The Sound of Freedom

Unfortunately, no other stories

This story was written in response to a bout of inspiration that descended upon the author with such fury that there was nothing else for it. It was either write a story or go to the room with the padded walls. He chose freedom; a keyboard, a free will and a creative mind.

Chapter I
Monday afternoon found me thinking hard about the current situation. No wait……that’s not right. I had thought of nothing else since we arrived in Sterlen (also known as Tshofa). It’s just that as far as actually beginning to see a light at the end of the pitch black void goes, I was nearest to striking gold on that particular afternoon. Simone was pacing up and down the dimly lit room, feigning a deep concentration. I say feigning not because I have anything against Simone, just that in the four years I’ve known her she always paces up and down. And not once has that particular activity brought about any tangible result in the way of a suggestion. Kiranga was studying his rifle as though it was telling him some great secrets. At least I could count on him for a few suggestions. The native was alternating between a rather hungry gaze directed at Simone and a low muttering to himself in whatever language it is that they speak here. The room had a dank personality with the smell of mud hanging in the air to remind us that people still made houses out of locally available material; even where such material had the strongest hint of cattle droppings. I had lived in such dwellings for long enough now to let any of my urbane sensibilities get the better of me. Even Simone seemed tolerant of our accommodation now. The native was a very singular individual. A lanky sort of fellow with a whole ton of customs which rarely made any sense or maybe they made sense in the crazy place we had found ourselves in. For example, even though Simone was our medical expert and had ably handled the most ghastly injuries for us, the native’s chauvinism would have nothing of her skill. Now, five months after meeting him, I was accustomed to attending to his injuries under Simone’s instruction. This was a tedious and probably risky affair but necessary since we could not afford to offend the native; not now at least. On the flipside, it gained me good experience in being a doctor-of-sorts. The native had adapted somewhat to ‘our ways’ in that he no longer found it amusing that we did not fight over Simone or come into conflict with him on the same subject. However, Simone was extremely wary of him, for the native knew nothing of social norms or even courtship rituals. We had trained him on how to use a gun and other little bits of civilization like torches; Kiranga’s laptop ceased to be terrifying to him. Kiranga said our food supplies would last another three days and then we would have to either break camp and move ahead or find some other base to raid in Sterlen. I was already prepared to break camp and move ahead. The native had good hunting and tracking skills which meant that though we were still miles from the frontline, we could live off the land. Simone’s medical

supplies were running low too, which meant more pressure to risk another raid. With our ammunition the way it was, that would be a touch and go affair. I knew that with the advances made by the Allies eastward from the Congo River; any hope of rescue was remote. It was a good thing that they hadn’t set up any semblance of government here; otherwise we would have been captured by now. Apart from securing hospitals and bases, they left the country largely unpatrolled. Sterlen and its environs aren’t exactly the choice portions of the Central African hinterland; meaning our rag-tag force of four reigned supreme as bandits of the savanna, small but formidable. We rarely killed but we raided farmhouses, markets and such places by day for food and military bases and hospitals by night for medical supplies and ammunition. There was little else we could do if we were to survive until the elusive ceasefire or (more likely) until we reached the frontline. There we could hope to cross over to our side where we would be safe. The natives could not tell between Russians and Americans so Simone passed for an American soldier. Black men fought on both sides so we were hardly conspicuous. Our raids on native property were not exactly hostile because they were hospitable people and so more accurately we were kept well supplied by the local population by day. Other than the few bombing raids that we took cover from before the American advance, the sky was also quiet. I had spotted a few B2A-Spirit bombers flying past which was a reminder that this was now American territory. The last time I had seen a good old Tupolev is lost upon me. And it was on this very subject of aircraft that I was quite advanced in my thoughts. We would raid the airbase north of Sterlen, a small supplies base with mainly C-130 Hercules transport aircraft and perhaps a lone C-5 Galaxy. But this time our aim would be to capture an aircraft and fly out; very specifically an aircraft that could put up a good fight.

Chapter II
Simone was Russian, with the chiseled features and height peculiar to Eastern European women. I met her while serving at the Mezhgorye installation where she was a medical officer with the Strategic Rocket Troops. I had just completed a refresher course in base operations as part of the military exchange programme with Kenya and I had just decided to hang around and learn about the recently declassified Yamantau Mountain bunkers. That was in 2018 when the Korean Peninsula issue finally came to a head. Kiranga was also part of the Kenyan team as a weapons officer, a very good one at that. While we were procrastinating on the idea of getting back home – partly due to the Russian Federation’s re-emergence as a super power and partly due to Simone – all hell broke loose. We had just ushered in 2020 when the United States and her EU allies declared war on the Taipei Axis (Russia, China and most of the CIS that eventually left NATO). Since Kenya was allied to the Russkies, we figured we could hitch a secure ride home as they moved to establish forward bases in Eastern Africa. Simone came with us because…well…Cupid had been busy; two years is a long time. The war started out like most world wars, with a period of mobilization, shaking off rust and dust and generally no fighting. Due to the Allies having superior spy technology while we had superior hardware, they sent reconnaissance missions which we duly shot down. Since the end of the Cold War the Russkies have always had the weaponry while the States have always led in electronics. The lines became clear in the Pacific where the naval front was and in Europe which was unfortunately dead centre. We set up bases to sandwich the EU troops between our African bases and China. It was clear from the beginning that whoever controlled Africa would have the mobility to win the war; assuming of course that no one was dumb enough to go nuclear. This period of calm in the war lasted the best of a year. As was expected in these times, media was always extracting headlines from the fronts. Newspaper headlines such as ‘7 US Navy battlegroups arrive in Guam’ or ‘Russian submarines patrolling the Arctic’ were no longer alarming. Small skirmishes occurred in the frontline states of Poland and Romania where we moved to establish zones of control. From Finland and Germany the Allies held the line that separated east from west. It was in the process of preparing the Eastern Africa forward bases that we found ourselves in the Congo, pushing the front west with T95 battle tanks. When actual conventional combat broke out in Europe, in the traditional Cold War era theater of Germany, the Taipei Axis committed a lot of resources to that front, along with naval conflicts. The Arabs obliged us by effectively sealing in Israel from the rest of the world. Iran and Israel had a mutually assured destruction (MAD) situation so none of them was going to push the button first.

The push westward across the Congo became low priority and the Allies began recovering ground. As the Allies pushed east we retreated slowly toward Lake Tanganyika’s western shores, where a giant Russian presence on the Monts Mitumba range would check the Allies. Knowing the cautious nature of Allied war strategy, we expected they would stop once they crossed the Congo River. On the slopes of a mountain range they would be sitting ducks. Most of our troops moved with the tanks while a few of us loitered along guarding the rear. The chief reason why we dilly-dallied was that we did not want to abandon the strategically located military base at Kongolo, on the west bank of the river. We did not know that the allies aimed to capture this and end their campaign for Central Africa there. The Americans attacked in late 2021 when their intelligence showed that there were limited troops at Kongolo. I was in charge of the base then. Seeing the excessive force the Americans brought along to take the base, I ordered a general retreat and most made their way across the Congo. US Marines poured onto the river’s west bank and a few of us were thus trapped behind enemy lines. The attack had been at night and when morning came I was far from Kongolo in the wrong direction, with Simone and Kiranga. We found refuge in a rural village where we met the native. The rest is really history. Of course most of our present trouble was simply because we could not cross the Congo River under its present guard. And without eastward mobility, it was either surrender or hide. Back to present matters, Kiranga thought that if we could neutralize the base and get two F-22 Raptors to land there, our worries would be over. It sounded very easy but I knew that it would take a lot of convincing to make two Raptor pilots land at a nondescript supplies airbase for what would seem a reason not readily apparent. Simone mused and frowned and finally submitted that we could give it a try. The native as usual, grinned and muttered to himself. He was currently engaged in a very sober inspection of a grenade, a seemingly harmless object that he had long discovered was very, very harmful. Actually, most of his early days with us were spent in the accidental and sometimes painful discovery that our luggage consisted of killing tools. Simone finally sat down and produced a sheet of art paper. Even with our small force I still insisted on procedure – which meant we would draw a map and have a full briefing on strategy. I had learnt long ago to always take time to plan; even when it seemed very trivial. Right now what we would need – as most people seem to need in these situations – was a diversion. Kiranga thought that if we could get the Allies to believe Kongolo was under attack, then coaxing some Raptors to land at the supplies base would be child play; I had been a base commander long enough to understand this. How we were going to execute a decoy attack at a base 200 kilometers away and still be present at the supplies base to get away was something that seemed herculean. Simone resumed her default animation which sometimes made me

question Cupid’s wisdom. The native understood the gravity of the situation well enough to pay some attention, an activity which was accompanied by an absent-minded tugging at the grenade pin. Thankfully, Kiranga saved us all from spontaneous combustion by a well-timed grab that left the native rather alarmed. The brightest ideas always come with a certain surprise and wonder; that we did not see them earlier. We had owned the base at Kongolo, I knew the unique detonation frequency of the strategic bombs at the facility. And the detonator had a normal operating range of 400 kilometers. The official with responsibility over the detonator and its use is always the base commander – me. The pencil-thin detonator was in my pocket all this time – the secret weapon designed to deny the enemy use of a captured base - the epitome of scorched-earth policy. Only Russian doctrine provided for this self-destruct button and I had forgotten all about it. Armed with this new simplicity in the plan, we headed for the supplies base.

Chapter III
Kiranga’s aim was legendary and that took care of entry into the base. We would use him as a sniper – as usual. He positioned himself in the guard tower at the gate, whose two occupants were in a better place, courtesy of lead and skill. Simone was good with the squad fullautomatic MG so she was the heavy artillery in a manner of speaking. She also had gallons of feminine charm if it came to that. I had an assortment of claymores, frag grenades and a silenced pistol. The native had a big assault rifle and the best stealth in the team. He usually worked with Simone in maintaining a sustained fire towards a target. The base looked deserted and I immediately signaled Kiranga to look around. We communicated by bird calls and hoots that were indistinguishable from nature. In wartime, the simplicity of things like SMS and phone calls disappears. From his elevated position he was well placed to spot movement. Meanwhile, Simone and the native crouched behind a jeep waiting for Kiranga’s direction. I moved towards the hangars, laying claymore mines strategically for anyone who was unfortunate enough to follow. Claymore mines are peculiar mines in that they are not buried, and they detonate horizontally. Thus they are great for taking out an approaching enemy. The silence of the base was very comforting; I even had some hope that it might be abandoned. And chance, that cheeky master of opportunity, to upbraid me for my hope, sought to dispel it immediately. A hoot from the darkness, a solitary light at the hangar doors and a claymore caused some poor soul to hurl expletives before Kiranga put him out of his misery. From the look of things, the mine would have done him in anyway; so much for the element of surprise. The base immediately came awash in lights and a bullet hail began from the general direction of the jeeps. While Simone and the native covered me, I threw a couple of frag grenades into rooms as I ran across the hangar and into the warehouse. A few explosions later there was still some scurrying in the buildings beyond they warehouse. Men rushing to the armoury I guessed. I ran after them as Kiranga took out the searchlights and the annoying wail of the siren. I took out the detonator and squeezed. Men were rushing out of the armoury with guns and from the small alley between the hangar and the warehouse I fired my silenced pistol and wished I had the machine gun. And as if on cue, Simone appeared at the other end of the hangar and opened fire. The native had seemingly circled round the armoury building and found some back door because the armoury seemed to have become inhospitable to the base occupants. I was almost celebrating an easy victory when two soldiers, probably a patrol unit, sneaked up behind Simone and while I got one of them, the other got Simone square in the back before Kiranga took him out. I hurled a frag grenade in the general direction of the armoury and ran to where she had fallen. Under normal circumstances I might have considered this very reckless

behavior. She was still breathing, though her pulse was weak and she was losing blood. Kiranga was at the scene and the native was at the armoury door with his gun ready. Ironic that our only surgeon was the one who gets injured, I thought as we rushed her into the control tower building. Much as we had to attend to her, there was the matter of getting Raptors to our secured base. Well, if you can consider a base guarded by one man with an assault rifle secure. Luckily there was a pretty good first medi-kit in the building – after all, this was an American base. I knew enough to clean up and dress the wound, thanks to the native. The bullet hit her right shoulder blade, shattered it and got lodged after expending its force. Removing it is always a tricky bit, and strangely enough Simone herself gave me directions. Local anesthesia can do wonders to an otherwise excruciating experience. Meanwhile, Kiranga had been sending a general broadcast to Allied planes in the vicinity of Sterlen to the effect that Kongolo was under attack and they should land at our present base instead. The broadcast made it clear that Kongolo might be compromised, so any contradicting communication should be ignored. Now all we had to do was wait, because at least one plane would have to land. If we didn’t get any takers for our scam within half an hour, we would just have to make do with a C-130 transport from the fleet at the hangar. The first respondent gave us some good news, that the Russkies (us, though he did not know it) had bombed Kongolo and were attacking Allied positions on the banks of the Congo River. Four Raptors were coming in for a landing, having flown all the way from West Africa. He confirmed from Kiranga that fuel was available. Now all we had to do was set up a welcoming committee and we would have Raptors for the journey across, which would be much easier now that friendly forces had reached the river. Simone would be a complication because the Raptor is a one-seat fighter. It was rather obvious that in her condition she would be quite unable to fly one. Kiranga and I were very capable of flying but the native could not fly anything except maybe a kite. So we had to think of something fast. And while Kiranga acted as air traffic control, the native and I cleared the area outside the armoury of bodies and went to the apron where we waited patiently with an assault rifle and a machine gun. The scream of jet engines was our cue to take cover. The Americans buzzed the runway – a standard procedure to confirm that it was safe to land. And seeing little reason for alarm they proceeded to land. I counted three Raptors as they sped towards where we lurked in the darkness. Now that we were in communication with Kiranga via radios, he made us aware that he had noticed that too. Our pilots were in a hurry to exit their craft and we obliged each of them with a generous helping of bullets. I quickly identified the Raptor which had full armament and got to the business of refueling it. The native, Kiranga and Simone would have to use one of the cargo

helicopters for the journey. As I prepared to take-off I saw Kiranga and the native helping Simone into the helicopter and realized that we had pulled it off. Whatever we would meet ahead, we had actually captured enemy aircraft. The Raptor was smaller than the Su-47 and which fighter was better had been the subject of debate for many years. American craft were always very good with radar and avionics but inferior in armor and weaponry. As I climbed to altitude I saw another Raptor on my radar, apparently locked in combat with three or four MiG-33s. So the war had reached this far already. I realized that the MiGs would identify me as a foe so I had to open communication with them. After I had given them security identifiers that their computers forwarded directly to Russia for verification, two of them were joined by a Su-37 and continued their battle with the Raptor while two came to escort me. They maintained an offensive formation because they could not really trust a Raptor – these were Russians. I could see Kiranga’s helicopter on radar, far below us. Some Russian craft was also giving him uneasy company even after Simone had talked to them. War really demands that you trust no one. Russian authorities were excited at the prospect of actually acquiring a Raptor. It would reveal a lot of secrets about an aircraft that since production in 2005 was still very much a mystery. And apparently hard to shoot down with MiGs too, because the Raptor they were chasing had shot down three MiGs already. I decided to give them some little help because the MiGs beside me were definitely no match for a Raptor’s speed. Breaking formation suddenly, I joined in the chase. The MiGs armed their weapons and prepared to attack me just as confirmation from Moscow arrived. Ha! I easily gained on the other Raptor which seemed dangerously low on fuel. The pilot was running out of options fast – and missiles too. Apart from the Su-37 and my Raptor, no other aircraft could keep up with the enemy. So we approached him from opposite directions; he would have to avoid one of us and the other would use the delay of a few seconds to get a good radar lock on him. He avoided the Su-37 and I fired two missiles. I suppose that was greater confirmation of my allegiance than any transmission from Moscow. We returned to the Russian base in Tanzania for debriefing. Soldiers came out to see the newly captured Raptor – the jewel of Allied military aviation. I left them to it and hurried to ensure Simone was being handled with care. Kiranga understood my apprehension and satisfied himself with a knowing smile. This time I let the native know I was marking my territory and perhaps because he was a good learner he understood. For a fleeting moment I wondered what the Russians would do with him beyond giving him a medal of honor. Then my mind came back to the present. At the base infirmary the doctor marveled at my handiwork; he said I could make a good doctor myself. Simone made a face; it was really her handiwork. The jets roared all around the base, some landing and others going up to join the fight. News was streaming in that the Americans had finally conceded the riverbanks due to very heavy

bombing from Tu-160 Blackjacks. Known as the largest combat aircraft ever built, the supersonic Blackjacks were being fielded from China and in enough numbers to make the Amerikanski run for their lives. Blackjack was the name NATO gave to them, but we called them White Swans. As I listened to the roar of one landing, I knew this was the sound of freedom.

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