This is a story about fire.
It is the kind of fire that consumes and destroys everything around it. Whether it is the kind of fire that burns down a village or the type of creative destruction that helps rejuvinate the forest, I do not know. All I can say for sure is that I exist because of the fire, because I could not exist without it.
Before that fire there is darkness, a darkness that I feel comfortable in. The darkness is not something to fear, the light is. The light is where people tell lies. The darker things are the more difficult it is for someone to hide. In the deepest darkest moments there is no where to run, no where to hide. You do or do not. The darkness is where you see people for what the really are. The light is nothing but a lie that provides those who have something to hide with a place to hide.
In the darkness, there are things that lurk, things that people don’t want to see so we pretend that they don’t exist. But the dark can also be used by a different type of person. A hunter uses it to conceal himself, the dark is where he plans, it is where he waits. The hunter steps out of the light and into the dark, because that is the place where he belongs.
We are supposed to fall into sequence and fill the role that was made for us. The world tells us that there is a way things are supposed to play out, and a position that we are supposed to fill. Our life is planned out with each of us being used as pawns in some one else’s grand scheme of things. They had it all planned out for us. A job, an identity, a nation, and a hundred other artificial constructs. You walk the same path as everyone else, wondering if this is all there is. If nothing else is out there, than why am I here? The sensation creeps into your soul at night. Why are my senses allowed to perceive things that society says I should not be able to?
The world promised us a future, a place to be fufilled and happy and content. Some people are born touching the sun but that wasn’t me. I went looking for the darkness, I went looking for war, and even for something resembling truth.
The dark waters rushed around my legs, the pressure already tightening around me as I was lowered into the sea. A white froth washed over my mask before I disappeared beneath the waves. The pressure continued to build as the launch and recovery system plunged deeper into the ocean. Small bubbles rolled across the surface of the mask. The deeper I went the harder it was for the sun to penetrate through the water. My world grew dark and an incredible calm washed over me as life on the surface was left behind.
Still, human beings are not built for life underwater. Everything done sub-surface is more complicated so you have keep things streamlined. Tight. Efficient. That’s how you have to work down here. I manuevered my umbilical around and stepped off the LAR that had lowered me down. Out on the cross bars the flashlight mounted to my hard helmet illuminated the way forward. The man-made structure looked alien, over grown and corroded, something that clearly didn’t belong here.
Few people ever get to see the world from this deep down. Inside the jacket of the rig, I was given the task of welding anods to help prevent corrosion. Without me, the rig would eventually collapse, imploding on itself. I moved slowly and delibirately, reaching for the Broco torch and wet welding electrones.
The torch began to burn, a blue orb popping in front of my eyes as I began making the welds. I was finally relaxed. Calm. As I continued to weld, my thoughts were cast adrift.
“Call in a TIC!”
Combat boots pounded across the dust, gun shots cutting through the air as the Counter-Terrorism Pursuit Team opened up on the enemy up hill from their position. Deckard took a knee next to a irrigation canal, muddying his desert tiger stripe uniform.
“Troops in contact, troops in contact,” Trey yelled into the radio as he knelt beside him.
Terraces rose up in front of the two Ground Branch operators, the enemy firing down on them from an elevated position. The mechanical ambush had been kicked off with the blast of two IEDs, then heavy machine gun fire from above that disabled three Hiluxes and killed a dozen of the Afghan CTPTs immediately. Trey, a former Special Forces soldier looked at Deckard with his handset held to his ear and shook his head.
“Fixed ring twenty minutes out.”
The deadly Little Bird Direct Action Penetrator helicopters didn’t fly during hours of day light. They would have to wait for Close Air Support.
Looking back, Deckard saw the CTPTs either firing unaimed shots, dying where they stood, or pointlessly hiding behind their thin skinned vehicles. The third Ground Branch contractor was a grizzled old Delta Force Sergeant Major who stood out in the opening kicking the CTPTs to getting them moving to cover, all while puffs of moon dust kicked up by enemy fire burst around his feet. Trey and Deckard looked on in horror as the old man of the team threatened to kill their Afghan counter-parts before they got up and ran for the terraces.
When Wes finally joined them he just took a knee and wiped some sweat off his forehead. His hair was close cropped and he was clean shaven unlike the other two contractors who sported full beards. Wes didn’t see any point in having long hair and a beard when they were running direct action operations.
“I’m too old for this shit.”
We were trapped on the wrong side of a narrow valley, in a country we were not exactly supposed to be in. The Haqqani network realized they had hit a gold mine ambushing the CTPTs and no doubt spotted their American advisors dressed like commandos out of a Soldier of Fortune magazine. Pinned down and under fire, twenty minutes seemed like a life span, theirs specifically.
The terraces crept up the side of the valley like a set of steep basement stairs leading to a series of mud huts built into the side of the valley.
“I’ve seen you do some pretty gnarly physical training,” Trey said to Wes.
“Down for a frontal assault under machine gun fire?” Deckard asked as a stray round kicked up some dirt just above his head.
The old man smiled.
“I’ll beat you two pussies to the top. I’m on point, Deckard you stay on my coat tails and try not to die. Trey, you push these maldoons up behind us.”
Just like that, a bullshit plan came together.
“Get the CTPT’s to lay down some suppressive-” Wes’ words were cut off as Deckard jumped over the edge of the first terrace. “God dammit!”
Squishing his way through the mud that used to grow rice for the village above, Deckard came to the next terrace wall. Popping over the top, he leveled his M4 rifle and looked down his Aimpoint sight, cracking off shots into the windows of mud huts and then swinging his barrel to light up several rocky outcroppings above his position. The enemy answered back, sending Deckard ducking down. He had to identify where that machine gun position was. The blast of the Dskh 12.7 caliber rounds was hard to mistake for anything else.
“Hey, high speed,” Wes said grabbing Deckard by the sleeve of his fatigues. “If you do anything like that again, I’ll shoot you myself.”
“Roger, Sergeant Major.”
None of them held military ranks anymore as contracted CIA employees. They were a deniable force behind enemy lines. No Geneva Convention was going to save them now.
Trey got a very reluctant CTPT element up onto the terrace and returned fire. The DShK swept their position, racking back and forth. One of the Afghans had put his faith in Allah rather than cover and concealment. He quickly paid the price as a 12.7 round nearly sliced him in half. The pulped mound of gore toppled backwards into the irrigation ditch.
“Trey, get the RPK and PKM gunners up. We need to keep up our momentum,” Deckard yelled.
“What momentum?” the OGA contractor asked sarcastically, his words lost in the gunfire.
Wes stayed as low as possible as he pushed off the wall in front of them with the toe of his boot and rolled up to the next level. Deckard sprung up after him. The Haqqani machine gun above chugged through belt after belt of ammunition, delaying the American and Afghan soldier’s progress. During delays in the bursts of fire, they moved knowing that the terrorists were reloading the gun or clearing a malfunction.
Deckard risked another look above the terrace, trying to figure out exactly where the machine gun emplacement was, but the enemy had done a good job at digging it in while maintaining a wide field of fire.
Deckard and Wes both hit the ground as a RPG rocket sailed over their heads and exploded in front of what was left of their Toyota Hiluxes down on the valley floor. The CTPT’s returned hopelessly inaccurate fire, but hopefully it gave the enemy something to think about.
“I’ll cover you,” Wes said.
He began firing at what he thought was the machine gun position, making bold corrections as moved his gun sights laterally as he fired. Deckard jumped the terrace, his heart thumping in his chest and sweat streaming down his face. Despite being behind the wall, a splash of mud was flung against his ankles. Looking up he saw a lone shooter up on a rocky peak to their flank.
“I got this,” Wes said as he came up along side him.
“You got this? That dude is like five hundred meters away which is why he isn’t hitting shit-”
Wes exhaled and gently squeezed the trigger on his M4. A single 5.56 round punched through the AK-47 weilding terrorist. He flopped over and took a nose dive off the cliff. The two OGA contractors watched him splash down, face first, into the dried river bed below. His body lay twisted in a very unnatural position.
Turning, Deckard fired through the rest of his magazine, and then stopped to reload, yanking a fresh magazine from his olive green nylon chest rig. Wes accerated his rate of fire, then bent down to reload himself once Deckard was ready to resume shooting. Trey was leap frogging up behind them with a couple dozen Afghans while Deckard and Wes closed the distance. As they visually identified the muzzle flash of the DShK, both began dumping their mags into it. 5.56 rounds sparked off what was probably the feed tray cover and the gun went silent. The two men surged forward climbing up the five foot tall terraces to close the distance.
The two men strained as they climbed higher and higher up the side of the valley. Each carrying around fifty pounds of weapons, ammunition, and gear, their muscles burned with lactic acid. Wes down half of a bottle of water and handed it off to Deckard who finished it while they waited for Trey to catch up again.
“Get the fuck up here Trey,” Wes bellowed.
Deckard squeezed off round after round as gunsmoke stung his eyes. He hesitated, seeing something flash in his periferal. A oblong round object flew through the air and landed at his feet. Instantly recognizing one of those green football shaped Soviet deals, Deckard threw his weight into Wes, taking him to the ground just as the grenade exploded. A plume of mud and dust burst above them.
Wes squinted, in obvious pain from the ringing in his ears.
“Get the fuck off of me, it isn’t man love Thursday.”
Deckard rolled off and snatched a M67 frag grenade from his chest rig. Peeling off the 100 mile an hour tape used to secure the pin, he twisted and yanked it out. Over handing the grenade, he ducked back down behind the terrace. The explosion resulted in the satisfying screams of agony from at least one Haqqani terrorist.
Then another grenade landed near their position on the terrace just above them. The two men ducked as it detonated. The former Delta operator lobbed a grenade of his own as the fire fight devolved into a full on frag party. Deckard threw one and another came back. The OGA contractors hit the ground but the enemy frag didn’t go off this time. Dumbass probably forgot to pull the pin while he was in some kind of battle haze.
Trey and his men finally arrived and began suppressing enemy positions, automatic fire tearing into the mud huts above them where they had seen muzzle flashes. Deckard pulled himself over the next terrace, Wes following after. As the CTPTs struggled their way up behind them, the Americans suddenly came under fire from their flank. Several terrorists popped up from a well concealed fighting position camouflaged into the side of the valley, raining PKM fire down around them.
Several CTPTs collapsed and rolled down the terraces as 7.62x54R bullets sought them out like angry hornets. Green tracer fire streamed through the orange hued valley as the sun began to sink below the horizon. Deckard slammed a fresh magazine into his mag well and dropped the bolt, chambering the first round. Without thinking twice, he jumped over the last terrace and dashed away.
“Deckard! What the fuck!”
Wes was furious, but Deckard didn’t hear him.
Moving towards the DShK, the red dot inside his gun sight hovered around the chest of a Haqqani terrorist, the AK in his hands already moving towards the American. Deckard quickly squeezed off two shots into his chest. A spray of crimson arced through the air as the bullets sliced through his heart. He collapsed in a cloud of dust. Deckard jumped over the body, got behind the aging Russian machine gun and swung the heavy barrel around towards the gun position up in the side of the valley.
Man handling the charging handle, he pressed down on the trigger and began slicing the enemy pillbox to pieces. The PKM up on the hill went silent, but more muzzle flashes were seeking him out. Deckard tried to turn the weapon on the mud huts were other Haqqani fighters were shooting from, but he was unable to traverse. The position had been carefully set in between two boulders.
Abandoning the machine gun, he charged towards the huts, hosing them down with suppressive fire from his M4. He spritined right across the ridge at the top of the valley where there was a narrow path, but he silloutted himself drawing fire from all across the valley. With his bolt locked back on a empty chamber, he dove down, squatting behind a rock to load his second to last magazine. He was out of the US-made frag grenades, but did have something special from OGA.
Taking a couple deep breaths, Deckard broke from cover for one final movement right up to the first hut. As he approached, he cracked off more shots from his M4 through the open door to his front. Coming up against the earthen wall, he reached into his kit and palmed what looked like a plastic black golf ball. Pulling the pin on the Dutch mini-frag, he tossed it through the door. It popped off with a muted explosion by comparison to the other grenades but would do the job inside inclosed spaced. Peeking inside, Deckard pumped a couple insurance shots into the body of a dead Haqqani fighter who had been inside.
Skirting around the side of the hut, he came to the next structure and repeated the process, fragging it. While he was making progress on the huts, he was isolated and alone. The enemy took notice and gunmen around both sides of the valley were now trying to vector in on him with their gun fire. The first mortar landed, but was hopelessly inaccurate, slaming into the reverse slope of the ridge he had just been on.
The automatic gunfire was now so intense that Deckard had to take refuge inside the third hut. Bullets were kicking up puffs of dirt all around him. Gasping for air, he suddenly wondered if he had made the right move by getting so far ahead of his team mates. The sun was going down, and the mortar fire was slowing behind walked in on his position.
That was when the A-10s finally showed up. The low grumbling BRRRRRRT of the aircrafts GAU-8 machine gun. Glancing downside, he saw the 30mm tearing through the frontlines of the enemy as the A-10 pilots did gun runs across the valley. No doubt Trey was talking to the pilots. In minutes, the enemy was off their backs again, running down the opposite side of the valley in hopes of surviving to fight another day.
Deckard strode out from the mud hut, locking and loading his final magazine. As he walked back to the terraces he overheard Wes yelling at Trey.
“Go find that kid,” he said angrily. “And wipe the fucking blood off his lips while you’re at it.”
“Deckard just so you are aware-”
The voice over the radio snapped me out of it. I was only about a third of the way through the job and had plenty of welds left to do.
“What is it?” I said back, frustrated, almost as if I had been disturbed in the middle of a dream.
“Fuck! Heads up, heads up!”
“What the fuck is it?” I demanded. The broco torch went silent as I turned it off, the helmet mounted flashlight cutting a column through the darkness.
“Jesus, half of the super structure just cut away, the crane went into the water!”
“What the fuck are you-”
But it was too late, my words cut off as I felt, rather than heard a giant sucking just behind me. My umbilical tugged, dragging me off the cross member and plunging me into the dark. Then it was severed and I lost my audio, video, and oxygen all at once. I was sinking to the bottom, unable to see, but knowing that I was tumbling end over end, down into sub-surface pressures that would quickly kill me.
I snarled in anger, and reached for my bail out bottle.
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