Chapter Twelve

Unblinking dilated eyes fixated on the flat screen television.

The incoming feed was displayed in black and white with data plates arrayed along the edges of the frame, showing azimuth heading, altitude, wind speed, time on target, and other critical data. Fiftysomething crazed Islamists flooded down the side of the mountain, clashing with Kazakh mercenaries and their American compatriots.

Flashes across the screen showed the exchange of gunfire, the Taliban gunmen taking the brunt of it as the Kazakhs fought back with a vengeance. Rockets shot through the air, some creating a splash to great effect as seen by the forward looking infrared system on the unmanned drone’s observational camera package.

Larger impacts walked across the crest of the mountain, devastating the platoon of mujahedin fighters. Below, Hilux pickup trucks ground to a halt at the base of the mountain, each vehicle disgorging another small army of fighters. Just then, the entire mountain shuddered as the bunker system was collapsed by explosives. A dark pillar of smoke poured out of the tunnel’s mouth.

His heart beat faster as the firefight raged on.

The footage fizzled across the screen for a moment before returning to normal. The drone circled overhead at twenty thousand feet, its sophisticated cameras zooming in close enough to see individual soldiers. With MIK gone, the Taliban knew there was a power vacuum and wanted to fill it, regardless of the foreign invaders who had done them the favor of disposing of their rival.

The disruption of the live feed distracted him for a moment. Losing focus, his heart rate began to return to normal. During the height of the insurgency in Iraq he was able to watch every night, watch the various Army units trade fire with terrorists as they raided house after house. Some days he was lucky enough to see an IED blast kill some of the blood bags riding in the vehicles. Now he had to savor these moments.

It wouldn’t be enough to watch a recording. There was nothing like watching death in real time.

His pulse quickened again, endorphins coursing through his bloodstream. The battle reminded him that this was foreplay compared to what was coming, what he was creating. The great culling would come, and his new plaything on the screen, fighting for its life, would be an instrument of that harvest.

Kammler swallowed hard.

The Gulfsteam 550 banked, finding a new heading toward Eurasia.

“Hey boss,” -the drone was also intercepting all radio traffic coming from down below- “I know this isn’t the time, but I don’t want to move these guys again. The younger prisoner is a foot soldier, but it turns out the old guy is MIKs number two, his brother actually. What do you want me to do with these clowns?”

“Do ’em.” It was the voice of the man he had met at the Grove. O’Brien.

On the plasma screen a flash of gunfire could be seen independent of the ongoing firefight.

“Done deal,” the other voice answered back.

Kammler took a deep breath, forcing himself to relax.

This O’Brien was special. Another dumb animal to be expended, yes, but an animal with its uses. He was resourceful and ruthless; the Afghanistan mission had been a testament to that. He took the big risks, expecting the big payday.

Chuckling, he was unable to help himself.

O’Brien was so much more interesting than the swivel chair generals they propped up in front of Congress from time to time. They dazzled the powerless bureaucrats with dialect and baffled them with bullshit, so that meanwhile, the real work could be done.

Having his consultancy firm do a thorough background check on Mr. O’Brien, they found that real work he had done. After an unremarkable military career, other than a bad conduct discharge, he had been picked up by one of the hundreds of fronts Kammler and his close associates used as needed. He ran with several death squads in areas troublesome for the IMF and World Bank before being picked up by a talent scout for wet work. Assassinations and bombings from what he understood, but it wasn’t like they kept records.

Yes, if the pawn survived, O’Brien would be given an offer he couldn’t refuse. A place in a highly structured system. Even after the collapse, some level of enforcement would be necessary.

Otherwise, he would have to be disposed of, along with many others who would know where the money was and where the bodies were buried. If he did a good enough job, Kammler decided he would put his name in the hat to replace their current operations manager, Chad Morrison, who seemed to be rapidly outliving his usefulness.

As the gunfire died down on screen, he leaned back in the leather seat.

According to murky details his intelligence experts uncovered in far corners of the globe, this O’Brien character quickly rose through the figurative ranks of corporate hit men, having contained several situations for a recent sitting President whose sloppy lifestyle threatened their administration. Thus was the cost of doing business, Kammler knew. Only the heavily compromised could be permitted into the Oval Office, so that leverage was there when he needed it.

That was one way to get the job done.

One of the others was to act as a proxy for extended international negotiations for the President, who himself was acting on policy decisions arrived at, not by Congress or his own Cabinet, but by the round table groups and foundations that Kammler Associates ran in the first place. In the true architecture of power, presidents were just middlemen who read teleprompters for those who made the real decisions.

For a moment Kammler felt weightless as the Gulfstream began to drop altitude.

The talking points for this negotiation were exceedingly simple. Force the heads of state into a corner, use treaties and threaten economic sanctions to make them prove a negative to the world. An impossible imposition, of course, but that was the point. When they failed, and they would, Kammler would use the media outlets to intensify the level of rhetoric against the Muslim nation. Scare the milk cows of the Western world into war.

It had worked over and over again, he himself only using the mechanisms of deception and control to send Americans to war since Vietnam, but there were many before him. It began not long after the American Revolution but did not start in earnest until the Kennedy assassination.

Hours later, when the wheels touched down on the tarmac, Kammler turned off the television set, the firefight dying down. There would be more to come before O’Brien would be able to pull his people out, but he had other priorities.

Besides, it was just a sidebar to the main event.

The action continues in Chapter Thirteen.

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