Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War - The Battle of Sudentor
By Kei

Chapter One
Returning Home

2055 Hours, December 30, 2010 (Eastern Standard Time)
Oured, Osea

Sergeant Seth Rainer sighed as he absentmindedly rubbed the safety on his M4A1 carbine, gloved fingers over familiar black metal. It was well into the winter season, and the exhale he made formed small white clouds into the air, which disappeared seconds later into the darkness of the night. Although snow had not yet graced the capital city of Oured with a heavenly white, the cold was enough to make Rainer wish that he was inside the house, instead of on guard duty on the roof of a two-story suburban residence in the middle of goddamn nowhere.

His blue eyes as seemingly as icy as the biting winds of winter itself, his eyes scanned the street as he huddled in a makeshift tent built upon the roof of the two-story building. Nothing of interest on the streets. Twice he had almost fired upon movement, only to realize that they were only civilians. Afterwards, his reactions were less jumpy as he came to the realization that practically no one of any threat would actually come here. After all, any night in a quiet, suburban street paved with neat houses and even neater lawns was a lonely night. Rainer knew he would've preferred it, though. Lonely nights were often quiet nights, and he had seen enough of the battlefield to want to spend his time in peace. Besides, he knew that the expensive residences here, built in the Victorian fashion, were well beyond his reach, his pay as an field officer being abysmal compared to what the bastards up in the upper echelons were being given.

Rainer looked at his watch; three minutes until his shift was over. Although he hated this duty as much as anyone else, he still put it up with. It was true that, as Sergeant, there was absolutely no need for him to put up to such menial duties that he could've handed off to the Privates, but he had learned long enough at OCS that leaders must be willing to put up with jobs that he sent his subordinates to do.

Things that the brass will never get around doing, Rainer thought bitterly.

A member of Osea's Sea Goblin Marine Forces, Rainer was clad in the same special covert operation gear commonplace among the ranks of his fellow Marines. His uniform, almost completely black, included combat boots, equipment packs, a bulletproof vest, goggles, and a helmet, meant for urban stealth operations. The recent supply of equipment packed in a box some wit had labeled, Rainer had to smile, "Marine Postal Service", put the entire twelve-man team into possession of thermal goggles. Included with the package were also a generous supply of weapons, including flashbangs, tear gas grenades, modified M9s that fired tranquilizer rounds, and MP5SD6s, an impressive collection that was a welcome addition to their arsenal of M4A1s, M9A1s, KA-BARs, and fragmentation grenades. It also included a single suppressed DMR sniper rifle, for Marine use only, outfitted to fire tranquilizer darts. Sea Goblin's primary sniper, Private Christopher Wagner, had humorlessly test-fired the rifle on a few pigeons several days before and just as humorlessly promised accuracy up to two hundred meters. Two hundred meters was roughly the equivalent of three large commercial aircraft lined up together, which was, in Wagner's opinion, enough.

Still, he opposed the idea of setting up on a civilian suburban residence. Despite the fact that he was dressed in a uniform designed for covert ops and hidden inside a tent, he knew that any child with a pair of binoculars who knew what to look for could spot him out the bedroom window. After all, battle-clad dressed Marines carrying assault rifles don't appear in a suburban district everyday. But even he knew well enough that there were those who would not necessarily welcome the President with open hands. And it was their job to make sure the President is welcomed properly...with some force, if necessary.

Rainer scanned the street again, saw absolutely no threats. The eerie quietness, for soldiers like Rainer, was welcome indeed.

The month hadn't exactly come down very well on Rainer, or for the rest of Sea Goblin, the Marine Force squad named affectionately after their primary UH-60 utility helicopter. It was only a month ago that the entire team discovered the truth behind the Circum-Pacific War, which pitted the two world superpowers, the Osean Federation and the Union of Yuktobanian Republics, at war with each other: The Principitality of Belka, a country that had been defeated in the Belkan War fifteen years ago when it was once known as the Belkan Federation, had fooled the two nations into a war with each other by committing one act of aggression after another after infiltrating the ranks of both countries and biding their time, tendering to their hatred, for fifteen years. After President Vincent Harling was kidnapped by Belkan forces posing as Osean pilots, Osea's central government had been taken over by the Vice-President and many Generals, active and retired, who saw the perfect excuse to sidestep the President's peace policy, a policy very unpopular with much of the top brass of Osea who wanted to see their military in action. And the latest transmissions from the Andromeda, a Coronado-class intelligence vessel of provisional fleet assembled by Captain Nicholas Andersen's and commanded by President Harling as his special base of operations, indicated that Yuktobania was under the same situation; Prime Minister Seryozha Viktrovich Nikanor of Yuktobania had been secretly placed under arrest by his own right-wing Generals until a group of intelligence officers and resistance fighters loyal to him broke him out and brought him to the Kestrel, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier which was the flagship of the fleet commanded by Captain Andersen.

The already tense situation was multiplied by a great magnitude by the fact that President Harling was a mere floor below him.

President Harling had been attempting to appeal to the people and his soldiers to stop the fighting, but the central government, currently run by the Vice President and the right-wing Generals, censored all of it, calling it "enemy propaganda". Thus, the President came up with what Rainer thought was a half-assed plan, meaning "brilliant if it works out": The President needed to regain control over the capital of Oured, and if he needed to do so, he would need his Marine Force. Rainer had his own reservations about it, but he wasn't about to bring it up in front of the First Lieutenant Niel Schneider, nevermind the President.

And, so, after departing from the Kestrel on December 20th and arriving in Oured at December 21st, Sea Goblin, escorting the President, had mostly been playing a hiding game. During the 21st, Sea Goblin dropped them off on the northern side of Oured Bay at dawn. After staying there for a day in a small fishing town, they stole two civilian motorboats at midnight, took off across Oured Bay, evaded Coast Guard patrols, and made it to downtown Oured before sunrise on the 22nd. Thankfully, Sea Goblin, currently parked in a Marine hangar, had arrived at Oured before they did, and Private Daniel Webster showed up on schedule with Marine dress uniform. After commandeering one of the showers in a civilian warehouse, Schneider put on the dress uniform after giving his combat gear to the President, making him seem far less conspicuous with a helmet and mask along with the other Marines. The rest involved a great amount of details, but Harling and Schneider anonymously pulled connections everywhere afterwards, which managed to get them a suburban house where they could stay low, unfettered access into Osea's military network, and, Rainer smiled again, the package labeled "Marine Postal Service".

Despite the gains, they were still staying low. Which was, after all, quite logical and careful. There was absolutely no need to take things too quickly.

For the past seven days since they've moved into 160 San Aleso Avenue, the Marines, along with the President, had been doing a great amount of information gathering, planning, and, perhaps most of all, eating. After being dropped all over Yuktobania for so long, a trip to the supermarket seemed to be a smug luxury, and there was an uncanny, almost humorous, amount of enthusiasm displayed amongst the Marines to go shopping for food. For those who had family in Oured, which only amounted to Corporal William Jennings and Private Patrick Brown, there were the one or two visits back home that seemed to do wonders for them. But none of them had forgotten what they had come to Oured to do.

After the first days of planning, the thirteen-man meeting amongst the President and the Marine Forces arrived at one conclusion: Twelve Marines would not be enough to take the capital. The President would need to enter Bright Hill, the government's executive headquarters, where he would then seize the reins of government once again and make a live broadcast to the world. Such a move would not only gather support from the enlisted and the civilians, but also make it immediately clear who were still the President's allies. However, problems still remained. How would they manage to pull off a news broadcast without alerting the warmongers in Osea? Even if the President managed to make a live broadcast, would the Yuktobanians believe him? How would they take Bright Hill? So far, they had only gone so far to answer the small questions, which, no matter how small, were still important.

A click from the door three meters behind him. Rainer nearly spun around as his hand reached for the M9, but a familiar voice soon sounded, "Hey, hey, Sergeant, calm down. It's me."

Rainer turned around slowly to see Private Anthony Marks crawling in from behind him. Rainer sighed in relief to see a comrade behind him; Marks was the squad's spotter, working in synchronization with Private Wagner, the squad's sniper. Marks had proven time and time again that he could spot any target in record time, and could work extraordinarily well with the quiet Wagner, often seen as a lone wolf. Although he was a sound infantryman with a knick at making quick decisions and had great leadership qualities, his thinly, if at all, veiled contempt for the brass had prevented him from earning a promotion. If anyone was more suited for this duty, it was Marks.

"Your shift?" Rainer asked, rubbing his eyes; trying to keep his eyes open for the evening, determined to look for threats, was not easy on Rainer's eyes.

"Yes, sir," Marks nodded, gave Rainer a hand up as he pulled the Marine to his feet, "Get some sleep, sir; you look like shit."

"Agreed," Rainer chuckled as he slowly crawled his way to the roof entrance; although his shift was up, he wasn't about to blow their cover by suddenly standing up and walking to the door leading to the second floor, for all to see. After checking to see Marks prop up right at the edge of the roof with a set of large binoculars on a small tripod, he slipped behind the door and closed it behind him. Rainer was glad that the handle for the door made clicks; whoever wanted to sneak up on the sentry would need to open the door, but the click would make the situation almost impossible.

Walking down from the roof, he quickly descended down the flight of stairs to the second floor hallway. The lights in the hallway were all off, and all of the doors were closed, filtering any light that may have come from the rooms behind them. One look to the left told Rainer why; Private Christopher Wagner was propped up on a chair against the second floor window overlooking the street outside. The DMR rifle, seemingly the modified tranquilizer rifle, was in his hands as he looked out the window. Although Rainer could not see Wagner's face from here, he knew that Wagner's eyes were definitely distant and melancholy. The squad's youngest member, Wagner was quiet and seemed to daydream all the time, but appearances were appearances, and Wagner had the uncanny ability to simply "see" people coming in from the distance. He was quiet, though, and preferred to work without a spotter, unless that spotter was Private Marks.

"Sergeant Rainer," Wagner made his quiet greeting to Rainer without a salute or turning around, understandable, with his eyes glued to the street outside. Although the members of Sea Goblin had formed an unbreakable bond with each other, knew each other better than anyone else, Wagner seemed to be able to recognize his teammates better than anyone else. Whether it was a silhouette against the starry night sky, or footsteps on wood, Wagner could place who was who easily. Maybe it has to do with being a sniper, Rainer thought.

"Private Wagner," Rainer nodded back, "All's quiet on the Eastern front?"

If Wagner understood the pun, he didn't show any signs of it; he merely nodded from where he was and continued to look out the window. Rainer figured it was all he was going to get out of the silent sniper for now, and moved to the second floor living room, which had been converted into their command room.

After spending hours in the darkness, Rainer squinted a bit as he opened the door to the living room. Closing the door behind him, Rainer studied the room. In the middle of the room was a round dining table that had pulled in from the dining room. It was a conference table of sorts, although the "Round Table" was covered with a combination of intelligence reports, maps, documents, ashtrays, and empty beer cans. To his left, Corporal Jennings and Private Webster, often seen as the two most educated Marines in the squad, were filing through dossiers and documents. For the past few days, that had been doing that, reading the news, screening all of the brass. When they took Oured, they needed allies, and Harling wanted to know who those allies were. Unfortunately, despite days of analyzing the situation, the political atmosphere made any attempt at an accurate assumption quite risky. On the right, Private Alex Lee, the squad's technician, was seated at a cluster of computers and control panels that had been stacked on another table. His hands, one of them bandaged over a wound received in a firefight against Belkan forces in Stier Castle, flew over the various keyboards in front of him. The computers helped keep track of the information flow throughout Osea's military network, and kept contact with Captain Andersen's fleet. And behind Private Lee was First Lieutenant Niel Schneider and Second Lieutenant Derlude Helsrang discussing something quietly with President Harling.

There was no mass of salutes as Rainer walked in. Again, understandable; too much rank in here for any salute to be proper, and they all had a job to do.

"Mr. President," Rainer did offer the President a salute, though. Vincent Harling smiled and gave a tired salute back; the last few days had indeed been draining, not to mention that Harling had been kept in confinement in Stier Castle in Belka for two months. Twice-elected President of the Osean Federation, Harling had adopted a peace policy like his predecessors, which did much to ease the cold war between the Osean Federation and the Union of Yuktobanian Republics. While greatly praised by the people, his peace policies were quite unpopular with the warmongers in the government who were eager to see their military blow stuff up...from a distance, of course. Naturally, there were many with a natural hatred for Yuktobania sense the cold war, and no one else knew that better than Harling. Quite a tall man, he was the only man not dressed in the black Marine special covert operation uniform, but in Marine dress uniform.

"What's the situation, sir?" Rainer turned to ask First Lieutenant Schneider. A very strict, stern, and professional commander, Schneider knew his job and knew what to ask of his men. Although Rainer respected Schneider immensely, he sometimes thought of the First Lieutenant as too hard-faced and serious; he didn't think anyone in Sea Goblin knew anything about his personal life, and his face, angular and chisels from handsome, revealed very little about anything.

"The latest information the Major sent us checked out," Schneider said quite neutrally to Rainer, "A detachment of Yuktobanian forces have been diverted and are enroute to Sudentor. We're under the assumption that Belka somehow managed to smuggle the forces inland, probably around the Ceres Ocean and through the Arctic Ocean, then into North Osea. We've confirmed that the Yuktobanian forces enroute include the 703rd Squadron, the 172nd Fighter-Bomber Squadron, and an unknown number of transport choppers, likely to be carrying ground troops. We suspect there to be at least three more Yuktobanian squadrons in the vicinity."

"The Major" was the codename of the Yuktobanian reconnaissance officer that had helped Prime Minister Nikanor escape to the Kestrel after Sea Goblin had departed for Oured. Although Rainer had never seen her before, she kept in touch with the President and Sea Goblin through a communications link between the Kestrel and the house they were currently holed up in. How she managed to grab hold of such accurate information stunned Rainer and somehow begrudged him; why was it that Yuktobanian intelligence was so accurate, while their own intelligence always managed to screw up?

"Let's not forget our own beloved Osea," Second Lieutenant Helsrang chuckled, not caring if he did so in front of President Harling and First Lieutenant Schneider, "We've got at least two squadrons on standby at Heierlark Airbase. I won't even mention the fact that we've got several infantry battalions on standby there as well."

Schneider shot Helsrang a glare, which he ignored; Helsrang was an experienced field officer, but, like Marks, he did not attempt to cover his disgust and contempt for the brass. Very confident, cocky, sarcastic, and on the arrogant side, Helsrang had a runaway mouth which spewed anything that came across his mind. While Schneider did appreciate his honesty sometimes, it was also a bit of a nuisance at others. Schneider tolerated his trash-talking, though, because of his capabilities.

"That's bad news," Harling stated the obvious, "Belka's diverting a number of military forces to Sudentor, a move unprecedented. Something's up."

Rainer agreed with Harling; they all knew that, for fifteen years, Belkan agents had been slipping into Osea's and Yuktobania's command structure. With hate high on the rise, it was easy for them to control the nations, the military wrapped around their finger. The Vice-President and his Generals were playing right into their hands. And the fact that they're not pitting all of both armies against each other in the effort to exhaust both countries meant something even bigger was up. And all of them had a hunch about what it was.

Even during the Belkan War fifteen years ago, everyone knew that Belka had been conducting experiments on a weapon known as the V2. Originally an orbital re-entry MIRV rocket capable of flying into space and then coming upon its intended target with a nuclear payload, the latest intelligence had told them that Belka had been secretly modifying the V2, although details of that were not clear yet. Still, there was no question that Belka was willing to use such a weapon. Eleven days before, the Belkans had commandeered the Arkbird, a gigantic orbital space shuttle originally built as a bridge to space as a predecessor to an international space station. During the war, however, it was outfitted with a laser weapon to counter Yuktobania's twin ballistic missile-launching submarines, the Scinfaxi and the Hrimfaxi. The Belkans had intended to use the Arkbird to launch a nuclear attack on metropolitan areas in Osea, but were thwarted by the Razgriz Squardon.

Seth had a mental pause as he thought back. The Razgriz Air Command Squadron, otherwise known as the Demons of Razgriz or simply the Razgriz, the squadron of four that struck fear into the hearts of the Yuktobanian army during the war. Originally known as the Sand Island 103rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, codenamed Wardog, the flight of four had been turned into living legends by Albert Genette of the Military Press Corps, and had turned the war completely in Osea's favor. However, Belka could not have an end to the suffering of Osea and Yuktobania, and their agents within both Osea framed the Wardog Squadron of treason, accusing them as being spies. Fleeing from Sand Island, they were "shot down" over the Ceres Ocean and "killed in action". Unknown to most, however, Captain Andersen had ordered Naval Air Force pilot Captain Marcus Snow to fake the deaths of Wardog Squadron. Afterwards, it was them, Sea Goblin, who fed Sand Island falsified confirmation that all the pilots had died before rescuing them and then bringing them to the Kestrel.

Ever since the successful rescue of the President from Stier Castle, however, the members of the Wardog Squadron, listed as killed in action on all official records, became the President's personal air force. To distinguish themselves from Osean, Yuktobanian, and Belkan fighter squadrons, their planes were painted black and the emblem of the squadron was that of the Razgriz, a storybook character called both a demon and a hero. Even though they were "dead", the "Ghosts of Razgriz" still struck fear into the hearts of those who come across them.

Schneider nodded gravely. "We may have to assume the worst, Mr. President," Schneider said, "I do know that Belka has no nuclear launch capabilities, but..."

"...They have moles in our own ranks," Helsrang finished snappily, "Meaning it wouldn't be too much of a hassle for them to launch our own ICBMs. Hell, they managed to hijack a massive laser gun-wielding space shuttle right under our noses, why the hell not?"

While Harling didn't seem to appreciate Helsrang's choice of expressing the situation, he nevertheless had to agree; they did not know where the V2 was, nor did they have any idea how Belka would utilize any nuclear weapon. "That means we have to make our move soon," Harling muttered, then turned to Schneider, "First Lieutenant, what are our chances of taking Bright Hill at the moment?"

Schneider thought for a moment, but for those who were listening in, they knew Schneider was not contemplating their chances, but how to break the news to the President. "Mr. President," was what Schneider said, "Under the assumption that we are stealthily inserted into any entrance of Bright Hill at this hour, there is a very great chance that Bright Hill is swarming with activity. Pardon my way of putting it, but having to watch over a vulnerable package in a hot zone with innocents, civilians, and armed Secret Service agents makes it nearly impossible to insert you into Bright Hill without raising any sort of alarm. And I can guarantee you that twelve men will not be enough to hold the complex. As far as I'm informed, transmitting a live broadcast to the world requires some time, including the contact of several press agencies. I'm not confident that we will have that much time."

Everyone in the room looked at each other grimly. The key problem here was trust; ever since they discovered Belka was behind the war, the question of who to trust was paramount. Who was a warmonger? Who disliked Harling's peace policy? Who harbored a great hatred of Osea? Who was loyal to the Vice-President and his Generals? They had not been able to confirm all this yet, and, thus, their conclusion was that, until they are able to acknowledge enough people as allies, no one in Oured other than Sea Goblin was to know Harling was even in Osea.

"Is it possible to gain clearance for Sea Goblin to land in the helipad on top of Bright Hill?" Harling asked, although he already knew the answer.

"Helicopters without specific instructions from a General to do so are not allowed within three miles of Bright Hill without clearance from either the President, Vice-President, or another member of Cabinet, Mr. President," Webster said from his corner of the room, "Five miles for fighter jets. It prevents any sort of surprise air attack on Bright Hill. You probably know this, Mr. President, but Bright Hill is surrounded by a honeycomb pattern of hidden SAM sites. We'll be shot down before we can make it to Bright Hill, unless electronic confirmation directly from your office is given to us so that our IFF can pass through the SAM coverage."

Private Daniel Webster was the second-youngest member of Sea Goblin, only older than Wagner. He graduated from Bana University only half a year ago, and majored in geopolitics. His interest in the security, management, and history of the government and military protocol bordered on a quiet obsession, and he was perhaps more familiar with the surroundings of Bright Hill better than anyone else, except perhaps the President, and that was only a maybe.

"Alex," Schneider asked Lee, "Is it at all possible to create those orders on the military network?"

Lee shook his from where he sat as he looked at Schneider, his hand holding one end of the earphone to his left ear. "I'm sorry, sir," Lee replied, "The clearance only gives us unfettered access, but without the proper credentials, I am unable to falsify any orders. We do have the President, though. Perhaps he can create those orders...?

"Is it possible for you to issue a top-secret order for only selective personnel to see, Mr. President?" Schneider asked, "I can get a small crew to Sea Goblin to wait for the orders to pick us up and move to Bright Hill. No one else would know about it."

"It's possible," Harling replied, "But any landing on Bright Hill will also have to be cleared by the Secret Service and my staff. Well, not necessarily cleared, but they have to be in the know..." Harling grinned, "...My administration, and the Secret Service as well, certainly does not enjoy a helicopter suddenly landing in front of them without prior notice."

"And any one of them can leak that sort of information to the Vice-President," Helsrang muttered, "We can't risk that."

"Stupid question," Jennings piped up, "Where's the Vice-President?"

Corporal William Jennings was officially the squad's "Old Man", in his mid-thirties, older than even Schneider. A veteran of the Belkan War fifteen years ago, Jennings was an Osean paratrooper, part of the outfit that had airdropped into the town of Solis Ortus in the Republic of Ustio during the last war. He had then fought valiantly during the liberation of Ustio's capital, Directus, before becoming involved in the series of battles in Belka itself. After a long combat career, Jennings honorably retired from the service after the Belkan War and settled down to become a college history professor. He enlisted once again, however, at the start of the Circum-Pacific War, and was recruited by Schneider shortly afterwards.

"The Vice-President is currently on a diplomatic maneuver in Ustio," Lee replied after checking on a laptop computer.

"In other words," Helsrang grinned as he twirled his KA-BAR between his fingers, stopped after Schneider threw him a glare that told him he could easily accidentally injure the President that way, "Our dear Vice-President is going off to remind Ustio that, without Osea, Ustio would've been Belkan territory today, and wants them to commit some resources and funds to the war effort against Yuktobania. Undoubtedly, Yuktobania will remind Ustio that it was Yuktobania's resources that helped power the advance of the Allied Forces fifteen years ago..." Helsrang chuckled, "...How trite."

"So we have the Vice-President out of the way," Webster mused, "But that still leaves the generals. Which ones can we trust?"

"I have a few guesses myself here and there," Harling admitted as he crossed his arms, "There've been times where I've got together with a few generals on less formal gatherings, but, I admit, as President, those occasions don't come much for me. I can't promise anything over seventy percent, the way things are now."

"Let's go under the assumption that we have to make an insertion into Bright Hill," Rainer interrupted, deciding it was time they got methodical, and groped around the various documents of the map before pulling up a blueprint, "As far as I'm concerned, there are only four ways in, the front door, a side exit for government employees and Secret Service agents, a cargo door in the back, and an aerial insertion from the top. Two helipads, one beside Bright Hill, and one on the roof."

"All three entrances will be heavily guarded," Webster added, "We're talking two Secret Service agents per door, not including a patrol that may pass by, as well as three snipers trained in countersniper tactics on the roof, one per door. Even assuming that we manage a synchronized attack, hit the sniper and the sentries all at once, we'd still have to pass through two cameras and an array of sensors."

"Then," Harling muttered, pointing at an especially blank part on the blueprint, "we'll have to cross plenty of open space. Plenty of snipers to put us down, not to mention the patrols that will see us in the open."

"If we must make a ground entry, the cargo door seems best," Jennings grunted, looking down at the blueprint as he walked over from where he sat, "Little open area. Again, that's assuming we manage to neutralize all of security at the same time. And manage to get past the sensors and cameras."

"An air entrance is looking pretty sweet to me," Helsrang admitted, "As far as I'm concerned, if we land on the roof or next to Bright Hill, everyone simply assumes we're supposed to be there."

"But there are three snipers on the roof," Webster pointed out, "I'm not very keen on the idea of outflanking..."

"First Lieutenant, sir," Lee suddenly said as he motioned for Schneider, who had remained quiet as his men went over the details and planned, "Incoming transmission from the Andromeda."

"The Andromeda?" Schneider repeated, somewhat surprised, "Not the Kestrel?" Schneider had reason to be surprised; so far, all of the transmissions from Andersen's fleet had been made from the Kestrel.

"No, sir," Lee replied, "I have Colonel Beagle on the horn from the Andromeda."

Colonel Peter N. Beagle. Once an infamous Belkan ace pilot known as the Huckebein, he defected from the ranks of the Belkan air force when he was ordered to drop a nuclear bomb on Belkan soil to stop the advance of Allied forces during the Belkan War. To the right-wing radicals in Belka, Beagle was a traitor, but Beagle safely made it to Allied Forces and posed as an Allied pilot with assistance from Osean pilot Captain Jack Bartlett, who would later be the leader of Wardog Squadron and the mentor figure of the members of the Razgriz members until his disappearance early in the war. As a former Belkan ace pilot, Beagle acted as the middleman amongst all the parties involved in their struggle for peace, keeping in touch with everyone as he gather intelligence from all over the world on the Kestrel.

Schneider walked over to the computers in front of Lee, clicked a button that turned on the microphone. "This is First Lieutenant Niel Schneider," Schneider said as soon as the microphone was on, "Colonel Beagle, you called?"

"That's right, First Lieutenant," Beagle's voice from the speakers was loud enough to be heard by the occupants of the room, "Is President Harling currently with you?"

"Yes, sir," Schneider replied, "President Harling is beside me at this very moment."

"What's up, Peter?" Harling said as he walked up within receiving range of the microphone.

"I apologize, Mr. President," Beagle sounded quite relaxed despite the fact it was obvious he was about to deliver bad news, "But we had been unable to reach you for quite some time. It appears a massive amount of radio traffic had blocked out a lot of our transmissions. Triangulation between Oured, Sudentor, and another location we are making last-minute confirmations on."

"How long have you been trying?" Harling asked, hoping that whatever news they needed to hear wasn't too late.

"Seventeen hours old," Beagle didn't hesitate to deliver the bad news. There was a universal agreement of facial agreement as everyone in the room exchanged grimaces; seventeen hours down the line was a hell of a long time.

"Well, then," Harling sighed, then braced himself for the impact, "Let's hear it."

"About seventeen hours ago," Beagle briefed, "The Kestrel ran into a Yuktobanian fleet in the Ceres Ocean. Prime Minister Nikanor was unable to stop the hostilities, so we were forced to engage both the Yuktobanian and Osean fleets."

"Osean?" Harling frowned.

"The Oseans believe that we have defected to the enemy, Mr. President."

"I see," Harling mused, "Is all still well?"

"We've managed to convince three Yuktobanian battleships to our cause," Beagle said, "Both fleets were disabled..." Beagle paused, then finished, "...Unfortunately, a Yuktobanian submarine slipped through our detection during the battle and remained silent as it followed our fleet. We've managed to destroy the vessel, but...I'm afraid the Kestrel went down."

There was a sharp intake of breath; the Kestrel was practically their home plate. Losing the Kestrel meant losing their aircraft launch capability, and that meant losing their trump card, the Razgriz Squadron. There was also the fact that two of the most important figures involved, Captain Anderson and Prime Minister Nikanor, were both stationed on the Kestrel.

Apparently, Beagle heard the audible expression of tension from the other end of the microphone, and quickly cut in. "No worries, Mr. President," Beagle finished, "We've managed to launch the Razgriz into the air, and Captain Andersen is now safe on the Andromeda. Prime Minister Nikanor is now enroute to Oured on the extra UH-60 helicopter we had. We expect him to arrive at 2150 hours, Eastern Standard Time."

"The Prime Minister is coming here?" Harling frowned, obviously surprised, "Why? How is he going to come in?"

Despite the tense situation, Beagle upheld the strictest traditions of Belkan aces and never lost his cool. "Mr. President," Beagle said quite coolly and good-naturedly, "It's going to be a long story, but we don't have too much time, so I honestly do suggest that you and the Marines start packing up and preparing to head up to Bright Hill. We honestly do not have more than forty minutes left."

2015 Hours, December 30, 2010 (Eastern Standard Time)
Oured, Osea

Three minutes was all it took for Sea Goblin to secure its gear and pile into two black nondescript vans, their preferred method of urban ground transportation, with the President. Without further discussion, it was decided that, under the current circumstances, it was best they return to their chopper, Sea Goblin, parked in a Marine base about ten miles away. It was two minutes after they had left the civilian housing when Private Lee reconfigured the communications gear in the back of the van to link up to the Andromeda. At the wheel was Jennings, while Webster sat beside him. Rainer, Schneider, Helsrang, and Lee took up stations in the back of the van around the communications equipment with Harling. The back of the van was dark, the only source of lighting the green computer screens before them.

"Mr. President," Beagle said through the speakers seconds after the confirmation of the establishment of their communications link, "Again, allow me to recap the situation. The Kestrel has been sunk, but all vital members to this operations have been safely allocated to the Andromeda, including Captain Andersen. Prime Minister Nikanor is enroute to Oured by Osean chopper, and the Razgriz are flying their way to Sudentor."

Harling shook his head, his confusion shared by the rest of Sea Goblin. "I'm not sure I understand, Peter," Harling admitted, "I'm not seeing the picture here."

"I'll be brief," Beagle assured Harling, as "brief" seemed to be as welcome a word as any under their circumstances, "We are convinced that Belka is in the preparation of launching the V2."

Perhaps too brief.

Thankfully, Harling recovered quickly. "How?" Harling frowned. Gone was apprehension and confusion, replaced with sheer determination. Even though the members of Sea Goblin wore masks, helmets, and goggles than blocked out their most human features, their will to do whatever it took was evident as well. The atmosphere in the van suddenly became very tense.

"One moment, Colonel Beagle," Schneider interrupted Beagle, and turned to Lee, "Patch this in to the other truck." Lee understood, then tapped a few buttons. Under the current circumstances, it was better to let the other six members of Sea Goblin know what was going on. They all deserved it.

"They're on the line," Lee assured Schneider seconds later.

"Go ahead, Colonel," Schneider said to Beagle through the microphone.

"We've decoded the encrypted disk the Major was carrying," Beagle said, "It contains plans for the V2 that the Belkans had been developing for the past fifteen years. We've confirmed that the Belkans definitely have nuclear warheads. At the moment, we're still confirming the signal that's being triangulated by Oured and Schenze, but we believe that the Belkans definitely have the means to take out half of all metropolitan areas in either Osea or Yuktobania."

There was absolute, stunned silence. All of them knew how far Belka was willing to go in terms of destruction; seven nuclear bombs dropped on their own soil to stop the Allied advance fifteen years ago was testament to that. No one doubted Belkan nuclear technology either. But the capability to wipe out half of all metropolitan areas in either country was too horrifying to imagine. The death count would reach up to millions. Who on Earth could possibly have the sanity to pull that kind of trigger?

People have had been tending to their hatred and anger for fifteen years, that's who, Rainer thought bitterly to himself.

"My Lord," Harling whispered, "They can..." he paused, inhaled to still himself, "...but how?"

Even Beagle, normally not hesitant to break any sort of news under the pressure of time, had to pause and sigh for a quick moment. It was obvious that, whatever news he was going to deliver, it was going to be very bad.

"Mr. President," Beagle said quite plainly, "The Belkans have taken control of the SOLG."

The SOLG, a military satellite dubbed as the Satellite Orbital Linear Gun. Developed by Osea during the Belkwan War for complete military supremacy in space, it was abandoned in space after the Belkan War, when there was a global fad for arms reduction. Rainer was no technician, but he remembered his time as a child, when the media lorded over the SOLG and claimed how it would bring Osea to complete supremacy against Belka. Theorists compared the SOLG as a pistol in space; it was completely capable of firing a nuclear warhead from orbital altitude to any place on Earth without any propulsion from rockets or missiles. All the SOLG needed was targeting data and the proper orbit, and it could fire a nuclear warhead. Without any propulsion traces, the warheads would be virtually undetectable by radar. They would travel faster than any missile on an interception course, and the missile wouldn't be able to lock on either. Rainer could only think of one conventional weapon that could stop such a weapon, the Stonehenge, a series of railguns that had once been used to shoot down meteorites that threatened the planet by creating a super-large explosion, an effect much like a flak cannon. But it had been destroyed years ago during a war between ISAF and the Free Erusian Republic.

The Belkans have indeed gotten their hands on an insanely powerful weapon of mass destruction.

Cold fear settled into each of the members of Sea Goblin. It was not panic, but fear, and, most importantly, determination that they get this job right. There was nothing Sea Goblin could do to stop a nuclear attack satellite, so the only thing they could do was do their part.

"I'm not surprised," Harling seemed to hold himself together rather well, responding within three seconds of this horrifying revelation, "They managed to take control of the Arkbird as well...I assume it would have only been a matter of time before the SOLG fell into their hands."

"I'm afraid so," Beagle sighed, "In any case, we've managed to track the signal to the SOLG; it's coming from Sudentor. We believe that Gründer Industries is running the show here, although the playwright is apparently the Belkan agent Schenze. We think he's currently holed up in Oured."

Gründer Industries, once known as the South Belkan Munitions Factory, used to be the primary source of weapons for the Belkan Federation during the Belkan War. However, when South Belka was annexed by Osea and became North Osea, the South Belkan Munitions Factory turned into Gründer Industries and was infiltrated by the Gray Men, a secret society of Belkan right-wing radicals who plotted this entire war. The existence of Schenze was first revealed when the Razgriz intercepted radio signals between an unknown source and the Arkbird as the massive space shuttle was hijacked by the Belkans in a nuclear crash course into Osea. Ever since then, they had been led to assume that Schenze was a Belkan agent, and a dangerous one at that, one that had the nerve to authorize a nuclear strike on metropolitan Osea. He would undoubtedly fire the nukes on either Osea and Yuktobania without a second thought.

"Colonel," Schneider immediately cut in, "Can you track down Schenze's exact location?"

Schneider's logic made sense to Rainer; if they had an exact location, Schneider could lead a raid on Schenze's location, and, hopefully, capture and interrogate him. Rainer wasn't sure if they'd be successful, though; the Belkans were fanatically patriotic, and, if the Belkan pilots the Razgriz fought were any indicator, were willing to fight to the death.

"I'm afraid not," Beagle admitted, "We're not even sure it's Oured, actually; we've merely got the approximate latitude, but it makes sense for Schenze to be in Oured, as he was in control of the Arkbird earlier."

"I think we're hard-pressed on time," Harling made a very appropriate entrance, "Peter, can you give us a sit-rep?"

"Yes, Mr. President," Beagle replied, "Because we lost the Kestrel, we were forced to launch the Razgriz. We've briefed them about their mission, and they are currently flying towards Sudentor, ETA one hour. The Prime Minister is headed your way. As you can see, the circumstances were forced out of our hands, so we needed up accelerate our schedule..." Beagle paused, then finally asked, "...Mr. President, is it possible for you and Sea Goblin to take Bright Hill in half an hour?"

All eyes turned to both Harling and Schneider, who then exchanged glances. The tension in the back of the van seemed to be so thick one could cut it with a knife. There was a twitch of a finger, a pursing of the lips, a tremble of the arm. The big question came up, and now they had to come up with an answer.

Four seconds of silence. Harling looked at Schneider, who only offered a nod, indicating that, whatever the President wanted to do, Sea Goblin would play along.

Six seconds.

Seven seconds now.

Harling took a very long deep a breath, let it out in a sigh as he brushed his hair back with both hands, attempting to relieve himself of the tension. I'm about to storm the capitol of one of the most powerful countries in the world, Harling told himself, and the plan and execution must take place in thirty minutes if I want to break into my own home.

Ten seconds.

"Peter," Harling said, his voice steely and full of determination and confidence, yet still managing to hold onto the charm that he was known for as a politician, forcing a grim smile on his lips, "I need you to get me Albert Genette."

2125 Hours, December 30, 2010 (Eastern Standard Time)
The Haven, Oured, Osea

The Osean Broadcasting Company Nine O'Clock News was what General Luke Bradley of the Osean Army was listening to when the phone rang in his private office of the Haven. Working late hours in the middle of Oured was no way to spend any night for a four-star General, especially when he could easily push the work off to his aides. Corruption and shady deals were rife in the upper hierarchies of any military, Bradley knew that much, but he had no intentions to walk into the darkness. Here was his domain, a private officer located in the inner sanctums of the Haven, a massive building twenty miles out of downtown Oured that was officially the military administrative headquarters of Osea. For a General well behind the frontlines in his home country, anytime past nine at night was "late hours", and if Bradley wanted to get past all that, he needed some "white noise", noise that he didn't necessarily pay attention to, but would keep him company. It got too eerie if it was too quiet, anyways, so Bradley left the forty-inch television on the other side of the office turned on.

Looking out the window, Bradley's eyes found a brief respite from the paperwork as they rested on the calmness of Oured Bay and the lights of downtown Oured for a short moment. Lord knows the waves here are calmer than elsewhere, Bradley thought quietly as his hand reached for the phone.

A bald, heavy-set man at forty-odd, Bradley was one of Osea's youngest generals, a man that made it up through the ranks through hard work, good luck, and relative silence. He knew war for what it was, a game of politics, and was smart enough to keep his mouth shut when he ascended the ranks. His political stance was as stoic as the hard expression on his face. Calm and deliberate, he thought before he spoke, and that was what others may have appreciated about him. Still, it was no secret that other Generals held him and his conservative ways in contempt. While most Generals had already flocked off to Yuktobania in a now-failing effort to take their capitol of Cinnigrad, Bradley, with some others, was deliberately left here, in charge of homeland defense. It was obvious someone was trying to send a message telling him they didn't think Bradley had what it takes to be a General, but Bradley didn't mind. He just needed to do his job, and get it over with. He didn't give it much thought, and, besides, he knew it was just a political game.

A plush office with white walls, polished wooden floors, and a nice red carpet, General Bradley's office was, admittedly, more for luxury than utility. A large oak desk sat beside a window overlooking Oured Bay, and a fireplace, currently out, kept the room company with a source of heat and light. Light from an overhead fan-lamp came down on the room, although the fan was closed; no one wanted the temperature to drop a few more degrees in winter. Cabinets and shelves were all around the room, as well as documents scattered all over the place, most of them top secret, something he was going to have to clean up himself. A fine place for a General to work in indeed.

"Bradley," Bradley said as he picked up the phone, his gaze remaining out of the window.

"General Bradley," the voice of a female operator spoke over the phone, "You have a call on priority line one; shall I patch it through?"

Bradley raised an eyebrow. There was no difference between priority line one or priority line four, but a priority line was different from a line with the fact that only senior-ranking officials had access to them, officials such as Generals, Cabinet members, the Vice-President, or the President himself. Exactly who was calling Bradley nearly half past nine on a priority line was a mystery to him.

"Put it through," Bradley agreed, waited for a moment before a beep sounded through the phone, indicating that the call connected, before speaking, "This is Bradley."

Whomever Bradley expected to answer, it was certainly not the familiar voice on the phone.

"Luke," the voice replied, "It's Vincent."

Bradley paused as his mind practically paused for a moment. For a moment, it was completely blank as he struggled to comprehend one concept. The President of the Osean Federation was currently calling him personally on the phone, two months after he was last heard of. He straightened in his chair, trying to seem impressive, then decided against it as he sat up a bit more and then leaned back against the chair. "Well," Bradley said, paused, pursed his lips, uncertain what to say, "Mr. President. I admit, it is an unexpected call..."

"One moment, Luke," Harling interrupted, "Is there anyone around you?"

Bradley actually had to look around before replying, "No, Mr. President."

"Switch to encryption scheme SCEPTER, and make sure the call isn't tapped."

Bradley was apprehensive; whatever Harling wanted to talk to him about, it definitely wasn't something he wanted anyone else to hear. Why the President of Osea wanted to talk about something confidential with a four-star General was beyond Bradley, and he didn't feel like being thrown into a political fruit mixer; it seemed likely, now that the President was calling him. Still, it was the President he was talking about, so he couldn't refuse a direct order. He punched in a code on a keypad beside his phone. "Switched to encryption scheme SCEPTER, Mr. President," Bradley confirmed, "We're alone..." Bradley paused, then added, "...I'm quite surprised, Mr. President, we haven't heard from you for about two months..."

"I know," Harling interrupted quickly, "There's a reason, but I don't have time to tell you right now. All you need to know is that I need your full cooperation at the moment."

Bradley nodded, not sure what else to do. "Okay," he said lamely.

"No one else must learn of this, understood?" Harling said sternly.

Bradley did hesitate there. "Mr. President," Bradley asked, "By 'no one else', you mean..."

"Unless I give specific instructions for someone else to know about this, they are not to know a thing."

Bradley paused only for a moment in confusion. "Okay, sir, go ahead."

"In a moment, I am going to infiltrate Bright Hill with a squad of Marines," Harling explained, "Method of transportation is via helicopter. The first thing I need you to do is to give the helicopter clearance to land at Bright Hill, or it'll be shot down by SAMs."

That was where Bradley didn't catch on. "Mr. President," Bradley informed, "I'm sure you're aware, but you can give that clearance to any helicopter you wish, provided you remember the codes, from any terminal with..."

"I know," Harling confirmed, "But those clearances are logged. It has to be logged without my name. You're a four-star General, you have the proper credentials to authorize a helicopter to enter Bright Hill."

Bradley understood the implications, although not the motives. Harling wanted to be completely under the radar, meaning no one else was to know of his presences, not even the brass or the senior officials of state, who were just about the only ones who had clearance to access the logs of clearance made for aircraft flying near Bright Hill. Why Harling wanted to be so secretive, however, was beyond Bradley. Bradley knew better than to question, however.

"Okay," Bradley muttered as he tapped on his keyboard, bringing up a software on his computer that was linked to Osea's military network, "Give me a moment...okay. What helicopter is this?"

Harling conferred with someone in the background before replying. "It's a UH-60 utility helicopter under Marine jurisdiction," Harling replied, "Codename 'Sea Goblin', IFF code 7743015-B."

"Okay," Bradley nodded as the records popped onto his computer screen, "I've got it here. Sea Goblin, IFF code 7743015-B. I need to know what the chopper is carrying before giving you clearance, though. Standard protocol; it won't let me give you clearance unless I fill it in."

"Seven Marines," Harling answered quickly, "Six in full battle gear, one First Lieutenant in dress uniform. We intend to land on the roof."

"Okay," Bradley confirmed the details although he was still mighty confused about it, "Clearance given. Your chopper's IFF should be altered for it to fly to Bright Hill without being targeted, but it'd be best you check that up before flying in."

"Got it," Harling sounded pleased, "Thank you, Bradley. There is, however, one more thing."

"Go ahead," Bradley nodded, although apprehension was laced in his voice.

"After I infiltrate Bright Hill, I do believe that there will be those alerted to my presence. It is likely they will deploy forces in the form of soldiers to Bright Hill to investigate. They must not reach Bright Hill until twenty-two hundred hours. You must disrupt the chain of command until then."

"Sir," Bradley had to protest, nothing was making sense, "I don't understand what's going on. You're infiltrating Bright Hill? And who in Osea would send soldiers to check up on you?"

Harling paused for a moment, apparently uncertain what to say for a moment. Seconds later, however, Harling sounded as serious as ever, quietly determined. "Luke," Harling attempted to explain, "We have great reason to believe that there is a conspiracy in both Osea and Yuktobania behind this war."

There was a very long pause as Bradley attempted to believe what Harling was talking about. A conspiracy? They were at war, there was no conspiracy...

Bradley fumbled for words. "What kind of conspiracy?" he finally managed.

"I don't have time to give you all the details," Harling sighed, "But we believe that if we don't act now, half of all metropolitan areas in either Osea or Yuktobania will be destroyed."

Although Bradley couldn't quite believe what he was hearing, he could catch onto the undertones from there. "We have a third-party, Mr. President?" Bradley whispered.

"We think so," Harling confirmed his suspicions, "Belkan right-wing radicals. We think they've engineered this entire war, and they've taken control of the SOLG."

Bradley's eyes widened. How could the Belkan right-wing radicals have taken control of a satellite abandoned up in space for fifteen years?

"We played right into their hands," Harling continued, "They've inserted spies into our ranks, and the Generals are playing right into their hands, fighting Yuktobania. The plan is to weaken both nations to achieve complete Belkan victory."

Bradley didn't respond. He couldn't believe what he was hearing, nevermind comprehend. His mind burned on overdrive trying to process all this information. Does that mean all the war propaganda spewed so far, the maneuvers taken to secure supremacy over Yuktobania, all of it was just for Osea to wear down Yuktobania's resources...and their own?

"I know you are having a problem trying to believe me," Harling said, obviously noting Bradley's shock and silence.

The sentence itself told Bradley that Harling was still sane in a world gone insane; that the President knew it was difficult to believe in such a story seemed to be logical. Bradley managed to compose himself in a short amount of time as he said slowly, "I don't think I'm in a position not to believe what you're saying, Mr. President..." Bradley paused, sighed, trying to relieve the stress he was feeling, "...Mind my asking, Mr. President, but shouldn't be at least inform the Vice-President about this?"

"I think he's involved in the conspiracy as well," was Harling's reply. Bradley, once again, did not know how to respond to this. The Vice-President was involved? What in the bloody hell was going on? Nothing in the last five minutes was making any sense! Bradley took a nearby handkerchief and dabbed his forehead, which, by now, was sweating. Bradley had to seat himself again and unbutton the collar of his uniform, trying to relieve himself of the stress.

"Okay," Bradley breathed, trying to accept this information, "Okay, then. How do you want me to disrupt the chain of command?"

"Keep an eye on the Osean military network and everything will be fine," Harling assured the general in a much calmer, reasonable voice, "Again, I will need to hold Bright Hill from any and all other forces not in-the-know until ten o'clock tonight. At least, military forces. Anything that my Marines cannot handle, please try and stop them. Disrupt the chain of command, give chaotic orders and suspend any and all orders that involve Bright Hill. You just need to do this for half an hour, and I know you'll probably encounter resistance from those who think you're doing something strange. But, trust me on this, you are free to break and military regulations at will to cover our tracks; when I'm back in office again, I will make sure that you are cleared of all charges. Do you understand, Luke?"

"Yes," Luke nodded, keeping his calm as well as he could, "Yes, I do."

"Mr. President," a voice came through the phone, apparently from behind the President, "The helicopter's ready, sir. We need to leave."

"One moment, First Lieutenant," Harling said to the man, then returned his attention to Bradley, "Luke, I need to go. Remember, stop them at all costs."

"One moment, sir," Bradley interrupted; no matter how badly it came down, no matter how insane the entire thing was, Bradley had to know one thing, a question that originated from the call that spiraled him into the Pandora's Box in the first place.

"What is it?" Harling asked.

"Most of the Generals are pro-war against Yuktobania," Bradley said, "Anyone you called could've been a potential threat to your plans. If you made a mistake about me, I could've blown your entire plan out of the water. Why did you call me?"

Harling seemed to chuckle on the other side of the line. "Luke," Harling replied quite cheerfully, "You are a very stoic four-star General, with very little interest in the politics game. I know you harbor no hatred of Yuktobania, and you are very neutral in our government. I need that right now. At the moment, this is no longer about the war between Osea and Yuktobania. Both of us are friends that have been pitted into a senseless fight that we did not start. A man who hates Yuktobania with a passion cannot understand this. I needed a General who not only does not enjoy flexing his military muscle, but is also on neutral terms with Yuktobania, to do this for me. A man who hates Yuktobania will want this war to continue. You don't, Luke, and that is why I need your help. It is because you, at the moment, are the most trustworthy General I know, a General who is not hindered by emotional outbursts, but guided by pure patriotism to our country and goodwill to the world. It no longer matters which nation the SOLG will hit, Luke. We cannot let the situation stand as it is. This war must end, and we must bring down the curtain on an age of terror..." Harling seemed to laugh quietly, "...Does my answer satisfy you, Luke?"

Luke licked his lips; it was dry. He felt his body shivering. Somehow, he managed to utter the words in a very straight voice, "Yes, Mr. President. I understand. Good hunting; I'll keep them occupied from here."

"Thank you, Luke. Harling, out."

The phone went dead in Bradley's hand. He slowly hung up, leaned back in his seat, quite uncertain what to do for a moment. His mind kept running in redundant cycles, a wheel that spun and spun and spun but found no traction. He pursed his lips, trying to make any sense out of it all. All was coming too quickly for him to possibly comprehend calmly, but Bradley knew he somehow had to. He inhaled, exhaled, smoothed out his heartbeats, and sat in his seat for a moment.

After thirty seconds, he stood up from where he was, picked up a glass from his desk, and walked over to the fireplace. Taking a bottle of seventy-year-old Scotch from the top of the fireplace, something he always considered to be merely decorative, he uncorked the bottle and poured four centimeters, and downed the entire thing quickly. He inhaled again. Somehow, the stress was gone, and his heartbeat stilled. His mind no longer raced at a frantic pace, and he actually knew what he was doing.

General Luke Bradley, four-star General of the Osean Army, felt much better as he stood in his office in the Haven, Oured, Osea. And now there was a job to do.

2130 Hours, December 30, 2010 (Eastern Standard Time)
Secret Service Headquarters, Oured, Osea

The reaction that President Vincent Harling received from Secret Service Agent Aaron Jordan was much different than what he had received from General Luke Bradley.

"Mr. President," Jordan said, right after Harling made it clear that the person calling Jordan was the President, as he detached his earpiece from his radio and prepared to connect it to the cell phone he held in his hand, which he was attempting to clip onto his belt, "Please give me a moment. I'm switching us to encryption scheme SPINEL. It'll give us a measure of secrecy."

On the other end of the line, Harling had to smile. Of all the time he had known Jordan, the Secret Service agent had always been very sharp, able to piece things together very quickly with very little shock. The fact that Jordan had the presence of mind to switch to an encrypted channel the moment he knew he was talking to the President made it clear that Jordan knew something was going on. Very astute, Harling had no doubt that enlisting Jordan's help would not take much time.

One of the Secret Service's field supervisors, Jordan led one of the most elite teams of the Secret Service. Like the rest of the Secret Service teams, Jordan's team was unnamed, but they were called in whenever extreme security was required, whether it was protecting the President when threat index of possible assassination passed threat level four, or escorting and protecting the President in a foreign country with a not-so-friendly populace. Jordan had led his heavily-armed team in protecting many senior officials to North Osea before, where many of the former Belkans there did not quite welcome their Osean authorities.

Although good-natured under normal conditions, Jordan was serious, stern, and downright obsessive when it came to his job. In his early-thirties, Jordan was actually quite like Schneider, chisels from handsome with a lean, angular face that somehow still managed to look quite attractive. Under his cool exterior was a level-headed mind and a surprisingly sharp intellect. Dressed in a black tuxedo, his stature and dress code practically screamed "secret agent". Working in the field for so many years had endowed Jordan with experience in the job, skills in a firefight, and ignorance of general protocol so many were bound to. Their job was to protect the President, and it doesn't matter what rules are broken along the way so long as the President is alive and breathing. Painfully enough for the Department of Homeland Security, that was what Jordan kept teaching to the Secret Service recruits that come under his wing.

"Switch complete," Jordan reported, "We're below radar. Mr. President, it has been two months since we've heard any word from you. You're calling me directly on my personal cellphone, and no one else seems to have been alerted to your presence, Lord knows you're not on the news right now. I assume something's up."

In all honesty, Jordan had never imagined that he would be in contact with the President like this. All he knew for certain was that the President had disappeared for a reason, but the war had prevented the media from taking too much notice of a President that had decided to play the Invisible Man. He knew that something was wrong, but never once had he even imagined that he would play this close a role to the President's return.

"Indeed," Harling replied a bit louder than necessary, and Jordan listened carefully enough to hear the sound of rotating chopper blades in the background. Jordan closed his eyes as he concentrated.

"Mr. President," Jordan said promptly, "You are currently on an Osean UH-60 utility chopper. Where are you?"

Even through the digital feedback to robbed so much human emotion from the voice, it was not difficult to detect Harling's fascination at the Secret Service agent through the earpiece. "That's not very important right now," Harling admitted, "More importantly, where are you?"

"Secret Service Headquarters, just a minute's walk away from Bright Hill."

The building merely across the street from Bright Hill, often assumed as part of Bright Hill itself, was simply known as the Secret Service Headquarters, with no nickname or moniker whatsoever. From the outside, it seemed more like a presidential retreat, but inside were the offices of plenty of Secret Service agents who had converted the building into their base of operations. Although it seemed decorative, the trained eye could tell that the base architecture of the building was designed for modern combat; Secret Service Headquarters was a fortified position that was easy to defend and difficult to assault. An underground shelter beneath it was the President's last line of defense in the case the homeland came under attack, and can take a direct nuclear assault. Most Secret Service agents, Jordan included, spent most of their time here filing paperwork, watching television, and waiting to be rotated into service. On the particular night that Harling called Jordan, Jordan had been in the office kitchen making himself a cup of coffee, which he hoped would keep him company through a long night of rifling paperwork. Now that he was speaking with the President, though, Jordan had walked out of the coffee, abandoning his beloved cup of coffee, and began walking down the near-empty corridors to his office in search of privacy and more resources.

"Alright," Harling gave him the affirmative, consulted with someone else, then returned to Jordan, "Aaron, listen. I'm going to land on top of Bright Hill in this chopper with a Marine squad in about eight minutes. I need to infiltrate Bright Hill, and I cannot alert anyone else to my presence, do you understand?"

"I understand," Jordan replied as he opened his office door and sat down behind his computer, tapping the keyboard twice. The screen came to life, and, immediately, programs shot up onto the screen. Whatever the President wanted done, he could do quickly. The fact that the President wanted to stay below radar did not surprise Jordan at all; he had long suspected something such as this might happen.

"Pardon me, Mr. President," Jordan interrupted, "Bright Hill is swarming with Secret Service agents at the moment. Do you intend to sneak past them, or let them know you're around?"

"We can't let them know I'm around," Harling replied, "It's too easy that word would get back to those we don't want. Is it at all possible to pull them out? Or at least lower security as much as possible?"

Jordan forced a chuckle. "Security is already at its lowest, Mr. President," Jordan replied with a bit of a grin to loosen the tension, "With neither you or the Vice-President around, it's already pretty loose. I don't have the proper authority to shift them away, though; that goes to the Secretary of Homeland Security. The amount of Secret Service guards they've put there, though..." Jordan exhaled, "...Tell me, do we have a time window?"

"I have to be reinstated into office before nine-fifty," Harling answered, hoping Jordan had a good answer.

Jordan answered point-blank. "You'll have less than ten minutes to infiltrate Bright Hill after arriving via chopper, which is not enough if you don't want to be discovered at all. You're bound to run into several agents."

Harling knew Jordan was not a person who needed pleasantries to brace himself for work. Accustomed to being scrambled on a moment's notice, Jordan was usually always ready for something. If there's something that needed to be done, Jordan was all snap and polish. "Aaron," Harling asked, "Can you conjure a trustworthy team within ten minutes and meet up at Bright Hill?"

Jordan clicked several buttons on his computer to activate the roster of men under his command. He scanned through the list very quickly, replied, "I've got several agents all around Bright Hill. They're all vets, and they know what to do."

Harling added an extra condition. "They have to be agents who aren't afraid of breaking a rule or two," Harling said, "Agents who will keep their mouths shut, won't leak out my presence to anyone, and won't ask questions. They have to trust you implicitly enough to break regulations and not think it's any sort of mutiny."

Jordan blew a low whistle. "You just wiped a good three-quarters off my list," Jordan chuckled, "Of all the current agents that are confirmed to be around Bright Hill and fit your requirements, I have three."

"That'll have to be enough," Harling muttered, "Alright, what I need you to do is to take those three agents and quickly clear a way between my office and the rooftop. Make sure absolutely no one sees us. You're probably going to have to weaken security along the way. As for surveillance cameras, my technician will take care of that."

Although Jordan knew that successful agents who got the job done often had to break rules, he had to confirm a single detail with the President. "Mr. President," Jordan said tightly, "Under these current circumstances, 'weakening' security means I'll have to put some Secret Service agents out of commission. That either means restraining them, knocking them out, or killing them. Is that alright with you?"

Harling seemed to hesitate, but when he replied, he was adamant. "We cannot have collateral casualties on this mission," Harling replied, "No friendly deaths. Do you have tranquilizer guns?"

"No, sir, Secret Service are issued lethal weapons only. We have tranquilizer weapons for very special purposes, but they're in another armory. We don't have time to retrieve them."

Harling sighed. "Well, it looks like we're in a tough position. However, you are not permitted to kill fellow Secret Service agents, is that understood? Same goes for all Bright Hill workers. No collateral damage for this one."

"I understand," Jordan nodded, then added.

"Oh, one more thing," Harling suddenly added, "I'll call you back when I land on the roof under the same encryption scheme, but before that, I'll need blueprints of Bright Hill. We'll need to plot a way to my office from the roof, taking as many shortcuts and back doors as possible. Maintenance hallways, cargo elevators, things like those."

"Understood," Jordan nodded, as he quickly began to summon the blueprints of Bright Hall, paused as he realized he could gain access to them from this terminal, and immediately began to check who in the Secret Service Headquarters had such access at the moment, "I'll need the upload port frequency of your helicopter to transmit it to you."

After consulting with the pilot for a brief moment, Harling gave the number to Jordan.

"Thank you, Mr. President," Jordan said as he finished up what he had been doing on his computer, took out extra bullet magazines from his drawer, and began walking out the door, "Those blueprints with be on your chopper shortly. I'm going to assemble my team; I'll be waiting for you call."

"Godspeed, Aaron," Harling said over the line, seemingly confident that Jordan would get the job done.

The call ended, Jordan quickly began dialing another number onto his cell phone, and, walking down the aisle of work cubicles toward the exit, stopped next to a phone, picked it up, and began to call another number using that. Assembling a secret strike team and reporting to Bright Hill in five minutes was not going to be easy, even for Jordan. He intended to use every second he had.

2137 Hours, December 30, 2010 (Eastern Standard Time)
Oured, Osea

Private Wagner made no sound as he adjusted the scope of his modified DMR sniper rifle, adjusting the sights as he scanned the rooftop of Bright Hill. From his position, he could see three Secret Service snipers, lying low on the roof and looking for threats. But in this darkness, Wagner knew it would hell on the snipers to see him.

Somehow, on his right side, his spotter, Private Marks, with a large pair of binoculars, knew exactly what Wagner was looking at. "Sniper on the left," Marks whispered, "Distance, two hundred and one point three meters. Sniper on the right, distance, one hundred and ninety-eight point nine meters. Wind blowing at two kilometers per hour north..." Marks grinned, "...Perfect sniping conditions, wouldn't you say?"

Wagner did not give any indication that he had heard. Instead, he was more worried about the distance than anything else. When he had test-fired the weapon several days ago upon receiving the weapon, he promised accuracy up to two hundred meters. Sniper rifles, as a rule, were loud and powerful, having to eject a bullet at great speeds to achieve maximum distance. Trying to suppress a sniper rifle was difficult enough; normal silencers don't do enough, while internal suppressors mess up the sniper's accuracy and distance. What's worse was that, with tranquilizer darts, the velocity of which the rounds were fired would be decreased greatly. In Wagner's opinion, it was nothing short of amazing Marine engineering that someone had managed to produce a silenced DMR sniper rifle that fired tranquilizer darts with accuracy up to two hundred meters; normal DMR sniper rifle could reach up to distances of over eight hundred meters.

Now, though, he was having second thoughts. While he had test-fired on pigeons at two hundred meters, he had to note the error margin; tranquilizer darts were not as aerodynamic as bullets and tricky to work with. If lucky, the darts did okay, but, otherwise, they became unruly in their trajectory. With darts, Wagner honestly believed that one hundred and fifty meters was the safety limit. Having to fire darts at the sniper's extreme limit, two hundred meters, was definitely way too risky.

"Two minutes until Sea Goblin arrives," Marks said to Wagner, "Feeling nervous?"

"I'll be fine," Wagner assured Marks quietly.

Marks chuckled. "Sure. I caught you sleeping last time when we had to raid the prison camps, you know. Suppose that's a sign of being relaxed."

Wagner laughed softly at that, but, otherwise, didn't say much. He readjusted his sight again, if only to make sure they were right. They were. He shouldered his sniper rifle once more, just to make the grip more comfortable. Again, his eyes were laid on the snipers on the roof. No one was looking in his direction. That was good.

When Harling and Schneider managed to cook up a plan in five minutes, it was decided that Sea Goblin be divided into two six-man teams. While one team led the infiltration on Bright Hill, the other would provide sniper support. Indeed, most of the mission would be conducted on the inside, where snipers were useless, but they had not neglected the fact that the six-man team escorting the President may not be able to deal with three snipers that the President had given orders not to kill. And that, if information somehow leaked out, they may have to defend Bright Hill from infiltrators from the outside.

As a result, the sniper team broke into several government buildings, all of them closed with their lights off, no more than two hundred meters away from Bright Hill. Wagner and Christopher had climbed up onto the third floor and had propped up against its window. Two other Marines on their team made quiet patrols throughout the entire building, making sure no one crept up on the sniper and his spotter. Meanwhile, the two remaining members of Sea Goblin occupied a building just across the street, their job being to safeguard the four Marines in the building Wagner was in. If they were outnumbered, the sniper team could at least flank them from two different fields of fire. Snipers were easy to outflank, but they didn't have time to switch positions, so the other four Marines would have to watch their backs.

Wagner admitted two hundred meters was much too short a range for him to snipe comfortably. Modern snipers could handle ranges up to eight hundred meters, and countersniper tactics have changed accordingly to handle such weapons. The Secret Service snipers perched on the roof of Bright Hill were trained in countersniper tactics, and they knew how to look for a sniper, where they would set up their positions, and how they would camouflage themselves. As a result, instead of being on the roof, a perfect vantage point for snipers, Wagner instead chose the third story window. He purposefully chose a window next to a streetlight, then broke the corner of the glass to stick his barrel through. With the light outside, it was no only more difficult for countersnipers to see anything in that direction, but the light also created a reflection against a seemingly closed window, rendering Wagner practically invisible behind the pane of glass. And Wagner was willing to bet that, even at two hundred meters, no one would look carefully enough to spot the barrel of a sniper rifle out of a closed window.

"You think we can pull it off in ten minutes, max?" Marks laughed from beside Wagner; despite the situation, he still retained his cool and humor.

Wagner didn't seem to share Marks' mood. "We have no choice," Wagner whispered.

"Lighten up," Marks grinned, "Not everything hinges on a sniper, you know, although I admit you'll be shooting more than you're used to."

On the battlefield, snipers did not actually fire their rifle all that much. Rather, they acted more as scouts that reported to headquarters via radio of enemy activities. A rifle was not the sniper's most deadly weapon, a radio was. From his concealed position, a sniper could call for air strikes and mortar bombardments against regiments of enemy troops as opposed to picking off enemy stragglers and being exposed. However, they obviously could not call for two missiles to be delivered into Bright Hill. If Wagner's position had to be compromised, fine; he was going to take all the shots he could, however.

"I'll do what I can," Wagner nodded as he heard chopper blades from outside. Wagner looked slightly to the right; he could see blinking lights from a UH-60 chopper moving in towards Bright Hill. Apparently, its IFF checked out; the SAM sites did not fire.

"Looks like the President's pumpkin is still a carriage and right on time," Marks grinned as he zoomed in with his binoculars and confirmed that it was Sea Goblin, "Showtime, Chris."

"Right," Wagner whispered and aimed at the sniper on the left.

The plan that Schneider had filled him on was simple. If they were unlucky, all three snipers were going to be looking at the helicopter when it landed, although they would have been required to continue and look out for snipers. Although Harling wore a Marine officer dress uniform over a tuxedo he had hastily put on during the ride, someone could possibly still see, and Schneider had no intention of walking into the killzone of three cautious snipers at the same time. Wagner would have to take out at least one while the infiltration team handled the rest. There was one sniper Wagner could not see from his position, and they had agreed that one would be given to the infiltration team.

Wagner breathed softly as Sea Goblin stopped right over Bright Hill, hovering over it, as it began its ten meter descent down to the roof. Watching, waiting...

"Sniper on the left is turning to watch the chopper," Marks warned as he watched the scene, "Suggest you take him out first."

Wagner tilted his sniper rifle around, looked at the sniper on the left. Indeed, the sniper had turned around to see what was on the helicopter. They probably wouldn't be too alarmed; any helicopter that wasn't shot down had clearance. Still, it appeared that the sniper on the left wanted to check, and had turned around. Wagner set his sights on him, had his chest in his crosshairs, and began to put the necessary five pounds into the trigger to fire.

Somewhere in the back of his head, Wagner idly hoped the man who was about to be hit with a tranquilizer dart from two hundred meters didn't mind a little nap.

2140 Hours, December 30, 2010 (Eastern Standard Time)
Bright Hill, Oured, Osea

Rainer was standing by the open door the Sea Goblin as it began its landing on the three-story white complex known as Bright Hill, roughly shaped like a capital "T". Watching intently, he waited for Sea Golbin to land, one hand on the handrail running horizontally next to the doorframe, the other on his modified tranquilizer M9. From his position, he could see only one sniper, the one he knew Wagner could not hit. Unfortunately for Rainer, the sniper was turning around to see who was in the helicopter. Fortunately for him, the rifle in the snipers hands had yet to turn around.

Rainer waited until he felt three soft bounces from the helicopter, an indicator that all three wheels of Sea Goblin had touched down safely on the roof, before whipping his M9 to bear. Now that all the factors that could've thrown off his aim were gone, Rainer had a much better chance of hitting a target.

Contrary to popular belief, pistols were actually worth a damn. In close-quarters, urban situations, the pistol was reasonably accurate, and high-caliber pistol rounds carried more punch than an assault rifle rounds. Besides, there was no better weapon to wield, and it was a quick draw that Rainer needed. The sniper he was aiming at was no more than twenty feet away.

The sniper saw the motion of the gun coming up, the barrel pointed at him. Instead of turning the sniper around, though, the sniper began to move as he reached into his pocket, undoubtedly for his pistol sidearm...

Tranquilizer guns were meant to be silent, and Rainer hardly heard the firing of the pistol. As trained, Rainer fired twice. At medium range distances, the technique was better known as a double-tap, firing two bullets in quick succession to cause more lethal damage to an opponent, and to absorb part of the recoil. At long-range, however, two bullets increased the chances that one of his bullets would connect with a target. He remembered the drill instructor pounding the words into his head during training, "Three shots are for wussies!" He wasn't sure if three shots were for wussies or not, but he did know that three shots threw off the balance of the gun and made the third shot less likely to hit. Two shots would do.

This first shot missed, striking where the sniper had been before, at the edge of the roof. Seth had been tracking his movements, however, and tilted the pistol to the left just as the pistol began to pull backwards into his hand in response to the first shot. The second shot balanced the recoil a bit, and connected with the sniper in the gut. Right beside Rainer, Helsrang also fired two shots in quick succession right after Rainer. Helsrang was Rainer's backup; in the scenario that Rainer missed, Helsrang would quickly take over. Both of Helsrang's shots connected with the chest. The chemicals in the darts quickly made their way through the bloodstream and into the heart in a matter of milliseconds; the sniper dropped to the ground immediately, unconscious.

From the other side of the chopper, Schneider and Jennings had also zeroed in onto their sniper, who was caught completely unaware. Schneider, Jennings' backup, didn't even need to fire a shot; both of Jennings' shot connected with the head, and the sniper was instantly asleep.

The four Marines piled out of the helicopter quickly as they sought cover beside its metal components, leaning out from behind them to expose as little target area as possible. Schneider and Helsrang swept their rear to make sure there were no additional threats, while Rainer and Jennings targeted the final sniper...

In the pale moonlight, Rainer and Jennings could see there was no need to fire. A tranquilizer dart was firmly implanted into the sniper's chest, courtesy Wagner, and the sniper was slumped backwards on the roof. Rainer and Jennings stepped out from their cover and swept the remaining areas of the roof. It was clear.

Rainer tapped a small button on his radio, which soon emitted a small beep to Schneider's radio. Two beeps from Helsrang and Jennings soon followed after. When radio silence became a necessity, Sea Goblin resorted to using simple burst transmissions to get the point across. It was barely possible to hear, and hard to track with radar. In this instance, it told Schneider that the roof was clear.

"Derlude, Will," Schneider ordered, "Stack up against the entrance. Seth, you're with me. Cover the President, stay low."

The team acknowledged the order as Helsrang and Jennings quickly moved up to the only roof entrance, a door at the bottom of the staircase going down below the roof's surface. They quickly stacked up, one man on either side, thus providing as little target area as possible while cross-covering their blind spots and increasing their line of fire. The door was closed, but whoever opened it would get a very nasty surprise. It was far more effective to defend a position with automatic weapons, but, under Harling's orders, they still had their modified M9s in hand.

Schneider and Rainer, meanwhile, moved back to the helicopter, where Harling was, crouching low on the floor of Sea Goblin. Schneider had told him to remain out of sight until the coast was clear. Schneider gave Harling a nod, Harling returned it, and then the President quickly got out of the chopper. Rainer immediately took the President's arm and escorted him to the stairs, keeping both of their bodies low. It wasn't difficult; Sea Goblin's rotors were still spinning, and the two instinctively ducked down to avoid being blown away by the powerful wind.

Schneider turned to the cockpit. "You two are giving us radio support," he said, "I'm counting on you."

In the two-seater cockpit of Sea Goblin, Webster and Lee nodded silently. With the blueprints of Bright Hill on Sea Goblin's computer, Webster and Lee would keep track of the team's movements and advise new routes if they had to be taken. They were also responsible for being the proxy between the infiltration team and Jordan's Secret Service team that would soon be patched in. Lee had also tapped into the network and had promised that security cameras inside Bright Hill would play rollbacks for ten minutes, meaning they would play images that happened a while ago. Not only could Sea Goblin and the President not be seen, no one would immediately think that the cameras were malfunctioning. More importantly, however, was that Webster and Lee were the only ones in possession of their lethal M4A1 carbines; if anyone wanted to try a raid on Bright Hill and stop the President, they had full permission to unless a barrage of assault rifle bullets from an elevated position. For now, however, Lee had to take off once more and land on the helipad at ground level beside Bright Hill, so that the UH-60 carrying Nikanor could land on the roof.

Schneider quickly ran to join up with his team, all of them stacked up against the closed metal door with their modified M9s at the ready. The President was safely one meter behind the team, out of harm's way. A shake of Jennings' head told Schneider that the door was locked. A quick look at the lock showed that it had an extra plate of metallic covering over it, meaning it was impossible to open the door by insering a KA-BAR into the keyhole. Understanding, Schneider quickly stepped close to the lock and shouldered his MP5SD6.

While there were many variants of the popular MP5, the MP5SD6 was one of the only six submachine gun variants that incorporated an internal suppressor. Not only was it silent, it could fire without sacrificing its base characteristics. They also boasted retractable stocks, which allowed the Marines to adapt at will. MP5s were known for their accuracy and reliability, and that was what Sea Goblin needed at the moment.

Schneider set the firing mode to three-round burst, and quickly fired at the lock. Each gunshot sounded as loud as someone clapping underwater, although the sound of bullets striking the lock made more noise. The deed was done, however, and three rounds shattered the inner workings of the lock. Schneider quickly kicked the door open and rolled aside. As expected, however, the staircase leading down was clear. Sea Goblin did not eliminate the possibility that the sound may have attracted attention, however, so they kept their position for thirty seconds. When it became clear that they were unnoticed, they proceeded down the stairs slowly.

The team's headset crackled once before a familiar voice came through the earphones. "Sir?" a voice said, "This is Agent Jordan, I'm currently being patched through by your helicopter, Sea Goblin. Can you hear me?"

Harling, who wore an earpiece instead of a headset, quietly spoke into the microphone built into his collar. "I copy, Aaron," Harling whispered, "What's your situation?"

"We just passed through Bright Hill security, sir, and we're inside the building. Three other agents and myself. Sea Goblin just sent a copy of your projected path to my cell phone. We'll clear the hallways outside your office."

"Understood," Schneider answered for the President, "We've begun to make our infiltration as well. We'll keep your team posted."

Sea Goblin's plan required for a seamless transition from the roof to the office without anyone ever noticing. However, the doors connecting to the staircase led the hallways connecting the officers of Bright Hill workers; at nine forty-five at night, it was doubtful that they have gone home yet. They could not pass through the hallways without being seen, so there was another option. One of the doors led what could be considered the Bright Hall's attic. Although it was technically the empty section where the center pillar of the building connected with the roof and distributed the building's weight evenly, it also connected the staircase they were in to another staircase, which would, in turn, lead to the private apartments on the first floor, usually reserved for heads of state who decided to show up on a visit to Bright Hill. No foreign diplomats were logged in, so they figured it would be relatively empty. From there, Sea Goblin would have to enter a maintenance hallway, take a cargo elevator up to the third floor, and traverse through the hallways that would eventually lead to the President's office.

Closing the door behind him, Schneider looked at the rest of his team, which had secured the staircase. They all gave him the nod. All clear so far.

"Alright," Schneider whispered, "Let's move."

2143 Hours, December 30, 2010 (Eastern Standard Time)
Bright Hill, Oured, Osea

While Sea Goblin had to traverse through a long path without alerting anyone, Agent Jordan had a slightly different mission: Diverting security away from the projected path Sea Goblin would have to go through, or put them out of commission. For that, Jordan had split his team into two.

With Jordan was Agent Max Cochrane, a young recruit that had been under Jordan's tutelage for a year. Formerly a member of Oured SWAT, Cochrane had proved his worth when he silently took down four bank robbers one after another after a stealth insertion into the bank. It was this incident that led to the Secret Service to seek him out and employ him. Compared to the other two agents Jordan had managed to find, however, Cochrane was less experienced, which was why Jordan wanted Cochrane by his side where he could keep an eye on the younger agent. However, Cochrane instinctively trusted Jordan, which was why Jordan let him in on the mission; eight months ago, Cochrane stuck with Jordan during a temporary military crisis involving the executive branch and the President. When Jordan wanted to pull off an off-the-book arrest of General Jeremiah Hawking, who opposed the President's peace policy and became the center stage embarrassment of the crisis, he informed the agents under his command, without stating the reason, that he would be arresting the General off-the-books. Many of the Secret Service agents began backing out, thinking Jordan was insane, but Cochrane had volunteered almost immediately. He deserved Jordan's trust, that much Jordan knew.

With them on a tight schedule, Jordan didn't even have time to explain what was going on. He merely told all three agents that security in certain sectors needed to be disabled, and sent them to their positions. He regretted putting his men on a need-to-know basis, but they were running short on time. But these were men who would follow him to the death, and Jordan knew it.

Upon such short notice, Jordan could not reach the armories in time, and each agent was only equipped with their standard sidearm, a silenced Sig Sauer P226 HSP. Then, again, they were not going up against terrorists, so Jordan figured that if they carried more firepower, they may as well start a raid on Bright Hill. The P226 would have to do.

The two teams of Secret Service agents had to patrol the areas that Sea Goblin and the President would have to pass through, and divert or disable security there. Two other agents had to patrol the office areas, a section of Bright Hill that connected the two staircases Sea Goblin would be going through, and make sure that no one walked into the staircases to see a bunch of battle-clad Marines. Jordan and Cochrane had to ensure that the apartments, the maintenance corridors, and the hallways leading up to the President's office were cleared. They were told not to worry about cameras, so that was one thing off their minds.

As there were no VIPs checked in tonight, the apartments were quite devoid of life. Cleaners had already done their job, and there was an agent that made very infrequent checks as he patrolled the hall. He seemed to be bored out of his mind as he whistled a tune and walked about. Jordan nodded at Cochrane, who nodded back. The two walked down the hall towards the agent.

"Excuse me," Jordan called out for the agent's attention and pulled out his badge as soon as they were within a meter's distance, "Agent Aaron Jordan. I'm here to supervise and confirm that..."

There was no need for Jordan to finish his sentence. As the agent turned around to put his attention on Jordan, Cochrane had walked right behind him, took out the P226 from inside his jacket, held it by the barrel, and delivered a swift chop under the agent's ear. The agent let out a short cry before falling unconscious to the floor. Jordan swore inwardly and quickly motioned for Cochrane to pull the body into one of the apartments and to hide it there. Cochrane frantically pulled on the limp body, dragging it across the carpet. The sound of a door opening came from around the other corner on the other side of the hallway, and footsteps followed. He had just turned the corner, the body disappearing behind the wall...

...Another agent came from around the corner on the other side of the hallway, a frown on his face as he saw Jordan. He obviously did not know who Jordan was. He didn't pay attention to Jordan at first, rather, looked around to see if there was anything out of place. Finally, he settled his gaze on Jordan. "You hear anything just now?" the agent asked, assuming Jordan was the agent on duty. Jordan gave a shrug of his shoulders in response, trying to seem as calm as possible despite the fact that the agent almost caught Cochrane pulling a body out of sight. The agent seemed to accept this explanation as he walked back around the corner, disappeared. The sound of the door closing behind him was a welcome relief as Jordan let out a sigh of relief, trying to still the heart threatening to jump out of his chest. He looked back just in time to see Cochrane reappeared from around his corner, joining Jordan.

"Stashed him in the cabinet," Cochrane whispered, "He's out cold."

Jordan nodded and then pointed toward the door on their left that led to the maintenance corridors. Jordan walked towards it, pushed the doors open, and walked through; Cochrane followed suit. Hardly anyone prowled the maintenance corridors other than electricians and plumbers, but they didn't have night shifts. Usually, security in these areas would be given to security cameras, but Private Lee already had that under control. Ensuring that the maintenance corridors were clear, Jordan clicked the button to call a cargo elevator, which was on the third floor. The light above indicated it was coming down.

"Nervous?" Jordan asked Cochrane, noticing that the younger agent was making a very visible effort to calm himself and still his breathing.

"I'm okay, sir," Cochrane returned an uneasy smile, "I mean, when you told me we're coming up to Bright Hill, I was thinking we're coming to arrest the President this time..."

Jordan laughed at that, understanding Cochrane's thinking.

"Agent Jordan," a voice, definitely that of a Marine, whispered into Jordan's earpiece, "Status report."

"We've cleared the guest apartments," Jordan spoke quietly back, "We're currently inside the maintenance corridors and are waiting for the cargo elevator to clear a way to the President's office."

"Understood. I'm letting you know we're changing paths. We're going to the left emergency exit through the attic; one of our Marines guarding the office areas thinks he might have been spotted, so we're regrouping."

"Understood," Jordan whispered, "We'll be waiting."

There was a soft ding, and the elevator doors opened, empty. Jordan and Cochrane stepped in, Jordan pressed the button for the third floor, the elevator doors closed, and the car went upwards.

"We're not really arresting the President this time, are we?" Cochrane asked half-jokingly. Apparently, he was pretty anxious to know about the details of the mission.

"No," Jordan shook his head, "The President is currently in the process of infiltrating Bright Hill with a squad of Marines. He can't be seen, and our job is to make sure security is disabled so no one sees the President."

Jordan wasn't sure if Cochrane made any sense out of that, as Cochrane paused for a moment seeming more confused than startled, but he just shrugged and seemed pretty nonchalant about it all. There was another ding, and the elevator doors parted on the third floor. Jordan and Cochrane walked out into the corridors beyond the doors.

The third floor, holding the Office of the President, was comprised of not only an office but a series of corridors that crisscrossed each other. The corridors themselves led to separate smaller offices for high-ranking individuals and aides within the executive branch, but the building had been designed with defense in mind; the crisscrossing made it easier for the Secret Service agents, who were more familiar with the topography and architecture of the area, to outflank any possible intruders. Jordan knew that there were five Secret Service agents, each holding a P226 and a MP5K, patrolling the corridors at any given time, no more, no less. Five was a decent number for a defensive maneuver, and it also allowed the agents to recognize each other easily; it prevented anyone posing as a Secret Service agent from passing through. Another problem was that none of their weapons were silenced, meaning if a firefight broke out, there were going to be problems.

That made Jordan and Cochrane's job considerably more difficult. It meant the two were outnumbered, outgunned, and would be spotted instantly. As a ranking officer, Jordan would seem like an officer checking up on things, but the agents would still ask tough questions, as required of them.

Jordan made a cutting motion to Cochrane, meaning they should move. Cochrane nodded, followed up. Jordan pulled out his silenced P226; the agents here had their MP5Ks in their hands, meaning Jordan would have no time for a quick draw duel with all the ends stacked against him if he needed to draw from inside his jacket. Inside his mind, though, the gears kept running; how was he going to put five agents out of commission without killing them?

"No collateral damage," Jordan whispered, "Do not shoot to kill. Aim for the limbs or other non-vital areas."

Cochrane gave a nod as he whipped out his own P226, but even Jordan knew how difficult it was. Never mind the limbs were thin targets to begin with; years of training had stuck it into their head that one always aimed at center mass, increasing the chances of a hit on a vital organ. They continued walking down the corridor, their footsteps silent on blue carpet.

Jordan paused as they reached their first intersections of the hallways, one of many on the third floor. He pressed himself against the wall, stacking up against it, and Cochrane quickly mimicked the motion behind him. Jordan risked a peek past the wall; he saw one agent with a MP5K standing post further down the hall fifteen meters away. He was looking out one of the windows intently, as if sure there was a threat, and, after a few seconds, turned around to begin walking down the corridor towards Jordan; Jordan ducked back behind the wall.

Jordan turned to Cochrane, stilling his breathing. He raised one finger, paused, then pointed at Cochrane, pointed further down the corridor they were stacked up in, and held a palm up. Cochrane nodded as he comprehended the order and pointed his 226 past Jordan's chest. There was one hostile coming down from the right; Cochrane's orders were to cover Jordan from their fore. Jordan, stacked up against the wall, would have a clear view of their left, and would be prepared to ambush the agent on their right.

Twenty agonizing seconds passed by as muffled footsteps, shoes on carpet, approached. Jordan willed his heartbeat to slow, held his breath. He counted another five seconds...

A shoe appeared in the peripheral of Jordan's vision, and Jordan spun around, pointing the P226 at the agent's head that appeared just a few milliseconds afterwards. "Freeze," Jordan whispered as he pressed the suppressor of the P226 against the agent's neck. The agent froze, calm and stoic, but obedient, as he felt cold metal against his neck. Cochrane then turned left, pointed his P226 and covering for Jordan in that area. Now that Jordan had turned around, Jordan could see the front and right, so Cochrane knew to instinctively cover the left. Jordan hadn't given those orders to Cochrane, but Cochrane knew well enough to improvise, a talent Jordan appreciated.

"I'm taking your MP5," Jordan whispered to the agent, "Don't move." He slowly and gently reached into the agent's hands, careful of his distance and the error margin; one wrong move could end up with the agent shoving a knee into Jordan's kidney. But the agent played nice, and didn't struggle as Jordan relieved him of the excess weight that was a submachine gun. Jordan slowly handed the MP5 to Cochrane, who took it.

"Alright," Jordan whispered as he grabbed the agent firmly by the shoulder, "Come with me, quietly." Jordan pulled the agent further back into the hall, out of sight from anyone who would show up from the left or right. Cochrane pulled back with them, his pistol pointed at the front. Jordan then plucked the P226 from inside the agent's jacket and gave him a little shove backwards as he spun the suited man around, making him walk down the hallway under his own power, but keeping the barrel pointed at his back.

"Keep walking forward," Jordan ordered quietly, "And don't make a sound."

"What's this all about?" the agent whispered, but obediently walked down the hall, "I know you, you're Agent Aaron..."

"I said not to make a sound," Jordan hissed and pressed the the barrel even harder into the agent's back. The agent didn't make any expression or show any sign of fear, but he followed orders. Jordan continued to lead him further down the hall until they had reached a door, seemingly leading to an office.

"Unlock the door," Jordan ordered, knowing that all five agents stationed here were required to keep the keys to all the offices on this floor except for the President's own to complete their security coverage, "Slowly."

The agent began to reach into his right pocket, but Jordan suddenly interrupted. "Wait, don't move," Jordan snapped, "Hands on your head, now." The agent hesitated, then obeyed. Jordan reached into the right pocket. There was a pocketknife inside, but the keys were also there. Jordan confiscated the pocketknife, then passed the agent the keys.

"Unlock the door," Jordan hissed. The agent did so, and, in ten seconds, the door was unlocked. That being done, Jordan delivered a swift chop to the agent's neck with the handle of the P226; the agent dropped to the ground without a hassle or sound. Jordan quickly pulled the man in and closed the door behind him. He didn't lock it; Secret Service agents stationed here didn't open office doors unless they had to. The unconscious agent wouldn't be discovered.

He turned around, saw that Cochrane had been covering for him all this time. He gave Cochrane a nod of approval as he stepped forward and began moving on again. The two turned left this time; the sentry on the right had been disposed of, and Jordan had no intention of walking down a hall straight in the middle to be outflanked four times over.

They had reached the end of the left hallway, with only one turn available to them, right, when they pressed themselves against a wall again. Jordan risked another peek; he saw another agent patrolling the area fifteen meters away from where they stood, slowly headed away from Jordan's direction with his back to them. He took a look towards the way they came from; it was empty. The gesture alone, however, spoke volumes to Cochrane; considering that their back was cleared, it meant, for the time being, Cochrane only needed to cover their twelve o'clock. The two quickly and silently moved down the hall.

Ten seconds later, they had managed to catch up to the agent. Like before, Jordan pressed the silencer of the P226 against the agent's back. "Freeze," he ordered.

Unlike before, the agent didn't freeze.

Whirling around, the agent brought the MP5K to bear; for just a moment, Jordan was applying almost enough pressure to the trigger to launch a bullet into the agent's internal organs. Then, just before he did so, he remembered his orders of there not being any collateral damage.

Shit, Jordan thought as he held onto the agent's right arm, preventing him from pointing the MP5K at Jordan. The two struggled with each other, each trying to gain leverage and establish their footwork. Cochrane, covering Jordan, could not get a clear shot as he struggled to reposition himself to no avail. The agent purposefully pulled the trigger on his MP5K, puncturing at least three holes into the wall. Jordan swore as he forced the agent to the ground, but the two grabbing onto each other meant Jordan took the fall as well. The MP5K was not silenced for a reason. Any firefight would gain the attention of the other agents in the area, and soon, three other agents were going to bear down on them. With Jordan on the ground, busy wrestling another agent, and Cochrane alone in a firefight, Jordan knew they didn't have too much of a chance.

Yet as Jordan struggled, Cochrane seemed to be able to collect his thoughts and stay calm. He quickly rolled sideways, pressing himself against the wall to present the smallest target area possible. Cochrane figured that it was very likely the remaining three agents were going to appear from the front, and they wouldn't be able to take a good shot immediately, with Jordan and the agent wrestling on the ground. Cochrane crouched, aimed his P226, and waited.

Jordan was not having a fun time struggling on the floor with the agent. The agent was strong, an investment of spending time in the gym. Already, the barrel of the MP5K was coming very close to Jordan's face, and the agent had successfully pinned Jordan's right hand to the ground; he could not fire with his P226. Both their legs were kicking randomly, which really didn't do more than inflict pain upon each other's shins.

Jordan tensed for a moment, then lunged himself at the agent while letting go of his right hand. The agent was surprised as he MP5K came down to bear, but it was no longer pointing in Jordan's direction, as Jordan had gotten too close for his liking. The trigger was pulled anyways, though, and three bullets struck the wall very close to where Cochrane was. Cochrane flinched once as splinters threatened to hit his eyes, but he still held his position with undying faith. Jordan took his chance, and his free right hand slammed an open-handed attack into the agent's chest, right into the middle of his rib cage. The agent attempted to gasp in a world gone airless as his diaphragm collapsed. Jordan felt the hold on the agent stiffen inhumanly and fought back against the pain, but the agent went loose a moment later, letting go of both his MP5K and Jordan as he reached for his chest and clawed. Jordan slammed a fist into his neck for a good measure, and it was good night for him.

One agent had appeared around the corner just as Jordan finished up with his wrestling match, but Cochrane pulled the trigger twice. Bullets sailed right over Jordan as he got up. The first shot missed, but the second shot managed to strike the Secret Service agent in the arm. The agent cried out as his MP5K dropped to the ground and he clutched at his bleeding arm, but the final two agents turned the corner just as Jordan managed to get to his feet and aim his P226. All of them froze and pointed their guns at each other in the standoff, didn't move.

Jordan, however, knew they were at a disadvantage. The agents held submachine guns and had three men, although one was wounded. Jordan and Cochrane both held P226s with only one way out, backwards. Definitely not very good odds.

Until the door to the emergency staircase on the left right between the two groups opened, and two Marines appeared behind the doors to sweep the area. Both Marines saw the standoff, and stepped out, aiming their weapons. Another two Marines quickly filed out as well, pointed the M9s at both groups.

"Hold, hold!" Jordan said, throwing his hands into the air, "We're with the President, don't fire! I'm Agent Aaron Jordan!"

"Who's out there?" a familiar voice called out from behind the emergency doors. The voice was very familiar to the Secret Service agents, who showed a slight lapse in attentiveness as they turned towards the door.

"Five Secret Service agents, Mr. President," one of the Marines with the insignia of a First Lieutenant replied quietly, "One of them claims he is Agent Jordan."

From behind the doors, a lone figure stepped out in between the four Marines. Jordan didn't feel like he should be surprised, but he was, like the other four agents, Cochrane as well. Here was a man they had not seen for months, and, in the most awkward of circumstances, he now stood before them after making his grand appearance through an emergency exit in the middle of a firefight amongst Secret Service agents, escorted by a Marine force.

They were standing before President Vincent Harling.

Harling took the situation in a stride as he looked both ways at the five stunned agents. He merely looked at the five of them, seemed quite calm about it, and smiled. Then, quite good naturally, said, "Gentlemen, holster your weapons, please."

One of the agents holding a MP5K hesitated. "Mr. President, please stay back," he said without moving, "These two agents had been..." Training had dictated him to cover the President without further ado, but nothing, so far, had been making any sense, and he had a feeling that he would be gunned down by the Marines should he make any strange moves.

Harling smiled and held up his hands. "I know they did," he interrupted, "I authorized it."

The three agents looked quite shocked as they stared at the President.

Harling turned to Schneider. "Have someone treat the wounded agent, please," Harling said.

"Yes, Mr. President," Schneider replied, then nodded to Rainer, who then holstered his M9 and moved over to the agent who had his arm shot as he pulled out a small first aid kit.

"It's going to be a very confusing story," Harling admitted to the agents, "But the Secret Service has a duty to safeguard the President of Osea. Now, I am in need of that duty. In ten minutes, I must make a broadcast to the world, and, until that time, no one must know about my presence here in Bright Hill, or Oured, for that matter. I need people who are loyal to me personally. Are you all willing to work with me on this, please?"

The agents hesitated for a moment as they stared at Harling, Jordan and Cochrane, then Harling again in utter confusion. Finally, they aimed their MP5Ks back at the ground, apparently remembering that their only duty was to safeguard the President. The President had given the okay, so that was all that mattered. The remaining two agents stood at attention, regaining their professional composure and calm.

"Welcome back to Bright Hill, Mr. President," one of the standing agents nodded, "Allow me to escort you back to your office."

"Thank you," Harling gave a smile for which he was well-known for as he followed the agents down the corridors to his office. The Marines began to follow suit, followed by Jordan and Cochrane.

"One moment," Schneider said as he stopped, "Rainer, take the agent to one of the rooms and bandage him there. Agent Jordan, Agent Cochrane, shut down all elevators but one that lead to this floor, and barricade as many staircases as possible. Helsrang, Jennings, go help them. After that, put up a defense point in front of the remaining elevator. Get a move on. Now."

"Yes, sir," Rainer and Jennings said, and Helsrang lazily moved towards Agent Jordan. Jordan nodded and motioned to Helsrang.

"I'll take care of powering down the elevators," Jordan said to Helsrang, then turned to Cochrane, "Cochrane, show Second Lieutenant Helsrang the supply room and start barricading as much emergency exits as possible; I'll join you soon."

"Yes, sir," Cochrane nodded, then turned to Helsrang, "This way, Second Lieutenant."

Meanwhile, the President and his escort detail had reached the door leading to his secretary's office, and then, consequently, his own office. The Secret Service agents opened the door and Harling stepped in...

...And was greeted by the scene of his secretary, half-nude, getting comfortable on his desk with a Bright Hill worker. The two showed plenty of flesh when the President came in, and seemed to have reached a climax. Apparently, here was a man who thought the President was going to be away for the long run.

"Mr. President!" the secretary let out an embarrassed cry as he tried to stand up and pull up his pants. The Bright Hill worker yelped as she quickly disappeared behind the desk, trying to pull down her skirt and button up her blouse. The secretary stood at attention, obviously deeply embarrassed and infinitely scared. He was caught indulging right in front of the Office of the President in front of President Harling himself. He was going to get fired for sure, and it would take something that was nothing short of a miracle played in part by Heaven that he would get a decent job afterwards...

But, instead, Harling merely raised his eyebrows and smiled lightly. "Mr. Lemming?" Harling asked.

"Yes, sir?" the secretary's voice was high-pitched and very uncertain as he stared at the President with very wide eyes. From below the desk, there was a frightful whimper.

"Are you ready to do you job?" Harling inquired.

Lemming did his hard not to seem confused, but it was difficult. "Sir?" he asked, then corrected himself as quickly as he could, "I mean, yes, Mr. President, I am."

"Good," Harling said with a smile, "An UH-60 helicopter will be landing at Bright Hill soon; I'll be giving them clearance, but I need someone to go and escort them up. They are not to be questioned, and you will grant them full anonymity and protection as you escort them to my office without delay. There's a reporter and a cameraman from the Osean Broadcasting Company outside Bright Hill; I'd like for you to receive them afterwards. They have been told that General Bradley has put out word for a press conference, and that is what you will tell them."

"Yes, Mr. President," Lemming said, "I'll...I'll get to that right away!" With that, he quickly ran out of the office as he hurriedly buttoned his shirt.

"And Mr. Lemming?" Harling called out from behind him.

"Mr. President?" Lemming turned around instantly, almost missing a stride and tripping.

"You may want to consult with my Marines and Secret Service agents as to which elevator they're leaving active," Harling smiled, and, with that, walked into his office, followed by the Marines and Secret Service agents who moreorless ignored the woman hiding behind the desk.

What they did not see, however, was the woman pulling out a cell phone and frantically dialing a number. Within moments, that cell phone was connected to an office at the Haven.

Author's Note: It's been a while since I've actually written anything that was strictly military. So the jump back into "The Battle of Sudentor" required me to reread a lot of military tactics and SOPs, not to mention a lot of visits to Wikipedia. But it was fun; I admit that I haven't used a lot of weapons that I would've preferred (Marines generally don't use Mk23 Mod 0 pistols, better known by MGS fans as the SOCOM pistol), but I'll find ways to find more ways to put in weapons I like into the next few chapters.

The mission "Aces" in Ace Combat 5 was possibly the greatest turning point in the game. It was a dramatic and wonderful moment in video game storytelling, and definitely one of my favorite events in any video game, despite some of the cheesy and less-than-smooth lines. However, I wanted to take a different approach to the mission in the "Battle of Sudentor" rather than lord upon the Razgriz, so, instead, I've elaborated more on what happens around them. For example, I've shown the Marines retaking Bright Hill, a part of the story that was implied, but never shown, in the game. There will also be some more political intrigue that was never in the game, and a reference to Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception, as well. Of course, during the actual battle, I don't want to just focus on the Razgriz, but also on the ground forces that managed to capture the SOLG control center, as well as the fighter pilots who defected to the Razgriz.

So stay tuned, and I'll hopefully finish this short story.