Authors: Jerry Ahern
Title : #17 : THE ORDEAL
Series : Survivalist
Author(s) : Jerry Ahern
Location : Gillian Archives
The vanguard of the black insect shapes of the Soviet gunships was visible for the briefest instant through the front windshield of the van-like German transport. And then they were suddenly there in such great numbers that, as they passed overhead, the fleet of Soviet gunships blocked the sun and darkened the morning. Despite herself, Sarah Rourke screamed and looked behind them. The darkness surrounded them. The German ordinary soldier who drove her hissed something about God in Heaven as gunfire raked the road surface around them on all sides. The Christian Chinese woman sitting toward the rear of the van (she was an interpreter) murmured the name “Jesus.” The Chinese functionary beside the woman—a man of about fifty and very staid in appearance and demeanor prior to this, Sarah Rourke had thought—made the sign of the cross.
The van swerved wildly.
Sarah Rourke’s hands involuntarily clutched at her abdomen and the child she had carried there for almost four months. The sounds of the electric mini-guns firing from overhead were as she imagined the screams of banshees to have sounded when, as a litle girl, her grandfather had so frighteningly told her the dark tales of Irish folklore and, afterwards at night, she’d been too frightened even to put her hands out from beneath the covers over her bed, too frightened
to get up and go to the bathroom. She’d outgrown such fears, and knew she would never outgrow the fear she experienced now.
“Frau Rourke. Hold on, please!”
Sarah Rourke was thrown toward the passenger-side door, but without thinking her hands moved toward the armrest at the center console and she held on. Her eyes moved to the young German’s face. His eyes were pinpoints of terror, his cheeks pale and sweat glistening despite the cool temperature inside the vehicle.
She looked forward again. The Soviet gunfire had hit the van just ahead of them; the van rolled over on its right side, flames leaping upward into the morning sunlight from the undercarriage near where, she imagined, the synth fuel tank was. The van had been there to provide security for them. Now—
In the next instant, her own driver shouting something she couldn’t comprehend, the driver of the lead van toppled from his overturned vehicle, clambered across it toward the rear of the van, then was blown skyward, his body covered in flames.
She felt as if she would vomit.
A blast of orange flame and black smoke, putrid-smelling even through the climate-control system of the van, washed over the front of the van in which she rode, the German soldier swerving so hard to the left and away from it that she almost fell against his right arm and the steering wheel. The female Chinese interpreter screamed.
The sunlight returned.
As the wheel recovered, Sarah peered through her window, much of it smudged over with smoke and burned synth fuel residue. But she was still able to see. The Soviet gunships weren’t turning back. They had nearly disappeared over the horizon, in the direction of the First Chinese City which she had just left.
“I must stop the vehicle, Frau Rourke—the others—” “Yes! Yes!” The van skidded, fishtailed a little and stopped.
“Stay inside, please, Frau Rourke—” “No—don’t be silly!”
The driver’s-side door swung outward and he was gone, the fire extinguisher unit from the center console gone, too. Sarah Rourke worked the door open on her side, half stumbling to the ground, the shawl falling from her shoulders, her right hand reaching into the purse she’d had made to carry her pistol. For weeks now, she’d been unable to get into her jeans, let alone a gunbelt. Pants for women were all but unknown among the Icelanders with whom she had lately lived and the pajama-like pants worn by some of the Chinese women here only made her look more pregnant. She had gone back to the high-waisted ankle-length skirts and frilly blouses of the Icelanders as the only thing she could wear. Her left hand bunched her skirt up as she ran now, the Trapper Scorpion .45 cocked and safety off in her right hand, but useless, she knew, against the Soviet gunships should they return.
Her driver was spraying the cab of the overturned van, but it was pointless, she realized; the flames were out of control.
The woman interpreter and the functionary were flanking her.
The third van of the convoy pulled over by the side of the road, Chinese soldiers, even the Chinese chairman, bolting from the vehicle, one of the men with a fire extinguisher, another of them with a heavy blanket.
If Colonel Mann’s fleet of J-7Vs would only come …
Bjorn Rolvaag opened his eyes when he heard the first sounds. They were very much muted, he thought. But they still sounded like the gunfire with which he had become so familiar since the five centuries of global warfare had come to Lydveldid Island. His head ached and he remembered now. He had been injured—shot in the head?
He remembered the voice of Doctor Rourke, the father of Annie. And, despite the pain in his head, Rolvaag smiled at the thought of her. She had spoken to him while he had been— unconscious? But somehow, he knew she had been thinking of him and that she had said something about Hrothgar; Rolvaag somehow knew too that the animal was cared for.
Why was there gunfire here in the peaceful Chinese city?
Bjorn Rolvaag let his eyes drift over his body. A tube was attached to him by a vein in his left arm. He followed the tube. It was an I. V. from a bottle of clear liquid he deduced likely was something like glucose. Before he had chosen the lonely life of a policeman, he had studied many things in the fine schools of his homeland.
His right arm felt stiff but seemed to work and his fingers, though they felt thick, flexed. Bjorn Rolvaag tore the I.V. from his arm. It hurt for a split second, but as he moved his left arm there was only a lingering soreness.
Rolvaag touched his hands gingerly to his head and face. His beard was as it should be, but he felt bandages over the top of his head. Had they shaved away his hair to operate on him? He mentally shrugged, as it would probably grow back.
There was a closet in the corner of the room and he surmised that if his clothing were anywhere, it would be there.
He was hearing the sounds of gunfire louder than before.
The instant he attempted to sit up in bed, the floor beneath him shook and he fell back, hearing the sound of an explosion and then another and another.
It was not time for a man to rest in bed like a sick child.
He sat up and the pain he felt in his head was unlike anything he had ever known. His fists balled closed. His teeth gritted together. Rolvaag fought his body to control his breathing and the pain eased slightly, enough at least that he could open his eyes. Floaters moved across them and he squeezed his eyes tight shut, then opened them again. That only made them worse.
He would live with the floaters until they passed. He moved his legs from beneath the sheet and blanket and slung them over the side of the bed.
This caused the floaters to increase and a terrible dizziness began in him.
More gunfire, another explosion, the floor trembling again, but less violently than the first time.
Rolvaag eyed the closet. If his clothes were there, all well and good. But if his staff were there …
Machinegun fire stitched down on both sides of him, but there was nothing else for it but to keep going and reach the chopper.
Akiro Kurinami ran faster now than he could ever remember running in his life, across the snow-splotched tarmac, snow falling in large white flakes, the kind of flakes he had first seen as a boy when he had been taken to visit relatives in Sapporo. On all sides of him, German gunships were going airborne, and overhead the Soviet gunships were making their strafing runs.
His ears rang with the cacophony of the warfare surrounding him, but he kept moving.
A German gunship fifty yards to his left was struck— perhaps the mini-guns or perhaps an air-to-ground missile. There was an earsplittingly loud crack. The ground under him trembled and he was pitched into the snow. A black, yellow and orange fireball was belching skyward, the swirl of white surrounding it making it almost surreal-seeming, like something out of a nightmare.
Kurinami was on his knees. German gunships were rising on all sides of him, some beginning to engage the enemy before they had even reached a safe altitude. Kurinami got to his feet.
He ran toward the nearest of the just-activating machines,
its number the one to which he had been assigned. German maintenance technicians were trained for just such an occurrence as this—a surprise attack—trained to warm up the helicopters the instant the command to scramble was given so that by the time the pilots reached them, the machines could be instantly airborne.
Kurinami half fell through the half-open fuselage door. “I’m Kurinami! Where’s the doorgunner?”
“I do not know, Herr Lieutenant!”
“Then you’re my doorgunner. Belt in!” And Kurinami was up into the body of the gunship, moving forward, then sliding down into the cockpit seat.
All systems were up. “Get that fuselage door locked open all the way!”
Through his headset, as he pulled it on, he heard the man saying, “But Herr Lieutenant Kurinami—” “What is it, soldier?”
“I have only fired this weapon once before—and only for testing, Herr Lieutenant.”
“Consider this your big opportunity, then.” And Akiro Kurinami reached for the controls of the main rotor. He thought of Elaine Halversen. A smile crossed his lips. And he said into the teardrop-shaped microphone just in front of his mouth, “We’re airborne—now!”
The German helicopter gunship slipped left slightly and began to rise, rotating a full three hundred sixty degrees, then angling sharply upward, enemy gunfire coming in along the portside fuselage as Kurinami pulled out more speed. “Don’t wait for my command to fire—open up on targets of opportunity.”
“Yes, Herr Lieutenant!”
“Then do it now!” The drafted doorgunner opened fire. It would be hard to miss, Kurinami thought, zigzagging his way up to a better fighting altitude. There were enemy gunships on all sides of them.
Just over the horizon line, barely visible in the snowfall, fireballs were rising from Eden Base; the black Soviet gunships circled around it like a ring, missile contrails streaking from sky to ground.
Kurinami changed pitch and banked to starboard, under three of the enemy gunships closest to him, rotating one hundred eighty degrees, activating his starboardside missile pod. He fired as he accelerated away, and two of the enemy gunships exploded, the third visibly exploding as he glanced back once.
Through his chin bubble now, he could see more of the German gunships rising from the base field just outside Eden, their mini-guns blazing tongues of flame toward the Soviet attackers.
But still, there was Eden Base.
Kurinami increased speed, almost redlining. He could hear the doorgunner as he engaged with Soviet gunships trailing them. Kurinami activated one of the aft-firing air-to-air/air-to-ground missiles from his portside pod, his targeting on manual where he liked it, the green electronic outline of the Russian gunship floating under his bullseye and away, then starting under again. Kurinami touched the fire control.
“We got him, Herr Lieutenant!”
“Keep shooting somebody else, then!”
Ahead, the topography surrounding Eden Base took greater shape, greater definition. And so did the ring of death surrounding it…
Bjorn Rolvaag threw modesty to the winds. Clad in nothing but his hospital gown, the massive staff old Jon the swordmaker had crafted for him in his hands, he threw open the door to his hospital room and stepped into the corridor.
White-clad Chinese nurses were wheeling patients from their rooms, some in chairs, others on gurneys. There was
smoke billowing along the corridor in the direction from which they came.
Rolvaag’s fists bunched on his staff.
A nurse ran up to him, said something totally unintelligible, screamed as another explosion came, then tried dragging him off by the left arm. He let her tug at his arm for a moment. She pounded her tiny fists on his chest, shrieking at him.
Rolvaag smiled down at her.
She ran off. <
Rolvaag stared along the length of the corridor.
There was no need wearing down his meager energy reserves in going to meet this enemy, whoever it was, because it was apparent the enemy was coming rapidly enough to meet him.
Rolvaag leaned heavily against the corridor wall. Communist Russians, perhaps? Probably.
Would his dog be safe?
He was glad the young girl Annie Rourke had married the fine young man Mr. Rubenstein. They looked well together, the way people did when they were in love truly.
Through the smoke, he saw movement.
Men in black—and they were not Chinese—were running along the corridor.
Bjorn Rolvaag pushed himself away from the corridor wall and held his staff before him diagonally, bisecting his body left shoulder to right hip.