What Really Happened to Thumper 2-3…

A short story by LR Forgues

Started Oct 13, 2011

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Official transcript of radio communication between AF C-130E ‘THUMPER 2-3‘, Kandahar Air Traffic Control (Call sign: PINE 6), and FOB Moseley (Call sign: VIPER 4) on Resupply Mission#6 on *DATE DELETED*.

Thumper 2-3- Pine 6, Thumper 2-3 on final to Viper DZ. How do you copy?’

Pine 6- We copy you loud n proud, Thumper. Long range radar track on your pos shows friendly skies all the way in. Get those fellas their TP…they’re gonna need it.’

Thumper 2-3- ‘(snicker) That’s a rog, ‘6’. Turning on final. ETA 4 Mikes.’

Pine 6-Copy you 5 by 5 on 4 minutes to drop. Make it a bulls-eye.’

Thumper 2-3‘Always do, ‘6’. Thumper out.’

One minute, six seconds passes.

Thumper 2-3– ‘Viper 4, Viper 4 this is Thumper 2-3 on final approach to the DZ from the South West, ETA 3 mikes. How do you copy? Over.’

Viper 4‘Ahhh…Roger. Good copy. We have you in sight and the boys are ready on the IR (infa red) blinkers.’

Thumper 2-3‘ Perfect. Fire them up. On Final. Over.’

Thumper 2-3 approaches the DZ at 2 000 feet at approximately 164 MPH, guided through the darkness by the ‘invisible’ flash of a pair of IR ‘blinkers’ at the drop zone ahead. The rear cargo ramp yawns open.

Thumper 2-3 – near the Northern Afghanistan/Pakistani border

The huge props of the lumbering cargo plane’s four Allison T56 engines churn the cool night air as the Hercules levels out for the resupply drop with a steady low-pitched roar. Lit faintly in the crisp moonlight, the USAF workhorse’s dull grey color scheme holds a ghostly luminescence as it approaches the make-shift base.

In the dark spacious cockpit, the two pilots study the tiny collection of structures in the shallow valley ahead through insect-like night vision goggles. The navigator stares intently at his GPS tracking locator behind, his features vaguely lit in cool blue. Through the murky green image of the NVGs, the co-pilot, Lt. A. Simmons, picks out two rapidly pulsing pinpoints of ‘light’ marking the edges of the makeshift drop zone. Silently, he points them out with a gloved hand. Strapped in to his left, Captain D. Avery nods as she also picks out the beacons. Pushing the goggles up onto her helmet mount, she reaches forward to toggle a switch on the instument panel, lit like a Christmas tree before them in the darkness.

In the cavernous cargo hold, three wide tarpaulin-covered pallets of supplies wait to be ejected unceremoniously out the back of the huge aircraft; heavily rigged parachute packs affixed snugly to the static lines running to the ceiling-mounted ‘pull’ cable.

An indicator light near the open ramp abruptly switches red to yellow; standing out sharply against the crimson hue of the internal night lighting. With a sharp snap, Sgt. K. LaRue flicks open the serrated blade of his Leatherman, ready to slice through the straining belt of thick, black canvas that hold the near ton of supplies fixed in place. As he takes up his position at the first pallet, he throws a ‘surf’s up’ hand sign to the other load-master, Airman B. Fitz, was who, as usual, is running his tiny HD camera; taking in as much as he can for his YouTube channel from the opposite side of the hold. His helmeted head bobs as he chuckles at the small image on screen. Fitz pans the small lens away from his poised companion to train it on the sight of the craggy moonlit ridges of the mountains passing steadily below.

The inhospitable landscape seems nearly picturesque from this altitude; in the dim incandescence of the desert moon. Harsh daylight would bring a different, far more unpleasant reality.

He pans back, past his knife-wielding companion to, yet again, take in another wide-angled establishing shot of the waiting cargo. As he expands his framing, he catches sight of flight engineer Sgt. S. Park watching the action from the short ladder leading to the flight deck, at the cargo hold’s far end. Park tosses up a good-natured middle finger as he realizes that Fitz has captured him on HD…again. His Korean features are hidden by shadow, but he smiles; amused by the kid. The young load-master chuckles again, muttering a friendly obscenity.

These missions have become something of a ‘milk run’ for the crew, especially with ground-to-air threats from the Taliban having dropped to an all-time low in the last 4 months, according to the last Intelligence brief. Their precious ’80s era Stinger missile stocks are probably hitting rock bottom these days. In the 8 months Thumper 2-3 had been ‘in country‘ they’d only ever taken one hit. An AA cannon shell had gotten lucky and punched an ragged gouge in one of the wing flaps during a daylight resupply ‘hop’ for an Australian platoon, in the south. But Avery had nursed the big bird home; bringing her down like nothing. But given how pissed off the Cap had been, you’d have thought the fundamentalist pieces of shit had just given her youngest kid his first hit of heroin…(First one’s free!).

The two 1000 lb JDAMs that found the enemy anti-aircraft position nestled into a rocky hillside 8 minutes later, dropped with eerie precision from a speeding B1 Lancer called in by Avery, had more than made up for the insult of the ugly hole in the C-130’s wing.

A grating alarm suddenly blares at them as the panel next to LaRue flashes from cautious yellow to an emerald green.

Here we go!

Fitz instinctively grips the fuselage behind him as Captain Avery pulls the nose up, gravity doing it’s part as the roar of the 4 engines swiftly climbs. LaRue leans forward against the rude increase in ‘Gs’, slicing the strap.

Two swift swipes and the heavy canvas line bursts free with an audible *bang*. Even over the billowing wind that roars past the open rampway, the pallets clatter freight train-like out into the moon-lit murk beyond the Herc’s towering tail. The static lines snap open, no failures or snags; the parachutes dimly blossoming in the distance below; drifting gracefully toward the waiting Canadian troops poised somewhere down there in the darkness.

LaRue watches the drop with a studious eye for a moment…before looking to Fitz. The younger airman peeks up from his camera to flash a ‘thumbs up‘. Nodding curtly, LaRue then scans the now strangely empty hold.

From his perch on the steel ladder, Park meets his eyes through the darkness and flashes his own ‘thumbs up’. LaRue grins inwardly with reserved pride as he moves forward to the ramp’s edge, collecting the spent lines. A long canvas leash carabinered to a safety support nearby prevents him from tumbling away to ‘meat waffle‘ on the desert floor below.

Good drop.

Park turns, quickly vanishing through the narrow hatchway leading to the cockpit as LaRue, draped with loose static lines, slaps a large red control switch with his free hand. With a muted hydraulic whine, the large ramp draws closed with a mild thud; closing out the moon-lit desert below.

Viper 4 ‘Thumper, good drop on target. They just touched down. Thanks so much and have a great flight back. Over.’

Thumper 2-3‘Roger that, Viper. Glad to be of service. Hoist one back for us.’

Viper 4‘Believe me, we would if we could. You’ve earned your wings tonight. Viper 4 out.’

Thumper 2-3‘Good copy on that, Viper. Thanks. Thumper 2-3 over and out.’

Thumper 2-3 goes into a steady climb, levelling out at 11 000 feet and going into a lazy right turn to return to base.

1 minute, 32 seconds later

Viper 4 (faint with distance, tinged with static)- ‘Thumper 2-3, come back…over.’

Thumper 2-3‘Copy you Viper. Did we forget your fries?’

Viper 4‘Negative, Thumper. We just spotted something and wanted to let you know ASAP.’

-PAUSE- (STATIC)

Thumper 2-3‘Go ahead, Viper.’

-PAUSE- (STATIC)

Viper 4 (faint)- ‘Are you fellas ‘rockin’ an escort tonight?’

Thumper 2-3– ‘Um…could you repeat that, Viper? Did you say ‘escort’?’

Viper 4‘Roger that on my last. Do you have an escort on this ‘hop’?’

Thumper 2-3– ‘That is definitely a negative on that, Viper. We’re ‘Han Solo’ on this one.’

Viper 4- ‘Then you may have a problem. (static)…spotted a bogey on your 6 o-clock high position 30 seconds after… (static) It looked like it was trac…(static)…ur flight path. We coun…(static) 5 lights and an indistict (static)…unded outline.’

Thumper 2-3‘Viper. Say again. Rounded outline? Can you identify aircraft type?’

Viper 4‘Negative. No (static)…inct shape. A sau...(static)…shape. Like a fucking (static)...FO!’

What the hell?”

Captain Avery slowly leans back in her seat, staring straight ahead…lost in puzzled thought. Simmons looks over at her, concern evident in his eyes

“What do you think? Them crazy Canucks jerking us around?”

Avery, after a moment, shakes her head gently

“Why would they?”

Simmons has no answer. Sensing that something’s amiss, Park sidles up to his captain, asking…

“Problem?”

Avery snaps out of her reverie. Leaning back and meeting his expectant gaze, she hurriedly says

“Viper 4 is saying they spotted an unidentified aircraft tracking us right after the drop.”

Park’s almond-shaped eyes widen, shifting automatically to a small, dash-mounted screen . Avery, as though reading his thoughts, shakes her head insistently

“TCAS is showing nothing…no proximity alert.”

Park nods, understanding. If the Traffic Collision Avoidance System was quiet then this situation just got a little more interesting.

And weird.

Avery scans the instuments before her; more nervous habit than operational necessity

“All the action is happening over in Grid #9…the assault on that mountain compound the Brits found yesterday.”

Simmons leans in

“We need to check with Pine 6 on this one, Cap.”

Avery nods with renewed determination

“Absolutely.”

Craning back, the captain addresses the navigator Lt. M. O’Dowd

“Anything?”

O’Dowd glances back at his own panels; shrugging. With his Texan twang, he drawls.

“Naw chief…my scopes are clear too.”

Avery turns to Simmons

“Contact ‘6’…we need confirmation now. Whatever they can tell us.”

As Simmons moves to switch his radio frequency, Avery leans back to Park, slapping encouragingly at his shoulder

Get back there. You and the boys pop that ramp and try to get eyes on…whatever the hell it is!”

Park spins away on the double. As he goes, Avery shouts after him

And open the weapons locker!”

Thumper 2-3‘Pine 6, Pine 6…come back. Over.’

Pine 6 ‘We copy you, 2-3. Go ahead.’

Thumper 2-3‘Do you have any additional traffic in our sector on or near our FP (Flight Path)?’

Pine 6‘Uh…that’s looking like a negative to us, 2-3. Let us check ‘High Altitude’. Wait one.’

Thumper 2-3‘Roger, 6.’

-PAUSE-

Pine 6‘Sorry, 2-3. That’s a negative on ‘H.A.R.’ We only have a fix on your transponder signal and your ping on ‘Low Altitude’. The nearest bird in the sky is Talon 1-1. He’s 62 miles to your south west approaching Grid 9.’

Thumper 2-3That’s all? Viper 4 reported an unidentified aircraft tracking our path on our 6 o’clock positon right after the supply drop.’

Pine 6 ‘We have nothing on our scopes. Wait…ok…disregard. We just had a pair of Dutch Apaches turn up but they’re 81 miles south of you on ‘Low’…also headed to Grid 9.”

Thumper 2-3‘Shit…how about AWACS?'(Airborne Warning and Control System)

Pine 6‘Negative 2-3. AWACS are all commited at this time. The nearest one, Cyclops 1-8, is out of effective tracking range to your position. Have you established visual contact with the bogey? Any visual evidence?”

-PAUSE-

Thumper 2-3‘ Wait one, 6.’

LaRue and Fitz both look up from the camera’s tiny playback screen as Park leaps down from the cockpit ladder; trotting toward them. It’s not his sudden appearance that widens both men’s eyes in shock…but what he carries cradled in his arms. The three M4 assault rifles are not something that were normally seen out n about. They were normally stashed in a small steel locker behind the navigator’s station; in the event of a survivable crash in enemy territory.

What the…?!

Park also now had a pair of the plane’s high powered binoculars strapped around his neck. This looks serious. LaRue speaks up tensely

“What the hell, dude?!”

Park explains as he quickly passes the two men an unloaded matte-black rifle each

“Viper reported a bogey on our tail as we left the drop zone…but there’s nothing on the scopes…our’s or Kandahar’s. We have no AWACS cover either. We HAVE to take a look!”

LaRue spins away, instantly grasping the gravity of the situation. Moving purposefully, he clears the width of the hold in 5 quick strides. His gloved hand slams into the ramp control. The indicator flashes it’s brilliant green again and the huge metal slab begins to yawn open with a heavy whirring sound. As the ramp slowly descends, Park hurriedly pulls six 30 round magazines from his flight suit pockets. Cold wind tugs at them as each of the crew grab a pair each, slapping one into their weapons while stowing the extra in an open flightsuit pocket.

Rifle loaded, Fitz grabs for his camera and frantically cues it up to record.

Seconds later…it’s ready.

He swings the small lens around as the cargo ramp locks open; camera aimed from one hand…M4 from the other.

The earlier view returns.

The moonlight.

The craggy mountain peaks gently passing below.

The stars on the horizon.

And…something else.

Something new.

Something…not ‘right.’

Fitz, taking the sight in through the small flip-out side screen is the first amongst the shocked airmen to speak

“Holy shit!…What the fuck is THAT?!!!”

Poised behind the huge cargo plane at a steady distance of about 100 yards and framed by the spectacle that is night-time Afghanistan are 5 glowing orbs; orbs that pulse subtly with an icy blue glare. They had matched the Hercules’ speed exactly, slightly below the level of the towering tail.

The three airmen gape, all military poise and preparedness lost in the snapping mishmash of fear, wonder and suspicion that floods through their minds.

Fitz is the first to make a concerted effort to act. His thumb nudges the zoom button. He stares in bewilderment as the objects grow in the screen. Even fully zoomed in, any specific shape or source inside the lights is lost. If anything, the tighter shot made the sight all the harder to discern or digest as the camera’s tiny digital brain struggles to find an agreeable point of focus. Ultimately the orbs became wavering messes of brilliant pixelation. After a moment, Fitz zooms backs out. He glances up from the camera as a sharp metallic snap reaches him over the roar of the passing wind.

LaRue had just worked a 5.56 round into the chamber of his M4 and had slowly lowered to a firing position on one knee, his body braced against the inner fuselage for support.

Poised next to him, Park reaches forward to place a restraining hand on the black airman’s shoulder

“Wait a second.”

LaRue pauses, then lowers the rifles barrel…a little. Park slings his own weapon over his shoulder; raising the binoculars.

After several, impatient seconds of focusing, he finds the strange objects in his field of vision. No doubt. 5 brilliant, pulsing ball of light are following the lumbering transport plane through the night sky of war-torn Afghanistan. After a moment, the engineer lowers the field glasses. Thumbing the TALK switch on his intercom mike, he fights to calmly report to the flight deck

“Captain?”

Avery, her voice tense, responds instantly…”

What’s the story, Park?”

His response is heard through the headphones of all three cockpit personnel

“We DO have a bogey on our 6 o’clock position…Viper wasn’t bullshitting. It looks like a formation of 5 small lights…they’re holding fast about 100 metres off our tail…a little below us.”

Avery’s pale blue eyes widen and she glances over at the listening co-pilot. He meets her look. Reaching up to cover her mike, she hisses

“Get on the horn to ‘6’ again, and get us some fucking cover! Anything they can throw our way!”

She pauses, then hurriedly continues

“Get them to retask Talon 1-1 onto our position…if they can!”

Simmons, glad of a task, instantly goes to work.

Thumper 2-3‘Pine 6, this is Thumper 2-3. We have a situation, come back…over.’

Pine 6‘We copy you, 2-3. Give us a Sit-Rep.”

Thumper 2-3We’re declaring an emergency here. Viper 4’s report was correct. We have an unidentified aircraft tracking us at this time. We have ‘eyes on’ but no distinct airframe has been observed yet…just lights on our 6 o’clock position.

Pine 6‘Distance to target?’

Thumper 2-3‘Uhhh….approx 100 yards off our tail and holding. We need help up here. Any chance you can task someone from Grid 9 to come take a peek? Maybe Talon 1-1 if he’s still close?’

Pine 6‘Roger 2-3, understood. Wait one’

Talon 1-1 is a USAF F-15C Eagle on a CAP (Combat Air Patrol) on the outer edge of Grid #9, maintaining a wide orbit over the current combat zone in the area.

Pine 6‘Talon 1-1, this is Pine 6. Come back. Over.’

Talon 1-1‘Copy you loud and clear 6. Go ahead.’

Pine 6‘We have a Hercules, Thumper 2-3, about 60 miles North East of your position that seems to have picked up an unidentified aircraft tracking their movements from their last drop point. We need you to get to them ASAP and identify the bogey.

Talon 1-1‘Roger that 6. Rules of engagement?’

Pine 6‘Wait one.”

-PAUSE-

Pine 6‘Ok, 1-1, if you witness any danger to Thumper, you are cleared to engage. What are you hauling tonight?”

Talon 1-1‘I’m rockin 2 Sidewinders and a full drum of 20 mike mike. Don’t think my two JDAMs will ‘get some’ on this one. Over’

Pine 6‘Ok, get your bird over there and report when ‘on station’. ‘6’ out.’

Talon 1-1- ‘Roger 6, I’m on the case. Will report. Talon 1-1 out.’

The F-15’s engines suddenly blaze with twin cones of searingly bright flame as he throttles up, breaking his orbit and streaking north east with a crackling roar that reverberates off through the cold night air.

They were getting closer!

Fitz could see it.

The geometric formation that the orbs were maintaining seems was widening; the balls of eerie blue light smoothly growing in size. He glances at his two companions. LaRue and Park quickly share an ‘Oh shit’ look before looking his way. Clearly they see it too. He looks back.

Suddenly static crackles through his headphones. It’s Avery

“How are we looking, fellas?”

LaRue responds

“Uh, Cap…I think we’re about to have a close encounter…”

Park cuts in

“Of the ‘what the fuck’ kind!”

Fitz, unease gnawing at his innards, just stares at the approaching phenomenom as the staticy conversation plays out in his ears

What’s our stalker doing back there?’

LaRue glances back at the open rampway and the spectacle beyond before responding tensely

“Uh…getting closer.”

A mental alarm sounds in Avery, cutting through the flurry of official procedure that permeates her strained mind. Without registering her own actions, she absently releases the centre buckle of her five-point harness.

Simmons looks over at the sharp clicking sounds; an unspoken question clouding his features. As she stands, she says

“Keep us straight and level. Don’t change speed. Whatever this…thing..is, lets try not to piss it off.”

The co-pilot nods obediently. Avery pauses as she slides out from her seat

“Try and raise Talon. Get an ETA.”

Simmons turns back to the wide windshield before answering

“Roger that, Cap.”

O’Dowd leans away from his station, throwing an easy look over his shoulder. His jaw clenches as he watches Avery draw her 9mm Berretta from the tan holster on her hip. In one practiced move, she snaps back the slide, absently thumbing the safety into place. She slips through the hatchway. Feeling slightly lost, the navigator turns back to his scope, studying the GPS locater screen with exaggerated interested.

Four of the glowing orbs disperse, moving smoothly out of the airmen’s line of sight. The remaining ‘object’ presses forward, close enough now that it’s cool glow shimmers over the underside skin of the wide tail.

Still…it approaches.

Avery quickly, but quietly descends the service ladder from the cockpit; Beretta held loosely before her. As the full view of the plane’s cargo hold opens up, she freezes in place. Her eyes acknowledge what they’re seeing but her mind rebels; knowing that the sight of the three crewmen and the glowing object hovering just beyond the open ramp just…can’t…be.

Her crew takes no notice of her as they too grapple with the scene playing out before them. Fitz’s M4 dangles lazily in his hand as all his focus lies on the camera screen before him.

LaRue, fingers clenched tightly on the grip of his own weapon, slowly raises his other gloved hand toward the ramp control panel; the large red switch seeming to beckon to him in his peripheral vision. Something grabs his wrist with a sense of controlled urgency. He glances quickly over at Park’s grasping hand before meeting the engineer’s wide-eyed look. Park only shakes his head

“It might spook it and…”

The sentence goes unfinished, not needing to be completed as the senior loadmaster understands the implication.

Thumper 2-3: ‘Talon 1-1, Talon 1-1. Thumper 2-3. Where are you, good buddy?! We’re kinda in some weird shit here and could use your talents. Come back. Over.

Talon 1-1“Copy you, 2-3. I have a good vector on your position and should be on top of you in about 6 mikes. Is the bogey still on you? Over.”

Simmons is about to key back a positive response when the darkened cockpit suddenly blazes with cold blue lighting. He instinctively jerks back in his seat, alarm coldly cutting through his body as one of the glowing balls slides into position from above; just beyond the Hercules’ rounded nose. Behind the co-pilot, O’Dowd swings around from his station; mouth agape below his attempt at a mustache. He raises a bare hand to ward off the intruding brightness.

What the hell?!”

Simmons squints into the eerie light for a moment before turning quickly away, blinking frantically at the spots dancing merrily before his eyes. As his vision clears, something beyond his side window catches his eye.

Another of the orbs has taken up a disconcerting position just off the right wingtip, effortlessly matching the cargo plane’s speed beyond the furiously spinning props.

Without taking his eyes off the spectacle, he whispers to no one in particular

“They’re taking up positions or…something”

Wrenching his gaze away, he gestures robotically at the cockpit’s left side

“Dude, check out our port wing.”

O’Dowd nods as he pops open his own harness, lurching across the flight deck to the opposite window

“Sumbitch! Yeah, one of them bastards is riding the right wing too! Just off the tip! Jesus Christ…WHAT is going on here?!!”

The C-130 rumbles on through the night sky; the formation of small strange lights sliding along like remora to a cruising shark.

Wingtips.

Nose.

Tail.

All steadily glowing their crisp alien glow.

Behind the huge military plane, high and above…something else follows.

Talon 1-1“Thumper. I say again. Is that bogey still on you? Over”

Simmons, slowly turning his helmeted head forward again to take in the sight of the strange object just outside the cockpit, thumbs his TALK switch.

Thumper 2-3– “Uh…you could certainly say that, 1-1. The…objects…have taken up positions exactly on our heading and level. They’re maintaining a tight formation on us. And I do mean ‘tight”

Talon 1-1“Roger that 2-3. I’m going to climb to 16 000 feet to get ‘good eyes’ on your situation, appoaching from your 4 o’clock. I’ll ‘radio break’ when ‘on station’. 1-1 out.”

The F-15’s afterburners ignite again with a banshee-like howl as the pilot lifts the lethal aircraft’s sharp nose into a shallow climb.

Almost of it’s own accord, the 9mm clasped in Avery’s hand raises into a rigid firing position as the captain realizes the inevitable

“It’s’ coming in!’

The three iridescent dots of the pistol’s sights line up between the figures of her motionless crew members. Her vision zeros in on the approaching ball of light in her sight picture.

Park and LaRue abruptly fall victim to a subconscious auto-pilot as their booted feet begin carrying them both slowly up the grated deck; unknowingly backing toward the gun-wielding Captain Avery. Both men slowly raise their M4s in unison in the strange object’s direction as…it crosses over the open ramp’s edge.

Only Fitz remains motionless, completely fixated on the unbelieveable sight playing out on the playback screen. The artificial framing of the picture clouds the young airman’s instincts with detached security.

It all just seems so unreal.

In the back of his numbed mind, he’s already imagining staggering amounts of YouTube hits.

The glowing sphere draws to a halt.

Fitz nudges the zoom, frowning when nothing happens. He’s fully zoomed out.

Something twinges in the back of his consiousness, forcing his eyes away from the camera.

The ‘thing’ hovers before him, hanging in the cold night air that swirls around the cargo hold; completely unaffected. Dull pain abruptly shoots up his back; he realizes that he’s just jerked back into the bulkhead behind…camera held before him as if to ward off the alien intrusion. His rifle, completely forgotten, dangles uselessly at his side.

His three companions watch motionlessly, tension holding them rigidly in place.

Fitz can’t shake the feeling of curious scutiny as it suddenly washes over him. As though the object hoving silently before him was an eye…an eye capable of uncanny sight…looking directly ‘in’ to him.

Confirming this impression, the orb abruptly pushes forth. The muscles in the young loadmaster’s legs tense; ready to spring…to leap…to flee as the urge to urinate suddenly and warmly picks at his insides. But he’s wedged himself against the Herc’s inner fuselage…his options seem slight. A frightened whimper escapes him as a stinging tear threatens to spill.

The orb stops, hovering…concentrating on the camera held rigidly toward it. A storm of tiny electric tendrils silently launches at the camcorder. They pulse…wavering over it, some vanishing into small openings, others dancing over the plastic surface.

One particularly bright lance of miniature lightning stabs out to caress one of the airmen’s stiffened fingers. Fitz feels a warm buzz through his glove and instantly his fear vanishes like smoke in an abrupt wind. Instead, it’s replaced by deep curiousity…

…understanding…

…friendship.

For several moments, this euphoric wash of connectivity and peace roots him in place. He doesn’t notice the warm flood of piss that abruptly spills down his legs. The tiny shots of electricity retreat back into the hovering sphere, so quickly they seem to just shut off.

Fitz blinks as residual ‘feeling’ continues to flow through him. He glances over at his fearful companions; all three staring at him over the barrels of their weapons from the hold’s far end.

The stinging tear that had threatened to spill does so now, glistening down his cheek in the light of the alien device. He smiles widely

“Hey Captain. Didn’t see you there.”

Avery shudders as her youngest crewman addresses her in the most casual of tones, as though drugged.

This…isn’t…right!

The sharp click of 9mm’s safety seems loud to her as her thumb flicks it off. Park lowers his rifle, hissing…

“Wait, Cap…maybe…”

As if to finish the engineer’s words of warning, Fitz happily says…

“I think we’re gonna be ok. They’re just checking us out. They’re curious.”

…into his intercom mike. The Beretta’s black barrel lowers an inch as Avery responds tersly into her own microphone

“How do you know that?!!”

Fitz shrugs as he gestures to the little ball of light hanging before him

“It…told…me.”

The pistol drops another inch.

As if remembering something, the loadmaster meets his captain’s wide eyed look again

“It’s going to check you guys out too. Just let it… it’s cool.”

Park and LaRue glance doubtfully at each other. Fitz then looks down, casually examining his camera for…damage.

For…evidence.

With quietly embarrassed annoyance, a sudden chill alerts him to the spilled urine cooling in his flight suit . Then, shrugging indifferently, he murmurs

“Just curious. Just saying hi….just…”

He trails off.

As if cue’d, the orb moves…drifting smoothly up the length of the hold toward the three crew members.

Simmons and O’Dowd watch dumbfounded as the glowing sphere outside grows suddenly in size in the cockpit’s windshield. The ball of light freezes in place just outside the heavy glass, completely unmolested by the heavy winds. Silent lightning flashes to life, spreading in quick jabs over the width of the plane’s bulbous nose. O’Dowd quickly draws back a step, mouthing the words “What… the…fuck?‘ as the strobing brilliance plays over his features; over the entire cockpit.

And like that…it’s over.

The ‘storm’ ends.

The sphere pulls back to it’s original position just off the Hercules’ flight deck. Duty kicks in and Simmons’ eyes launch a rapid-fire scan of the instrument panel before him, searching for any damage, any indicators, anything that could have been affected by the quiet assault of alien lightning.

Nothing.

No change. The C-130 is fine.

All systems ‘GO’.

The crisp blue glow shimmers over the tense features of the three crew members in the cargo hold as the hovering alien sphere glides up. The captain and the two men have unknowingly retreated into a loose cluster; an animalistic ‘strength in numbers’ mentality urging their actions. They fight to keep fear and suspicion at bay; each trying to find solace in the Fitz’s placid words of comfort.

The orb stops.

Nobody moves.

It chooses Park first; tendrils quietly zapping forward to examine the rifle, his watch, headphones, binoculars…everything.

LaRue and Avery, with guarded awe, watch the tension physically drain from the engineer’s face; his dark eyes going dreamily half-lidded. Unknown to Park, a ghost of a smile plays over his thin lips as the orb proceeds with it’s examinations.

Fitz was right.

Pure curiousity.

The inner joy of discovery.

The camcorder’s RECORD light flashes it’s customary red as Fitz raises the undamaged lens toward his companions.

The orb can clearly be seen turning it’s attention to LaRue. The younger loadmaster smiles; noting the camera capturing the tiny tentacles of probing electricity as they play over the black Sgt’s loaded M4. Needing to establish that this is, in fact, all occuring in mid-flight, he pans the lens away from the close encounter to film the passing landscape below. His legions of YouTube fans will demand much documentation.

It’s not the arid mountains of moon-lit Afghanistan that quickly captures his attention.

What draws his eye is airborne.

And closing.

Still holding the camera before him, he watches as the silvery disk approaches. Fitz’s mouth drops open; stunned…again. There’s no denying what’s happening now. This isn’t just some random atmospheric ‘event’. This isn’t ball lightning. No St. Elmos Fire. This is an extra-terrestrial intelligence at work. Working at making contact. Peaceful contact. And they’re about to knock on the front door.

Talon 1-1“Pine 6, Talon 1-1. ETA 1 mike on Thumper’s position. Approaching at Angels 12 for ‘eyes on’ target. How copy? Over’

Pine 6“Copy you, 1-1. Get a bead on that bogey and assess threat. Discretion to engage is yours. Out.”

Talon 1-1“Roger that, Pine. Will advise. Talon out.”

Excitement and child-like awe floods through Fitz as the disk glides in. There are no visible lights showing on the silvery surface…and where the loadmaster would expect a gleam of moonlight off the skin…there is none.

As the distance between the Hercules’ and the UFO closes, he notes something extraordinary – the saucer shape seems to comprise of two pieces: a flattened section making up the main, circular body…and a prominent, smooth hump in the centre. A fine line connects the two halves at what would be the midway point.

Angling the camera up for a closer look, he zooms in. Despite the grainy pixelation, the view pushes in enough for him to make out what he can only consider to be mechanical movement – the flattened main body can be seen spinning at an incredible rate of speed while the humped ‘cockpit’ is clearly rotating in the opposite direction; much like the dual props on a Russian ‘Bear’ class bomber.

The aerodynamics of this craft are totally mysterious to the young airman. So intent is his concentration on the tiny image that he fails to note the faint strobe of an aircraft in the distant background; silently streaking past on a 90 degree angle to the cargo plane’s tail. Distance…7 miles.

Talon 1-1- “Pine 6! Talon 1-1 on station! I’ve got eyes on the bogey! It’s a fucking flying saucer! I don’t know how else to describe it! I just cut across Thumper’s tail…and there it was!”

Pine 6“1-1, did you say ‘flying saucer’?”

Talon 1-1“That’s affirmative, ‘6’!! It’s closing on Thumper’s tail now!!”

Pine 6“Is Thumper in danger at this time, Talon?”

Talon 1-1“Unknown. I’m too far out to assess. But there’s no doubt. This…thing…is closing in on them!”

Pine 6“Ok Talon. Understood. We need you to get a closer look at this situation.”

Talon 1-1“Roger that, ‘6’. I’m already moving to orbit Thumper at 20 miles out. I’ll cut across their nose and swing around for an AIM-9 track on the bogey. Will advise. Out.”

Pine 6 “Good copy on that, 1-1. Proceed with caution. Out.”

The F-15 continues it’s wide banking turn around the Hercules and the UFO. Even at 18 miles out, Talon 1-1’s 20/20 vision could make out the strange points of light poised in formation around the large plane; lights not intended or included by MacDonnell/Douglas’ designers. He tightens his rate of turn as he crosses out in front of Thumper 2-3 at 16 miles level.

Simmons, mesmerized by the alien light outside also fails to register the distant quick pass of the jet fighter cutting across his nose. As if waking from a dream, he shakes his head clear and turns to the navigator poised behind him

“Hey!”

O’Dowd blinks, glancing down at the co-pilot

“Check our position. Try and plot it back to the first point of contact. The Brass’ll want to know that shit.”

O’Dowd throws another quick glance back at the orb outside before nodding

“Right, bud. I’m on it.”

Reluctantly tearing his fascinated gaze from the phenomenom, the Texan plunks down at his station and goes to work.

The saucer no longer approaches. Having matched the C-130’s speed and level about 50 yards back, it glides silently along in perfect formation.

Fitz suppresses a chuckle. It’s all so…unbelievable.

Youtube nuthin!!

The entire crew was gonna be famous for this one. History books…here we come. He can’t contain his grin.

He suddenly realizes that his companions haven’t seen the disk yet; completely enraptured by the probing orb of light hanging before them in the cavernous cargo area. He spins quickly to get their attention

“Hey, you guys!”

The 9mm hangs limply at Avery’s side, having just been examined by the glowing sphere’s charged tendrils. The captain stands as though hypnotized, reeling comfortably in the after-effects of the alien examination. Her mind is clouded with cosmic possibilities; despite the tiny, disciplined voice of military reason nudging at the back of her consciousness.

It’s all so fantastic.

The idea of a changed, wondrous world for her kids, after tonight, washes over her. The small grin that shows itself betrays the inner comfort she takes from the thought.

A voice reaches out to her through her forgotten headphones and she looks down the length of the hold, past the shimmering ball to the gesturing loadmaster. He is pointing at something hovering beyond the open ramp.

A flattened shape.

A silvery disk.

A flying saucer.

It all falls into place.

The orbs are unmanned recon drones for the UFO, sending them in to check out the plane without endangering itself…or possibly them. It must have decided to show itself now; based on what the probing orbs had determined about them.

Wow!

The simplicity of it all was staggering. It all made sense.

Avery turns her wide, blue eyes toward the floating sphere again. LaRue’s head swivels back and forth next to her as he addresses both Captain and Engineer

“Is this where we say something meaningful?”

Avery shrugs slightly as she answers…

“Nanoo Nanoo?”

Park, gently reaching a gloved hand toward the motionless ball of light smirks, saying…

“I vote for Klaatu, Nikto, Barrada”

LaRue joins in, patting at his flight suit with mock urgency

“Damn, I left my fuckin Reese’s Pieces in my other suit.”

A tiny zap of electricity connects with Park’s open palm, causing a pleasant shiver to course through him

“Cool! I think it just ‘high 5’d me.”

The probe abruptly pulls back several feet. As they stare, it bursts into three quick strobing flashes. The is no sound, just a tangible charge in the cold night air around them.

The other orbs all mimic their companion inside the plane; silently flashing sudden patterns of strobing brilliance.

In the darkened sky, the C-130 is momentarily lit in the rapid-fire flashes. It rumbles on… unscathed.

Talon 1-1“Holy shit! 2-3 is taking fire!! She’s taking hits!!!”

Pine 6- “You are cleared hot, Talon! Take it down!!”

Talon 1-1 “Turning to attack! Level at Angels 11!!!”

-PAUSE-

Talon 1-1- “Fuck!! No tone on Sidewinder for the bogey!!! The seeker only reads Thumper!!! I can’t take the shot!!! Repeat, no Fox 2!…NO FOX 2!!! I’m in hot with gun, ‘6’!!!”

Pine 6- “Copy you ‘in hot with guns’, Talon. Cleared to engage!!! CLEARED TO ENGAGE!!!”

The F-15’s afterburners blaze alight with hungry flame as the fighter levels out, streaking at the pinpoints of light in his canopy; lights that are the trundling cargo plane and the alien attacker. Talon 1-1 tears in with a roaring shriek, fast approaching on the C-130’s 4 o’clock position. The Eagle’s Head’s Up Display rapidly counts down the ‘distance to target’ in tiny green alph-numerics. The pilot glares ahead, waiting for the magic number; the optimal range for the massive 20mm M61 Vulcan gatling gun nestled below and beside the tight cockpit…it’s six razor-rifled barrels ready to spin up faster than the eye can see.

Simmon’s dazzled eyes blink back into focus and he finds himself pouring over the myriad of switches and indicators for warnings. Again…nothing.

O’Dowd, wipes at his own eyes, cursing…but not meaning it. He returns to his calculations.

Relief tickles the captain as she realises that they’re all still alive. No harm caused by the quick flashes. She’ll worry about the possibility of radiation later.

Unable to help herself, she grins easily. Park and LaRue both chuckle; their captain’s smile the catalyst. Both men slap palms, the experience uniquely shared. Fitz joins in from afar, shaking his head in amusement as he turns his attention back to the UFO outside.

Simmons, cocks his head, suddenly remembering something. Lunging forward, he snaps the radio frequency over to…Talon 1-1.

6200 yards. The numbers blink past on the HUD, the pilot mashes the trigger. The cockpit rumbles as a bright yellow crackle of flame curls back past the canopy. The roar of the gun crashes through the night sky like the vicious ripping of long, wet canvas. Armour-piercing tracer rounds lash out in an angry cluster at the fast approaching UFO shape. Through the violent din, Talon 1-1 never registers the tiny, insistent voice in his headphones.

Thumper 2-3“Talon 1-1. Where are you, bud? You HAVE GOT to see this!”

Fitz’s euphoria is slapped away as horrific realization suddenly rips at him.

A storm of bright red streaks punch into the silvery skin of the strange craft! Small shafts of bright light pop forth like flashlbulbs in smoke, where the metallic skin was catastrophically breached. It wavers under the sudden onslaught, no longer the graceful miracle of moments earlier. It’s stricken, and it abruptly spins away, toward the desert floor. A sudden, rippling roar fills the cargo hold as the F-15 Eagle tears past, just above and out of sight.

Talon 1-1“Yeah haha!!! Solid hits on target, 6! The bastard is hit!!!”

Pine 6“Is it down, Talon?!!!”

Talon 1-1“Can’t tell, ‘6’!! I’m swinging around for another pass! Tally ho!!!”

The F-15 banks away with a howl, carving ferociously into the night sky.

Park’s relaxed expression never falters as the glowing orb abruptly punches a hole through the centre of his chest. Blood explodes from the sudden crater in his back, showering the bulkhead and porthole window behind with a crimson splatter of shattered bone and shredded viscera. Molten glass runs in smoking rivulets from the edges of the perfect hole made by the escaping probe. A dark mist of blood swirls about them in the burst of cold wind from the wound in the plane’s side.

LaRue yells in shock as the engineer’s bloody body crashes to the deck in a limp heap next to him. Avery jerks back, numb to the sticky spray pattern across her face.

The glowing balls of light outside explode into crazed movement, striking mercilessly at the large aircraft like frenzied pirahna; slamming ragged holes through wings, fuselage, tail. One of the probes launches violently forward, smashing an ugly gash through one of the wing-mounted auxilary fuel tanks. A pale stream of JP8 jet fuel spills out into the terrible slipstream. The entire body of the plane shudders under the lightning-fast assault as bursts of sparks and melting metal spray off into the night.

A frantically pulsing orb bursts back into the cargo hold; straight through the bulkhead like a grenade blast. Ricocheting around like a possessed billard ball, it tears at the planes innards; sending debris exploding out into the wind with every hit. Fitz is frozen in place, unable to move or even fully register the terrible destruction as the small orb slams back and forth across the width of the hold, getting closerCloserCLOSER!!

Avery’s mind ‘blanks’; only reaction occurs. Stumbling back into the flight deck ladder, the captain straight-arms her handgun, spastically opening fire at the terrible alien object. Her terrified eyes don’t notice Fitz through the crashing muzzle flash.

The loadmaster jerks as a hot shard of 9mm lead thuds wetly into him. Searing pain tears at his chest and his breath is yanked away. His legs give out and he collapses to his knees, feeling liquid warmth seeping quickly from the unnatural hole in him. Another round pops past his ear as Avery continues firing madly; hot shell casings ‘tinking’ all around her. The alien probe doesn’t notice, so frantic are it’s panicked actions!

CloserCloserCLOSER!!!

It strikes…the inner fuselage next to Fitz’ wounded, kneeling form. Wind shrieks in at the fading crewman from the glowing hole it leaves beside him; sparks dancing in the wind. His camcorder, still recording, slips from his slackened hand, bouncing once off the deck before falling away from the plane; the historic footage lost forever.

Thumper 2-3- “Oh my god!!! ‘6’! ‘6’! We’re taking hits!! We’re taking fire!!! Mayday! MAYDAY!!!”

As he yells into the mike, Simmons wrestles with the plane’s controls; fighting to keep it airborne and level. O’Dowd grips wildly at his station, searching for any stable purchase against the buffeting.

Outside, another pulsing orb slams through the tail in a burst of sparks on a sharp downward angle, striking Engine #3 next with awful force.

The entire plane lurches as it explodes loudly in a blast of red flame and twisted debris.

O’Dowd is killed instantly as his navigator’s station suddenly shatters in at him, debris ripping at his body like pellets from a shotgun. Shredded meat in a flight suit, the sudden corpse slumps forward against it’s restraints, dark blood drooling away in thick streams.

Simmons’ control panel is illuminated with panicked red indicator lights; a warning klaxon blares at him! The co-pilot’s taxed mind is oblivious to the sprinkle of red now splayed across the back of his helmet. The plane bucks again, the spinning remains of Engine #3’s prop ripping free to cartwheel off into the night.

The 5 pulsing orbs streak away from the mortally wounded plane, vanishing into the dark sky in a tight circular pattern. The fiery C-130 blazes on through the night, rapidly losing altitude as a thick tail of oily black smoke marks it’s passage.

LaRue slams himself back into the far corner of the hold, grasping at the flayed yellow cargo netting lining the inner fuselage; watching as his unfired assault rifle skitters away, clattering off across the cold vibrating metal. His dark brown eyes jerk over to Fitz, still limply kneeling near the open ramp. The younger man’s chin is pressed into his chest; his hands clasped over the dark stain blossoming across his flight suit. As LaRue watches, Fitz raises his head heavily; his eye’s meeting the Senior Loadmaster’s. He blinks tiredly; crimson-stained lips silently mouthing…something. The wounded aircraft lurches and LaRue helplessly watches Fitz pitch over, tumbling loosely out into the darkness beyond the ramp’s edge. The snap of the ‘dog leash’ going abruptly taut is heard even over the cacophany of destruction around him.

LaRue stares in horror.

Oh, god!

Fitz is still connected to the plane!

The Sergeant tries to shut out the mental image of the young man’s bloodied body trailing in the wind behind the dying aircraft.

A moment later, the line snaps and disappears.

Captain Avery has gone mad. The stress of it all has battered her mind and her body into crazed submission. Hanging on to the trembling flight deck ladder with whitened knuckles, she laughs as tears of anguish spill down her blood-spattered cheeks. The plane bounces violently again beneath her. Reaching up, she unclasps her helmet and gracelessly yanks it from her head. It bounces off the deck; rolling away as her blonde hair snaps about before her face in the howling wind. Mouthing a quiet prayer and apology to her family, she raises the Beretta still warm barrel to her temple. Mashing her eye’s closed, she squeezes the trigger…

*Click*

Nothing.

Her eyes pop open in shock as she looks at the gun. The slide is locked open, the chamber…empty. The fact that another magazine of fifteen 9mm hollow-points is mounted on her hip is lost to her.

This is it.

Thumper 2-3 “Thumper 2-3 transmitting in the blind! We’re going in!! She won’t make the airfield!! Gonna attempt a belly landing!!! Mayday!!! Thumper 2-3…going down!!!”

Fighting to see against the wind and smoke that swirl painfully through the torn up flight deck, Simmons throttles back, trying to gently ease the Herc’s nose down while searching frantically among the rising peaks for a flat area to ‘belly down’ on.

There!!

In the moonlight, the co-pilot can make out a shallow valley ahead.

Holy shit!!!

They might actually make it!!!

1000 feet to go!

‘We’re going to…!

The fiery remains of Engine #3 disintegrate at that moment. Mangled pieces break away in a spray of brightly burning fuel. The slipstream catches the debris; hurling them aggressively into the hazy trail of JP8 that still pours from the ruined fuel tank. The tank explodes; a tremendous ball of bristling red flame and hot black smoke. The resulting chain reaction seals Thumper 2-3’s fate. The right wing blows apart seconds later with a thunderous…

*BOOM!!!*

…shattering into a violent cloud of burning shrapnel that tears away at the C-130’s right side, setting it ablaze in the terrible wash of fire. With only one wing remaining the plane drops out of control, twisting onto it’s immolated side as it streaks groundward like a meteor. The dry desert floor rushes up to meet it. The ruined metal body pancakes into the sand and rock, crashing along the ground with terrifying speed. The fuselage, as it were, remains intact…until it slams into a tall cluster of boulders nestled against the mountain; an ancient rockslide. The airframe abruptly smashes apart. A massive fist of billowing flame belches toward the sky; ruined aircraft pieces spinning off on wispy tails of smoke into the darkness . The valley lights up; a fierce red flash and a blooming orange glow that fades out just as quickly as it appears. The terrible sound reverberates away like a clap of desert thunder, crackling off into the distance.

It quickly fades too.

Talon 1-1“ Pine 6! Thumper 2-3 is down!! We need a SAR team out at coordinates (DELETED) ASAP!!! Say again…Thumper 2-3 has gone down!!!”

The F-15 levels out, it’s nose pointed at the fading orange glow in the distance. As the pilot grips the throttle, something catches his eye below. Yanking back and over on the ‘stick’, while nudging the throttle forward, he puts the Eagle into a tight turn. Glancing down over his wing, Talon 1-1 can make out the crumpled shape of the UFO in the darkness; the largest intact piece wedged tightly amongst the rocks adorning the steep side of a craggy mountain. Silvery flutters of debris are haphazardly scattered around the impact site; evidence of a tremendous uncontrolled impact. Faint flashes of blue light show from inside the wrenched open ‘hull’.

Talon 1-1“Pine 6, I have the bogey’s wreckage in sight at the following heading (DELETED) to Thumper 2-3’s crash site. We going to need a recovery team out here too.”

Pine 6- “Roger that, 1-1. SAR techs are en route to Thumper 2-3 and…people…are being informed of the downed bogey. Stay on station till ‘Bingo’ on fuel.”

Talon 1-1“Roger that, ‘6’. Estimate time on station 16 mikes.”

Pine 6- “Copy you on 16 minutes. We’re tasking someone else to spell you. Will inform with an ETA. ‘6’ out”

Talon 1-1“Good copy on that. 1-1 out.”

Talon keeps his orbit low as he circles the UFO’s crash site. The fighter’s FLIR system runs constantly; the IR images of the shattered alien vehicle below recorded smoothly into the computer’s memory bank; gyroscopically locked onto the mountain’s new scar below. It never occurs to Talon to look up. On his 6th orbit…it happens. The 5 glowing orbs reappear out of the night sky at frightening speed; blazing straight down. They streak past the banking F-15 in a flash of icy, glaring light. Talon 1-1 barely has time to note their sudden appearance when they impact on the saucer’s crash site. The resulting blast is tremendous; the uncanny shockwave slamming across the mountain side in a perfect sphere of furiously burning oxygen; bright against the night sky. The F-15 shatters in the solid wall of ignited air that mercilessly rips past with a deafening roar. The fuel and munitions detonate a moment later as the fiery weckage spins away, clumsily throwing ragged chunks of itself in all directions. 4 rapidly booming detonations and the American fighter jet and pilot viciously cease to exist in a quickly dispersed cloud of dirty smoke and smouldering debris. A handful of ravaged pieces tumble flaming into the rocks below. The rest scatters away on the night air. Before the echo fades, a deep bass rumble rises to eclipse it. The entire moutain side around the crater of molten granite and crude glass gives way with a Biblical crash. An avalanche of rock and dust billows down the steep mountain, sweeping into the narrow valley below, pounding the burning remains of the Eagle into the arid ground, erasing them…like the crippled alien craft. Gone in a vast cloud of choking dust. Then…silence. Soon after…in the far distance, the low staccato of helicopter rotors can be faintly heard, the direction of approach lost in the acoustics of the ruined valley. Overhead, the stars sparkle with a cold, sinister gleam and from among them…something watches. And mourns.

Official Finding of the Panel of Inquiry into the Accident of (DATE DELETED) of USAF C-130E (Designate: Thumper 2-3) and USAF F-15C (Designate: Talon 1-1) over Northern Afghanistan at (LOCATION CLASSIFIED).

“It’s the determination of this inquiry that the unfortunate events that claimed the lives of 7 USAF personnel, despite rumored reports to the contrary, was the result of a faulty circuit in the F-15’s weapons system that caused an unintended firing of the M61 Vulcan gatling gun as the fighter approached the C-130 from it’s 6 ‘oclock position to observe a reported mechanical issue and to act as an escort back to the Kandahar Air Base. The resulting explosion and the close proximity of the two aircraft caused a momentary ‘starving’ of oxygen to the fighter’s engine intakes, culminating in a ‘flame out’ situation and loss of vital flight characteristics. Given the relatively low altitudes of the two aircraft, the chances for controlled flight recovery were virtually nil. Both went down with catastrophic results and total loss of life. It’s our determination that no human error was at work and the faulty electronic component is being rigorously scrutinized by technicians at McDonnell/Douglas and General Dynamics. The families of the deceased were duly notified and reparations have been arranged to their satisfaction. As with any military action, especially in a combat scenario, accidents are an omnipresent threat and only vigilance and ‘lessons learned’ can prevent such tragic incidents from occurring in the future. These proceedings are closed.”

Report sealed and filed.

The End

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