Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Rider and the Christmas Tree Mission


In a brief respite from what had been howling winter winds; the snowflakes landing on the tips of the rider's ears seemed loud in the momentary stillness of the darkness surrounding him.  The rider's sidecar rig's engine's pinged steadily as it cooled in the bitterly cold air and was the only other sound the rider could hear after having stopped the rig in a small clearing alongside the forest road he'd been using.

All around him, the rider could discern the dark shapes of tall pine trees, their branches heavily laden with wet snow from previous snow falls.  The road itself showed only the narrow tracks left by his sidecar rig as it had effortlessly carved them through the 4-5 inches of snow that had covered the road.

Donning his night vision goggles as the wind started to howl again, the rider walked forward, stealthily covering the remaining few hundred feet that stood between where he left his rig and the brightly lit compound in the middle of the Russian forest he'd infiltrated.  A quick glance at the luminous dial on his GPS equipped watch showed him at the right coordinates and nearing the right moment as planned.

At the edge of the forest, less than 50 feet from the security fence that guarded the compound, he found a spot to wait for when the changing of the guards would occur.  The thick snow kept falling, muffling all sounds and causing his bated breath to appear ghostlike before his eyes.

As he waited, the rider replayed in his mind the rush he'd experienced as he'd stepped off the cargo ramp of the Hercules C-130 aircraft less than an hour ago.  The roaring blast of the wind as he entered the violent air stream left by the aircraft and the brief tumble before the rip cord had yanked his parachute out and it deployed, slowing down his fall.

The sound of the C-130 fading fast, it had then become instantly still as he hung in the dark sky, slowly descending towards the snow covered field where his sidecar rig already had landed with the aid of its own parachutes.  Less than ten minutes after his own landing, the rig had been freed from its parachute rigging and the rider had ridden the rig out of the landing zone and into the dark forest around it.

The rider had located the narrow forest road right where his mission briefing had placed it and he'd made good progress in spite of the deep loose snow and the lack of lights.  His night vision goggles had allowed the rider to see the road and avoid the treacherous ditches on both sides of it as he motored along with no lights showing, his engine noise barely noticeable thanks to the custom mufflers.

He'd found that there was a thick layer of ice under the fresh snow, which had caused him to engage the rig's 2WD functions; allowing his rig's spiked tires to forge forward under some degree of control.  His helmet's visor with its heads up directional display had taken him through a labyrinth of turns in the dark forest's spiderweb of logging roads; allowing the rider to focus on ensuring no detection of his travels.

Returning to the present, the rider looked back and saw that his footprints had already been covered by the falling snow and he relaxed slightly knowing his rig's narrow tracks in the snow would also soon disappear as well under the fresh snow.

The rider's eyes methodically scanned the perimeter fencing of the compound, noting the guard tower to the north of him, approximately 250 feet away from where he rested.  The portion of the fence in front of the rider was between two pools of light from overhead security lights.  He could see the bored looking guard, shuffling about the small guard platform, trying to ward off the cold of the Russian winter night.  The rider saw the sentry's cigarette's glow briefly,  lighting the young soldier's face as he inhaled strongly, the smoke issuing from his lips as he exhaled.

As midnight approached, the rider heard the clanking of leather and metal together as a line of four soldiers walked along the inside of the fence, AK-47 rifles on their shoulders, towards the guard tower.   The guard on the tower noticed the line of men approaching also and straightened his posture, appearing to be actively watching out towards the dark as he was supposed to be doing.

The floodlights from the guard tower illuminated the faces of the advancing soldiers, he heard their sergeant call out harshly to the man in the tower and heard the guard acknowledge.  The rider could see the men impatiently shifting about as they waited for the sergeant of the guard to go through the familiar ritual of the changing of the guard.  In the cold and wind, the rider well knew that the soldiers wanted nothing more than to be able to get inside and warm again.

As soon as the guard started climbing down the guard tower's metal ladder, which was slick with ice and snow, the rider sprang silently from his hiding spot and headed directly for the fence line.  He knew all the soldiers' attention would be on their compatriots uneasy descent down that ladder.  Some of the recalling how dangerous it could be, some wondering how funny it would be to see the guy fall off perhaps....

Reaching the fence, his body almost invisible courtesy of his snow covered riding gear, the rider swiftly cut a small hole in the fence line with wire cutters.  The rider crawled through the hole and found himself a spot in the shadows of a nearby building.

From his new hiding place, the rider watched as soldiers retreated towards their barracks, their muffled footsteps fading away, to be replaced the sounds of the new guard moving about the tower, settling in for what the guard probably believed would be another boring shift.

The rider moved slowly but steadily towards the center of the compound and his objective.  Arriving at the shed near the compound's motor pool, he peered into the shed's small window.  He dimly saw the tree, packaged for delivery leaning against a bench.  It was slated for delivery to the home of  the Russian Prime Minister in the morning.  He'd been briefed the tree had bright red tips at the ends of its needles and that it was unique in that regard.  There were no lights in the nearby buildings as expected and the rider was able to pry the shed's door open with little effort and no noise.

Inside, the rider hefted the wrapped tree onto his broad shoulders and retraced his steps back towards the perimeter fence.  Glancing towards the guard tower to the north, he waited until the guard had finished his periodic walk around his platform and once again faced away from him, protecting his face from the cold winter winds and the blowing snow that was still falling.

The stiff wind howling in his ears, the rider moved with his tree and used the hole he'd cut before as his exit point after having lofted the packaged tree over the fence, its fall completely muffled by the deep snow on the other side.

As he gained the shelter of the dark forest's edge, the rider once again looked back towards the tower and let out of small sigh of relief when no alarm came from that quarter.  Moving quicker now, though slightly burdened by the tree on his shoulder, the rider made his way back to his sidecar rig.

Quickly brushing off the accumulated snow from his rig, he deftly stowed the tree into the sidecar's rider compartment and lashed it down firmly.  He pushed his rig free of the accumulated snow around it and started the engine. The rig's rear and sidecar wheels spun briefly before they gained traction and launched the rig onto the forest road.  The rider wrestled the handlebars as he gained control and pointed the rig away from the compound.

Looking in his rear view mirrors, he could see twin plumes of snow being thrown up by his rig as he sped away from the compound.  The rider opened up the throttle even more once he'd gained some distance and the now muted roar of his engine was music to his ears as he fought to keep the rig in the middle of the road as it plowed through the deep snow.

Successfully negotiating the labyrinth of logging roads again thanks to his helmet's heads up display, the rider soon found a paved road leading towards the south.  He threw the hidden switch which enabled his rig's riding lights and headlight and was soon motoring along the deserted road, looking from a distance like just another Russian sidecar rig out at night.

A few minutes later, the rider was briefly startled when he heard a soft beeping start sounding in the speakers built into his motorcycle helmet.  The rider began to actively scan the skies around him.  He soon spotted the small lights flying to the south of his direction of travel and he enabled his rig's transponder.  He could picture the blinking display in what he knew was a special operations UH-60 helicopter, now blinking madly and highlighting his location to the aircraft's pilot's heads up display.

The rider saw he'd reached the stretch of road that was about three miles long and straight as an arrow.  As he rode, the rider reached down to lift and engage the special mechanism attached to his sidecar's subframe.  It lifted with oiled precision and at his upward push, engaged and locked into a triangular framework with a cargo lift steel eyelet at its apex, about a foot above the head of the rider.

The rider then noticed in the far distance behind him red flashing lights; he assumed they had to be police or military patrol cruisers heading towards him at high speed.  Engaging his helmet's night vision visor, he turned off his rig's lights as next he felt a strong blast of cold air from above. The UH-60 helicopter positioned itself above him as the rig sped along at a steady 25 mph.  The pressure of the air blasting down from the helicopters rotor blades made it an effort to reach up towards the cargo hook he knew was attached to the infrared chem light stick he now saw being lowered down to him from the helicopter.

Having engaged his cruise control, the rig maintained a steady speed in the darkness as the rider used his left hand to guide the rig and his right to try and catch the cargo hook swinging wildly on the cable from the helicopter.  The rider could see the approaching curve in the road in the distance and knew he was running out of time and space.

Three times the rider reached out and failed to grasp the chem light, the lights from the police cruisers were much closer now and he could see by the lights of the trail vehicles that it was indeed military police vehicles, with soldiers positioned in a hatch through the vehicle's roof, manning light machine guns.

Less than a quarter mile away from the curve and its forested roadside, the rider stretched out his right arm one more time and to his relief grasped the chem light and its cargo hook firmly.  In a swift and practiced motion, he slammed the open end of the hook onto the cargo eyelet of his rig's deployed framework and heard the satisfyingly loud thunk of the hook locking onto the eyelet.

He quickly engaged his riding jacket's belt onto welded-on anchor points on his rig.  He knew his anchoring the helicopter's cargo hook to the rig had started automated lift sequence on the part of the helicopter's winch and he braced for what he knew was coming.

The rig was suddenly and violently jerked into the air, its wheels still spinning and barely clearing the tops of the trees by the roadside. He felt the rig deploy a small Kevlar covered tail assembly from the rear of the sidecar, this helped stabilize what had been wild gyrations of his rig as it was lifted into the air.  The rider was then able to slightly relax his grip and look down and behind him at the ground.

The rider smiled widely in his helmet as he saw the pursuing lights of the Russian military police continue on the road, still thinking he was somewhere in front of them.  The wind blasted at him strongly enough to sweep him from the rig he knew and he thankfully patted the anchor points securing his jacket to the rig.

The dark countryside flashed by underneath him, mostly snow covered and with brief pools of light showing the location of small villages.  The cold winter air blasting at him was beginning to penetrate the several layers of warm clothing the rider wore; even as his helmet's location display stated they'd crossed the border and were flying out into the Baltic Sea.

Soon enough, he glimpsed on the horizon, a large ship's cruising lights.  As they neared, the rider could see the Stars and Stripes flying from her yardarm and he knew it was the USS Essex, a Wasp Class helicopter carrier designed to support a Marine Corps' Expeditionary Unit's air arm.  The helicopter vectored onto the Essex and soon the rider felt his rig's wheels thump softly onto the Essex's deck, the helicopter remotely released the cargo hook and flew away into the night.  Crewmen rapidly approached and pushed the rider and his rig closer to the Essex's control tower and secured it to the deck.

The rider stiffly freed himself from his rig and slowly stepped off onto the Essex's deck.  He brushed off the layers of ice from his riding gear and took a deep breath as he removed his helmet.  The sea air, bitter cold as it was, felt fine in the nostrils of the rider, for he knew he'd once again accomplished his mission.  The special tree would soon be airlifted once again, this time aboard a Marine Corps Harrier Jump Jet, its final destination a military hospital ward of wounded military members recovering from wounds inflicted in the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan.

Later, as he sat in the Essex's officer's wardroom, a steaming hot cup of coffee in his hands; the rider thought it had been a highly successful trial of his rig's special equipment and his training.  The real mission would be scheduled soon enough he thought, and in his mind's eye he was once again riding his rig through snow bound roads in deepest darkness....his objective this time not a special tree but a special woman.


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The story, is partly inspired from a talk I had today with Jack Riepe.  Hey Jack, is this what you meant by "tell the story"?  I am quite happy to relay the news that his book "Conversations with a Motorcycle" is selling well, my review of this book is here: LINK.

Hope you enjoyed the above tale, it flashed into my mind as I rode home today after having gone to the local big box hardware store to pick out our family's first real Christmas tree.  You see, we'd always just used a fake one before and now both Martha and the boys wanted to experience the real thing this Christmas.

This task at hand was right up Valencia's alley.  It was my Ural Patrol sidecar rig that I chose to carry the tree home:

Christmas Tree Hauling Duty, no problem.

I hope the story briefly took your mind off the school shooting tragedy in Connecticut yesterday.  Such a horrific event,  Martha and I hope the families involved find some peace as they and the nation grieve the loss of their loved ones.  

6 comments:

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

That is exactly what I meant. "Tell the story" and have some fun with it. Make the reader feel what the character feels. You are comfortable with a "James Bond" type of character whose secret weapon is not an Aston Martin, but a Maytag equipped with the latest spy stuff.

Look at the stuff like "Hunt For Red October." I have no problem envisioning world super powers dueling with Urals. You would be very foolish not to play with this.

You have no idea where these snow-covered roads could lead you.

Thanks for mentioning the book again. It has sold out just before Christmas, and a third wait-list has been created. Thousands more copies will be available immediately after the holidays. I never saw this coming.

The book was flashed on national TV for ten seconds last week, when CBS Sunday Morning did a segment on self-publishing. Sales went through the roof that day — and every day thereafter.

SonjaM said...

A story to be read in front of a fireplace, and that's exactly what I did.
It took my mind off the terrible tragedy for a moment, but hubby and I can't stop talking about it. We are lighting candles tonight for those affected by that terrible deed.

RichardM said...

Very entertaining story. I like the Bondish character.

Charlie6 said...

Jack, thanks for the read and the commentary. I just finished the third edit of the story and was chagrined at the mistakes I left in and the changes I felt were required to make the story flow better.

Charlie6 said...

Thanks SonjaM for reading this stuff, did it cause you to feel a momentary chill as it painted a picture for you?

Charlie6 said...

RichardM, thanks for your comment...glad you liked it in spite of the storyline faults I unintentionally left in place.