Viper Headwear is currently working on some Samruk International ballcaps for us. These will be fitted caps and unlike the prototype below, they will be in PenCott’s “Green Zone” pattern since I’ve decided that PenCott is going to be the unofficial camo pattern for the fictional Private Military Company featured in my novels. Look for ordering instructions in about a month. Also, please keep in mind that this is a prototype. The final hat won’t have those stiff front panels.
Tag Archives: Deckard
They laid down as the sun was coming up and got up eight hours later. No one had slept particularly well.
Their pilot pounded down some chow, threw on his sunglasses, and walked over to the airfield to start preparing the Twin Otter for the night’s flight. The others loaded all their gear into the van. Ramon and Bill made some last minute inspections of the objective using the remote cameras. Ramon would be able to access the cameras via a 3G connection on his tablet so he could update Bill in real time as they made their infil.
The sky was turning a hazy yellow. It was time.
Liquid Sky boarded the van and drove back to the airfield. They spent over an hour just kitting up and getting their gear exactly where they wanted it, then checked each other over just to make sure. Each team member going on the objective carried a half brick of C4 and an initiation system.
Rick and Ramon would be securing the second drop zone down on the ground, their exfil point. When Ramon walked into the hangar with his concealable plate carrier on and MAC-10 slung over his shoulder, Deckard noticed that curved knife that the former Special Forces soldier had sheathed on his belt. It was a Filipino Karabit fighting knife.
Images from Pakistan flickered in front of his eyes. One of the Pakistanis he had seen in the hospital in Karachi with a series of deep, defensive knife wounds on his body. That had been Ramon’s work.
They didn’t bother rehearsing actions in the air. After the training jumps and unending hours in the simulator, they either knew their shit at this point or they didn’t. They took off their helmets and propped them behind their parachutes to lean back on as they sat on the floor of the hangar.
Ramon and Rick got in the van and drove off to the exfil site where they would be waiting to pick up the Liquid Sky team.
The wait began. They drank bottled water and waddled off occasionally to take a piss in the grass.
Deckard turned and caught Nadeesha’s eye for just a moment. She had her hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her trigger hand lay over the MAC-10 tied down across her chest. She turned away from him, breaking eye contact.
Ramon called Bill on an encrypted cell phone. They were in place in Manila and had their tablet up, watching the camera feeds. They had positively identified De Jesus when he stepped outside to make a phone call by the pool. It was almost ten at night. Bill stood.
It was their green light.
The pilot fired up the Twin Otter and Liquid Sky filed through the door.
Deckard felt oddly relaxed as the aircraft lifted off and he clipped his pro-tec helmet on under his chin. He had decided that he was going to make it to the rooftop.
They gained altitude as the pilot took them North, over the lagoon towards Manila. Bill opened the door and began spotting for their jump. It would be a short flight as the pilot flew on a flight plan that took them just East of the city. Zach, Deckard, Paul, and Nadeesha stood up to be on standby for the jump. The airplane rocked under their feet, forcing them to hold on to the seats for balance.
Sweat rolled down Deckard’s face as he steadied himself, burdened under all of his equipment. The wing suit, the parachute, the weapons, explosives, and helmet made it awkward to move around to say the least. Without thinking about it, the jumpers began closing on each other, getting nut to butt as they inched towards the door.
As they flew along the edge of the city, Deckard saw that Manila was lit up as brilliantly as any other major metropolitan city with hues of gold, blue, and yellow. They would have no problem identifying landmarks as they navigated around the city. The only problem was that unlike land navigation, there was no doubling back.
Bill had his head stuck out the door looking for their jump point. It was a flood gate on the outskirts of the city. The Liquid Sky team leader turned to look inside the aircraft. He held one finger in the air telling them that they were one minute out. Then he turned to look back outside.
The other four jumpers were now right on top of each other, almost as if they were going to push Bill out the door if he didn’t get out of the way. Bill leaned inside again, holding his thumb and pointer finger about an inch apart. Thirty seconds out.
Deckard swallowed. Everything seemed surreal, he could hardly hear anything with the turbo props going and his helmet covering his ears.
Finally, Bill gave a follow me motion and dived out of the door. One by one, Zach, Paul, Deckard, and Nadeesha spilled out into the night.
Following Bill’s lead, they glided behind him heading West, into the city. Settling into position, Deckard noted the golf course passing on his left as they continued towards the river. They had six miles to cover before reaching their target. Manila looked like a painting from their vantage point, pin pricks of gold light shown through windows, larger street lamps and signs made big blotches of star shaped light. Wind whistled in Deckard’s ears as they glided deeper into the city.
Their next landmark was coming up, the river that weaved through the center of Manila. Bill adjusted his attack angle slightly, shifting left and pointing directly into the metro area where buildings jutted into the night sky like jagged teeth. The rest of Liquid Sky followed his lead as they assumed a file formation, one jumper after the other. Bill was first in the line, Deckard second. The other three were stacked up behind him.
It didn’t look like it did in the simulator but close enough. As he dumped altitude, Deckard could make out more details on the ground and see cars driving on the streets, the pedestrians below completely obvious to what was happening above them.
Deckard soared over the Rockwell building and knew he was getting close. He could see the soles of Bill’s boots has he shifted his weight again, trying to acquire the perfect angle. Deckard ignored what was going on below and focused straight ahead. He flew silently over seven more city blocks and then cleared the top of the Roxas building. It seemed like he was picking up speed, but the reality was that he had just gotten lower to the ground and his eyes could now judge how fast he was really going.
He steered carefully, making minute corrections as he blasted right through the city. The Petron Mega-Plaza towered over him on his right flank.
He held his position and shot between the two buildings. He lost track of Bill, fixating completely on his target. The Aquino building was dead in his sites. Then he was over Velasquez Park. Deckard pulled his chute.
He had walked through the maneuvers so many times that by now it was impossible for him not to do it right. The parachute caught in the air and Deckard swept in and landed right alongside the rooftop pool, touching down on both feet.
A Filipino security guard wearing a black polo shirt turned to Deckard as his parachute collapsed behind him. A Glock pistol was holstered on his hip and an unlit cigarette dangled from his lips. Deckard shrugged out of the wing suit sleeves, slapped for the MAC-10 hanging from his chest, snapped the rubber band and leveled the sub-machine gun. Flicking the safety off, Deckard zapped the guard with a suppressed burst that tore across his chest. The security guard was dead before he hit the ground.
Just then someone splashed into the pool like an elephant. Nadeesha hit the roof right behind Deckard and stumbled into him as he was unzipping his legs from the wing suit flap.
Deckard pulled his cutaway pillow to jettison his main parachute. He stepped over the body, heading straight for the pent house door. Bill was on the other side of the pool where he had put down. He took long strides, heading for the same doorway.
Zach had cut away his chute and was clawing his way out of the pool. No sign of Paul. He hadn’t made it.
They were ready to blow the door, but Bill wisely tried the knob first. He turned to Deckard and nodded. It was unlocked. He was up.
Bill flung the door open and Deckard stepped through. A half dozen guards sat at the dining room table playing cards. Deckard had the wire stock of the MAC-10 extended and tucked into his shoulder as he walked his bursts from left to right across the security crew. Bill was at his side a second later, working them from right to left. They met somewhere in the middle as the corpses slid to the floor.
That was when the other heavies rushed in from a side room. Bill and Deckard dived to the ground as pistol and sub-machine gun fire tore up the living room. A flashbang exploded, shattering one of the windows. Deckard rolled behind a couch that would offer concealment if not cover. Bill got behind a billiard table. It was one large open party space for De Jesus to entertain his guests with a dining area, hot tub, pool tables, and couches around a wide screen tv. Zach knelt down next to Bill. Nadeesha fired a few suppressive bursts as she slid in next to Deckard.
9mm bullets zipped right through the couch and ricocheted off the tile floor. De Jesus’ security detachment had better cover from behind the bar on the other side of the room. Deckard had the whole rest of his life to figure this one out. That gave him about half a second.
One of the card players at the dining room table had slipped out his chair and sprawled out on the floor. He had been sitting on an office chair with wheels on the bottom. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Bill and Zach try to pop up and return fire only to be driven back down as the gunmen sprayed them down with autofire.
They were pinned down with nowhere to break contact too and would be shot to pieces faster than they could blink.
Deckard broke cover and jumped onto the chair, rolling across the tile floor towards the bar. Holding down the trigger on the MAC-10 he fired right into the faces of the security guards as he raced up to meet them. They were so stunned by the unexpected move that the Filipinos were unable to react fast enough. He walked an line of .45 caliber rounds right across them until the back of his chair collided with the far wall.
Dropping his empty magazine, Deckard rammed a fresh stick into the pistol grip to reload. The gunfire had ceased for the moment as gun smoke lingered in the air. Five security men lay behind the bar, dead or dying. Deckard fired several mercy shots.
Bill ran for the bedroom and kicked in the door. Zach and Nadeesha were on his heels.
Deckard heard several stunted suppressed shots as he entered the bed room.
De Jesus lay on his shag carpet, bleeding out.
His chest heaved as the terrorist financier struggled to breath. Bill’s shots had collapsed his lungs. Zach stepped up and fire a couple bullets into his crouch causing him to shake and moan as blood bubbled around his lips.
Straight arming his MAC-10, Bill fired on full auto. He cycled through the entire magazine, blowing off the top of their target’s skull and splattering his brains all over the carpet.
“Cocksucker,” someone in the group remarked.
Bill reloaded his MAC-10.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
Back in the living area, Deckard saw numbers on the display next to the pent house elevator ticking up.
“We’re about to have company,” Deckard warned.
“Stay here and slow them down,” Bill ordered. “Nadeesha, you cover him. I don’t want these assholes shooting us on the way down to the park.”
Bill and Zach walked out to the patio next the pool and continued to the edge of the building. Deckard reached for a frag grenade in his kit and yanked the pin out while holding the spoon down. He looked to Nedeesha.
“You shoot, I’ll frag.”
“Alright,” she said as she shouldered the sub-machine gun.
When the elevator doors pinged open she raked the inside of the elevator with .45 caliber fire. Security personnel backed up into the back of the elevator, trying to hide along the sides and trying to hide behind each other. Deckard overhanded the grenade. It bounced once, then rolled into the elevator and detonated as the two Liquid Sky commandos hit the ground.
The elevator was bulged on the sides from the over pressure. Flaming pieces of insulation or foam tiling floated through the air. It was a slaughter house of torn limbs and torsos. The stench of burned flesh stung their noses.
Nadeesha stumbled over some debris. Deckard took her by the elbow and led her towards the door. Just as he was about to step outside he heard some banging behind him. Even over the ringing in his ears he could hear shouts and then gun shots. Looking over his shoulder he saw a metal door near the elevator shake as security guards on the other side fired their guns right through it.
The door shook as the guards began kicking it in, the lock barely holding.
“Shit,” Nadeesha cursed.
Deckard turned back around just in time to see Bill and Zach jump off the roof and disappear below the lip the building.
“They left us,” she said, exasperated.
He pushed Nadeesha outside as the door was kicked in. Deckard leaned back and fired one handed. The chatter box rattled in his hand as the bolt slid back and forth. The suppressor slowed the already low velocity rounds as he serviced the first target that bolted through the door. This was the security quick reaction force. They wore black uniforms and carried M4 rifles.
“I’m black!” Deckard yelled as he ran onto the patio and took cover behind a concrete planter.
Nadeesha picked up the rate of fire from a kneeling position next to him.
Deckard loaded his last magazine. They were only carrying enough gear to last them for a five minute surgical operation. Now they were in combat and running low on ammo fast. Letting the Ingram MAC-10 hang by the elastic bungee chord, he went back into his kit and quick attached the initiation system to the half block of C4 he carried. Pulling the time fuse, he stuck the charge in the planter.
Sixty seconds of time fuse.
It was to be used in case De Jesus retreated into a safe room they had missed during recon. Now the charge would cover their withdrawal.
Nadeesha went empty on her sub gun. Now it was Deckard’s turn to fire.
“Bound back,” he ordered Nadeesha between bursts.
The return fire was getting intense as a couple dozen guns for hire wearing full SWAT team get ups stormed the pent house. 5.56 rounds zinged and popped around him, many chipping into the planter he was taking cover behind. The kitchen windows exploded outwards as gunmen inside found new firing positions.
Nadeesha reloaded on the move and took a position next to a large heating and air conditioning unit on the roof near the pool. Deckard threw his last hand grenade at the open door as a couple security guards attempted a break out. Ducking behind the planter, the explosion stopped them dead in their tracks. At least for a few more seconds. As Nadeesha fired, Deckard ran back to her position.
“Jump!” He yelled in her ear over the gun fire. “I’ll cover you.”
She looked up at him with wide eyes.
Deckard popped around the corner of the HVAC unit and took single well placed shots with the MAC-10. He was almost out of the ammo and by his estimation, only 30 seconds of time fuse left. He caught another muzzle flash in the kitchen window so he fired a shot there and the muzzle flash seemed to go away.
Nadeesha turned to run for the edge of the building. She let out a scream as enemy gunfire hit her from behind. She stumbled and fell to the ground alongside the pool. Sensing wounded prey, the gunmen inside the penthouse fired on her, bullets chiseling the tile next to her and making splashes of water in the pool to her flank.
Deckard ran out into the open and laid down a suppressive fire with what he had left in the MAC-10 to quell their fire. The gun cycled empty and Deckard dropped it on the pool. Without slowing down, he scooped Nadeesha up and dragged her forward. He propelled both of them back behind another concrete planter. It was their last piece of cover, they were all out of building. A few feet away was a fifty five story fall to the streets below.
He tore her MAC-10 off her kit and shot a burst over the planter without sighting in on anyone specific. The guards were bounding out of the doorway and moving towards them. He could hear them trying to coordinate their movements in Tagalog.
Deckard looked over his partner. The rounds had tore apart her second parachute, the reserve she would need to get off the building.
“Fuck,” he cursed.
“Go,” she mumbled. “Just go.”
Time to go.
Deckard grabbed her hands and put them around the main lift web on his own parachute.
“Don’t let go for anything.”
Wrapping an arm around her, he dropped the MAC-10 and grabbed the ball on his parachute that pulled free the pilot chute.
He heard the enemy shouts as he stood up. Two steps forward and he was off the ledge and into the night.
Nadeesha’s scream died in her throat.
Deckard released the pilot chute as they dropped.
The C4 detonated as his parachute caught in the wind, clearing off the top of the Aquino building. The parachute popped open as they flashed by still lit offices in the building under the pent house. Nadeesha hung on to his parachute harness, her legs kicking in the empty air.
“Don’t let go!” she screamed.
“I have to!”
They were tracking forward and were seconds away from impacting the adjacent building. Deckard could see the desks and swivel chairs inside as they were about to slam into the window.
Releasing his hold around Nadeesha, he reached up and grabbed the parachute toggles. Yanking down hard on his right toggle, they cut a hard turn. The two of them dangling under the parachute, they nearly brushed up against the office building.
Nadeesha looked like she was about to panic. She pulled herself up as she held on to the harness and wrapped her legs around him.
Deckard knew they were burning altitude fast. The street lights below swirled like a kaleidoscope as he twisted and turned the parachute, angling towards the Ayala Gardens.
A military parachute was designed to safely carry two entangled jumpers and their equipment to the ground. This wasn’t a military parachute.
They were coming in hard, their feet passing just a couple meters above the Paseo Center before they cleared it and went out over the gardens. Deckard wanted to make an adjustment to keep them out of the trees but nothing he did mattered at this point.
The ground came up to meet them. Deckard grunted as he made impact and slid on the wet grass. Rolling, his vision redded out for a second when the back of his head hit something. He felt a weight on his chest as the parachute collapsed on top of him.
He opened his eyes to see Nadeesha almost nose to nose with him. Her pink lips were next to his as they both took short ragged breaths. It was dark underneath the parachute, everything forgotten for a moment.
Nadeesha buried her face in Deckard’s neck as she held on to him.
“Ho-ly she-it,” a low pitched voice said.
“Did they come in on one chute?” another asked.
“That was some gangster ass shit.”
Deckard tried to sit up with Nadeesha on top of him.
Bill and Ramon tore the parachute off of them. The accidental tandem jumpers were now hopelessly entangled in their parachute and the suspension lines.
“Fucking hell,” Rick said as he ran up to them. “It was like the entire rooftop blew up as you fell off.”
Zach came up and joined Bill and Ramon who were using their knives to cut through the suspension lines. Deckard sat up with Nadeesha on his lap.
“Thanks for covering our withdrawal,” Deckard said dryly.
That snapped Nadeesha back into the zone.
“Yeah, thanks for nothing you assholes.”
“I thought you were covering our withdrawal,” Zach insisted.
“We did and were hoping you might do the same.”
“Whatever,” Bill said cutting in. “Stop complaining. You’re alive.”
Nadeesha shook her way out of the suspension lines and stormed off. Deckard undid the buckles on his harness and dropped it. Police sirens were approaching in the distance.
“Time to boogey,” Ramon said.
Deckard left the tangled parachute as they ran for the van. They didn’t have time to police it up and none of the gear could be traced back to them anyway. As the first red and blue lights came flashing up to the park Ramon fired a burst into the hood of the police car. The cops got the message and did not pursue, opting to call for back up instead.
Liquid Sky piled into the back of the van. Ramon took the wheel and began navigating through the Manila streets as they left the gardens.
The police had already thrown up one road block heading out of the metropolitan area. Ramon threw a light jacket on over his kit. The others stayed in the back of the windowless van so that they would not be seen.
“A little something for you,” Ramon told the cop in Tagalog as he handed him a folded bill.
“Have a good night,” the policemen said with a smile.
Liquid Sky explosively breached the mockup with a flex linear charge. The explosion sent wooden splinters everywhere as the door burst into six or seven pieces. They put Deckard up front as the first man through the door, reminding him that as the new guy on the team, he was still nothing more than cannon fodder.
Ramon had called back to the staging area to tell them that he had secured Ingram MAC-10’s with suppressors for the mission from the Philippines’ extensive black market. They would just have to make do in training with the M4 paintball guns. It was an imperfect world.
Deckard stepped over the broke door and cleared the first corner. It was a wide open living space, framed out by bare plywood walls. Second hand furniture had also been placed inside the mockup. Ramon’s intel was that De Jesus routinely hired hookers from Manila’s most famous upscale whore house, Air Force One. Regularly attended by Ambassadors and Generals, Air Force One was where you went to score some “Tier One ass” as Bill had put it.
Deckard also noticed that although they were expecting civilians on target, all of their targetry in the mockup were shoot targets. None of the silhouettes were no-shoot targets. Everyone in the apartment was being marked for death.
Point shooting the first target, Deckard put two blue paint rounds center mass. He and Zach then cleared the kitchen area, taking down another two targets. Practicing a form of room clearing known as free flow, they had the entire apartment cleared in seconds.
The worst part was that they had to clear the entire objective while still wearing their wing suits. There would be no time to take them off, just unzip a slit between the legs so they could walk and escape from the wings by rolling back the sleeves. Once they hit the rooftop they would release their main parachute via a cutaway pillow and begin the killing. How the MAC-10 and spare magazines would be arranged on their kit was something that was still being worked out.
Then, once the apartment was covered in blood and spent brass they had to exfil with their reserve parachute, a stunt chute designed for base jumpers in this case. The entire mission was Hollywood as hell in Deckard’s opinion. The only reason why it would work was because no one would be expecting it.
Liquid Sky hit the training objective five more times. Nadeesha had her jet black hair pulled back and was now covered in sweat like the rest of them. So far, she was keeping up on target. No one was talking to her though, she was considered an outsider to the assault element.
After dropping their kit, the team guzzled bottled water from a cooler they had brought along and piled into a van to head back to the warehouse. They ate an early lunch and then went into the simulator. Ramon had left remote devices in two rented offices in buildings near the Aquino building. They knew the target was on site. Meanwhile, Ramon had secured their weapons and was building up their logistical infrastructure for the operation.
They were making progress in the simulator. Everyone was itching to do the hit.
Deckard bailed off the ramp of the virtual reality airplane and into the night for what seemed like the thousandth time.
He counted off the numbers.
Thread the needle between Four Seasons and the Grand Soko Makati.
Deckard’s body screamed into the target as his parachute joltingly interrupted his descent and he crashed onto the rooftop.
This time the entire team made it to the rooftop. It was the decisive point of the entire operation. If they successfully infiltrated to the objective, then the breach and room clearing aspects would be fairly straight forward by comparison. Then there was the exfil.
That could go either way.
* * *
“Deckard, come with me,” Bill said. They were just finishing dinner. “Grab your kit.”
Tossing his paper plate and Styrofoam cup into the trash, Deckard shouldered his parachute and wing suit. Bill had his gear as well and opened the back doors to the 10 pax van they had outside. They both dumped their kit inside and Bill got behind the wheel.
“Where are we going?” Deckard asked as he took the passenger seat.
“Yeah, you are the most switched on so you’re coming with me. Consider this a feasibility study.”
“You still don’t think jumping with night vision goggles will work?” Deckard asked him as they pulled off down the dirt road towards the airstrip.
“Too many lights in the metropolitan areas of the city. If your night vision whites out for even a second, that second is more than enough to kill you.”
“There should be enough cultural lighting to find our way to the objective,” Deckard agreed.
“Let’s find out.”
Bill stopped the van. The Twin Otter turbo prop was spun up and waiting for them on the airfield. The pilot opened the window and waved them forward. Picking up their gear, Bill and Deckard climbed aboard and set their altimeters. It was pitch dark in the desert when the pilot lifted off. The two Liquid Sky operators began donning their wing suits and parachutes.
Bill seemed huge inside the aircraft, as if the plane had been built for midgets. He got bigger just by looking at weights. Deckard knew he must have been going crazy without being able to hit the gym and drink a steady stream of protein shakes. As the plane leveled out, he leaned in close so that Deckard could hear him over the noise of the turbo props.
“What do you think the chances are of us actually pulling this off?” he asked.
“It all depends on whether or not we can get to the objective. If so, I would say 95 percent,” Deckard answered.
“What do you think are the odds of getting to the objective then?”
“Fair enough. Let’s find out.”
Bill turned and sat down, taking up two seats.
Deckard sat down and checked his equipment over. He started getting nervous when he realized they were heading North. They were flying towards Darwin, one of Australia’s northern most cities. By plane, it was about an hour away.
They sat in the dimly lit cabin, the plane vibrating beneath their feet. Finally, Bill went up and said something to the pilot. Coming back into the cabin he leaned in to yell into Deckard’s ear.
“I found a building in Dawin that is about the same dimensions as the Aquino Building. It is the Marrakai apartment building. Just follow me. We’re going to prove that this can be done tonight. Illum is bright so we should be good to go.”
To say that Deckard had reservations was the understatement of the century. He had learned to control his wing suit very well but didn’t know any of the landmarks in Darwin. All he could do was follow Bill and hope for the best. If he missed the target building he would have to deploy his chute and land in the street or something, hopefully avoiding any electrical lines.
Bill opened the door on the side of the aircraft. Cold air rushed in, an old familiar feeling.
Deckard put on his helmet, strapping it under his chin. Then he reached up to swing down his VR goggles. He was glad that Bill didn’t see him make that subconscious mistake. There was nothing virtual about this run.
Bill placed his feet at the edge of the door and carefully leaned out to spot for their job. Looking at the lights of Darwin in the distance, he motioned Deckard forward. Deckard look at the back of Bill’s neck, right where his spinal chord connected to his skull. He wished he could kill him now and get it over with but he had to find out who Bill was working for. Otherwise, his handlers would just spin up another team after Liquid Sky had been eliminated. A minute later, Bill leaned in and gave him the thumbs up.
Stepping forward, Bill jumped out into the darkness and disappeared.
Deckard took a deep breath and followed him out.
A rush of wind took him out into the night sky. He saw the moon wobble in front of him for a moment and then got stable in the air. Assuming the correct body position, he began gliding. It took a moment for him to spot Bill in the moonlight. he was just a black splotch floating through the sky. Deckard maneuvered behind him as they nosed over the harbor towards the city.
Deckard began to relax a little. Everything was quiet and peaceful as he floated over the harbor. They had about ten miles to fly before they reached their drop zone. Down below, he spied the lights of a few oil tankers heading into port. Up ahead, Bill began adjusting his angle of attack. Darwin was coming up fast.
They soared over the port, coming in low. The city scape all looked the same, low laying structures and houses everywhere except for two towers straight ahead. One was the Holiday Inn. The other was their target building. Deckard shifted his position to the left, offset of Bill. Getting caught in each other’s canopies was a serious concern.
The two jumpers were nearly side by side when they deployed their parachutes. The pilot chute pulled out their main parachutes, ribbons of suspension lines going taunt above their heads. Reaching up and grabbing his toggles, Deckard made final adjustments. The roof of the building was dark, but the apartments below had their lights on, providing a perfect outline of the top of the building for them.
Bill and Deckard’s canopies were nearly touchingmas they landed parallel to each other. They touched down on the roof feeling feather light for once, both landing on their feet. The parachutes collapsed next to them as they quickly reeled in one brake line to make sure it didn’t get caught in the soft sea breeze.
“That’s it,” Bill said as he scooped up his parachute. “This can be done. My guys are just mind fucking themselves at this point. They’ve got enough training. It is what it is.”
“It is doable,” Deckard agreed as he policed up his own chute.
“Find us an exit,” Bill ordered him. “Then you hot wire a vehicle for us. Consider it urban escape and evasion training.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Deckard took off his parachute harness, rolled up the chute like a sleeping bag and shoved it into its deployment bag. He could repack it later.
“When we get back I’m telling Ramon that we are coming in tomorrow for the hit. We jump and whoever makes it makes it. Whoever dies, dies. Its not like this is my first crew.”
“This isn’t your first team?”
“Fuck no. I broke all the others.”
Deckard tried not to dwell on that as he looked for a way to bypass the lock on the roof top door.
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 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 and 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 noticed, 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 ripchord 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 objective.
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.
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, 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 the wakes 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 a 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 of 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, bust 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.”
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.
Chapter Five (Part One):
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.”
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.
“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 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.”
As the janga truck slowed, 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 winded 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. So be it.
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 buttstuck 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 and 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 as he hit the nearly 90 degree slope and begin somersaulting all the way down to the river.
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 a good 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.
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 has 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 of 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, Deckard undoing 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.
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.
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 has last been in Afghanistan less than six months ago with Samruk International when they cleared out a 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.
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 a 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 who?
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.”
“Vigilante Dirty Harry shit, assassinating terrorists. Working as a singleton to rescue a Delta team in Colombia.”
“Rumors going around that you almost started a war with the Chinese in Burma, cleaning out one of these Hadji 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. Was that you?”
“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?”
“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.
“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. “You’re 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 maldoons 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 didn’t exist in Delta.
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 physic 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.
“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.”
“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 Hadji doesn’t skull fuck us while our backs are turned. I’ll release you once we get close to the target compound.”
“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.
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