Authors: Brian Falkner
THE TIME HAS COME FOR THE FINAL CONFLICT
FOR THIRTEEN YEARS THE WAR WITH THE BZADIANS HAS DEVASTATED EARTH
NOW, FOR THE FIRST TIME, HUMANS MAY HAVE THE UPPER HAND
THE ANGELS MUST GO BEHIND ENEMY LINES ONCE AGAIN. THIS TIME TO CANBERRA, THE BEATING HEART OF THE BZADIAN EMPIRE
IT IS THEIR FINAL MISSION: A TOP-SECRET DELIVERY TO A DEEP-COVER SPY
BUT THERE IS NOTHING MORE DEADLY THAN AN ENEMY BACKED INTO A CORNER
AND THERE IS NOTHING MORE DANGEROUS THAN THE PURSUIT OF VENGEANCE
ALLIED COMBINED OPERATIONAL GROUP, RECON TEAM ANGEL
The lifting of the official veil of secrecy, and the subsequent publication of the diary of Lieutenant Trianne Price, has revealed astonishing information about the events at the end of the Bzadian War.
The role that the brave young men and women of Recon Team Angel played in those extraordinary times has never before been fully revealed.
This, finally, is their story.
In March 2033, five Angels went behind enemy lines to the very heart of the Bzadian Empire.
Lieutenant Trianne (Phantom) Price –
Specialist Janos (Monster) Panyoczki –
Specialist Retha Barnard –
Specialist Dimitri (The Tsar) Nikolaevna –
Specialist Hayden Wall –
United States of America
Many fought, and many fell, in pursuit of liberty for Earth. May their names live on in history.
[NAZCA VALLEY, PERU, 43 BC]
The snake scraped across the desert floor in front of Ching’wua, in search of water. It stopped, sensing Ching’wua’s presence, and raised its head in his direction. It was small, just a narrow necklace with bands of red, yellow and black. A coral snake: deadly but not aggressive, unless it was desperate.
Ching’wua watched the snake for a moment until it lowered its head and rasped away across the dry stones of the desert.
“Run snake,” he called after it. “Run well, or I will catch you and drink your blood.”
He rubbed the knuckles of his right hand, still bruised and scabbed from the fight the day before. One of the scabs had broken off and was bleeding lightly.
“You, Ching’wua,” a voice came from behind him. “You stop to gossip with the desert?”
Ching’wua said nothing, and took a tight grip on his digging tool. He rammed the sharp end of it into the coarse red stones of the desert, loosening them, then reversed the tool, using the scoop end to lift the stones and reveal the whitish-grey substrate.
The High Born behind him walked up alongside as he spread the red stones across the desert to the side of the digging. Ching’wua glanced up, but only for a second. Any longer would bring the sapling whip down across his shoulders, which were already red and raw from the days of unrelenting sun.
The High Born – his name was Gochua – was a longhead, one of the last. His skull was long and narrow and his eyes were large. He had not been born that way. Only the gods were born that way. At birth, Gochua had had boards strapped to his skull, forcing the bones of his head to grow into the unnatural elongated shape. The High Born did this to their children because it made them look like gods. But they were not gods.
Real gods could fly through the sky like birds. They could heal the sick and change the weather.
The High Born could do none of that.
Looking like a god did not make you a god, Ching’wua thought bitterly, feeling Gochua’s eyes on his back as he hacked again at the red stones.
The true gods had gone many years before, but now, more than ever, they were needed. The rains had stopped. Without the rains, the crops had failed, and that had brought starvation and death to his people. Even now the taste of the snail was sour on his tongue. That had been their only food for days. He would rather have joined the gatherers on their eight-hour walk to the coast, to collect seafood and shellfish, than be here, scratching out a message in the desert to gods who would never come.
The gods will return, the High Born insisted. They will answer our call. They will bring back the rains.
But they had not.
Generations before, the High Born had drawn the first message high on a mountain, where it would be easy for the gods to see: a circle inside a square, the symbol of the gods. But the gods had not seen it. They had not returned.
Now the rains had gone and the High Born had called out to the gods. They had dug pits around the square shape and heaped piles of precious food in them as offerings to the gods. Many people had starved to death to send this message, but still the gods had not listened.
The gods are too far away, the High Born said. Our message must be louder. So they had drawn huge designs on the desert floor: animals, birds, spiders. The lines of the pictures were ten shoulders wide and stretching out of sight into the distance.
But even these giant, silent pleas were ignored.
Ching’wua had heard of other lands, high in the mountains, where fresh water still flowed, and plants and wildlife were abundant. He, and many others, wanted to leave, to seek a new place where his people could live. But the High Born said no, the gods will bring back the rain.
The previous day, Ching’wua had had to fight to defend his family’s water gourd from a villager, crazed with thirst, who had tried to steal it. The man had fought like a cornered jaguar for the water, and much of it had spilled as Ching’wua had wrestled it from the man and beat him into unconsciousness.
He did not blame the man. Thirst could do terrible things to a person.
“We must leave here,” Arua said. He was working next to Ching’wua. Ching’wua glanced quickly at him. Arua looked unsteady on his feet. He seemed tired, his digging tool barely scuffing the surface of the stones. Just yesterday Aura had lost a child, a young girl, to the endless thirst.
“Speak quietly, or not at all,” Ching’wua said. “Gochua is near.”
“I will no longer listen to Gochua,” Arua said, “or any of the other High Born. We will all die if we stay in this place.” His tongue sounded heavy and his words were blurred.
“The High Born say the gods will return,” Ching’wua said.
“The High Born lie,” Arua said.
Ching’wua was silent. He hoped Gochua had not heard that. Accusing the High Born of lying was punishable by death, and it would be a long, slow death.
“The High Born lie,” Arua said again, loudly.
“You, Arua,” Gochua said. “What did you say?”
“He said nothing,” Ching’wua said. “It is just the sun. He babbles.”
“I said you lie,” Arua said. “The gods will not return. We waste our energy and our lives.”
“Take him,” Gochua said, and two soldiers stepped down into the grey-white path. Ching’wua did not see where they came from.
“Ching’wua agrees with me!” Arua shouted as they grasped his arms.
“I said nothing!” Ching’wua cried out, horrified, as Gochua’s gaze turned towards him.
Gochua said nothing but nodded towards Ching’wua. Two more soldiers were suddenly upon him, wrenching at his arms, forcing him up onto the stony ground in front of Gochua, pressing him to his knees.
There was a burst of movement next to him and one of the guards holding Arua staggered backwards. Now somehow Arua was free, running for his life, skidding on the harsh stones.
The first spear missed, whistling through the air over Arua’s head as he slipped and fell, but he was quickly back on his feet and the second spear did not miss, impaling his leg and driving him down into the desert. The third spear entered his stomach and it was then that the writhing and the screaming began.
Gochua’s ceremonial dagger was at Ching’wua’s throat. Ching’wua had been wrong. This would be a quick death. Gochua was only waiting for the attention of the other diggers before slicing the life from Ching’wua’s body. A quick gush of red on the red stones, and Ching’wua would join his ancestors: a skull on a rope carried by a priest.
“I said nothing,” Ching’wua cried again, cursing his bad luck to be digging next to Arua.
“See the non-believer,” Gochua called out to the waiting masses around them. Still Arua flailed and screamed in the distance.
Ching’wua’s heart beat like that of a hummingbird, and his ears were filled with the drumming of his own blood through his body.
“You said nothing, but you thought it,” Gochua said, the blade of the knife slipping a little and cutting the skin at Ching’wua’s throat.
“I said nothing!”
“Did you think it?” Gochua asked, his voice rising to a shout.
Ching’wua no longer saw the High Born. Instead his vision was filled with his wife and their two young sons. If he died, they would die without his protection. To save himself was to save them, but to save himself he would have to lie, because Gochua was right. He had been thinking those things. And a man could not lie before the gods, even if those gods were far, far away.
“I …” He stumbled over his words. “I …”
He could no longer speak; there were no words in his mind or in his throat. The drumming in his ears was louder now and he turned his head, scanning the sky for the symbol of the gods, the circle inside the square. Surely the gods would return in time to stop this madness, this great injustice.
But the skies were clear and empty.
War changes technology. Technology changes war
– General Harry Whitehead
[MISSION DAY 1, MARCH 31, 2033.
0155 HOURS LOCAL TIME]
[TASMAN SEA, OFF THE COAST OF AUSTRALIA]
The “package” sat below, in the cabin, out of sight.
The mission brief was simple. Deliver the package to Canberra. To their former leader, Lieutenant Ryan Chisnall. How quickly things changed, Price thought. A few months ago it would have been unthinkable to have brought the package on this mission. On any mission.
But a few months ago this whole mission was unthinkable.
The world had taken a strange, surreal turn.
“Tacking now,” Angel Two, Sergeant Janos “Monster” Panyoczki, called from the rear of the yacht.
Angel One, Lieutenant Trianne Price, ducked her head, ready for the swing of the boom. It happened suddenly, with a hiss of ropes through pulleys and the shush of the sail, the flapping of the sailcloth as it slackened, then the crack as the ropes snapped tight. It was so loud that Price felt sure the whole world would hear it, although in reality she knew the sound would not travel far.
It seemed odd, yet fitting somehow, that on their third infiltration of New Bzadia they were using one of the oldest modes of travel known to man. A floating hull, pushed by air currents across the sea. It was very low tech in a world of high tech.