As you saw earlier I did a spotlight on Dragonflies: Shadow of Drones by author Andy Straka and now I am lucky enough to share the first chapter. As you know I don’t usually read sci-fi but after I got to read the first chapter, I have to say that I was intrigued and it peaked my curiousity.
What do you think?
Chief Warrant Officer Raina Sanchez dropped the nose of her Kiowa Warrior as the chopper prepared to jump the ridge. Leaning back in her seat the midnight darkness seemed to embrace her. The high peaks of the Hindu Kush were barely silhouettes against the star-filled, moonless sky.
Raina loved this kind of action. The adrenalin rush from flying AirCav was like nothing else, the fight close to the earth, as close as a pilot could get. For a moment, she felt as though she were one with the helicopter, the controls responding to her gloved hands and booted feet like deftly falling angels, the flight of the machine a synthesis of her years of training with decades worth of technological add-ons to her Vietnam-era Kiowa. Cresting the rise, she fired a burst from the .50 caliber guns, her eyes coming to focus on the target. Captain Skyles ran the mission in the seat next to her, pinpointing their Hellfire missiles with the laser rangefinder, JTAC squawking him guidance, both of them gritting their teeth to keep from chipping them due to the shudder of the guns.
“I make about a half dozen,” he said.
In her thermal viewfinder the insurgents looked like miniature green phantoms skittering among a clump of buildings atop a small plateau at four hundred yards. She held steady for a three count while Skyles sent their missiles roaring downrange, knowing most of those phantoms were about to meet their virgins in paradise. The Op was already beginning to feel like a success.
She swooped the chopper over her own advancing infantry, the cockpit swaying as they moved into fire support.
They felt the near-miss blast as much as heard it.
Skyles turned his head. One of the advantages of the Kiowa over the larger Apache was that it allowed the pilots to see out the doors.
“RPG. Tangos to our right.”
Rocket propelled grenade. Where’d the shooter come from? She banked hard, swinging the copter back and forth in an evasive maneuver. Raina knew what she was doing. She hadn’t been flying a racetrack or any other identifiable pattern, but the flash of another RPG launch to their left knifed into her being like a sharp blow to the stomach.
Skyles swore out loud. “They’ve got us bracketed.”
This time they felt the full impact of the shock wave, jolting them violently to the side, the booming detonation so close it nearly ripped the cyclic control from Raina’s hands.
Only her helmet and restraints saved her. She recovered to find their cockpit humming with warning lights and alarms.
Skyles twisted around to have a look. “LTE,” he said, his voice tense but composed.
Loss of Tail Rudder Effectiveness. Nightmare time for any chopper pilot.
Already the ship was feeling balky. She pushed on the pedal controls. The Kiowa yawed left instead of right, against her will.
“We’ve got a problem.”
She knew Skyles was already beginning emergency procedures, engaging his own controls, helping her as best as he could to bring the chopper back under their command. But they had only one way left to go, and that was down, still traveling at close to a hundred knots, with precious little air between them and the ground.
“Hold on to it.”
“Mayday, mayday,” Skyles spoke into his mike. “Dragonfly 16 is going down. Repeat. Dragonfly 16 going in hard.”
She searched in vain for signs of hope in the darkness below, but saw none. Willing herself to stay focused, she could still see the outlines of the plateau ahead. For a moment she thought she might have felt a response on the rudder, but it was all happening too fast. The Kiowa was beginning to spin beyond their reach with the blackness of the mountain looming.
“Fight it, Raina,” Skyles egged her on and perhaps himself as well, straining against the centrifugal force as he dumped fuel and discharged the last of their ordinance.
If there was to be any saving grace, she would think later, if there was to be any occasion for her to fly again, she would gladly give it all away for the chance to take this one flight back.
The implosion of glass and steel snatched the useless stick from her hands as their spinning blades bent like flower petals into the rocky earth. The chopper broke into pieces, lethal projectiles of rotors flying off in all directions, the cockpit collapsing, smashing to one side and threatening to crush her before flipping over, driving at an angle into the ridge, blacking her out.
She awoke seconds later to the smell of aviation fuel and fear, gagging for breath as the howling pain at the bottom of her leg began to drag her into shock. She saw nothing until the tall American infantryman was there, leaning over her in the blur of his headlamp, ignoring the tracers punching the rock and sand all around them, the white of his eyes embedded within his camouflaged face, focused on cutting her from her seat and dragging her to safety, and all the while her trying to scream for Skyles, all the while her trying to cry out with words that wouldn’t come….
Raina shook her head, jarred back to reality as she stared into her darkened video screen.
She turned her head to look around. Her butt wasn’t parked in her Kiowa anymore, but behind a computer console in the safe confines of the back of a windowless van parked along a Northern Virginia side street.
“You all right, Rain?” she heard a voice in her headphones.
“Yeah.” She stretched her shoulders to break the tension.
“Lost you there for a minute.”
She reached for her joystick and made the needed corrections to put her reccee–as in reconnaissance–unit back on course. Outside the van, a beautiful autumn afternoon was blooming into full display, the crisp air punctuated by sunlight and the reflection of brightly colored leaves. Not that she noticed.
Half a mile away, her hover angel whispered through the pitch-black interior of the ventilation duct, guided by its mini CCTV night vision camera, moving deeper into the building, undetected. Barely bigger than a mosquito, the tiny drone–more correctly known in military parlance as a MAV or micro air vehicle–had been guided into the structure through an outdoor grate and carefully maneuvered through a maze of conduits and vents to the main elevator shaft, where it had risen under her control to the target floor.
This fancy office tower may have offered class A plus commercial space and the best security measures money could buy, including a pair of armed guards keeping watch on multiple surveillance cameras, but they were no match for Raina’s angel. The miniscule flyer was nearly translucent and almost silent, virtually impossible to spot except up close. Its miniaturized systems, from power and propulsion, to imaging and detection–had they been available to the general public–would have put even the finest Silicon Valley chip developers and Swiss watchmakers to shame.
Inside the duct, the natural light began to grow as the angel approached the ceiling vent above its objective. She switched from night imaging to the angel’s regular CCD computational camera system. Directly below the imagers, a white-haired man sat behind a large desk talking on a mobile phone.
Gingerly, she landed the angel on the edge of the vent for a moment, before allowing it to drop, unseen, into the room.
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