It was the first week of November, 2020.
Dan suppressed the curse that he'd almost vocalized.
He checked his six and saw that the rest of his small team was still well concealed.
Dan reached around with Don's left hand to ensure that the tether to the towed equipment sled was still straight.
What an absolute, total fuck-up! This completely degrades the usefulness of any phrase like "cluster-fuck'!!!
Yeah, and what the HELL are we doing here!
Just shut the fuck up, Don! We've got serious things to deal with, here...
Dan returned to regarding the target. He had seemingly acquired the ability to suppress the personality of his host body. He exercised that for the time being.
Thus, Don seemed to keep his 'quiet' overlook on Dan's actions.
And Dan worried about what he was confronting. Jeeze! This makes a school hostage situation look simple!
Dan couldn't avoid thinking about that middle school he'd entered oh so many years earlier. He'd ended up practically single-handledly killing off a bunch of Jihadis. He'd barely managed not being identified and subjected to an investigation by the national media. However, the post-incident debriefing had almost been his undoing. Still, clear-thinking heads had come to control matters and he'd avoided being exposed to any ultimate, out-of-control level of national intelligence gathering...
He again checked their progress and found that Chief McEwan was almost invisible to even Dan's systems. The Chief was about as hard to read as any operator who Dan had ever encountered. The man's skin was nearly as dark as the darkest of any he'd ever encountered. And his expression was about as expressive as slate or carved ebony. Chief McEwan's lack of expressiveness went right along with his lack of apparent visibility.
Sergeant Burkhalter was nearly as well concealed, but more of his equipment was visible to Dan. Which wasn't exactly all that unexpected. The sergeant was carrying more personal gear than the other two. Dan suppressed a sigh, as he knew that Burkhalter was new to this level of operations. Only, Sergeant Burkhalter had been described as an "enfant terrible" by his previous commanders. He was supposed to be one of the best at what he was trained to do. He was both an infiltrator and a sniper. He had broad shoulders and huge arms that tapered down a thinning chest to slim hips. His legs looked spindly in comparison with his upper body.
Chief McEwan was simply a known, quality operator seconded from both the SEALs and Delta Force. He'd been temporarily separated from the last force while recuperating from an injury. Sergeant Burkhalter had excellent references from known commanders. Only, he was nearly wholly and totally green in reference to real operations. Thus, they were a scratch crew forced to work together due to circumstances.
It was too damned bad that the majority of Delta Force was presently situated about halfway around the globe. One could wonder about how that had come to be. Dan suspected that a matter of misdirection might be involved in how the preeminent counter-terrorism unit within the US came to be deployed to southwest Asia when three terrorist operations were discovered to be underway in the southeast US.
He again checked the view of the target and was mildly surprised as his two companion personnel joined him at their 'overlook' of the target. He looked to their rear and found their two sleds right there besides the one he'd drug up to the designated overlook point. The three sleds had both wheels and runners. They were narrow and could be used to drag a load too heavy for regular carriage by personnel. Their load was simply too heavy to be carried along with their respective personal weapons. Chief McEwan's training and the availability of an superiority weapon with which he was rated expert had determined their weapons choice and loading.
Dan returned to regarding their position. It wasn't all that much of an 'overlook'. The sandhills found in the upper coastal plain of Georgia just weren't much to work with. Once in awhile you might find an outcropping of truly ancient sandstone. But, otherwise - you just crawled through the underbrush and tried to avoid the worst of the briers and pointy ends of palmetto fronds. Watercourses were banked with pebbly shoals of sand. It was neither the sandy loamish soils of the true coastal plain or the clay-covered rocky Piedmont that was found above the Fall Line. Oh, and you did worry about all four types of poisonous snakes found in all of North America. And, too - along the creeks & ponds you watched out for very quick and mobile logs that possessed big, sharp teeth.
They were lucky, as the target was situated on a slope leading down into Horse Creek. That tributary of the Ogeechee River was as yet sparsely populated between Georgia Routes 17 and 21. And they did have available to them one of the few sandstone outcroppings that were found along the upland banks of Horse Creek. From a review of topo maps and satellite imagery, they had noticed its elevation and position relative to the target and had made it a planned waypoint on their approach.
They were supported by the emergency response teams from the surrounding Bullock, Burke, Emanuel, Jenkins, and Screven Counties. Those personnel were deployed further back from the target. Georgia State Patrol roadblocks were situated even further out from the site. The GSP was conducting standard ID, insurance, and intoxication checks while simultaneously looking for anyone suspicious heading toward the target. They were backed up by local deputies from the Sheriff's Offices involved and by police officers from the nearest municipalities. The inner perimeter of the local responders was focused inward towards their target. They were watching for any action by those situated at the target. So far, it seemed as though no one within the site had been tipped off to the presence of the forces surrounding them.
Unfortunately, the Georgia state team from the GBI was deployed near Rome, in Floyd County. They had a separate emergency northwest of Atlanta that just couldn't be covered by that state agency and what was also occurring near the Ogeechee River.
Worse, the FBI team that Dan had previously trained and worked with was engaged with a similar scenario in the Norfolk, VA. area. That one was very near to the Naval yards in Newport News and near Hampton Roads.
So, he'd gotten a trained senior NCO from out of the Charleston Naval Base and a less-trained trooper from Fort Stewart.
Thus, there was an entirely uncomfortable paucity of well-trained anti-terrorism responders available to deal with a situation in southeast Georgia.
However, there was a Ranger strike team sitting on ground nearby at a sod farm in adjacent Screven County, between Woodcliff and Thomasboro. Eight Blackhawk troop assault ships and four AH-64 Apache attack helicopters had been forward deployed in case a major assault became necessary. Two platoons of Rangers were ready to drop onto the target. The four gunships were equipped to engage both ground and air targets. They were just across Horse Creek from the location where Dan and his crew were evaluating the situation.
Something did indeed seem to be afoot. Added to the absence of Delta Force, then the simultaneity of the two other known attacks was causing him to wonder about expanded patterns of terrorist attacks within the continental U.S. and an international aspect to planning that might have been designed to draw away Delta Force from North America.
Only, the group of supposed terrorists along Horse Creek had decided to hole up in a spot that was decidedly susceptible to frontal assault and especially vertical envelopment. Of course, perhaps this place was simply meant to serve as a misdirection and obvious target for the usual local forces.
If they had had a real nearby target then it would have been Plant Vogtle in adjacent Burke County or the Savannah River Plant across the Savannah River in South Carolina. The first was a nuclear power plant. The second was a nuclear weapons production facility and nuclear waste storage site. And, SRP did have its own small army composed of security specialists and combat-capable forces. Dan pondered those alternatives and passed his worries up the line via his encrypted radio link. An attack in Jenkins County, Georgia was just too weird for him to fit into any attack rationale other than one meant to provoke a disproportionate and mis-directed outcome by local responders.
Still, the recently developed and four-laned Savannah River Parkway had caused a significant population growth in even mostly rural Jenkins County. A new elementary school had been erected near Horse Creek between Millen and adjacent Screven Counties. That was just another indicator of population growth.
What if the plan had been to attack the new school? Was it meant to be the point of a mis-directed response to a terrorist attack? Maybe then the real attack would have gone in closer to the Savannah River and against one of the nuclear facilities. Or, maybe - against both of them.
Dan ran that scenario through the back processes of his mind as he continued observing what he could see spread out before him. Again, he passed those thoughts back up his communications link to the FBI agent who'd ended up being the onsite commander for this growing incident.
The thing that set off the official response was that one of the supposed terrorists had wrecked his car after he'd struck an individual amongst the ubiquitous, local white-tailed deer population. What had been noticed amongst his possessions within his wrecked car (after he'd been helicoptered off to MCG in Augusta) had then raised all sorts of alarms. And the fact that he was an un-documented Muslim living in Southeast Georgia had been added in with what he'd had with him. The meaning of all of that had not been something anyone really wanted to accept as just being nothing of any importance.
And so Dan Rhodrick, a.k.a. Don Nichols, found himself along with two other professionals in trying to get close enough to engage (if necessary) a group of (maybe) hidden terrorists. Only, the supposed terrorists might be about to launch their operation at nearly any moment - if they were linked with the two other operations then in progress in Georgia and Virginia.
The three of them were deployed on that small patch of sandstone that overlooked a shallow expanse of pasture and cultivated fields. The sandstone outcrop overlooked a mostly cleared portion of the Horse Creek valley. A field of planted pines covered most of their left flank. A mix of oaks, older pines, tulip poplar, hickory trees, and other mature growth ran down the sloping ground of their right flank and into the watercourse of Horse Creek.
Before them the planted crop appeared to be soybeans. Dan thanked whoever, whichever, or whatever god he didn't believe in and was presumably overlooking things. Crawling through a crop of cotton was just simply worse than working his way through a soybean crop. Although, he was glad to have full coverage by his BDUs even if dealing with only soybean plants.
But, as he observed things he realized that he might be able to avoid crawling his way through the planted crops. For, there was a drainage ditch or old stream course that ran alongside the cultivated field. It divided the crop fields from the pasture that ran down to the thin line of woods that bordered Horse Creek.
He used his system optics to compare what he could observe against the downloaded satellite image data that he'd gotten prior to starting the mission. What he was able to see was very promising. The ditch or stream was generally concealed by a growth of weeds and even some saplings that had grown up along the banks of the watercourse. With the effects of global warming the weeds and saplings still retained a full green growth of foliage even into the first week of November. It was the very same week of the year during which the national election was reaching its climax. Dan momentarily considered that particular factoid and then discarded it. He had a task before him and the outcome of any national election wasn't something that he needed to have resting upon his shoulders, much less his mind.
Dan responded to the encrypted, burst radio communication.
"Yeah, go ahead".
"Director's on the line for you".
Dan either grinned or grimaced - he wasn't sure of which response was shown on the face of Don Nichols. Nobody else could see his face to evaluate which expression was displayed.
"Go ahead with the connection. We're at a waypoint in our approach. We can afford uh couple of minutes dicsussin' things with thems as who don't know nothin'."
His onsite controller chuckled. "Right, Sneak. Here he is..."
"Sneak! I heard all of that! You gotta show more respect for those of us in positions of power and responsibility."
"Hey there, Darryl. You know what you can do with all of that power and responsibility that you've accumulated".
Darryl Hanks laughed across the connection between his D.C. telephone system and the field communications system in use by one of the Bureau's best counter-terrorism agents.
"Sneak, I just love to hear you say stuff like that. I know that I ain't gettin' no BS laid on me when it's you that's sayin' it like that!"
Dan kept his own chuckle to a barely perceptible output of breath. "Yeah, Darryl. In my position I do find it necessary to be blunt, at times. Failin' to do so could get me put into a world of hurt."
"Yeah, I understand that. Back to the present. Be blunt. Tell me what you're seein'."
"Jus' right now - Hell if I know, Darryl. All I've seen so far is the basic layout of this place. I'm lookin' at it right now an' all I see is a house, three trailers, and a big equipment shed. There are some smaller sheds and what I'm guessin' is a wellhouse. Anything could be goin' on here. Or, absolutely nothin' could be happenin'."
"OK, Sneak. I'll leave it to you to figure it out. Deal with whatever you find. I know that you're aware of your own responsibility in this kind of situation. And you've -ALWAYS- taken care of things when things did need to be taken care of. If it's nothing - then fine. If it's something real, then eliminate the threat. You know that the Secretary of Defense and I will cover for you no matter how bad and real it turns out to be. We're depending on you. I'll be happy to hear from you that it's all a big mistake and bad misunderstanding. Only, if it isn't a mistake and ain't a misunderstanding - then you do what's necessary. Do you understand me, Sneak?"
"I read you loud and clear, Darryl. Say hello to your brother for me, OK. Tell 'im to check his six on occasion. There's likely to be a few who's jealous of a jacked-up Special Operations grunt who's now sitting atop the DOD pyramid."
"Right, Sneak. I'll pass that along to him."
"Good thing, Darryl. I gotta go and slay the fire-breathin' dragons, jus' now. You two should come down and visit sometime when things ain't so interestin'."
"Right, Sneak. We'll plan on doin' that."
"Roger, Darryl. I'll speak with you after this shit is done with."
"Go slay the dragons, Sneak."
"You got it, Darryl"
"OK, bye for now."
"Roger, see yuh later, Darryl."
The communications link went dead and Colonel Dan Rhodrick refocused his attention upon the immediate threat presented by a seeming farm situated on a bit of low ground in a southeast Georgia creek drainage.
"Yeah, Mr. Nichols."
"Let's get your system assembled and set up to cover this situation. Whatever the Hell this situation might just happen to be..."
"You've got the watch while I help the Chief with his weapon. Don't stay quiet if anything seems to be happening. And I do mean anything. We don't know shit about what these people might be plannin'. So, if anything moves down there - tell me about it!"
"Right, Sir. I understand, Mr. Nichols."
"Good. Keep the overwatch, Burkhalter."
"I've got it, Mr. Nichols."
Dan turned to Chief McEwan. "Let's get it assembled, Chief."
The Chief smiled. His pearly white teeth split his nearly obsidian facial planes. "Yessir, Mr. Nichols."
And so they did proceed to assemble the Chief's weapon system. The contents of the three sleds were easy to bring together and assemble. Chief McEwan's system was soon assembled and brought up to operational status. The battery pack, the fuel-cell backup, the ammo pack, and the weapon itself were properly configured and emplaced after only about a little over fifteen minutes. While not -originally- an infantry deployed system, the current configuration was manageable as such. And so it had been employed in the present situation.
However, now it was time for Dan to earn his dimes and nickels. He needed to scout out the target. No one else was available to perform that task. Both McEwan and Burkhalter had their assigned tasks. The local responders didn't have the requisite training to deal with this sort of threat level (if it was real).
It was up to Dan Rhodrick in the body of Don Nichols to expose what was happening in rural Jenkins County.
Dan slithered down off of the side of the sandstone overlook and worked his way through the nearest portion of the soybean crop.
It took a bit of crawling, but soon he was looking down along the ditch or managed streamcourse that ran along the soybean field. It was exceedingly convenient that it led almost straight towards the assemblage of buildings that was his target.
He found it an easy route to follow. It was a mostly cleared ditch that he could follow in a crouched position, rather than a crawl. He closely approached the set of buildings and the nearby grassy field fronting them.
He was thinking about how to approach the buildings when his radio signalled him.
"Yeah. Go ahead, Chief."
"We've got several people moving around near that big sheet metal equipment shed, Mr. Nichols."
"Can you or Sergeant Burkhalter see what they're doing, Chief?"
"No, Sir. We're just seein' them movin' around towards the front of the shed. We can't tell what they're doing."
"OK, Chief. I'll just move forward and have a closer looksee at whatever they're doin'. You two just be sure to keep me covered. I don't intend to expose myself to their attention. But, who knows who's watchin' an' what they're using to watch with."
Dan moved forward and came to a point where the soybean field narrowed down to a thin neck of crop rows. Only a few rows of the bean plants separated the ditch from the grounds of the site's buildings. It appeared to be a near perfect situation by which to approach an unknown target while staying under cover.
Dan came up out of the ditch with his AC-556K in hand. He began his approach between the brown and green-leaved soybeans of the field adjoining the buildings and the clearing fronting them. This part of the field was but a narrow neck of plantings near the buildings.
The electronic optical sighting system mounted on the assault rifle presented projected impact placement information on his HUD as he moved it across his field of view. The weapon was ultra-lightweight with the now custom-made copy of its old Falcon folding stock. The wooden portion of it had been replaced with a carbon fiber and polymer composite that duplicated the older, original portion. Then too, the steel portions of the folder had been replaced with titanium components. Even the barrel was now spun fiber surrounding titanium fitted with a chromium steel barrel liner. Still, he had kept the now old, old, old 35-round Eagle magazines. Nothing available seemed to be able to beat them when it came to functional reliability. And the new sub-caliber rounds composed of saboted titanium darts functioned perfectly through both magazines and weapon. They were 3mm in diameter and nearly 20 mm in length - once expelled from the muzzle and after the plastic sabots fell away from the projectile. Simply put, they were very high-velocity and hellishly effective against various sorts of body armor and the flesh that was supposed to be protected by such systems.
He shouldered the snub-barreled assault rifle while keeping his head high and clear from its receiver. His helmet-mounted electronics combined his visual field with his sighting parameters in a way that assured that he could watch his surrounding combat environment while still freely engaging targets.
Dan quickly came to the edge of the planted soybeans and found a narrow lane of cleared & cut grass ordering the field. Beyond that was a band of small trees and brush bordering the grassy area fronting upon the several buildings that he'd been approaching.
Suddenly, gunfire erupted and was being directed towards his position. Rounds chewed up the ground to his left and he turned to engage the shooter. Just as he was about to shoot he heard a loud booming report and the shooter disappeared from view.
Burkhalter. It was him with the Barrett.
And just as quickly as Sergeant Burkhalter had fired then there'd been fire returned against the XM-500 equipped sniper.
Dan brought the sight picture of his AC-556K against the source of fire that was being directed towards the sniper. The electronics picked up the point source and Dan carefully, yet quickly controlled his fire. Somewhere between eight and ten rounds went into the target and then it was quieted. And as he'd accomplished that goal he had just realized that the weapon utilized had been a damned heavy machine-gun!
After that, all Hell broke loose!
It seemed that the site was covered by several fire teams. And they weren't shy about engaging targets.
Mother-fuck! What have we uncovered here!?!