Gray Matter Splatter, Chapter 6

The Carrickfergus chugged passed Kotelny island, crashing through sheets of ice on its way.

Deckard sat on the bridge watching the scorched island slide by. The sting of defeat overwhelmed the physical pain he felt in his chest where the machine gun barrel had slammed into him. They had lost nine men on what should have been a straight forward post-battle assessment of the island. The bodies of their dead had been bagged up and put down in the bottom of the ship with the ballast for the time being. The Samruk mercs had loaded up and quickly evacuated the island.

Knowing it was futile to hold off on making the call, Deckard picked up the satellite phone, even though talking about what just happened was the last thing he wanted to do at that moment. He dialed the number for Xyphon’s head of security.

“This is Eliot.”

“I lost them,” Deckard said. “Whoever they were, they hacked into six automated tank systems that were left present on the island in standby mode. As near as I can tell they used the tanks to massacre everyone on the island, then send them back to their garages to wait for anyone else to show up on the island. It was a baited trap and we walked right into it.”

“Did you lose anyone?”

“Nine.”

“Shit, I’m sorry Deckard.”

“We took a close look at the airfield though. There was no sign that an aircraft had landed or taken off on that airstrip in a while. We would have seen some tracks.”

“Which means they are still on the water. Makes since seeing that they don’t have total control over the airspace. It seems like they are using an anti-access strategy, shooting down just enough aircraft to make the Russians squeamish about sending more.”

“Whatever the case, they are long gone. I fucked up.”

“There was no way you could have known Deckard. You’re not out of the game yet. Not if you still want in.”

“What is it?” Deckard said as he sat up straight in his chair.

“Can you do VTC?” Eliot said referring to a Video Teleconference.

“Yeah, we can do that via satellite.”

“Good. Call this number,” Eliot then read off a strong of numbers that Deckard wrote down on a coffee stained yellow legal pad that Otter had left laying around.

“Who is this?” Deckard asked as he finished writing down the numbers.

“Uncle Sam has been looking for you Deckard. The chess pieces are shifting very rapidly back in the United States right now.”

Deckard hung up and opened a laptop computer. Bringing up the VTC program he dialed up the number that Eliot had provided. It took a minute for the connection to kick in before the video suddenly clicked on.

On the screen, Deckard saw four men sitting around a table.

“Deckard,” the man in the center of the table said. “We’ve been trying to get ahold of you for hours.”

“This isn’t exactly a Skype call from your local Starbucks,” Deckard replied. “What can I do for you?”

“Mr. Deckard,” the old man with the reading glasses perched on his nose began. “We represent a compartmentalized special access program folded within the national security infrastructure of the U.S. Government. What we would like to discuss with you is certain terms of employment and the legalese required therein which your company would complete the terms of service on an operationalized basis pending certain approvals and exemptions-”

“Okay, okay,” Deckard interrupted. “I have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.”

“God dammit,” another old man on the teleconference muttered. “I fucking told you Craig, shut your fat fucking face.” The man wearing a black trench coat stood up and walked in front of the camera, standing in front of Deckard and blocking out the view of the other three men at the table.

“Listen,” he said. “The bad guys stole something from the Russians, probably something nuclear, and we can’t let it fall into the wrong hands.”

“I’m following.”

“What we have acquired for you are letters of marque and reprisal signed by the President of the United States of America. You just became the first sanctioned American pirate in over two hundred years. As a privateer you are entitled to raid enemy vessels designated by the US government, for pay, and we can also provide you with whatever intelligence support we can from here.”

“I’ve got wood.”

“I was hoping you would say that. Your mission is simple Deckard. Stop the enemy for getting away with the device they took from the Russians. That is your target. Kill everything between you and it.”

“I just came a little but I’m afraid that I can’t help. They must be heading east, but we lost their trail.”

“We can help with that.”

“How?”

“10-meter imagery captured by Synthetic Aperture Radar from a passing satellite 45 minutes ago. The national geo-spatial agency was able to track fourteen commercial shipping vessels passing Kotelny island plus one mystery vessel. All we can do is a analysis of the ship’s wake and attempt to project a distance and heading.”

“I’m starting to feel like Captain Jack Sparrow chasing a ghost ship.”

“We’ll exchange business cards and swap saliva under the bleachers later Deckard,” the man in the black jacket said. “Right now we need to get this operation back on track. I’m bringing some imagery up on your screen right now. Craig, get that shit up on the VTC dammit.”

The screen on Deckard’s laptop showed overhead imagery of a ice strewn sea, a patch of the seemingly endless arctic ocean just like any other.

“We got no direct returns from searching for this particular ship, meaning it has poor radar backscatter characteristics.”

“A stealth ship?”

“It almost certainly has characteristics to reduce its radar cross section, the wake we detected was faint as well meaning that there are probably measures to reduce that as well. Whoever these guys are they are trying very hard to stay hidden and that makes them very interesting to us. We need you to close the distance and keep the pressure on them, otherwise they might have time to offload the device to a waiting airplane or submarine. Zoom in on that picture and take a closer look at the wake.”

Deckard clicked the magnifying glass icon and enlarged the image. The ship’s wake was hard to spot at first but it was definitely present.

“You can make out a stern wave and the turbulent wake leaving a trail behind wherever the vessel is off to,” the man in black continued. “I crunched the numbers. By measuring distances where the traverse and divergent waves intersect with the kelvin envelop I was able to get you a new heading for the suspect vessel. This heading also backtracks to Kotelny island.”

“What am I up against?

“My best assessment is that it is a semi-submersible craft which would explain why we can’t find a radar cross section on it. The good news is that this means the ship is moving at relatively slow speeds, meaning you’ve got a shot at catching up with it.”

“The bad news?”

“It probably lowers its draft by filling internal ballast tanks along the sides of its hull. It would also be able to evacuate those tanks quickly and then take off a much higher speeds. Its going to be hard to spot, even visually, but once you do and begin pursuit you will have your hands full.”

“You’re an old sea dog aren’t you?”

The man in black chuckled.

“That was a long time ago.”

“And now?”

“You could say that I specialize in quiet weapons for silent wars.”

Deckard was silent.

“You can call me Will by the way.”

“Will?”

“Yeah?”

“Who are they?”

Will was about to say something until Craig, the guy with the reading glasses interrupted.

“We don’t know who they are Deckard. That’s what has everyone here so scared. Russia has come under attack, America got hit hard last night, and we are seeing some really weird movements in Ukraine, Syria, and the South China Sea in recent hours. Right now it would be extremely speculative to point a finger at one actor or another because none of this is making sense,” Craig finished. “We’ll be in touch the moment we know more.”

“I would appreciate that,” Deckard said, his words left hanging in the air.

Will looked back at him.

“You remember the Moscow apartment complex bombing in 1999?” Will asked.

“It kicked off the second war in Chechnya.”

“Its not a secret that the bombing was a false flag conducted by the Russian FSB intelligence service.”

“What are you saying? That the Russians stole their own nuclear weapon?”

“I’m saying that all of the villains in Gotham city are teaming up on us.”

“Wait, what?”

“As I said, we’ll contact you when we have something solid,” Craig cut in again.

The VTC went dark and Deckard was again sitting on the bridge with only Otter to keep him company. The ship captain whistled as he began steering them on a new heading that had just been sent to them.

“Damn son,” the ship captain said as he took a swig of spiked coffee. “That’s some black helicopter shit right there.”

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Gray Matter Splatter, Chapter Five

“To your three ‘o clock!”

Deckard shouted over the assault net as he ran but it was already too late.

Five treaded vehicles burst from behind the slope and rolled onto the airfield, their turrets scanning in all directions for targets. Then the slaughter began. 12.7 anti-aircraft guns mounted on the tanks opened fire, yellow flashes bursting from the muzzles as anti-aircraft rounds began tearing into Fedorchenko’s platoon.

Deckard hit the ground, hoping to avoid being detected by the tanks. He was out in the open in the middle of the airfield, just like Fedorchenko’s men. He watched helplessly as a half dozen of his men burst into pieces, turning the snow red, as they tried to run. The gray colored tanks rolled across the airfield, the rotating turrets on top had 12.7 DShK machine guns loaded into the cradle. Deckard noted to two rectangular radar dishes sticking from the sides of the turret like ears. There was also a sensor suite on the gun platform for thermals. Two of the tanks locked on to other targets, Samruk’s second platoon over at the barracks, and took off on a new trajectory.

Fedorchenko’s men had beaten an embarrassing and chaotic retreat to find some low ground to take cover in after their number were thinned out as they crossed the airfield. They were still in danger of being over run by the armored vehicles in seconds as the tanks were not about to be slowed down by Kalashnikov fire.

Deckard panted, his body already covered in sweat from the brief run. The great irony of the arctic was overheating inside all of your cold weather gear. Fedorchenko’s men were staring down three tanks and no matter how badass a Infantrymen you were, enemy armor could steam roll you in a heart beat without air support. That was when Deckard had another dumb idea.

He might be able to peel one of the tanks away from Fedorchenko’s platoon so that they would face two instead of three, maybe even giving them fighting chance. Getting to his feet Deckard unloaded on the closest tank, about a hundred meters away, with his AK-103. His rounds sparked off the side of the tank, drawing its attention. The treads on one side of the tank reversed while the other continued forward, making a sharp right turn towards Deckard as the gun turret was already seeking him out.

As the tank swerved towards him, Deckard sprinted, but not in the opposite direction. He ran straight towards it.

Crazy as it sounded, Deckard knew that trying to out run the tanks was pure suicide across open terrain. His only chance was to charge it, knowing that the machine gun had limits to its elevation angle. His hood flew off his head as he ran directly at the tank, sweat running down his neck, when thick gray smoke suddenly burst all around Fedorchenko’s position as his men deployed thermal smoke grenades. The tank was now facing Deckard and he was staring right down the barrel of the Russian anti-aircraft gun.

Deckard dived forward as the DShK opened fire.

* * *

The Russian robotic tank swung towards the two new Samruk International recruits. It was only their second mission with the company and they were already being run to ground by robots with machine guns.

Maurizio and Jacob were quickly separated from the rest of their platoon as twin tanks suddenly assaulted the barracks and opened fire on the Samruk International mercenaries. So much for following the clues and unraveling the mystery of what happened to the base on Kotelny Island, the answer had become immediately clear to them.

The Italian and the Danish mercenary did what all the others had done, the only thing they could do, run and try to find cover. One of the tanks homed in on them, firing bursts that chewed through the snow next to them. By zigzagging a few times they had managed to avoid being cut down in the open snow drifts, the computer targeting programming that the tank used clearly had a hard time leading targets, but they both knew they only had seconds before the machine gun fire walked into them.

“This way,” Jacob said, grabbing Maurizio’s sleeve. They cut a hard left and descended down a snow bank. Both mercenaries tripped in the knee deep snow and rolled down the embankment. Both men flopped through the snow, the tank quickly bearing down on them.

Maurizio lay on his back at the bottom, looking up at the ridge as the automated tank rolled over the edge. The turret swung towards them. The former Italian counter-terrorist operator rolled the stock of his Kalashnikov into his shoulder, ready to go down in a blaze of glory. Both mercenaries fired ineffectively at the vehicle.

The turret tried to lock onto its targets as the tank platform it was attached to began to slide in the snow. The DShK opened fire, 12.7 rounds spraying right in front of the mercenaries. Then the tank lurched again and began sliding down the embankment. The European mercenaries continued to fire, cycling through their 30 round magazines. Their bullets smacked into the tank armor, the turret, and the machine gun.

Now the robotic tank was sliding down on top of them. Maurizio struggled to his feet. Grabbing Jacob with both hands he pulled and pushed him out of the way as the tank rolled over in the snow. It flopped down just a few feet way, crushing the turret under the tank platform. The tank treads spun, but with the vehicle flipped upside down it was going nowhere fast.

The Dane and the Italian looked at each other with wide eyes.

Che palle,” Maurizio whispered.

What a ball breaker.

* * *

Bullets ripped just inches above Deckard and slammed into the snow covered runway, stitching a burst across the tarmac that kicked up ice and debris. Deckard slid forward on his forearms as the toes of his boots slid, attempting to gain purchase on the ice. He got halfway up, stumbled forward, fell, and the tank was on top of him. The mercenary laid as flat as possible, tightly gripping his Kalashnikov.

His ears rang as the tank rumbled right over him, the clanking treads passing on either side of him.

Seeing daylight again as the tank passed, Deckard sprang to his feet, ran a few more paces to catch up with the tank as it searched for new targets, and jumped.

His hand seized a thick rubber cable looping down from an antenna on the back of the tank. With a sudden jerk, Deckard was lifted off his feet and dragged behind the tank. With the AK slung over his shoulder, Deckard reached out and grabbed the cable with both hands. His gloves had a good grip, but his hands still slipped around inside them. Knowing that he was all out of options, Deckard ignored the pain in his shoulders, gripped the cable tighter, and climbed hand over hand.

As he gripped the antennae mast and pulled himself on top of the tank, he saw over his shoulder that Fedorchenko’s employment of smoke grenades for concealment had worked, confusing the tanks while Samruk’s Gustav gunners began reeking havoc. It looked like they had already scored a mobility kill against one tank as it spun in circles on one tread, the other disabled.

The tank cut a turn, nearly throwing Deckard off as he hugged the antennae mast. From the sensor array, he knew immediately what he was looking at. It was not a manned battle tank but rather a deadly remote controlled one. It was a unmanned vehicle, receiving signal commands from the antennae that he clung to. The Russians called these types of tanks a Mobile Robotic Complex, and this particular model was nicknamed the Wolf-2. Good for protecting arctic infrastructure since robots never got cold like soldiers do.

Since it was a robot, Deckard knew he didn’t have to actually destroy the tank. All he needed to do was make it blind and deaf by disabling its sensor array. Robots were a lot easier to game than human beings since they operate within such strict programmed parameters, like the way he easily got underneath the attack angle allowed by the mechanics of the machine gun turret. A human operator would have known better.

The tank was circling around, scanning for more targets. Deckard climbed across the top of the vehicle as it sped across the runway, moving towards the radar dishes mounted on the turret. Reaching for his chest rig, he began freeing a hand grenade when the Wolf-2’s radar locked onto a target. The entire gun turret swung around to fire.

Deckard hardly saw the DShK barrel coming as it slammed into his chest. Picked up off his feet, his legs dangled in the air off the side of the tank as the barrel began spitting fire.

* * *

Nikita threw himself through the doorway as automatic gunfire ripped the walls down around him. Between bursts, he could hear the clank-clank-clank of the tank treads, then another burst of anti-aircraft rounds that poked holes through the walls of the barracks that were about as big around as his thumb.

First Fedorchenko’s platoon got hit out on the airfield and then a minute later Sergeant Shatayeva’s platoon was getting pounded at the abandoned barracks. The soldier housing complex was made up of adjoining compartmentalized containers that had been elevated on stilts to keep them above the snow and ice. The barracks had already been torn apart when they got there, the gory remains of frozen Russian soldiers decorating what was left of their living quarters.

Now the entire complex was being turned into a giant gerbil maze filled with Samruk mercenaries trying to find concealment as the tank’s radar guided machine gun sought them out from below. Nikita cursed himself as he came up on a knee. He poked his head out thinking that his camouflage uniform would keep him from being spotted.

It was called chromacamo. Extremely expensive and only available in limited numbers, chromacamo was a type of ‘smart’ camouflage that changed color to match the the soldier’s environment. Nikita had first experimented with it during a mission to Mexico, but now the entire sniper and recce section made use of it.

Camouflage worked great at keeping the sniper concealed from drug traffickers, terrorists, and enemy soldiers, but this was a different ball game. The thermal and radar system on the automated hunter/killer tank below skipped right passed the optical illusion created by camouflage. It was designed to deceive the human eye, not a robotic one.

The radar or thermals on the mobile robotic platform must have picked up on something because another long burst of autofire began tearing through what was left of the facade left holding up the roof. Nikita rolled left with his HK 417 rifle in his hands as more holes were punched through the floor. The entire barracks was disintegrating right out from under him.

Climbing through a ragged hole in the far wall, Nikita escaped out the back. A narrow cat walk led him to a metal ladder. Slinging his rifle, he began to scale it up to the roof. The tank was on a war path and running away would just earn him a bullet in the back. Up on the roof he caught a gust of arctic wind to the face, snow flakes whisking over his goggles. Then he caught sight of a dozen other mercenaries up on the rooftops of the adjacent buildings. They were all laying low without adequate weapons to address the problem below.

One of the American mercenaries was on the radio, hissing into the mic to the mortar section that had been getting set up near where the Carrickfergus made its landing. Not that calling in a fire mission was even possible. They were just meters away from the tank below and mortars rounds would rain down right on top of them.

Nikita crept to the edge of the roof and risked a glance down. The tank was still clanking between the barracks buildings. It locked on to something for a second and let off a couple rounds. They could always wait around for the tank’s magazine to empty as it lit up suspected targets, but who knew how many friendlies would be killed in the process?

With 7.62 rifles, they might be able to take out the thermal and radar targeting sensors if they focused enough coordinated fire on them. But from their vantage point, he had a better idea.

“Grenade,” Nikita said to the others. They looked up at him as his uniform changed colors from white to gray, matching the metal roof of the barracks. Each of the mercenaries yanked the pin on a hand grenade.

“Now!”

A dozen hand grenades rained down on the robotic tank below. Blast after blast ripped across the tank in a shower of sparks and brown smoke. Some detonated harmlessly in the snow but others landed on top of the tank. The armored portions were unaffected, but several blasts left the radar ears on the side of the gun turret torn to shreds.

The tank drove along in short stunted bursts, rocking to a stop, trying to lock onto targets, then driving along for a few more meters. The computer brain inside the vehicle was unable to function properly with its eyes and ears taken out.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” the American mercenary yelled over the wind to Nikita. “Then mortar this place with willy pete,” he said referring to white phosphorus rounds which would burn everything to the ground.

Nikita paused for a moment. The veteran sniper was realizing that his old tactics and techniques were not working anymore. The environment was different. The enemy was different. The rules had been changed without anyone telling him and he wasn’t adapting fast enough.

“Da,” Nikita replied. “Burn it.”

* * *

Deckard clung to the DShK barrel as it flung him through the air. He almost slipped off again when the gun turret lurched to an immediate stop and opened fire. Looking behind him, Deckard hopped backwards and landed on the front of the tank. His chest was tight like someone had just whacked him with a baseball bat. Actually, it had been a machine gun barrel but he would worry about how black and blue he was some other time.

Initially, he had planned to destroy the antenna mast. Interrupting communications between the tank and whatever control mechanism it had might do the trick, but now that he was in front of the tank he had access to an even better target. In front of the gun turret, below the barrel was a ammunition drum loaded with the 12.7 machine gun rounds that fed into the DShK on a metal link belt.

Reaching into a pouch on his chest rig, Deckard produced a door charge. The segments of explosive cutting tape were designed for punching through doors so that assaulters could rush inside and clear a building. It would do a good number on the tank turret too.

Peeling off the plastic strip off the adhesive glue on the back of the charge, Deckard slapped it onto the ammo drum. The DShK ceased firing, then scanned for another target, causing Deckard to duck under the barrel before his head was taken off. Working quickly, he strung in the initiation system, a line of shock tube connected to a ignitor with a pull pin.

Looking over his shoulder, he saw that the tank he was on had locked onto Fedorchenko’s position. In a few moments he would probably be lit up by his own men when the tank started shooting at them. Two burning tank hulks were laid out in front of the platoon already and he had no doubt that they were already shifting fire to the third one.

Deckard put his finger through the pin on the ignitor and rolled off the side of the tank.

His boots came down first, absorbing some of the shock, then he landed on his side, bouncing painfully on the ice. Twisting and turning the pin on the ignitor, the chemical reaction in the shoc tube caused it to blink neon blue for a micro-second.

The turret blew sky high.

Deckard cringed as the DShK actually separated from the turret and went spinning through the air. The tank rolled to to a halt and what was left of the machine gun landed somewhere behind him. Under his jacket, Deckard was saturated in sweat. He struggled to catch his breath as he got up and examined the damage. There were three smoking tank husks out on the airfield. The other two must have gone to hunt down his guys at the barracks. At least he didn’t hear them shooting, giving him some hope that they had already been taken out.

“Both platoons,” Deckard said into his radio. “ACE report.”

ACE was a military acronym which stood for ammo, casualties, and equipment. It was a very brief report that small unit leaders sent up to higher to inform their leadership as to how much ammo they had left, anyone who had been killed or wounded, and the state of their combat gear and weapons. As he waited for the reports to roll in from his platoon Sergeants, Deckard walked towards Fedorchenko’s position. They had found refuge in a small depression from which they had masked themselves with smoke grenades and fired Anti-Tank weapons. Still, Deckard knew it was going to be bad. He had seen the aerosol spray of blood in the air himself.

“2nd Platoon,” Shatayeva reported in from the barracks. “Five magazines per man, two KIA, up on weapons and equipment.”

Deckard took a deep breath as he neared the lifeless bodies of his men laying strewn across the airfield.

“1st Platoon,” Fedorchenko’s voice said over the net. “Four magazines per man, seven KIA, one Gustav destroyed.”

Deckard stood in front of the first body he came across, understanding why one of their Gustav recoiless rifles had been destroyed. One of the newer group of guys, Marty had also been cut in half by DShK fire. He was a good dude from 1st Ranger battalion. Now he lay on his back with his arms sprawled out and bent at the elbows like claws. His mouth was left ajar with ice clinging to his short beard. There was nothing they could have done for him.

Not far from him was another corpse. Deckard knelt down next to him. Frank had been with Samruk International since the beginning, one of Deckard’s first hires to the company. He had been a Special Operations legend, at least among those in the know. Having served in the Ranger Regiment’s Ranger Reconnaissance Detachment and then in the Intelligence Support Activity, he had pulled off some very hairy assignments.

Only to be snuffed out in an instant on the arctic tundra.

“Deckard.”

Standing up, he looked over to see Pat approaching.

“It’s Frank.”

“I know. We just got our asses kicked.”

Deckard looked back down at the body.

“They laid a trap for us Deckard and we walked right into it. Whoever they are, they’re damn good. They hacked those robotic tanks, had them turn on their own operators, and then had them lay in wait for whoever gave chase. Listen Deckard,” Pat continued. “I know you’re in a bad place right now, but you better reach on down and grab your balls because this shit over the last twenty four hours just got real.”

Deckard opened his mouth to say something, but Pat was already walking away, his legs from the knee down already disappearing into the the swirling snow that gusted around them.

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Gray Matter Splatter, Chapter 4

“They want you to go after them.”

“What the fuck does that mean?”

“It means the Russians are desperate,” Eliot said over the satellite phone. “They are scrambling more ships from the North Fleet but they will never get there in time.”

“How is this supposed to work?” Deckard asked.

“You intercept the enemy vessel-”

“Assuming there is a vessel.”

“And they pay the company in oil so it is all legit. Just like that job that you didn’t just do for us. Deckard, they are talking about opening up the entire Pechora oil field to us. We’re talking hundreds of billions of dollars-”

“Assuming the check clears.”

“This is huge. Everyone at Xyphon is very excited but frankly they need me to sell you on the idea. Suffice to say we will cut you in for a percentage. Three percent of hundreds of billions of dollars is a lot of money.”

“Enough to keep my company running indefinitely.”

“You’re a hell of a soldier Deckard, but unless you aquire some serious business acumen in the next year you are going to need a steady stream of revenue.”

Deckard was silent for a moment. Everyone on the bridge of the Carrickfergus was looking at him.

“Any idea how I’m supposed to track them down?”

“One lead. Our crew on the Orion platform spotted a ship passing them an hour ago. Heading east. No AIS and the radar signature was so small that it looked like a iceberg on their displays. That ain’t normal. They never would have spotted it if we didn’t have so much illumination tonight.”

“Get me an estimate on the heading. If we can get into the general vicinity by day break we might be able to follow their wake.”

“So you’re in?”

“They burned our compound to the ground. I would like to know who it is that wants me dead.”

“Keep me up to date.”

“I will,” Deckard said. “And Eliot?”

“Yeah?”

“I want paper.”

“You’ll have a contract sent to you within the hour stating that if Xyphon is granted oil rights to Pachora that you will receive three percent of our net profit.”

“We’ll see,” Deckard said before hanging up.

Kurt, Chuck, Frank, Pat, and Otter stood looking at him.

“What you are waiting for, turn this ship around and make way for the Orion platform.”

“You got it boss,” Otter said as he began working the helm.

“Here we go again,” Frank said.

“You think I made the wrong call?”

“No,” Pat interrupted. “Someone just declared war on both Russia and America. They are seconds away from starting World War Three at any given moment and whoever they are, they are out there,” Pat pointed out into the darkness.

“Besides,” Chuck said. “A brother has to eat.”

* * *

“You gotta be kidding me,” Joshua said, the exasperation dripping in his voice.

“They’re the only ones we got up there,” Gary stated.

“You keep using that word we but he isn’t really one of ours,” Joshua countered.

“He’s a freelancer,” Craig chimed in with nothing of any relevance. “A loose cannon.”

“I acknowledge that there are aspects that make this…problematic,” Gary said. “But beggars can’t be choosers. For decades we neglected our capabilities in the arctic. The Coast Guard only has three ice breaker ships. One is in the process of being decommissioned and the other two are in dry docks being overhauled to extend their lifespan a few years.”

“This guy is a fucking mercenary for Christ sake,” Craig said. “You can’t trust him.”

“We talked to an officer Grant with Central Intelligence,” Gary said. “He said they had a fairly good working relationship for a time.”

In the corner of the room, Will’s chair screeched across the linoleum floor as he stood up. He had been huddled over a JWICS computer terminal for hours. The Joint Worldwide Intelligence Communications System was how some of America’s most classified information was shared within the intelligence community.

“I like him,” Will announced.

“Takes one to know one, huh, Will?” Craig said sarcastically. “Disavowed and disgraced.”

“The President just took us to DEFCON 2 in case you haven’t been keeping score,” Will said. “That’s the problem with you bureaucrats. You’re afraid to get your hands dirty. Well today we are going to do just that.”

“Oh my god,” Joshua said. “We’re all going to jail.”

“You don’t have to trust him,” Will said. “You don’t even have to like him but this is the guy who can get the job done and there isn’t a single other person we can call on.”

“You understand your colleague’s concerns though,” Gary added. “He brings substantial baggage.”

“Read his file,” Will said. “Special Operations, Ground Branch, Omega. This guy is one of ours. If the ring knockers hadn’t pissed him off he would probably still be one of ours. Instead he took his show on the road, and by all accounts this guy has more kills than cancer.”

“That’s what we’re afraid of,” Gary said as he leaned back in his swivel chair.

“Don’t concern yourself. It’s the arctic, it isn’t like there is much up there for him to destroy anyway.”

Craig rubbed his forehead.

“This is illegal as fuck,” Joshua said in a last ditch effort.

“It doesn’t have to be.”

“How?” Gary asked.

“Letters of Marque.”

“What the hell is that?”

Will tapped a cigarette out of his pack and popped it in his mouth.

“You can’t smoke here,” Craig whined.

“Go fuck yourself,” Will said as he lit it up. “So here is the deal. Back in the days of Sir Francis Drake and Captain Kidd, letters of marque were issued by the king to commission and authorize privateers to attack enemy vessels. They were government sanctioned pirates.”

“I hate to break it to you but we had this little incident in 1776 and ever since we haven’t had a king,” Gary said, swatting at cigarette smoke.

“But there is a historical precedent. President Madison authorized letters of marque during the second barbary war off the coast of Libya.”

“That has got to be the most obscure legal justification I’ve ever heard,” Craig said.

“Are you kidding me,” Will said as he exhaled another cloud of smoke. “We break the law all the time in JSOC, we just do it legally by exploiting loopholes and bypassing the intent of the law. If anything, this is on far more solid legal ground.”

“Who has the authorization to grant a letter of marque?” Gary asked.

Will arched his eyebrows.

“Shit.”

“Run it up the flag pole,” Will said turning back to his terminal. “A lot has changed tonight. They will sign it.”

The men sitting around the table let out a collective sigh. Will just chuckled as he scrolled through files on JWICS.

“Deckard is about to become an American pirate.”

* * *

By daybreak, Otter spotted clouds of black smoke billowing in the distance. It was becoming an all too familiar sight. After making contact with Xyphon’s oil platform, they determined a rough heading which took them straight to Kotelny Island.

Deckard stood next to Otter on the bridge, kitted up except for his heavy snow camo parka that he held in one hand. Xyphon and the Russian government had been in touch via a cut out that Deckard probably didn’t even want to know about. The Russian military lost communications with their base on the island during the night. When aircraft were scrambled, one of the MIG fighter jets was shot down. Now they were requesting that Samruk scope the situation out prior to Russian forces making an amphibious landing later that day.

All the boys were jocked up down below. They were going to execute a forced entry to the island, eleminate any enemies they encountered, attempt to rescue any remaining Russian soldiers, and report back to Xyphon with their status. If the base had been compromised, the enemy also might attempt to utilize the airstrip that the Russian military had recently upgraded. Kotelny was a strategic base during the Soviet era, but had been shut down at the end of the cold war. It was only with the opening of Arctic transit lines that the Russians renewed their focus on the region, seeking to assert their sovereignty and fossil fuel rights in the arctic.

As the Carrickfergus neared the island, they could see burning vehicles. They were Russian GAZ 3351s, treaded personnel carriers made specifically for traveling across the arctic snow and ice.

“Somebody lit these guys up,” Otter said.

He then took a sip of coffee as if it was just another day at the office.

Deckard stepped out of the bridge and climbed down a ladder onto the barge. His men stood assembled and waiting. This time they were not even going to dick around with the trucks. Bringing them had been a huge mistake in the first place, one he chalked up to his lack of experience in the arctic. This wasn’t counter-terrorism raids in Baghdad and he should have adapted to his environment better.

The Carrickfergus cracked through the sheets of ice as they closed on the island. The Samruk mercenaries almost looked robotic in their arctic gear. In addition to their snow camouflage and heavy parkas, they each wore tinted SnoCross goggles which also included a nose protector. Without them, they would suffer from both frostbite and snowblindness. Under that they each wore a No-Fog breath deflector which would help keep them warm, but more importantly, would prevent their goggles from fogging up. That was one of those little details that could get you killed in a firefight.

“Listen up!” Deckard yelled as he strode into the middle of the group. “1st Platoon you have the airfield. 2nd Platoon, you have the barracks a few kilometers east. Afterwards we will consolidate and sweep up anything else we missed.”

The orders were brief to say the least, but he had faith in his Platoon Sergeants. Besides, they were just making this up on the fly.

As the Carrickfergus approached the icy coast, the ramp lowered and the mercenaries flowed off the ship, already wearing their assault snow shoes. Fedorchenko took his platoon towards the airfield while Shatayeva took his platoon to the barracks. Deckard shadowed Fedorchenko while Sergeant Major Korgan trailed after Shatayeva, the senior men present to help provide command and control.

The only thing the mercenaries heard was the whistle of wind in their ears and the crunch of snow under their boots. The columns of black smoke rising into the blue sky warned them that despite the alien desolation of emptiness of the arctic, that something was very wrong on Kotelny Island.

“We have bodies,” Korgan reported over the command net. “Someone tore them to ribbons. Looks like large caliber rounds were used.”

“I’m seeing them,” Deckard replied as he walked passed the remains of a Russian soldier. He had been wearing a heavy jacket with a fur lined hood. His entire body was scortched black up to his neck and was nearly cut in half at his mid-section.

Fedorchenko’s men moved out in a wedge shaped formation, spreading out and keeping a good distance between each mercenary so that they couldn’t be wiped out by a single grenade, IED, or burst of machine gun fire. Deckard trailed along behind them, his head swiveling back and forth but not seeing any enemy threats. After a few more minutes of treading through the snow, Fedorchenko ordered his men on line with eachother to conduct a sweep of the airfield.

Deckard walked off to the side and crouched down next to a pile of expended shell casings. Picking one of the shells with a gloved hand, Deckard recognized it as a 12.7 DShK heavy machine gun cartridge casing. Dropping the brass shell, Deckard clicked his radio.

“How are the barracks looking?” he asked Korgan.

“Mostly empty, but some of the compartments are completely ripped apart by heavy machine gun fire.”

“12.7 anti-aircraft gun?”

“Maybe, but I don’t see any firing positions.”

Deckard walked around the pile of expended brass. In the snow, it was easy to find and follow spore. Taking the hint from Korgan, he immediately saw tank treads next to the pile of brass. They seemed to lead off in another direction.

Tanks? But where did they go?

“Barracks secured,” Korgan reported.

“Airfield has been swept as well,” Fedorchenko radioed in. “No sign of the enemy.”

Deckard knew that something was seriously wrong. Someone just wasted a company’s worth of Russian soldiers with tanks and machine guns. They didn’t just disappear.

Deckard looked down the slope on the opposite end of the airfield, noticing that the Russian motor pool looked untouched, unlike the barracks and other vehicles scattered around the island. Reaching into his chest rig, he pulled out a small three power monocle. Lifting up his snow goggles, he cupped his hand around the monocle and took a closer look at the garages a few hundred meters away.

The motor pool looked dead, as clouds of snow were blown around the parking area. Then the doors on the garage suddenly began to open. Deckard squinted, trying to get a better view of what was inside. Then he saw it.

Deckard hit the transmit button on his radio.

“We’ve got a problem.”

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The Truth About the Bin Laden Raid

Seymour Hersh, a storied journalist whose revelations led to the Church Committee hearing in the 1970s, has attracted a lot of flak in recent years as someone who now acts as if he has been left in the sun for too long. Admittedly, his article about the Benghazi attack struck us at SOFREP as being completely bonkers. However, Hersh’s recent work about the raid which killed Osama Bin Laden is the most thorough and accurate we have yet seen.

Over the years, we’ve stuck our necks out a few times in an attempt to write about what really happened on the OBL raid, and received plenty of backlash for it. This is to be expected when America has made such a strong emotional investment in the War on Terror over the last 14 years. Americans were so happy to see Bin Laden killed that we drank our own koolaid. We took what our government told us at face value and never questioned it, no matter how inconsistent and illogical the narrative spun by the White House was.

A former CIA officer got quite peeved with me when I questioned the Hollywood narrative of the raid floated out to the public in the film, Zero Dark Thirty. We are made to believe that a single female CIA officer challenged her agency’s status quo and tracked down Bin Laden as a matter of personal revenge for the completely unconnected FOB Chapman bombing?

In the movie, she advances the thesis that Bin Laden could not be running an international terrorist organization from a cave in Afghanistan. Well, he was essentially living in an urban cave in Abbottabad on house arrest without an internet connection or telephone. Perhaps Bin Laden was not nearly as important as we are led to believe by this stage in the game.

But what’s not to like about the publicly stated narrative? Every governmental organization involved gets to claim their share of the credit. JSOC, the CIA, and the White House all come out looking like heroes and we even get a movie that plays extremely well to modern American sensibilities by touching upon the raise of women in the workplace. The truth, that Pakistani Generals like Kayani knew about the raid ahead of time and made sure the Pakistani military didn’t interfere, begins to erode away at the heroic narrative we are told about brilliant CIA operations and daring Navy SEAL commando raids.

Read more: http://sofrep.com/41269/hersh-bin-laden-anatomy-cover/#ixzz3ZsI7cZAY

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Gray Matter Splatter, Chapter 3

“Deckard.”

“Huh?”

Deckard rubbed crust out of his eyes as he sat up in his cot. After getting back on the Carrickfergus he had slept like a rock, the ship’s purring engines putting him out for hours.

“We got a problem,” Frank said. “Come up to the helm.”

“Shit, what is it now?” Deckard asked as he rolled off the cot and slid into his Merrill combat boots.

“You’re not going to believe this shit. C’mon.”

Deckard followed Frank out of the passenger compartment where the rest of the mercenaries were sleeping. Only a few remained awake playing video games or watching movies on portable DVD players. The post-mission hot wash had been just as ugly as the actions on the objective. They were a soup sandwich out there and they knew. The entire team was embarrassed by their vehicle issues and now realized just how dramatically they would have to adapt to the environment.

Climbing a few flights of metal stairs, they arrived at the helm. Otter looked at them with a worried expression that Deckard had never seen before.

“They burned it,” the Captain said.

Deckard was about to ask what the hell he was talking about when he looked out the window. Orange flames raged in the distance, illuminating the ocean and sparking off floating ice.

“Is that…”

“Yeah,” Otter replied. “That’s our joint.”

Samruk’s ad hoc operations center lent to them by the oil company had been set on fire. Thankfully, most of their combat equipment and supplies were on the Carrickfergus as Deckard intended the ship to act as a floating Forward Operating Base in of itself.

“I think this is far enough,” Otter said as he eased down the throttle.

“You’re right,” Deckard said. “Whoever it was might have mined the waters around the building.”

“What did we have left in there?” Frank asked.

“Four assault trucks that we brought as spares since there wasn’t room on the ship,” Deckard answered.

“Not that they were worth a fuck out here anyway.”

Deckard turned towards the voice. Kurt Jager leaned against the back wall with his arms crossed.

“I’m going to have to call our paymasters and find out what is going on. This is a hell of a way to cancel our contract.”

The Iridium satellite phone velcroed to the console started to ring. Deckard saw that the number belonged to the head of security for Xyphon Industries, the American oil company that had hired them to protect their personnel and assets in the Russian arctic. Apparently, they had the same idea. He picked up on the third ring.

“Hey Eliot, this is Deckard.”

“Got a minute?” the security executive asked.

“I’m watching the building you lent us burn to the ground right now.”

“You’re what? What the fuck is going on out there? I thought you guys were doing that job that I asked you never to speak to me about.”

“Yeah, we did that job that we aren’t going to talk about just fine but now that we’re arriving back in time for hot sandwiches and we’ve discovered that we are homeless vegabonds. I just hope that we’re not unemployed homeless vagabonds because I’m trying to run a jobs-for-vets program over here.”

“No, no, no. Listen, I was going to call you and bring you up to date. Things are blowing up over here at corporate.”

“Yeah, here too it seems.”

“I don’t know what the hell is going on but the Russians are going ape shit.”

Deckard appreciated the vernacular, Eliot being a former Marine and all who had heard of Deckard through the old boy network, but he wasn’t feeling any more illuminated about their current situation.

“Talk to me.”

“My contacts in the Russian government are saying that they got hit. They are telling me that it was Site 17 in the Ural Mountains. Supposedly a highly secure facility. We were thinking it was separatists from Chechnya or Dagestan but something is going on. The Russians are scrambling forces into the arctic.”

“Who the hell tries to make a getaway into the arctic circle?”

“Think of all the commercial shipping lines opening in the arctic? It’s the whole reason why we sent you guys up there. No one is really telling us what is happening and I’m beginning to think that not many people in the Russian government know in the first place.”

“And they burned my place on their way out? What for?”

“Maybe they were expecting you guys to be there.”

Deckard let that sit in for a moment.

“Listen,” Eliot continued. “Just lay low for a few hours until I can sort things out on my end. We’ll divert you to another one of our company’s stations up there once we figure out what is going on. You should know that the Russians have Navy icebreakers and fighter jets sweeping the entire region, presumably looking for whoever hit their base in the Urals.”

Otter looked down at the computer screen which displayed the ship’s Automatic Identification System, or AIS. AIS was a VHS responder and transmitter that displayed the call sign, heading, and speed of commercial vessels in the area. After seeing which commercial vessels were in the area, Otter then turned his attention to the radar display.

“Yup, look at that,” he said. “AIS is showing a dozen commercial ships just within a few miles and radar is picking up a few more ship not displaying any AIS information. That must be the Russian Navy.”

“Any idea who they are after?” Deckard asked.

“It looks like they are trying to intercept a couple of these call signs,” Otter said pointing to the AIS screen.

Deckard picked up a set of binoculars, knowing that he was going to have a hard time spotting anything at night.

“Deckard,” Eliot’s voice came from the Iridium phone. “You still there?”

“Hold on. I think-”

Suddenly a burst of yellow flashed on the horizon.

“Oh shit,” Otter grunted.

A second flash came a few kilometers away from the first and a little further out. Then a third. Otter reached over and grabbed the binoculars from Deckard.

“Fire boat,” he said after examining the burning fires in the distance. “They go back all the way to ancient Greece.”

“Loading a ship with explosives and then using deception to lure in an enemy vessel,” Deckard thought aloud.

“And then they both go kablooie,” Otter finished. “They just used decoys to take out the Russian Navy.”

“Deckard,” Frank whispered. “This isn’t some half assed Chechen terrorists. This is an act of war.”

“Eliot,” Deckard said picking up the phone. “I think we’re in deep shit.”

“Tell me about it. Turn on the television. Any channel will do.”

Kurt reached up and turned on the satellite television mounted in the corner of the helm. The sound was muted, but they didn’t need to hear. One of the major news networks was reporting on a series of terrorist attacks against Americans at home and abroad.

Deckard looked back out at the sea, seeing several more flashes across the ocean and a few more in the sky, Russian aircraft being shot down.

“Welcome to the thunderdome,” Frank mumbled.

* * *

Outside a non-descript building in Tampa, Florida a man in a black trench coat lit up a cigarette. Flicking the lighter closed with one hand, he quickly looked down at the insignia etched into the side and remembered another time.

Another place.

“Hey,” someone shouted from behind him. “It’s done Will. You’re all set.”

Taking a deep drag on his cancer stick, Will dropped it on the sidewalk and stubbed it out with the sole of one of his cheap dress shoes before turning to face the man holding open a glass door. Exhaling a cloud of smoke, he walked over to the door.

“I’ve never heard of a security clearance being re-instated that fast,” Will said sarcastically. “It reeks of desperation.”

“Don’t start, I had to pull some serious strings to bring you back in.”

“I’m sure World War Three cooking off helped too Gary.”

At the front desk a bored looking kid in a Army uniform checked Will’s ID card and then issued him a visitor’s pass. Both men were then waved through a security check point. As they walked, Will looked around seeing that not much had changed since he had left. He still had a lot of bitter memories about the place and never expected to be allowed back in.

At an unmarked door, Gary swiped his security pass against a scanner and a light above the door knob turned green. Stepping inside, Gary walked around a table where several other men were already seated. Will stood in the corner eyeballing the group. They were drilling holes in him as well.

Craig wore old man glasses with a chord that ran behind them so that they could hang around his neck when he wasn’t reading something. Joshua wore a pink polo shirt and sported a perfect military buzz cut. In Will’s eyes they were a bunch of geriatric spies, despite being just as old as they were.

“Let’s welcome Will back to the team gents,” Gary said, his words ringing hollow with the other three men.

Joshua nodded towards Will. Craig sat motionless. The second hand on a wall mounted clock ticked.

“We’ll get Will read back onto the project in a more formal manner, but right now we have more pressing concerns.”

Will took a deep breath.

“What are we looking at?”

“We’ve been tasked to assess a situation developing in the arctic circle. The Russians got hit at one of the Ural facilities and we are now receiving reports that they are losing naval ships and fighter aircraft in the arctic sea.”

“We are in agreement that today’s attacks, including in Russia, are not merely a coincidence?” Will asked patiently.

Craig and Joshua looked at each other before turning back to Will.

“We are,” Craig answered.

“But we are not just to assess,” Gary elaborated. “As of 0300 this morning SCOPE has been operationalized. NORTHCOM has the lead for anything in the arctic, but domestic terrorist attacks and cyberwar penetrations of arctic are keeping them tied down. Resources are being diverted everywhere but to our area of concern.”

“Operationalized? SCOPE is just a think tank for JSOC,” Will said. “I guess someone finally found their balls.”

“The White House signed another exemption letter,” Gary informed him. “I don’t think I need to tell you that they are desperate.”

“Desperate and scared,” Will said.

“And apparently someone felt that you were needed here,” Joshua said bitterly.

“Don’t be such a sour puss Joshua. How many times did I try to warn you about this? Instead you railroaded me right out of SCOPE and threw me out on my ass after stripping me of my clearance.”

“You only have yourself to blame for that,” Craig said. “For the record, I was completely against bringing you back. I regard you as a unbalanced lunatic at best and a national security disaster at worst.”

“Thanks for the endorsement, maybe I can put that on my resume.”

“You should be pitching old ladies Amway products in a supermarket somewhere.”

“I thought ponzi schemes were your forte Craig? Think I forgot about your little foray with discretionary funds in Algeria?”

“You know what Will,” Craig countered. “This reminds me of the time you tried to brief the Director of Central Intelligence on 9/11 conspiracy theories.”

“This reminds me of the time I fucked your wife at 29 Palms but you don’t hear me bragging about it.”

“Motherfucker-” Craig’s chair shot out from behind him as he stood up.

“Sit the fuck down!” Gary ordered. “You two are yaking like a couple girls in junior high. For Christ sake, I thought this was a professional organization.”

“Me too,” Will said under his breath.

“I told you to knock it the fuck off Will. Now sit down so we can get to work. Last time I checked we were hours away from a global fucking war.”

Will and Craig sat down.

“Bunch of drama queens I have to work with,” Gary muttered.

“Getting back on track,” Joshua interrupted. “We’re looking at a nuclear incident in Missouri, our embassies in Kenya, Libya, and Saudi Arabia under attack, the White House was penetrated both physically and via cyber attacks, gunmen shot up a movie theater in North Carolina, the Russian northern fleet is under attack, a Special Forces team got taken out in Croatia, and suicide bombers detonated themselves in Washington DC and in Austin, Texas.”

“They are trying to overwhelm our ability to respond by using swarming tactics,” Will said.

“Yeah, but who is they?” Gary asked.

All eyes went towards Will.

The disgraced intelligence operative cleared his throat.

“America’s enemies are now emerging from the shadows. They have prepared the environment for decades using probing techniques, testing our defenses. They know where our stovepipes are, they know about our bureaucratic rice bowls, they have assessed our reactions to cyber attacks and know damn well that we won’t respond to hacker penetrations with military force. Now they have hit three embassies and launched domestic terrorist attacks to overwhelm our counter-terrorism forces. Three Delta Squadrons, three embassies. Do the math.”

“But we still don’t know who they are,” Craig said.

“Again, do the math. Make an inference.”

“Stop being cryptic Will,” Gary said in frustration.

“Through our actions, America has created a coalition of countries who see themselves as adversarial to us. If we don’t like what a country is doing we call them rogue states. We sanction them, we try to strategically encircle them, we sabotage them, sometimes we even use military force against them. It was only a matter of time before we had to face the aggregate result of our political policies.”

“Here we go again,” Craig said rolling his eyes.

“The nations that we ostracized have begun working together to counter America’s status as a global hegemon. We are heading towards a multi-polar world, but they don’t want a multi-polar world. They want a world crafted in their own image.”

“What the fuck does that even mean,” Joshua said in frustration. “I told you Gary, we’re getting nowhere here.”

“American power has side effects and this is one of them,” Will continued. “By isolating and casting out various nations from the global community we created after World War Two, we inadvertently created a coalition of enemy states. A shadow NATO.”

“This is pure conjecture,” Craig said. “You can’t prove a fucking word of it. Not a single national intelligence estimate supports any of your conclusions.”

“That’s because people like you got comfortable. You thought things would stay the same, you had hoped they would so that your bureaucracies would remain relevant. But the old rules don’t apply anymore. The players involved will soon signal their hand. Watch for Russia to invade what is left of Ukraine and for China to take over some key islands in the South China Sea.”

“You have got to be kidding me,” Craig said as he threw his hands in the air.

“We can debate what might be true some other time,” Gary said trying to get the think tank back on track. “Let’s address what is. We have HUMINT and SIGINT data coming in that the Ural facility was not just attacked but that something was stolen. The Russians are panicking and are deploying their forces into the arctic as fast as they can. Then they get blown up by players yet unknown.”

“Players without names,” Will shrugged as he tapped a cigarette out of his pack.

“You can’t smoke in here Will,” Gary said. “Considering what happened in Missouri and the reaction the Russians have had, I think we have to assess a worse case scenario.”

“That terrorists hijacked a Russian nuclear weapon?” Joshua asked.

“Yeah,” Gary signed. “DOD thinks this conclusion is pre-mature but we have to consider the possibility.”

“You’re probably right,” Will said. “Except in thinking that it was terrorists who stole it.”

“So the question is what kind of assets do we have in the arctic that can intercept the weapon, if that is in fact what has happened?” Joshua asked.

Gary swallowed.

“What?” Craig asked, seeing the frown on Gary’s face.

“Next to nothing.”

* * *

A castle sat on top of a mountaintop over which dark storm clouds gathered.

The villagers at the base of the mountain knew better to approach the castle, the reckless few who had tried in the past were never seen or heard from again. It was just as rare to see anyone emerge from the castle and travel down the treacherous path to the village. When they did, they passed through the village without a word spoken. Once, those dwelling inside had been adventurers, but today they lurked inside the dark corridors of the castle, conjuring the dark spells of necromancy.

Inside one such corridor, a single torch lit the way, casting long shadows against the cyclopian walls. The massive stones used to build the structure looked like they had been melted together. Such architecture was only possible for something old, something ancient, as such knowledge was long since lost.

In one of the adjoining chambers, a council of three met to discuss an important matter.

“The talisman has been stolen,” an old mage reported. He wore long black robes, his face framed by a hood which left little to be noticed aside from his burning black eyes.

“But it is not yet in our hands,” the necromancer standing next to him said.

“We are close,” the third man said, a druid of the Tuatha order.

The old mage reached towards the pedestal in the center of the room and pulled a heavy bear fur from it. The portal revealed a map with sparkling stars at various important locations.

“The Atlantica plan progresses as expected,” the mage stated. “The king and his men have grown vain, his kingdom ripe for the taking.”

“It will do little good if the Talisman can not be extracted,” the necromancer said as he rubbed a small leather bag tied around his neck.

“The kingdom is in a panic,” the mage said to alleviate the necromancer’s concerns. “They lack organization and structure. They are a new kingdom. An immature one.”

“Others have tried,” the druid said as his eyes narrowed.

“Now is not the time for doubt,” the mage said as he pointed to one of the stars that was slowly moving across the portal. “Even now, our dark lords carry the talisman back to us.”

“The time grows near,” the necromancer confirmed with a smile.

“Yes,” the mage said as he looked up at the portal with fire in his eyes. “And when it is done, we will be crowned the new kings of a new world.”

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Gray Matter Splatter, Chapter 2

The Carrickfergus reversed its engines, churning up a froth of freezing water as the icebreaker ship inched up to the coast line. The deck was already lowered down to sea level and the ramp dropped down to the beach. Eight Iveco assault trucks rolled off the ship in four wheel drive and sped up the beach, scattering a trio of walruses. The creatures wiggled off like giant fat inchworms and slipped into the ocean.

Two snowmobiles rolled off the ship behind the trucks and took off on their own infiltration route. The sniper section had to get into place prior to the assault force, both to provide eyes on the objective as well as to provide precision fire once the shooting began.

The arctic twlight bathed the surrounding snowy landscape in hues a blue, only interuppted by the crags of rocks poking up through the surface like the scaly back of a lizard. This time of year the arctic circle got about 14 hours of daylight followed by 14 hours of night.

Deckard stood on the back of one of the assault trucks watching the others struggle on the snow and ice, slipping and sliding, before they reached an unimproved road a hundred meters from the shore. The Samruk assault vehicles were built on a Iveco LMV chassis but from there had they been modified to the company’s specifications. Behind the armored compartment where the driver and passenger sat was a gun ring, a rotating turret where a PKM machine gunner was located. In the back of the truck were eight seats facing back to back, four on each side. There were also swing arms that mounted two additional PKM machine guns for the assaulters to use in transit.

Despite winterizing the engines and buying all-terrain tires for the assault trucks, it was evident that they simply were not designed for arctic conditions. They had to make do with what they had. It may have worked like a charm when they were in Burma, but the assaulters would be freezing in the back as they were exposed to the elements. Once they were on the road, it wasn’t long before everyone started tucking their turtle head into their shell, pulling up hoods and drawing them tight.

“We’re enroute,” Deckard said clicking his hand mic and talking over the command net on his radio. “See you at the exfil point.”

“Have fun,” Otter radioed back from the helm.

The Carrickfergus shoved off and began turning around as the assault trucks moved towards their objective. Deckard hunkered down in his seat with the other mercenaries. He wiggled his toes and fingers, trying to keep them warm. The arctic itself was their biggest obstical, not the enemy forces. If they were all frozen half to death by the time they got to the pirate village they would be useless.

The trucks were still slipping on the ice and it was only a few minutes before one slid right off the road and into a snow drift.

Sergeant Major Kogan began barking orders over the assault net and another vehicle pulled up alongside the one that was trapped in the snow. Mercenaries leapt off the back of the two trucks and quickly began unrolling tow cables that were tied to the front and rear bumpers of each truck. They secured one cable from the front of the disabled vehicle to the other and quickly towed it out of the snow. The entire drill had been rehearsed hundreds of times. The training paid off and they were back on the road in a few minutes.

Then it happened again. This time it was Deckard’s truck. The driver lost control and the vehicle began sliding sideways on the ice. All four tires were over a large patch of ice and couldn’t find any traction as they spun out until the smell of burning rubber wafted through the air.

“Stop, stop,” Deckard yelled at the driver.

Jumping off the truck, he immediately slipped and busted his ass, his AK clanking on the ice under him. The other mercenaries were holding on to the side of the truck as they slipped around, trying to free the tow cable. Eventually they got it attached to the next vehicle which towed them off the ice. Then the towing vehicle got stuck and had to be towed out itself.

Chuck Rochenoir shook his head as the truck’s wheels spun on the ice.

“At this rate we might as well just daisy chain every vehicle together with tow cables.”

Deckard keyed his radio.

“Shooter-One, this is Six.” He said radioing Nikita who led their sniper team.

“This is Shooter-One.”

“I think this is going to take a while.”

“We should have eyes on in five mikes.”

Deckard looked at the horizon as the last hints of sunlight disappeared. The wind howled across the road, carrying gusts of snow with it.

“Shit.”

* * *

The Samruk International assault element arrived three hours late. The batteries in two of the trucks had actually died due to the freezing conditions and had to be towed the rest of the way. The remaining vehicles switched from running on gasoline to electric, making their final approach nearly silent. Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of the arctic wasn’t the long periods of darkness or the desolate landscape, but how quiet it was. There wasn’t much human presence to be found on the tundra.

On bright side for the sniper element was that with the extra time on their hands, they were able to build a proper sniper hide. At this point they were willing to do anything to keep moving and keep warm. The snowmobiles were stashed a few hundred meters back under white camouflage nets. From there the four snipers split up into two teams to cover different angles of the objective.

Nikita shivered next to his sniper partner as he tried to pull his watch cap down further on his head. Finding a small ridge at the outskirts of the village, Nikita and his Kazakh sniper partner had tunneled through the top layer of snow, hollowing out a small belly hide. Then they had carefully poked two small holes through the layer of snow facing the village, giving them a loophole to shoot through.

Nikita’s radio crackled in the earpiece he wore.

“GPS says we are a few minutes out,” Deckard reported.

“Minimal movement here. One guard on the roof of building three and a few people passing between building three and two.”

During the planning sessions, each building in the village had been designated with a number. Like everyone else on this mission, Nikita wore a clear plastic sleeve on his wrist showing an overhead map of the village with the corresponding numbers over each structure.

“Correction,” Nikita transmitted back to Deckard as he watched through the 10x Night Force scope on his HK417 rifle. “Another guard just came up on the roof.”

“Standby.”

The two guards stood on top of the only three story building in the village, which had once been used to house oil workers during the Soviet era. Now it was abandoned to the Russian mafia. They ran a refueling station a half kilometer away at the coast where passing ships would fill up. They also charged exorborant “taxes” which had only become more costly as the oil instrustry began drilling in the arctic. The Russians lit up their cigarettes but said few words to eachother. They were trying to stay warm as well.

Nikita ranged them at three hundred meters away and checked the windage and elevation settings on his scope again. The harsh environmental conditions even impacted the trajectory of a sniper’s bullet. Nikita was lucky to have been able to re-zero his HK 417 out behind their compound once they had arrived in the arctic. In warmer climates, a bullet would travel faster but the freezing cold air in the arctic was denser, meaning that his rounds would travel slower and drop faster.

At three hundred meters it would only throw his shot off about an inch, but the effect would only become more exageratted when he had to fire at targets which were further out.

“We’re in position,” Deckard announched over the radio. “Shooter-One, do you see that dead guy standing up on the roof puffing on a cigarette?”

“Roger.”

“Kill him and the other dead guy standing next to him. We’ll initiate on you.”

“Copy,” Nikita said as he settled into position. “Ready?”

“Da,” Aslan, his sniper partner responded.

Nikita lined the crosshairs of his reticle on the guard as he stubbed out his cigarette. Slowly exhaling, the sniper squeezed the trigger. The supressed shot still let out a crack. Aslan was a fraction of a second behind him, their shots almost sounding as one.

Nikita watched through his scope and saw the guard crumple and fall as the his shot impacted his chest. The second guard also disappeared from view.

It was on.

* * *

Nikita’s team dropping the guards on the roof signalled the assault.

Sixty four Samruk mercenaries advanced across the snow, their PenCott camouflage almost unneccsary due to the pitch black night sky. The snow slowed the advance somewhat, but each team member wore assault snow shoes. They were small plastic snow shoes that allowed greater mobility and gave them some much needed extra traction where the snow grew deep. The attack angle had been chosen delibrately so that they were assaulting down a slight decline in the terrain, also speeding up their movement as mercenaries closed on the pirate village.

Hearing the muffled crack of gunshots, several more Russian mobsters emerged from building three. Even through the PVS-14 night vision goggles he wore, Deckard could see that they were wearing thick winter parkas and carrying AK-47 rifles.

The second sniper team made short work of them. The first shot took one of the Russians down immediately. The second shot left the sniper’s target limping, but then he to keeled over and expired on the frozen ground.

Deckard could now see the steam from his breath fogging up the PVS-14 night vision tube. He wiped it off with a finger as they closed within twenty five meters of the nearest structure. Most of them were just old wooden shanties, and not expected to be occupied. It was only building three that had any electricity as seen by the lights in the windows.

As they reached the first wooden building, a five man assault element entered the open door and cleared it. Now they could hear shouts from Russian voices in the distance. The enemy knew that something was going down.

When the first of the Russian pirates stepped out of building three, the base of fire opened up. PKM machine guns roared with a cyclic rate of fire. Belts of 7.62×54 ammunition were ate up by the guns that had been dismounted from the assault trucks and laid down where they could overwatch the objective area. Green tracers streaked through the night like something out of a Star Wars movie, keeping the enemy fixed inside the building while the assaulters cleared their way through the village.

Flashbangs were tossed into the other wooden buildings as the Samruk mercenaries entered and cleared the structures. Deckard jumped in the stack and gave the last man lined up outside the door a squeeze on the shoulder letting him know they were ready. The six men flowed inside the building, their AK muzzles sweeping for targets. Empty.

Back outside, muzzle flashes were coming from inside building three, the automatic fire sending shards of glass glittering to the ground as seen through the green tint of Samruk’s night vision goggles.

A two man team from the Anti-Tank section loaded up a 84mm High Explosive Dual Purpose round into their Carl Gustav recoiless rifle. The blast interuppted the flow of the entire firefight, shaking the ground under Deckard’s feet. The shot rocketed into a window where muzzle flashes had been spotted and detonated inside with enough force to shake the foundations of the building.

The sniper teams were engaging tragets of opportunity, but by now the sounds of their gunshots were drowned out by all of the other shooting in the village.

“Hit building three,” Fedorchenko ordered his men over the radio. “Get in there!”

Deckard reached down and clicked his mic. As commander it was his job to hold his guys back when they got too aggressive. He had to make sure he set the conditions for success before his men blindly charged into something that they didn’t know how to get out of.

“Negative,” he said, stopping their assault. “Wait a second. Have AT prep the target for another minute.”

The Gustav gunner went to work, hosing down the building with five more rounds, the blasts echoeing through the night. Yellow explosions flashed from inside the building when the rounds made it through a window.

“Winchester on rounds boss,” the AT section leader reported. He was a 1st Ranger Battalion veteran named Marty and had trained his Kazakh Goose gunner damn well.

“Hit it,” Deckard ordered.

The assaulters sprinted from building five over to building three and immediately charged through the door. Within seconds over thirty assaulters had made it through the breach. They had been trained to conduct free-flow Close Quarter Battle, a method of room clearing that emphasised speed without fixating on team integrity as they moved from room to room.

“Objectives secured,” Fedorchenko radioed in over the assault net. “Back clearing now.”

“Shooter-One,” Deckard called to Nikita. “Collapse down to our position.”

“Roger.”

Deckard walked into building three, finding expended shell casings all over the floor. As he walked from room to room he counted twenty bodies. They had been living in makeshift conditions, sleeping on cots with space heaters and lots of blankets. These guys were just the Russian mob’s foot soldiers. Petty enforcers who pulled Sheriff of Noddingham shit on passing commercial vessels.

The job was done.

There was no need to search through pockets and look for documents that could provide intelligence value. They had been assigned to wipe this target off that map and that is exactly what they did. Russian law enforcement would move in once morning rolled around and take credit for the operation. Yet, he saw that one member of the team couldn’t help himself.

“What do you got there?” Deckard asked Aghassi as he was walking out with a black trash bag loaded down with something.

“Found a few laptops.”

“Because you never know?”

“Because you never know.”

Aghassi was one of the best in the business when it came to tactical and targeting intelligence. He had previously served in JSOC’s ultra-secrative Intelligence Support Activity, conducting operations all over the world that would boggle the minds of most people.

“Have Cody look at it when we get back to the ship and let me know if there is anything interesting on the hard drives,” Deckard said referring to the hacker that Samruk kept employed.

“I will,” Aghassi said before disappearing out into the night.

The assault element than began a controlled withdrawal off the objective and moving back to the assault trucks, leaving nothing behind except dead bodies and expended brass.

Deckard followed closely behind. He cursed as high night vision goggles blinked off. Trying to turn the on switch back and forth, the PVS-14s refused to turn back on. The AA batteries it ran off of had frozen in the cold. He made a note for the after action review, they would have to keep spare sets of batteries inside pockets near their skin to keep them warm, so they would always be ready to swap them out.

As he walked Deckard realized that he hadn’t fired a single shot during the entire mission. Maybe he was finally taking Pat’s advice and becoming a leader instead of just another trigger puller. It felt like things were finally coming together, but in his experience, that was usually when he got the rug pulled out from under his feet.

The Special Operations veteran let out a sigh as the trucks came into view. It was going to be a long ride back to the Carrickfergus.

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Gray Matter Splatter: Chapter One

Here is the first chapter from the upcoming Deckard novel titled “Gray Matter Splatter.”

“I’ll tell you boys what,” the mercenary said with a grin as he told his story. “It smelled so bad that I almost didn’t eat it.”

The room exploded with laughter as his fellow mercenaries roared in approval.

“Anyway,” he continued. “That’s how I got pinkeye for the second time.”

Spinning turbines hummed outside, the buzz growing louder as the engines flared. It was one of two C-27J transport aircraft owned by Samruk International, a Kazakhstan based Private Military Company which the mercenaries worked for. Outside, the C-27J screamed down the airstrip and lifted off, its passenger successfully delivered to the remote outpost in Northern Russia.

The door swung open with a gust of arctic wind that sent playing cards flying off an overturned cardboard box which served as a poker table. In filed a dozen new recruits, big European and American dudes looking to secure their slot on Samruk International’s oil security contract with American gas and oil companies in the arctic.

The mercenaries looked at the new guys with a mixture of curiosity and skepticism. Samruk was a multi-national company, split down the middle between Kazakhs and Westerners. Over the last couple of years they had seen action in Afghanistan, Burma, Mexico, and Syria. Killing was their business and a batch of new guys could prove to be a valuable asset to the team, a team that had taken plenty of casualties over the last few missions. The newcomers could also prove to be incompetent idiots who got their team mates killed.

“Lookit these new jacks,” the mercenary with a sense of humor commented. The men shuffled by to their boss’ office carrying rucksacks, black roller bags full of tactical gear, and OD green aviator kit bags.

“Welcome to the thunderdome assholes.”

* * *

“Send the first one in!” Chuck Rochenoire yelled. The former Navy SEAL sat on a folding chair next to the door. Also sitting with their backs to the wall were other leaders within the Private Military Company. Pat, Aghassi, Frank, Nikita, Kurt, and Sergeant Major Kogan sat in on the informal board which would be the final interview for the new recruits. New hires would begin training, and rejects would be sent packing.

The first recruit came through the door and set his bags down. He was tall with dark hair and a two day beard.

“It says here you served in Italy’s counter-terrorism unit?” Pat, a Delta Force veteran, asked.

“Colonel Moschin,” the Italian responded with the name of his unit.

“You were a member of Task Force 45,” Pat said looking down at the resume in his hands. “Maurizio?”

“Yes. Also deployed to Libya and Sudan.”

“You also list military free fall and sniper operations among your qualifications.”

Pat grilled him on technical and tactical data for a few more minutes before looking across the room at the CEO of Samruk International. He sat behind a desk with a mug of coffee in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other. He nodded his head.

“Arctic, mountain, or winter warfare training?”

“High angle sniper courses and mountain warfare courses that my unit did with the French.”

“Welcome to the team,” Pat said shaking Maurizio’s hand. “You’re on probation for three months, meaning your contract can be cancelled at any time if you fail to perform.”

“I won’t,” the Italian soldier said, clearly happy with their decision.

The next recruit strode in as the Italian departed and stood in from of the desk.

“Name?” Pat asked.

“Jacob.”

The former soldier was built like a bull, but his muscle mass was the type built through long hard endurance exercise and training. His hair was salt and pepper and hands the size of catchers mitts.

“Unit?”

“Jaeger Corps.”

“Danish Special Operations,” Aghassi commented. “Were you on Operation Anaconda?”

“Ja, calling in airstrikes for US forces.”

“I appreciate that.”

“You were there too?” the big Dane turned to look at the former Army intelligence operative.

“I don’t remember,” Aghassi replied with a smile.

“Six rotations to Afghanistan,” Pat said interrupting Aghassi’s stroll down memory lane. “It says here you did clandestine intelligence work out of the Danish embassy in what country exactly?

The questions came hard and fast.

“We are specifically interested in your arctic warfare training,” Aghassi announced towards the end of the interview.

“We did plenty,” Jacob said. “Cross training in Greenland with Danish forces and other exercises in Switzerland, Sweden, and Norway.”

Pat probed for details for another few minutes until the CEO waved him away. Another new mercenary to add to the company rolls.

The next recruit walked in wearing a North Face jacket and Danner mountain boots.

“Nate,” Pat began. “Served in Force Recon until you guys got absorbed into MARSOC, huh? How did that go?”

“It was a total nut roll,” Nate answered. “But we eventually got our shit straightened out.”

“Did you go through Derna Bridge?”

“Later yeah.”

“And MTSC?”

“Yeah, to learn the spooky shit.”

“How many deployments?”

“Nine, including the Indonesia deal.”

“What about arctic warfare training?”

“I did some of the mountain warfare and cold weather training at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in California.”

The Samruk boss took a sip of his coffee and nodded before stubbing out his cigarette in a ashtray.

“Next!” Rochenior yelled.

In walked another towering European.

“You served with Norway’s FSK?”
“Yeah,” the Norwegian guffed.

“Dag is it? It says here you worked in an intelligence cell for your unit for several years. Tell me about that.”

Pat grilled him before asking about arctic warfare experience.

Dag laughed.

“We get plenty of that. A third of our country is inside the arctic circle.”

The CEO nodded and Dag was sent out to sign his contract with the others.

“Bring in the next-” Chucks words were cut off as the next recruited floated into the room. He had shed his cold weather gear once inside, opting for something more comfortable. He wore capri pants and and vibram five soles so that his little toes could stretch out. His shirt had some ironic pop culture reference on it that the other men were to old to even understand.

“Please tell me you are not American,” Pat pleaded.

“Whah-ut? Of course I am,” the new guy replied.

“Jesus. Throw me a bone and tell me you were one of those West Coast SEALs or something?”

Rocheniore’s eyes narrowed.

“I was Special Forces man.”

Pat rested his face in his palm.

“Why are you guys so aggro?”

The boss slammed his coffee mug down on his desk.

“Get the fuck out of my office.”

* * *

Third time.

Third time.

One more time.

Harold wrung his hands as a smile crossed his face. His eyes lit up, stars dancing around in them as he looked at the white building behind the black iron fence. The path was clear and nothing would stop him this time. Not like the last two attempts. This time he was going all the way.

Jump!

Harold sprang into action, launching himself at the fence. Filled with excitement, he bounded over the fence with little difficultly and hit the immaculately manicured green grass on the other side.

Success!

On the last two tries he was stopped on the lawn, brought down and tackled to the ground by the bad men. But not this time. This time he was going all the way, all the way to the big white house where the important man lived.

His legs pumped, propelling him across the open lawn like a gazelle. He hadn’t been this excited in a long time. All the lawyers and all the judges scolding him like a child, calling him crazy, saying mean things about him. This time he would prove them all wrong.

And he did.

Harold sprinted across the lawn like an olympic athlete. He had even surprised himself with his speed, struggling to slow down before he plowed right into the side of the white house. His hand wrapped around the brass door knob. He twisted and the door opened.

Finally!

Harold stepped inside. This was the furthest he had ever made it. Now he just had to go and find the important man. Harold had big ideas about economics and social issues to share with him. Looking around, he found himself inside an empty room filled with chairs. It looked like maybe it was set up for press conferences with a big podium standing on a stage at the end of the room.

But where was he?

Harold walked out into the hall. Pictures and paintings hung on the white walls. Fresh flowers leaned out of a glass vase which sat on a oak table.

Boring!

Harold went down the hall opening doors, finding little of interest until he stepped into what looked like a living room. Overstuffed leather chairs sat around a table, more paintings were hung on the walls. This was where the important man did important things.

A staircase!

Harold smiled. The important man must be upstairs. He walked towards the stairs, his hand caressing the wooden railing as his shoe landed on the first step. That was when the doors burst open and the bad men in black suits rushed him.

Not again!

Harold screamed as the bad men slammed him to the floor.

* * *

“Hey,” Pat said as he stood in the doorway. “What do you think of the new guys?”

“They’re good,” Deckard said. “Except for that one guy.”

“We need all the help we can get with this arctic warfare business. This is a different ballgame than we’re used to.”

“I think we ran a pretty good winter warfare course for our guys,” Deckard added. “But two weeks isn’t enough to understand how to fight in this kind of terrain. The cold and the distances add up to serious issues when it comes to maneuverability.”

Deckard finished his coffee and looked inside his mug as he set it down.

“You want the boys to brew some more coffee?” Pat asked.

“Good idea.”

“How do you like it?”

“The way I like my women.”

“Black and strong?” Pat joked.

“Ground up and in the freezer.”

“Holy shit,” Pat laughed. “It’s good to hear you joking again. You’ve been in the dumps for weeks.”

“Fuck you talking about?”

“Come on man, it’s obvious to everyone that something is bothering you.”

“Yeah,” Deckard trailed off. “I’m just wondering what the hell all of this is for.”

“This oil security contract?”

“No, the whole thing. Our entire careers.”

“That last one was rough for you,” Pat said making a statement rather than asking a question.

“If even our own guys are sinking to these depths then yeah, it makes you wonder what the hell all of this is for,” Deckard said referring to his last mission.

Deckard had gotten on the trail of a very dangerous group of former SEAL Team Six operators known as Liquid Sky. They were cold blooded killers. Samruk International put them out of business once and for all in the killing fields of Syria six months ago. Deckard had recovered from that mission, physically at least.

“You know just as well as I do that those guys are outliers,” Pat warned. “Crazies who should have been put out to pasture a long time ago. That’s not who we are.”

“Then who are we Pat? We’re the guys who spent the last 15 years landing helicopters on rooftops and shooting dirt farmers in the face, as if that is even that difficult. What the fuck for? It hasn’t gotten us anywhere. We haven’t made any progress and there is no victory.”

“That’s bullshit Deckard. Especially in this company. We’ve gone toe to toe with some evil motherfuckers and walked away from it. Including against our own kind. I know you didn’t expect a ticker tape parade.”

“Of course not, but…” Deckard trailed off.

“You of all people should know better Deckard. With Samruk International we took no shit. We got right down in the mud with the nastiest people out there and gave them the business. Stop this self loathing bullshit. You’re not a pussy so don’t act like one.”

“I’m not throwing in the towel Pat, it’s just that…”

“What?”

“I’ve got nothing left to believe in.”

* * *

Jake Reynolds leaned back in his seat, thinking that it was going to be a long night. These types of trips didn’t happen to often, but they were the entire purpose for which the 25-year-old former Ranger had been employed. Another nine contractors sat with him in the back of the truck’s cargo compartment. They had served in various Special Operations units, a few of them were still in 19th or 20th Group, the Special Forces National Guard components.

Highway 70 was long and lonely at three in the morning, which was exactly why the convoy was traveling on it. Five blacked out SUV’s surrounded a tractor trailer truck that cruised along just over the speed limit. The Department of Energy vehicles only traveled in the dead of night when transporting highly sensitive cargo. Just behind the convoy, and several hundred feet up in the air, a little bird helicopter provided overwatch.

The contractors were locked in the back of the truck with the cargo, the last and final line of defense. They wore OD green flight suits, body armor, and had HK 416 rifles slung around their necks. The reality of their job was that it was boring as hell. Mostly just qualifying out on the range with the occasional long distance transport job. Despite the mundane nature of the job, the cargo was so sensitive that the US government hired the best to ensure its safety.

The highway they were on cut straight through the state of Missouri as they drove from one secure DOE facility to the next. The ex-Ranger chugged some more water and sat patiently. It was times like this he missed the excitement of rolling out on midnight raids with 2nd Ranger Battalion.

There was no way he could have known that tonight would be hairiest mission of his career.

Jake was rocked back in his seat as the entire vehicle shook, his rifle swinging up and smacking him in the face, opening a ragged cut above his eyebrow.

Outside, the entire highway split into pieces and rose up into the air. The two SUV’s in the lead floated into the night like matchbox cars, turning side ways and then upside down before gravity could inevitably bring them back down to the ground. The tractor trailer driver slammed on the brakes then jerked the wheel in a desperate attempt to prevent the truck from jack knifing.

Several more Improvised Explosive Devices were detonated, taking out two more SUV’s. The remaining escort vehicle slid to a stop as the first two that had been propelled into the air crashed back down in a rain of debris. The doors on the surviving SUV were flung open and more contractors in OD flight suits jumped out, just as a linear ambush along the side of the road initiated with fully automatic fire.

The pilot of the little bird pulled hard on the stick, bringing the agile little helicopter back around on the convoy. The two contractors riding on the external pods attached to the side of the little bird spotted the muzzle flashes coming from the treeline, but the pilots could not identify any white-hot thermal signatures on their Forward Looking Infra-Red system.

The pilot clicked his mic to transmit over their secure communications net.

“Prairie Fire, I say again, Prairie Fire!”

The distress code was the final word that the pilot was able to get out before a SA-7 surface to air missile slammed into the side of the helicopter. The little bird was knocked out of the air and crashed into the forest on the opposite side of the highway in a brilliant ball of red and yellow fire.

In the back of the tractor trailer, Jake wiped at his forehead and tried to blink blood out of his eyes. As he reached down and undid his seatbelt, he realized that he couldn’t hear anything. His ears were ringing, but he wasn’t sure why.

The other contractors were coughing and struggling with their seat belts. A few of them fell out of their seats as they tried to stand. Jake struggled to his feet and jacked a round into the chamber of his HK rifle.

Over the ringing in his ears, he could now make out the staccato bursts of gunfire from outside. Rounds were thudding into the side of the truck. Thankfully, the armored cargo compartment kept them safe, at least for the time being.

Their team leader, a retired Sergeant Major, was already barking orders as the other contractors were racking rounds into the chambers of their rifles. He was pointing to the door at the end of the compartment.

Even though he couldn’t hear him, the message was clear to Jake.

They were the last line of defense.

* * *

Deckard set down his second cup of coffee and opened his laptop computer. The reality of running a Private Military Company was that there was a lot of mundane bullshit to take care. Samruk International had expended a lot of human and finance capital lately. He had been reduced to selling off two of the company’s mammoth An-125 cargo jets. Now they only had the one An-125 and two C-27J’s left in their aviation wing. At least the C-27’s had been bought dirt cheap. The U.S. Air Force decided they didn’t want them anymore after wasting millions of tax payer dollars.

They had taken the oil security contract in the arctic to keep the revenue coming in. Maintaining a small private army wasn’t cheap and this wasn’t the way most companies did business, usually they just hired independent contractors from job to job. Deckard was instead running a de facto military unit and he wanted to keep his team intact.

However, as it turned out there could be many interesting tasks rolled up under a oil security contract. Not only could those tasks include static security around off-shore oil rigs, but also involve training other security personnel, and maybe even killing off those would would threaten the business interests of said oil companies. Threats like the Russian mafia who had recently been acting like arctic pirates.

Deckard’s office door swung open again. Rocheniore looked up at him with a grin.

“We got the green light.”

“No shit?”

“No shit.”

“Everything is prepped and pre-staged, correct?”

“You know it.”

Now it was Deckard’s turn to smile.

“Spin the boys up.”

The giant black man turned around in the doorway.

“DROP SOCKS, GRAB COCKS. IT’S A GO!”

Deckard flung open his gear bag and began donning his kit. The first layer was thermal clothing, then a bare plate carrier which rode underneath his heavy winter jacket. Over his clothes he wore the new Samruk uniform for their arctic contract, a winter camouflage pattern made by PenCott called Snow Drift. Finally, a chest rig loaded with ammunition and grenades went over his chest. Picking up his AK-103 rifle, Deckard walked out into the the warehouse.

About eighty mercenaries were going through the same routine, kitting up for combat. The mission had been planned and re-planned for weeks. They were just waiting on approval from the Russian government. Mob ties ran deep in the halls of power and getting the political ducks in a row took some time. At the end of the day it was all about business and the pirates were costing both the government and private industry millions of dollars in extortion fees. Someone had finally gotten fed up.

Using a Private Military Company that had a Kazakh face rather than an American one made the job more politically acceptable, and kept the Russia military out of the firing line when things went pear shaped, which of course they always did.

“What about the new guys?” Kurt Jager asked as he spotted Deckard walking out of the office. The former GSG-9 commando spoke flawless English.

“Take them along. It will be on the job training. Keep them with the security elements so they can observe how we do things without getting them overly involved on their first op.”

“Got it.”

Deckard slung his rifle and pulled a white watch cap over his head. Pushing open the door, he pulled his hood up as well. The sunlight stung his eyes. As outlined in the stipulations of their contract, Samruk International was based out of a unused warehouse leased to house oil drilling equipment, and the occasional private army.

The wind swept snow across the desolate coast line, the cold already stinging Deckard’s cheeks. By the end of this deployment he knew they would all be sporting lumberjack beards just to try to keep themselves a little bit warmer.

A few hundred meters away was their new ride. It was a monstrosity of a ship, a chimera that never should have existed, but did thanks to a failed U.S. Navy and Marine Corps experiment gone awry. But just like the C-27J airplane, Deckard saw an opportunity to purchase some hardware that fit his needs and at bargain basement prices.

Renamed the Carrickfergus, the ship was a one of a kind. Sharing the characteristics of both a barge and a catamaran, the ship rested on two massive pontoons with the bridge of the ship, housing the captain’s control center, joining the double hulled design. On top of each hull were two passenger compartments.

It was big, it was blue, it was ugly, and it wasn’t even that fast.

But it was an ice breaker with a cargo deck which lowered from the center which accommodated beach landings. During travel, the deck would be raised and then lowered again along with a ramp when the vehicles onboard were ready to drive up onto the shore. Currently, the deck was lowered and waiting to take on the passengers. Under the tarps were eight Iveco assault vehicles, six snow mobiles, a few kayaks, two Zodiac boats, and a small connex container filled with ammunition.

“Let’s go!” Frank yelled, ushering the mercenaries out the door. The former Ranger was about as wide as he was tall and had been with the company since the beginning.

The Kazakh mercenaries were led out in a orderly fashion by one of the two platoon Sergeants, named Fedorchenko. He had started with Samruk as a Corporal after being recruited from a Kazakh special police unit. Since that time he had more than proved his metal. He had been leading a platoon since Mexico and had done an outstanding job.

Integrated into the platoons of Kazakhs were Westerners from units as diverse as Polish GROM and the French Foreign Legion. Initially, they had been the trainers and mentors but now they were assaulters fighting alongside their former students who were every bit as good as they were.

The mercenaries boarded the Carrickfergus and began climbing up to the passenger compartments. Inside, the seats had been torn out and the space converted for military purposes. Gear and weapons were everywhere, white boards with task lists scribbled on them were hung on the walls, and the soldier’s individual equipment, bags, and boxes of military rations were neatly stacked on plywood shelves that they had constructed. The ship was set up not just as a means of transportation but also to act as a mobile staging ground.

Designed to ferry 130 passengers, there was enough room for two platoons of mercenaries, plus Samruk’s intelligence, mortar, recce, and headquarters sections but it was still cramped inside. Deckard walked up the ramp and climbed up the ladder to the bridge as the captain began raising the deck and preparing to get underway.

The ship was a hulking beast at 59 meters long and looked like it had been cobbled together from the left over parts of other ships. As Deckard reached the bridge, the twin motors that powered the hydrolic system which lifted the deck switched off as it was locked into place. Walking inside the helm, he was confronted with the dizzying array of dials and instruments on several consoles.

The old salt that captained the Carrickfergus stood behind the wheel. He wore a battered old sweater from which his beer belly swelled out from under, revealing a stained white t-shirt underneath. His beard was almost fully gray and his shoes were a beat up pair of loafers.

“Hey Deck!” he exclaimed. “Glad you could make it.”

“Thanks Otter.”

They had been calling him by his sea name long enough that no one really remembered what the real name was on his file anymore.

“Time to go kill some commies, huh?”

“Organized criminals,” Deckard carefully corrected.

“Same difference,” Otter said as he grabbed the wheel with one hand. In the other was a coffee mug which looked like it hadn’t been washed in years. Unlike Deckard’s coffee, Otter’s was always spiked with something a little more fun.

“Can you get us to the beach landing zone without killing us.”

“We’ll find out,” he chuckled.

The four Diesel-fueled engines churned and the Carrickfergus began reversing out into the icy waters. This close to shore, there wasn’t much ice to cut through this time of year, but they would still be traveling relatively slowly. The ship’s top speed was only 20 knots. By comparison, most commercial shipping vessels traveled at 25 knots, although most deliberately slowed to 20 to keep fuel consumption down.

Deckard looked out to sea and was greeted with a sight that would have been impossible just a few years ago. A half dozen commercial cargo ships loaded with connex containers, or sitting low in the water because they were filled with oil, could be seen in the arctic sea with the naked eye as he swept his gaze across the ocean.

With polar ice melting, a new trans-actic sea route had been opened. The opening of the North-East passage in the spring in summer months in Russia was already saving European companies billions of dollars and cutting days off their shipping times to Asia. The opening of the North West passage in northern Canada was having a similar effect for commercial shipping. More than that, the melting ice was also opening up the region to other commercial ventures. From oil drilling to the mining of rare earth minerals, the arctic circle was now ripe for the taking.

But with that came arctic sovereignty disputes, and the further militarization of the arctic as great powers like Russia and the United States eyed each other across their frozen shores. Of course, with the advent of commercial interests in the arctic, along came crime. That was what brought Samruk International to the arctic in the first place.

But what really shifted commercial maritime traffic up into the arctic was ISIS. Once the Jihadists had launched terrorist operations around the Suez Canal, sinking several ships, the insurance premiums for ships traveling through the canal sky rocketed. Churning through the arctic was cheaper in more ways than one.

Looking through the window to the deck below, Deckard could already see the mercenaries throwing the tarps off their vehicles and mounting PKM machine guns in swing arm mounts.

“How long?”

Otter snorted.

“I’ll get you there by EENT,” he said referring to End of Evening Nautical Twilight.

He could have just said at dusk, but the U.S. Navy has a way of institutionalizing sailors.

Deckard ran the numbers in his head.

“It’s almost too good to be true.”

* * *

Seventy Special Forces commandos assembled at the tarmac kitted up for war.

A C-17 waited for them in the distance, surrounded by the airfield’s blue lights. The turbine engines hummed as the pilots went through their pre-flight check list as quickly as possible.

“Gather around,” Major Thomas shouted. “We’ll do this right here.”

The C/1/10 CIF commander got the orders just an hour ago but the Commanders-In-Extremis Force was designed for no-notice deployments. The Green Berets belonged to a specialized direct action company within 10th Special Forces Group. While Special Forces soldiers specialized in training foreign troops and conducting unconventional warfare, the CIF’s sole purpose in life was counter-terrorism.

“You’ve probably figured out by now that our mission training the Croatian counter-terrorism unit is on hold until further notice. The latest reports out of Nairobi are that the U.S. embassy is under siege. At least half of the compound is now in enemy hands. Intel is shit but what else is new. No one knows if it is Al-Shabaab, Al-Hijra, or someone new to the game. After we hit the ground, the Kenyan government has already cleared the way for us to drive straight to the embassy grounds. We’ll clear the exterior of the embassy and secure the area. Flight time is seven hours and the boys from Bragg should be just a hour behind us.”

The multi-cam clad Special Forces soldiers understood the mission immediately. They had trained for it countless times, but had never gotten the call.

Until now.

Once they secured the perimeter of the embassy, Delta Force would breach the buildings and conduct the hostage rescue mission.

“Size, strength, and disposition of enemy forces?” one of the Team Sergeants asked.

“We’re expecting close to a hundred crows,” the Major said using their internal code word for enemy combatants. “Expect them to be armed with AK-47’s, RPGs, and PKMs. Remember that the bad guys in this AO have a history of using suicide vests. The IED threat is assessed as high. Diplomatic Security Services and the contractors pulling static security were quickly overwhelmed so that should tell you something. CNN is reporting small arms fire and several explosions.”

“CNN is reporting?” one of the Weapons Sergeants asked.

“You know the deal,” the CIF commander replied. “We’re going in blind to act as the eyes and ears for the main effort.”

“Roger that.”

The Major looked down at his watch.

“We’re wheels up in fifteen, you know what to do.”

The CIF team members turned around and jogged over to the aircraft. Their plate carriers bounced slightly with each step. Getting closer, they pulled on their Peltor headsets and snapped OpsCore helmets over their heads. They had already received their basic load of ammunition and explosives. The gun trucks were already tied down inside the plane with ratchet straps.

As the CIF team took sat down in the red seats lining the inner fuselage of the C-17, Major Thomas went over to the loadie. The flight crew member wore a khaki flight suit and helmet with a long black wire linking his headset into the aircraft’s comms system.

“We’re up!” the commander yelled over the whining engines.

The loadie nodded and clicked on his mic, saying a few words to the pilots. The flight crew then walked down the ramp and began flipping up the two flaps that reached down from the ramp to the tarmac.

Major Thomas took an empty seat next to the rear of the aircraft and buckled himself in. His Executive Officer was sitting next to him and immediately started asking more questions about the mission.

“Hey, what the fuck!” one of the loadies yelled, his voice drowned out by the engines.

A black clad man suddenly scrambled up the ramp of the aircraft and into the interior.

Major Thomas looked up at the interloper with a frown. He held something in his hand.

“ALLLAAAAH AKBAAAR!”

* * *

The President looked away from the screen as a half dozen Secret Service agents burst into the war room and slammed the door shut behind him.

“We have a situation Mr. President,” one of them announced.

“What the hell is going on?”

“Sir,” one of his aides said trying to get his attention. “We need-”

“Perimeter breach,” one of the agents said.

“Where is-”

“Sir!” the aide screamed. “We need your authorization!”

The President swung around angrily to face the aide.

“Sir, F16s are on station.”

The President looked up at the black and white image displayed on the screen at the end of the room. It showed a tractor trailer stopped in the middle of a highway. White thermal images surrounded the truck and a bright glow came from the rear doors. Apparently someone was trying to burn their way inside with a blow torch.

“Do it,” the President ordered. “Now someone tell me why we are on lockdown?”

An officer sitting at the other end of the table wearing a blue Air Force uniform picked up a phone and relayed the President’s authorization.

“The situation is still developing Mr. President.” One of the Secret Service men said. “We were told that someone breached the White House.”

“Another fence jumper? Are you fucking kidding me?”

The President had deep lines around the corners of his eyes and a lot more gray hair than when he had taken office seven years prior. A administration plagued with scandals and an indecisive Congress could do that to any President.

Another phone rang, and the President’s aide picked it up.

“The suspect has already been apprehended sir, but we can’t take any chances.”

“This is the third time this month,” the President complained. “What the hell is the problem with-”

All eyes in the room suddenly shot back towards the screen. The tractor trailer disappeared in a massive gray cloud. The 2,000 pound Joint Direct Air Munition vaporized the truck, and everyone except the Secret Service agents knew that ten good men had been vaporized with it. It was all part of the protocol, but that didn’t make it any easier.

“It will be reported as an eighteen car pile up in the news tomorrow,” a Department of Homeland Security representative said breaking the silence. “We’ll say a chemical spill was involved to explain the clean up crews.”

“Jesus,” the President said under his breath.

“The truth is that this section of Highway 70 will be unusable for decades. The JDAM will have spread radioactive material for several kilometers. Destroying it like this creates an even bigger radioactive mess than an actual detonation,” the DHS rep said ominously.

“We just got hit in Croatia,” an Army General said as he slammed down his phone. “The entire CIF team got taken out on a airfield in Zagreb.”

“What happened?”

“We don’t know yet.”

The aide sitting next to the President set down his phone softly.

“Mr. President, a situation is developing in the arctic.”

“I don’t think we have time for that right now.”

“I agree,” the aide said, leaning on his chair closer to the President. “Sir, it is now very clear.”

“What is that,” the President said, his eyes still fixated on the smoking hole in the middle of Highway 70.

“Someone just declared war on America.”

“Who?”

“We don’t know.”

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