Just as I locked the last container, people started popping up from the hatch at the fore mast’s crow’s nest. First three went down before they knew what hit them. The next two took cover behind the two meter thick mast structure, while another one was letting out short bursts of suppressing fire from inside of the hatch. Considering they could not see who was shooting at them, it was quite impressive. I saw the safe and inviting hole in the air, which was the shuttle, rapidly move away, as Tia tried to go around the mast to flank the enemies who took cover there.

At the same moment the doors of the fourth container from the starboard side had burst open, letters ZIM and the stars of David splitting in half and hurling out a bunch of armed men, taking positions and covering all angles of a potential attack.

In hindsight, I should have known that the Iranians wouldn’t leave their most precious mission-critical cargo sit unprotected at the far end of the ship, inaccessible on the very top of a giant container stack, without having a rapid way of reaching and defending it in case of an attack. Their solution turned out to be a sucide squad placed inside an empty container right next to the other missiles. They were ready to die, delaying the hypothetical boarding party long enough for their bosses to launch the missiles. Within a couple of seconds I had a dozen barrels looking straight at me.

I was standing steps away from the locked door of the last missile container, far from any potential cover, on the edge of an undoubtedly fatal drop to the black waters below.   

Time stretched as I was hit with a barrage of automatic fire.

I felt like a bug caught on the business end of a jackhammer: I was jacked up from my position into the air and hammered with dozens of heavy 7.62 rounds. By the time I figured out that despite the pain from the impacts my shield was holding, there was no more ship under me. Pushed by the force of multiple impacts, I was falling into the abyss below. 

Before I had time to wet myself in primal fear, I came to a crashing stop. I was suspended in the air over, well… Over nothing at all, really. Flat on my back, entirely incapable of any coherent thought.

To add insult to injury, a slender disembodied arm has appeared out of thin air, and one of the fingers, sporting an immaculate black nailpolish, beckoned me towards it. Few meters from me, endless and immense wall of dark steel cargo containers was moving by in a swirl of logos, rust and cheap brown and blue paint.

I dare you to share a more ridiculously crazy image from your life experience. I doubt that even with my luck I will ever manage to top that one.

“Hold. My. Hand!” Bellowed Tia’s voice somewhere from the vicinity of the arm. Then the picture clicked in my head, and the darkness that surrounded the base of her phantom arm became an opening in the roof of the invisible shuttle craft, which is where I was located at the moment.

I took her hand and clumsily dropped into the opening, which then sealed itself in an instant.

“How the hell did you do that?” I asked as soon as I could utter anything that resembled  intelligible speech.

“It wasn’t me…” She said, with what sounded like guilt. “I was busy trying to hunt the Iranians firing from behind the mast, when the shuttle pinned me to the floor with some kind of a field and yanked itself over to your side just in time. Come on, grab your rifle, we need to keep them from rearming the missiles until the cavalry arrives!”

I wasn’t sure if anyone was coming, but had no better plans for the next couple of hours, so I did what I had to. While I was getting ready, I contacted Marc again.

“Hey, you mentioned you can hack into their engine controls? Do it now! Do it as if your life depended on it! Because it does!” 

“OK, I’m on it,” came the reply. 

The shuttle took us back to the vicinity of the ship and we tried to prevent the enemy troops from gaining access to the weapon containers.

It was easier said than done. When we were approaching, a commanding voice over their radio demanded the use of night vision goggles and scopes, adding a few colorful Farsi expletives to drive the point home. It must have been the voice of the Horseman. They could see us now. 

While the shuttle’s force field was protecting us from their bullets, letting us shoot from within, we could not inflict much damage to the terrorists: they all took cover and laid down such a thick suppressing fire that the force field was constantly rippling and shimmering from the frequent bullet hits.

Once in a while we were able to squeeze a good shot and drop one оr two enemies, but they had a sufficiently large supply, and the ones arming the missiles were protected by the container walls.

Mark’s voice has startled us. “Err… Guys…” He said in a flat dazed tone, which I can’t hold against him if he was aware of what was happening. “I just killed their engines, but it’s too late. They are within range of the east coast now. Wish me luck, I’m heading down into my condo’s underground parking garage, just in case.”

“Oh my god…” Tia said, as the top panels of five shipping containers had split in half and opened up. Five nuclear missile launchers lifted their deadly loads, as if aiming at the stars above. 

The rocket engines have ignited in a staggered sequence and the stars dimmed as one by one five bright fiery trails pierced the sky. The deafening roar of the engines had drowned out the repeated “Allahu akbar!” shouted at the top of the terrorist’s lungs.

A tactical display had materialized on the shuttle’s wall, showing five red dots leaving trails leading away from what must be the ship and us next to it. 

We were gaping aghast at the contrails signifying the deaths of millions that were slowly extending away from the death ship towards the continent like five skeletal fingers of the Grim Reaper’s claw. We just stood there, stunned, feeling crushed and utterly helpless, silent tears in our eyes. 

As the nuclear missiles accelerated, their contrails starting to curve down, more dots have appeared on the tactical display, followed by identification tags of the aging US Navy F-35 Lightning II fighter-bombers.

The cavalry had arrived in all its glory – fashionably late and utterly useless…

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