Sergeant Bill Hawkins checked his parachute again, making sure that nothing was wrong with it. He saw all his comrades doing the same. Lieutenant Killroy, the man who had just called out the time warning, stood up to address his platoon.
"Men, you've done this hundreds of times before. They want a show, we give it to them. However, this show is different from all the others we have done. The President is watching us this time. He wants to see how the Army's number one parachute team operates. I trust that none of you are going to mess up and screw our reputation as the best of the best."
In unison, the whole platoon responded. "Sir, no, sir!"
"Good. Needless to say, this will be our last jump into friendly territory. You all know that the war is getting fierce and we'll be sent overseas soon. Think of this as one last practice before the big game. The championship is coming up and we need all the practice we can get." The three dozen men of the Golden Knights stared at their Lieutenant with deadly seriousness. They knew that next time, the bullets would be real. "Alright, men. Eight and a half minutes until we reach the drop point. Check your weapons."
Sergeant Hawkins brought up his M-20 assault rifle and loaded in a magazine of paint bullets. Next to him, Corporal Johnson swore. Hawkins looked at him. "What's the problem, Johnson?"
The Corporal looked at him embarrassed. "I forgot to bring a magazine of paint. All I got is live ammo."
"Well that wasn't very smart, now was it? Don't worry about it Corporal. Just keep your weapon unloaded and pretend to fire off blanks. I doubt the president will notice one man not firing."
"SEVEN MINUTES! Everyone know what were going up against? On the ground, they have elements of the 4th Armored Division. They're going to be shooting us up the second we leave this plane. You all know your assignments. The rules of the engagement are: you get hit in any Kevlar protected areas, you can keep going. Your weapon gets hit, get a new weapon. You get hit in any none Kevlar protected area, you are immobilized, unless it be your face, in which case you're dead. Got it?"
"Sir, yes, sir!"
"Good. Anyone who gets killed, you get KP for a month." The Lieutenant smiled at the chorus of groans resulting from his statement. "It won't be that bad. In a month we'll probably be overseas."
"Yeah, then the bullets will be real. What's so bad about that?" That was Sergeant First Class Abraham Waller, 769 recorded jumps, the most of any parachutist is the whole army.
"Are you kidding? We could get killed when the bullets are real!" Private Kessler was the newest Golden Knight and only had 37 recorded jumps.
"Calm down kid. I was just kidding. You got to learn a little thing called sarcasm."
"Sarcasm, right." Kessler was still a little jittery at the thought of combat. "You think those bastards over there will be tough fighters. Because I've never been in combat."
Waller grinned a predatory grin. He leaned close to Kessler and looked him right in the eye. "You know what. I heard that those bastards never shoot to kill." A look of relief swept over Kessler's still boyish face. "They want you alive so that they can torture you. First they gauge out your eyes. Then they castrate you. You wouldn't need it anymore anyways. Lastly, they pry off your fingernails and toenails and stick needles in the soft, raw skin." The look of relief vanished from Kessler's face even more quickly then it had appeared.
Waller leaned back against the wall of the plane. Laughter erupted throughout the plane, and Waller's grin got even bigger. "Jeez kid, you almost wet yourself. You're nineteen years old. Grow some balls. You can't be castrated if you never had any to begin with."
"You ready, Kessler? Jump number 38, right? Don't worry. Once you get passed one hundred, you should have seen enough gruesome things so that you won't be so scared anymore." Waller's predatory grin had been transformed into a genuine smile, as if he was looking at his son and realizing that somewhere, he had done something right in raising him. "You'll do fine, kid. I know it."
"ONE MINUTE! Everyone up! Double check all your gear. I don't want anyone to get hurt because they're gear is messed up. Make sure all your headsets are working. We don't want to lose communication with each other. Goggles on!" The light at the jump door turned a bright red. "THIRTY SECONDS!"
Everyone was up and had double checked their gear. A few of the less experienced jumpers were sweating with anxiety, while one or two of the veterans just looked dead ahead, their expressions like those of men knowing that they couldn't change what would happen. Once they jumped out of that door until they hit the ground, almost everything was out of their control. The light switched to green.
"MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!" The Lieutenant was the first one out the door followed by SFC Wallers, then PVT Kessler. SGT Hawkins was the fourth one out the door. He could see first the Lieutenants, then Wallers parachute open up. Kessler's didn't open. The air around them was filled with flying paint. Hawkins could see paint bullet after paint bullet fly past him. On the headset he heard Kessler's frantic shouts for help.
"My chute isn't opening! The cord isn't working!" The wind howling past him could be heard over the com and with it coming from both the com and the air around him, Hawkins was almost deafened from the noise.
"Calm down, Kessler. Get your auxiliary chute and use that," Hawkins yelled over the noise of the wind.
A pause while Kessler did so and then his frantic voice came back on. "That's not working either!"
Hawkins paused and thought for a second. "All jumpers five and up, open chutes when ready. Do not wait for jumpers three and four. Kessler, I need you to make yourself as non aerodynamic as possible. You got to slow your decent."
"What the hell will that do?"
"Goddamnit, Private, just do it! That's an order!"
Lieutenant Killroy came onto the com. "What the hell are you doing Kessler and Hawkins? What the hell is wrong?" Hawkins could no longer see Killroy. He and Kessler had shot past Killroy a quarter minute before.
"Just wait, Killroy. I'll explain later." Below him, Hawkins could see Kessler slowing down fractionally. It was just enough for him to begin to catch up. He had himself pointed down like an arrow, falling at a rate of 15,000 feet a minute. He had just two minutes from when he left the plane until impact with the ground. One minute was already gone.
The distance between the two free falling men began to close slowly. "Kessler, I need you to unhook your parachute and get ready to hook yourself up to mine. Do you understand?"
"Yeah, Sarge, I got it." A second later a panicked cry came over the com. "I'm hit! What should I do?"
"Damnit, Kessler! Ignore the fucking paint!" At that point, Sergeant Hawkins was just a few feet from Kessler. Thirty seconds left until impact. "Alright, Kessler. Hook yourself up to my parachute and start praying that this thing will hold two people."
Kessler reached out with his karabiner and hooked it up to the chute. Hawkins could see the fear almost radiating off Kessler's wind burned cheeks. "It's going to be all right soldier. Here goes nothing." Hawkins grabbed the cord and pulled. A yellow parachute with a black knight on it burst out of its bag and opened up. Both Kessler and Hawkins were jerked as if being stopped by a seat belt in a car crash. The hail of paint had stopped about twenty seconds before as the elements of the 4th Armored on the ground realized something was wrong.
Kessler and Hawkins were only about three hundred feet above ground at this point and quickly sailed down to the ground. Over the com, Hawkins heard Lieutenant Killroy. "That was some awesome shit you just pulled off, Hawkins. Are either of you hurt?"
Breathing heavily and still in pain from the jerk of the parachute and the impact with the ground, Hawkins took a second to respond. When he did, his breaths were still short and raspy. "We're .sir." Beside him on the ground, having been unhooked by Hawkins, Kessler lay shaking in fear.
Hawkins turned to the south as he heard a couple of humvees approaching. They pulled to a stop a dozen meters from the parachutists and piled out of their vehicles. Medical personnel rushed forward and began examining the two men. The others fanned out and began to form a security perimeter around the landing site. Behind the parked humvees, a limousine pulled up and out stepped a man that everyone in the United States would recognize. Hawkins brushed off the medical woman examining him and snapped to attention. When the president stopped in front of him, Hawkins saluted.
The president returned the salute and Hawkins went back to order arms. The president looked at Hawkins for a moment and then opened his mouth to speak. "Name and rank."
"Sergeant William Hawkins of the United States Ranger's elite parachute team, The Golden Knights."
The president smiled. "You know, Sergeant Hawkins, I think that was the bravest damn thing I have ever seen someone due. The sheer number of problems that could occur. The odds have to be something like one million to one." He paused for a moment and looked over at Kessler, who was on a stretcher and being loaded into one of the humvees. "Is he going to be all right?"
Sergeant Hawkins nodded. "He's really shook up but I think that he'll be fine, sir."
By this time, the men of the Golden Knights had begun landing one by one in the area behind Sergeant Hawkins. As they landed, they removed their parachutes and fell into formation around Hawkins. When the last member of the platoon had fallen in, the president spoke again. "Men of the Golden Knights! If all of you in this unit have even half the heart as Sergeant Hawkins does, then I feel sorry for whatever poor Russian bastards have to face you in combat. Dismissed." With that, the president of the United States turned and walked back to his limo, escorted by a pair of secret service agents.
A/N: Okay, so I'll admit it. I wrote this while procrastinating studying for my exams. Just a little short story I thought of. If you all like it, tell me, I might make it into a longer story.