News from the
Pennsylvania Curriculum Exchange
Our first place entry for the 11-14 age group:
Becca Craven of Mechanicsburg, age 14
There is a deep hum coming from the floor under my feet, made from the engine running furiously to keep the plane in the air. I grip tightly to the restraints crossed over my chest, as if I might slip through the bottom of the aircraft and fall 5,000 feet to my death. But of course, that would never happen.
Yes, I have a small phobia of heights. That’s pretty ironic considering I’m about to jump out of this plane in a few minutes. My heart pounds at the very thought. I’ve never jumped from a plane before. This is, after all, my first mission with the team of specially-trained rescue men and women who call themselves the Black Coats. Of course, that isn’t the official term used by the army; They are the Special Forces Rescue-men. We are the Special Forces Rescue-men.
I’m the newest member of Squad 7, which has ten members including me. Being the
rookie, I feel more than a little pressure to keep up with the rest of the team. This
mission, dubbed “Operation Midnight”, is an especially important one. Our objective is
to drop from the sky into a field adjacent to a warehouse. This warehouse is hidden deep in Eastern territory, so hidden that not many people know of it’s existence.
Inside that warehouse is our target; the Midnight Missile. It’s not necessarily a missile, that’s just a codename. The only thing I know about it is that it’s a very important, very deadly weapon that was stolen from us Westerners. The Squad’s job is to get it back.
I feel my fingers shaking. Is it from anxiety? Excitement? I can’t tell. I look up at the other people strapped to their seats in the cargo unit of the AC1-30. Next to me sits a girl with her hair pulled back in a painfully tight bun, her big eyes narrowed and focused on the ground right in front of her. Her name is Eve, or rather, Commander Long. The leader of the team is dressed just like me, except her black jacket is trimmed with green, instead of gray like the rest of the squad members. It’s a sign of her rank.
I look over to my left. On this side of me sits a boy with close cropped dark hair, his knee bouncing to a beat only he can hear. Porter is his name, and we’ve been buds for a long time. Ever since I first enter basic training, in fact. It’s so funny how after our four years of training I got assigned to the same Squad as him. I was sure we’d be separated.
Then I make eye contact with the boy sitting across from me, Victor Jensen. He’s the
youngest in our group, at 20 years old, but is only a year younger than me.
“How are you holding up, Jensen?” I ask him.
He nods his head. “Fine. How about you?”
“Great.” I look at the girl next to him. “You, Greene?”
Selena Greene, the only other girl in the Squad other than the Commander, nods to me.
“Doing okay.” She says. Her duty helmet rests in her lap and her hands rest on top. “Nervous about you’re first mission?”
I nod. “Oh yeah.”
She gives me a thumbs up. “Just don’t worry about it, Quin, and it’ll be over before you know it.” I find it funny how she’s calls me by my first name.
I pull in a deep breath. She’s right. What do I have to be worried about? I completed my four years of intense training. I’ve learned every possible thing there is to learn about being a Black Coat.
Suddenly the plane shudders and the sensation that we’re slowing down hits me. My stomach starts doing flip-flops inside me, knowing it’s almost time. Eve undoes the straps across her chest and stands up, holding her helmet in her hands.
“Alright everyone. We’re about two miles out. Helmets on, we’re going dark.”
Here we go. I snap off the straps securing me to me seat and stand up. Slipping on my helmet, I peer through the glass that guards my eyes and watch everyone else stand up and pull on their helmets. Eve says something to the pilot through the radio attached to
That’s when the lights go out. I can hear the blood rushing in my ears as I struggle to adjust to the darkness; a red emergency light turns on from the ceiling. We’ve gone dark.
Suddenly the Commander’s voice is in my head, talking to us through the radio in my helmet.
“Thirty seconds to jump. Strap on your packs.”
Thirty seconds. In thirty seconds I’ll be free-falling thousands of feet in the air.
I grab the parachute hanging above my seat and secure the straps around me. My fingers feel stiff as I clip everything in place and do a quick check over all my gear. I’ve got my sleep bombs, a knife, a flashlight, and a stun gun. Then, holstered on my left hip, is a handgun. The weapon is only there as a last resort; my mission is not to kill.
“Ten seconds,” Eve radios. She flips the switch securing the door on the side of the plane. The sound of wind screaming past us is deafening as she slides open the door. I peek out into the empty, black space, where a thick fog covers the stars in the night sky.
My pulse surges. I look over at Porter, who gives me a pat on the back. He doesn’t say anything, as the only way to communicate is through the radio now that our helmets are on. But I don’t mind; there isn’t much that needs to be said.
“Okay! I’m first, then the rest of you follow!” Eve yells through the intercom over the sound of the wind. The Commander faces us, and she holds up her fingers and counts
down from five. When she gets to zero, she lets herself fall backward out of the plane.
And then she’s gone.
Next is Victor. After he disappears out of the plane into the fog, the others follow behind him until it’s only Porter, Selena, and I left. We don’t have time to linger around; before either of them can jump, I step up to the door and let myself fall backward just like Eve did.
Have you ever gone down a huge drop on a roller coaster and felt like your stomach was in your throat? Okay, well take that feeling and multiply it by ten and you’ve got what it feels like to be skydiving. I can see the others falling below me, and I know Porter and Selena are right above me.
I see a flash of white as Eve releases her parachute. I feel panic rise in my throat, and I feel around the pack on my back for the string that will release the chute. There it is,
flapping around wildly. I grab it and yank as hard as I can, and I feel the weight on my back decrease dramatically. Then, my breath is knocked out of my chest as the wind catches the parachute and jerks my whole body. I start descending slowly, slowly, toward the dark field below.
Eve hits the ground first, followed by Victor. The Commander does a graceful somersault in the grass to catch herself. Then I hit the ground, and my weight throws me forward onto my knees. It takes me a moment to catch my breath before I can throw the
pack off my shoulders and run after the Commander, who’s making a beeline for a small wooded area in the middle of the field.
Okay. The plan. Remember the plan, Quin. This is it.
The Squad meets up in the darkness of the trees, gathered around Eve. She’s got her hands on her hips, breathing a little heavier. She presses the radio button on her helmet and speaks.
“Our target is on our two right now. I don’t see any security yet. Stay alert.”
Her voice is brisk. Her tight little bun sticks out from under her helmet as she scans the horizon, where the huge warehouse looms and glints in the dim moonlight.
It takes us five minutes to get about twenty yards from the warehouse. There is no
security in sight. We’re okay for now.
The Squad keeps low as we sprint from the shadows to the wall of the building, which is about fifty feet high. This is the part where the plan gets interesting, as if it already wasn’t. We’re going to have to scale the wall, all the way to the rooftop.
Eve reaches for a tool on her belt and whips out what looks like a small stick. But when she presses a button on the side, it snaps open to a long pole with a triangular, hollow back end. She positions the tool, resting the triangle part on her shoulder, and aims the thinner part toward the rooftop. There is a lot of pressure on her for this part; she can’t miss.
The Commander reaches for the trigger on the underside of the tool. She squeezes slowly, until with a quiet pop a rope shoots out of the slim barrel. It flies up and connects right at the very top of the building.
Little spikes snap out of the rope when Eve yanks on it to make sure it’s secured. The spikes act as rungs on a ladder would, providing us a way up. Once she sticks the triangular end onto the grass, it secures itself automatically into the dirt so we will have a solid base. Then, we start climbing.
Let me just say, climbing the rope is scarier than jumping out of a plane. By the time we all have climbed onto the roof, I’m completely out of breath. There was nothing to keep us from falling off but our bare hands.
But I have no time to catch my breath, because the team is already running across the empty rooftop to a small air vent in the center. Keep up with the squad, I tell myself. Just don’t slow them down.
With our eyes and ears alert, we huddle around the raised vent. Selena leans over to peek through the strips of metal, searching for any guards or signs of security.
When she pulls away, she presses the radio button on her helmet.
“There’s three or four guards right below us, and a couple more further down that way.” Selena points to the right. “I didn’t see any others.” She sounds a little breathless.
“Good. Walker, knock ’em out.”
Porter nods quickly. “Yes ma’am.” He takes a couple sleep bombs from his belt and grips them in his gloved hand; Then, he swiftly pulls open the vent and tosses the bombs down toward the guards.
I turn my head away. I hear a popping sound followed by some hissing, and a few shouts from the guards below. Then all is silent.
“Let’s move,” Eve says.
We all jump down the vent as Victor holds it open for us. I fall about ten feet before my feet hit solid ground. Around me, guards clutching rifles lay collapsed on the ground.
The Squad doesn’t hesitate at the sight, but keeps running down the dark hall we’ve just jumped into. Sticking to the shadows, we run silently. I know the layout of this warehouse from the blueprints and maps I studied beforehand. I know the room we’re looking for; Room AA4, on the top floor.
We pass a closed office door on the right. It’s labeled AA10, and my heart jumps when I realize we’re very close to where we need to be.
“Stop,” Eve suddenly commands, motioning for us to halt. We’ve just reached a corner, and the Commander peeks around it slowly.
Before she can say anything, Porter gasps. “There! AA4!”
We all follow his gaze to a door tucked in the dark corner of the hall, made of heavy
metal and shut tightly. In big black letters, AA4 is printed across the metal.
My chest tightens. Behind that door is the Midnight Missile,the weapon that the West so desperately wants to get their hands on. Could it be a chemical formula designed to wipe out our enemy? Or perhaps some high-tech machine of some kind? I guess we’ll
know in about a minute.
Eve tosses a small pellet bomb toward the door. It explodes when it hits the metal, knocking it off it’s hinges. My heart jumps at the loud boom from the explosion.
Once the door is taken care of, I run across the hall and burst into the room. My heart is pounding, pumping adrenaline through my veins.
I look around the dark room. I see no big weapon, no small glowing container of a mysterious formula. Instead, curled up in the darkest corner of the room, is a girl.
A girl? Is she a guard? A prisoner? Why is she here?
The girl senses our presence and looks up. Even from across the room, I am startled by her bright gray eyes that light up like a cat’s. I find myself frozen in place as she and I lock eyes.
A minute goes by in complete silence.
“Are you rescue-men?” She asks finally. Her voice is very soft and scratchy, as if she hasn’t spoken in days. Her cheeks are sunken and her eyes seem to droop.
“Yes,” I say without thinking. I can’t take my eyes off her; something about her isn’t
She stands up. When she does this, I can see how truly frail she looks. It’s like she hasn’t eaten anything in weeks, as her arms and legs look like they would snap if I tried to touch her. But in contrast to her weak figure, thick dark hair cascades over her shoulders to her waist. The difference from her pale skin and black hair is especially startling.
“Can I go home now?” She asks us. Porter and I look at each other. My lungs feel as if I can’t get enough oxygen, as if there was no air in the room.
“Can you take me home?”
Take me home. What does she mean by that?
Eve finally finds her voice. “What’s your name?”
The girl keeps her eyes on me. The more she looks at me, I feel as if she’s sucking the energy from me; I suddenly feel like I might collapse.
“They call me Midnight.”