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No other character, other than Emily herself, has elicited as much fan mail, not across a dozen titles!
So here, at long last, is Michael Gibson's story of his path to true love.
Michael, of course, does nothing the way anyone else would. He can't even do a meet-cute like anyone else, but then neither can helicopter pilot Claudia Jean Casperson.
The landing zone was a total shit-storm, about like a typical training scenario except this time the bad guys were trying to kill the good guys with live rounds.
The air was a thick with the hail of small arms fire as Claudia swung her helo wide to clear the streamers of fire that punched out the windows of the building to all sides. She settled as close as she dared beside the southeast wall of the building.
Merchant threw up a world of dust as it dropped in beside her.
Two men came running toward them, but she could see the small infrared patches on their shoulders that identified them as friendlies so she kept her hands on the controls rather than grabbing for her weapon. They were also each carrying large heavy sacks. The bigger guy, and he was way big and broad-shouldered, headed for Merchant.
The smaller man tossed his bag on top of her own gear in the rear and returned to the group of bound men on the ground.
Two more friendlies moved to squat at the corners of the building and were laying down cover fire against anyone who tried to circle around the building to the helicopters. Anyone remaining out in the compound had the two gun platforms circling above to keep them occupied.
There was the harsh roar of a mini-gun sluicing down five thousand rounds a minute interrupted by the harsh sizzle of rockets and matching explosions just moments later.
For now, they were in a quiet bubble behind the shield of the building, but it would only last another few seconds.
Claudia let go of the controls and took up her weapon to guard for approaches over the desert.
The big guy-little guy team moved to cut the prisoners’ feet loose in pairs. They hustled their prisoner’s onto Merchant’s bench seats, tied them in place, and shot each with a tranquilizer injection into their necks. In moments, they had four tied and slumped bad guys on Merchant’s benches. The two friendlies who’d been working guard at the corners of the building clambered onto Merchant and the bird dusted off. The two soldiers continued providing cover from their positions aloft.
The other two soldiers started her way herding the last three prisoners.
On a quick sweep, she spotted a figure running toward them over a low dune beyond the camp.
No “friendly” infrared tags on their shoulder, and their weapon was up. She popped the safety and unleashed a three-shot burst. He cried out and fell to the ground.
By the time she turned back, they had the prisoners tied on and drugged out. The big guy sat on an outside bench and the smaller one slipped into her empty copilot seat.
At his nod she grabbed the controls and was out of there, staying low and racing directly away from the gun battle still roaring across the compound: the two attack choppers and the armed terrorists going at one another. Claudia knew it would be a very one-sided battle. There was a reason that “Death Waits in the Dark” was one of the Night Stalkers’ mottos.
She crested a dune and spotted an outlier guard in her infrared night vision. Someone lying on the back of the dune face, spread-eagled and holding a weapon.
“Shooter!” she called out. She needed both hands on the controls and this wasn’t a gunship; she had no weapon other than the one hanging across her chest.
Even as she spun to give the man in the copilot’s seat a better angle, he twisted in his seat and fired downward through the open door; two shots so close together that they almost sounded like one.
The man turned back, not even bothering to watch the results of his effort.
Though they were already moving at over fifty miles an hour, Claudia could see the bad guy on the ground convulse. His shot went wild and a rocket propelled grenade blew up the face of a dune.
Damn, she didn’t know anyone could really shoot like that. She was good, but that shot was insane.
Not wanting to hang around and see who else was lurking in the dunes, she rolled right to cut the shortest route back to the coast and laid down the hammer. Right at redline on the engine RPMs, she was outta there. Behind her she could see the bright flashes of the DAP Hawk and the attack Little Bird tearing up the camp. Merchant was just two rotor diameters off her port side.
Ripples of adrenaline raced through her body like shock waves from a bomb blast. Her old Marine SuperCobra was a pure attack helicopter. She flown plenty of protection runs during an exfiltration, but she’d never before flown transport right down in the thick of it. It was a whole different up-close-and-personal kind of ride that still had her heart pounding and her breath running short.
The man beside her didn’t say a word. He simply sat back, with his rifle laid across his chest.
He kept his hands lightly on the weapon, but closed his eyes as if he was perfectly comfortable and not just thirty seconds from a life-or-death mission. He’d been the one actually in the battle and she was the one being wound all the way up.
He began tapping the back of his helmet lightly against the back of his seat. It wasn’t frantic, like nerves. It was slow, almost gentle; a stark contrast to the shooter of a moment before.
“Sure.” He kept up the tapping.
It was a rhythm she found herself echoing with one finger tapping against the cyclic control in her right hand.
“IMF,” he added softly.
IMF? I am fine. Probably. Everything in the military was an acronym and some made as little sense as that.
Though the IMF was also the Impossible Missions Force—the secret branch of the military in the Mission Impossible movies and Delta specialized in impossible missions just like the one falling rapidly behind them.
“You and Tom Cruise,” she kept her tone neutral. “Just fine.”
He stopped his tapping and turned to stare at her.
She ignored his searching attention.
In the exchange, she’d found his quiet rhythm. It was…the way an evening breeze might move through the Sonoran Desert of her youth in Arizona. Tap. Pause. Tap. Pause. Tap. It, gods, she could feel the harshest layers of the adrenaline draining slowly out of her system. Tap. Pause. Tap.
Time, which had been compressed out of all recognition, began to have meaning again.
Her heart rate had returned to normal by the time she crossed a final berm and was once again “feet wet” over the ocean. She climbed back up to fifty feet and trailed Merchant. The other two aircraft, finished with the camp, were formed up behind them. Now she could finally spare the attention to look at her companion clearly for the first time.
He’d finally turned back to watch forward. He seemed small only when compared to the big soldier who’d been with him and was perched on one of the outside benches. Sitting next to her, he looked to be her height, perhaps another inch or two taller.
MICH helmet, not a lot of heavy armor like she wore, and enough ammo to suppress a mid-sized city.
Four guys attacking an entire terrorist camp at sunset. Coming away with seven hostages and what she assumed were large sacks of intel.
Only one group was that bug-shit crazy. She’d never flown with them, only knew them by myth and rumor. In eight years of service Claudia couldn’t be sure if she’d ever even met one of them before.
Scary bastards, making her damned glad they were on her side.
Still, Claudia made it a personal policy to steer well clear of scary bastards who were bug-shit crazy.
A policy she had no intention of changing.
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