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Title: Within Fifteen Minutes

Her smooth black suit whirred and hissed, tightening around her body, her helmet sealed and then beeped. A message appeared in green on her visor's head-up display.

She was ready.

"One minute." she heard over the communicator.

"Acknowledged." she said, turning and walking to the middle of the dimly lit cabin. She grabbed the handhold above, her powered gloves gripping tighter than she ever could. "In position."

She waited, the deep rumble of the aircraft constant in the background, muffled by her snug-fitting helmet. Random thoughts popped into her head; thoughts of her cat, her childhood tree house, and that annoying scratch on the wheel arch of her new red Mini. She banished them quickly, focusing solely on the task ahead. Her breathing was quickening. Her heart thumped faster.

"Door primed. Five seconds."

She counted down in her head. And then the floor opened up. She was buffeted by the wind as she glanced down at the ghostly glow of the thick clouds that sped by beneath her feet.

"Drop location in three… two… one… now!"

She hesitated for just a brief moment and then let go of the handhold, dropping through the hatch, and gasping as weightlessness played with her stomach. It was something she had never gotten used to. After a couple of seconds she leaned forwards, taking up the arch position, slowing her descent. She resisted looking back at the aircraft and focused on the soft expanse of undulating clouds below. They were filled with deep shadows cast by the waning moon to her left. Within seconds she entered one of those shadows and was consumed by billowing cliffs. For a few moments all visibility was lost. Streaks of water rushed across her visor, and then the view suddenly cleared to a scene of pure black. Her night vision activated automatically, filling her visor with a pale green vista of a valley with steep snow-covered slopes. Half way down the northern slope was a dark disk: the target. She was off course. Angling her hands she turned and veered left until she was directly above the disk. A warning flashed up: fifteen seconds to impact. The target was locked. She activated her chest plate which opened up. An object fell away and then lit up, accelerating down in a burst of fire. Seconds later it detonated on the disk. A flash of light was followed by a crack of noise and a thump as the pressure wave hit. For a moment she lost her form. She steadied herself. Her visor indicated that radar pulses were hitting her suit. Defence systems were active, but they would not be looking for her. The aircraft she had left just a minute before would be their target, exactly as planned.

The mountain tops were above her now. There were seconds left. She pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. As she tucked her head down she felt her suit tighten and her neck locked in place.

Everything brightened as she passed through clouds of flame, buffeted by almost deafening turbulence, and then she hit something. Her suit provided ample protection, but she was still momentarily stunned. She straightened out, getting back into the arch position, and blinked away her confusion. She was in the shaft, wide and deep. For some reason she thought about the scratch on her car again. Annoyed, she banished it. Her visor identified the gantry at the base of the shaft, as expected. She activated her chute. It burst from her back, spreading within a second and slowing her fall dramatically. All around debris was falling; she could hear some of it clattering on the floor below. Pulling on her chute's chords she steered towards the gantry and landed with a clank on its metal surface. Crouching, she pulled in her chute and detached her backpack. She sat, resting her back against the shaft's concrete wall. She closed her eyes and breathed slowly and deeply, relaxing herself, taking a moment to calm her thoughts. Even so, she could not stop a feeling of elation briefly overwhelming her. She gasped. She had made it deep into the complex.

The sound of voices below snapped her attention back to the mission. Unclipping several pieces of equipment from her belt she quickly assembled a small rifle and locked in a clip of ammunition. She stood, amid the clamour and chaos of her explosive entry, and then headed down some steel steps to the base of the shaft.

If things continued to go to plan the primary target would be neutralised within fifteen minutes. And then the hardest task of all would begin.

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