OPERATION UNCEASING APOLLO
Ravenshaw dashed up and Skyranger’s ramp and screamed, “Go go go!”
There was a lurching sensation as the Skyranger started to ascend, and Ran grasped one of the handles that ran along the craft’s passenger hold. He glanced towards Captain Ravenshaw, who was still staring intently at the train station the Skyranger was flying away from. He followed her gaze, watching it get smaller as the distance grew between them and a pulsing light started to fill its windows. After a few moments, the light intensified and spilled all around the station.
Even at the growing distance and over the drone of the Skyranger’s engine, Ran heard a dull thud from the train station. The lights in the station went dark, and then a few moments later there was a roar as the bomb detonated. A dome of yellow/green light appeared and destroyed the roof and quickly grew outward, consuming the whole station. Ran watched in horror as the dome of energy kept growing, consuming the train tracks and buildings around it. To Ran, it looked as if the dome was moving faster than Skyranger, and Ravenshaw shouted to the pilot, “Fly faster dammit!”
The aircraft started to shake dangerously, and Ran tightened his grip on the handle. The faint sounds of beeping drifted from the cockpit as the Skyranger stalled, and Ran felt lightness in his stomach as the Skyranger started to go into freefall. Suddenly, whatever energy had been detonated dissipated, leaving nothing but rubble underneath. The craft’s engines engaged once more, stopping the horrid freefall and returning flight. The light had left spots in Ran’s eyes, but even then he could see the rubble left in the explosion’s crater.
The night was quiet once more, broken only by the drone of the Skyranger’s engines. There was mechanical whirring sound as the Skyranger ramp closed, shutting out the night. Next to Ran, Ravenshaw slammed her fist against the craft’s hull and shouted, “God dammit!”
Ran stood there awkwardly as his squad leader vented her frustration as Thakilla moved about the cabin, treating the multiple wounds the squad had received. Hauling an aid bag off the wall of the Skyranger, he knelt down in front of Strawberry to treat the massive torso wounds the Thin Men had inflicted upon him. Feeling the rage radiating off of Ravenshaw, Ran sat next to Volkov on the bench. The two soldiers sat in silence for a few minutes, when Ran said, “I can’t believe how many Thin Men there were.”
“Probably intended to bog us down so we couldn’t reach the bomb in time,” replied Volkov. Ran grunted in agreement, not knowing what else to add. Volkov produced a phone from one of the pouches on him and showed it to Ran. “Chess?”
“Uh, sure. I’m not terribly good, though.”
“Neither am I,” replied Volkov, putting up the app. He made his move and passed the phone to Ran, who studied the board carefully before moving one of the pawns at random. “Do you think any civilians bought it in the explosion?” asked Ran.
“Lots of Thin Men, God willing,” replied Volkov.
The two soldiers passed the phone back and forth, continuing the chess game. Ran glanced up as Thakilla hauled the aid bag over to Sans Leon, whose arm had been burned. To Ran’s untrained eyes, it looked like a quick patch job but he kept his attention on the chess game, wondering if he was better than he thought or if Volkov was taking it easy on him. Thakilla quickly finished with Leon, and moved over to Ravenshaw, who initially rebuked them. The two soldiers had a terse conversation in low voices that ended with Thakilla exclaiming, “You are the ranking officer, but I am the medical officer, and you need treatment.”
Begrudgingly, Ravenshaw displayed her wounded arm to Thakilla. She threw an icy glance towards Ran who quickly lowered his head to look at the chess game. He moved his queen into a superb position, and passed the phone back to Volkov. Out of the corner of his eye, he looked over at Thakilla and Ravenshaw and saw that he had successfully treated her laser burn. He packed up his supplies into the bag and mounted it back on the wall, taking a seat directly across from Ran. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back, and Volkov passed the phone to Ran. “Checkmate, bud.”
“I… what… how?” sputtered Ran, taking the phone to examine the position, and saw that Volkov had taken a position that Ran didn’t even see. He passed the phone back, muttering, “I told you I wasn’t any good.”
“That’s alright. Again?”
Ran shook his head and Volkov slipped the phone back into his pouch. He took a swig from his canteen, looking around the compartment and seeing that everyone else was either sleeping or preoccupied, Ran said, “Screw it, let’s play again. We’ve got a lot of hours ahead of us.”
Volkov gave a wry grin and said, “Roger that. You’ll get better before we head back, don’t worry.”