The hazy night sky was cool three thousand feet above and aft of the Boeing 767, but Delta Force Major Kolt “Racer” Raynor perspired into his goggles. Rivulets of sweat ran down the back of his black Nomex suit as he hung under the taut canopy of his square parachute and focused on the scene below.
It had been nearly four years since he’d led other men into battle. He had been assessed as ready by both his superiors and his peers, and he felt ready, but still, he was human.
And this shit was scary as hell.
Two more canopies drifted down through the darkness near him. The three chutes were stacked—teammates Digger and Slapshot were strapped together in a tandem rig below and fifty feet ahead of Kolt, and Stitch was positioned slightly above and fifty feet behind.
All four men floated with the wind down toward their drop zone, a few hundred feet aft of the hijacked American Airlines flight.
Digger spoke into his radio from his position up front, hanging in front of Slapshot. “Hey, boss. That plane looks like it’s ready to depart. There’s no auxiliary power attached. Aft stairs are up, too.”
“Guess they aren’t gonna wait around for us to sneak up all ninja-like,” Slapshot mumbled into his mic. The big man always injected humor when no one else was in the mood.
And Kolt was not in the mood. “Damn,” he said.
Next Stitch came over the radio: “Back to me a bit, boss,” and Racer immediately realized he had drifted a little too close to the men in front of him. Calmly he adjusted his toggles to remedy the error.
The plan had been to land and then link up with other Americans on the ground—CIA case officers and military types from the embassy here—and then they would decide how to proceed. They’d set their drop zone as a spot on the tarmac behind the hijacked aircraft, out of sight from the terminal, because the Agency boys on site had said TV cameras were positioned all over the terminal, and no one at Delta wanted the cameras to get a shot of a team of commandos dropping in from the sky at 0330 hours.
As he hung twenty-five hundred feet above the ground, Kolt eyed the plane, keeping it between his stack and the cameras.
He hoped like hell he and his mates would get a crack at taking the jet down before this was all over. He reasoned that, if the plane stayed put in New Delhi for just a few hours more, there was a decent chance he would get the order from the Joint Operations Center to hit the target.
But as he was thinking this, below his boots red and green indicator lights began blinking on the wingtips of the 767. Almost instantly the two Pratt & Whitney engines on the aircraft began to roar. Seconds later the nose of the craft turned slightly to the left, centering on the long runway that ran off to the west.
The 767 began to move forward as the engines pitched higher.
Kolt Raynor groaned in frustration. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Digger shouted into his radio, “Son of a bitch is rolling.”
“Repositioning on the tarmac or heading to the runway?” Stitch asked from the back. He could not see past Racer’s chute.
“Bet they’re flying out of here. They’ve been doing a lot of erratic shit like that.”
“Suggestions?” Kolt asked quickly into his mic. He knew to get the input of his sergeants at a critical moment like this.
Slapshot said, “There isn’t much sense in linking up with officials if the hijacked plane isn’t gonna hang around.”
And then Stitch chimed in, “Racer, you have execute authority. Why don’t we hit it?”
It was true, Raynor had pried execute authority from Colonel Webber, the head of Delta Force. This allowed Raynor, as the military commander at the scene, the flexibility to call for a hasty in-extremis takedown of the aircraft if he saw the opportunity to do so or if he felt the necessity to try, like if the terrorists, or “crows” in Delta parlance, started shooting hostages before official approval for Delta’s mission came from the JOC.
Still, Kolt wasn’t sure what Stitch was getting at. He keyed his mic. “Hit it? While it’s moving?”
“We can land on the roof and head for the cockpit. I’ve got the harpoon. If we go in single file we can breach the escape hatch. If we increase our descent speed we can be inside before they go throttle-up.”
“Have you guys done that before?” Kolt asked incredulously.
“Not on a moving aircraft, and only in training back at Bragg, boss,” Slapshot answered. But he agreed with his fellow sergeant’s assessment. “We aren’t going to get another chance at this. If the plane isn’t there, then the TV crews might see us, and if they film us dropping on the tarmac that will get back to the crows in the jet. Might just piss them off enough to kill some more passengers.”
“Now or never,” Stitch said. “What’s the call, Racer?”
Kolt asked, “What about Digger?”
Now Digger chimed in. Though he was the youngest of the team and perhaps the most fit overall, he possessed one potential handicap to the operation.
Where his lower right leg used to be, he now wore a titanium prosthesis. Kolt could not imagine how he could run along the roof of a moving aircraft with a leg made out of metal.
“No sweat, boss. I’ve got this,” Digger said. He sounded confident and eager.
Kolt’s operational brain trust had spoken and their vote was unanimous. Still, this was his first hit since returning to the Unit just two months prior, and Colonel Webber had made it crystal clear to Raynor that he needed to change his ways. There was no room in the modern Delta Force for the Tier One Wild antics that had gotten him in hot water in the past, and Webber had reminded Kolt numerous times that he was on incredibly thin ice. Nevertheless, Kolt and his boys had been the alert squadron at Fort Bragg when this hostage crisis unfolded, so Kolt and his team had been called to bat.
Make your decision, Raynor! He said it to himself in a silent shout.
Three seconds later he pressed the push-to-talk button on his chest rig again. “Let’s hit it.” Webber’s gonna have my ass, he thought, but right now he had much bigger fish to fry.
* * *
In the Joint Operations Center at Forward Operating Base Yukon in Bagram, Afghanistan, the chow hall, the gym, and the movie tent stood empty. Right now everyone with access was stacked at the back of the JOC watching the shocking footage displayed on a single large plasma screen at the front of the room. A Predator drone’s night-vision camera caught the huge commercial aircraft moving slowly through the darkness toward the runway, and its satellite uplink broadcast the ghostly images to the screen at the JOC. Racer and his team were not in the picture, they were still high in the air on their descent, and their drop zone was out of the camera’s current field of view.
The Agency guys at the airfield in New Delhi were on the other end of a Thuraya sat phone and their running commentary was piped through the speakers of the JOC. The CIA’s liaison officer stood near Colonel Jeremy Webber, holding a phone to his ear and passing on additional information to the head of Delta Force.
The tension in the air infected everyone. All were frozen in amazement at the huge plasma monitor, referred to in the JOC as “Kill TV.”
The men and women stood in rapt attention as the hijacked aircraft rolled steadily down the taxiway, clearly moving for takeoff on Runway 29. A few seconds later, the Predator downlink went fuzzy. The “eye in the sky” had blinked. It was a mechanical glitch that seemed to be common with that aerial asset at exactly those moments when clear observation was desperately needed.
The Kill TV feed came back up a moment later, just as the silhouetted figures of four men under three parachutes passed between the 767 and the camera’s lens. Black hot figures flying through the air with the heat off their bodies trapped in the chutes above them, creating a faint umbrella shape.
“Holy shit. There they are!” exclaimed the operations sergeant major, breaking the silence that had fallen over the JOC. They should have been landing far back on the tarmac, but it looked to everyone at Bagram as if the Delta team were making for the runway itself. “What the hell are they doing?”
The three chutes sailed purposefully toward the plane on the ground, which meant only one thing to Colonel Jeremy Webber. The men were not continuing on to the drop zone on the now-empty tarmac.
No. It looked like …
Webber cocked his head slightly. “Racer is assaulting.” He said it in a clipped voice that indicated to everyone in the room that he was pissed.
No one in the JOC was new to special operations or terrorist interdictions, but still many gasped in shock. Assaulting an aircraft as it sat at the end of the runway, seconds from takeoff?
Colonel Webber sat back in his chair. He was pissed, but he was not surprised. Kolt fucking Raynor, his man on the scene, had been a pseudo-insubordinate troop commander before he’d been kicked out of Delta four years ago. Now that he was back in the Unit, there was little reason to expect anything but pseudo-insubordination now, even with all Webber’s “personal counseling” of his wayward major.
He stared silently at the downlink screen. Webber would have stopped Racer and the others if he had any control over this situation. But the Delta operators’ audacious and daring actions effectively neutered any long-arm leadership—or micromanagement—since the JOC was 220 miles away from the action.
Colonel Webber cleared his throat and in a confident and booming voice said, “All right, we seem to have a common operating picture and are now in a current operation with operators on target. Push the QRF to the airspace and air-loiter twenty minutes out, spin up the extraction fixed-wing aircraft ASAP, and get me the SECDEF on the red line.”
Immediately several of the staff in the JOC went from statues of stone to blurs of activity—the Quick Reaction Force choppers were ordered into the theater, the extraction aircraft were ordered ready, and secure comms with the Pentagon were established.
Webber’s confident orders, tuned to just the right authoritative tenor by decades of command, sounded confident and certain, but that was just for public consumption.
Silently to himself the colonel breathed softly, “Dammit, Racer, you’d better not dick this up.”
* * *
Even though they had not expected to drop right into combat, the four men six hundred feet above the aircraft were geared up for battle. Kolt “Racer” Raynor and Master Sergeant Clay “Stitch” Vickery wore individual MC-4 HALO rigs while Master Sergeant Peter “Digger” Chambliss hung behind Master Sergeant Jason “Slapshot” Holcomb in a HALO tandem rig. These were not the best parachute rigs available to Delta, but they were the best rigs they had been able to grab as they raced onto the MC-130H Combat Talon II at the intermediate staging base at Masirah Air Base off the coast of Oman. As this was an in-extremis op, they only had time to bring in the best gear they could amass on the fly. All four operators wore the Ops-Core FAST ballistic helmet with infrared strobes activated and blinking on top. Under the helmet all wore dark brown Peltor ear protection and radio headsets. The team would be going in light protectionwise; three wore just chest plates, which would stop a frontal pistol or rifle round to their center mass; only Racer wore hard protection on both his chest and his back.
Each operator had a .40-caliber Glock 23 with a tan grip and a SureFire tactical light attached to a rail under its barrel. These pistols were secured in rigs on their chests, not on their hips. In the tight aisles of a commercial aircraft, the chest holsters allowed for faster deployment of the combat handguns than a belt rig. Only Slapshot and Stitch brought rifles along—each carried an HK416 strapped barrel-down on their left side. Extra ammo was secured in their chest rigs, which also held their MBITR MX radios in nylon side pouches.
The radios were wired to their Peltor headsets so that they could communicate effectively during the assault.
All four men were dressed in black flight suits with an American flag, subdued gray and black in color, on the left shoulder. On the right shoulder a call sign patch was affixed … a black border with a luminous tape letter/number combo. Kolt’s read M11, as he was a troop commander in Mike Squadron. As a troop sergeant major of Mike, Slapshot was M12. Stitch and Digger were, respectively, team leader and second-in-command of Mike’s Alpha team, so their patches read MA1 and MA2. Three of them were wearing desert tan and black Salomon trail shoes, while Kolt wore the same old tan leather combat boots he’d had since the invasion of Iraq nearly ten years earlier. The shoes were worn and torn, but he still loved them, old school though they were.
They had exited the MC-130 Talon II at twenty thousand feet wearing Gentex oxygen masks with a hose attached to a Twin 53 bailout bottle inside a pouch on the right hip. Once they descended below ten thousand feet they disconnected their masks and let them hang to the side. All wore thermal underwear and black balaclavas to maintain body heat during the descent. On their hands were black Mechanix M-Pact Covert gloves with plastic knuckle protectors, and digital altimeters were strapped to the back of each of their hands.
Each man also carried a pair of nine-banger flash-bang grenades and a personal first aid pouch with one-hand tourniquet rigs.
* * *
At four hundred feet above the target Slapshot, with Digger riding in the front of his rig, maneuvered to line up his approach angle to the rear of the 767, which was now turning off the taxiway and onto the runway. All Kolt and Stitch had to do was follow the red and green chemlites on the pack tray of their teammates to the target while maintaining safe separation. Racer, the least experienced jumper in the bunch, struggled to keep in formation with the other two chutes.
Kolt said, “Our spot is the long axis of the fuselage. We’ll harpoon the escape hatch above the cockpit, depressurize the plane, and enter. We’re going to have to do this fast and dirty before they take off. Once inside, haul ass aft and make friends in the rear. Remember, there are a hundred forty souls on board, plus at least six crows.”
“One four zero souls, six assholes, roger,” said Stitch.
“One-forty poor SOBs. Six bad guys. Got it,” replied Digger.
“One-four-zero live. Six die. Then breakfast. Roger,” said Slapshot, interjecting his trademark nonchalance into the tension.
“Boss, I have the harpoon,” Stitch reminded his team leader.
To this Kolt replied, “Pull around to my left and take the base.”
“Roger that,” Stitch said, and seconds later he glided past his major, and then past the tandem team in front. He corrected back to the right and moved to the head of the line. Now it was Stitch’s job to lead the others. He had red and green chemlites on the back of his pack as well, and the men behind him kept their eyes locked firmly on those lights as they neared the target.
Kolt struggled to keep his place in the stack as they neared the landing, but he managed to touch down on the slick aircraft roof just a few steps behind the others. He, Slapshot, and Stitch pulled their harness release pins and the three parachutes floated off the right side of the plane, just clearing the wing’s edge before drifting softly to the tarmac.
All four men were prone on top of the aircraft now, and they fought to stay atop the slick and sloping surface, knowing they needed to get off the roof and inside the plane before the pilot applied takeoff thrust and jetted down the runway. Stitch and Kolt hugged the skin of the aircraft, something akin to balancing on a giant basketball, while Slapshot, still attached and lying on top of Digger, pulled the tandem chute’s quick release to disconnect himself from his mate.
* * *
Inside the cockpit the two-man American flight crew had no idea that four Delta Force commandos were crawling toward the cockpit along the aircraft’s fuselage. Both the pilot and copilot sat strapped to their seats with their headsets on, and they concentrated on the rushed takeoff sequence, manipulating the appropriate buttons.
The leader of the terrorists, the jittery man-child with the bulletproof vest who called himself Jellock, leaned into the cockpit. “One minute we are in air or boy die!”
The copilot held out a placating hand to the armed gunman, then turned to the captain. “We ready to go?”
“I have no idea,” the pilot replied as he turned to the runway in front of him. “But we’re outta here before they shoot that kid.”
He reached for the throttle, and the copilot did the same.
Copyright © 2012 by Dalton Fury