The Mini-burger

FanFic in the Birmoverse

No Bravery

We walked into the cool darkness of the building.  The two officers we were meeting, were sharply contrasted by the hash sunlight in the courtyard beyond them.  Both were intent on the stone floor at their feet and were wearing desert digitals and the new, uncomfortable, K-pot helmets, the advanced ones like the Captain and I had, with integrated combat goggles.


“You can tell this boy was alive when they mutilated him because of the pattern of the blood sprays,” came the soft southern voice of First Lieutenant Margie Francois.  She was from the original cadre of Medical Officers incorporated into the United States Marine Corps and headed up the team of the local UN STOp (United Nations Syrian Theatre of Operations) War Crimes Unit.


“See this long line coming from that one point, near the foot print,” she continued, “that’s indicative of him being stabbed in the femoral artery.  Of course, he was still alive, his heart still beating, you can see how it pulses out wards.”  She paused to examine the scene a bit further, “He was conscious and probably being held.  Again, the movement of the blood pattern,” she said making a sweeping motion with her arm, “and the smears,” she continued “like he was struggling while he was bleeding out and not being able to get away.” Lt Francois continued instructing a new acolyte, a young Ensign whose tag said his mom was Mrs Phelan and patches said he was off the new littoral ship the Carlos R. Norris. 


Captain Jones and I halted in the shadows and watched quietly.

“How do you know it was a male subject?” the boy Ensign asked.

“James” she said turning to the young officer, “‘it’, was a little boy, three maybe four years old.  See the size of that hand print?  And I know ‘it’ was a boy because all of the girls suffered a very different fate, just as lethal, but different.  He’d already lost his parents and family, or else he wouldn’t be here, he had no one else in the world. They’re all human James, remember that, all were alive, all wanting to live, to be loved and be happy.  Someone took that away, don’t make them anonymous, don’t take away their humanity.”

“Yes ma’am,” said Ensign Phelan.


“Now,” said Francois, “Check what we’ve found out with the crime scene photos, Special Ops channel 4.”  Both pulled the Combat Goggles over their faces. Jones signalled for me to do the same.


“Whoa.”  Jones exclaimed.  The virtual forensics of the murder scene leapt into view, full colour, 3D, up close and personal. 


In an effort to ensure non-combatant fatalities were dealt with, within their religious and regional contexts, and to assure crime scene integrity, all UN patrols in Syria were equipped with SCIDs, Simplified Criminal Investigation Devices, for recording civilian deaths, murder scenes, ambushes and atrocities.  The four, very high resolution cameras of the device, scanned and recorded the crime scene digitally, using a combination of the new GPS III, high intensity multi-lights and the military equivalent of the latest iPod.  A skilled operator could record a 3 dimensional crime scene overlay, examinable down to fingerprint level, and able to be displayed in any of the current issue of Combat Goggles, in a few minutes.  Unfortunately UN STOp troops were becoming experts in its use.  


Phelan flipped back his goggles taking a deep breath through his nose, “I’ve just got to check something with ballistics,” he mumbled before quick marching from the nursery.


“May I?” interrupted Captain J L Jones, indicating that he wanted to enter the crime scene.


“Certainly, Captain, forensics have finished, I was just instructing young James on some of the finer points of crime scene interpretation.  Careful where you walk, though.”


Jones made his way carefully, tip toe, past the abstract sprays of clotting blood, small blackened shards of flesh and stark splinters of bone.  I stayed put, turning off the scene of dead children and the truncated army boots of the original troops who’d discovered this latest horror, from my goggles. 


We had all gotten used to the suffocating smells of blood and shit.  Any whiff these little bits of tissue might have caused, was lost in the overall slaughterhouse stink of the entire country.  Flies were buzzing in the warming day and starting to show some interest in what remained on the floor and walls.  It wouldn’t be nice as the day heated up.


“Well?” she said.

“They used the adult bodies to contaminate the town reservoir,” said Jones tight lipped.


Marjorie nodded not looking Jones in the face.

“Thirty four including one of the two regular nurses and both of the security contractors we’d hired.  Americans, former Recon, good guys.  I think the other adult we found was just a cleaner, a local man.”


She nodded staring at the clotted pool of the little boy’s blood.

“Not good,” she said quietly, more to herself.  “Any leads?” she said looking up at the tall, black Marine Corps Captain.

“The cleaner’s the only one we don’t know.  He’s a local, there’s some ID, we’re on to it.  I dunno, probably not,” he replied.


The silence stretched out.


“This is the fourth,” she said with emphasis.

“That we know of,” Jones replied.


“They should be better protected.” she said as she rubbed her forehead with the back of her gloved hand.  She looked tired.

“They shouldn’t need to be protected at all, this was an orphanage for Christ sake, two others were food distribution centres, free supermarkets,” the big man shook his head, “and the first was a medical centre, Medicine Sans Frontier.  Gone, wiped out, 45 cal to the head, slaughtered, just one survivor.  Anyone of the locals that got the food or received treatment, dead cut down like dogs.  Geez,” he pondered, “got to be a crew of at least fifteen, twenty fucken hard, hard men.”


“No, Lonesome,” said the Doctor, making some notes on her flexipad, “half a dozen would be more than enough, you’re thinking like a soldier not a criminal.  They have fear on their side, fear and surprise.  Someone at each end of the main street of these pokey little hamlets, couple of heavies with the leader in the middle ‘Who has betrayed Allah!’ strutting ‘round, like the cock sure bullies they are.  Enough will point a finger at their neighbours, someone who has more or someone they just didn’t like.  And he just walks up to them and kills them, pops them in the forehead, no one runs.  And their neighbours get to take the spoils.  These are unsophisticated people Jones.  Fear works.”


The two were standing close, surrounded by gore and buzzing flies.  Both, in this little tableau of privacy looked down, each further hardened by this latest indignation. 


Francois took a deep breath through gritted teeth, careful to avoid inhaling any of the fat, lazy blow flies circling the middle of the room.  “But this was different,” pointing her stylus at nothing in particular.


“Ballistics say the cartridges are from the same guns, but the torture.  The time they have taken and the obvious,” she shook her head “care, it’s no longer a political statement.  The killers were already feeding off these communities, now they’re starting to enjoy themselves.  I gotta get out of here.”


She walked quickly out of the confines of nursery, with its shadows and blood and flies, and unheard screams of babies and children.  I followed them into the morning sunshine, away from the defiled orphanage and into the almost cleansing bright light.  It wasn’t a safe area but it was safe enough so I could relax a little and rely on electronics to look out for us.


“This isn’t like cops in Chicago with a murder,” she said. “This is a gang of serial killers, they could not have gotten any worse, but they just did.  Jones, we have to stop them,” the LT was pleading.

“My hands are tied, I know we can hunt them but I don’t have the ‘okay’.”  Captain Jones stood watching her as she shook her head and walked off.


The Captain turned stared me with a deeply pained look on his normally immobile face.


“Come on, boss,” I said, “We’ve got to finish up in town.”

Jones put his sunglasses on as we got in the Panther Armoured Recon Vehicle and headed back into the village.



Two days later we were in the office of Lieutenant Colonel Lowberger of the Judge Advocate General’s Corp – United Nations Syrian Theatre of Operations (JAG-UNSTOp).


“Sit down Captain, Lieutenant.  Gunnery Sergeant?”  said Lowberger.   


The office used to be inhabited by the airport’s maintenance engineer, the janitor.  As you’d imagine, the janitor of a very small rural airport in the middle of the desert, didn’t rate too large an office.  Nudie pictures still adorned the one rusted locker and the faint whiff of formaldehyde would grow stronger as the day warmed.


The two officers sat in front of Colonel Lowberger and I stood by the door.

“You have the smell of the bush on you,” he said, “Can I get you some refreshments, a fruit beverage, perhaps? Something made from the pilsener tree.”  He smiled boyishly at them both. 


Lowberger stretched his frame to the small bar fridge cunningly disguised as a filing cabinet and extracted three cans of ice cold beer saying “I am just a simple Australian solicitor on secondment to the United Nations and don’t know y’all high falutin, ‘Merican rules and regulations.  Catch.” 


The two officers caught the icy cans, popped the tops and drank keenly, I signalled a polite negative to the JAG Officer, not that I was actually offered one.  He waited until his guests had quenched their thirsts.  The good lady Doctor letting rip a resounding burp of which she smiled coquettishly to.


“You pair have had the unfortunate experience of being caught up in four of the last five massacres involving the group we’ve designated as ‘Algul-An’, the vampire, in fact Algul-An is really just a big leech but it’s close enough for government work and quite appropriate.”  He rubbed the icy can across his brow before leaning forward and putting it on his desk next to a thick folder.


“Forensics have been able to identify six separate individuals involved in this group.  Boot prints, fingerprints and some vague eye witness accounts were all we had until this last,” he paused “incident.  Now we have six positive separate identities on DNA, but they are not recorded anywhere.”


“Captain, I understand you have expressed some eagerness to hunt these people down.” Queried the Lt-Col.

“Yes sir” answered Jones.


“Good.  But I’m afraid you are going to be limited in man power and you won’t have long to do it.  Your company will continue winding down,”  Lowberger said, holding up his hand to forestall any interruption from Francois. 

“We can’t drag a team of homicide detectives in here to quiz the locals,” he continued, “their drinking alone would destroy everything we’ve tried to accomplish, let alone their limited chances of survival on a battlefield.  So, you are it.  I can only offer you an intell-analyst and four other-ranks to do the leg work.  You can however, pick your own 2IC, presumably the good sergeant there.” 


Lowberger looked to Francois and said formally, “Doctor, you are here at this briefing purely as a courtesy, you are too important to be allowed to leave your duties to undertake the field part of this investigation.  I hope you understand.”

“Yes sir, will I be kept informed?” she said.


“That is up to the Captain.  Now Jones, I will need you to go through these briefs of evidence with Lieutenant Anne Coulthard, your new intello, and present me with an investigation plan first thing in the morning.  She knows the procedures and is very capable.  The clock is ticking on this and we need results.”  Lowberger sat there expectantly.


“Sir, can I ask why so few resources are being allocated, I mean how many dead people have we got 60 – 70?” said Jones.

“Fair question,” said Lohberger, “Back in 2000 or so, some European Union scientist, made a study of investigations by high achievers – all sorts of scientific, criminal, political enquiries, and found that simply throwing money and manpower at those types of problems did not result in their timely resolution.  Restrict the resources, the time and personnel, and people like you Captain, will shine through.  Any more questions, that’s it, you’re both dismissed.”  Both stood to attention, I grabbed the door and opened it for the officers to leave.


“Oh one other thing Captain, you too Sergeant” Francois left room as Jones turned back to the LtCol.  I closed the door behind Francois.  Lowberger withdrew a sheet of paper from one of the folders, turned it around and slid it over in front of Jones.


“That, Captain Jones, is a duly signed and authorised Sanction 3 document.  It is a new, not secret but certainly unadvertised section in the Universal Military Code of Justice under which we operate.” Lowberger began to read, “You are empowered and directed to summarily execute any and all of those people you and your appointed 2nd in command, believe participated, planned or facilitated any of the events that took place on either February the 12th 2011 at Palmyra involving the deaths of ….”



Jones met with Coulthard in a demountable office in the car park of UNSTOp’s field headquarters at Arak’s aerodrome.  The aluminium clad box had seen better days.  Its air conditioner had beat a hasty retreat about the time of Operation Just Cause, the invasion of Panama in the late 80’s, and hadn’t worked since.  There was no insulation in the roof, it having been appropriated by the local rodent community and the plasma screens hadn’t been replace by cooler running DCD ones and were  adding, exponentially, to the build up of heat inside.  The only things that made it bearable were the cool breeze coming through the open door in the afternoon and the fact that the War Crimes/JAG unit was run by the Australians, so the soda machine was stocked full of ice cold beer, only costing a five dollar (US) coin a can – open 5pm ‘til late.


Coulthard had already completed an in depth analysis of the evidence of the five murder scenes.


“What it boils down to,” said the young blond Marine, “is that we have an identifiable group of six men, fanatics.  As individuals they have become serial killers, rapists, necrophiles – utter dregs, but they were drawn together, originally, by their extreme religion and politics, and have now formed a grouping I have never found anywhere else.  A large cluster of serial killers acting in tandem, co-operating to commit some truly horrible crimes and operating in quite a small geographical area.  They know the area in which they have been operating in, very well.  Their escape and evasion techniques have been first rate and show strong local knowledge, although probably not local help.” 


Coulthard checked the briefing paper and continued, “I assess they were regular Syrian army or militia trained, due to their firearms’ and general discipline.  That is up until this last event.   Not the sort of trigger happy stuff we expect from JI or LT.   They were probably already well known in their local communities for their radical beliefs, and their behaviour would really be making them stand out now, they simply could not go about their normal lives after what they have done.  They may even have withdrawn from their community and are living together in the one place.”


She continued, “The men would consider themselves equals, but the one with the old style .45 pistol is the one that really calls the shots, excuse the pun.  I don’t know why they went from straight political murder of foreigners and their helpers, to the massacre at the villages and then the orphanage, but there were rumours that the orphanage housed the offspring from illicit liaisons between local women and UNSTOp Forces.  We haven’t been here long enough for that to be true but as they say in the classics ‘never let the truth get in the way of a good story.’”


“So where can I find them?”  Jones asked.

“Not sure,” she mumbled around the chewed end of a pencil, “but we do have a last known address for the missing and hopefully surviving nurse from the orphanage and there’s the family of the murdered cleaner.  Plus I should be able to put a patchwork together of overflights, photo recon, even weather satellites to try and back track their escape route.  But that will take a lot of time and the rest of the crew.”



The clapped out Fiat had more dents than a golf ball, and I was sure the smell coming from the hot engine was not a sign of good health, still it got us inconspicuously into Tadmur.


Like the rest of the country, the town had been heavily depopulated by bird flu that swept around the world ‘09-‘10.  The bird flu, a stomach virus from domestic fowls, became known as the chicken dance and was, in part, responsible for the Syrian insurgents moving from their rural strong holds to the derelict towns and cities.  It wasn’t long before the government was screaming for UN help.  Long memories in the Syrian old guard demanded a British and Commonwealth pre-eminence.  But those countries economies had been shattered by the depression not just fractured like the US.  So another coalition of the willing was reluctantly hauled together, but with a Brit General in charge and Americans doing his bidding.  All sorts of conspiracy theories grew out of this as it was the UN incursion that so helped the US economy recover during the depression.


The car braked surprisingly quietly.  We sat there for a second.  The sun pumping the temperature up in the car uncomfortably.  Another tough day in the office.


Contrary to popular mythology, not every Arabic man carried a Kalashnikov, mostly those appeared only when there was a camera from Al Jazeera or CNN near by.  So we got out of the car apparently unarmed and dressed in loose pants, jacket and hatta in the local style.


When Coulthard said she had an address for the missing nurse, what she meant was a half assed description of some side street in a tiny hovel on the outskirts of a not much bigger village a few kilometres from where the orphanage murders took place.  The only saving grace was that with the added income, the nurse had signed up for satellite TV for her family. And there was only the one small dish in the street.


It was approaching midday.  The dusty street was baked dry.  Anyone with any sense was out of the sun, waiting for the shadows to lengthen.


The nurse lived in a 2 floor terrace style house.  The quality of its construction showed it was built during the brief period of Soviet patronage.   A skinny dog looked at us reflectively from a shaded spot underneath a utility box.  At least someone wasn’t un-happy to see us. 


We approached the front door as casually as we could.  The Captain over by the wall, me skirting past the battered green Toyota 4×4 parked at an angle out front, its engine ticking as it cooled.  Three squat aerials were mounted longways down the centre of the roof.  It looked like a standard mobile phone/IED jammer.  


This was about number ‘3’ on the list of rotten things I didn’t want to have to face today.  Someone had beaten us to the nurse. 


Jones had his newly issued H&K personal defence weapon out, as I checked the SUV for occupants.  He signalled to the door.  As I strode up to it, I flipped over my shortened 1014 shot gun and reloaded a couple of nano-febrile rounds, door busters.  This wasn’t a good situation. 


The terrace block was a very solid brick construction, recently whitewashed and no easy way to the rear.  First rule of house entry: never go through the front door.   Second rule of house entry: since you’ll probably have to go through the front door check that it’s not locked before you kick it in. This one was unlocked.


I eased the door open, willing its hinges not to squeak.  I was met with stairs running up the darkened interior to my right and a long hallway leading to the rear yard straight ahead.  One closed door lead off the hall, another off the top of the stairs.  A muffled thump and harsh whispers told me our target was upstairs.  The skipper touched my shoulder and pointed up.  There was small landing at the top which simplified things.  I mounted the stairs, head up watching the door with the shot gun pointing at where I was looking. The first step I took, I pushed my foot hard against the stringer at the edge the tread, less chance of it making any noise with my weight on it, and made my way to the top of the stair.  I could feel the Captain moving behind me as he alternated between checking below us and in front of us.  We really should have cleared downstairs first. This was not a good situation.


When only the shot gun and the top of my head were level with the floor, I began quartering what I could see of the room under the door.  I ease to my right, a bit further, Jones moved past me onto the landing.  I saw the first pair of boots.  A quick look at the door and frame, it should be alright it opened inwards. 


The muffled squeal from the room was followed by a thud against the door.  A body fell to the floor and I saw a female’s hand.  The boots I’d seen, stepped forward and kicked, I signalled to Jones.  He hit the door.  Hard.  Both frame and door were swept inwards with the Captain, hitting and dropping the assailant behind it.  I was up and moving over the downed door which Jones was still on, pinning the two bodies underneath. 


Thank God there were only the two bad guys.  The second was at the window fumbling to unsling his gun.  I fired twice.  The door buster rounds expanded massively on contact with the target, dumping all their kinetic energy fairly shallowly.  The results were … dramatic.  The body was down, weapon out of its hand.  I turned and saw the skipper clearly had the advantage over the other bad guy.  I removed the rest of the weapons from the still shuddering corpse near the window, wincing at the shredded chest and turned to help Jones with our unconscious captive.





Two down.  Both were confirmed as being on the ‘Algul-An’ DNA data base.  Traces of the other four were found in the four wheel drive.  The men had now been identified as coming from a small police outpost in Tiyas, on the other side of the Roman city of Palmyra from the UN base.  They were the local Gendarmerie as well as specialising in pipeline security.  They disappeared just after the coup and the Syrian Militia had written them off, thinking they had been kidnapped by insurgents.  Or joined them.


Before we set about interrogating the survivor, Jones and I decided we’d try the good cop-bad cop thing.  We’d both seen it on TV and it had worked there.  Lucky me, I got to be the bad cop. 


Three of us entered the interrogation suite at Arak airbase.  Jones, myself and Coulthard to interpret.


The interrogation suite was just a short shipping container propped up on some wooden blocks, no windows but some sort of a breeze wafted up through the wooden floor.  The lights on the ceiling balanced the harsh glare coming from the gaps in the floor. 


Our captive didn’t look like a monster, I supposed they never do.  His clothes were neat enough for the local standard, hair moderately short, beard neatly trimmed.  He was a bit on the scrawny side but had that confident look in his eyes.  His warm smile, when we walked in, was a bit disconcerting.


Jones dismissed the Shore Patrol guard and sat down across the wooden table from our captive.  I moved beside the man getting very much inside his personal space.  He folded his arms, looked up at me with that smile and then back to the Captain.  Lt Coulthard sat out of the prisoner’s line of sight managing the SCID recorder.


‘Salām tahīyah’ said Jones,

‘Ah, very good Captain, wrong greeting, but very good.’ Coulthard translated


“What is your name?” said Jones.

“Aazad Hazi, Master Sergeant serial number 19149.  I did not know what to think when the door burst in on me.  Where is young Rafi? The other man with me?” He asked.

“He died, he went for his gun.”  Jones was looking intently at the man.


There was a pause.

“We did not know who you were.”  Aazad looked down. “He was a good, a faithful officer I will mourn him.”


Jones said “Where are the rest of your men.”

He tilted his head.  I took this opportunity to hit him hard just below his left ear near the jaw line.

He stumbled from the chair holding his jaw, “You bastard!”  he yelled, “What sort of a debrief is this!’

I was moving forward as Jones waved me off.


“Debrief,” asked Jones, “why do you say debrief.”

“You’ve brought me in.”  He shook his head, “You killed poor Rafi, I don’t understand why he raised his weapon to you.”


“Sit down, mister.” Aazad did as he was told


Aazad sat there hand in his lap. “You know we were working for the Ministry.  Hand in hand.  When we heard about the orphanage, we are policemen, we could not turn a blind eye.”  He looked up at me and shrugged.  I hit him again right in the middle of the forehead and dragged him to the floor. 

“And you were just getting rid of the last witness,” I snarled at him.  


Coulthard was goood, she kept up the translation.


“I was interviewing her.”  He yelled as we wrestled, Coulthard yelled just as loud as Aazad did.

“I saw you kicking her.  You gutless…”  I said, struggling against him.

“You have your ways, we have ours.”  He looked at Coulthard to make sure she translated.


“Sergeant.”  Jones yelled.


I stood and let go but kept an eye on the prisoner.  Jones was over with Coulthard leaning over the laptop recorder. 


“Turn it off now.”  He said with some menace.  She turned off the recorder.  “How much of that was transmitted?”

“All of it up until I turned it off.” She said.


“Our interview techniques are not all that different, Sergeant” the Syria said in accented English, brushing off dust and straightening his jacket.  We exchanged filthy looks.


“What’s going on sir?”  I asked.  Jones ignored me.


“Which ministry do you work for?”  demanded Jones.

“The real one, the old one before these, these farmers took over.” He spat out the words.


Jones sat on the table facing the prisoner, “Why were you at the nurse’s home?”

“To find out what she knew about the massacre,” came his reply


“Not to kill her?” asked the Captain.

“Of course not, she is the last witness, she must know something.  We have to stop these animals.” He said looking at Jones intently.


“You’re still active duty Syrian cops?”  Jones leaned in.

“Yes, Jandamera.  You know this.”  Aazad sat back and folded his arms, “I have even met your commanding officer Lowberger, we shared a meal, he wanted us to work for him but our Ministry said no.”


I was not liking the sounds of this.  My vote was to ditch this guy and forget about it, but I doubted that my skipper was really interest in my vote at the moment so I kept my mouth shut.


“With me,” said Jones, “And bring him.”


We stepped out into the glare of the day, the closeness of the interview room blown away by the desert wind.  I had a good grip on my new Arab buddy.


“Where are you taking that man Captain?”   drawled the SP Chief.  He’d clearly been waiting at the door for us with two of his screws.


Jones signalled us to continue past the three Shore Patrol blocking our way and said “He’s my prisoner, he’s coming with me.” 

 “No he’s not, not without a transfer docket and a warrant issued by Commander Lowberger.  ‘Til I see them, he’s my prisoner.” The long pause wasn’t going to help anybody.  “Sir,” he finished. 


Both guards had their rifles at port-arms.  Not too far away from showing us the business end of the barrels.  And both looked dumb enough to do it.


Coulthard was behind me talking rapidly and quietly in Arabic to the prisoner.  I couldn’t follow what was said but I felt they shared some significant moments.


One of the ‘turnkeys’ stepped up and took hold of Aazad’s other arm.  I didn’t want to have a tug o’ war with the man.  I looked over to the Captain.  He gave me the okay to release Aazad.  There’s still the Sanction 3 hanging over the man’s head.  I had a bad feeling I wasn’t ever going to see him again.  By the look on his face he knew that too.  The Chief and other SP were standing there, with that damned smug, challenging look they all have, plastered over their mugs.  Jones moved off brushing past the Chief, I took my queue and brushed past the other guy.   Coulthard double timed after us, laptop tucked under her arm.




We made it safely back to Coulthard’s demountable.


“Captain,” Coulthard started, “he told me where the rest of his people are, they aren’t the killers.  They’re ‘stay behind’ troops left here to monitor the insurgents and disrupt them when they can.  They may know who the murders are. And he said Rafi got a call from them about the nurse just before you broke down the door. He said he hasn’t seen his wife and kids in months.”  Jones looked at her sadly, shanking his head.


“I didn’t see a phone,” Jones was looking at me when he said that

“I wasn’t looking for one.  Sorry.”  I replied.


“I don’t think Aazad’s ever going to see his family again.  Ann find out how the nurse is going we’ll need to speak to her.  At length.”  Jones ordered.  She turned to make the call.


“Aub, rustle up the rest of the troops and some transport, quietly.  We need UAV cover just in case.”

“Sir,” I turned to leave as Coulthard put down the phone.


Captain the nurse is gone, picked up by relatives this morning. 



Glad of something to do of a military nature and figuring it was safest to get out now before Jones tore someone a new one, I left.







I’ll give the Brit’s their dues, the Panther’s were a lot more comfortable than Hummers and the Aussie ‘bushpig’ we had as tail gunner, made me feel all safe and cosy like.


Regardless of the vehicles though, regardless of the roads and how safe our orbiting UAV tell us it is, driving in the desert, through Apache country, is a bitch. 


It was about dinner time when we took a break to stretch our legs, piss and switch drivers.  Just one of those serendipitous things, if we hadn’t stopped we’d’ve never heard it.  The crump of high speed ordinance.  Probably about 5 klicks off, pretty much where we were going.


“Sir,” said Coulthardt holding one hand up and pushing the ear piece further into her ear with the other, “our UAV’s just engaged some enemy.”  She paused, listening. “Neutralised.”  A couple of seconds later more thunder rolled off the distant hills.


“Rolling people!”  I called.  I signalled the Navy boy Rogas driving the bushpig, that  I’d call him to update him.


Back in the Panther, with Jones at the wheel, we accelerated hard.  Coulthard, now with her K-pot on and combat goggles active, said “UAV’s back on station and orbiting”  I quick-dialled Rogas on my Nokia using Push To Talk, which essentially made the phone a digitally encoded, line of sight walkie talkie.  The UAV could still pick up the transmission but it wouldn’t be decoded instantly.  I hoped. “Vincent, my man, we have an update.  Our UAV just zapped someone up ahead.  Probably our people.  Hang back half a K and keep an eye to the sky.  Come running if we holla.”   Rogas didn’t answer, simply hung up.  A text came through a couple of seconds later confirming receipt.  Rogas recognised the need for tight and varied comms.


Lieutenant Coulthard was still in contact with the UAV pilot.  She confirmed no signs of life at the contact and gave us the go ahead to advance.


True to their word, there was no sign of life.  There had apparently been a building on the side of the hill.  The Hellfire II missiles looked to have been Metal Augmented, thermobaric, and had only left a great smoking hole and a load of rubble.  The mission we were undertaking did not demand this type of warhead.  I looked over to Coulthard, still encased in her combat goggles, and hoped she was monitoring that UAV very closely.  Sure, you can’t tell much body language with people clad in Kevlar, combat goggles and a rifle, but if I didn’t know better I’d say she was getting friendly with the UAV Operator.  Good for her, it would make it harder for them to drop a bomb on us if they were given the word.


I kicked a few rocks around and pushed a bit of shredded metal to one side, but there simply was nothing left of us to look at.  We were stuck.  The nurse was gone, the cops gone and 70 odd local and foreign civilians were still dead.  Time to go home.


Rogas had switched vehicles back at the hillside and was driving the Panther.


The trip back to Arak was mostly in silence.  Just this side of Palmyra the air cover left us and Coulthard bade farewell to her new friend.


“What now sir,” she asked, taking off the combat goggles.

“This is pointing in a very uncomfortable direction,” rumbled Jones.  “We received the DNA ID’s from Lowberger, we were given this very restricted operation by him along with the Sanction 3.  Our prisoner says Lowberger tried to organise them to work for him. We weren’t engaged with the enemy, so the UAV ‘shoot order’ had to come from his office, our prisoner is with his guards and our only witness has disappeared.”

“I think a brief report outlining all of these salient points submitted through the chain of command will get us ‘disappeared’ Captain,” opined Rogas.  Jones looked at hims sideways but didn’t deny it.


“True,” I said, “I think we are going to have to say we’ve cleaned up this mess, ask for a medal each and we’ll all be on our separate ways.”

“You’re obviously not going to be the one explaining it to the good Doctor Francois.” Jones said around a smirk.


A valid point, I thought, I would not relish doing that.


The headlights of the BushMaster IMV peeled off from behind us after we passed through security and entered the Arak Airport compound. 

When we swung around into the car park outside Coulthard’s demountable office a couple of minutes later, the headlights picked out the form of LtCol Lowburger standing at the door with the SP Chief. 


We got out Panther to perfunctory salutes and smiles all around.


“Captain,” Lowberger said, “Congratulation on today.”

“Sir,” nodded Jones, “I don’t believe it is over yet.”


“Quite right you are.  First light you and your people are to head out and report to the JAG in Colonel Barnes’s office in Damascus, a Captain van den Hurk I believe is her name.  There is a lead on the nurse.”


“Damascus, sir?” Queried Jones.  “Isn’t there still heavy fighting there?”

“I’m sure you and your people are up to the task,” said Lowberger a smile coming into his voice.  “These vehicles and the same air cover will get you there I’m sure.”


The senior officer grinned boyishly, the SP Chief handed over the travel orders and task assignment then they turned and left.  Watching them go, I felt like he’d handed over our death warrants.


Taking a jeep and a truck into a war zone. I felt cold, dead hand of the ghost of Donald Rumsfeld in this and he wasn’t even dead.


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