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[Image: ab6f14d7-7721-4d07-bca4-fb2072916983_zps0e64b5cf.jpg]

Zab Air Base.

Branimir Havanko stifled a cough behind a stout glove. His hands were warm beneath the layers of woven fibercloth. The gloves, like the rest of his uniform, were built to endure cold mountain weather, even siphoning energy from his body heat to power the insulation. At the dead of winter, New Year's Eve no less to be exact, and to finish his inspections of the base exterior, he needed every bit of warmth as could be afforded. Luckily the Custody spared no expense.

He swept his gaze across the long, open field in front of him, and when he found nothing amiss, his gaze was pulled toward the peaks of mountains beyond. Luckily, the CCD was not shy about the standards issued to dressing their servicemen. Those mountains seemed distant, but the cold winds blew off the slopes all the same as if he were at their base. Snow snaked clouds of white across the runway, but otherwise, little moved.

The screech of the radio in his ear pulled him out of the moment.
"Havanko. Its Václav. What's your status?"

Branimir touched a gloved finger to the sidebar on his glasses, and the connection circled back around to base. He could speak freely now.
"Václav, its Havanko. Approaching Delta Tower. ETA five or six minutes."

One last drone tower remained before he could return to base. Best he get a move on or else he was likely to still be doing this when the sun set. Thought it was cold now?
"Hurry it up, Airman. Václav out."

Branimir rolled his eyes, "Yes sir. Havanko out."

The tower itself was positioned at the edge of a cliff and loomed like a spire dozens of meters overhead. Years in and Branimir still dreamed of the chance to be a UAV pilot. After failing his second trial test in a row, it seemed the closest he would get was to inspect the damn towers.

"Somebody's got to do it,"
he said to himself. He switched on his body sensors, powered up the check devices, and started climbing the ladder. Twenty rungs later, he was wrapping up the comm checks and ready to descend when something black on the horizon caught his eye.

He hooked his arm through the ladder and leaned out from the tower. The land warriors zoomed in, and sure enough, it was a plane. Black as night. Large. Like a commercial airliner. There were no symbols to be seen. A frown deepened his expression with concern. It was maybe a kilometer away and moving fast. He called back to base.

"Sergeant Václav, Havanko."

A screech, then his superior's voice responded. "Václav. Go."

"Sir. I have a visual on a bird. Potential bogey. Copy?"

There was silence for a few moments. More than what made Branimir comfortable. He started to climb down the tower.

"Copy. We see it."
Havanko couldn't tell if Václav was excited or worried. "Stay clear of the runway, Havanko. She's coming in to land."

"Sir, what is it?"

"That's above your clearance, Airman."
Václav responded.

Havanko sighed and hurried down the ladder. The bird was sweeping in for the land. Behind him, the runway was empty. But to his surprise, Václav wasn't done. "Its above mine too, but I'm told she's radio callsign Cronos."

Havanko felt his body stiffen sharp as an icicle. Trainees whispered stories of Cronos like urban legends.

Nobody believed the plane was real.

Continued at: On the Heights

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