Blaine Edwards had seen more than he could handle. With all the composure he could muster, he scooted down the hall and into the men’s room. He slid down onto his knees, hugging the nearest toilet. Wrapping his arms around it, he puked his brains out.
Others were not as composed. They vomited on their shoes, on their tables, their chairs. The crucifixions were the most horrible thing they had ever witnessed. They had no idea what to do. So they just stood there, sat there, lay there, some sobbing, some too stunned to move, most swimming in their own vomit.
Susan Ditroe was paralyzed. This isn’t possible, she thought. Not in a civilized world, not in my world, not on my watch!
"Secretary Ditroe?" the technician exclaimed.
Startled, she turned and stared at him, wild eyed.
"Ms. Ditroe, you need to do something."
Speechless, but now at least mobile, she stood carefully, as if to test her legs. She looked around the room. It didn’t look so shabby anymore. The Secretary of Defense moved toward the door, still without saying a word. She started to run. Climbing the stairs she passed a guard, who nodded politely, wisely keeping his opinions to himself. Without knocking, she burst into the President’s bedroom.
POTUS was sitting in bed poring over the day’s risk assessment. Wearing a sexy black negligee, she patted the sheets beside her.
"No. No!" Susan cried out. "I...I...can’t."
"What’s wrong, Suzzi?" the President asked. She wanted to comfort her Secretary.
Not knowing what else to do, Ditroe collapsed in her arms, sobbing.
"Now, now, tell me all about it." The President stroked Susan’s back. "What could be all that bad?"
Bill Hasler pounded his fist on the table. He turned to the men in the operating station. "Get me Admiral Kerrington!"
"What are you going to do?" asked one of the gilded elite.
"I’m going to send in every plane, every man, everything we’ve got. I won’t let our men hang on those crosses!" The General was enraged. "The second they’re out, we ought to unleash hell’s fury. It’s about time we teach those camel jockeys a lesson!"
"General Hasler, this is Captain Derron on the Ronald Reagan. Admiral Kerrington is being patched through."
There was a five-second pause. Hasler stewed.
"Kerrington here. What can I do for you, Bill?"
"Chuck, I want an update," the Chairman barked. "Where are those Cobras, the WartHogs? And where are my Spectre Gunships?"
"All en route, sir."
"How about HALO jumpers?"
"Can do. I’ve got three SEALs ready. They jury-rigged an S-3, just in case."
"Equip ’em and rip ’em."
Director Barnes was beside himself. It had been his agency’s intelligence that had sprung - in the negative sense - the trap. Heads would roll, he swore. In the end, his might be one of them. He was pacing, ranting.
By contrast, Sarah Nottingly was silent and still. She was in agony, tortured inside. Sarah knew that she had made the mistake of her life. The bunker, the HVAC equipment, the ramshackle barracks, even the obstacle course, all made sense now. She and her staff had been suckered.
Sitting in the CIA’s briefing room, she knew Thor was still alive. The images from his and Major Newcomb’s cameras had been projected the whole time. But with the other cameras capturing the crucifixion, she had been the only one to notice. She prayed, "Please bring him back. Help him save his men...."
She touched her lips and wondered if their first kiss would be their last.
The only two people in a position to do anything about the torturous events unfolding before them, Thor and Isaac had no idea what was happening in the clearing just a half mile ahead. They had tried to use their alternative camera views, but that function had become inoperative.
"Pentagon, this is Team Uniform. We are heading to target. We do not know what we’re going to find." Thor searched his mind for what to say next. "The pit was a trap. Our men were anesthetized. We don’t know why. We believe they are still alive. We’re going to find them now."
He looked back up at the sky. Large, moist flakes covered his visor. The storm was getting worse. "Do not send rescue at this time. Ceiling is low, below the peaks, too low even for choppers. Visibility is less than one hundred meters." It was not a message he wanted to send. On the other hand, he didn’t even know if it had been received.
Adams reached into his holster and removed his Beretta. With it out, some of his camouflage was gone. Still, it was worth the risk. Newcomb unsheathed his Glock.
Side by side they moved deliberately up the trail toward the unknown. Climbing the slippery snow-laden slope was nearly impossible with the added weight of the SFGs. For every three steps they took forward, they lost one to gravity.
Isaac was the first to view the terrorist training camp. The buildings appeared to be abandoned. He moved out past a large rock outcropping as Thor knelt next to him.
Though the blowing flurries obscured their view, they could see what looked like dancing men. Then trees, bare and stripped, ugly trees, as if they had been tormented by nature. They seemed to be writhing. No, they were too angular, too rigid to be natural. This wasn’t making sense.
Thor switched his audio to the amplified mode. He heard celebratory chants - praises to Allah. It sounded crazed, as unearthly as the scene. Then Adams spied a lone man wielding an ax, hacking at the repulsive trees. The Captain thought he must be hallucinating. Nothing had prepared him for this. "Isaac. What are we looking at?"
"Too weird for words. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen."
"Let’s move in behind the barracks. We need get closer."
The back of the first building was nothing more than a brown drape. It was a façade, like a movie set. The Captain lifted a corner, finding the building empty. They cautiously slipped inside, crossed the room, and peered out the doorway. What they saw was beyond imagination.
Their prime target, Halam Ghumani, was nearest them. At the far side of the clearing, on the other side of the hideous trees, were three dozen robed men brandishing automatic weapons. They danced all about, cheering, laughing. Between them were crosses, not trees. Their men were hanging on them.
Frozen, they watched Halam raise the hooked side of what looked to be a bush ax, catching and then cutting the men’s underwear, one after another. When he had finished stripping each of whatever dignity clothing could have provided, he raised the ax again, turning it so that the flat side faced the men he was tormenting. He cackled as he whacked at their genitals. To the men hanging in agony, it was a mosquito bite. They paid it no heed, so the game quickly lost its appeal.
Team Uniform was still alive, rising and falling, gasping for air. Some were cursing their plight. Others cursed their adversaries. Some appeared to be praying. They were all too weak to scream. And even if their cries had been audible, they would have been drowned out by the celebratory songs of Islamic glory.
The rescuers were in a quandary. There appeared to be no way to win. By firing upon the celebrants, their comrades would be killed in the crossfire. But if they didn’t shoot, none of them would leave this place alive.
Halam moved from man to man, poking at them with his ax. He used the hook to pull them down as they tried to rise, and then used the curved top to hold them up as they began to fall.
"What kind of religion causes men to do this?" Adams growled under his breath. He was a student of history, but this was an epiphany. Yet it was no less sick, he recognized, than slicing stewardesses’ throats, killing pilots, and then flying fuel-laden planes into buildings populated with innocents. Whatever he had been conditioned to believe about the sanctity of religion and the fundamental goodness of man crumbled before his eyes. As the terrorists shouted their praises to Allah, any respect he might have held in reserve for Islam died as well.
Isaac and Thor surveyed their men. Some were in worse shape than others. Kyle Stanley looked nearly dead. With one foot dangling, he was having trouble pushing himself up for air. Two Jews, Moshe Keceph and Joshua Abrams, looked even worse. Their heads were bent over. They were not rising and falling like the others. Their chests were moving, but barely. Their legs, it would transpire, had been broken. Bentley McCaile was also in serious shape. Unable to carry any weight on his broken wrist, his breathing was impaired.
Crucifixion is an agonizingly slow form of death by asphyxiation. The victims’ diaphragms are stretched, forcing their lungs and chest cavities into the inhale position. To exhale, the tormented must push up on their feet to relieve the tension. But by so doing, the nails tear at their nerves and grate against their tarsal bones. After exhaling, they must release the pressure on their feet. This aggravates the damaged nerves in their wrists and stresses already dislocated shoulders. All this must be endured just to survive another twenty to thirty seconds. The cycle is repeated until exhaustion and pain overwhelm the will to live.
Breathing is slowed, increasing the buildup of carbon dioxide in the blood, forming carbonic acid. This leads to an irregular heartbeat, an accumulation of fluid, profound weakness, and ultimately death if the victims don’t die of asphyxiation first. Some actually drown while dying of thirst. Fluids drain into their lungs, leaving them craving drink.
Dancing and shouting, dozens of Islamic warriors fired their weapons into the air, waving their arms in jubilation. The situation looked dire. Somehow Thor and Isaac had to devise a plan to even the odds. Thirty-seven to two was pushing it - even for an American and a Jew.
Halam Ghumani turned his attention to Yacob Seraph. After poking him, he lifted the curved, two-sided ax over his right shoulder. Halam wanted to make certain the Jews died, now - in his presence. He lunged forward, swinging the hellish tool violently. His goal was to break Seraph’s left leg just above the ankle. Slipping in the snow, he missed. The blade sliced the outside of Yacob’s calf instead. Winded, he paused before raising the ax for another try.
That was enough for Adams. There was no more time for assessing the battlefield. He focused his 9mm laser site on Ghumani’s left leg, just above the knee - an eye for an eye. The sub-sonic round was silent. Halam spun around and collapsed in the snow, too shocked to scream. Using the bush ax as a crutch, he pushed himself up. Newcomb fired the next shot, hitting his right arm. The terrorist spun around again, falling face down in a newly formed drift of white powder. In his turban and robe, he nearly disappeared.
The shouting dancers behind the crosses were too crazed to notice the silent assault or Halam Ghumani’s moaning pleas for help. The Muslim marauders were clearly out of their minds, whipped into a demonic fervor.
Thor and Isaac knew that they couldn’t unload on the bad guys from their present position. Their own men were in the line of fire. They would have to separate. The Navy Captain ordered the Mossad Major to the left, the enemy’s right flank. He headed south.
There were well-defined ridges and protective rock outcroppings for cover on both sides of the amphitheater-like clearing. More importantly, both Isaac and Thor would be above their foes, shooting down into them, hence not at each other. Even with their clumsy gear and the slippery conditions, they were properly positioned within minutes, ready to start their own Jihad.
In addition to a pistol, rifle, knife, and grenades, each man had a high-tech weapons pod strapped to his right wrist. This would be the first time they were deployed in combat. The wrist pods contained four 15mm high-explosive air-bursting fragmentation rounds, slightly lighter than the 20mm versions they dispensed from their Objective Individual Combat Weapons. Both versions were significantly more advanced than the M203 grenade launchers normally attached to M16s. The ordnance contained in each was automatically programmed to burst at a calculated range. The distance was determined by an onboard fire-control computer and laser rangefinder. The boys were about to find out if the stuff was worth its weight.
Now high up on the surrounding ridges and above their enemy, they pulled their high-tech firearms out of their concealed sleeves. As Isaac lifted his, one of the Afghanis saw the sinister black weapon float in the snow-laden air. Dumfounded, he screamed, "The angel Gabriel. He is fighting with us."
Instinctively the others turned toward their observant comrade, who was now pointing to a spot behind them. With the terrorists in disarray, the odds looked better.
"Fire grenades," the Captain ordered into his microphone. Using the scope on his OICW, he focused his range finder on the back of the man who had spotted Isaac and was now running to greet him. Thor held his breath, steadied his body, and squeezed the trigger. The 20mm round left the titanium barrel with considerable force, an unmistakable muzzle flash, and a roaring boom. The Afghanis who were in the process of turning to see what their compatriot had spotted swung back toward the noise.
Before they could spin around, there was a second explosion. Isaac fired his initial salvo. Both shots were followed by multiple echoes as the roar bounced between the opposing ridgelines, making it sound as if the place was surrounded by an army. Traveling at the speed of sound, it didn’t take either fragmentation round long to cover the hundred yards to its target. Within less than a second, both shots pierced the lower backs of the enemy, emerging from their stomachs and exploding a few feet away.
As the men on the flanks began to fall, the Captain and the Major sent their second and third 20mm projectiles toward the marauding mob. The snow was instantly splattered with blood and torn flesh. Targets that had once been difficult to see in their white robes were now either silhouetted against a deep red backdrop or spattered with the blood of their fallen brothers.
The scene quickly grew chaotic. Some al-Qaeda members ran for their lives. Many convulsed in pain, as their victims had been doing for some time. Others lifted their assault rifles and began sending return fire at the mysterious levitating guns. The eerie vision of rifles floating in mid-air was confusing for faithful Muslims. After all, Allah was on their side.
Wounded in one leg yet able to crawl, a badly injured Halam Ghumani used his one good arm to drag himself toward the Russian troop carrier he was to have used for his retreat. Inside, he found his AK-47 assault rifle. Halam, having seen the floating guns on the left and right ridges, had no illusions. Having supervised the removal of the SFGs, he knew who and what was behind them. Propping himself up against the back bumper and lifting his Kalashnikov, he unloaded in Isaac’s direction.
The second three-shot burst pounded Newcomb’s chest, throwing the Major back against the rocks. The impact disabled Isaac’s chameleon function. No longer able to project the image of snow, the suit turned black, the worst possible scenario. Winded and wounded but with his wits about him, the Israeli tried to switch to arctic mode, but the suit wouldn’t comply. Halam fired again. This time he hammered the Major’s helmet, leaving him stunned and disoriented.
Clearly visible now and nearly incapacitated, Isaac collapsed as the bewildered Afghanis unleashed hell’s fury. With the Major disabled and only a dozen or so white robes down, the odds were worse than ever.
Visibility deteriorated in the ever-increasing snow. Thor switched to infrared mode, which seemed to help. He sent fragmentation rounds four, five, and six into the middle of the Afghani horde. As they reached their targets, the projectiles splintered into jagged pieces of shrapnel. Some shards hit their mark, incapacitating the robed men. Others disappeared benignly into the powdery white drifts. A few fragments hit the backs of crosses holding members of Team Uniform.
Thor’s 20mm clip was now empty. But rather than take the time to reload, he used his right thumb to switch his OICW to discharge standard NATO 5.56mm kinetic rounds from the upper barrel. Although he was still invisible, his rifle was not. The Captain took heavy fire from three Afghans who managed to get off murderous bursts. They were attempting a retreat, using the cratered bodies of their fallen comrades as shields.
The SFG performed its magic. The rounds that made contact stung but didn’t penetrate the Kevlar and titanium fabric. One bullet glanced off his helmet, ringing his bell but doing no real harm. Ignoring the onslaught as best he could, Thor swung left, steadied himself, and focused on Halam Ghumani. He was barely visible between the crosses. If the terrorist leader continued to fire, an errant shot could mortally wound one of his men. While a bullet in the side might have provided blessed release from the torture, Adams was as yet unwilling to admit defeat, for himself or for the men under his command.
With composure a lesser man couldn’t have summoned, the Captain slowed his breathing. He discharged a three-round burst. As if in slow motion, he traced the projectiles’ path to the rifle being held by the world’s most despised terrorist. The impact of the kinetic rounds on the Kalashnikov’s barrel sent a celebratory explosion of sparks into the air as the gun cartwheeled into the snow well out of Ghumani’s reach. "Die, scum."
His triumph was short lived. Within seconds, two more al-Qaeda bullets found their mark. The first scored a direct hit on Thor’s right bicep, and while it didn’t penetrate the high-tech fabric, the impact fractured his humerus. The other ripped its way through a seam and into his right thigh, tearing into muscle tissue but missing the bone.
The Muslim assault was akin to shooting a grizzly bear with a twenty-two. Thor was angry. He slid behind a boulder as he turned right to face his tormentors. With his left hand, he lifted his right forearm, aggravating the fracture. Enduring the pain, he pointed the laser finder on his wrist-mounted weapon pod into the mass of convulsing humanity below. Adams released the first two of his four 15mm fragmentation rounds. There were two more explosions, a great splattering of blood and flesh. He fired his final mini grenades into those still standing. Stillness followed.
Thor looked down on his men. Most were still moving, gasping for air. He looked across the clearing toward where Newcomb had been hit. All he saw was a black lump partially covered by snow.
Returning his attention to the bloody ground behind the crosses, Thor grasped his rifle. With his good hand, he pressed a release button, freeing the assault rifle from the 20mm barrel, laser rangefinder, and fire-control computer. Lighter, it would be easier to handle on his weaker left side. He tossed the grenade launcher toward the base of the nearest cross - Kyle Stanley’s.
Limping down off the ridge and into the clearing, Adams found himself firing single rounds into several of the bodies he found quivering. With his men hanging above them, he had no alternative. As the Captain stumbled toward where he had last seen Newcomb, he did two counts in his head - how many robed protagonists had been dancing when they had arrived, and how many rounds he had discharged from his 30-shot clip. He had a second clip for each of his four weapons, but there might not be time to unleash and install them if things turned ugly again.
There were thirty dead Afghanis in addition to Halam Ghumani. That was fewer than the three dozen they had counted earlier. It wasn’t over, he reflected, wondering what had made some turn to fight, others turn tail to run, and more still to walk toward the barrage as if they wanted to die. And then there was the look in their eyes - evil, ungodly, hateful.
Thor was somehow unwilling to pass on the other side of the crosses and stare into his men’s faces. He knew that alone there was nothing he could do to provide relief, to get them down. Gazing up at them and then leaving to find Isaac was more than either victims or savior could have endured.
Adams called out to his friend over the intercom, but there was no response. With the assault rifle in his left hand and his right arm dangling at his side, he made his way to the north ridge. As he began to climb, his right leg became a liability. He couldn’t lift it high enough to step over or around the boulders in his path. The puncture wound in his thigh was bleeding profusely, and the pain nearly immobilized him.
"Great," he said to no one in particular. He couldn’t decide if he should open his first-aid kit and diminish the bleeding or press on to find his fallen comrade. Acquiescing to his training, he sat down on the rock he was trying to scale, put the rifle down, and reached into his vest pocket. Removing its contents, he attend to his wounds. If he bled to death, they would all die.
Tying a tourniquet-style bandage loosely in place, Adams scaled the incline without his rifle. The ascent was slower than he would have liked, and certainly more painful, but he knew he was within moments of finding Isaac. And he knew he was still alive; he had to be. There was no other way to get their men off the infernal crosses.
About thirty feet up the northern ridge, Thor found Newcomb lying face down. He was still breathing but unconscious. Adams picked up Isaac’s rifle and placed it to one side. With his left arm he reached for the Israeli’s uphill side, turning him over. Isaac’s wraparound helmet was riddled with dents. Removing it with one hand was harder than he expected.
Reaching into his open first-aid pouch, Thor found the smelling salts. He placed the vial under the Major’s nose. Startled and a little surprised to be alive, Isaac looked up groggily at Thor. "What’d I miss?"
The scene was hell frozen over. Nine nearly naked men were hanging on crosses, dying. Thirty crimson-spattered robes were piled in heaps throughout the clearing. Ghumani had mostly disappeared beneath a reddened blanket of powder.
Isaac tried to stand but immediately slumped back down. "Ahhhrgh. I think my ribs are busted," he groaned.
"Can you move?"
"Yeah. Help me up, Cap’n," Isaac coughed. "Let’s get our guys down." Seeing double, there were more of them than he had remembered.
Omen quagmer, Kahn Haqqani, and Aymen Halaweh made their way to the crude landing strip in the first of the two Russian personnel carriers. Their plane, having flown in the previous afternoon, was waiting for them under the same camouflage tenting that had once hidden the training camp bunker from satellite view. Halam Ghumani was supposed to join them as soon as he was finished gloating.
With the starry-eyed Aymen Halaweh at his side, Omen Quagmer worked with the pilots, uncovering the plane and loading their gear. First on board was their new high-tech treasure. They stashed it safely inside the baggage compartment. They had nine SFG suits, four British, three Israeli, and two American. All had a matching helmet and support pack. Their prize included a collection of state-of-the-art weapons all begging to be re-tasked.
During the rough twenty-minute ride out of the mountainous camp, Omen had wondered why the distribution of uniforms was so odd. Why nine? Why twice as many Royal Marines as American Special Forces? Why three Israelis? Had they missed something? A stickler for detail, the inconsistencies troubled him. He had heard a rumor about a downed American helicopter in Kashmir. Maybe that explained it.
Kahn couldn’t be bothered with such trivia. He was as proud as a peacock in the elegantly embroidered robe he had donned for the occasion. He couldn’t wait to reach Baghdad, meet with the press, strut. He was far too important to get his hands dirty helping the others.
Ready to go, Omen Quagmer looked up in pride. The plane was as perfect as his plan, proof positive he was one of the world’s great logisticians. He had chosen a Pilatus, the only aircraft with the unique combination of performance criteria needed to make their rapid escape into Iraq. It came equipped with the avionics to fly in and out of these horrid conditions, land in less than a thousand feet on gravel, and take off again without refueling. Flying high and swiftly to their destination fifteen hundred miles away, this was a magic carpet for the new world order.
The insatiable Halam Ghumani had predictably announced that he wanted to stay with his guests a little while longer. As the party’s host, he didn’t want to be rude. Besides, he had grown fond of crucifixions. "By the time you have the plane readied, I’ll be there," he had promised the unbelieving Omen.
Not surprisingly, Halam was late. Quagmer dialed Ghumani’s satellite phone. There was no answer. "Mohammed," he shouted to the pilot, "did you bring a satellite cam as I instructed?"
"Yes, sir. It’s in the cabin, behind the right rear seat," he responded. "I’ll get it for you."
Omen scrambled to set up the satellite cam’s computer and antenna. Kahn, still pacing, looked on. He had been rehearsing his responses to the questions he thought the adoring Muslim media might ask, especially his supporters at al-Jazeera.
Quagmer reached for his Palm XIV, looked up the number of Sky Cam One, and dialed. In accordance with their plan, they had left a satellite camera in the clearing intending to broadcast the culmination of the crucifixions. Befuddling the infidels had been a great victory. The gruesome scene was sure to stir wild celebrations among Muslims and wailing cries for retreat and peace in the West.
The connection made, the picture Omen had been expecting burst onto the screen - nine men hanging on crosses, fighting for their lives. He breathed a sigh of relief. At least Halam’s gone, he thought.
Any moment now, Omen knew, they would be winging their way out of Afghanistan, over Iran, and into Iraq. It would be first class. The ride had been catered. The aircraft came complete with two mini-galleys stuffed with rich foods and fine wines. Abstinence was for the masses.
Not wanting to delay their departure, Omen reached out and hit the shut-off switch. But as he pressed the button, the image of two men dressed in suits like those he had just loaded onto the plane came into view. The picture faded to black.
Suddenly queasy, Quagmer hit the power switch again. As soon as the lights flickered, he hit redial. "Kahn, Aymen, come here!" he shouted.
As the three terrorists gathered around the screen, their eyes widened. They watched as two men dragged something, somebody, into view. The trio looked on in horror as they raised the bloodied head of their fallen leader.
Omen switched the power off again. He folded up the computer as Kahn took care of the antenna. The three ran toward the gangway. "We depart now!" Omen ordered, clearly distressed.
"I thought we were expecting a fourth passenger," the pilot protested.
"There won’t be a fourth passenger. He’s dead. Let’s get out of here before they kill us too!" Quagmer quickly took his seat, across the aisle from Aymen. He fastened his seatbelt, shaking violently.
Kahn sat directly behind them. There was more room in the rear seats for his bloated ego. The loss of Halam Ghumani, he reflected, was not an altogether bad thing. He smelled opportunity. With Halam gone, it would be his turn to shine, his turn to do Allah proud - or at least that’s what the faithful would be led to believe. They lost one in battle, so Kahn Haqqani was about to go to war.
Omen was paranoid, as nervous as an overweight lamb at a wolf’s convention. Without Halam’s charisma, would money still flow into al-Qaeda’s coffers? Without Halam’s prestige, would anyone be able to control Kahn’s insanity, his insatiable ego? They had won the battle, but had they lost the war?
The copilot raised and locked the gangway door. The pilot reached up to hit the battery switch and checked as the engine instruments came alive. Sensing the panic in Omen’s voice, he dispensed with the normal checklist and fired the ignition.
The pilot taxied to the downwind end of the two thousand-foot-long mountain airstrip. He lowered the flaps to thirty degrees. At an altitude of nine thousand feet, they would need all the lift the wings could provide.
The flight crew was grateful for a reduced fuel load and for the weight saved by one fewer passenger. They would have preferred to have another thousand feet of runway and a few more minutes of flight prep, but Omen was frantically motioning for them to go. It was like he expected an attack to suddenly roar out of the clouded sky. The pilots knew only fools would fly in these conditions.
The makeshift runway had been created by partially straightening and widening a dirt road between neighboring villages. There had once been telephone poles along the side, but they had been brought down long before the strip was built, victims of a war that never seemed to end.
The pilot taxied the expensive bird to the last place wide enough for him to swing the fifty foot wingspan around without scraping rocks. They were now covered with a heavy dusting of snow. That wasn’t going to help. Generating sufficient lift was challenge enough at this altitude.
Facing down the "runway," the pilot moved the plane back by lifting two control levers on the throttle, reversing the prop’s pitch. The five-ton aircraft rolled backwards, giving the plane the maximum opportunity to get airborne. Then, with the brakes locked, he moved the throttles full forward. The machine skidded on the loose gravel no matter how hard the crew pushed on the pedals. The brakes were no match for a twelve hundred horsepower turbine at full gallop.
Released, the turboprop lunged forward as if out of a slingshot. Within fifteen hundred feet the nose wheel left the bumpy strip. In ground effect, the pilot accelerated, following the curvature of the road before finally pulling back on the yoke and pointing the craft skyward. The miracle of climbing at over two thousand feet per minute in the thin air was both good and bad. Within seconds they would be IMC, in the clouds, blind as a bat.
Encircled by "cumulo-granite," the pilots’ dark euphemism for the stone "clouds" that surrounded them, they would be entirely reliant on their instruments to "see" their way out of the narrow canyon. Their very lives depended on the technology.
Technology. Kahn appreciated the irony and laughed out loud. He had counted on the enemy’s technology to get his trap noticed. It had been the latest military technology that had brought them to his doorstep in the middle of a moonless night. Yet he had defeated the infidels’ wizardry with a simple trap. Even his crosses were decidedly low-tech.
On outstretched wings their magic carpet rose, veered to miss the peaks, then turned west out of the high valley. At 25,000 feet they broke through the tops of the clouds and chased the sun.