Gray Matter Splatter, Chapter 8

Craig rubbed his blood shot eyes. Joshua had his head down on the table taking a nap. Gary had stepped outside to call his wife and tell her that he wouldn’t be coming home any time soon. SCOPE was a think tank, not an operations center that worked in shifts. Everyone was exhausted and needed a break while the Carrickfergus was in transit and they waited for the satellite window to open up again over Northern Russia.

The JSOC think tank was dead tired, most of them anyway.

Will paced back and forth, his heels clicking on the floor. His lips were moving, the words coming out of his mouth barely decipherable even if someone had been listening. The only words that were really recognizable were the ones consisting of four letters. After years of warning the intelligence community, everything he said was coming true. It wasn’t something he took pride in, but now no one could doubt that his assessment had merit. Or at least, they wouldn’t be able to much longer.

Suddenly, Will stopped dead in his tracks.

“I got it!” he shouted.

“Got what,” Craig said with a yawn.

Joshua continued to snore.

“Something we can do instead of sitting around with our thumbs up our asses.”

“Well, I could go rub one out I guess-”

“Yeah,” Will said under his breath. “Our you could go dust your old lady’s pussy off.

“What did you say?”

“Sorry, just mumbling to myself.”

“Mumbling what?”

“We need to take a serious look at getting inside the enemy’s communication’s network.”

Craig put his head down on the table.

“Will, we don’t even know who the enemy is so how are we supposed to even identify how they are talking to one another?”

“I told you before, they use Infinity Blade.”

“Infinity what?”

“Infinity Blade. It’s a MMORPG.”

“You’ve lost me.”

“A Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game.”

“My kids play those?” Craig asked no one in particular before turning to Joshua who was still asleep. “Do my kids play that?”

The door swung open and Gary walked back inside, pocketing his cell phone.

“The game is based on a series of fantasy novels that became a underground hit. The game also has a cult following. It was produced by the same Norwegian guy who created Paradoxica.”

“What the hell are you two talking about?” Gary demanded.

“Para what?” Craig asked.

“Paradoxica,” Will said. “It is a game about a young woman traveling between three worlds…and filled with existential malaise…”

“Oh. my. God. I’m going back outside,” Gary said as he reached for the door.

“Hold on dammit!” Will yelled. “I’m getting to the good part.”

“So there is a point to all of this?”

“I’ve been playing Infinity Blade for years and I know something is going on inside this game.”

“I should have known. You’re a bigger gamer than my kids, but at least my kids don’t have conspiracy theories about the games they play,” Craig said as he rolled his eyes.

“Look, what is a video game?” Will asked rhetorically. “It’s a communications medium, another way to talk over the internet but in this case it is within a massive multiplayer video game. The FBI identified an island in the game called Second Life that Hezbollah uses to talk to each other. Hezbollah members from anywhere in the world, including their handlers in Iran, can log into the game and meet up with each other to exchange information and issue orders.”

“And you think this Infinity Blade game is used the same way,” Gary said as he walked back and took his seat.

“I know it is. The FBI investigated but they can’t crack the cell inside Infinity Blade. Their operational security is tight. You don’t get into their castle unless you’ve been extensively vetted.”

“Assuming you are correct, what makes you think this is the same group behind our current situation?”

“When I realized that a number of countries antagonistic towards the United States were in collusion with each other I began looking for traces of them and how they communicate. The servers for Infinity Blade are physically located in China, which doesn’t mean anything in of itself, but that prevents the FBI from gaining access.”

“So you identified some secretive group inside a video game which is operated out of China, which means this is just another wild ass hunch of yours?” Craig asked.

“This is how the baddies communicate,” Will replied. “I’m sure of it.”

I’m sure this is a waste of time,” Craig said as he put his head back down on the table. “I’m taking a nap.”

“I’m going to pound down a couple Monster energy drinks and get back to work,” Will announced. “No reason to sit around jagging off to gay porn or whatever it is you guys do when I’m not around. Time to call the CNO office upstairs and get a persona to access the game with.”

CNO, or computer network operations, was a polite way of saying computer hacking.

Gary looked at the clock on his cell phone.

“Another five hours until the satellite window opens,” he sighed. “Give them a call.”

Will reached across the table and picked up the secure telephone before pressing the appropriate extension number.

“So now we’re passing time by playing video games? When the Inspector General investigates this office the report will make one hell of a read,” Craig said looking up at them.

“Hey, this is Will down at SCOPE,” he said as the CNO office picked up the phone. “We need a persona.” He frowned as he listened to the techie on the other end of the line. “Yeah. Yeah. No. Okay. Hold on, look, what personas do you have on Infinity Blade?”

Another few seconds.

“Okay, I’ll take the chaotic neutral blade master. See you in a few.”

“What the hell was all of that?” Craig asked.

“Borrowing a persona from CNO.”

“You keep saying that, what do you mean by borrow a persona?”

“A online persona. Really Craig? How long have you worked here?”

“12 years.”

“And worth every dime of tax payer’s money you are. The techs here maintain digital personas in order to conduct cyber reconnaissance and infiltration. Each persona has its own laptop computer. Each computer has a name, a persona name. Every computer has a set of rules that you follow which is that persona’s bible. His turn ons, turn offs, political views, what websites he frequents, and so on.”

“Building a false identity.”

“A false persona,” Will corrected. “You can than use that persona to infiltrate Jihadi message boards or white supremacist websites, whatever you need. Every so often the techs pull out each laptop, be it named Mike, Bob, or Muhammad, and tool around on the web for a few hours, than move on to the next laptop to maintain the next persona’s online presence.”

“So we actually pay people to fart around on facebook and play farmville all day?”

“Well,” Will said as he thought about it for a moment. “Yes. But the system does work. And some of these personas have maintained a presence in online games. Since Infinity Blade is a popular game, we have three personas run out of this building with characters in it.”

There was a knock at the door and Gary slid across the office while sitting on his rolling swivel chair to open it.

“Hey Jerry,” Will said to the guy standing in the doorway.

He was a very unfortunate looking man. Essentially, exactly what most people thought a computer hacker looked like. His face was drawn, his muscles atrophied, and his mustache and beard grew in so weak that it looked like he had pubic hair glued to his chin.

“So what do you need Roger for?” Jerry asked as he closed the door behind him, a laptop computer secured under one arm.

“Roger?” Gary asked.

“Roger is the name of this computer, and the persona on it,” the computer hacker replied. “So what do you need him for?”

“Oh, nothing much,” Will said as he interlaced his fingers behind his head and leaned back in his chair. “Just saving the world, that’s all.”

“This is a level 37 blade master that I’ve built up over five years,” Jerry cautioned. “You can’t just take him and throw him into Panchea, Wintersebb, and Ravendale without hurting my stats.”

“Jerry,” Will said as he leaned forward. “It isn’t your character profile, it is JSOC’s.”

Jerry shook his head.

“No, you can’t just take him away from me like that!”

Will jumped up out of his chair and lunged for the laptop under Jerry’s arm.

“Give it to me you squirrely little shit!”

“No!” Jerry shrieked.

The two entered into a tug of war for the computer, the fate of America potentially hanging in the balance of a full on nerd rage. Finally, Will snatched the laptop away from him.

“You still have a level 14 Paladin and a level 32 Battle Mage you can play while billing DOD for your time,” Will sneered. “Now get the fuck out!”

Jerry’s lips and nose shriveled as he stepped out and slammed the door behind him.

“God damn short bus riding window lickers they employ around here,” Will complained.

Sitting down, Will fired up the laptop and cracked his knuckles.

“Time to go save democracy boys.”

Craig and Gary were still in shock, their minds trying to catch up with what they had just witnessed.

That was when Joshua finally woke up.

“What’s going on guys?”

* * *

The tension was nerve wracking.

Samruk International’s leadership element met to conduct mission planning while they were still underway. Deckard, Sergeant Major Korgan, Fedorchenko, Shatayeva, Aghassi, Nikita, and their mortar section sergeant, Lawrence, stood around a monitor looking at images they pulled off of Google Earth. Pat, Kurt, and Chuck were also in attendance. As senior soldiers in the company, they were always around to provide input during mission planning.

While most of them were sleeping, the second pass from a satellite in polar orbit came in. The imagery did indicate a faint wake from the enemy vessel. It had only deviated slightly from their original heading, making way for a small cove along the Russian coast. The JSOC think tank provided some additional imagery and data, then they began planning the mission.

One concept of the operation after the other was cast aside just as quickly as they were dreamed up by the veteran soldiers. In the arctic, mobility options were extremely limited. The cove was surrounded by steep cliffs covered in ice. Flanking around would take hours that they probably didn’t have. The direct approach led them through icy waters where they were prone to being ambushed along the same cliffs.

At the far end of the cave was their objective, an abandoned Naval port from the Soviet era. The imagery they had showed oblong objects strewn around the end of the cove. Apparently, it was a submarine graveyard. Doing some calculations, Otter estimated that the enemy must have set up a fuel depot there ahead of time to refuel their ship. Without knowing the size of the enemy ship, he made an educated guess that they would be running low on fuel at this point.

Whether or not they were still in the cove was another matter altogether. Again, all Otter could do was make an educated guess as to what the the enemy ship’s speed was relative to the Carrickfergus. They might catch them in the act of refueling, or they might miss them by several hours.

Deckard didn’t like it at all. He screwed up royally by deploying with gun trucks when he should have brought more snow mobiles and zodiac boats but in the end, you deploy with the Army you have, not the one that you want. Now they had to make the best of it.

Rochenoir was sketching something out of the whiteboard and waving his hands at Pat as they argued about some tactical detail. Deckard had reviewed their options and now he had made a decision as well. Once again, this was going to be sketchy as hell.

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Gray Matter Splatter, Chapter 7

Deckard climbed down the metal stairwell from the bridge and down into the passenger compartment of the ship. Standing in the middle of his men’s living and work space, the mercenaries were stepping around him in the cramped ship quarters. His vision was still transfixed on the piece of paper he held in his hand. They had received it by email and Deckard had printed off a couple of copies.

In his hand he held a letter of marque signed by the president, authorizing him to attack enemy vessels at his own discretion. With the flick of a pen, the Carrickfergus had been made into a pirate ship, and Deckard the pirate captain. Some of the mercenaries looked at him strangely as they passed by. No one could recall seeing their boss with such a big smile on his face.

Snapping out of it, Deckard stepped over Mk48 machine guns and around winter parkas and trousers drying from improvised clothes lines. He was looking for the computer hacker he kept on Samruk International’s payroll when he stumbled across Chuck Rochenoir’s hootch. Him and Nate, the new guy who had served with Marine Corps Special Operations, were sitting on top of MRE boxes while drinking a couple Miller High Life beers.

“You want one Deck?” Rochenior asked. “It’s the fuckin’ champagne of beers.”

Deckard stepped forward, looking at the giant black flag that Chuck had strung up on the wall. The skull and cross bones was something that Marines and SEALs could always appreciate.

“Something wrong?” Nate asked.

“Far from it,” Deckard answered.

He handed Chuck the letter bearing the letterhead of the Oval Office. Chuck and Nate crowded around the piece of paper, trying to make sense of it.

“This can’t be what I think it is?” Nate asked.

For once, Chuck was at a lose for words.

“Let’s start flying the jolly roger and make it official,” Deckard said with a grin.

* * *

Deckard found Cody hunched over a desk, finger fucking some electronic gadget.

At the end of the passenger compartment, Cody had set up a small work station. The desk was covered with wires, batteries, rechargers, thumb drives, and other odds and ends. He was perhaps the only non-combat personnel in the company, but he had a magic touch with electronics. From computer network operations, to jerry-rigging satellite dishes, or isolating obscure radio frequency spectrums, Cody had an exceptional talent.

Not that it didn’t come without its drawbacks.

“What do you want?” Cody asked after briefly looking up at Deckard. Then he muttered under his breath, “fucking pussy.”

Cody was in a unique position as he had both aspergers syndrome and apparently an undiagnosed form of Tourette’s syndrome on top of it.

“Get anything off those laptops?” Deckard said as he noticed the laptop computers that Aghassi had taken off the Russian mafia target they had hit.

“Not much, just social media shit that can be used to link them back to the rest of the Russian mob. But we already knew that.”

“The other thing I wanted to talk to you about is what happened on Kotelny.”

Cody didn’t look up and continued to mess around with the Pawn Pad in his hands. It was a Nexus 7 tablet that had been specially built for penetration testing of electronic networks.

“Tanks got hacked. What else you wanna know?” Cody asked. “COCK!”

“How hard is it to do something like that?”

“Very difficult. Just like our Predator drones. The signals being transmitted between the drone and the operator are unencrypted, otherwise the encryption would lead to such a lag time that it would be like trying to have a fire fight with a 56k AOL dial up connection.”

“But intercepting signals doesn’t allow you to take control of the drone?”

“No. FUCK. To do that you have hack the actual hardware on the drone and that is encrypted.”

“Who could do something like that?”

“Military grade encryption? Not me. Not anyone I would know. Governments only I guess.”

“So we’re talking about a major power player? A country that has a massive electronic warfare infrastructure like China?”

“DICK. FACE. Yes. No. Or just a Russian military insider who sold his secrets to someone. I don’t know.”

“You are not filling with me confidence right now Cody.”

“Why the fuck would I want to do that,” Cody snorted. “We’re all going to die up in this frozen shit hole you brought us to.”

“Well, that’s nice to know,” Deckard said as he looked up at the ceiling. “Anything else you can actually do to help me before we stumble into oblivion?”

“Take this next time,” Cody turned around and tossed Deckard the pawn pad. “Turn it on next time you come in contact with these guys. It might suck up some interesting signals we can use.”

Deckard looked down at the tablet and pursed his lips.

“Okay Cody,” Deckard said as he turned to walk away. “Okay.”

“Little shit.”

* * *

Deckard found his cot in the middle of the mercenary maelstrom and sat down. It was his ship and his merry band of pirates, but even he could get lost in the chaos. Having soldiers live right on top of each other in cramped quarters made for an interesting combination of fist fights and grab ass. These were no professional sailors either, they were blow-the-door-down, kill everyone inside, and be home by beer-thirty ground pounders. The few former SEALs and Marines may have been used to it, but most of the men adapted to the maritime lifestyle with great reluctance.

But none of them complained. Deckard’s checks cleared. For now anyway.

The former Special Operations soldier picked up his AK-103 rifle, depressed the nub at the end of the carrier spring and detached the dust cover. He then popped out the spring and pulled out the bolt carrier. Using a rag and some oil he did a few minutes of weapon maintenance.

They were quickly learning how to put a weapon into operation effectively in the arctic. More and more of the mercenaries were rolling out with just iron sights as the batteries in optical sights froze after fifteen minutes. Deckard applied a very light coat of oil prior to reassembling his rifle. Any more, and he risked having the oil freeze and gum up the cycle of operation when he pulled the trigger, leading to malfunctions.

Next he moved on to his Glock 19, the standard issue sidearm in Samruk International. He had given up his much loved Kimber 1911. As much as he loved God’s gun, Deckard knew that the reality was that 1911’s were high maintenance tack drivers only carried by Luddites, Iconoclasts, and connoisseurs. At the end of the day, the Glock 19 was more reliable and reliability was something that they desperately needed in the arctic. It took three minutes to disassemble the pistol, wipe it down, and put it back together again.

Deckard slid the Glock into the Raven Concealment holster on his hip and headed back up to the bridge. Otter had actually let Kurt Jager take the helm while the ship’s captain was looking over sea charts and plotting a course.

“Where do you think the enemy is heading?” Deckard asked him.

“Well,” Otter said as he frowned and blew out his cheeks. “Based on the wake analysis we were given, it looks like they are heading towards the De Long straight.”

“Will we over take them prior to getting there?”

“I have no idea. It depends on their speed relative to ours and right now we have no idea how many knots they are moving at. We should have a better idea in 5 hours when the next satellite in polar orbit goes overhead. If it is able to pick up the stealth ship’s wake again, we could be able to calculate speeds.”

“How long until we reach the straight if we continue at our max speed?”

“At 25 knots we will get there in just a little over 24 hours.”

“Feels like we’re fighting a war in slow motion.”

“We’re not hitting time sensitive targets in some urban sprawl,” Kurt reminded Deckard. “Even with the north-east passage opening up, there is still very little infrastructure in the arctic.”

“Maybe that won’t be the case in another twenty years as the oil companies try to suck every bit of energy reserves out of the arctic,” Otter confirmed. “But for now, we are faced with the tyranny of distance and the austerity of the environment.”

“I guess the good news is that the enemy is as well,” Deckard said.

“Their choice of vessel would make one believe that they chose stealth over speed, counting on the assumption that they would not be found.”

“But we’ve already got their heading.”

“And we’re probably gaining on them as we speak,” Otter said with a rare smile.

Deckard ran his finger over the chart, tracing the projected route of the Carrickfergus, wondering what the next day would bring.

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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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