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The shuttle was hovering over the second row of containers which had formed a wide shelf in front of the weaponized containers, which to my astonishment had indeed been adorned with ZIM logos. Those terrorists did have a sense of humor after all. Who would have thought…

I was scared shitless. I knew that while we were inside the shuttle’s cloaking field we were  invisible to the enemy, but my guts were refusing to accept that fact, and had a riot every time the thugs in the crow’s nest glanced in our direction. 

The plan was set in motion, there was no turning back now. The worst thing was that despite being the only one of us not trained for covert operations it was me who had to go out and actually fiddle with the weapons of mass destruction. And I could not argue myself out of that arrangement: I had a personal force field after all, which would give me a fighting chance if things go SNAFU fast. And Tia would be protected by the ship’s own force field, while able to support me with sniper fire by shooting through the opening in the shuttle’s side, which the AI had conveniently created, letting cool and salty ocean air inside. Being a trained sniper, well-versed with her favoured weapon, she was the best girl for the job. That left me to do the dirty work.

We were waiting for the next radio check. Our window was 5 minutes. Difficult, but not impossible. If all goes well it wouldn’t even matter. But when do things just go well? As Helmuth von Moltke once said, no plan survives contact with the enemy. 

I put on my alien red cap and tightened the back strap – losing it might prove fatal. Tia was lying in the cabin behind the front seats, her Tavor carefully positioned to point at the glowing circle in the air, marking the opening on the other side of the shuttle, her legs spread wide apart, face immobile like a stone mask. She was the one with her gun. “I could never look that good with it, even if I tried,” I thought.

“Stations one to six confirmed, base out,” I heard over my audio feed. 

“Go! Go! Go!” Tia said in a tense yet quiet voice, unmoving. 

I jumped out to the top of a container stacked at the height of 10-story building above the sea level and moving relentlessly through the waves with uncanny speed. Fortunately for me a ship that large vas very stable and not swaying and rolling much at all.

The shuttle was using its camouflage trick in a new way. It projected a hyper realistic image of everything it obstructed on its hull, with one exception: me. It was the perfect camouflage. We only needed to worry about the guards in the crow’s nest, because this area was not visible from any other position. The rest of the terrorists were there to watch for vessels and boarding parties, I guess. These two were watching the deadly cargo. I carefully stepped towards the first container’s door, opened the access panel and punched in the code. The lock clicked and a green LED confirmed the code. 

Now came the risky part. The container was significantly higher than the shuttle, so the top of the door that I had to open in order to gain access, would be visible to the guards. It was night time, the moon and whatever floodlights the Azov had were not an adequate illumination. However, if someone were to look carefully, he would see just the top part of the door opening slightly then closing shut, with the rest of the door remaining totally oblivious to what its upper portion was doing. As container doors do not normally suffer from a multiple personality disorder, the alarm would definitely be raised immediately.

“Now!” I heard Tia say through the feed. Both guards must be looking somewhere else now. I quickly opened the door just enough to squeeze in (the screeching sound of unoiled hinges was terrible) and shut the door behind me. I found myself in a total darkness. I pulled out my phone and turned the flashlight on. I immediately felt extremely claustrophobic. 

I was standing right next to the nose cone of nuclear-tipped ballistic missile. There was not much room to move, but all I needed was the minimalistic control panel on my left, which consisted of a few green status LEDs, a rugged small alphanumeric display and an oversized keypad, apparently built for violently shaking hands of an epileptic sumo wrestler wearing a spacesuit.  

Conferring the notes I have left open in my field of vision, I punched in a string of numbers and held my breath. One of the green LEDs went out and the display lit up.

“ПУСКОВАЯ УСТАНОВКА ОТКЛЮЧЕНА” 

I didn’t need that translated. It meant that the weapon was disarmed. Breathing again, I hesitated about wasting precious time for a few seconds, but then punched in a longer series of numbers, mumbling “better safe than sorry” under my nose…

“One disarmed, four to go!” I said to Tia and waited for her confirmation.

“Ready? Now!” She said after a few tense seconds. I went out as soon as I could, shutting the door behind me, and hitting the locking button. Right in front of me there was a large hole in the air, showing the almost dark insides of the shuttle. That really looked weird. I held onto the shuttle while it slowly moved to the next container on the starboard side.

Unlock. Wait. Enter. Disarm. Wait. Exit. Rinse. Repeat.

The inevitable screw-up happened at the first of the two remaining containers on the port side. The unlock code was correct, but the door would not open. It had jammed or rusted shut. I missed the first opportunity to enter unnoticed, failing to open the door. Then the second. Then the third. Then, panicking, I started to violently pull the door towards me with ever increasing force, swearing at the Russian technology that hasn’t produced anything even remotely reliable since the Kalashnikov and the Soyuz. Suddenly the door gave, and I went flying out with it, holding to it for my life, trying not to get ejected into the black waters far below me, until I came to an abrupt stop, winded, planting my face into the closest container’s wall. 

I heard a faint shout, then two rapid claps, then silence.

“Well, shit,” Tia didn’t sound very happy. “I got both of them. You have thirty five seconds until the shit hits the fan.”

“00:34”

The numbers appeared in my field of view, counting down the time left until the next radiocheck. 

I rushed to the now open container to disable its payload and then to the last one standing next. Needless to say that now when I had the countdown visible, I made several mistakes in a row, nearly locking myself out of the last weapon’s controls.  By the time I was done with the last missile the timer was showing negative numbers.

“-00:40”

The shit was apparently behind schedule. But if there is anything certain in this word, it is the propensity of fecal matter to inevitably collide with fixed pitch propeller ventilation devices at terminal velocity.   

It never misses, not even once…

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