Direct Action Preview Chap. 1-10

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Prologue:

Afghanistan, 2005:

Navy Chief David McAtee was alive when the Jihadists moved in. They were Chechens. Foreign fighters who had over run the hide site he had occupied. With three team mates he had tried to escape and evade down the side of the mountain. There were simply too many of them for him and his recon team to successfully break contact and escape.

Chief McAtee was alive when the enemy started picking over his body, beginning to strip him of his weapons and equipment to divide amongst themselves. Shot through one lung, both legs, and through his cheek, he was in no condition to be able to defend himself. His arm was limp, he couldn’t even feel any sensation in it as one of the Chechens undid the clasp on his wrist watch and then let his arm flop to the ground.

Chief McAtee was alive when the Chechens cut the gear off his body and yanked his M4 rifle off him by its sling. He struggled to breath. His three comrades were dead, that much he knew for sure. He had watched them die one by one. Now he knew that they were better off.

Chief McAtee was alive when the knives came out and they began the cutting.

Wind howled down the side of the mountain. Snow streaked crags of rock poked up from beneath the white ground, forcing the team to negotiated their way around them. The windswept mountain was an even bigger obstacle than the enemy, the terrain slowing them as they moved uphill through knee deep snow.

Master Chief Bill Geddes saw the world through a green tinted lens. The PVS-14 Night Optical Device limited both his depth perception and his field of vision but he was walking point and needed to be able to see the enemy before they saw him. Although the wind was blowing snow drifts off the side of the mountain, the night was clear with a full moon hanging over their heads. The added illumination would make it easier for the Master Chief to spot the enemy, but it would also make it easier for the enemy to see his team.

For what seemed like the hundredth time, he wiped snow off the lens of his NODs so that he could see.

The word to describe their current mission was anger. As members of Naval Special Warfare Development Group, commonly known as SEAL Team Six, they had been assigned to lay up in a hide site over a valley and watch for suspected enemy activity. Intelligence indicated that large numbers of foreign fighters were moving from Pakistan to Afghanistan through the valley and the brass up at the Joint Operations Center in Bagram wanted a heads up as to what was coming their way.

A second reconnaissance team, led by Chief McAtee, had occupied another over watch position where they had a vantage point over a section of the road running through the valley that Bill’s team couldn’t cover. Four hours ago McAtee’s hide site had been compromised. From what they could gather from the radio transmissions, the team had been on the run ever since. Two hours ago, they had lost radio contact with McAtee’s team all together. Bagram couldn’t get them on comms and neither could Bill.

A Troops in Contact call had been sent over the net, but higher said it was a no-go. There was a storm moving in and they could not risk flying in close air support or the SEAL platoon that had been standing by as a Quick Reaction Force. Last month a CH-47 filled with Rangers had been shot out of the sky by the Taliban. It had turned into a big fiasco on the news networks back home and now the commanders were risk adverse about sending in helicopters on another rescue mission.

They could write off a small four man recce team, but another downed CH-47 could cost some Colonel his star.

Pissed. That was another adjective that described how he felt, Bill thought to himself.

Since the cavalry wasn’t coming and they had no overhead surveillance, Bill decided to take the initiative. His four man recce team abandoned their hide side and began trudging through the snow towards the last known location of McAtee’s team.

Bill and his men had hardly slept since occupying the hide site several days prior. Now they were dehydrated from snaking their way up the side of the mountain. Most of them were big guys, weight lifters with a lot of upper body strength. Now they were paying the price as those large muscles required a lot of oxygen during exertion, oxygen that wasn’t available at high altitudes. They were exhausted, but Bill knew that as SEALs that there was no way they would turn around, no way they would quit, not without bringing their comrades home with them.

His legs dragging trails behind him, Bill was perhaps the most tired of all as he was up front breaking through the thick snow and making their route selection. Time seemed to standstill in the night, their faces having gone numb from the cold wind, their heads beginning to hang as sleep deprivation set it. Maybe it was another forty five minutes, maybe an hour and a half; during the After Action Review Bill was unable to recall with any clarity when he saw the four silhouettes in the night.

The Master Chief could see them clearly through his PVS-14’s from several hundred meters out. They wore thick jackets and Afghan pakol caps on their heads. The four of them had AK-47 rifles slung over their backs as they squatted, huddled around something. There was no camp fire. Adjusting the focus on his night vision monocle, Bill could see their long ratty beards blowing in the wind.

The firefight was nothing spectacular. The SEAL Team Six operator had his men get on line and they opened fire as one, cutting down the four enemy fighters in half a second. No fancy tactics were going to be applied with the men exhausted and in such difficult terrain, and none were needed. Their M4 rifles cracked through the night. Two of the Jihadists dropped like marionettes that had their strings suddenly cut. Another was struck in the shoulder, then tried to get back up and run until Bill emptied the rest of his magazine into the Jihadist’s back. The last fell face first into the snow. At first he tried to push himself back up, then thought better of it, laid back down, and promptly died.

Bill dropped his expended magazine, inserted a full one, and then dropped the bolt on his M4 to chamber the first round. The other three SEALs on his team did the same.

Moving forward, the mountain planed out into a small ledge. As they grew closer, the SEALs put a few insurance shots into the Chechens just to make sure that they were well and truly dead. Closing on the bodies, the SEALs were able to see what the enemy had been crouching around. Bill slung his rifle and ran to the prostrate form. Laying face down, the snow around Chief McAtee had been stained a dark shade of crimson.

The seam down the back of McAtee’s fatigues had been sliced open with a knife. His ass was bloody where the enemy had been sodomizing him. Bill took a knee and rolled his friend over on to his back. Reilly, the team medic dropped his aid bag and began digging through its contents.

As Bill rolled McAtee onto his back, his blood ran colder than the wind blasting down the side of the mountain. McAtee convulsed in his arms, in a deep state of shock. He was not conscience but still technically alive. When Bill cradled his friend in his arms, the SEAL’s head hinged backwards with a jagged second mouth opening at the neck. McAtee was shaking in his arms.

Reilly crouched over him with bandages but there was nothing he could do. He was a Special Operations trained medic and now felt utterly useless as his comrade’s condition was beyond anything he could begin to treat in an emergency room much less on the side of a mountain during a blizzard. They could hear McAtee gurgling as he struggled to breath.

Finally, the ravaged SEAL convulsed for the last time and lay dead in Bill’s arms. The four SEALs stared at the ground in shock. Each of them was a veteran of countless battles. Ship seizures in the Persian Gulf, covert operations in Somalia, targeted killings in Colombia, and direct action raids in Afghanistan but none of them had ever experienced anything like this. This was different. This was crossing a line from which they could not return.

Bill laid McAtee down in the snow. Digging into his kit he found a space blanket that he used to cover the remains with. He then began camouflaging the body under snow with the other SEALs joining in. Reilly got out his GPS and wrote down a ten-digit grid location to where the body was cached. A snow storm was quickly blowing in from the West.

Getting to his feet, Bill slung his rifle in front of him and looked up the side of the mountain. They had three more SEALs to recover. They were up there, somewhere. With the Chechens.

Bill looked over his shoulder at his recce team. His gaze cut right through them.

“From this day forward,” he shouted over the wind. “It is an eye for an eye.”

The SEALs nodded.

“Every single day. For McAtee and the rest.”

Master Chief Bill Geddes ground his teeth and stepped off in search of the others.

“Its blood for blood,” he yelled up the mountain at anyone who would listen.

Three SEALs followed close behind their team leader, walking in the footprints he made in the snow.

Soon, the four operators disappeared into the snow storm.

Chapter One:

Present Day

Deckard fell towards the earth, nearly going end over end as he struggled to maintain a positive body position. Glancing at his altimeter, he waved off at 6,000 feet, looked back at his altimeter and then reached for his ripcord at 4,500 feet. When he gave it a yank, his head snapped to the side. He had been pulling on the tube running from his oxygen mask to the bottled O2 strapped under his MC-5 parachute. Making another attempt, he reached in and snatched his ripcord. He pulled it but nothing happened, the metal grip separated from the steel cable which would have pulled the pins and released his parachute.

He didn’t bother to look back at his altimeter but knew he was burning altitude fast. Tracing the main lift web on his parachute harness he grabbed the floating cable and pulled as hard as he could. He was pins out somewhere around 2,000 feet. The pilot chute was out but caught in a wind bubble on his back where it bounced around but failed to catch in the air and deploy his main parachute.

Then the CYPRES system detected the barometric pressure at low altitude, indicating that something was wrong. The computer was a fail safe in case the jumper was knocked unconscious. To his horror, the reserve parachute deployed just as the pilot chute finally pulled his main parachute out of its deployment bag.

Two parachutes, both with forward drive, were now over his head, his reserve and main parachute snaking around each other and becoming intertwined. With two canopies over his head, cutting away and pulling his reserve was out of the question. All he had was a main and a reserve and they were both deployed already.

Deckard reached up and grabbed the suspension lines of the reserve parachute, desperately trying to prevent it from entangling itself around the main parachute. If his main chute was collapsed by the reserve there was no recourse or corrective measure which could save him. His biceps were burning as he pulled and separated the suspension lines but the reserve chute was still trying to drive forward and since it was anchored to the parachute harness, and to Deckard, it kept trying to make a U-turn back into his main chute.

As the main parachute began to collapse, Deckard felt weightless, the ground rushing up to reach him. Somehow he managed to survive the landing. Shrugging out of his parachute harness he put his M4 rifle into operation and moved out.

The enemy was quickly advancing. Joined by his team mates, Deckard opened fire. A single round fired from the rifle before it jammed. Deckard executed the malfunction drill by muscle memory without consciously thinking through the steps. Slapping the magazine, he racked the bolt and tapped the forward assist. Pulling the butt stock back into the pocket of his shoulder, he aimed down the sights and squeezed the trigger on the first enemy he spotted. The hammer dropped on the firing pin but the rifle did not discharge.

Now his teammates had to pick up their rate of fire to compensate for Deckard’s weapon being out of action. He performed the malfunction drill again. Slap, rack, but no bang. The man to Deckard’s left went down under a hail of gunfire. Slap, rack, but nothing. Deckard dropped the magazine, pulled the bolt to the rear and inspected the chamber. It looked clear. Loading a fresh magazine he attempted to shoot again. Nothing.

His other team mate on his right side collapsed like an empty coat. Deckard slapped the magazine, racked the bolt, and squeezed the trigger but the weapon still would not fire. The enemy was right on top of him. He was still attempting to get his rifle back online when the terrorists swarmed in on him.

That was when Deckard woke up.

His chest heaved as he tried to catch his breath, his mind taking a few moments to recognize his surroundings. He was in an apartment in Las Vegas, a temporary safe house where he was waiting out a different kind of storm. Forty-eight hours ago Deckard and his crew had smashed through a conspiracy that stretched from Mexican drug cartels to a Private Military Company that had been training Iranian terrorists in the Nevada desert. Since clearing out of Area 14 on a Department of Energy training site, Deckard and his teammates from Samruk International had been in hiding. No casinos for them, not while half the world was wondering what the hell had happened out in the Nevada desert.

He stretched his back while he lay on the couch and felt his back pop.

Deckard and Samruk International were what had happened. They had taken on the cartels and their puppet masters. They walked away from that fight, the enemy didn’t. But they had walked away with something else as well. While busting into a top secret facility, a special activities center for the G3 Communications Corporation, they had retrieved several bags worth of sensitive documents.

Pat had made a phone call to an old girlfriend in town and secured them a place to stay until some of the heat died down. After spending an entire day sleeping and eating, Deckard, Pat, Aghassi, Nikita, and Kurt began moving around the apartment. With little else to do, they sat around the coffee table pouring over the intelligence material they had collected while Nikita busied himself cleaning his HK 417 sniper rifle.

Sitting up on the couch, he felt the soreness deep in his muscles and joints. He had run himself ragged during the campaign in Mexico until he literally collapsed. After getting a few bags of saline solution by intravenous drip, he went right back into the fight. When they first got to the apartment, he collapsed onto the couch. It was less like sleep and more like a coma. When he woke up he was dehydrated and his tongue was stuck to the roof of his mouth.

But after a few solid meals, sleep, and drinking lots of water he was starting to feel a lot better even though his body was still recovering from the wounds and abrasions he had taken along the way. Meanwhile, the rest of his Private Military Company, Samruk International, had been flown back to Kazakhstan. Having left Frank and Sergeant Major Korgan in charge of the two platoons, they had paid the men and then put them on leave for some much needed R&R.

Deckard looked at the files and folders strewn across the table.

The CEO of G3 Communications was still out there. Deckard would attend to him, but at a time and place of his choosing. Right now, the CEO was no doubt prepared for him after learning about Samruk’s hit on Area 14. The documents they had recovered pointed in other directions. G3 was not just running illegal operations in Latin America but also in the Gulf States. One document in particular caught Deckard’s interest. It was a company roster for a G3 subsidiary registered in the United Arab Emirates.

The roster listed over a 150 employees by name along with their pace of birth, passport number, phone number, blood type, and their duty position within the company. Interestingly they were all coded into the roster under the number 11. When looking at the index for the roster, number 11 listed that position as “maintenance”. Deckard had a hard time believing that employees from the Ukraine, South Africa, Pakistan, and England were all hired and flown to the UAE simply to be janitors.

More curious, there was a small cell isolated within the roster. They were not listed by name but rather an alphanumeric designation ranging from O-1 to O-7. The cell name was Liquid Sky. No passport numbers were listed but they were all Americans, aside from one of them whose place of birth was listed as Sri Lanka despite being a US citizen. They were the only Americans working within the entire company in fact.

Deckard sat alone in the early morning light, unable to fall asleep after the nightmares. What he had uncovered in the documents thus far was grinding at him anyway.

There was also a target deck within one of the binders of people who appeared to have been eliminated by Liquid Sky. Pat’s gal pal was a nurse and still at work so Deckard logged into her computer and downloaded some software that would allow him to search the web anonymously. He started tracking down the names in the target deck. Many of them did not come up in any of his searches, to be expected if they were third world terrorists or for that matter intelligence professionals who didn’t want to be found in life or death. Some names did produce search results.

One was a Saudi prince who disappeared and was found a week later in the desert with a bullet in the back of his head. It was written off in the media as an inter-familial feud within the royal family. Another was a Somalian warlord who had been reported by the Associated Press as being killed by a Predator drone strike but according to the logs in the target deck he has actually been killed two weeks prior. A third target was an Al Qaeda terrorist emir in Yemen. They were bad guys or at least baddish until he got halfway down the list.

The turning point seemed to be in 2011 when the targets shifted from being exclusively Islamic extremists and corrupt Arabs to pro-democracy demonstrators, protest leaders, and human rights advocates in the UAE, Yemen, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and throughout the Arab world. Just as the Arab Spring picked up momentum, it seemed that Liquid Sky had received new taskings. The client had to be the leaders of the Gulf States who wanted both Islamic extremists and anti-monarchist, anti-dictatorship protestors off their backs.

The fat cats in the Gulf States were content to rake in oil money and bang Russian hookers but needed American expertise to maintain their position in society. American Special Operations expertise. Who was holding down the pro-democracy movement in the Middle East? Who was helping to keep the Arab world a dictatorship which made for a breeding ground for terrorism? It looked like one arm of that apparatus was called Liquid Sky, a group of renegade military contractors.

There was one name listed in the target deck that had not reached his expiration date. One that was scheduled in for service within a weeks time. Would Liquid Sky be alerted that their OPSEC was blown when Area 14 had been set ablaze? Deckard scratched the stubble on his face.

Liquid Sky’s next target was currently located in a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan.

He was the last name on the list.

Chapter Two:

One week later:

Karachi, Pakistan

Deckard crouched next to the body of a dead Pakistani doctor.

His white jacket was stained red as blood leaked into a pool beneath him. Ripping a few buttons on his shirt, Deckard could easily spot the entry wounds. A veteran of countless firefights, he quickly identified them as being from 9mm bullets. Two shots, each with impeccable round placement. The shooter had used the doctor’s collar as a point of reference when aligning his sights.

Aim small, miss small.

The entry wounds were almost touching each other.

Leaving the corpse behind, he strode up the steps, taking them three at a time to the front door of the hospital. The door had been locked so the shooters had used an explosive charge to breach and make entry into the structure. Deckard had heard the detonation as he had drove towards the hospital. He was just a minute behind them. One critical minute.

The door looked like it had been sliced in half. They used a cutting charge, probably explosive cutting tape which used RDX explosive and a metal filament to blast through obstacles. With the building’s exterior lights turned on, he saw a tangle of clear wiring laying in a heap next to the door. The remnants of the shock tube that had been used to detonate the cutting charge.

The sharp scent of the explosives hung in the air as Deckard stepped inside. Deeper in the hospital, he could hear the sound of gunfire. The Liquid Sky team was clearing a path to their target.

With his Kimber 1911 pistol leading the way, Deckard picked up the pace. Jogging halfway down the hall he slipped and nearly fell on a slick of blood. Two Pakistani policemen had been slaughtered before they could even draw their weapons. The Paks had put security on their man, but not very good security. At a glance, Deckard could tell that they had both been shot numerous times in the torso with added shots following up as the shooters moved towards the policemen to make sure they were really dead. One shot looked like it had flayed the skin right off one of the policemen’s neck.

Aghassi and Jager were right behind him and grabbed him under the elbows before he could topple over. Leaving a trail of bloody footprints behind him, they kept moving.

“This is Shooter-One,” the earbud connected to his cellphone crackled. “In position.”

“Roger,” Deckard replied into the mic.

Nikita had taken an over watch position outside where he could cover the front of the hospital while Pat stayed with their vehicle.

The Samruk International mercenaries had a week to get themselves to Pakistan and conduct mission planning to intercept the Liquid Sky team. Considering the ad hoc nature of the mission, everything had come together fairly well and they were confident that they could catch the Liquid Sky shooters, whoever they really were, in an ambush before they even got near their target.

Then someone had set a fire in the basement of the Joint Forces hospital on the Naval Base and the patients had to be moved across town to the Aga Khan university hospital instead. It seemed that Liquid Sky had been conducting their own surveillance and didn’t like what they saw so they induced a situation in which their target had to be moved to a location where the conditions would be more favorable to the assassins.

It worked. Deckard’s plans were tossed out the window and now they were improvising on the fly.

What else was new.

Expended brass casings littered the floor.

A Pakistani policemen, this time with tactical gear, including body armor and an assault vest, was sprawled on his back. The shooters had fired center mass and when the bullets failed to penetrate the body armor they walked their shots up into his face and fired until he went down. It was known as a failure drill. Put the first two shots center mass and then shoot into the skull until the target is no longer a threat.

Deckard rounded the corner with his two comrades and continued in the direction of the sound of gunfire.

Now he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt. ECT on the door, failure drills, and the information contained in the roster they had recovered in Nevada. These guys were Americans and not any ordinary Americans.

These were the type of Americans that Deckard had worked with for years, trained with, conducted combat operations with. These guys were Special Operations, it was just a question of which tribe they had come from.

Following the trail of destruction, the trio took another turn and bounded up a flight of stairs. They stepped over several more corpses in tactical gear. It looked like some kind of police para-military unit had been assigned to guard Liquid Sky’s target.

Only one of the bodies was interesting. Deckard paused for half a second, noting the deep cuts on the face, neck, and forearms of the body. They were made by a short defensive blade as the Pakistani had tried to defend himself. Someone who knew what they were doing and had made quick work of their opponent, taking him apart like a chicken.

Racing down the hall they passed under a broken florescent light, the adjacent lights blinking on and off due to a flash bang grenade that had exploded. The door of the target’s hospital room was ajar. Several sets of bloody boot prints trailed out and back down the hall. Deckard stood in the doorway.

Abdulkarim Al-Khalifa lay in his hospital bed, one arm hanging lifelessly over the side as blood ran down it and softly pattered onto the floor. He had been a social organizer and protest leader in the country of Bahrain. Al-Khalifa had been so successful in organizing pro-democracy movements that he had to flee the country with state security services nipping at his heels. Eventually he found his way to India where the Pakistani intelligence service, ISI, had kidnapped him. It was to be a for profit operation for ISI.

The Pakistanis had been in the final stages of negotiating a ransom with the Kingdom of Bahrain. Al-Khalifa had continued to be a thorn in the government’s side by utilizing social media websites to communicate with the opposition groups. Bahrain wanted him back so that he could be imprisoned, and eventually, permanently silenced. But the ISI was driving a hard bargain so somebody decided to take matters into their own hands.

A third party called Liquid Sky.

Gunfire sounded back on the ground floor, the staccato bursts rattling the windows. The mercenaries could distinguish between the initial shots, from Nikita’s sniper rifle, and the return fire that came a moment later.

“Fuck,” Nikita cursed as he hot mic’ed the radio. “Shit!”

“I’m on it,” Pat’s voice came over the net. His PKM machine gun was now shaking up the party.

“These guys are good,” Nikita transmitted. “I took down the first one and the others immediately hit the ground. One deployed a smoke grenade and the others returned fire on my position.”

The full auto gunfire broke off into stunted bursts and the Liquid Sky gunfighters returned fire one more time.

“They’re breaking contact,” Pat reported. “Flushing them back in your direction.”

Deckard took a final look into the hospital room.

Al-Khalifa’s wife lay sprawled out on the bed on top of him. She had been trying to protect him from the onslaught of gunfire and had died alongside her husband.

Deckard keyed his radio.

“We’re moving.”

The team followed him back down to the ground floor. Liquid Sky had tried to bail out a side exit to make their escape but Nikita had that angle in his field of fire. They retreated back into the hospital but now it was a question of whether they would hard point it and wait for extraction or attempt another breakthrough and escape. Deckard could hear the shouting just ahead of them.

Women were screaming. Somewhere in the fray a man’s voice could be heard.

“Get the fuck outta the way!” the voice echoed.

Bursting into the burn ward, Deckard shot a glance over the front sight of his 1911 and caught a flash of the enemy as the Liquid Sky member moved into the next room. Sprinting between occupied beds, several patients turned to look at him. Others were in no state to do anything other than let a machine breath for them. Rear security hadn’t spotted Deckard yet and he pushed into the next room.

Seeing a moving shadow with a rifle in its hands, Deckard’s shot blasted through a hanging IV bag, spraying the fluid into the air. The .45 caliber round ricocheted off the metal pole that had held up the bag, saving his target from growing a third eye. The shooter ducked and dived through a doorway after his comrades.

A flashbang grenade rolled into the room and spun across the floor towards Deckard’s feet. Without hesitating, Deckard kicked it back. The distraction device made it halfway back to the door before it went off. Even though he knew enough to turn away, the flash was momentarily blinding. The bang was enough to rattle all three of the mercenaries for a few seconds.

Blinking away the spots in his vision, the three mercenaries ran through the orthopedic department and out into the courtyard just in time to see the last Liquid Sky member slip over the wall and out onto the street on the back side of the building. Their blind spot where Nikita and Pat had no coverage.

“Shooter-One, Gunner-One,” Deckard called out Nikita and Pat’s callsigns. “Secure the body you made and get to the extraction site. We are going to pursue.”

Without waiting for a response, Deckard ran at full speed towards the high wall. Leaping into the air, he planted a foot on the wall and pushed off it, vaulting himself up onto the lip of the wall where he grabbed hold. Pulling himself over the top, he stayed low as he slid over the wall and dropped down into the dirt and trash on the ground.

Five shadows moved down the street ahead of him. The third world stench was thick in the air as burning trash, body odor, and diesel exhaust combined with the stifling heat. The shadows were in a mad dash, no doubt having shifted their extraction point by radio. Kurt and Aghassi dropped down alongside him as they came over the wall.

Staying in the shadows, the Samruk mercenaries chased after Liquid Sky. They didn’t get far before a white van blasted around the corner up ahead and screeched to a halt. Red brake lights blinked as the van rocked forward before settling into place. The sliding door opened and the five shooters piled inside.

Deckard stepped out into the street, leveling his pistol. With Aghassi and Kurt, the three of them unloaded their handguns into the van. Bullets pockmarked the metal siding, one taking out a rear light as the van sped away but none of them seemed to strike the driver of the getaway vehicle. Now under fire, the van took the first right hand turn to escape the killzone.

Cutting up another side street, Deckard’s lungs felt like they were about to collapse on him. He still wasn’t fully recovered from his previous mission. Although a week and a half had done a lot to help him heal up he still wasn’t at a hundred percent. For a moment, it seemed futile. Back on the main boulevard he turned his head. Sweat stinging his eyes, he spotted a single break light. The van was caught in traffic.

Kurt Jager moved to the nearest car as the driver slowed. Tearing open the door, he grabbed the mustached Pakistani by the head and tossed him out of the vehicle. The mercenaries got in and slammed the doors. Seeing the firepower they were carrying, the driver decided to leave well enough alone.

As Kurt took the wheel, Deckard keyed his radio again.

“We’re heading west,” he announced. Towards the port.

As Kurt began nudging cars out of the way and driving up on the shoulder to get ahead, the driver of the van noticed that they were still being pursued and did the same. Spinning the wheel, the driver took them onto another side street, finding an alternate route to the port of Karachi. By now they were less than a mile away from the coast. The van driver now slammed on the accelerator, slowing down enough to prevent the vehicle from spinning out as the paved road turned to dirt.

Kurt Jager downshifted. Experienced in rally racing, Kurt got everything he possibly could out of the third world jalopy. It wasn’t much. Deckard held on to the door to prevent himself from being thrown around the back seat. They were gaining on the van but now the plume of dust kicked up in its wake was obscuring Kurt’s vision. He was forced onto the shoulder of the road, otherwise he would be driving faster than he could see.

As the dust cleared, Kurt immediately yanked the steering wheel to the left to avoid a giant crane the size of the tractor trailer that was parked on the side of the road.

The van driver realized he had an accidental weapon on his hands and began swerving back and forth to kick up an even bigger dust cloud. Leaning into the next turn, Kurt was forced to slow down or risk slamming into another crane or pallet of bricks.

Deckard gritted his teeth, the dust coming through the window sticking to his lips. His suspicions had been confirmed in triplicate. Liquid Sky was the real deal and they were about to slip outside his grasp for good.

Kurt veered left with the road and the dust finally cleared. Looking at a parallel running road, they could see that they had missed a turn. The van was racing towards the end of the port and now there was a set of train track between them and their target.

The port was lit up in a golden glow at night, the shadows wavering through the sedan as Kurt struggled to stay on their query. Tanker ships bobbed in the dark waters, the golden flow from their deck lights bouncing gently on the waves. Connex containers and oil containers flashed between them and the van as they ran parallel paths.

The former GSG-9 commando finally found a passage over the tracks and cut the wheel. The van was doing the same, nosing towards the towering cranes that indicated a commercial shipping yard. The vehicles shot through the connex container storage area and out onto the loading docks. The van stopped near the first crane and the five shadows spilled out. The driver jumped out as well for a total of six.

Anticipating their next move, Kurt put a small administrative building between themselves and Liquid Sky. Gunfire chased them until they reached their cover. Bullets continued to streak through the thin sheet metal walls and shatter windows. To their flank, Deckard heard the roar of a high powered boat engine gassing towards the dock. The long slick craft passed them and slowed down alongside the dock. The mercenaries kicked open the car doors before they had even slowed to a stop.

Taking a knee, Deckard broke cover from behind the structure and returned fire. At forty meters, it was a long shot with his .45 caliber pistol but at least it gave some maneuver room for Kurt and Aghassi to move.

The motor boat pulled up alongside the dock and one by one the Liquid Sky shooters dropped down into it. When the entire team was aboard the boat peeled off. The mercenaries ran for the edge of the dock, firing after the boat but it was too late. The boat powered off into the night, leaving them behind.

Deckard stood with his pistol in slide lock, trying to catch his breath while reloading.

That was when the van exploded.

The sides of the van bulged outwards, tearing at the seams to let an orange fireball escape from inside. The fire curled into air and became black smoke. Deckard groaned as he pulled himself to his feet. He was sweating profusely and now dust was stuck to every inch of exposed skin. He could feel the heat from the fire on his face.

A black SUV pulled up behind them, no doubt vectored in by the giant fireball which gave away their position. Pat got out of the drivers side, hefting his PKM machine gun out with him. Nikita got out of the passenger side with his HK 417 sniper rifle.

“We lost them,” Aghassi said shaking his head. He wasn’t accustomed to losing his targets. As a Special Operations soldier he had lived as a nomad in Afghanistan where he watched terrorists for weeks and months, living like a local. He was once placed in a Pakistani prison in order to eavesdrop on imprisoned Al Qaeda operatives in an attempt to locate Osama Bin Laden. Everyone knew that Aghassi was someone who got the job done when it came to Human Intelligence. He had proved it to Deckard in Mexico.

“We lost them,” he repeated. They all knew that they didn’t have any other leads. They were on the trail of a black ops team that specialized in two things, killing and not being found.

Deckard slammed home a fresh magazine and thumbed the slide release. He said nothing as he holstered the weapon.

“Take a look,” Nikita said to him, reverting back to his native language of Russian. Deckard was still learning that one but understood what the sniper meant.

Nikita opened the SUV’s rear door. Inside was the body of the Liquid Sky shooter that he had killed when they had initially exited the hospital. The 7.62 round had smashed his face pretty good, enough to leave it unrecognizable in a photograph.

On the other side of the wharf, red and blue police lights were flashing.

“Get us out of here,” he told Pat. The entire Samruk International team got inside with Deckard crawling into the back. As they began driving, he pulled out a small LED red light to look over the body. He was a big dude, Caucasian, definitely lifted weights.

Underneath his clothes, the shooter wore concealable body armor. Over it was a locally procured chest rig that held magazines for the MP5 sub-machine gun that he had been carrying. It looked like the tags had been cut from his clothing and kit. The team had gone in sterile.

Deckard suddenly realized that he might have known this man in another life. Was he rifling through the body of a guy he had gone to selection with? Could he be an old Ranger buddy? Was this a former team mate who had gone over to the other side? He pushed the thought away.

As the police lights closed in, Pat positioned the SUV between two connex containers and cut the headlights. A half dozen police cars screamed by towards the scene of the explosion. Once they had passed, Pat crept back onto the road, turned on the headlights, and began driving towards their safe house.

The corpse also had tattoos. A red crusader cross on the forearm. SPQR tattooed on the shoulder. Stripping off the chest rig and body armor, Deckard located a black rectangle on the ribcage. It was where Nazi soldiers would get their dog tag information tattooed during World War Two. Many modern day soldiers, including Americans, had adopted the practice. This soldier had gone back to a tattoo studio to have that information blacked out rather than pay for a laser removal.

He had nothing. Maybe dental records if he could get access to military databases but even that seemed doubtful.

Deckard leaned back against the side of the SUV as Pat navigated the back roads of Karachi. Cold sweat tickled down his neck and seeped into his clothes. It hit him like sucker punch.

He was trying to analyze what he had to try to find a lead where there was none. What he did have was a body. What he did know for a fact was that Liquid Sky had just had a member killed in action. What he had was an opportunity, an opportunity to entice Liquid Sky into finding him.

Come tomorrow morning, Liquid Sky would be looking for a new Operator.

Deckard grinned.

He knew just what name to drop in the hat.

Chapter Three

Washington DC:

This is the dumbest fucking idea you’ve ever had.

Deckard thought over Pat’s words to him before he had stepped on the airplane. The passenger plane had just touched down in the bizarre city where every other jerk off had a graduate degree and a plan to save the world.

It wasn’t that Deckard disagreed with what Pat was saying, he just didn’t see any other option. With no trails to follow, the only path left was to put one of their names out there into the netherworld as seeking employment and see who called. Both of them began making phone calls to certain former Special Operations and intelligence professionals who served as personnel feeders for various black projects.

Pat insisted that it should be him going in, not Deckard. Deckard was the CEO and leader of Samruk International, and he wouldn’t be leading anything while working undercover. Deckard insisted. There was a big difference between Pat and him. Pat was something of a legend in the Special Operations community. He retired out of Delta Force as a Master Sergeant. He was a rock star operator who was loved and respected by the community.

Deckard on the other hand was completely disgraced. When shit got ugly between him and the CIA they had completely disavowed him. Today he was considered Persona Non Grata in many circles by people who were pissed at him. Some were angry over things he actually did, others were angry over baseless rumors they had heard. Still others were just angry.

They were trying to infiltrate a rogue group of para-military contractors. Bad ass operators like Pat with sterling reputations wouldn’t cut it. Not on this op. Liquid Sky would never even consider someone like that. They would want someone who was already on the fringes, maybe someone who was already guilty of something. They both knew that Deckard was the right man for this job.

You always had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel, Pat had reminded him as he boarded the plane.

Deckard unbuckled his safety belt as the flight attendants opened the doors and he made his way down the aisle. He didn’t have any bags with him. It was another one of those trips.

After floating his name out there as a freelancer looking for work, Deckard received a phone call in less than twenty four hours. He had no idea if it was Liquid Sky or some other group that was trying to recruit him. He just knew that Liquid Sky would be looking for a warm body and threw the dice.

Some times you just have to let them bitches roll.

His instructions, received via e-mail were to report to a nondescript building near Embassy Row for processing, whatever that meant. Pushing through the glass doors he spoke briefly with the receptionist before she took his photo with a web cam and printed off a black and white photo building pass for him.

“You want to go up to Jorge Bio-Medico on the 5th floor,” she instructed him.

Getting on the elevator, Deckard punched the button for the 5th floor.

When the elevator doors opened, Deckard walked to the door with the Jorge Bio-Medico logo on it and hit the buzzer. “Please look directly into the camera,” a female voice instructed through the speaker system.

Looking up, he saw the CCTV camera mounted in the corner of the hallway and looked into it. After a moment the door buzzed to allow him in.

A stunning redhead rounded the corner and came to meet him at the door. Deckard was honestly flustered for a moment and at a loss for words. She wore a tight dress that left little to the imagination as to her profile along with a collared shirt with the top buttons undone. Her smile lit up the room, her features framed by flowing red hair.

“Hi Mr. Deckard,” she extended her hand. Deckard held it a little longer than he should have. “My name is Sarah.”

“Nice to meet you,” he said with a grin that he hoped didn’t betray him.

“Just this way,” she said, still smiling as she spun around and led him to an office.

A bank of computer terminals was set up along with a series of different electronic scanners.

“What’s this?” he asked.

“I just need to take some biometrics.”

Sarah instructed him to place his hands down on a glass scanner which read his finger and palm prints. She sat down at her desk and followed the computer prompts to save Deckard’s bio-metric data.

“Now please stand up against the wall Mr. Deckard.”

There was a large white sheet tacked up to the wall like where you get your passport photos taken. He stood right in front of it. A camera mounted into a ball shaped casing rotated up and down on a pivot mount until it focused in on Deckard. He could see the shutter in the lens taking his picture.

It seemed like the entire office was empty except for him and Sarah. What was this place?

“Okay, now we need to get voice. Please state your full name.”

“What is all this about?” Deckard asked.

“We are just gathering your bio-metrics Mr. Deckard.”

“You don’t already have all this stuff on file somewhere?”

“We are a private firm Mr. Deckard. Various entities contract us and we have no access to your military or other service records,” Sarah explained politely. “Can you say your last name please?”

“Deckard.”

“First name?”

Deckard opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted.

“Never mind. It was recording the entire time and it looks like the system has enough of your vocals on file now.”

“Great.”

Bio-metrics was a game changing technology that measured various biological characteristics. Fingerprints had been used by law enforcement for years but today advanced sensors could also measure other unique details from person to person such as the distance between a person’s eyeballs, his gait, the shape of his face, conduct voice spectrum analysis, or match DNA samples. The technology could help the government and corporations secure their property by ensuring that only authorized people were given access, but bio-metrics also carried with it a historical baggage.

The Nazis had used eugenics, racial hygiene, and other types of junk science to catalog human beings for extermination. Another holocaust, this time in an era of advanced bio-metrics, would make the extermination of the Jews in Nazi Germany pale by comparison. Big brother was watching, and even professional spies were feeling the heat. In a few years the technology would be so pervasive around the world that it would be impossible for the CIA to plant covert operatives into foreign countries.

While Sarah continued to work on another camera which was recording his specifications, Deckard just had to grin and bear it. It was a high tech cavity search, painless until it wasn’t.

Grabbing a pen and a piece of paper, she wrote something down, folded the paper, and walked towards Deckard with her heels clacking across the floor. She slipped the paper into his shirt pocket and smiled again, her blue eyes showing an interest.

“There is a Greek restaurant not far from here,” she whispered. “I wrote the address down. Meet me there in three hours.”

“I’ll be there.”

She held the door for him on the way out.

“See you soon!” she beamed.

Deckard walked to the elevator wondering what had just happened.

It was a beautiful sunny day in Washington DC but Deckard decided to show some discretion and chose a table in the back of the restaurant rather than sit outside. He had no pressing need to get all spooky but if Liquid Sky had people watching and assessing him, they would lose respect for him for meeting with Sarah while using sloppy trade craft.

He ordered a beer and told the waiter that his friend would be along shortly.

Taking a sip from his Heineken, he looked up as Sarah slipped into the chair across from him with a sigh. She tossed her hair back and smiled.

“Hi.”

“Howzit?”

He felt like an idiot for reverting back to slang from the place where he was born. Nobody talked like that, including himself.

“Good,” Sarah said handing him a manila envelope. “I think you are all set.”

Deckard popped open the envelope and slid a handful of documents into his hand, a blue US passport staring up at him. It was a full identity package, and on short notice too. Flipping open the passport, he noted his picture alongside the name Sebastian Rothrock.

“Hell of a name,” he commented with a frown.

Sarah shrugged.

“Not my decision. Let’s get something to eat.”

Deckard ordered the lamb souvlaki and Sarah had a Greek salad. Before slipping the false identification documents away, he noted the plane ticket. He was already electronically signed in for a flight later that day. He was going to Kabul, Afghanistan.

They talked while waiting for the food to arrive. Sarah asked a lot of questions about Deckard’s background. Much of it he lied about or was otherwise evasive. She picked up on something and steered the conversation in another direction. Deckard asked her similar questions and found out that she had a degree from Georgetown and a Masters from the London School of Economics. She had spent a lot of time in Iraq and Afghanistan using her bio-metrics background to help intelligence agencies and Special Operations units locate enemy fighters.

“You know,” Sarah said as she finished her salad. “I see guys like you come through here every so often. Usually a lot of spooks, people who need covert or clandestine covers but sometimes former Special Operations guys, which I assume you are, heading to one place or another.”

“We’re all looking for work these days.”

“I never know where you are coming from,” she continued. “Usually I don’t know where you are going either. I just process the paperwork and never see you again.”

“Sounds like you are getting sentimental about the job,” Deckard said with a smile.

“Maybe,” Sarah said as he rested her head in her hand with her elbow up on the table.

“If it makes you feel any better, we usually don’t know what the hell is going on ourselves.”

“But you make it sound so romantic.”

“Trust me,” Deckard laughed. “The honeymoon ends fairly quickly.”

“Then why keep doing the job?”

“Everyone has their reasons. Most people will tell you it is patriotism, and yeah, there is a little of that but mostly they do it for the money. There are lots of jobs you can do as a patriot that don’t involve thousand-dollar-a-day paychecks sitting behind a computer in some third world shit hole, jobs that pay better too. But there is a certain amount of path dependency, soldiering or spying is the only life they’ve really known.”

“But not you?”

“I don’t need the money if that is what you are asking and I don’t hide behind the American flag. I do this job because I like it. Even when I don’t like it, I choose my own missions, take the jobs that are personally important to me.”

“Like this one?”

Deckard wondered if she was trying to draw him out. Maybe she already had. He was going after his own kind this time around. Rogue operators assassinating democracy advocates around the world. This may not be the most important mission he had ever committed too, but he knew it would be the most challenging mission of his entire career. And the most personal.

“Like this one.”

“You’re an interesting guy Deckard.”

Sarah pulled out her business card, clicked a pen, and wrote a phone number on the back of it before sliding the card across the table to him.

“That’s my personal number,” she told him. “Give me a call when you get back.”

Deckard watched her as she turned around and headed for the door. Her hips rocked gently as she put on her sunglasses and walked out into the sunlight. She looked over her shoulder and smiled at him one last time before turning back towards her office.

Damn.

Chapter Four

Deckard touched down in Kabul where he was met by a minder, a bored looking private security contractor who escorted him to a waiting area where he sat quietly until his name was called. Boarding a CASA C-212, the aircraft took off down the runway like a shot, forcing Deckard to hold on to the fuselage to avoid being thrown out of his seat. No one bothered to tell him what their destination was. There were several pallets of supplies on board, probably destined for some remote combat outpost in the hinterlands somewhere. Deckard was just a strap hanger hitching a ride.

Drifting off to sleep, he woke with a start as the landing gear bounced off a dirt runway. The CASA spun around at the end of the landing strip as the loadmaster lowered the ramp. Hooking a thumb out into the dusty runway, he indicated to Deckard that it was time for him to unass himself from their bird so they could head to their final destination.

Stepping off the ramp, Deckard moved to the side to avoid the CASA as it powered back down the runway and soared off into the air. He soon oriented himself, recognizing where he was by identifying the aircraft graveyard off to the side of the runway. There were old Russian planes and helicopters that sat collecting rust and dust under the Afghan sun.

He was at FOB Chapman in Southern Afghanistan. He had passed through the base several times back when he used to do work for Ground Branch.

Left to his own devices, Deckard walked alongside the runway. He spotted a few contractors milling about in the distance around some of the buildings but there was no one waiting on him or even acknowledging his presence. Heat coming up off the ground created a mirage, making the buildings ahead of him seem to ripple in the morning light.

It was a long walk so Deckard undid a couple buttons on his North Face shirt to try to get some air. By the time he walked up to the camp, a pickup truck had come through the gate and cruised up alongside him. The driver wore a pair of sunglasses and sported a half assed beard and mustache. His skin was dark, Filipino maybe.

“You Deckard?” the driver asked.

“Yeah.”

The driver got out and patted Deckard down. All he had in his pockets was his alias passport, a credit card, and the other documents that Sarah had issued him in DC.

“Get in.”

Deckard did as he was told, slamming the door as he jumped into the passenger seat. Spinning the wheel, the driver took them back out through the gate. Several Afghan guards and a CIA Global Response Staff contractor opened the gate for them. Outside, they drove onto a dirt road, up the side of a dry stream bed and onto a paved road heading south.

His escort wasn’t the talkative type apparently, didn’t even give a name. Deckard noted the Glock 19 strapped to the driver’s hip and the AK sitting on the backseat. Meanwhile, Deckard was unarmed. If shit went sideways, he’d go for the AK and it would be a mad minute. Whatever happened, happened.

He sniffed at the familiar scent that hung in the air as the pickup truck kicked up a long plume of dust in its wake. Large patches of poorly farmed plots of land zipped by on both sides, small blotches of green showing where the Afghans had managed to irrigate the soil. Large walled compounds that housed entire families sat amid the open fields.

Holding on to the handle on the door, Deckard bounced as the driver launched them down the side of an embankment, going off road. They were rumbling across the Khowst bowl. The flat lunar landscape stretched across the earth in all directions until the heat mirage blended it into the distant snow capped mountains. Those mountains could leave men dead in seconds, Deckard knew from first hand experience. He had last been in Afghanistan less than six months ago with Samruk International when they cleared out an Afghan drug lord’s enclave out of his mountain redoubt.

They drove through the morning. Deckard squinted in the sunlight but the driver wore his dark sunglasses and remained stoic, unphased by the passing terrain or his passenger. Deckard tried to place him.

Of the four words he had muttered, the accent was clearly American. He wore Solomon cross trainers, blue jeans, and an Afghanistan soccer Jersey. Even sitting down, Deckard could tell that the driver was short, maybe five foot five. His skin was brown and had probably darkened since he had been in country. Most likely of Filipino descent. There were Filipino-Americans who served in US Special Operations Forces, but it could also be possible that he was a veteran of the Filipino Naval Special Operations Group which did extensive training and exchange programs from his home country to the US Navy SEALs.

Time would tell.

The driver reached behind Deckard’s seat and grabbed a couple bottles of water. He tossed one to his passenger while unscrewing the cap on the other, locking the wheel by holding it between his knees.

“Drink up.”

It was early afternoon by the time they rolled up on their destination, a lone compound near a spur coming off the mountains. Clicking a hand held radio, the driver announced their arrival and someone inside opened the gate for them. Pulling inside the thick earthen walls, the driver parked alongside the mud and stone structure in the center of the compound. There was one other pickup truck and a large Afghan janga truck inside the compound.

Covered from top to bottom with colorful murals, ribbons, blue and yellow sashes, and hanging chimes, the trucks were used by locals for transporting materials, the outside of the vehicles painted up and decorated for good luck.

“Wait here,” the driver instructed as they stepped out of the pickup and slammed the doors. The Filipino disappeared inside the stone hut while the gate guard who had let them in strode towards him. His eyes were slits as he stared at Deckard with contempt. He wasn’t just sizing up the new comer. There was something more. He looked at him like he was a piece of steak on a table. The gate guard wore dusty civilian clothes with an AK-47 slung over his back. He readjusted it on his shoulder as he blew passed Deckard and followed the driver inside.

Leaning up against the pickup, Deckard felt that everything inside the compound had gotten a little too quiet. In the cab of the truck, he could see the rifle that the driver had left behind. It put him somewhat at ease. A loaded rifle would not have been left there if they were planning to kill him. It wouldn’t have been a bad plan from their point of view. If this really was Liquid Sky, they could run a counter-intelligence operation by luring in potential infiltrators and then killing them. It would send a hell of a message to anyone else who might have been thinking along the same lines. Who was really laying a trap for whom?

A hulking figure emerged from inside the stone building. He was built like a linebacker with arms and legs like tree trunks. Coming in around six foot three, he was almost as wide as he was tall. As he approached Deckard, his eyes were drilling holes into the newcomer.

“You’re Deckard?” he asked as if his driver may have picked up the wrong person. “Tell me a story,” he said as he ran a hand over his goatee.

“What kind of story?” Deckard said with a frown.

“A Deckard story. One of the good ones. The kind I hear are so outlandish, so fucking bizarre, I don’t know what to think. I’ve seen some shit in my day but the stuff I hear about you makes me wonder.”

“What have you heard? I will tell you if its real or not.”

“Heard you are some kind of rogue operator. Deckard: used to be shit hot in Army Special Operations, got picked up by the Agency, and then you fucked up so they PNG’ed you.”

“True story.”

“Vigilante Dirty Harry shit, assassinating terrorists. Working as a singleton to rescue a Delta team in Colombia.”

“Maybe.”

“Rumors going around that you almost started a war with the Chinese in Burma, cleaning out one of these Hodji drug lords from his mountain fortress,” the man motioned to the Hindu Kush mountains that towered above them. “Even heard you were involved with para-military operations in Mexico.”

“Some of those stories are exaggerated.”

“What about this tale people whisper in hushed tones about some cruise liner in the Pacific Ocean. The one that sank with all hands on board, the ship packed with high level shot callers in government and business. You involved in that?”

“They call it one of the world’s largest public safety accidents.”

“Public safety accident?”

“That’s what they say. Like the Hindenburg.”

“Like the Hindenburg?”

“Fucking Nazi Zeppelin.”

“And I suppose that story just a tall tale.”

“Must be. Can’t believe every conspiracy theory you hear.”

“You can call me Bill,” he told Deckard while reaching into his pocket and pulling out his Oakley sunglasses. “I run this outfit. Here is the deal. You check out as legit, some ugly shit in your past but that is the name of the game. We’ve only had a day to prepare for a mission that is probably going to go down tonight. You are tagging along. Probationary status only. You kit up, go where you are told, do what you are told. No questions. My team does the op. You just pull security and make sure we don’t get our asses shot off. Got it?”

“Got it.”

“Come with me.”

Bill led him inside the stone building which served as their operations center. The conditions were spartan inside. Some gear and weapons were stacked up against one wall. A couple desks had been improvised by laying plywood on top of stacked cinder blocks.

Deckard’s driver sat at one of the desks looking at an open laptop that displayed satellite photography. He had a Iridium satellite phone pressed to his ear, a wire from it leading out a window to a up link antennae on the roof. His shirt was pulled up a little, revealing the handle of a Filipino Karambit fighting knife.

“You’ve met Ramon,” Bill informed him. Now he had a name to go with the face. Deckard was taking it all in. Who was Ramon on the phone with? Someone back in Kabul? Someone in the field? As Bill had pointed out, it wasn’t his place to ask questions.

“This is the team you’ll be working with.”

Bill waved towards the men lounging around the room. “Your gear is in the corner over there. We go in like Indig. This is a low-vis operation so everyone will be sterile when we leave the wire. If you die, we will try to recover your body, not because we like you but in order to protect our OPSEC. If you get left out there for the enemy to pick over, you will be presumed to be a white mercenary as you will have no identification papers on you and no American weapons or gear.”

Bill sat down in front of another computer and opened his email.

“Get your kit together. We are standby to launch at 2230.”

The three other operators on the team stared at Deckard. They were sizing him up like a piece of meat. There were no handshakes or high fives. It wasn’t just a professional distrust that stemmed from them not having any past experiences together. Deckard felt like he had just walked into a meeting with the mafia. There was no brotherhood, just a nest of vipers who could turn on him at any moment.

He had expected nothing less but the question remained, was this Liquid Sky?

Recognizing one of the team members as the guy who had opened the gate for them, Deckard tried to piece together who these guys were. This one had long slicked back hair, looked like he was well manicured even out in the field. He was the pretty boy on the team. He had a mobile game console fired up and was engrossed in shooting up space aliens or something, not even bothering to look up at Deckard again. The other two were built like Bill and looked like they had been drafted from an NFL lineup. One of them snorted at Deckard before going back to flipping through a magazine. The other was busy cleaning his Glock pistol.

Deckard went to the pile of gear that Bill had pointed him towards as being his for the mission. There was a locally made man dress, the dishdasha that Afghan men wore. There was also some el cheapo concealable body armor made in Latin America, a Glock with locally procured cloth holster, a AK-47, a Chinese chest rig for spare magazines and a few other odds and ends. It wasn’t much to work with. If their mission was to be completely denied then they had to use local weapons and kit, no high tech on this mission.

It got him thinking again. Why the need for deniability? US Special Operations Forces were still conducting counter-terrorism missions in Afghanistan on a regular basis. With Conventional Forces withdrawing, it was left to Special Operations to perform maintenance on any Islamist fools who went passed a certain threshold. Once a terrorist started acting up too much, they would send in shooters to sort him out. Or a drone strike. It had become such a sport that Delta Force was even sending their students from the Operator Training Course to Afghanistan for their final exam, a live combat operation.

So what was the need for this team and their plausible deniability?

Deckard spent an hour and a half squaring his kit away. He had a small commercial radio which he made sure was charged up with a full battery. He loaded up five AK-47 magazines from a box of loose ammunition before loading up his Glock magazines as well. Then he field stripped both weapons and conducted functions checks. He was careful and deliberate about this final task, it was possible that Bill had his weapons rendered inert by messing with the trigger mechanism or filing down the firing pins but both weapons were good to go.

After getting his kit together the way he wanted it he went off and found a cardboard box full of bottled water. Twisting off the cap he downed half a bottle in one gulp. He needed to be hydrated if they were going to be out all night cruising through ‘vills and scaling ridge lines.

As he sipped the rest of the water he tried to place Bill and his team. It seemed that his intuition had been correct about the team he was after being former US Special Operations but which unit did they come from?

Each unit had their own culture, their own bravado, and their own way of doing things. Rangers were typically younger guys. Hard charging door kicking muldoons who took no shit from no one. Special Forces guys were usually older. Often with age they brought some more maturity to the table and the ability to operate in small teams. Most of them were pretty laid back dudes, a character trait needed when conducting their primary missions, Unconventional Warfare and Foreign Internal Defense. The Ranger mentality didn’t exactly lend itself to training foreign third world soldiers. While the team sized up Deckard, he had sized them up as well. These guys were not former Rangers or Special Forces.

The other Army Special Operations unit was Delta Force and that was a whole other animal. Trained for Counter-Terrorist operations ranging from Direct Action raids to aircraft take downs, Delta drew talent from both Special Forces and Rangers then polished their combat skills to ridiculously high levels. Delta was known for being the military’s most professional unit. The team he was with now seemed a little too non-nonchalant, like they had an expectation of victory. That sense of entitlement.

The Marines had Recon, Force Recon, and their new Special Operations component, MARSOC. Marines were brought up the right way, starting at boot camp at Paris Island. The Recon and MARSOC shooters in the Marine Corps were clean cut but straight shooters who knew how to take the fight to the enemy. Their sense of tradition, esprit de corps, and discipline along with their Infantry background placed them closer to Rangers than Special Forces. Deckard frowned. You could pick a single Marine out of a crowd of a hundred people and none of these people were one of them.

Then you had the Navy. He already suspected that Ramon was a US or perhaps Filipino Navy SEAL. Deckard had worked with and respected many men on the teams but had to wonder. The linebacker body types that most of them had came from an obsession that many SEALs had with jacking steel in the gym. There was one particular Squadron within SEAL Team Six, the Navy’s equivalent to Delta Force, that was known to specifically recruit the biggest guys out of Green Platoon. It wasn’t much to go on though. Finishing his bottle of water, Deckard knew he’d have to wait and see, develop the situation, and see what shook out of the woodwork.

Hopefully he wouldn’t die in the meantime.

“So you’re here to pick up the slack for Henderson?” A voice said from behind.

Deckard turned to face him, thinking fast. It was a dude with the slicked back hair who had been playing video games.

“Henderson?”

“Made a non-verbal withdraw from the course on our last op. Ate one to the facepiece.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

“Why?” he asked with a shrug of his shoulder. “Fuck do you care.”

“Just saying. I didn’t know him.”

“Just try to hang with us tonight and don’t step on your crank with golf cleats. If you fuck us, we’ll leave your sorry ass out there.”

“I understand.”

“What the fuck ever,” he said as if there was a period after each word. “I heard the RUMINT on you and I don’t fucking buy it. I think you’re just a shit head Army fuck who bolo’ed his ops. You don’t even belong here. You’re not one of us.”

“You mean because I wasn’t in the teams?” Deckard dropped it, intentionally trying to elicit information.

“Fuck the teams. That’s vanilla shit. We operate on a whole different level, even before we left the Navy.”

Gotcha, Deckard thought.

“Hey!” Ramon interrupted from across the room. He was on the satellite phone again.

“We a go?” Bill asked as he looked up from his computer.

“Overwatch has eyes on the target. He just arrived at the objective. This should be his bed down site unless overwatch reports him leaving.”

“That’s a green light,” Bill confirmed. “Everyone kit up, we roll in ten.”

Deckard’s antagonist with the pretty hair swung back around to confront him one more time.

“You stay on me while we are out there cheese dick. You’re going to pull black side security on the objective and make sure Hodji doesn’t skull fuck us while our backs are turned. I’ll release you once we get close to the target compound.”

“Okay.”

“Grab your shit and let’s go.”

“What’s your callsign on the net?”

“What the fuck is this callsign shit? Just call me Rick.”

Deckard ditched his civilian clothes and slipped into the dishdasha, then shrugged into his chest rig, holstered the Glock, slung his AK-47, and clipped his radio in his collar. Ramon was already taking all of the documents and maps from the operations center and dumping them into a burn barrel outside. Lighting a match, it all went up in a golden glow that burned in the early evening light.

Deckard headed outside.

Now he was convinced.

It was going to be another one of those nights.

Deckard was now rolling with Liquid Sky.

Chapter Five:

Yellow flames were still licking out of the top of the burn barrel as they loaded up into the back of the janga truck.

Bill, Ramon, Rick, and the two other team members had kitted up. Deckard had been listening to them banter back and forth about who would get more kills on this mission and picked up the names of the final two team members, they were Zach and Paul. With Deckard now filling the void left by Henderson, a void created by Nikita’s sniper rifle in Pakistan, they had a six man assault element.

A young kid, maybe eighteen or nineteen, had been warming chai tea over a small fire in the court yard. Bill spoke to him and the kid responded in broken English. He would be their indigenous driver for the mission. It was a simple but ingenious infiltration method. With a local driving the janga truck, the Americans would be hiding in a secret compartment in the back. The Trojan Horse was alive and well.

After a few words with Bill, the Afghan went and opened the gate, then fired up the truck. The hidden compartment was a large metal box that had bags of rice thrown on top of it to give the truck the appearance of hauling a full load. The door to the compartment was disguised to look like the side of a crate. The Liquid Sky members took turns searching each other over to make sure none of them unwittingly brought any non-local items. The video games and Maxim magazines had to go into the burn barrel before they left. Once out on patrol, they had to be completely sterile.

Deckard handed Rick his alias passport and other false documents. The former SEAL Team Six operator tossed them in the burn barrel and then patted him down just to make sure he didn’t have anything squirreled away. He didn’t. If Deckard died on this mission it was unlikely that Pat and the others back at Samruk International would ever discover what had happened to him. They had no idea where he was or what he was doing. His body would be quickly buried by the locals who would not want to be discovered with a body, especially a white one by other Afghans or Coalition Forces.

Deckard climbed into the janga truck with the team and then Bill got inside and shut the door behind him. They would leave the compound unattended, the operations center had been sterilized and they would not be reoccupying their forward staging area after the mission.

Bill talked into his radio, “check the bug light.”

The driver hit a button under the dash board and a red light flickered on and off inside the hidden compartment. It was a non-vocal warning in case something was wrong. From inside their hiding place, the team had zero situational awareness of what was going on around them and would be relying on the driver for a heads up.

“Punch it out of here,” Bill radioed the driver.

With a squeal of metal on metal, the janga truck lurched out of the compound and rumbled down the dirt road. Where they were heading, Deckard had no idea. Wherever they were going, he was happy that the team at least had the foresight to add some air holes and install a fan inside their compartment. It was brutally hot and they had loaded an entire case of water bottles inside with them to stay hydrated.

They rode in silence, the compartment occasionally lit up as someone flipped on a pen light to check a watch or to make last minute adjustments to their gear. For the first hour, Deckard just leaned up against the metal wall while sitting. By the second hour he was starting to feel rattled due to the worn slat shocks on the truck’s suspension banging up and down on the rough Afghan roads. By the third hour he was getting motion sickness. He felt like a bug sealed up inside a tin can which was then shaken vigorously by a small child.

He was attempting some breathing exercises to help maintain his composure when the bug light went off. It was a relief to say the least.

Bill broke squealch on his radio.

“What is it?”

White noise hissed over the net before the driver answered. “Taliban check point. They make me to stop.”

“Got it.”

In the darkness, Deckard heard the guy sitting next to him grunt out several curse words. It was Rick.

“This is all you,” Rick then told Deckard.

“Huh?”

“What the fuck Deckard!” Bill’s words bellowed through the cramped compartment. “Rick just told you to take care of this shit so take care of it!”

“No problem.”

“No problem my ass,” Bill snarled. “Rick, take this fucker’s guns.”

“What-” Deckard exclaimed.

“Hand ’em over,” Rick ordered. “Let’s see what you’re made of.”

“How many of them are out there?”

“No idea,” Bill answered. “For your sake I hope it is less than a dozen!”

“Fuck me,” Deckard groaned.

The driver stopped on non-existent brake pads. The entire team lurched forward and then back in the opposite direction as the truck screamed to a halt. Rick reached over, undid a latch and threw open the door. He then relieved Deckard of his AK-47 and Glock pistol.

“Good luck bro,” he said as Deckard slid out into the night. “And thanks for the extra ammo.”

Climbing out of the hatch, Deckard readjusted the pakol cap on his head and crept along the back of the truck to peer ahead. At first he had to steady himself by holding on to the side of the truck, the motion sickness fading off after a couple seconds. They were on one of the perilous mountain roads that snaked around the spurs and draws as it wound deeper into Indian Country. The side of the road terminated in a sheer cliff that went nearly vertical for several hundred feet. Deckard heard rushing water down below and could just make out the reflection of moonlight off the surface of the river. There was only a few feet between the truck and edge of the road, the Taliban had stopped them at a perfect choke point.

Deckard rounded around to the side of the truck, sticking to the shadows cast by the moonlight. There were three of them. Wearing dishdashas and black head wraps, the three men at the checkpoint each had long Wahhabi beards, the type that blow up under your armpit when you are running from AC-130 gunships at top speed. One reached over and pulled open the driver’s side door while another was saying something to their Afghan driver.

Three bad guys, three AK-47’s. He would have to act fast.

Deckard crept forward, his heart in his throat. They were distracted as they tried to shake down the driver for some kind of Taliban Value Added Tax. They needed extra money to buy acid to splash in school girl’s faces or something. Deckard just hoped he wasn’t spotted until he was on top of them. Inching forward, he saw the driver becoming more distraught. He began flashing money, but glancing back over his shoulder, Deckard could see several dark silhouettes back at the rear of the truck. Some of the Liquid Sky men had hopped out to watch him work.

Grabbing the nearest terrorist, Deckard flung him right off the edge of the road. The terrorist’s arms were pinwheeling as he stumbled and went over the edge. Deckard didn’t have time to listen to his screams. The other two checkpoint guards turned to face Deckard, the driver’s jaw was hung open as he could only watch in horror.

The closest of the two tried to bring his AK into play. Deckard pivoted away from barrel to clear the line of fire while simultaneously reaching out and grabbing the barrel with his hand. Using his other hand, he swatted away the terrorist’s support hand on the foregrip of the rifle. In one final blur of motion, Deckard swung the rifle barrel straight up where it smacked into the terrorist’s face. Temporarily stunned, Deckard relieved him of the AK and slammed the buttstock into the face of the remaining terrorist.

With the wooden AK buttstock blasting into the side of his face, the terrorist rocked backwards and ran into the side of the truck. Deckard gave him another buttstroke for good measure and the terrorists knees began to turn to jelly before he was heading for a faceplant in the dusty road. Transitioning the AK into one hand, Deckard grabbed the terrorist by the collar and flung him down the cliff to take a magic carpet ride with his buddy.

The remaining terrorist recovered enough by this point to charge at Deckard. The American grabbed him by the wrist and elbow, then shifted and dumped the terrorist over his hip in a simple judo throw. The terrorist coughed and tried to get back to his feet. Deckard placed a shoe on his forehead and pushed him down the cliff.

He could hear the terrorist scream impacted the nearly vertical slope below and began somersaulting the rest of the way down to the river below.

Deckard was hardly breathing heavy, but truth be told, his leg burned like hell from an injury he had received on his previous mission to Mexico. He went from one job to the next and hadn’t had enough time to heal.

That was when someone initiated a slow clap. There was one at every party. Deckard looked back. It was Bill.

The entire team was gathered at the back of the truck. Rick stood with his arms crossed. Zach and Paul, both with their Taliban starter beards had taken advantage of the pit stop to smoke cigarettes. Bill finished clapping and scratched his goatee.

“Not bad Deckard, but I gotta know. Why didn’t you just kill those fuck heads outright.”

“I did. None of these dumbasses even knows how to swim. If they manage to survive the fall, they will sink right to the bottom of that river down there.”

Bill frowned. His face looked like worn leather, his biceps and shoulders threatening to tear the man dress he wore open at the seams.

“Next time use a bullet. A bullet is always the right choice.”

“I didn’t want to compromise our mission in case there are other enemy positions in the area.”

“This is Afghanistan,” Rick lectured. “No one will notice a few gunshots and besides, what’s a little stray gunfire between friends.”

“Get back in the cab,” Bill motioned the driver who was still gathering his wits. “Let’s load up and get rolling. We have hard times to hit.”

Deckard walked back to the rear of the truck, forcing himself not to favor his bum leg.

Rick glared at Deckard as he reclaimed his AK and Glock before pulling himself back inside the hidden compartment.

It was another couple hours in the stifling heat of the closed compartment, bouncing around in the back of the janga truck before the driver stopped again. Liquid Sky disembarked the truck and Bill had a few more words with the driver, both of them taking turns pointing to a ridge line silhouetted against the starry night sky. Afghanistan had no light pollution, and unlike the Western world, you could see an entire universe of stars out in the badlands of Central Asia.

Bill slapped the driver on the shoulder and returned to the team.

“This is our VDO,” he said announcing their Vehicle Drop Off point. “We will rendezvous with the driver at the exfil point early in the morning.”

Deckard checked the knock off Rolex watch that had been a part of his issued kit. It was almost midnight and he had a feeling that they would have a long walk ahead of them. Each Liquid Sky member grabbed a couple bottles of water on the way out and shoved them into their pockets. Bill had an old Soviet map in hand and led the patrol up into the mountains.

The approach to the mountains was hazardous to say the least and suicidal at worst. They couldn’t use flashlights because the light would compromise the patrol and night vision goggles were too high tech for a sterile mission that could have no hint of American involvement, mercenary or otherwise. There was enough ambient light for them to slowly feel their way up the side of the mountain but they still slipped and slid on the soft rock that broke away under their feet. Slowly but surely Liquid Sky gained in elevation as they climbed towards the ridge above that bumped across the night sky, looking like the broken spine of a dragon.

Within half an hour of climbing they were all covered in sweat, their man dresses soaked through. They drank water while on the move. The former SEALs chugged water and then tossed the water bottles on the rocks. It was bad form to leave any sign of your presence behind, but clearly these guys didn’t care. They were on a one way trip and their only real concern was getting to the target that night and doing the dirty deed. Deckard downed his first bottle of water and followed suit, dropping the plastic bottle behind him.

Their VDO had left them about a third of the way up the mountain to begin with and now they were climbing higher and higher, at some points it was so steep that they were able to reach out and grab the terrain right in front of them. Bill led the patrol, taking them in winding switchbacks that inched up the ridge when the going got too steep.

There was nothing technical about their climb, it was good old fashion LPC’s, Leather Personnel Carriers. That and a lot of sweat. Still, they were doing it like the locals, traveling with the bare essentials in weapons and equipment. They were not nearly as weighted down as American soldiers were in body armor and other equipment so at least they had that going for them.

The Liquid Sky team took a short five minute break after climbing the wind swept rock for another hour. They sipped on what water they had left and tried to let their legs rest as they sat facing down hill. Steam was coming off their over worked bodies in the cool night air. Bill was the first to stand and start the final push to the top of the ridge.

Forty five minutes later the team huffed and grunted over the ridge. Deckard’s leg was throbbing, the cut on his thigh was hot to the touch with inflammation. The rest of the team was also hunched over, grabbing their knees as they tried to catch their breath. They were in good shape and no one complained, but between the altitude and the demanding climb they were all winded.

“That’s it,” Bill said pointing down into the valley.

Below them was a small archipelago of walled compounds. Pin pricks of light could be seen in the darkness from morning fires being lit in the courtyards. Bill was pointing to the nearest compound at the base of the mountain. That was their target.

“Let’s get down there and clean the place out,” he ordered.

Liquid Sky scrambled down the side of the mountain for the better part of two hours, the way down actually being more strenuous than the way up. It was almost four in the morning by the time they bottomed out in the valley and walked along the edge of dry river bed. It was a wide, rocky gouge in the earth that looked like it hadn’t seen water since the Triassic Period but when the rains came in once a year water would come rushing down the river bed like a deluge and sweep away anything in its path.

Bill picked up the pace as they moved out in a single file. They had to make up some time to get into position, hit the compound, and move out before the sun came up. Moving from the river bed, they crawled over a rock wall and walked through a terraced field. Finally, they were within a hundred meters of the target compound.

“Listen up,” Rick whispered to Deckard. “You are our black side security so that means you need to position yourself where you can see the back of the compound.”

Deckard knew what black side security was and merely nodded his head.

“Find a good field of fire so you can waste anyone who tries to go over the high walls and escape.”

“Got it.”

“We will be preparing to breach. Radio us when you are in position.”

“Will do.”

Deckard skirted around the edge of the compound, weaving between scraggly trees that barely clung to life. It only took a few minutes for him to find a shallow depression that he could lay in where he would have an open lane of fire on the back side of the compound with his AK-47. He pressed on the push to talk button on his radio.

“This is Deck. I’m set.”

“Okay dude,” it sounded like Rick.

They would not be explosively breaching the compound’s gate, that would give away the American presence. Deckard didn’t see any mechanical breaching equipment like battering rams or hoolie tools, none of them would want to have carried that crap up the side of the mountain anyway. He did see Zach with a locally procured double barrel shotgun over one shoulder, so he knew it would be a ballistic breach.

The radio crackled and hissed so Deckard turned the volume down a little bit more.

“Standby,” came the call.

Two shotgun blasts punctured the night. Deckard tucked the stock of his AK into the pocket of his shoulder and waited. There was a long silence as the Liquid Sky mercenaries began clearing the compound. Then came the gunfire, first in spurts and then full auto blasts. It was a one sided fire fight, Liquid Sky no doubt catching the enemy stumbling out of bed in the night. More auto fire sounded, then silence, then a few single shots here and there. Finally, everything went quiet again.

Then an Afghan dropped down off the back wall and crumbled to the ground.

Show time.

Deckard confirmed a pistol in the Afghan’s fist as he attempted to run away out into the fields. Pushing the selector lever one click down, he aimed low at the runner’s legs and triggered a full auto burst of gunfire. Three of the five rounds he let off spun the Afghan around and sent him staggering to the ground.

As he lay in the prone he began to get cold. The last few hours before dawn are usually the coldest and his soaked through clothes were only adding to the problem. Fifteen minutes went by before he heard anything over the radio.

“Black side security,” It sounded like maybe it was Bill. “You got anything?”

“One down crow,” Deckard reported.

“Nice.”

A few minutes later Rick radioed that he was coming out to meet Deckard. He stood up and whistled to Rick when he heard him getting close.

“Where is he?” Rick asked.

“Over here,” Deckard said leading him over to the body. Rick fired a couple more shots into the body. It never hurt to make sure corpses were still corpses but then Rick loaded a full magazine. Taking a step back, he aimed at the dead body and fired at the Afghan’s head on full auto. His gunfire blasted the top of the terrorist’s skull clean off and splattered his brains in the dirt. The Liquid Sky member held the trigger down until the rifle cycled through the entire thirty round magazine.

It was a completely unnecessary and unprofessional gesture. Rick had effectively turned the top of the Afghan’s skull into a canoe.

“What was that for?” Deckard asked absently.

“Sending a fucking message,” Rick scolded him. He then patted the body down and pocketed some cash he found in one of the pockets.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Deckard followed Rick back around the compound to the breach point. Zach was outside smoking a cigarette. His man dress was splattered with blood, his AK slung over one shoulder. Paul came walking out of the compound with two floppy pancakes in his hands. It took Deckard a moment to realize that the pancakes had hair. Paul had been inside collecting scalps.

“I got two,” he told Zach with a smile.

“Just the woman,” Zach replied, motioning to the clump of long hair and concealing blood at his feet.

Deckard had no illusions about who he was dealing with. They were out murdering democracy advocates and helping to suppress the Arab Spring but this was off the charts. Even among those who went off the reservation, this was pretty much unheard of. He was shocked and would not have believed it if someone had described the scene to him in a bar.

Bill came out with another scalp in his hand and a bloody hatchet in the other.

“Fucking savages never had a chance,” he grinned.

Deckard still couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

Ramon came out carrying a plastic bag filled with documents and computer hard drives he had collected on the objective.

“Get rid of that shit,” Bill told him. “Sterile means nothing goes on the objective and nothing comes off. Zero evidence that we were ever here.”

“This was a major command and control node for the network,” Ramon insisted. “We can ball up the entire network based on what these guys have here.”

“Not our problem,” Bill said. “Let the fucking knuckle draggers in Big Army sort this bullshit third world country out. We work contract to contract.”

Ramon looked pissed, but walked back into the compound with the bag of sensitive materials he had collected. Rick followed him in and returned back with a couple scalps of his own which he dropped at Zach’s feet.

“There is my two.”

Bending over, he wiped the blood off his hatchet on Deckard’s man dress.

“Thanks bro. Gotta make sure this bad boy is ready to go for next time,” Rick informed him.

“We got a pickup inside the compound,” Ramon said as he walked back out.

“Good, that will save us some time,” Bill replied. “Deckard, go hot wire that fucker and get us out of here.”

Deckard nodded.

“Wait a second,” Paul said stopping him. “Let me give you a hand.”

Reaching into his pocket, Paul pulled out a dismembered hand and threw it at Deckard. It bounced off his chest and thumped between his feet in a cloud of dust. The Liquid Sky team burst out laughing at the look of disgust on his face.

Deckard walked back inside the compound trying to process what had just happened. These guys were so far gone that there was no turning back for any of them. His plan had always been to infiltrate and then destroy. Now it didn’t matter what his plan was. He was all out of choices. These were former Special Operations men like himself and so many others who served.

It was his responsibility to clean up this mess. There was no need for him to justify this to himself, it justified itself. It was time to choose the hard right over the easy wrong. Finding the pickup truck in the corner of the compound, he threw open the door and went to work on the ignition.

As he began to pry the ignition cylinder out with a piece of metal he found laying around, Deckard felt completely disgusted with what he had involved himself in. Even if they were terrorists, this wasn’t how soldiers carried themselves. It wasn’t just about disrespecting the enemy dead, more importantly, it was about the discipline and self respect that the soldier had for himself. Once the rot of war crimes infected a military organization it would spread throughout the unit like a plague and destroy everything that they had once stood for. They would be no different than Al Qaeda and the other human savages that they fought. At that point, the war was already lost.

Just as he hot wired the truck, Deckard knew he would have to be slow and deliberate. He couldn’t allow his emotions to control him like the Liquid Sky team. One slip up and he was a dead man. He needed to play along, maybe no matter how dark this road he was heading down got. When the time was right, at a place and time of his choosing, he would drop the hammer and be done with this.

The pickup truck rumbled to life. Deckard got behind the wheel and worked the stick shift, driving out of the compound. Outside, the five other Liquid Sky operators piled into the truck, several sitting in the back. Bill got in the passenger seat and told Deckard he could flip on the headlights and white light it down the road. They just needed to make a quick exit from the target area before daylight and the risk of an ambush was fairly low. He gave him directions on where to go as they drove towards their extraction site. After driving for half an hour the sun was starting to crest above the horizon.

Bill ordered everyone out of the truck. Deckard put it in neutral and they pushed the vehicle into a creek bed where it rolled over on its side. At least it would be out of sight to any passersby. Then it was back up the mountain. They had done an off set infil, first traveling by Trojan janga truck and then moving by foot to the objective to maintain the element of surprise and absolute secrecy prior to their assault. It was sound planning, but now they had to walk all the way back to the exfil site where their janga truck driver would pick them up along a different spot along the road.

By the time they were half way up the ridge it was full daylight. The good thing was that they were far enough away from the road below and their objective that it was unlikely that anyone would spot them. They could see the smattering of compounds below, but without optics, no one was going to see a few ants climbing the side of the mountain.

By eight in the morning they again crested the ridge. Everyone was out of water. It was a short duration mission with one specific task, hunting and killing with zero American involvement as far as anyone could prove. They took five up on top of the ridge, everyone having a seat on the rocks and admiring the view. Afghanistan was really the prettiest part of hell. It would have been a nice place to visit if not for the jihadist crazies. And the occasional rogue mercenary.

Zach and Rick got into a blow by blow about who killed who and how it had all gone down.

“They were Al Qaeda?” Deckard asked Ramon.

“Naw man,” he answered. “Those were Karzai’s guys.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah, they were tied into the President of Afghanistan. Running a huge drug trafficking network for him. Completely untouchable by US Special Operations for political reasons. That’s why we got called in.”

“Shit.”

“No kidding. They let him get away with it for a long time but I guess he is starting to lean away from America and more towards China these days so someone wanted to give him a gut check. That’s my take on it anyway.”

“Its a good thing we took them out.”

Ramon turned to him and whispered, “Look, you did good today. Just keep your head down and they will offer you a full time job. We do a lot of killing and make good money at it. Its just harder for us Army guys to get an in with them.”

“I got it.”

But Deckard didn’t get it. He had completely misread Ramon by thinking he was a SEAL.

They picked it up and started their descent. It was a long haul through the morning as they suffered in the heat and slipped down through the dirt and debris. A few times they had to cling to the sides of cliffs and move hand over hand on their way down until they could find a wider path down the mountain. Bill was up front again and he began talking into his radio when the road came into view. There was no sign of their ride home but he was talking to someone.

They walked down a spur coming off the mountain which over looked the road and halted. Bill signaled them to stay low as they gathered around a rocky outcropping that looked like something that belonged on the set of Conan the Barbarian.

At this point they were only a few hundred meters above the road. Down below was a village with a stream running along side the road. Terraced fields were dug into the opposite side of the valley with houses and huts propped up against the sides of the cliffs at impossible angles. People lived where the water was, no matter how ridiculous the terrain might be. They learned to live there.

In the stream next to the road, a woman in a blue burka stood in the water up to her ankles, washing dishes, pots, and pans that she laid next to her one by one as she scrubbed them out.

“Where is our GI Joe Army guy?” Bill asked. “Deckard, get your ass up here.”

Deckard high crawled over to Bill and watched the scene below.

“You see that Hodji twat down there?”

“Yeah.”

“This is our extraction point and that fucking cunt is in the way. She’ll compromise us. You’re disguised as a local so I want you to get close to her and cut her fucking throat. Think you can do it?”

“Yeah,” Deckard said without hesitation.

“You got a knife?”

“No, just the kit you issued me.”

“Here,” Bill said handing him a rusty butcher knife. Another local purchase. “Make it happen. Once it is done we will come down and I’ll call in our driver.”

“Piece of cake.”

“Yeah,” Bill said dryly. “We’ll find out in a few minutes, won’t we?”

“Do that bitch Deckard,” Rick told him. “God only knows how many puppies she will squeeze out that will become Allah lovin’ terrorists.”

Deckard looked down at the road for a moment and plotted his route down to the stream. He figured it out in a few seconds and then dropped down below the crest of the spur, keeping the terrain feature between himself and the woman below. He stepped very carefully now as not to give away his position. Stepping from heel to toe, he slowly maneuvered his way down to the road. The small stones still ground beneath his footsteps but that couldn’t be helped.

Moving slowly, he made it down to the road, then crossed it out of sight of the woman. With any luck, she would have finished her task and have walked back home by the time he got there. Another reason why he was in no rush.

There was no way that Deckard was going to murder a civilian in cold blood. The game was over before he had even gotten started. Bill had called his bluff. They wanted to see if he was one of them, ensure that he was a war criminal and just a guilty as the rest of the group. No doubt, the entire Liquid Sky team would have their rifles pointed at him and the woman, ready to open fire on them both if he failed to complete his task.

Crouching in a thicket of bushes, he checked his AK-47 and Glock pistol to make sure he had rounds chambered and ready to go. Once he closed on the woman, he would drag her across the stream and behind a stone wall a few meters further back. From there he would have to escape and evade, run has hard as he could, ambush the Liquid Sky team when and where he could to slow them down, and eventually find a vehicle and make his way back to Kabul. Truth be told, he’d be lucky if he lasted five seconds into that plan and he knew it.

He was a dead man walking, killed by his own self restraint.

Silently, Deckard moved through the thicket in a crouch. He cursed as he saw the blue burka through the twigs and leaves of the bushes. She could have saved her own life, if she had only known. Now they were both dead.

Deckard was on the opposite bank of the stream from her but the stream was only a few feet wide. Once he closed the distance he would be right on top of her. He could jump out of the bushes, grab her, and make a run for it. Maybe. A big maybe.

The Afghan woman bent down to wash another one of the pots. He was almost within striking distance now. The American commando readjusted the sling on his shoulder and prepared to move. He had the butcher knife in his hand up until this point, but now he stuck it in his belt.

He took a deep breath. It was now or never. His muscles tensed, prepared for what was about to happen. He was ready to execute.

Suddenly, the woman stood straight up and turned towards him.

Deckard froze.

“What the fuck do you think you are fucking doing you stupid cocksucker?” she asked him.

His jaw hit the ground.

“Get your dick beaters in the air where I can see them. What the fuck are you doing over there?” The voice coming through the burka didn’t match anything Deckard had expected to say the least but it was a woman’s voice. “Hey fucker, I’m talking to you.”

Suddenly the crackle of a radio sounded under the burka.

“Got you good this time,” Bill’s voice said over the radio. Laughter could be heard coming over the net.

“Very funny asshole,” the burka clad woman said. “Who is this needle dick you sent down here to hide in the bushes?”

“He’s the new guy,” Bill answered. “Whatever.”

Deckard was pissed.

“Who the fuck are you?” he asked the woman.

“Who the fuck am I?” she answered as if she was insulted. “I’m the one who has been pulling over watch on your fucking objective for twenty four hours dick face. I confirmed that Muhammad what-ever-the-fuck was bedding down there. Then I walked through the night to secure your fucking extraction,” she practically screamed. “That’s who I fucking am, so who the fuck are you.”

“Just a trigger puller told to do a job,” he answered honestly.

“And like a true meat head you proved to be very good at following orders. Good for you. Just squat there in the bushes and try not to piss me off any more than you have already.”

“Yes ma’am,” Deckard said as he rolled his eyes. This was getting stupid.

Exhausted, Deckard sat on the edge of the stream with his feet in the water. The woman kicked the pots into the water and cursed at him some more. They sat silently for a few minutes, Deckard unable to discern anything about her through the mesh eye window in the burka. A few minutes later the rest of the team arrived and sat down alongside the stream. The tactically correct answer was to push into the thicket and maintain a security perimeter but that didn’t seem to concern Liquid Sky.

“What the fuck was that?” the woman asked.

“C’mon Nadeesha, it was just a joke,” Rick laughed.

“And how far would you have let that joke go before that pussy sunk a knife into my back?”

She was pissed, balling up the burka and threw it into the stream. Underneath she wore spandex shorts and a loose t-shirt. That and a MP-5k Sub-machine gun. Deckard’s eyes went wide. Her skin was dark like someone from Southern India but she had almost Caucasian features and large brown eyes. The woman, Nadeesha, busted him too, seeing the look in his eyes as she swung around to point at him in her fury. She paused for a split second, also surprised by the expression on his face.

She was beautiful and none of it made sense to him.

“Fuck all you guys,” Nadeesha spat. “I quit.”

“Bullshit,” Zach laughed.

“Yeah, that is like the fifth time you’ve quit,” Paul said.

“We pay you way too much for you to quit,” Bill reminded her. “Speaking of which, where the fuck is our extract.”

“He should be here any minute,” she said shaking her head. “Where did you find this peckerwood,” the said while cocking her chin towards Deckard.

“Craigs List,” Bill said.

“What the fuck.”

Just then the Janga truck pulled up, the driver with a big toothy grin. Another successful mission and another big pay day for him. One by one, Liquid Sky crammed back into the secret compartment in the back. Nadeesha scowled at Deckard as there was limited space inside and she had to sit next to him. The truck started to move and while the door was still cracked open Rick passed out the remaining bottles of water before locking the door shut.

Five hours later they arrived back on FOB Chapman where they discretely unloaded and jumped on an awaiting CASA airplane heading to Kabul. Bill had paid the janga truck driver in cash which he happily accepted. The plane touched down in Kabul and an hour later the entire six man and one woman team flew out on an international flight.

Meanwhile, in southern Afghanistan, the drug trafficking organization that they had hit during the night decided to retaliate. Tied into the Taliban, they called in fighters from all over the province, as well as insurgents from as far as Pakistan.

For the next few weeks they set up ambushes and IED’s alongside the main roads that weaved through their territory. Without any suspects in the hit on the drug lords compound and murder of him and his entire family, the Taliban simply assumed that the Americans were involved and struck back against whatever Americans they could find.

Within six days their IED’s and ambushes had killed four American soldiers. Private First Class Nelson, Specialist Rodriguez, Private First Class Thomas, and First Sergeant Harper were all returned to the United States in flag draped caskets. A dozen others were flown to Ramstein Air Force base and then to Walter Reed with critical injuries.

Chapter Six:

The entire Liquid Sky element was passed out as they flew commercial air to Germany and then on to Italy. They had changed out of their mission clothes and into civilians provided by the staff at FOB Chapman. The team was still bleary eyed as they boarded a private aircraft in Milan to their final destination. Deckard tried to discern where they were going but found no indication and no one was telling him. Rick, Zach, and Paul bought some hard liquor in the duty free shop before taking off, pounded a couple shooters of Vodka or Whiskey and passed right back out. The others just gave Deckard the cold shoulder. Ramon watched an in-flight movie for a few minutes before falling back asleep. Nadeesha looked at Deckard like he was lower than dog shit before she drifted off to sleep.

Tough crowd, Deckard thought to himself. Before long, he fell asleep as well. They were all exhausted from the operation and Deckard was especially jet lagged from bouncing between time zones.

He came awake to the sound of laughing and screaming. After their cat nap, the Liquid Sky team had taken to watching another in-flight movie in their Gulfstream aircraft. It looked like the comedy movie, Superbad was keeping them entertained. Zach and Rick were giggling like school girls. Paul recited the movie line for line in a never ending stream of commentary. Nadeesha kept to herself, flipping through a copy of Flashbang magazine.

Uninterested in the movie, Deckard wished he had a book to read but he had always been someone who was comfortable with his own thoughts, if restless in his actions. Sitting around with nothing to do over long periods of time made him uncomfortable but he knew how to manage it. There was an on board refrigerator so he helped himself to a bottle of water.

Deckard watched out the window as they landed several hours later. The terrain was fairly flat with low laying vegetation and black top roads crisscrossing throughout. Disoriented, Deckard had no idea where they were. They landed at a substantial modern airport with a large terminal complex. The private jet taxied off towards the private hangers where a white van was waiting for them. Everyone piled in. If this was another operation, it didn’t feel like it.

They exited from the private aircraft area’s gate and out into the country side. The road was surrounded on both sides by green rolling hills, sugar cane coming right up to the edge of the pavement and pressing out into the street. Palm trees also dotted the landscape. As they drove through the outskirts of a city Deckard spotted a Hindu temple and knew he must be somewhere in India. Then he saw a Christian church and finally a Muslim mosque.

Now he was really confused.

Further inland were green covered mountains stretching up to touch the blue sky. Deep into the stalks of sugarcane he also saw a few abandoned factories and other structures. It wasn’t until he saw a billboard in French for a cellphone service that he figured it out. They were in Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean.

The van swerved through an intersection and passed the entrance to several four star hotels. They got dropped off right along side the ocean. Waves broke against the shore and the sun was already sinking into a blue and purple sky. The smell of salt carried on the breeze. It was a residential area with bungalows lining the beach.

“Party is at my place tonight,” Bill announced. “See you then.”

The team bombshelled in both directions down the street.

“You come with me Deckard,” Bill said to the new guy on the team. “I have to give you the key to Henderson’s old place.”

Bill led him on a stone path to his beach house. The Liquid Sky team leader was so tall that he had to duck under the roof on the back deck. Deckard spotted a security guard roaming the premises. Punching a number into the keypad on the door, Bill led him inside. Like the other bungalows, it was a one story deal, but spread out with plenty of interior space. The kitchen and living room was wide open. He had pool tables and an indoor bar. Through the sliding glass doors, Deckard could see an extensive gym out on the front deck which was littered with kettlebells and 45 pound bumper plates.

Opening a drawer under the kitchen counter, Bill shuffled through some odds and ends until he found a key ring and handed it to Deckard.

“You are two houses down, between Rick and Zach. We own this whole row of eight houses on the shore. Whatever Henderson had stowed away inside the house is yours I guess. No one back in the States gave a shit about him. Keep it or throw it in the trash, I don’t care. He traveled light anyway so it won’t be much.”

“Alright.”

“Our rules here are pretty basic. We work hard, we play hard. Mandatory team party tonight just like after every op we do. PT is on your own but we usually work out together. When our optempo slows down you can catch a plane to wherever you want until I recall you but I’m not sure when that will be. Shit has been picking up the last month with no sign of slowing down.”

“It’s a dangerous world.”

“And they need us to stop it from all coming apart at the seams. We’ll work on getting you set up with a bank account here on the island later on so you can get direct deposits. Mauritius is a tax haven and we got a good set up here.”

“I like the sound of that.”

“Go do what you have to do and I’ll see you in a few hours.”

As Deckard turned away, Bill had one final item to add.

“Deckard, remember that you are still on probationary status until I decide if I have any use for you or not. There are some pipe hitters out there that just don’t have what it takes to be on a team like this. We’ll see if you got it or not. In the meantime, we practice strict OPSEC. Say what you need to say inside our team areas. I have this place under 24 hour guard and our houses are routinely swept for bugs. Ramon will hook you up with a secure cell phone tomorrow. Aside from that, nothing gets said outside these walls. Do nothing that will draw excess attention to our operation here.”

“Goes without saying.”

“I hope so.”

Deckard shut the screen door behind him on his way out and walked over to his new crash pad. As he continued to scope out the area, he had to admit to himself that he could have done much worse. In fact, he had done much worse. Sleeping in run down safehouses in Lebanon, crapping in plastic bags in a spider hole on the Iranian border, or sleeping in a jungle hammock in Colombia had almost became a way of life for him. This sea side secret agent stuff was a whole new world. There were some things that these former SEALs were definitely getting right.

Turning the key in the knob, Deckard stepped inside his bungalow. It wasn’t as big as Bill’s place but there was more than enough living space for several people inside. It was furnished with chairs, couches, a flat screen TV, and everything else you would want at a beach house. There was a full bathroom and another shower stall outside with a hose for washing the sand off before coming back inside after a swim.

Henderson.

The Liquid Sky member that Nikita had killed in Pakistan.

The operator whose corpse Deckard had picked over in the back of a van looking for intelligence information. Now he was in the dude’s house, literally filling his shoes on the team. The other team members seemed resentful of Deckard, not because they took exception to him replacing their former team mate. They actually seemed completely ambivalent about Henderson’s death. Liquid Sky was just pissed that they had to break in a new guy and didn’t trust him any farther than they could throw him.

It was a still a surreal moment.

Deckard found Henderson’s iPod on the counter, where it had been laying with the headphones attached since he left on a one way flight to Karachi. It was loaded with heavy metal music like Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, and Mega-Death. They were all sterile missions apparently. He had left everything behind. He continued to walk around and examine the layout of the house, conscience of the fact that Liquid Sky probably had hidden cameras installed so they could keep tabs on their newest recruit.

In the bathroom, Henderson’s toothbrush leaned diagonally in a glass. The toothpaste tube was squeezed in the middle, the inconsiderate bastard. At least the cabinet was stocked with toilet paper. In the bed room there were some dress shirts. Deckard was still wearing the Walmart clothes that Liquid Sky had waiting for them on their way back through FOB Chapman. He found a shirt which was probably small on Henderson to show off his beach muscles but would fit Deckard normally.

Going through the dresser to find a pair of cargo shorts, Deckard found a envelop full of pictures. Inside was a whole roll of photographs of Henderson with a blonde. It looked like they were on the shore, maybe Virginia Beach. They were self shot pictures, close ups of the two of them kissing and smiling.

Who the hell was this guy?

Henderson, Bill, all these other guys aside from Ramon and obviously Nadeesha had served in the SEALs as far as Deckard could discern. They were the Navy’s most elite commandos. How had they drifted so far? Throwing the pair of shorts on the bed, Deckard shut the dresser draw.

Then the more important question.

Who were they working for?

He knew from the records that he and his Samruk International mercenaries had seized that they were in business with G3 Communications somehow but the full picture remained obscured. It would take time to uncover. Time he may not have.

Undressing, Deckard stepped into the shower and began to scrub away days of sweat and grim. He didn’t have a lot of time because as he infiltrated Liquid Sky, they were also co-opting him and using his talent for their own agenda, to cure their own contracts, one by one. Sure, they would take him on a couple righteous kills. Do some terrorists or narco-traffickers. First they warm him up, then they take him out on the real work, killing people like Al-Khalifa, and those who got in their way, like Al-Khalifa’s wife.

Toweling himself dry, he slipped into the cargo shorts and began buttoning the blue and white striped shirt over his chest. Deckard caught a glance of himself in the mirror. His eyes were open, even more focused than usual. Hyper vigilant. He put on a pair of Henderson’s sandals. He was slowly transforming himself into one of them.

Deckard’s priorities of work were simple. Get away from Liquid Sky and beat their surveillance long enough to get a message out to Aghassi and Pat. Let them know he was alive, where he was located, and what he knew about Liquid Sky thus far so that they could begin working on the problem sets. It was unlikely that he would be able to take out Liquid Sky by himself, he would need some backup when the time came.

Next, before walking Samruk International into the target, he had to get to the bottom of who Bill was taking his marching orders from. Where were the contracts coming from exactly? Who were the puppetmasters behind the scenes? Only when that question was answered could they cut this head off of the hydra and move on to the CEO of G3 Communications and whoever else Liquid Sky was in league with.

As he headed out the door to attend Bill’s post-mission beach party, he found he had another reason to be glad that he insisted on doing this mission himself and not sending Pat, Aghassi, or one of the others. He was heading down a dark road. He was wearing a dead man’s clothes and working for a kill team.

Some people might find that they liked this life. Some might not want to come home.

Chapter Seven:

Zach was mixing the jungle juice.

“Don’t look at it,” Paul explained as Zach upended a handle of vodka into the pot. “If you don’t look at it then it is okay, it can’t get you drunk!”

Once he drained it, Zach dropped the glass bottle in the trash and began stirring his concoction of hard liqueur and juice. They were in Bill’s place for the team party. Mandatory fun in Deckard’s eyes, but the alcohol would be flowing and would help him get a bead on the other guys. He stood off to the side drinking the local brew, Phoenix beer.

Bill had to take a call outside. Of course Deckard wanted to eavesdrop, but he had to play it cool. Rick showed up with a fresh batch of hair gel in to keep his hair slicked back. Ramon walked in a few minutes later. No sign of Nadeesha.

“Drink this Deckard,” Zach said handing him a mug of the jungle juice. He was about six foot two with sandy blonde hair. Deckard took the drink.

“Thanks dude.”

Zach could have been a stand in for a kid in an Abercrombie ad or the Hitler Youth. Paul had been right he realized as he took a sip. If you didn’t know there was alcohol in the drink you’d never know what it was.

“Nice shirt,” Zach commented. “Fucking Henderson was all into that Malibu Barbie shit.”

“So you were in Army Special Operations?” Rick started in. “What’s up with that?”

“I got around,” Deckard answered.

“My thing with the Army is that all you guys know that BUD/S is the graduate level program and everything else you guys have going is just vanilla.”

“You guys were with Dev?”

“Yeah, in the same Squadron together.”

“TACDEVRON-what?”

“Fuck do you care?”

Deckard decided to back off. Rick suddenly got defensive when he asked which Squadron he had been in. But he had confirmed that they were in SEAL Team Six, also known as Dev Group depending on which way the wind was blowing that day. Meanwhile, Bill walked back inside and picked up a pool cue. He had a couple billiard tables in the living area. Must be a hobby.

“I don’t think you’ve got what it takes to be on this team. I don’t care who you were back in the Army.”

It was Deckard’s post-Army career where things got really froggy but he didn’t feel the need to mention that. Bill had before and knew bits and pieces. Nobody knew the full story of what really happened out there. Not even Deckard if he was to be honest with himself.

“Give me some work. Anybody can put bullets in a muldoon jumping over the wall on the black side of an objective.”

“You might get your wish sooner than you think.”

“Have to ask you.”

“Another question…”

“A woman on the team.”

“Not my decision.”

“Wouldn’t you love to splat a map of Hawaii on her forehead,” Zach yelled from the other side of the room. Paul spun up the stereo system.

“Look,” Rick said. “Its not for any lack of trying.”

Bill was racking the billiard balls and was about the break.

“I would do things to her that I wouldn’t do to farm animals,” Paul confirmed.

“She’s a bitch,” Rick continued. “A woman has no business on this team other than getting passed around the team room.”

“You think she likes to scissor with girls?” Deckard said playing along. “Lez it out?”

“Who the fuck knows? Maybe uncle bad touch fingered her no-no place and now she’s got some kind of fucking complex.” Rick rolled his eyes. “She just does intel shit for us, can go places and suck dicks that we can’t. Bill recruited her and ordered us to leave her the fuck alone so it is what it is.”

“I understand. I was just wondering. We didn’t have them anyplace that I worked in the Army.”

“What?” Zach said. “Split tailed females?”

“Yeah, except when they got passed around our team houses.”

Zach, Rick, and Paul laughed this time.

“Yeah, well,” Zach said. “You would have better luck getting inside Margaret Thatcher’s pussy. If you want to fuck Nadeesha you better slip her a Roofie-Colada.”

“If this jungle juice doesn’t do me in first.”

“Man up,” Rick sneered. “PT tomorrow unless you’re too pussy.”

Rick was a hard sell. Didn’t like Deckard because he wasn’t from the right tribe. Ramon was on the other side of the room having a drink and messing with the TV.

“You from the PI?” Deckard asked as he approached.

“Born and bred,” Ramon answered in a matter of fact manner. Deckard was hoping he had built a little rapport with him up on the ridge line.

“You were there in 2006?”

“Why?”

“Because that is when JSOC had their target killing program going on over there.”

“You got it all wrong man, I was a Warrant Officer in 1st Group. You?”

“The Legion.”

Ramon laughed as he flicked channels until he found a soccer game on one of the satellite channels. “Yeah, I was an intel guy for the CIF.”

“How did you get tied in with these frogmen then?”

“Bill brought me on for a specific mission in a country where I had a lot of local experience and connections. I helped stand up Group 14 after I left the CIF. Ever been to Cambodia?”

“Yeah.”

“When you were with GB? The Agency funded all that.”

“No. It was a commercial endeavor.”

“If you say so. I don’t know what to make of you man. No offense but people say some weird things about you.”

“Some of them are probably even true.”

That was when the door opened and Nadeesha walked in like she owned the place. She had changed into a spaghetti string top and a pair of jeans that clung to her body in all the right places. Deckard found it impossible to avert his gaze as her hips gently swayed. She blew all of them off and walked straight over to Bill.

Over by the billiard tables she started talking to Bill, her hands flying through the air.

“That girl is something else,” Ramon said as he sunk into the couch. “Maybe you should ask her about the PI. She was part of The Harem, or so I’m told. What do I know? I was just a Wobbly One straight out of the WOC.”

Deckard noticed Bill nod his head towards him. Whatever he was talking about with Nadeesha involved him somehow. She didn’t look happy. She had both palms up in the air and was having words with Bill. Despite the hardass SEAL persona that he ruled over Liquid Sky with, Bill seemed to take Nadeesha in stride. He never lost his cool with her and Deckard noted it. Bill was a thinker, he could think several steps ahead. He knew how to manage personalities and play the long game. He was a step above Rick and the others. That was probably why he was in charge.

“It took you guys a while to get into the fight didn’t it?” Deckard asked Ramon while pretending his didn’t notice the conversation about him.

“Yeah, it did. We finally got the CIF in country and doing some good work. We had some other teams up north in Kurdistan too.”

He kept things going until he heard Bill call out for him.

“Get over here Deckard!”

Setting down his drink, Deckard walked over to the pair.

“You’re going to Dubai,” Bill told him.

“I don’t fucking need him there,” Nadeesha cursed. “He will just get in the way.”

“We are being hunted. We got hit hard in Pakistan. I’m not letting you go alone.”

“This is my op.”

“And it is my decision.”

Nadeesha brushed her long dark hair over her shoulder as she shook her head and then crossed her arms under her breasts.

“When can he be ready?” Nadeesha said looking at Bill.

“I’m ready now,” Deckard interjected.

“Good,” Bill responded. “This is Nadeesha’s op. She leads, you follow. Got it?”

“Got it.”

“Not this guy,” Nadeesha pleaded. “Why not Ramon?”

“I need him for mission prep in the PI. Only he can do that job. All of my boys are assaulters, they are no good for Dubai and you know that as well as I do.”

The female intelligence operative sighed. Deckard again wondered what her story was.

“I have several other identity packages for Deckard that Sarah sent us from DC. That is good enough to get both of you to Germany. I will make a call tonight and have her overnight a new package for the two of you with the same surname to pick up once you arrive in Berlin. Your cover will be husband and wife. Its only for twenty four hours and should hold up fine.”

“What do you need me to do?” Deckard asked.

“Watch my ass,” Nadeesha explained.

Deckard’s eyebrows shot up.

“Oh?”

Nadeesha simply turned and stormed out of the house. She was pissed at being forced to drag Deckard into an operation that she was going to run as a singleton.

“I just want an overwatch element in case she gets into trouble,” Bill said. “On our last mission before we picked you up in Afghanistan we got some unexpected resistance. That is how we lost Henderson. Whoever they were, they were good. I’m just sending you as a precaution. She should be able to handle the operational aspects of the mission on her own. You are just there to get her out of trouble if shit really hits the fan.”

“I’ll be there.”

“Finish your drink and then get to bed. Meet Nadeesha here at seven in the morning and I’ll have flight confirmations for you to Germany and then on to Dubai.”

“See you then.”

Finishing his drink and bullshitting with Zach for a few more minutes, he realized that he would have no opportunity to break away and get a message out to Pat and Aghassi, not without breaking his cover and sneaking out in the middle of the night. It was doable but if he got caught then his infiltration would be compromised, he’d be killed or on the run and be no closer to understanding who the power brokers behind Liquid Sky were.

Shit.

He was heading back into the fray.

Chapter Eight:

Deckard and Nadeesha touched down in Berlin twenty four hours later, met a courier outside the terminal who handed off their new passports, then rented a car and drove to Hamburg. Deckard made several attempts to ask his companion what their mission was and what would be expected of him but she blew him off and made him drive while she worked from her iPad in the passenger seat.

They were flying out of Hamburg because it would raise too many suspicions if they showed up at the Berlin international airport again five minutes later with new names and passports. Nadeesha also seemed to know that the security in Hamburg was not utilizing biometric sensors, at least not today. Otherwise they would get popped as they went through security. If their biometrics were recorded in Berlin, put onto a computer database, and then their fingerprints or facial features were again read in Hamburg but attached to different names it was safe to say they would both be spending the night, and many others, in a German prison.

Deckard drove through the cold overcast weather and drizzling rain until they neared the Hamburg airport.

“What are you doing?” Nadeesha asked him.

“Hold on,” Deckard said as he parked in front of a convenience store. A few minutes later he came back with a couple disposable cameras. Getting back in the car, he shut the door and began tearing open the packages.

“We can buy a camera in the airport or once we land in Dubai,” Nadeesha said thinking he wanted one as a part of their cover as tourists on their honeymoon.

“We have to zap the RFID chips in our old passports. We can keep them hidden in our luggage but if a scanner in the airport or anywhere else picks up a second set of passports we are screwed.”

Deckard tore up the camera’s plastic housing and yanked out the chip which the camera’s flash device was mounted to. In a few minutes he had pulled some other wires out of the cameras, stripped them, used some tack he had bought in the store to create a short across the leads from the battery, and held them up to the RFID chip mounted in the covers of their old passports. One by one, he zapped them, making the chips inside unreadable. They would still work as valid passports and they could simply shrug their shoulders at customs if someone asked why the RFID wasn’t working. They could have been magnetized. Or something.

Nadeesha watched Deckard intently, the rain having matted down the hair on his head as he worked with his improvised tools.

“You learned how to do that in the ONI’s OPB course?” She asked.

“I learned how to do that from being on the run with no one else to rely on.”

With his task completed, Deckard got back outside, threw the remains of the disposable cameras in the trash and drove to the airport. They turned in the rental car, stashed away the old passports, pocketed the new ones, and then went to the ticket counter. One of Bill’s Liquid Sky cutouts, a shell company in Singapore, had already purchased their tickets with their new aliases.

Flying Emirates Airlines made any American airline company look like a dive bar with a blinking neon light in the window where all you could order inside was warm cans of Budweiser beer. There was plenty of room to spread out, even when flying in the economy class. The service and the food were first rate unlike the soggy sandwiches you get on American Airlines or Delta.

Nadeesha continued working on her tablet before reading a newspaper, an Arabic language newspaper. Deckard had some suspicions about what she did when she was in the Army but he couldn’t ask here and she wouldn’t answer him anyway. He heard about a cell of female intelligence operatives within JSOC. Ramon had mentioned The Harem to him at the party.

She read Arabic, but didn’t look it. More likely she was from Southern India. Her skin was the darkest brown except for her pink lips. By contrast the white around her large brown eyes stood out even more, made her even more beautiful if that were possible. She stood as tall as Deckard’s shoulders. Lithe and fit, Deckard had not a single doubt that as an intelligence operative she was able to elicit any information from any man on the planet.

He would give her his M4 and his MC-5 parachute any day, all she had to do was ask.

She knew English and Arabic, probably Hindi too. With her ethnic background she was able to blend in with a multitude of different cultures. She had a mouth on her too. That came from field work, from working around people like Deckard, and probably from getting treated like shit by far too many of them.

They ate their food in silence. Nadeesha then put her headphones on, crossed her arms, and watched an in-flight movie on the screen mounted to the seat in front of her. Deckard pulled out a book he had bought in the airport in Hamburg. He tried to read, but had trouble concentrating.

He couldn’t stop thinking about what he could be walking into in Dubai.

Sometime during the flight they both drifted off to sleep and only woke up when the flight attendants turned the cabin lights on as they prepared to land. Looking out the window, Deckard could see the city lit up in blue and gold in the night. As the Emirates Airlines jet pulled up to the terminal, Deckard and Nadeesha grabbed their carry ons. The terminal was ultra-modern with slick chromed metal everywhere, mirrors on the ceilings, and artificial palm trees lining the courseway.

They paid no mind to the shops or roped off Ferrari’s parked in the middle of the terminal. Although neither of them knew it of each other, both had been through this airport and operated in Dubai previously.

After clearing customs with their man and wife matching passports, they rented another car. This time Nadeesha took the wheel. It was her mission and she was going to be running it. Good thing they were not in Saudi Arabia, Deckard recalled. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been allowed to drive even if she wanted to due to the strict Sharia law in place.

Hitting the road, it was only a twenty minute drive to their hotel. They checked in and got a room with a single king sized bed to stick with their cover. It was a five star hotel, not far from the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Deckard sat down on the bed and flipped on the television. He was starting to get used to the idea that he was just along for the ride and would have to react to whatever his team mate threw at him.

“I have to get ready,” she said as she opened her suitcase. “He will be here in a few hours.”

“Who will?”

For once she didn’t blow him off.

“The target. He stays in this hotel whenever he flies in to Dubai for business. He is a financier for some bad people who do bad things in this part of the world.”

“I’m used to improvising on the fly, but I should tell you that like anyone else I can perform better when I know what my task and purpose is ahead of time.”

“You are my overwatch element,” she said as she swept her black hair over her shoulders. “Our information is that he stays here every time and that he likes to indulge in things that are hareem back in his home country.”

“Russian hookers.”

“And alcohol, but if I throw myself at him he will forget all about the hookers.”

“I imagine.”

“You just keep tabs on me downstairs in the bar or wherever he wants to take me. I need you to go out and run some errands before he gets here. Buy a couple cell phones, SIM cards, and then gas them up with phone cards. I need a way to alert you if something is wrong.”

Deckard nodded and took his passport and some local currency with him. Driving to the nearest shopping mall, he parked and walked through the sliding doors. It was absolutely freezing inside. Apparently the royal family wanted to show off to the rest of the world that despite living in the desert that they had the best air conditioning that money could buy.

He found an electronics store and picked up a couple cellular phones, installed the SIM cards, and then bought a bunch of phone cards. Back at the hotel he plugged both phones into the electrical outlets to make sure they had a charge.

The bathroom door opened and Nadeesha walked out with a towel wrapped around her body. She had just gotten out of the shower. A red cocktail dress hung in the closet on a hanger.

“If you need to take a shower, do it now because I need time to get ready.”

She wasn’t kidding. A makeup kit was laid out on the bed.

Deckard figured she was trying to drop a hint on him and took a shower and changed into some fresh clothes. Henderson had made a postmortem clothing donation, Diesel jeans, another button down shirt, and black shoes. When he came out of the bathroom, still drying his hair, Nadeesha was standing over her makeup case. She had somehow fit herself into the impossibly tight dress, the shoulder straps were undone and hung off her brown shoulders. Her chest looked like it was about to burst out of the dress at any moment.

“Come here,” she said as she turned around.

All business, Deckard told himself as he zipped up her dress.

“Take one of the cell phones. I programmed each phone’s number into the other. There is a app on the phone that you can press with one tap and it will bring up a distress message on the other phone. There is also a geo-location feature in case you lose track of me.”

Then she turned her head to look back at him out of the corner of her eye.

“Don’t lose me,” she stated flatly.

“I won’t.”

“Good. No go find something to do and be ready for me in the bar downstairs in forty five minutes. I have to take care of a few things.”

“Which of us is going to take this guy out, or both?”

“I handle that. I will call you when its done and for a pickup.”

Deckard grabbed one of the cell phones and pulled out the charger. Nadeesha tugged at the top of her dress to try to get comfortable in it. She did sexy amazingly well, but clearly she felt more comfortable doing shorts, a t-shirt, and a sub-machine gun. He didn’t blame her.

“Later,” he said as he closed the door behind him.

Outside, Deckard returned to their rental. Inside he quickly rolled down the windows and blasted the air conditioning.

He did have something to do before they got started. While at the shopping mall he had also picked up an 11-piece steak knife cutting set. Using some duct tape he got at the hardware store, he cut pieces of cardboard and made improvised sheathes by folding the cardboard back on itself.

Then he rolled back his sleeves, put the steak knives in their sheaths, and pressed them under his forearms while ringing rolls of duct tape over the cardboard and around his forearms. Once both knives were in place he rolled his sleeves back down. He would have to be careful. The improvised weapons would be concealed better if he was wearing a jacket, which he would if they ended up in another venue with mega-air conditioning but otherwise it would just look out of place in the desert heat.

Even at night, the temperature would only drop from about 110 during the day down to about 95 degrees. It still felt like you were staring into a blow dryer and it was almost 11pm. Locking up the car, he made his way back into the hotel and took a seat at the end of the bar.

As he walked back into the hotel his cell phone vibrated. It was Nadeesha texting him to announce that she would be down in a few minutes. Deckard walked into the bar and sat at a table where he could keep an eye on the entrance, the bar itself, and most of the tables. When the waitress arrived he ordered a beer. Drinking was permissible for non-Muslims.

As he sipped the beer his mind staggered for a moment as he wondered who was mean mugging him across the bar. He didn’t even recognize his reflection in the mirror anymore. Although he was still in his thirties, he had grown old, gone through several more life cycles than most people do. He was bitter. Restless.

War was the only time that the world made sense to him. Putting boots to asses was the only satisfaction he really had. It was something he was good at and something he kept doing because he enjoyed it. There were a lot of assholes in this world and he liked putting them out of business.

His self reflection was thankfully broken as Nadeesha walked through the door. With her hair and makeup done up she could have graced the cover of any magazine she chose. Whoever this Arab financier was, he didn’t stand a chance. She’d probably murder him and then Deckard in their sleep before the night was over.

Nadeesha slid on to a stool at the bar with her back to him. She ordered a drink and shot down two men before it even arrived. They were fat Arabs, but not the right fat Arab.

Ten minutes later he showed up. The Arab financier had the physique of a hippopotamus and a head shaped like a perfect egg. He wore a blue trainer outfit and tennis shoes. He clearly didn’t do much training but this was the fashion in some parts of the world. Deckard pegged him as Lebanese. Probably Hezbollah.

As the bartender brought him a Martini, Nadeesha slid off her seat and approached him.

That was when a British expat decided to introduce herself to Deckard.

“Hi, I’m Audrey,” Deckard reached out and shook her hand, smiling back at her.

“Jon,” he said, using the alias name on his passport. “Would you like to have a seat.”

“I thought I might trouble you for a light, but yes I would.” She sat down across from him.

Deckard didn’t mind, he kind of stood out sitting by himself.

They made small talk while he occasionally eyeballed Nadeesha and her prey. Audrey was in Dubai to spend a semester teaching English in a girls school. Technically she was doing her fellowship for her PhD back in the UK but she needed to pick up some scratch in the meantime. Deckard offered vague details about himself, gave his cover without mentioning that he was “married” to the woman across the bar for obvious reasons.

Twenty minutes later found Nadeesha and the target walking out, arm in arm. Deckard sincerely hoped that this was a wham, bam, thank you ma’am type deal because he didn’t want to chase the would be love birds all over town. No need to wine and dine.

“Be right back love, have to find the rest room.”

“Oh, see you soon!” Audrey said.

Yeah, right.

Deckard was relieved when he saw the couple heading for the elevators. He watched the digital read out above the elevator tick up and stop at the 21st floor. She was keeping this easy by making sure she took him to their room. He had the key card so if it got ugly he would be inside the room in seconds.

Jumping in the second elevator he hit the button for the 21ist floor. The doors opened and Deckard stepped into the hall just in time to hear the door to their room slam shut. He hung out by a vending machine, pretending to try to jam a bill in it whenever someone walked by. He kept his keycard under the Dirham bill. He kept the ruse up for ten minutes, alternating between pretending to look at his cell phone and playing with the vending machine.

Then the cell phone vibrated. Deckard looked at the screen which displayed a single word

Red.

In a half dozen long strides, he was at the door and shoving the key card in the reader. The LED on the door flashed green and Deckard flung the door open.

The Arab was stripped naked and had Nadeesha pinned against the wall, holding her by the neck. The woman’s brown arms and legs struggled against his weight as he pressed her into the wall. Deckard used the edge of his shoe in a downward strike that nearly separated the Arab’s calf muscle.

Nadeesha fell to the ground. She only wore a black thong, apparently well into the game of seducing the Arab.

Deckard didn’t notice as he fixated on his target, knocking him to the ground. With both hands, the American commando reached for his inner wrists and seized the knives by their handles. Tearing both free from their sheaths, he held the steak knives in a reverse grip. The Arab struggled to his feet, favoring his uninjured leg, both hands clutching his chest.

Deckard assumed a boxer’s stance. He was about to go to work.

“Wait!” Nadeesha shouted at him. “The Stux is starting to take effect.”

“The what?”

The financier staggered back to the ground. He looked as he was having a heart attack.

“Succinylcholine,” Nadeesha informed him as she picked up an empty syringe from the floor.

As their target squirmed on the carpet, Deckard looked back and noticed her nakedness. He pretended not to note that she was perfectly endowed in all the right places.

“It is a paralytic but he wasn’t about to sit still for me to stick him in a vein so I had to put it in the muscle. The drug takes longer to kick in that way.”

Finally, the Arab went still. The room suddenly began to stink.

“Son of a bitch,” Deckard cursed. “He had a jumper in the door.”

Deckard looked back, making sure he looked her in the eye. For just a moment, he saw it. The hard case was gone and he saw what she looked like when she was scared. It had been a close call.

“Pack your shit,” Deckard ordered. “We can peel out of here tonight. It will take the authorities a while to put this together if they do at all.”

“Okay.”

The female operative didn’t bother with a bra and threw on a white button down and then a pair of black slacks from her suitcase. Deckard just tossed whatever was laying around into their bags. Her make up, her hair dryer, his deodorant, he didn’t care what ended up in what suitcase. They were packed in five minutes and out the door. They left the corpse in place, resting in his own filth. Nadeesha made sure she policed up the empty syringe though.

They left the hotel without checking out. Halfway to the airport, Deckard zeroed out both of their cell phones and dumped them into the trash along with the syringe. He winced as he tore the cardboard sheaths off his forearms and chucked them into the garbage with the knives. Nadeesha got on her tablet and made sure their reservations were confirmed for their flight out. She checked them both in before they dumped the rental car and walked into the airport.

Two hours later they were in the air, catching the red eye out of Dubai. Landing in Italy, they split up and took separate evasion routes. Nadeesha bounced around for a few days in Africa. Deckard flew to Bangkok and went overland into Cambodia where he dumped his married passport and reverted to his single passport. From there he caught a flight to Indonesia, and then on to Madagascar. Finally he booked a flight back to Mauritius. Nadeesha got a flight from Kenya and landed on the island the morning that the news broke in major international television outlets that someone had been assassinated in a hotel in Dubai.

The suspects were still at large and Dubai was cooperating with Interpol and other international organizations to compile evidence. A week later it was clear that the trail had run cold in Europe.

Chapter Nine:

Physical Training with Liquid Sky put Deckard in a world of shit. He was a hybrid athlete as necessitated by his life style. As the leader of a para-military mercenary unit, Deckard led from the front, often doing body weight routines and kettlebell workouts with the Kazakh mercenaries in the gym, ruck marches with fifty pound packs, and five mile runs in full combat equipment.

Liquid Sky took masochism to a whole new level.

At dawn they dived into the ocean for a swim. Deckard was a strong swimmer but the former SEALs were like fish as they cut through waves that knocked him back and forth in the water. Bill took them out past the breakers and then turned around to head back to shore. Deckard was the last one to the beach. Even Ramon, their former Special Forces member was out in front of him.

Washing up on shore, Deckard jogged across the beach and up to Bill’s bungalow to catch up. They were already spotting each other as they cycled through on the bench press.

“You’re up,” Rick told him just as he climbed up onto the deck. Soaking wet, he knocked out five repetitions on the bench. He was tired from the swim but could hang in there. Coming from the Army side, he was a runner and ruck marcher more than a swimmer.

Next they did Renegade Man Makers with 25 pound dumb bells. A weight was held in each hand while hitting the ground and doing a push up, then you shifted your weight and executed a row, bringing the weight level with the chest, then repeating it on the other side. Next, you got to your feet with the weights and pressed them above your head. That was one repetition. They did five reps.

Next came five box jumps. From a standing position, you had to jump on top of a wooden box that was two feet high. Also for five reps. Then came five reps on the dip bars. After that came five Goblet Squats which were done holding a 25 pound kettle bell. Then they did 25 meter sprints down the beach to shake it out. That was one set. There were four more to go.

Deckard was sucking as most of the other guys were on steroids and were blowing through the exercises at first. Rick was actually the first one to puke. The entire workout was done for time and now it was starting to catch up to them. Ramon puked off the edge of the deck during their third time through the Renegade Man Makers. Deckard puked third, this time during the sprints. Zach got it on the last set, barfing into the ocean as he staggered away after the box jumps.

After the fifth and last set they all lay around panting. Except for Bill. He was a human wrecking ball. Deckard saw that he was covered in sweat but didn’t even seem to be breathing that hard. The Liquid Sky leader picked up a water bottle, swished the water around in his mouth, spat it out in the sand and walked inside.

“Fuck me,” Deckard said to himself.

When he finally managed to get to his feet and walk back to his beach house he was just in time to see Nadeesha glide out of the waves and stride up the beach in a blue bikini. She was on her own PT program and the guys simply left her to her own devices. She made eye contact with him for a split second before turning and walking down the beach to her place, not even acknowledging his existence.

Deckard stood in the cool morning air for another minute before going inside and taking a shower. Most of the food in the refrigerator had gone bad and had to be thrown out but Deckard downed some cereal he found in the pantry. His body was starving and he’d have to make sure he got some more food in his system soon to help recover from the workout. He also drank several more glasses of water.

After he got dressed, Deckard locked the door and walked a few blocks to the main street. He was on his own time until the team party tonight. It was time to get to work.

Hailing a cab, he told the driver that he wanted to hit up the market in Port Louis, the island’s capital about twenty minutes away from where he was on the northern tip of Mauritius. The cab driver nodded. Almost everyone seemed to speak English here.

On the way into the city Deckard observed the port. It really was a multicultural island with many faiths and peoples living on top of one another without any real problems. It wasn’t just the churches, mosques, and temples, but even the port was filled with run of the mill fishing vessels and Chinese junks. There were also naval ships which looked to be retrofitted with stealth characteristics.

Paying the cab driver, he walked into the center of the city. Port Louis was second world, but perfectly comfortable and the people very friendly. Still, he couldn’t help but notice that like most countries he traveled too, the tallest buildings in town were the ones reserved for the banks and private financial institutions. Like Malta, Mauritius was an off shore finance nexus.

Deckard walked a long surveillance detection route, winding his way through the city blocks and stopping several times. He had to make absolutely sure that he wasn’t being followed.

The market was a large two story building in the city center with produce filling baskets in every stall with bright orange, green, red, and yellow fruits along with various nuts, stalks, and roots. Looking through the breezeway up to the second story, Deckard could see clothing and other household goods for sale. Climbing the stairs he pretended to look at a few stalls before stopping at a stall that sold electronics.

He bought a Samsung cellphone with cash and picked up a SIM card while he was there. Outside he found a vender selling phone cards and bought several from him. Deckard again took a long meandering route that would allow him to see if he was being followed. Finding a pizzeria, he ducked inside and asked the waiter to be seated in the back of the restaurant.

Ordering a pizza and a drink, he went to work as soon as the waiter walked away. Slipping in the SIM card, he inserted the battery into the phone and found that he had a half charge. Good enough. Scratching off the code bars on the back of the phone cards, he typed them in and put minutes on his phone.

Furiously, Deckard began hammering out an intel report with his thumbs.

Pat sat up in his chair as his cell phone vibrated across the table.

Samruk International was still working out of a hangar at the airport in Astana, Kazakhstan. Frank and Sergeant Major Koran had flown in with the Kazakhs from Mexico and made sure they were paid for services rendered before putting them on two weeks of leave. Now the troops were filtering back from across the country. The problem was that Samruk International didn’t have a new contract for them yet. The Kazakh mercenaries were re-fitting and Korgan was drawing up a training plan but they still needed to find work.

Now that Frank was back to his old self and walking around without crutches, he was setting up business meetings with the Kazakh government to bid on a counter-narcotics contract. Something local would be nice for a change.

Snatching the phone off his desk, Pat typed in his PIN and saw that he had a new text message. As the former Delta Force operator began to read, he immediately knew what he was looking at.

“Aghassi!” He called across the hangar. His voice echoed through the open space. A massive An-125 Russian cargo jet sat in the middle of the hangar, it’s twin bother was outside on the tarmac. They were expensive as hell to operate but necessary for a highly mobile Private Military Company.

“Get over here!”

Aghassi and Nikita were currently tasked with training up a six-man recce cell but this was critical. They had a man in the field. Under and alone.

Pat scrolled through the message:

Operating out of Mauritius

Seven operators incl/ me

Last tgt in dubai told he was money for terr org

Previous tgt in afghan said they ran dope for karzai

guy in Pak named Henderson girl back home?

others, Bill, Paul, Zach, and Rick. Former SEALs. Bill 1IC

Ramon. former 1st sfg CIF

Nadeesha. not sure, jsoc intel maybe

nasty group, witness war crimes in afghan.

still on probation w/ tm

“Ho-ly shit,” Pat said. “Fucking Deckard. He did it.”

The assassination in Dubai was all over the news. Fingers were getting pointed everywhere, but mostly at Mossad. No one could prove anything of course.

“I’m catching the first flight out tonight,” Aghassi said. He was now reading the message over Pat’s shoulder.

“Got it. I’ll get in touch with Cody back in the States for the electronic piece.”

Cody was a hacker that Samruk had contracted previously for the Mexico operation.

The next text message was an address to the place where Deckard was staying on the island. Aghassi wrote it down and then opened one of the laptops sitting at their ad hoc command post and began making arrangements. The phone vibrated one more time.

There is a # in my kit. pocket on plate carrier i used in MX

Remember the two NSW guys we ran into down there

Call them. find out who these guys are

want to know what the fuck happened to them.

Pat texted him back to acknowledge the message. He didn’t hear back. Deckard was probably already throwing the cell phone into the ocean. The last text referred to two SEAL Team Six operators that they had crossed paths with while they were sniffing out an arms trafficking pipeline in Mexico. The two Spanish speaking SEALs were acting as advisers to the Mexican forces battling it out with the cartels. Tearing through Deckard’s combat gear in the corner of the hangar, Pat found the piece of paper with their numbers on it. Dusty and Flakjacket were their nicknames.

The last two weeks had been spent waiting for Deckard’s corpse to turn up somewhere, in which case they would be lucky because it was far more likely that he just disappeared in the either never to be seen or heard from again. Now that they had an inside man, it was time to start getting inside the enemy’s decision making cycle. Pat sat back down and starting making some calls.

Deckard erased the phone’s memory then removed the battery. He devoured the pizza as his body was still starved from the morning workout. Paying the bill, he made his way back towards the port and tossed his cell phone over the railing and into the Indian Ocean. The city’s main shopping mall was right across the bay so Deckard walked over and bought some food and other household items he needed for the duration of his stay. However long that might be.

Taking a cab back to his pad, Deckard put away the groceries. He had to be careful not to get comfortable here. It was an island oasis that Europeans flocked to on vacation, but for him it was Bad Guy country. More dangerous than Afghanistan or Iraq, his own team mates were the enemy and all it would take is one slip up. It didn’t even have to be his mistake. A few phone calls to the wrong people in the United States, if certain information began to fall into Bill’s hands and Liquid Sky would start to get suspicious. Suspicion would quickly give way to paranoia. You could never be too careful in this line of work. That paranoia would lead immediately to Deckard being executed. He could never let his guard down here. He was always operational, even when not on an operation.

He continued to wonder if his entire house wasn’t wired for sound and video with someone playing voyeur as they watched him on a closed circuit television screen. If that paranoia did set in with Liquid Sky, he would never see it coming once they decided to do him in. He could improvise some weapons like in Dubai, better yet, secure a gun somewhere on the island but for now secrecy was his security.

Back at his bungalow, he took a long nap on the couch with the television muted. Late into the afternoon he woke as someone banged on the screen door that faced out to the ocean.

“Hey,” Zach said, “team meeting before the party. Let’s go.”

“Sure,” Deckard said as he rubbed his eyes. “Be right there.”

Deckard opened the screen door and stepped outside.

Mauritius was a relatively tiny island in the middle of nowhere. Isolated, it was tucked away from all the distractions and complications found elsewhere. The waves broke on the shore, pulling the beach out with it as the tides changed. It felt like he was standing on the edge of the world.

Walking down the beach he crossed Bill’s workout area on the deck and stepped inside. Zach and Paul were shooting the shit about some French tourists they had banged the night before.

“This island is a pussy buffet bro,” Paul laughed.

“Fucking Euro girls don’t lube up right when they’re drunk though. Gotta help ’em out a little,” Zach complained.

“Give them a break,” Rick cut in. “I’m sure she did fine with what little she had to work with.”

The Liquid Sky men roared with laughter as Rick high fived Paul. Everyone went quiet as Nadeesha entered and sat down in a chair in the corner. Bill was sitting on his couch with his laptop open.

“Now that everyone is here,” Bill said as he eyeballed Nadeesha, “we can get started.”

Deckard noticed that Ramon was missing.

“I know everyone has been nervous about the client. Recent events back in the States scared him off and his company decided to abandon a number of classified projects including some indig proxy force they were training out in Nevada. After we got hung out to dry I had to find us employment elsewhere. Pakistan was for a Prince in Bahrain. Afghanistan was a one off paid for by some ex-Agency guy working a private network in Pakistan. Then Dubai was for the Yids.

“We had a couple interested parties who were going to pick us up on a permanent basis like G3 Communications did but some of those fell through. A lot of the players had experience with BW and the executives over there left a lot of scorched ground between the decision makers and the contractors. I almost set us up working directly for a group of princes in the Gulf States but now I think I got something better.

“A retired American General is going to pick up Liquid Sky and his ‘leadership academy’ or what-the-fuck-ever will sponsor us covertly. This way, his group acts as the middle man between the princes who have plenty of work for us to do. This Arab Spring thing is really fucking up their jive. That’s where we come in. Between them and these Wahhabi sand niggers they got their hands full and a bunch of inept A-rab soldiers in their military who sleep most of the day and spend the rest fucking their boyfriends. So we won’t be hurting for work.”

“So what are we looking at?” Rick asked.

“They got something for us to start on now. Ramon finished his pre-mission prep and has already moved into the target country to begin Operational Preparation of the Battlespace. Tomorrow the rest of us move out to the staging area. The targeted individual has already had five assassination attempts on him in the last two years so he is paranoid as fuck and is prepared. He knows someone will try again and will be waiting for us. This is going to take some brass balls to pull off but what the fuck else is new.

“Don’t worry about that shit now. Party it up tonight. Tomorrow we fly out to begin training and it is back to business.”

A couple whoops went up and the boys began dragging out a keg that they had on ice. The next time Deckard turned around, Nadeesha had already disappeared. Bill tapped the keg and started passing out beers. Paul got a few dozen shot glasses and lined them up on the kitchen table. The other guys were making phone calls to some of the expat girls they knew on the island.

Zach shotgunned four shots back to back and the party was started. Deckard was pretty drunk by the time a half dozen women showed up. Four were from France, one from Switzerland, and another from Germany. They brought the drugs with them too.

Bill did a couple lines of a blow off one of his billiard tables. Deckard was starting to get nervous. Former operators filled with booze and coke and haunted by the wars they fought in was not exactly a great combination.

Sitting down with a fresh beer, one of the French girls came right over and sat down on his lap. Deckard had no idea what the blond was saying to him and he cared even less. Across the room, one of her girlfriends was grabbing Zach’s crotch as they took turns downing shots. She frowned at her and then went back to Deckard, kissing him on the lips. They seemed to be in competition with each other.

Rick fired up a couple lines of coke between Vodka shots.

Now the French chick had pulled out Rick’s cock. It was Deckard’s turn to frown. The Prince Albert piercing had to hurt. Getting down her in knees, the blond girl’s friend went to work, deep throating Rick right there in the middle of the party. The European girls cheered, a few offering advice on how to improve her technique.

The blond was clearly pissed over something and jumped off Deckard’s lap to go use the bathroom. When she came back her pupils were huge, dilated from whatever pills she had swallowed.

By then, Bill had bent the big titted German girl over a billiard table, dropped trou and was drilling her, the moans drowned out by the loud death metal music blasting over the stereo.

Jesus Christ, Deckard thought. When he was a young soldier they used to have Squad parties. He recalled his Squad Leader doing keg stands all night, throwing the keg off his back deck, and then doing donuts around his house in a beat up Toyota pickup truck. All of that seemed pretty mild compared to this cocaine fueled orgy.

Once Bill finished with the German, the blond pillhead let her jean shorts fall around her ankles and bent over the pool table to wait her turn. Soon, her finger nails were tearing up the billiard table’s upholstery.

Deckard could take a hint, if he stuck around much longer there was a good chance that one of these nymphos was going to handcuff him to a radiator and shock his balls with a couple wires attached to a car battery. He made a hasty exist as Paul and Zach swapped girls and were going for their second round.

Later on, he couldn’t remember stumbling back to his beach house. He woke up in the early morning hours, still wearing his clothes while laying in the bath tub with the shower on, soaking wet.

“What. the. fuck.”

Chapter Ten:

Deckard launched himself off the ramp of the airplane and into the darkness. He still had trouble stabilizing as he exited the aircraft and rocked from side to side for a few moments as he rode the hill of air down through the sky, his body riding along with the forward throw the plane on exit. Seconds seemed to stretch on to forever but he finally got stable in the air and assumed a position that would be called a high lift track position in normal parachuting, that is, with his arms extended but swept back and his legs extended all the way out.

Unlike a HALO jump in the military, he was wearing a wing suit which would provide additional lift and therefore, more forward glide during free fall. The sheets of material stretched between his legs and out from his arms. An ancient dream was now achievable: human flight.

Turning his head slightly, he could make out the sleek forms of four other Liquid Sky members flying behind him in the moonlit night.

Pivoting his hips and shifting his legs, Deckard was able to steer by using the wing suit like a giant rudder. Splotches of gold floated beneath him as he soared over the city. Manila.

He got on azimuth, heading west, over the city and pointed towards the ocean beyond. He was dumping altitude, dropping a meter for every couple of meters that he traveled forward. The wind howled in his ears as the cityscape below him shot by.

Angling himself downward, he picked up speed as he flew towards his target. Through the wind goggles he wore, Deckard could now make out the outline of the Aquino Building. He was moving at nearly a hundred and twenty miles an hour and the rooftop was the smallest dropzone he had ever had to hit in his career.

It was coming up fast.

The other Liquid Sky members floated alongside him, each maneuvering slightly away from each other to clear their airspace. In the night they looked like giant flying squirrels in their wing suits. One operator dropped his hips to try to adjust his trajectory. At this point they were all trying to make small adjustments to get on the right track before deploying their parachutes.

To his right, one of the wingsuit parachutists peeled away from the formation. He was too far off the required fight path and was having trouble getting stable. He would have to deploy his parachute and land safely at a secondary landing zone on the ground. Deckard didn’t notice, he was completely fixated on his target.

The leading edge of the target building was coming up. Deckard reached back and deployed his pilot chute. The drogue caught in the air and yanked out his main parachute. Everything was a blur of motion as Deckard’s world swayed, his parachute opening above him. He was looking down into the lights inside the rooftop swimming pool.

He was too low.

Deckard reached up to grab his toggles to try to steer while he still had some space to maneuver. Below him, he saw another jumper slam right into the side of the building and through the plate glass windows. His parachute never had a chance to deploy at all.

Deckard reached out but the edge of the roof was still a good ten feet away. He sunk beneath the lip of the roof and was staring at his reflection in the windows. His heart was in his throat as he made impact.

The scene froze in front of his eyes.

Feeling his boots make contact with the floor, he stood up. The harness had lowered on its pulley system at the end of the scenario. The blinking word RESET flashed in his goggles. He flipped the visor up on his forehead and looked across the dark room. Everyone was quiet. It was their tenth time through the same scenario and none of them were getting any better.

He squinted as the lights came back on.

“Not a single person made it on to the roof top,” Bill scolded them. “Take it from the top.”

Deckard stretched his neck and then his arms and legs as he was still secured in his parachute harness and couldn’t start walking around while tethered into the metal frame.

Each of them wore a parachute and black S-Bird wing suits made by TonySuit. Following the Special Operations adage, train as you fight, they used the same gear in the simulator that they would use on target. The S-Bird wing suit would allow them the forward glide they needed to jump from an airplane, fly into the restricted airspace over the city of Manila, and then land on their objective. This model wing suit also came equipped with escape sleeves. Normally the wings of the suit had to be unzipped manually after the jumper deployed his parachute so that he could reach up and grab the toggles on his parachute in order to steer it. There would be no time for that on this gig, they would be right on top of the objective by the time they got silk over their heads.

Later, they would add their combat equipment to their rigs. At the moment the kit loadout was still being finalized as Ramon collected intelligence on the target in the Philippines. As it stood, it didn’t really matter what kit they carried on objective if none of them could even get there in the first place.

A gray haired technician sat in the corner of the warehouse. He was behind a computer, clicking away with his mouse as he began to reset the training scenario.

The simulator and the software were created by a company called ParaSim. The scaffolding structures were lined up next to each other, five in a row for the Liquid Sky operators. Nadeesha was working intel and logistics for them at their staging area and would not be going on target.

At the top of the scaffolding was a series of electronic pulleys and servos that moved the suspension lines that each parachutist hung from during the simulation. The suspension lines would reel themselves in and out and reposition the jumper’s body based on what was going on in the simulator. It would even release and drop the jumper down to the floor when he landed on the ground in the simulation.

Sensors were hooked up to the parachute ripcord and toggles so that the jumpers actually used his gear in physical reality, and got real time feed back inside the virtual reality simulator. A modified night vision goggles headset was worn by each jumper with a flip down virtual reality screen. The simulator could replicate all sorts of different scenarios based on the inputs added by the technician behind the computer.

Windspeed, jump altitude, weather conditions, and much more could be adjusted on the software side to give the most realistic experience possible. In this case they had the sub-contractor, where they were now located in Australia that ran the staging site, program the exact scenario they had in mind for their mission. It was constantly being updated based on the feedback sent from Ramon who was already watching the building in Manila.

They were still working out what their jump altitude should be, what their pull altitude should be, and what their angle of attack should be as they came in on the objective building. Beyond that, they were all still having trouble controlling their wing suits.

“Come up five hundred feet on the jump altitude,” Bill told the technician.

“Got it, resetting now,” the technician announced.

Deckard flipped down his VR goggles as the suspension lines began to retract and pull him up into a free fall position.

“Don’t fuck it up,” he heard Bill say, his voice echoing in the warehouse.

Then they were jumping out of the back of an airplane over Manila and blasting over the city again. Deckard overshot the target and slammed into another building.

Everybody else died too.

Rick pushed a piece of plywood into position and held it for Deckard. While holding a half dozen nails in his mouth, Deckard began nailing the plywood into the wooden frame that they had spent the day constructing. Each of the Liquid Sky members were covered in sweat, their clothes soaked through while they labored in the Australian heat.

Nadeesha weaved her way through the mock up they were building with a clipboard in her hand.

“When you finish with that I need you two to help Paul frame out the dinning room.”

Rick and Deckard looked at each other as she walked off. She was taking her role as foreman a little too seriously. Using the pictures that Ramon was taking of the objective area, they were building a scale model of the rooftop apartment they were going to raid. Once they finished building it they would be running through it for training with guns that shot paint pellets.

Nadeesha kept pushing them to work faster. They still had a mission brief to do and then it was back into the simulator until they didn’t suck anymore.

Deckard finished nailing the plywood in place and then they went to go find Paul.

Back in the warehouse everyone was relieved to be able to sit in the air conditioning for a while. Nadeesha had just gotten off the phone with Ramon and was now ready to start the brief. A map was laid out on the table alongside some over head satellite photography taken from Google Earth. The next step would be to make a three dimensional model of the city to help conduct talk throughs of the mission.

Bill turned on a tablet and passed it around. It showed a thirty-something Filipino with a goatee and wearing eyeglasses.

“This is our target, Kanor De Jesus. He runs a finance network for the moose limbs. Some of them are targeting the Royal families in the Gulf States so the client wants this guy out of the picture. The problem is that various players, including JSOC, have already tried to kill him. Five botched assassination attempts in the last two years. These days he doesn’t ever leave his rooftop apartment. The building is locked down with security from top to bottom. It would take a battalion of soldiers to fight their way up to the top. He knows there will be another assassination attempt and has taken precautions.”

“For some reason De Jesus just doesn’t sound like a Muslim name,” Zach remarked.

“It isn’t. This guy is a businessman; not a moose limb. His MO is providing financing to individuals and small cells that conduct terrorist attacks back in their home countries. Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait, Iraq, and so on. He has a network that goes out and buys pre-paid cards. You have to show identification to buy the cards, but not to reload them. So De Jesus has some local patsies buy the cards, then he has his men reload them with cash, all the way up to 10,000 dollars which is more than enough to get into the Middle East and run a small scale terrorist operation. Sometimes he will hand out multiple cards anyway.

“The thing is, these attacks he is funding are becoming so frequent that each country’s intelligence services are having a hard time countering them. He is using swarming tactics. Remember those anus bombs?”

“Butt bombs?” Paul asked.

“A couple moose limbs stuck HME,” Bill said referring to Home Made Explosives. “Along with a cell phone detonator right up their poop chute.”

“Sounds painful.”

“These fuckers have lots of practice playing butt darts so I’m sure it wasn’t that big a deal. They almost killed the intelligence minister of Jordan a few months ago with one of those attacks. The other went off and killed a bunch of people in Riyadh during Ramadan.”

“Killing their own people,” Zach remarked. “Fucking savages.”

Deckard said nothing. He wasn’t at all surprised. That was how groups like Al Qaeda operated. Muslim or not, you, your wife, and your kids were going to be turned into corpses if you didn’t believed in AQ’s bronze age worldview.

“The thing about these pre-paid cards is that they are an easy way to transport large sums of money across international borders and they are completely untraceable. It allows terrorists to access funds in ways that would set off trip wires otherwise. If they were moving cash around in some other manner it would get picked up by banking software and red flagged by American and foreign agencies.

“There was also an IED that injured a Saudi prince a couple months back. The scale of the attacks is increasing while the duration between them is decreasing. De Jesus is handing out these pre-paid cards to moose limb motherfuckers like it is going out of style. But this is what really has the client freaked out,” Bill said as he grabbed the tablet and flipped to a new picture.

“This guy works for the People’s Liberation Army with the General Staff Development’s Third Department.”

“The what?” Rick asked.

“Uh, its like China’s version of the NSA.”

“Not really,” Nadeesha chimed in.

“Well, then tell us knuckle draggers what the fuck this guy represents.”

“He goes by the name Dai Kexue, a mid-level executive with a state owned manufacturing consortium. His real name is Major Shen Banggen.”

“And what does he do for Red China?” Rick asked again.

“He facilitates certain programs and projects, only a few of which we know anything about. We do know that the Third Department is invested in securing China’s cyber infrastructure and protecting its national security but it isn’t anything like the NSA. The Third Department takes a more holistic approach to national security called informatization. <This means that their cyber security initiatives work in tandem with China's efforts to secure its place in the global marketplace, continue its economic growth, and compete commercially.”

“What the hell does that mean?” Paul asked, clearly frustrated.

Deckard leaned forward and began to speak.

“It means that Major Banggen is tasked with ensuring that China has total information dominance for political, economic, and military purposes. Baggen is clearly working with De Jesus as part of a Chinese shaping operation. They are facilitating outcomes in the Middle East that they feel are favorable to China and dis-favorable to the United States.”

“I still don’t get it,” Paul said rolling his eyes.

Nadeesha blew air through her teeth.

“It means we have to kill De Jesus,” Deckard said.

“You should have just said that in the first place.”

“You guys can go bone to bone and see who is bigger later on,” Bill told them. “Nadeesha has been compiling the intel that Ramon has gathered so far and will brief you on the general layout of what you will find on the roof top of the Aquino building when, and if, you make it there.”

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