Bob took the ag-Cat up to two thousand feet and moved through some gentle maneuvers to get a feel for “the stick”. It was as stable as a 14’ jon-boat on a farm pond.
Then he did some aerobatics* that were strictly forbidden in the plane he usually flew. Doing aerobatics was a quick way to void the warranty on the plane.
However, crop-dusting is non-stop aerobatics. Flying feet off the deck and then yanking the plane into a three-G climb to clear the power-wires at the end of the field. Climb straight up and hair-pin turn just before stall. Yank back on the yoke just shy of a crash landing on the way back down.
And doing it all-day-long.
Yeah, the bi-wing, ag-Cat was a hell of a plane to throw around, even with thousands of pounds of liquid aboard. The tank was filled with baffles to keep it from sloshing and was mounted in-line with the wings so changes in ballast had little impact on the handling characteristics.
Still, Bob believed that repetitions were the key to survival.
After a high-altitude pass over the advancing, Hard-Timer’s columns, Bob dropped down behind them and approached at 150 knots. He was not flying directly up the road but was flying a several hundred yards north of it. Bob’s hope was that the prevailing southwest wind would mislead the column into thinking he was farther away than was the fact.
The noise was not noticed by the Hard-Timers ensconced in their truck.
Bob's fixed landing gear cleared the tops of the tallest trucks by twenty feet.
Bob had already passed over the column and was fading away in their windshields as the oily fog settled down over the trucks as they first noticed his presence.
His mission gave him the heebie-jeebies. The bright boys at the University insisted the material was perfectly safe until the second part and the catalyst was added.
Only then did it become VX. They did leave out one tiny detail, though. The hemoglobin in red blood cells was an adequate, if slow, catalyst.
One enemy column "painted" and two more to go.
Thibodeaux was spooked.
Thibodeaux had hunted deer since he was eight. Bag limits are very generous in Louisiana and not every person in the bayous respected even those liberal laws.
Thibodeaux had been on countless hunts were deer were run by hounds. The swamps were so thick and impassible that it just made sense to send a sixty-five pound hound in to flush out the deer.
Those experiences in Thibodeaux’s formative years ingrained in him the basics of lines-of-drift and fields-of-fire.
What Thibodeaux saw chilled his blood. Somebody had been building bunkers east of the Buffer-Zone that overlooked all of the potential lines-of-drift. The implications were crystal clear.
In one regard, that made his immediate job much, much easier.
Thibodeaux merely had to point a team of observers in a general direction and a suitable, pre-built observation post had already been optimally sited, excavated and reinforced.
The spooky part was that the enemy undoubtedly knew where every one of those bunkers were.
That would not be an issue if the Buffer-Zone defenders came boiling out of the Buffer-Zone intent on attacking the rear of the convoy heading west toward Capiche and Delta Township.
It would be a problem, however, if Sayed’s offense pushed the Buffer-Zone defenders out of the Buffer-Zone and into their fall-back positions.
Thibodeaux attemped to call “higher” and was not able to drill through. The batteries in his radio were almost dead.
After cursing, Thibodeaux snaked his way back to the main part of his squad. None of their radios were working, either.
Shaking the batteries out of the radios, Bruner said “Just regular alkaline batteries. I bet somebody recharged them and that they kept their charge long enough to sell them to the military as ‘new’.”
Thibodeaux shook his head in disgust. He was willing to bet Bruner was right.
By playing with different sets of batteries, they were able to mix-and-match one set of batteries that could reach Sayed. And then they turned off the radio to conserve those batteries.
Thibodeaux had two observation posts, the main one to the north and Thibodeaux and Andi in the south, manned during the daylight hours. He assumed that there would be enough noise to alert his people if the Buffer-Zone evacuated by night.
The two observation posts would communicate by whistling.
Sayed stalked around the war-room. “Absolutely not” he said to his Political Officer, Kristen Shomsky.
“I am within hours of a break-out. I will come back and support Ann Arbor after I fulfill my objectives.”
“The Hard-Timers pose an existential threat to Ann Arbor. You must withdraw and defend Ann Arbor” Shomsky explained to him.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah” Sayed said. While attending University, Sayed had heard the term “existential threat” nearly every day of his life.
The term means “viable and imminent threat to the very existence of...”
Sayed heard it applied to dozens of elected officials. He heard it applied to global warming. He heard it applied to genetically modified foods. He heard it applied to trans-fats and urban policing and synthetic fertilizers and the “factory farming” of meat.
Every one of those “existential threats” would have been seen as blessings by his people in Africa. They would have embraced them with prayers of joy. Those politician who were "an existential threat" were a hundred times less corrupt than the ones back home. The food (well, maybe not the pork) and the policing would have brought song and dancing to his drought and corruption plagued country.
If there was one term guaranteed to trigger Sayed’s animus, it was the term “existential threat”.
And the woman was disrespecting him in front of his war-council by bringing it up after he had already dismissed it.
Sayed said “I will send aid when I can spare it.”
Shomsky asked “Is that your final answer?”
Sayed stared at her the way a cobra stares at a pigeon. “I do not repeat myself.”
One of the roles of leadership is that leaders set the tone. Sayed treated women like fixtures or furniture. It was inevitable that others in his staff mimicked his disregard for women.
That is why his staff was completely surprised by the report from the .380 Bersa Thunder. It wasn’t that loud. The low-level Political Officer had pushed it into the back of Sayed’s neck just as she pulled the trigger. Nobody had noticed her until her gun went off.
Shomsky looked over at Mustafa Manzoor who had been General Sayed’s second-in-command and asked “General Manzoor, do you intend to order your troops to move to Ann Arbor to assist in the defense?”
Some people’s minds lock-up under stress. Others speed up. Manzoor’s was clocking at near the speed of light.
He knew that his personal Political Officer was in the meeting. She was not in his cone-of-vision. One part of his brain was reconstructing her whereabouts for the last minute in an attempt to calculate where she was now.
Another part of his brain, the sub-conscious part said “Don’t bother replaying the mental video. She is right behind you.”
Cues that were just beneath the reach of his conscious brain KNEW where she was. The hairs on the back of his neck rose.
Half a second after Shomsky asked Manzoor about his intentions, about as long as it took him to move his gaze from Sayed’s inert form to Shomsky’s face, Manzoor informed her “The lead elements of our support will be leaving the compound less than five minutes after this meeting is dismissed. We well send every asset at our disposal to relieve Ann Arbor. Every asset.”
Behind him, Manzoor heard the click of a handgun being de-cocked.
*Hat-tip to drail for correcting my usage of "acrobatics" when "aerobatics" was proper.