the VTOL they rode in.
These men were Archangels, some of the best soldiers the United States military had to offer. A crest featuring a winged sword was emblazoned on each of their shoulders, with an inscription that read "Exitus Acta Probat," or "The End Justifies the Means." The inscription was fitting considering the unit's infamy surrounding their ruthless tactics. Members of the Archangels are selected not only for their combat skills on the battlefield, but also their devotion to God Almighty. They view themselves as God's warriors, and their combat prowess made the claim hard to dispute.
The Archangels had of late been tasked with pacifying the Sioux Insurgency. The United States currently maintained a tenuous peace with the People's Republic of Celtania, and the United States Supreme Command wanted to take this chance to crush the Insurgency once and for all. The 12 Archangels seated in the Pegasus were the tip of the spear.
In the bay of the Pegasus sat Captain Michael Winters, leader of the 112th Archangels Company. Winters ran his hand through his short brown hair as his squad ran through their final equipment checks around him. He looked down at the armored headpiece in his hands, and the picture of his wife, Adriana, taped inside. He couldn't help but smirk at what a cliché he was: a lonely soldier pining for his girl back home. He set his headpiece aside, wiped the grin off his face, and focused on the task at hand
"Alright people, listen up!" Winters barked. "We are currently enroute to a compound near the Wounded Knee Demilitarized Zone. We've lost three transport aircraft in the last week, and we have intel that the launchers used to down them were fired from this compound." As he spoke, Winters brought up a projected map of the compound from an emitter on his wrist. "Our mission is to secure the compound and destroy any SAM launchers we find. These missiles are a serious upgrade from the weaponry usually used by the Insurgency, and Command wants to know how the Sioux got their hands on them. We need to hit them hard and fast so they don't have time to call for help. We have a gunship waiting about 10 klicks out in case things get ugly. Frost, we're dropping you and Lopez in first to survey the area- we'll go on your word, got it?"
Corporal Jennifer Frost, the company's sniper, as well as its only woman, nodded in understanding. While her blue eyes, platinum blonde hair and slender frame were reminiscent of a Hollywood starlet, Frost was much more than just a pretty face. She had earned her invitation to join the Archangels, and over the course of dozens of operations, she had also earned the utmost respect from her team. Frost's role as sniper made the powered armor worn by the rest of her team far too unwieldy and impractical, and instead wore lighter ballistic armor, along with a headpiece that allowed for greater visibility. The armor was also equipped with a cloaking system which allowed Frost to become invisible for brief periods of time. Frost would be assisted on the ground by her spotter, Lance Corporal Anthony Lopez, who was clad in similar armor.
The intercom suddenly crackled on and the Pegasus pilot stated "ETA to first drop point is 2 minutes." "Well, you heard the man! Everyone get your gear ready and prepare to drop. Follow your training, and we'll all get home in one piece, God willing." "God willing!" the squad chorused back to him. The company put on their headpieces, completely sealing them within the powered armor, which offered protection from radiation, as well as chemical and biological weapons. The headsets were also equipped with night-vision and thermal scopes, which, when activated, glowed a faint red, adding to the Archangels' already fearsome appearance.
As the Pegasus reached the drop site, it flared upwards and came to a hover, dropping a rope out the back of the aircraft. "Frost, Lopez, let's go!" Winters ordered. The pair quickly linked up to the fast rope and descended into the forest clearing below. The dropship increased its altitude, and the rest of the squad waited for Frost and Lopez to get into position.
The pair moved through the woods like shadows, making no noise whatsoever. The woods were eerily quiet save the rustle of branches blowing in the wind. As they came upon the edge of the woods, they spotted the compound. It was situated on the banks of a large swamp, but used the trees at the forest's edge as cover. The compound consisted of several one-story buildings surrounded by a razor-wire fence. At the center of the compound stood a marble and concrete building taller than the rest. While the smaller buildings around the compound looked to be assembled recently, the concrete building appeared to be quite old. The buildings and razor wire were covered in branches and leaves to make them difficult to spot by aerial reconnaissance. Frost rested her rifle across a fallen log while Lopez peered through his binoculars. Frost's rifle was equipped with a suppressor and subsonic rounds, rendering it nearly soundless. Any shots fired by Frost would be further concealed by the chirping of crickets and frogs coming from the swamp.
Frost and Lopez observed everything they could about the camp and relayed it back to the Pegasus. "Alright, I count 11 guards total. 6 around the perimeter fence, 2 on the dock, 2 at the entrance gate, and one in the guard tower. I also see two swamp boats at the dock, and 4 trucks near the main building," Frost whispered into her mic. While their headsets allowed them to speak to each other normally without risk of being overheard, Lopez and Frost never got out of the habit of whispering during reconnaissance.
"It looks like they're offloading the trucks. Do I let them leave or keep them here?" Frost breathed into her mic. "Prevent them from leaving, but do it quietly." Winters ordered. "Copy." Frost aimed for the first truck's front tire and fired once, deflating the tire. "The column is immobilized." Lopez remarked. "Ready for the fun part?" he asked Frost. Frost gave a devilish grin underneath her headset, "Let's trim the fat."
The first targets were the pair of men on the dock. They stood closely together, sharing a cigarette. One insurgent had his back to Frost and Lopez, while the other stood directly in front of him. "Firing." Frost sent one round into the back of the first man's skull, which passed through his head and into the next man's chest, killing both. Their bodies slumped onto the dock. "Two birds" Lopez quipped. "Next target, 120 meters out, southern corner of the complex. Drop him," Lopez whispered. Frost hit him with a round that knocked him into the bushes and out of sight. One by one, Frost picked off the perimeter guards, until only the guards by the checkpoint and the guard in the watchtower were left.
Frost set her sights on the guard in the watchtower. She knew she had to drop him without knocking him out of the tower's cupola. She aimed, exhaled, and squeezed the trigger. Suddenly, there was a small but sudden gush of wind. Rather than take his head off, the round entered the guard's left shoulder, spinning him around and over the tower's guardrail. He let out a scream as he fell. "Shit!" Frost almost yelled into her mic. The two guards at the gate began shouting, and an alarm sounded from somewhere in the compound. "Captain, the cat is out of the bag! Execute now!"
There was a sudden roar overhead as the Pegasus flew over the compound. The dropship came to a hover about 15 feet off the ground as Captain Winters screamed "Out the back, go, go, go!" The Archangels charged out the back, the legs of their powered armor absorbing the impact as they smashed into the ground. The Archangels landed in a circle, with each soldier facing outwards to face the guards that rushed out of the compound's buildings. "Light em' up!" Winters yelled.
All at once, the Archangels opened fire, dropping guards left and right. Sergeant Edward Stokes, Winter's second in command and the squad's heavy weapons specialist, leveled his minigun at a nearby barracks. The weapon made a whir as it spun up, and then a sound much like a massive zipper as it began to fire. The weapon fired hundreds of armor-piercing rounds through the thin plywood walls within seconds, shredding everything and everyone inside. Specialist Lee Park hefted his grenade launcher, firing four times, once into each parked truck. The trucks exploded into fireballs, taking out a handful of guards crouched behind them. An RPG screamed out the window of a nearby building, narrowly missing the squad. Frost quickly put two rounds through the window, dropping the insurgent. Every Archangel was firing their weapon, identifying and dropping targets at an impressive pace. The squad steadily fanned out, clearing out buildings one by one with ruthless efficiency.
In the midst of the firefight, two insurgents sprinted to the dock and boarded a swamp boat. They started the engine and roared away from the camp. Frost radioed Winters "Shit, I've got two hostiles on board a boat headed south, I can't get a clear shot." "Goddammit! Nighthawk 231, this is Archangel actual, we have two insurgents fleeing the compound in a swamp boat, headed south. Can you engage?" "Copy that, Archangel actual, guns are hot." A gunship shot out of the night sky in pursuit of the swamp boat. The gunship opened fire with its nose cannon, shredding the swamp boat with 35mm explosive rounds. The gunship spun around and sent a rocket screaming into the dock, destroying the second boat and preventing any other insurgents from escaping.
The firefight had ended, and the Archangels formed up around the compound's main concrete structure. "Alright people, form up on the door, keep it tight. Park, get ready to breach the door." Park strapped a Thermex charge to the building's steel door while the rest of the squad lined up on either side. Park stepped back from the door and hit the detonator. The blast blew the door off its hinges, and the Archangels charged into the building. They entered into a large lobby with a counter running the opposite length of the room. There were staircases at either end of the lobby leading to a second floor. A massive flag of the Sioux Nation covered the wall behind the counter and between the staircases. The squad fanned out, searching each room. Strangely, the building appeared to be empty. Not only were there no people inside, the building looked like it hadn't been occupied for some time. The squad formed up again in the lobby. The lobby's windows had been sealed with concrete some time ago, and the only light came from a few naked bulbs on the ceiling, and the tac-lights on the Archangels' rifles.
Winters gathered his squad in the center of the room. Their suits didn't pick up any contaminants in the air, so the squad cautiously removed their helmets. "Anyone find anything? Weapons, supplies, equipment?" Stokes, the squad's black 6 ½ foot tall heavy weapons specialist, responded "Nothing, sir. We searched this place high and low. I think it's empty." Stokes's massive frame made him an obvious choice to carry the squad's minigun, which he rested on the counter. "That doesn't make any sense. Where is the weapons cache?" Park questioned. James Church, the squad's medic, leaned against the wall and said "Wouldn't be the first time intel got something wrong. Maybe there's nothing else here."
Captain Winters was unconvinced. "I don't buy it. Why guard this structure? This place has no real strategic significance. Why put so many men here to guard it?" Winters frowned as he looked around the room. He examined the filthy, checkered floor and the floor to ceiling-length windows, now completely sealed off. Winters noticed a light blinking behind Church. "Church, what is that light behind you?" Church spun around to investigate. "I'm not sure. It looks kinda like a- wait, no, it's an ATM." Winters muttered to himself "An ATM? Why would they bring an ATM in here? Unless
Stokes, rip that flag down!" He barked. Sergeant Stokes ripped the Sioux flag off the wall. There was a collective gasp as a massive vault door was revealed. "It's a goddamn bank!" Stokes blurted out. "Squad, helmets back on. Park, can you cut this door?" Winters inquired.
"I don't think I can go straight through, but I might be able to blast a hole into the vault from above." Winters nodded and said "Do it. Didn't think we'd be pulling off a bank heist during our time here," he grinned. "Everyone, get into position." A few minutes later, the squad had formed up above the vault on the bank's second floor. Park had wired several charges together, hoping the vault ceiling wasn't too thick. "Aright Park, blow it!" Winters ordered. Park held his breath as he squeezed the detonator. The explosion sent a portion of the floor crashing into the vault below. Winters tossed a flashbang grenade, and leapt in after it had gone off with the squad right behind him.
The squad met no resistance inside the vault. Two insurgents who appeared to have locked themselves in had been crushed by rubble from the ceiling. The vault was surprisingly large, and filled with crates. The squad began cracking open each crate, finding assault rifles, ammo, and other assorted weaponry. "Remember people, we're looking for shoulder-mounted SAM launchers," Winters said as he walked around the vault. The squad acknowledged him and continued breaking open crates. His foot hit something metal which fell over with a splattering noise. He looked down and saw that it was a can of white paint. He walked over to one of the dead insurgents and checked his hand. It clenched a paint brush, still wet with white paint.
Across the room, Stokes used a crowbar to pry open a white crate. He lifted the wooden top of the crate to see it was filled with assault rifles. He was about to move on to the next crate when he saw his hands were wet with paint from the top of the crate. The inside of the crate was black, meaning the outside had been painted white. That's strange, thought Stokes. Why bother changing the outside of the weapons crate without trying to disguise what was inside? He lifted the top crate out of the way and saw another underneath it. This crate had its sides painted, but not the top since a crate was just resting on it. Stokes's eyes went wide. "Sir, you're going to want to come and see this!" Winters walked over and asked "Did you find the launchers?" Stokes shook his head and pointed at the symbol on top of the crate. Winters gave it one look and said "Son of a bitch. Stokes, get me a line to Archangels Command immediately! Something tells me we're about to get redeployed." As Stokes began to establish an uplink to Command, Winters looked down at the symbol on the crate: a green shield with three connected spirals. The national symbol of the People's Republic of Celtania.