It was dark. A faint orange glow illuminated the cargo hold of the C-130 Hercules gunship. The noise roared through me despite my combat earphones and the air was ice chilled at forty thousand feet. The black night was all that I could see through the tiny window opposite me. I double checked my kit. Chute in place, armour ready, oxygen good, pressure good, all systems go. The small tactical SatNav in my lap told us we were just crossing the edge of Europe, the Ural mountains, Russia. My pilot's voice crackled over the mic.
"Ten minutes to drop, final checks complete, mission commencing in T-minus ten."
I go over the intelligence reports in my head. The disks we retrieved from the Stalker's hideout suggested he'd be here. A secret rendez-vous with someone important, a deal to be made and negotiations to be carried out. He would be here. And I was going to greet him. This operation was off the cards, this wasn't a government order or under the jurisdiction of any of the other services. The pentagon didn't know jack about what I was doing here today. This was assassination. I'm here to kill the Stalker. Everyone else had better sit back and watch me.
"Five minutes to drop, oxygen mask on, prepare for jump."
A red light flicked on. Time to go soon I reckon. I stood up and moved towards the back of the holding bay. My active camouflage shimmered as I moved, colours shifting to match my background. I held on to a support handle hanging down beside me. I could've been on the Underground if you didn't know any better.
"Opening loading bay, all callsigns mission is a go."
The bay door folded open in front of me and I saw the sun just cresting the clouds. Dawn over the mountains from above the clouds. Now that's a view. The red light winked off and was replaced by a green bulb.
"Green light, GO GO GO. The Eagle is operational, pickup in T-minus two hours. Good luck and I'll see you on the flipside Mr. Lewis."
The air rushed up whipping through my flight suit. I kept an eye on my altimeter, altitude dropping fast, the timing had to be perfect for a HAHO (High Altitude High Opening) jump. Three. Two. One. Pull. The parachute deployed and hauled me back, the straps of my harness all jerking into me simultaneously. Never liked these parachute jumps anyway. The parachute itself was something unique. Wing-shaped and larger than normal, it was almost like a glider. And that was exactly the point. I had to glide the rest of the way to the target. Couldn't risk the plane getting too close in case radar triggered it and scared off my objective. I glanced up at the chute through my oxygen mask. Hegemann Tactical it said on it. Love that guy. Fricken genius. I pulled on the control handles and the chute tilted. My SatNav pointed me northeast. I glided towards my drop zone, an assassin falling with the rising sun.
* * *
I picked my way through the trees on the mountainside, keeping low and quiet as possible. In my right hand I held a carbon-steel laminate knife. Its edge glinted as if calling to me, but if all went to plan, my knife wouldn't be seeing any action today. I cleared the trees and reached a heath clearing looking over a dramatic precipice into a valley. This is it. I dropped to a crawl and moved to the edge of the cliff slowly. I very gently fashioned a hollow in the long grass for me to lie in. With active camo on and staying virtually motionless, I was as good as invisible unless someone stepped on me. I got out my pack and started to assemble my weapon, careful to keep dust and dirt off it. Firing mechanism, trigger, bolt action, barrell, body, stock, telescopic sights and bipod. Now this took me back. An Accuracy International Super Magnum. Baby of the Royal Marines and the SAS. And what a beautiful weapon you are. Seven kilos and one point two metres of pure sniper glory. I missed holding one of these.
I checked the time. One and a half hours til extraction, ten minutes til target arrival. The Stalker didn't seem like one to be off schedule so all I had to do now was wait. I got out my spotting scope and waited.
I didn't wait long. Ten minutes later a pair of choppers flying low dropped into a small clearing at the bottom of the valley. Both of them were equipped with radar jammers. Someone didn't want to be spotted. This had to be it. Both were civilian helicopters. I watched through my scope as four men got out or each chopper. Four caucasian males, dark suits, white shirts, diplomatic attire. The chopper had the French flag emblazoned on the side of it. Interesting, but irrelevant for now. The men from the other chopper wore combat uniform, balaclavas and goggles. The brassards on their shoulders bore the insignia of the daggers. The Stalker's men. One of them stepped forwards wearing a red beret with the same emblem pinned to it. That had to be him. He shook hands with the French man and they began talking. Target confirmed. Time to go to work.
My scope's laser range finder picked them to be about 1800 metres away. The valley was relatively sheltered so minimal wind interference. The morning had burnt off most of the dew and moisture in the air and the skies were clear. Perfect shooting conditions. I readied my rifle. I took out a box magazine and loaded it with a single round. I only had one shot. They'd all scatter the moment the first shot hit so there'd be little point trying to take a second. At these distances an irregularly moving target would be almost impossible to kill anyway. Besides, I wasn't planning on missing the first time. The Super Magnum has an effective range of over two kilometres in good conditions and can fire within millimetres of precision. I definitely wasn't planning on missing. I loaded the round. I felt the satisfying click as I set the working parts forward, the bolt action chambering the round and locking in place. I looked through my scope. My target swam into view between the crosshairs, his red beret like a beacon crying out 'shoot me, shoot me!' I'd be happy to oblige. Aim high, bullets aren't immune to gravity. I tweak my bipod to a slightly elevated position. Account for the turn of the earth, even a movement that's barely perceptible normally can make the difference between a kill and a wasted shot. I turn my body, aiming slightly off-centre from my target. Make yourself comfortable. I adjust the cheekpiece to my face, fitting it snug while I stare down my sights. Relax and enjoy the show. I breathe, slow and steady. Position stabilised, eyes on target, fire when ready. I watch him through my scope. Then pull the trigger.
The firing pin works forward and strikes the cartridge. The .338 Lapua magnum round is ejected from the barrel at over 900 metres per second, instantly breaking the sound barrier and emitting the signature crack of a supersonic bullet. The rifle rocks back in my arms, recoil shaking through my body from the power of the blast. The bullet cuts a fine vapour trail as it twists through the air, rotating every eleven inches through its flightpath. It dips slightly, just slightly with gravity, the heavier bullet dragged down by its weight, and with this dip, it drops just low enough to impact the Stalker's head. The tungsten tip of the bullet pierces his skull, its velocity at this altitude much higher than usual due to low air density. The bullet's kinetic energy drags it through the Stalker's head and out the other side, a bloody rosette blossoming in the air behind him. And all that happens before I even hear the echo of the gunshot reverberating down the valley. CRACK-crack-crack. That's a kill. Absolutely beautiful.
I see chaos below, the french diplomat runs, his bodyguards covering him and their chopper scarpers sharpish. The Stalker soldiers form a defensive perimeter around their chopper and start to pile in as well. Only one of them doesn't. One of them walks over to the body. He bends down, and picks up the beret from the floor. He bends down, picks it up, and puts it on. And I can tell, watching through my scope, even from this range, he's smiling. Because that's the Stalker standing there. The real Stalker, standing up, putting his beret on and walking, calm as you like back to his chopper. He used a decoy. Clever bastard. I fold my rifle's bipod, turn and slowly crawl back into the treeline, back down the mountain. He might not be dead, I smirk grimly to myself, but he'll definitely have something to remember me by. I touch my leg where he shot me. He'll remember I'm watching. I head for the extraction point, back Stateside, back home.