Deployment

“There!” Volkrun exclaimed as a plume of smoke came into view. The video from the UAV showed a plume of smoke rising from a dark spot on a woody hillside.

The lieutenant raised the flight radio to his mouth, “Flight, divert the ‘seers to hold around this area, and bring one down for a closer look.”

“Going to hold and dropping in close.” The flight operator responded through the radio.

The video feed from one of the UAV’s circled down towards the dark spot. With each pass, it became more clear that this was not a controlled landing. A path had been cut through the trees where the helicopter had made contact. It wasn’t a straight line, but a set of three dark arcs, with the broken off tail rotor on one end of the set, and the rest of the smoldering wreckage on the other.

“The wreckage is very close to 1266′ last known position.” Volkrun said.

“Confirmed 1266 is down. Deploy rescue with strike escort.” Lieutenant Wexler said into the flight radio. He switched to the radio in his other hand, “Crowley, we’ve confirmed wreckage on that helicopter. Mile eight seven of the border. We’re sending in rescue.”

The response was accompanied by the rumble of engine noise, and Wexler had to turn the radio volume down, “GOT IT, BOSS! ME AND THE BOYS WERE HEADED OUT THAT WAY ANYWAY, FOR FISHING. LET ME KNOW IF YOU NEED A HAND.”

“Glad to have you nearby, Crowley.”

A pair of transponder signals appeared on the radar near the airfield and headed toward the crash sight. “Sec. Comm. This is strike 8611, we are escorting rescue 4937 to the crash site.”

“Copy strike.” The lieutenant laid out his plan, “We don’t know what caused the crash so I want you between rescue and the border, and keep your flash trackers pointed that way.” The muzzle flash tracking systems had been developed for an operation to eliminate the Abbadon not long after they’d gone rogue. It hadn’t been enough, and losses were such that the military decided to leave the hills to the machines. Border security had been given the technology as a precaution.

“Copy command.” The strike helicopter pilot boasted, “If some rust bucket starts poppin’ off, I’ll crater its whole territory. Introduce him to some modern weaponry.”

Mustering

“Aarons.” The lieutenant called after walking through the door, “Who is 1266?”

“Commander.” Aarons stood from her desk and saluted. “1266 is a civilian helicopter tour flight. Pilot named Guy Proust, he runs these tours at least once a week. Manifest lists two passengers. Foreign tourists.”

“Proust? You know him?”

“Not well. He and his company don’t cause us any trouble.”

“Just a tour then.” He walked over to Aarons’ desk, picked up the phone, and punched in a few numbers. After a moment, “Captain, this is Sec. Comm. We’ve got a civilian helicopter that dropped off radar half a kilometer from Abby territory. I want two Farseers to sweep the border just out of Abby air space, optical and infrared.” The Farseer unmanned aerial vehicles were the fastest way to get real time information on the area. “Also, prep rescue…” He paused momentarily, “And strike. Operation radio code will be 313235.” His lucky radio code, it was the birth years of his daughters. The lieutenant paused to listen to a response. “Good.” He hung up.

The lieutenant looked at Aarons for a moment. Then without saying anything he picked up the receiver again and punched in a different set of numbers. “Crowley, it’s Wexler.”

Even from a feet away, Aarons heard the reply from the other end, “WREXLER!? S’THAT YOU?”

“Yes, it’s me.” Lieutenant Wexler responded with a small smile. “I want you to prep the Rowdy and some of your boys. I’ve got a missing helicopter and some folks that might need some help. Operation radio will be 293132.” His other lucky radio code.

“YOU GOT IT, WEX.” was the clearly audible response.

“Thanks, Crowley, I’ll let you know.” The lieutenant hung up the phone and began setting the two radios. “Aarons’ can you get me a dedicated tech?”

Aarons nodded, “It’ll be Volkner. She was tracking them.”

“Good. Thanks.”

The flight radio transmitted, “Sec. Comm. This is flight Ops. Requesting clearance to launch two Seer’s for border scan.”

Wexler lifted the radio to his mouth, “Clear to launch.” The lieutenant looked at Aarons who led him over to Volkner’s screen. “Volkner. We’re launching two Farseers to search for 1266, You’ll be doing sec comm tracking, if you’re up to it.”

“Sir.” Volkner nodded.

Into his flight radio, The lieutenant asked, “Flight, what are the scan codes for Farseer vision?” Flight ops responded with codes, and Volkner brought them up alongside the radar. The two UAV transponders were now visible on the radar screen, moving away from the airfield and towards the border. Wexler considered ordering them to shut the transponders off, but… it was just a search and rescue operation in friendly air space. It should really be fine.

Vigilance

“1266. This is border security, please respond.”

“1266. Please respond.”

The radar technician scanned the screen for signs of the transponder that had disappeared ten minutes ago, and her supervisor leaned over her shoulder to do the same. “Keep at it. I’d better let command know.”

She walked over to her desk, picked up the phone and pressed the button for Sec. Comm.

“Sec. Comm. Go ahead.” A voice on the line said, a little muffled.

“This is BATC.” The supervisor spoke clear and flat. “Civilian helicopter code 1266 has dropped off the radar within 1 kilometer of the special border. We’ve been unable to contact them.”

On the other end of the line, the lieutenant set down the sandwich half he’d been snacking on. “Got it Aarons. I’ll be right over.” He hung up, scanned his desk for loose ends and then left at a brusque pace. The border air traffic control radar room would serve as his base of operations for what he hoped would just be a precautionary search and rescue operation. It’s possible the helicopter had just entered a valley below the radar or could be having transponder problems.

First Witnesses

The helicopter approached the dead hills.

“One of the first things you’ll notice about the Abby hills are the stark lines that delineate the Abby territories.” The tour guide explained through the headphones in practiced tones. “The Abby’s’ killed everything in their territory, and nothing outside, so you can see the clear lines where vegetation begins.”

“Can’t they see us?” A young man holding a young woman’s hand asked curiously. “They are snipers right?”

“Honestly, we don’t know if they can see us. What we do know is that they absolutely will not engage unless we enter their air sp…” The tour guide’s calming tones were cut off by a metallic popping sound. The whole helicopter started to vibrate menacingly.

The young tourist couple took hold of eachother. “What is it?” The woman asked.

“Some kind of engine problem. I’m going to have to take us down right…” The tour guide’s tense explanation was cut off by another popping sound, this time accompanied by an explosion of blood from the pilot’s head.

The pilot’s body sagged forward and the helicopter lurched and started to spin. The young couple lost conciousness from the spinning before the helicopter smashed into a woody hillside.

A Wraith Awakens

Warning! SLAM service failed to find map memory. Location services may not operate properly!

It had been still for so long. But it realized it was somewhere new, somewhere it had never seen. It became alarmed. Forgotten urgency sprang to life. A mission. It had to take the land. But which land? It looked around and saw nothing familiar, nothing it remembered. Even as it turned its view away and back again it was as if it was seeing someplace new. It had the energy, the weapons, and the ammunition, and it knew it had to take the land. This place is wrong. This place is wrong. It must be this place that is unrecognizable, it must escape to complete the mission. It must find lands that aren’t broken, that can be mapped and remembered. Yes. It would escape, it would pass through and away from this nowhere place. It furled its cloak and crept forward.

A setting.

The hills of Abbadon. A barren wasteland between two once-warring countries, but not always so. Once this land had been worth fighting for, green and rich with a constant supply of fresh water. And, claimed by two nations, the land was fought for. The land was scarred by battles, only temporarily by the weapons, but more deeply by the people of plundered and burned settlements that must take more and more from the land to survive and rebuild. Minefields appeared in the once lush valleys and tribes of nationless raiders appeared in the highlands. Still, the land had value, it could be reclaimed, it could be restored with a few years of intelligent stewardship, so the fighting continued.

Weapons and tactics evolved, but there was a problem. The most advanced modern weapons were becoming more valuable then the land itself, requiring teams of highly trained operators and technicians, and the risk of losing such weapons was too great a cost to bear for either side. One side chose to devolve its weaponry and tactics, forming volunteer forces with cheap and dated but still reliable and effective weaponry. The other side chose to innovate. They created a weapon with a high development and initial cost, but with minimal maintenance and support requirements. They created the Abbadon territory scout, reclaim, and hold drone.

For maximum efficiency, the Abbadon was designed for stealth combat, mainly operating as a sniper. Solar powered, these drones were cleverly designed with enough energy capacity for brief scouting and raiding missions, and need only take up a sniper position and deploy camouflaged solar collectors to recharge. The Abbadon could be remotely controlled via highly secured communications link back to their command center, but to control costs, remote control was used infrequently, and the drones just got daily or weekly mission updates from command.

The Abbadon were terrifyingly effective. Enemy held territories were infiltrated and enemy settlements and fortifications were besieged by the tireless snipers. Civilians and military were pinned down in whatever cover they could find, usually cut off from food and water, and if not, the Abbadon would conduct raids to eliminate or cut off those supplies. Unless commanded otherwise, the Abbadon did not accept surrender, but could decide to drive people out of a given territory rather than kill them all in order to conserve time and resources.

Being solar powered machines, the Abbadon only need sunlight and a supply of ammunition in order to maintain full effectiveness. Ammunition wasn’t much of a problem as groups of Abbadon were usually deployed with a large supply cache, and the machines were capable of using captured enemy weapons and ammunition.

The other side quickly learned the deadly effectiveness of the Abbadon, but there was little that they could do to counter the deadly machines. It was only by accident that they were able to capture and disable one of the killing machines. The Abbadon hardware was very secure, and they could not crack it, but they observed the machine’s attempts at communication. The transmissions were highly secure, but they revealed the location of the source. It was just a remote communications relay, but the other side kept tracing the signal, searching for its origin.

They directed all of their spies in enemy territory to seek information on these machines, on how they were controlled. Their search led them to the Abbadon control center, hidden in plain sight as a boring business in a large city near the border. They launched a devastating attack on this city and the control center, first using chemical weapons against civilians and launching a decoy assault on the government buildings, they used the confusion as a cover to bomb the control center to oblivion. Their operation was a vicious success. All of the personnel and hardware needed to deploy and control the Abbadon had been wiped out. It had been a necessarily high security program, and as it was still infantile, redundancies had not been built, so the means to communicate with the Abbadon were lost.

The Abbadon were not stopped, however. They just stopped receiving mission updates and commands. As such, they continued their operations. They took the territory that they were last directed to take and they held it, killing or driving out any trespassers. People fought with them, trying to reclaim their lost homes, but the Abbadon learned. The machines figured out what the people were after and they started to destroy it to discourage further attacks. The machines destroyed everything, eventually leaving no structures intact. Then they destroyed the trees and brush to eliminate cover. Finally, they poisoned the water. No one really knows how they learned to do this, but it is believed that it was done to discourage trepass onto their territory. So now, where once we had beautiful green hills. We have the hills of Abbadon. Where death awaits.