By Dan Mumford
The screen flickered to life, showing blips and graphs. Six different sets of vital signs sprang into focus. Tom watched the soldiers they belonged to move about the small room through the feeds in their headset cams, preparing equipment and re-checking their gear. Sun shone in from a window onto a bare dirt floor. Little swirls of dust swished about the room as the team readied themselves for the upcoming operation.
Wilson crouched in the corner, laying out various weapons in a semi circle around him. Tom recognized a Baretta 9 mm, a compact assault rifle, and the over-the-top gleam of a chrome-plated Desert Eagle. But that was Wilson, all the way. Sylvia shifted stacks of simtex and primacord around on the rickety table. Each pile had its own priming coil and remote detonator. These were synched in with the Sat phones each team member carried in their tactical vest.
The vests themselves were works of art. Deadly, deadly art. Unlike the common photographer-type vests other troops favored that displayed their contents openly, these pieces of battlefield “soft”ware were designed for one purpose. Concealment. Each soldier outfitted their own differently, but they all carried double shoulder holsters, another pistol in the small of the back right over two knives, and a submachine gun harness that held the weapon against their stomach with an integrated belly flap. Any passerby would only notice the rotund belly, not the assault weapon concealed beneath.
Through the various helmet feeds, Tom saw Deena slide a nasty looking tanto blade into her boot while Ahmed looked on with a smile playing on his face. Command chose this team for their tactical experience with running black ops, along with their ability to blend in with the locals. But this time they wouldn’t be popping up out of some swamp with guns drawn like in the recruiting commercials. Today, they would be hiding in plain sight. Their mission was one of those shady areas where the military and the United States government would deny any knowledge of, if they were caught. The general public didn’t view assassination in such a positive light. Especially if they were in a country that the United States military had no reason to be in.
Lebanon was getting to be a problem. Well not the country itself as much as Hezbollah. The ruling party had been more and more vocal recently in its threats towards Israel. The rocket attacks didn’t help the situation either.
So now Tom sat behind a bank of computer screens in the sub-sub-basement of a secret facility in New York City running tech for this black ops hit squad in Qouzah. Everything looked normal. Their core temperatures were all up, but with the heat outside, that was to be expected. Deena showed a bit more Beta wave activity than was necessary, but that too was normal. She always got closer to a dream state before a mission than the others. Compared to her simulation he was running simultaneously, she matched up just fine. Wilson’s testosterone levels were off the charts again. Typical of a recent contraband steroid injection. When they were out in the field, with no superior officer mammying over them, the boys could get a little wild. But Tom supposed that was part of the warrior culture.
Finally ready, the team assembled for a last minute briefing. Since Ahmed had the most real-world experience in Mosul, it fell to him to lead. Tom turned the volume up on his feeds so he could hear what was going on. Ahmed usually got into what Tom called Ninja Mode right before an Op. Lowered voice, lowered posture, sneaky eyes. It was pretty comical really. Except every time Tom wanted to tell Ahmed how funny he seemed, Ahmed was always holding some type of assault rifle, and it felt like a bad time to bring it up.
“Ok, let’s gather in. I know we’ve all been over the details hundreds of times over the last week, but they bear going over once more. Our primary mission objective is to kill Fayiz Harun, the main opposition to Asad Saif-Al-Din, the man Washington wants to keep in power. With the election only a few weeks away, this may be our best chance before he realizes the fragile political position he’s in and seeks better protection. We’ll split up on leaving our base and fade into the marketplace. Deena and Wilson, you two will move down Beggar’s way and take a side street to get to the embassy. Sylvia and I will make our way down through the weaving district. Mikta and Ben will walk through the back and circle around the market to meet us at the front on the embassy. We received intel this morning that Harun will be moving at noon. This means that we have to infiltrate the embassy before then.
“Our three teams will try and gain entry through the regular civilian channels until they figure out who we really are. By then it will be too late, and hopefully the market outside will be loud enough to mask the sound of our suppressors from the upper floors. Try and minimize casualties if you can, but in the end the whole building is going down, so it won’t make much difference. Harun should be on the top floor along with his support staff and guards. At last count, he has twelve bodyguards that are armed with Suyez submachine guns. We just have to get close enough to confirm it’s him before we really open up with the munitions. Wilson, that means you.” Wilson looked affronted, like he’d never think of throwing a few mangatite grenades down the hall without checking first. Although there was that one time in Mumbai. And Sarajevo. And San Salvador. Maybe he had a point. “Once we have a confirmed kill,” Ahmed continued, “We rig the building and scramble before Sylvia detonates the nitro. Of course, we all have a switch in case anything should happen.” The team glanced at Sylvia briefly, but they all knew the risks and had accepted them long ago. Besides, from the procedures they “elected” to go through back in New York, dying might just not be so permanent this time around. Much comfort that would give to the body they currently occupied. “Any questions?”
“Yeah,” said Deena. “What’s our egress? I mean, people are going to notice us leaving from the building immediately following a gunfight, right? We have silencers, but the guards won’t.”
“Just do your best and blend back into the crowd. Odds are good that the market will be so busy, no one will notice us. And if not, no one will notice a few more dead bodies once the blast rips through the area. Just use your blades so it’ll look like shrapnel wounds, understand? But you know that. Look, does anyone have any useful questions before we get on with it?”
Tom could tell by the looks on everyone’s faces that Ahmed had just crossed a line, but no one wanted to challenge him on it right before a major op. From the monitor, he saw the team in beeps and fractions. Blood pressure up, heart rate up, a quick spike in adrenaline, but nothing like he’d see once they went into action. Realizing his mistake, Ahmed retreated and regrouped.
“I…I’m sorry Deena, but you guys know how I get before a mission.” He looked her in the eyes, an odd experience when viewed from Deena’s cam. “Are we good?” Deena looked like she might punch him, but just nodded once slowly. “Ok. It’s almost 10:45 so let’s move out.”
One by one, Tom watched their bodies work to maintain level as the team moved out into the market. Core temperatures rose as they walked in the sun. Respiration quickened, along with heart rate, but not much. Any normal person’s heart might be beating out of their chest if you told them to go into a government building and fight their way to the top floor, but the black ops team was different. Like adventure-racers and pro cyclists, their resting heart rate was in the low thirties. An average American’s is in the eighties. This team was in such good shape, a fast walk through a crowded market deep undercover in enemy territory wasn’t even high enough to register as a light nap for everyone else. Tom sat in the sub-sub-basement amazed at what he had helped create.
They wove through the crowded streets like ghosts, or salesmen, or artisans. Someone looking for the telltale signs of a highly trained team of warriors on the move would notice nothing. No careful glances. No perfect balance or fighters posture. No flanking, or keeping sightlines clear. The crowd just grew by six people, all a little tubby in their midsection. Careful rigging betrayed no squeaks from the deadly cargo stowed about themselves.
An hour before noon, the marketplace was busting with activity. Some shopkeepers had come and gone, like the fishmongers whose wares were best sold in the cool of the morning, but others were just setting up for the lunch rush. Fires smoked and stoves blazed. A wonderful stench permeated the stalls wherever the soldiers went. An intriguing combination of spiced meat, fresh pitas, and goat poop. Well not just goats, but the were by far the largest in attendance so Ahmed supposed they could claim it as their own. Vibrant fabric hung from each vendor like flags celebrating life. Deep crimsons, blues, greens, and yellows all fluttered in the pungent breeze.
Deena and Wilson ambled down towards the Beggars way. Each careful to tailor their gait to mask their training, but also to advertise their contempt for the poor and how hopeless it would be to ask them for anything. The last thing they wanted was to get involved with a local gang leader in some turf war for a fetid street corner. Tom watched as they reached the embassy entrance and stalled for time, browsing the vendors on the opposite side of the street.
An old goat dealer stood in his stall, watching the daily mayhem of the market at noon. Something about him caught Deena’s eye. He stood tall. Very tall actually, with his muscular chest out and his chin held high. A remarkable posture for someone of his obvious age. In fact, were it not for the wrinkles and his white hair and beard, he might be forty years younger. For just a moment, their eyes locked, and she saw sadness, patience, and a haughtiness that said that he owned this city in a way that she never could. Then they were both swept away in the push of the crowd.
Ben and Mikta arrived next, spilling out into the little square from a packed concourse leading back towards the center of the market. Ahmed and Sylvia walked towards the front gates to join the line of people queuing up for their chance to petition one of the officials for a visa and a shot at a new life.
All together now, the team positioned themselves into a tight knot in the front of the line, ready to strike out and wreak their special brand of carnage onto the embassy. Then the screens went blank. Nothing but snow and noise.
The control room back in New York was silent for seven tenths of a second, then exploded into noise. Everyone was shouting orders. Breathing heavily, Tom ignored everyone and focused on the screens. He rewound all the feeds back five seconds, then played them in slow motion. It took him two minutes and twenty seven seconds, but he found it. He set it to loop and threw it up onto the big screen at the front. The room fell silent.
“What the hell is that Sipes?” Tom looked up at the three star General, took a deep breath, and carefully adjusted his vocal chords before answering.
“That is the suicide bomber that just murdered my wife…Sir.”