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DIRECT ACTION: Chapter Five (Part Two)

SEAL_Samruk_130304

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 to 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 but 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 a 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. “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 is 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 as a veteran 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 passers by. 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 Islamist radicals. 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 along 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 Hadji 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 see.”

“Do that bitch Deckard,” Rick told him. “Go only 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 thicken 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 to 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 bodybags. A dozen others were flown to Ramstein Airforce base and then to Walter Reed with critical injuries.

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Filed under Action Adventure, Military Fiction

DIRECT ACTION, Chapter Five (Part One)

SEAL_Samruk_130304

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.”

“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.”

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.

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Filed under Military Fiction

DIRECT ACTION, Chapter Four

SEAL_Samruk_130304

Chapter 4

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.

“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 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.

“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 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.”

“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 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?”

“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.

“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 Hadji 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.

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DIRECT ACTION, Chapter 3

SEAL_Samruk_130304

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 he was on had just touched down in the bizarre city where every other jerk off had a 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 their Private Military Company, 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, at a lose 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 bare 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 envelop. “I think you are all set.”

Deckard popped open the envelop and slid a handful of documents into his hand, a blue US passport staring up at him. It was a full identify 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 you’re above all that now?”

“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.

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DIRECT ACTION: Chapter Two (part two)

SEAL_Samruk_130304

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. They 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 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.

His 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 through 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.

Shaking 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 trail 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 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 along side him as they scaled the wall.

Staying in the shadows cast by the wall, the Samruk mercenaries ran 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 nearly 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 port. 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. They 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 and knocked them to the ground.

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 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, predictably, 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 Special Forces selection with? A Ranger buddy from back in the Regiment? 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. Half the guys in the military had similar or identical tattoos.

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.

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DIRECT ACTION: Chapter One (part 2)

SEAL_Samruk_130304

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 team mates 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. 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 based out of 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 who’s place of birth was listed as Sri Lanka. They were 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 a 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 gang 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.

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The Three Best Novels About Assassins

The professional assassin is a different animal than the professional soldier.  For one thing, the assassin is almost always working outside of the law while the soldier works within it…mostly anyhow.  The professional assassin isn’t some amateur going off half assed like some kind of gangland thug.  He is a meticulous planner who games specific situations and specific targets, coming up with a specialized operation which applies to that target’s routines and patterns of life.  Take for instance, Teddy Medina an NPA assassin in the Philippines.  He trained for about ten minutes a day, every day, on drawing his .45 caliber handgun from concealment and executing his target.  To that end, he became very adept at planning his hits.  On the other hand you have professional soldiers, let’s take one from the same era: Jerry “Mad Dog” Shriver who served in MACV-SOG in Vietnam.  Jerry was a soldier and like other SOG troops, would train with a variety of weapons, not just a .45.  These guys had to know how to use CAR-15’s, M79 grenade launchers, hand grenades, pistols, and even technical induction based eavesdropping equipment.  The skill sets they had to master were more general because of the number of threats and situations they faced in the jungles of South East Asia.  Still, there is something that has always held the popular imagination about the assassin, including the realm of fiction.  Let’s take a minute to look at a couple of my favorite fictional and semi-fictional assassins.

Wesley

bomb_trade

A Bomb Built in Hell is one of the best books I’ve ever read.  Aside from the relevant social commentary, Andrew Vachss’ first novel pulls no punches, a style he became well known for years later.  Wesley is a small time con who gets recruited by a mobster in prison who begins to teach him assassin trade craft so that he can kill the man who betrayed him once Wesley gets out of prison, as the mafioso is in for life.  The techniques Wesley learns are chilling but effective as you see when he gets out of the joint and starts plying his trade.  Well ahead of its time, A Bomb Built in Hell was way too hardcore for polite society, forcing Vachss to shelve it for years.  It was only recently that it finally made it to print.

Court Gentry

Thegrayman

Court Gentry is another mysterious assassin who is right up there with Wesley.  Court also started off as a criminal until he got recruited into a CIA initiative to conduct covert operations.  After 9/11 shit got real, maybe a little too real and Court got burned by the Agency.  Now he works as a freelance singleton operator.  The first in the series, The Gray Man, is one of the best action-adventure books out there these days.  Court pisses off some very powerful people who put out a high end contract on him, a contract that the world’s intelligence services and Special Operations forces respond too.  Maybe the most interesting of Court’s opposition is an equally mysterious operative from South Korea, another singleton operator who does missions in North Korea.  This is must read book.

The Clinic

The Feather Men

I have mixed feelings about The Clinic as portrayed in The Feathermen, later made into a “okay” film called Killer Elite.  The Clinic is actually a bunch of low life sociopathic assassins who square off with another non-official group called The Feathermen.  The Feathermen act like guardian angels for British SAS soldiers, protecting them from the likes of the IRA and others.  I’ve been told that such groups really exist, for both the SAS and SBS.  The Clinic consists of a former US Marine as team leader with two others, including a technician who knows how to sabotage cars and helicopters.  The Clinic specializes in making their assassinations look like accidents, or at least something other than what they are.  The book is about a tribal leader in Oman who hires the Clinic to go and kill the SAS men who were behind killing his family members year prior.  But The Feathermen is also problematic, the author wrote the book with the byline “fact or fiction?” and openly concedes that he blended fact and fiction, that the groups and people in it are real but that much of the book was fictionalized, leaving the reader to determine which is which.  I would say that the reader is best off regarding the entire book as a work of clever fiction and nothing more.

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Vote for your favorite character in the Deckard series!

Hey folks, I am taking a poll right now.  Who is your favorite character from the Deckard series of novels?  Please go and vote here.

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New Samruk International Art

From the cover artist of Reflexive Fire and Target Deck comes a new piece of art depicting the goings on of Deckard’s Private Military Company, Samruk International.  Well done Marc!  Check out the rest of Marc’s art here.

SEAL_Samruk_130304

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Benghazi Hits the New York Times Bestseller List

NYTbestseller

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28/Feb/2013 · 03:17