“Gwyliwch rhag rhai o’r ochr arall…”
“Beware those from the other side…”
Old Welsh Saying.
London, 7th of July, 2005
“Come on girls, quickly now,” Lucy told the twins, almost dragging them onto the double-decker bus in her haste to get a seat. She let go of Emma’s small and dainty hand to fish the money for the fare out of her pocket, the coins eluding her fingers as the bus driver waited indifferently. Meanwhile, Emma took the opportunity to move to the steps to the upper deck, while Liz tapped her mother’s hip.
“Mummy, look, Emma’s going upstairs…” Lucy handed over the fare and quickly thanked the unresponsive driver. Then she turned to her escapee daughter, who had that pouty ‘Please mummy’ look on her face that she’d learnt to use so well in her arsenal of ‘getting my own way’ weapons. Lucy couldn’t help but smile.
She knew what her daughter wanted.
“All right, we’ll go upstairs this time,” she said almost resignedly, and both girls laughed and clapped their hands in delight. “Quickly now,” she told them, sparing a glance at the large number of people behind who had queued for the bus, one of whom was standing directly behind her giving her a glare of impatience.
She frowned, shaking her head softly.
The number 30 bus wasn’t normally this crowded. Maybe there was something to the rumour about an explosion on the tube trains – she’d heard some of the people in the queue talking about it. She shrugged mentally. No doubt she’d hear more about it shortly.
The girls had already run up the steps, and Lucy quickly followed them, her shoes clattering on the spiral metal steps to the upper deck.
She paused at the top and checked her wristwatch.
It was 09:30am.
The girls stood close to the top of the steps, and Lucy had to herd them further into the aisle to allow other people to follow up the stairs. She suppressed a smile at the look of disappointment plain on their faces. The front seats were already occupied, and that was their favourite place to sit. She checked behind her, and then tapped the girls on their shoulders.
“Hey you two, the back seats are empty. They’re nearly as good as the front, aren’t they?” The girls shrugged their unenthusiastic response. “Come on, you’ll be able to see everything from back there just as well as you could at the front.”
She made her way to the back, and the girls followed, blonde pony tails bouncing as they jostled each other to get first choice of seats. Lucy grinned. It was impossible to be anything except cheerful around the two girls, and when she sat down she looked at them, maternal pride swelling her chest as she did.
Born just over four years ago after a difficult labour, Emma and Elisabeth had changed her life, making her incredibly happy, and reinforcing the already close bond between her and her husband like nothing had before. The arrival of the blonde and blue eyed waifs into their lives had enhanced their relationship beyond what it had been, the resulting feelings deepening, but the focus shifting slightly to include the girls.
She thought back to the bemused but happy look on Blake’s face as he held a baby in each arm while he grinned madly, just after they’d arrived. He had grinned for so long his face muscles seemed to have locked in place for days afterwards.
They had decided they didn’t want to know what gender their children would be during their scanning sessions. They knew that they would be having twins, and Blake kept saying that he would love to have one of each. Lucy had always agreed, but coming from a family of four brothers, secretly hoped that they would have girls. She wanted to do all the things that she’d been unable to do herself as a child; after all, her brothers hadn’t really had much interest in dolls, unless you included new and inventive ways of destroying them, and saw their little sister as a kind of punishment to them from their mother. Although, if she ever had any issues with other boys, her brothers always joined forces to ‘take care of it,’ as they put it.
This secret desire to have girls manifested itself in the clothing Lucy dressed them in; frills and ribbons were a large feature of their dress, and today was no different. Both girls were dressed in identical white dresses with blue frilled cuffs and a blue ribbon type belt.
Lucy was jolted out of her reverie by the bus engine starting up, a deep bass rumbling vibrating through the floor, and as she came back to the present was surprised to find that the bus was full, with every seat occupied and people standing in the aisles. She also noticed something else that seemed strange; although the bus was crowded, it was exceptionally quiet. She scanned the upper deck, noticing few people talking above a murmur, and most of those she could see seemed nervous or anxious, speaking in hushed tones and darting frequent glances around them.
Not one of them would meet her eyes. That wasn’t strange in itself, this was London after all. But she sensed it was more than the normal reticence the inhabitants of the city had to talk to others when commuting.
“Mummy, where are we going to meet Daddy?” Liz asked her, interrupting her thoughts, while Emma asked when. Lucy glanced at the time again.
It was 09:35am
“We’ll be seeing him in, oh, about twenty minutes, darling. We’re meeting him in Russell Square.”
Both children gazed blankly back at her; geography was not a strong point for them yet. “Have you got his present safe?” she asked.
“Yes, here it is.” Emma held up a bag, and Liz withdrew the one item it contained, a hardcover book with a large red eye pictured on its glossy black front cover.
“Why does Daddy like this book so much?” Emma asked, her little face set in a serious expression, while next to her Liz nodded her agreement at the question, her little button nose darting up and down. Lucy couldn’t help smiling at the band of petite freckles running under her eyes and over her nose. It was the only differentiator the girls had; they were identical twins, but their freckles had their own unique constellations. It was generally the only way that she or Blake could identify them. Other people couldn’t see any difference.
“Well, that book is written by a very famous man, and when Daddy was a boy, he loved to read the man’s books.” She paused, reflecting on her husband’s childhood. What she’d said wasn’t true at all; he’d had no time for books, not with those parents.
Particularly his father, who Blake would never speak about.
The girls had never met their paternal grandparents, and never would.
She shook the thought away as Emma asked her the name of the book for the umpteenth time.
“I told you, it’s called ‘Lord of the Rings.’”
The answer started a spate of other questions, such as what was the book about, and Lucy rolled her eyes quickly. She wasn’t a big Tolkien fan, and didn’t know much about it, but she opened the book to the inside front cover and began to read the blurb aloud to the children.
Emma peeped over her shoulder to the first page, where her mother had written, ‘Happy Birthday Daddy, all our hugs and kisses from your girls.’ Underneath it both girls had written their names as neatly as they could, with ‘XXs’ representing kisses drawn in the shape of a heart directly below them.
Lucy finished reading the summary of the story, and effectively cut off questions about ‘Hobbits’ and ‘Orcs’ by challenging the girls to a game of eye-spy. Both girls’ spelling was indifferent at the moment, but they liked the game, even if what they did spy frequently didn’t begin with the letter they said it did.
“I spy with my little eye… something beginning with ‘D’,” Emma said, and Lucy checked the time again.
Not long now until they would meet Blake. She smiled as she thought of seeing him and the look on his face when the girls gave him his birthday present. Her smile deepened as she thought of the ‘other’ birthday present she had planned… after the girls had gone to bed, of course…
Not very far away, the object of Lucy’s thoughts had just exited the little coffee shop where he’d spent the last half hour, emerging into the dense flow of human traffic which parted and darted around him like so many tropical fish.
Blake had been summoned to a briefing at 07:00am, and when it had finished, he’d exchanged mobile phone calls with Lucy arranging for her and the kids to meet him, prior to spending his birthday just wandering around London.
Blake smiled warmly as he thought of the girls, their sunny faces and childish wonder at everything around them.
He couldn’t remember a time when he’d been happier.
Certainly not during his own bleak childhood.
And his own father…
Blake shook himself mentally, shying away from the harsh memories that encroached on his mood, and walked purposefully in the direction of Russell Square.
Blake Trubble was five foot ten, with brown curling hair and hazel eyes. He was currently sporting three day old stubble, and was dressed in a T shirt and jeans. At first glance, he was nothing remarkable to look at. But, for those that took a second glance, and noticed the set of the jaw and the intensity of the eyes, as well as the light scar which started at his neck and ended in the crook of his jaw, a feeling would come over them. A feeling of underlying menace, as if this was a man who could suddenly and explosively become dangerous.
Of course, that only seemed to be the case when he was alone. When he was with his family, Blake exuded nothing but happiness and contentment, the picture of doting fatherhood.
As he passed a shop selling televisions, something caught his eye and he turned to stare at the biggest screen in the window, which belonged to a glossy black flat screen Samsung. It was showing pictures from a news channel, which showed stumbling figures walking out of the dense grey smoke of what looked like a tube station exit. The smoke was lit by the strobes of a sea of flashing blue lights from emergency vehicles. He stood watching for a minute or so, eyes fixed to the screen while he read the text flashing along the bottom, which said that three identical explosions had occurred that morning on various tube train lines, and speculating as to the cause.
Blake didn’t speculate.
There was no way this was coincidence, not with three trains. No more than it had been coincidence when two airliners had hit the twin towers in New York City. This had been planned…and that meant terrorists. His thoughts were interrupted by his mobile phone ringing, so he dug into his pocket and pulled it out.
He smiled at the number. It was Lucy.
“Hi there, Mrs Trubble.”
“Hi there yourself,” Lucy replied. “Where are you?”
Blake looked around quickly to orientate himself. “I’m about five minutes away from Russell Square.”
“Well we’re going through Tavistock Square in a minute or so, some sort of diversion. If it’s quicker you can meet us there.”
“Yeah, that’s do-able. See you in a few minutes.” In the background, Blake could hear his daughters shouting ‘Happy Birthday Daddy,’ and he grinned before switching the phone off and replacing it in his pocket.
From somewhere high above came the plaintive cry of a lone gull, and Blake turned his gaze in the direction of the sound. A white speck drifted lazily through the air, sun glistening on wings as the bird let out its lonely cry again.
Blake stared at it. He was not a superstitious man…but something about the sound unnerved him, and he felt the hair on the back of his arms and neck stiffen.
The gull let loose another of its keening cries, and Blake shook himself, before smiling a little foolishly.
What next, am I going to cross the road if I see a black cat?
He shook his head and began to walk quickly in the direction of Tavistock Square, darting his way in and out of the multi-cultural shoals of people on the pavements of the city.
“But I want to give it to Daddy,” Emma squealed at her sister, who was holding the carrier bag containing the book that would be their father’s birthday present.
“Mummy, tell her,” Emma complained, snapping Lucy back from the daydream that she’d slipped into after speaking to Blake. Looking around she smiled apologetically at the nearer people who were staring at the three of them, looks attracted by the children’s petulantly raised voices. She quickly assessed the cause of the dispute between her children, and held her hand out.
“You can give Daddy his present together. In the meantime, I’ll take care of that, thank you very much.” Liz put on her pouty face again, but Lucy kept her hand extended, and with a huff the little girl gave her the book. “Good. Now behave, we’ll be seeing Daddy in,” she looked at her wristwatch as the digits flipped from 09:46am to 09:47am, “about another few minutes, so come on, behave yourselves. You don’t want to make him upset thinking you two have been arguing, do you?”
The two girls managed to look contrite, and gave her their solemn assurances that they would behave. Lucy smiled wryly to herself.
At least until the next argument anyway.
Suddenly a woman screamed shrilly on the bottom deck of the bus.
Lucy started, then heard a man shouting something in a language she couldn’t understand. The two girls looked at their mother quizzically.
“Mummy, what’s happen-” Emma began, but she never finished the sentence, as an intense flash of light lit the street and the bus was rocked by an explosive blast that ripped through the double-decker as if it were made of cardboard, completely destroying the rear and upper deck, and scattering bits of burning debris and twisted metal for up to three hundred metres around it.
Blake heard the deep percussive rumble of the explosion from the edge of Tavistock Square. Almost before the sense of dreadful foreboding the sound conveyed had time to settle over him, an equally powerful surge of adrenaline flooded his system. He was off and running in an instant, barging anyone who got in his way, accelerating around the corner of the Square and coming to a skidding stop as his eyes brought a scene of carnage and destruction to his brain which he didn’t want to accept.
In front of him, stood half a double-decker bus.
The front, the sides and most of the lower deck was intact, while its roof lay on the ground a little way behind it, a smoking pile of red twisted sheet metal. The driver was coughing and stumbling through his door, while one or two other people staggered away from the area, groaning and waving clouds of greyish black smoke away. Feeling the dread that had been delayed by the adrenaline, Blake read the number of the bus, which was still intact on the surviving bit of window above the driver area.
Lucy and the girls.
With the realisation that this was Lucy’s bus, the adrenaline flooded his system again, accompanied by an intensified feeling of dread.
They couldn’t be…
Blake’s mind shied away from the word, but it wouldn’t go away, it felt like a toothache; no matter how much you wanted to, you couldn’t help touching it with a finger or tongue.
Dead. They were dead.
“No…” he almost moaned, before he sprinted towards the remains of the bus, avoiding the debris that littered the area unconsciously, his mind busy offering up prayers to whatever deity would listen that his wife, his precious Lucy and their children had somehow survived, and they had been spared the horrific deaths of the other passengers.
As he got closer to the wreckage, a uniformed policeman saw him and stepped into his path.
“Sir, don’t go near…” he held an arm out to stop him. Blake didn’t react consciously; he punched the man on the run, connecting solidly with his chin. The officer was hurled backwards by the impact, landing heavily on the floor.
Blake reached the still smoking vehicle, but the doors at the front were mangled, and the door at the back exuded oily smoke from the fire that was still raging there. Blake made to enter anyway, but the fire was simply too hot, so he concentrated on scanning the area around him.
Other people were running towards the bus now, people wanting to help, and a few ghouls with mobile phones were videoing the destruction and the dead, but the policeman who’d been knocked down was now back on his feet, groggily waving them back.
“The fire hasn’t reached the fuel tank yet! It could still explode, it’s not safe to enter,” he shouted at them, and they wavered, while the sound of approaching sirens made itself heard even above the crackling sound of the violent fire sending billows of smoke into the fine London air.
Blake ignored it all, frantically looking around, grimacing at the blackened body parts and remnants of what had once been clothing, nose wrinkling as he detected a smell which he was all too familiar with; the stench of burnt human flesh.
Then something caught his eye. He couldn’t tell why, but he was drawn towards an object; as he got closer, he could see it was a book lying on the floor, a thin patina of melted plastic from a carrier bag stuck to its cover. Blake bent and picked it up, opening the cover to the front page and reading the writing there.
Time seemed to stop, all the noise and confusion, the smells and heat tuned out as he read the words on the inside cover.
Then his mind simply went numb, and the book fell involuntarily from his fingers as all thought shut down.
He stood there immobile, tears silently coursing their way down his smoke blackened face.
Then as if a switch was suddenly turned on in his brain, he turned his head to the heavens and raised his arms, letting out a primordial scream of anger and grief. People turned in his direction, the sound sending shivers through them; the sound of a soul being torn in two with pain.
On the ground at his feet the book was open, the first page showing the words he had just read.
‘Happy Birthday Daddy, all our hugs and kisses from your girls.’ Blake hadn’t needed to read the message from his daughters below it. He’d already recognised his wife’s handwriting.
As the enormity of his loved ones death hit him with the impact of a wrecking ball to the stomach, Blake dropped to his knees and wept. Around him the emergency services started their clean up activities, cordoning off the area, seeing to injuries and doing their best to reassure the survivors and the other people that had arrived on the scene.
The policeman that Blake had struck rubbed his jaw and looked around for the source of the pain he felt there.
Assaulting a police officer. The man would pay.
Eventually the officer spotted him, kneeling some small distance behind the bus, and marched over to him.
“You are about to be nicked, mate. What the hell do you think you were playing at…?” He stopped his sentence in mid flow as he realised the figure seemed to be shaking. As he got closer he saw the shaking wasn’t shaking at all; the man was sobbing. The Constable paused briefly before bowing his head and walking away quietly, forgetting all about the pain in his jaw and the outrage of being assaulted.
Behind him, Blake Trubble knelt, tears streaming from his eyes as the shock kicked in, and he started to tremble violently.
In the light blue sky above the city, the lone gull flapped its wings quickly to get away from the news helicopters that were congregating around the area, the media vultures lured from the tube train explosions to another, fresher kill.
The bird let out one last raucous cry as it left the area, leaving the humans below to the death and carnage this morning had brought, and following the Thames on its sinuous journey to the sea, a fading speck in the distance that was soon lost to sight.
Buji Bhast Mountains, Afghanistan, Dec 24th, 2009
Darkness came with the suddenness of a light bulb being switched off as the sun sank below the horizon, painting the surroundings with an obsidian palette. With the absence of light came a heightened awareness of sound, and the wind, an absent friend during the hot dry day, now whistled with a ghoulish and faintly hostile note.
The five dark-clothed men ignored both the sound and the darkness. Tonight they were the hostile force, and their attention was directed on their first objective; closing in on the cave mouth half a mile in front of them.
Spread out so as not to provide an easy target and to reduce the risk of being seen, they picked their footing carefully, avoiding loose rocks or large depressions, the night vision glasses each wore giving them a distinct advantage over their unsuspecting adversaries.
Five minutes saw them come within sight of their quarry, and the foremost figure dropped to one knee and held up his left hand in a clenched fist. Instantly the others, who were spread out across a fifteen meter perimeter to either side, froze, fingers gently stroking the triggers on their semi-automatic machine pistols.
The figure that had signalled the halt now made another gesture, pointing at himself, then forward, then pointing at one of the other men and pointing forward. The other man held up his hand with the palm open, indicating his understanding, and without any further exchange, the two moved ahead, the lead figure circling to the right, while the other circled to the left.
In front of them, two red glowing dots gave a faint illumination, and every ten seconds or so, they would glow slightly brighter, and then dim.
Sentries, smoking cigarettes.
Some two meters behind the guards, the entrance to a cave could just be made out by the soft glow of torchlight from further within.
The two sentries swayed gently from side to side, the cold of a desert night seeping into their bodies, one of them moving and stamping his feet trying to warm up.
Through their night vision glasses, the black clad men made out significant details, such as the rifles both of them carried. They watched as one of the guards took a long pull on his cigarette and the cheap tobacco smoke hit his lungs in a large quantity. He began to cough, a racking phlegmy sound, and from the back of his throat he drew a deep hawk of mucus to spit. While he was doing this, the dark figure who had circled to the left appeared behind his colleague, and with a practiced move put one hand around his mouth while the other, carrying a razor sharp nine inch knife, thrust up under the jaw, angling slightly back so that it pierced the top of the Adam’s apple and continued until it hit the rear of his skull.
The man’s eyes rolled up, showing the whites, and the figure slowly lowered the dead body to the ground.
The other guard had now spat the gob of phlegm, and dropped his cigarette, crushing it carefully with his heel before casually glancing over at his friend. Before he even had time to register the body on the floor and the intruder standing over it, a soft ‘phut,’ noise, almost unheard over the wind, ended his smoking problems with finality.
His lifeless body toppled slowly, only to be caught by black gloved hands.
With almost clinical efficiency, the others arrived, and four of the five man team removed the bodies, moving them out of sight behind large rocks on one side of the cave entrance, while the fifth held his weapon ready for any sudden attack.
Completing the task, the four moved back to the cave entrance, and in silence with only the faint light of the torches from inside, they checked over their MP5SD sub machine guns. Their hands ran quickly and efficiently over the integrated suppressors, ensuring the magazines were full of the 9mm sub-sonic ammunition that made the Heckler and Koch weapons perfect for this type of mission.
Satisfied, the leader of the team removed his night vision goggles, and three of the others followed. The fourth man kept his on. With a quick jerk of the head followed by a pointing gesture, the leader headed for the cave, the other three men following, while the guard stayed where he was, making sure that his team would not be cut off on their return.
Inside the cave, the four men advanced cautiously, weapons ready, two men facing forward, while the other two swept the rear, guns moving almost gracefully.
The tunnel they were in was spacious, allowing them to move fairly easily, with no obstructions, and, the leader considered, no cover either should they be attacked.
The torchlight was getting brighter, and man in front slowed down a little as they approached a junction where the tunnel split into two others. Then he turned, and chopped his arm down in the direction of the left hand tunnel. Two of the team moved down it cautiously, while the leader and the remaining man started down the right hand branch.
The two men moving down the left hand tunnel took perhaps a hundred steps before they heard the muted sound of voices ahead. They moved to either side of the cave walls and crouched, machine guns raised and fingers poised on triggers, but it became evident after seconds ticked into a minute that nobody was coming, even though they could still hear voices; but now they were interspersed by laughs, and the two men stood slowly and continued in the direction of the sound.
Soon, they came to another bend, and one of them bent down and carefully peered around the corner. After a few seconds, he straightened and turned to look at his companion. He held up four fingers, then made a chopping motion before pointing at himself, and then another before pointing at his companion, who nodded. The two took deep breaths, controlling their breathing, then the first man held his hand up, fingers extended, then curled them into a fist one by one, counting down. At the last one, the two of them exploded around the corner, the first rolling on the floor to the left, the second to the right.
In front of them, the four men who had been playing at dice and drinking tea tried to stand, snatching rifles from their backs or next to them, but it was too late. A series of ‘phuts’ from the machine guns and four bodies hit the floor, their desert rags sundered as blood began to pool on the thirsty cave bottom.
The two attackers stood slowly, one of them covering the ground to the dead men while the other held his gun warily. A few more of the 9mm rounds were expended into the bodies.
Double tap. Just to be sure.
With a nod at his companion, the two of them made their way forward once more, moving to the opposite side of the cave. While this part of the cave had been relatively large, with a high ceiling, they now found themselves in a narrower tunnel, this one opening into another slightly larger cavern within a few meters, which was full of stacked wooden crates. The lead man turned to the other and held his thumb up.
Their intelligence had been accurate; they had found the armoury.
Calmly, one of the men removed the small pack he was carrying, and started to remove the compact C4 explosive charges from it. He placed them carefully onto the crates, while the other kept his gun pointed in the direction they had come from…
In the right hand tunnel, the other two men advanced swiftly but cautiously, until they reached an exit. The first held his hand up, and the other stopped. The leader moved along the wall to the exit, and slowly extended his head to see what was on the outside.
The opening of the cave was above a plateau which held an armed camp. Men, dressed in the desert clothing that was the uniform of terrorists in the region, moved around between camouflaged tents, while others sat and talked quietly.
Most seemed to be armed, or near a weapon of some sort.
The watcher took in details of the area, such as the size of the clearing, the number of men visible and the spread of the tents. Finally, he withdrew back inside the cave, where he held a brief whispered conversation with the other.
“I couldn’t see him, but then he’s probably in one of the tents, out of sight.” The other nodded, so he continued. “We’re about twenty foot above them here, and there’s a pathway leading down to them. But,” and he moved slightly nearer the exit, “you can see if we climb up there,” he pointed at the rock that extended from the cave and stayed at the same level, circling the plateau to the left, “we can come around behind them, and drop down to their rear in those rocks.”
His companion followed the extended arm, and then nodded his understanding. Thought was turned to action as first one of them crept out stealthily, and the other followed, moving slowly and calmly in the gloom to avoid attracting attention, creeping carefully along the rock promontory to the left hand side. When both were extended flat at the top peering down, and no alarm had been made, they began a tortuous journey towards their planned destination; the rocky cover to the rear of the camp.
Millimetre by millimetre they moved, giant black clad snails that hugged the ground so as not to be silhouetted against the desert night. Both men were only too glad that there was little moonlight, and that the men below them were wary of detection and had decided not to light a fire.
Halfway to their objective, a treacherous handhold gave way to some loose rock and both men froze as fragments rattled down into the camp, adrenaline flooding them in anticipation of discovery and a fire fight. After tense seconds and no alarm, they resumed their slow crawl.
Ten minutes later they arrived at the point at the rear of the clearing. Now all they had to do was negotiate their way down from their position to the rocks below, a task which took another tense five minutes.
When they reached the level with the tents, both men exchanged a brief glance before the leader nodded and they moved cautiously to the rear of the nearest one. Extending their necks and turning their heads, they tried to hear anything from within, but no sound could be heard, so the leader cautiously drew a knife, and with a delicate movement, pierced the tent wall, making a small hole to which he put his eye to see inside.
A scan of the interior showed nothing significant, just a small table and a pair of sleeping cots.
He stepped back, and with a nod of his head, they moved to the next tent, but they knew they had found the right one before they reached it; from inside came a sharp ‘crack’ noise, followed by a slight groan. Both men froze, before the leader pointed at one side of the tent, to which the other nodded, then held up his hand showing five fingers.
His partner nodded; he knew it meant for him to wait five minutes while the situation was investigated.
The leader crossed to the side of the tent, looking around to see where the sentries were; but discipline didn’t seem particularly good, the only sentries he could see were leaning against rocks, their weapons shouldered while they dozed. Satisfying himself there was no immediate danger of discovery, he approached the tent and repeated his earlier action with the knife, making a small hole with it so that he could see inside.
His first look confirmed his suspicion; the hostage they were here for was there, bound to a chair. A bull of a man, with an evil sneer on his heavily bearded face entertained himself by slapping his prisoner. The unseen watcher noted the gash extending from the bottom of the aggressor’s top lip through the nose towards his left eye, giving him a predatory look.
Whilst the swarthy brute launched a particularly vicious punch, his observer made sure there was nobody else in the tent, before turning and making his way back to his colleague.
“Well?” he was asked in a whisper, to which he nodded.
“Good. Lock and load time.”
Abu Mohammed spat at the infidel sat in front of him, but didn’t hit him again. The foreign pig had lost consciousness, and that made hitting him a lot less fun.
And Abu liked to have his fun with the infidels.
The Americans, the British, and now this Canadian prisoner, they had all come to his country, all thinking they could do what others before them thought they could; conquer his land and subjugate his people. Well, many had tried, none had succeeded.
None ever would.
He reached out and lifted the man’s head from its prone position, pleased at the blood that dripped in claret droplets onto his chest.
He smiled, displaying a mouthful of missing or yellowish-black teeth.
There was only one true God, and that was why they would die, and also their women and their children. With a snort of disgust, Abu dropped the head, and began to turn around, on his way to tell the others about the great Canadian soldier, and how easily he had passed out.
But Abu never made it. He barely had time to register the intruder in front of him before his eyes widened as the knife took him in the throat. The weapon slid easily through the skin, into his voice-box and out the other side, so that its tip emerged just to the side of the spine, while his eyes bulged with pain and shock. The only sound in the tent was a glottal gurgle, as blood bubbled around the deeply embedded weapon. With a final, violent muscle spasm, the vicious torturer’s body slumped.
Satisfied that the man was dead, his killer walked over to the bound man. He lifted his head carefully, taking in the wounds on face and body, before gently tapping the man’s face to wake him. After a few taps, the man’s eyes fluttered open, and he slowly focussed on the black clad apparition that was in front of him.
“Wha’… who..?” was all he could manage, but his rescuer held his finger to his lips.
“Not now. We have to get you out of here.” Quickly he moved to the ropes binding him and made short work of them with the knife.
“Can you stand?”
The ex-captive gave a grim smile.
“I will if it means getting the hell out of here.”
“All right, then stay close behind me. Come on.” With that, he moved to the back of the tent and carefully cut a long gash in its skin before stepping through, then extended his hand to help the other. Once outside, the ex-prisoner saw another black masked man join them, and his rescuer engage in a brief conversation with him, before turning back.
“Right, you aren’t in any condition to come back with us the way we got in here, so this is what we’re going to do…”
The guard at the bottom of the natural ramp that led from the cave to the encampment floor yawned and stretched at the same time, his bones creaking as he extended his arms over his head.
While his head was tipped back and his jaws were extended in the yawn, the fires of hell ignited in the encampment, causing him to jerk out of his posture and shut his mouth with an almost audible snap.
A series of deafening explosions blew the tents furthest away to scraps of torn canvas and matchwood, flames erupting into the night sky brightly enough to hurt the eye, while a wall of heat rolled towards him.
Through the sudden billowing smoke he could hear his companions shouting and screaming, and caught glimpses of them running around with no apparent direction or thought. Not knowing what he should do, he ran towards them, only to be met by two black clothed men running towards him… and behind them was the prisoner… as comprehension of what he was seeing dawned on him, he wrenched the rifle from his back; but he was too late as he felt the impact of bullets riddling him, jerking him like a human puppet before he could shout any warning.
Behind the fleeing men came the sound of a shot as one of the other men spotted them and came to the same conclusion as the unfortunate sentry.
One of the escaping men kept moving with the rescued man, while the other turned and let off a swift stream of almost noiseless bullets from the sub machine gun, his targets doing the familiar jerky dance under the impact.
With a smile of satisfaction he grabbed a grenade from his waist belt and pulled the pin and threw it. He paused briefly to watch it arc up gracefully into the sky towards its targets, a group of men who were frantically putting their rifles to their shoulders…
“Give my regards to Allah,” he said savagely as he turned to follow his two companions up the ramp, while behind him he heard the detonation of the grenade and the scream of men as they were hurled through the air…
“Come on, let’s go,” one of the men who had taken the right fork in the tunnel shouted as he caught sight of his team mates returning with the object of their mission, the Canadian Army Colonel who’d been captured two days before.
As the three men reached the others, they were waved on past while the two followed at a slightly slower pace, their guns trained on the fork they had just left, but their caution seemed to be for nothing as there was no sound or any other indication of pursuit, and the five of them got outside without further incident. Ten meters from the cave entrance, the last man stopped, and pulled a small electronic device from his vest. He extended an aerial from it, and turned to his companions.
“Fire in the hole!” He pressed the button, and from inside the cave came a thunderous detonation that shook the earth, as an enormous column of fire leaped into the air, and the ground in all directions was showered with chips and small fragments of rock.
“You are such a drama Queen,” one of his team mates told him, and he shrugged. “Sorry, but I’ve always wanted to say that.”
The leader of the team turned to him.
“And here’s something I’ve always wanted to say; let’s get the hell out of Dodge.” With that, two of the men got the ex-prisoner between them and pulled his arms over a shoulder each.
“Wait, wait,” the wounded man shook his head, “just who are you guys?”
The leader turned to him. “We’re the Hostage Incursion Team, aka the ‘HIT Squad’.”
“Yeah, but what regiment, what unit? I mean, from your accents you’re obviously British.”
“Look, it’s not important right now. We need to get out of here, so no more questions for now, please.” The leader started his way down the slope away from the cave, and the rest followed, the wounded man’s curiosity remaining unsatisfied.
Sahid Aziz stopped his horse as the column of fire erupted into the sky from the mountain to his left. Seconds later the fire was followed by a rolling boom that reverberated down the valley, the sound building to a thunderous crescendo by the time it washed over him. His horse and the horses of the thirty or so men spread out behind him nickered and snorted nervously.
As the Taliban commander for this district, Aziz had been instrumental in securing the hostage captured from the Canadian Army so recently, a fact he wanted to make political capital of with his enemies from the West. He and his men had met with another Taliban garrison earlier as Aziz needed a video camera to record the torment and suffering of the prisoner. He could then post it on the internet and news channels of the world, and remind the ungodly invaders of the foolishness of their mission and the absolute righteousness of his.
He pursed his lips and gently stroked his full black beard as the fire continued to roar into the night. It seemed that the infidels wanted their comrade back, judging by this unexpected explosion. He raised his arm and gestured for his men to follow him. If the prisoner had been freed, there was only one place that his rescuers could safely get to if they were to avoid the more hostile terrain on the trip back.
And he knew exactly where that was.
He slapped his mount’s flanks with his reins and the horse took off at speed down the worn track, his men following behind in a ragged line.
The leader of the little rescue team held up his hand in a clenched fist, and they halted, the two carrying the freed officer setting him down gently while all of them held their weapons ready.
They had covered enough ground that they were out of the sound range of the explosions at the cave, and apart from the occasional smaller pop as a new piece of ammunition caught in the conflagration behind them, the lower part of the mountain was peaceful in the early hours of a new desert day.
The leader, now re-equipped with his night vision glasses, looked in the direction he thought he’d heard a noise, one that seemed out of place. In front of them and slightly below their position was the track that they would need to cross before they could get to the satellite communication equipment they’d hidden a day earlier.
Equipment that they would need to call in the helicopter to take them back to their HQ in Helmand province.
He tilted his head to one side. Yes, he heard it again, a faint drumming sound.
Moving with a suddenness that would have shamed a starving panther, he turned to his men, who were already moving, heading for the cover of the rocks above the track, one of them grabbing the rescued officer and pushing him down behind some convenient boulders.
And not a moment too soon, as a force of mounted men came around the corner, their horses slowing as the lead rider held up his hand.
Sahid Aziz signalled to his men to stop. He dismounted, and then motioned for them to do the same. The horses stayed where they were as the men followed him along the track. Aziz was looking for a suitable place to set an ambush, as he was convinced his quarry would be forced to come onto the track here somewhere, and with a grunt of satisfaction he saw a break in the rocks to his left, where his men could climb up and settle themselves in waiting.
He turned with a satisfied grin on his face, and that was when he heard a noise behind him, a sound like a stone landing on the ground and rolling. Curious, he turned in the direction, and was blown off his feet as the first grenade detonated, followed by a second a moment later.
The men who had not been injured when the two grenades went off now fired their rifles wildly in the dark, none of them knowing where the attack had come from. One or two of them were scrambling back up the track towards the horses, but a well-thrown grenade cut off that escape route, causing the horses to panic and bolt away.
Men dropped like flies as they were struck by rapid gunfire. The remaining Taliban focussed their fire on the muzzle flashes they could now see above them, but it was already too late, as they were picked off easily by their concealed ambushers.
In little more than two minutes the force of thirty was reduced to dead, dying or wounded men groaning on the dusty floor. Their attackers emerged from the rocks above them to their right, and cautiously approached the enemy, ending the misery of the wounded as they came.
Aziz came round slowly to see a dark shape above him in the gloom. He tried to reach for his gun, but found he couldn’t move as his attacker raised his own and pointed it at his head. Aziz spat at him, but could make no other move as the finger tightened on the trigger. The last thing he knew was a jolt to his head as the 9mm bullet hit him almost perfectly dead centre between the eyes, painting the ground behind with a spattered mosaic of brain gore.
“Nil captivum,” his executioner murmured under his breath, pausing for a moment before he turned and walked back to his men.
“Sitrep?” he asked, the military jargon for a situation report.
A chorus of “clear” came from each of the men in turn, and he nodded in satisfaction.
The injured Colonel had now descended the rocks and looked around at the dead bodies as the first rays of the sun crept over the top of the mountain behind them. He whistled before turning to look at the men around him.
“Just who are you guys?” he asked, while his five rescuers removed their night vision goggles and their black balaclavas.
As the leader of the team inhaled the desert air deeply, he smiled at the Canadian and held out his hand.
“Trubble. Major Blake Trubble, Her Majesty’s Special Air Service.”
The Colonel took the hand and shook it. “SAS, eh? I heard you guys were good, but…” his gaze turned to the corpses strewn around, their lifeless eyes glazed in the first rays of the morning sun.
“We’re not good,” said one of the others from behind him, “we’re the best.” The Colonel turned to look at the man, non descript in his combat fatigues, and noticed two things that marked him out; one was the glacial blue of his eyes, visible even in the low light, and the other, possibly more unnerving thing was the tomahawk hand axe looped through one of his belt buckles and strapped to his right thigh.
The Major nodded at the man, before turning his attention back to the rescued Colonel. “And now, shall we be on our way? We have an appointment with a helicopter shortly…”
British Army HQ, Helmand Province, Afghanistan Dec 25th, 2009
Brigadier General Sir Arnold “Thumper” Harris smiled as he watched the helicopter come in to land. The noisy whirlwind of rotors stifled all other sound and blew dust around the square with enough force to rival the wretched sandstorms that sprang up all too frequently on the plains of this infernal dustbowl of a country.
The Brigadier had been notified of the team’s imminent arrival, and had enjoyed calling his counterpart in the Canadian forces to inform him of his man’s safe return. The man had been overjoyed, and the Brigadier, who’d lost men of his own in the past, was pleased.
That was until he had arrived.
The man from the Ministry.
Now the Brigadier wasn’t sure how he felt.
He watched the five man team disembark from the chopper, two of them helping the rescued man to the waiting medics, who quickly whisked him away to be examined.
“Major Blake,” he shouted across the square as the helicopter took off again, heading away from the Headquarters compound in a northerly direction. He had to shout again even though the sound of the rotors slowly disappeared off into the distance, walking toward the object of his shout.
Blake turned as he heard the Brigadier’s voice, and motioned for his men to carry on without him as the older man came to a stop. Blake saluted, a gesture which was returned, before the Brigadier smiled.
“Another rescued soldier. You and the team did well.”
Blake shrugged his shoulders depreciatingly. “Another day, another dollar,” he said, a satisfied smile playing on his lips.
“How was the mission?”
Blake considered the question, rubbing the bridge of his nose thoughtfully.
“Nothing special. Normal incursion, blow the crap out of the place, get out and kill a few rag heads on the way.”
The Brigadier nodded absently, not sure about how he could word what he had to say next, but knowing Blake as well as he did, deciding that it was best to just get on with it.
“Good. Well, I have a new mission for you.”
Blake frowned. “New mission?” He looked at the senior officer thoughtfully. “You know we’ve been out there for over six weeks? We’ve not had much in the way of rest, and the lads were hoping to have some R and R.” His expression darkened a little as some long distant pain crossed his face. “Also, not that it matters much to me, but isn’t it Christmas today? The lads were hoping to…”
“I know, I know,” the Brigadier held his hands up, “but in this case, well, I think you may want to hear more about it.”
Something in the Brigadier’s tone made Blake pause, and he studied the older man’s expression. After a few seconds he nodded, and the senior officer put his hand on his shoulder.
“Good. Come with me.”
As Blake followed him, the Brigadier reflected on his history and their relationship.
Blake had been a rising star in the SAS even before the personal tragedy that had taken away his family, pulling off some of the riskiest missions that even that elite force had taken on. The Brigadier sighed inwardly as he walked. Blake had doted on his wife and daughters, and the bombing had almost taken away his sanity, but after some months a new Blake emerged from the ashes of his grief, a grimmer, deadlier man. A man with only one personal motto, ‘Nil Captivum’ or literally, ‘No Prisoners.’ He’d never expressed this openly to the Brigadier, but the senior officer had been around long enough to sense it. Plus, the statistics of Blake’s missions spoke for themselves.
The Brigadier shook his head slightly, thinking back to the first mission he’d given Blake on his return to active service.
A mission accomplished in an awesome blood-bath of Taliban terrorist carnage. It was almost disturbing to watch Blake plan a mission. There was a deadly implacability to him, a coldness that turned to savage joy at killing the enemy. Blake exulted in killing Taliban or Al Qaeda; a deadly unilateral force bent on ridding the world of the sort of scum that had robbed him of his own happiness.
Successful mission followed successful mission, and Blake had risen from the rank of Captain to Major, which under normal circumstances meant a less active front line combat job.
But try telling Blake that.
He had only accepted the promotion on the basis that he would continue to be involved in full combat situations, and his superiors had agreed, sending him to work full time for the Brigadier, as he changed his own role to senior officer in charge of hostage extraction missions.
The Brigadier had welcomed his own new role, which allowed him to run a team that were the cream of even the elite SAS, men who were only allowed to become team members if they had served in at least two of the four SAS specialist troops; Air, Boat, Mobility or Mountain. The unit was a closely guarded secret even within the SAS, itself one of the most secretive organisations within the British armed forces.
Over the years since setting up the team, the Brigadier had come to view Blake as a kind of precision deadly force. One thing was for certain; whenever he went on a hostage extraction mission he always returned with his objective achieved.
And a hefty hostile body count into the bargain.
The Brigadier held the door open and Blake walked into the equally hot interior of the building, stopping for the Brigadier to lead the way, which he did, crossing the room they had entered and making his way across to another door on the far side. Blake followed, and the senior officer held the door open again for him to step through, studying his profile as he did and continuing his reflection.
Blake may have a lust for revenge on the enemy, but he wasn’t suicidal, and the men on his team had a towering respect for his abilities as a commander. This was a fact the Brigadier was counting on now as he led Blake across to another door, through which they both went, a blast of air conditioned air welcoming them as they did.
Inside this room were banks of uniformed men, some sitting at computer consoles, others gathered at a large map of the region on one of the walls. Two men were sitting down reading newspapers, and one of them glanced over the top of his paper as the Brigadier led Blake through the room to a smaller one on the far side, where blinds masked a plate glass window from giving a view of its interior. Blake frowned as he walked, having recognised the uniform of the men who’d been reading the newspapers.
It had been French.
The Brigadier reached the door and opened it, and both men walked in, the senior officer closing the door firmly behind him.
Blake stood and took in the contents of the room, the large display on the wall showing the NATO logo in its centre, the neat and tidy modern desk and the chairs. Finally he studied the incongruous man in the black suit who sat patiently in one of the chairs but who now stood as the Brigadier approached him.
“Major Blake Trubble, this is Mister Southall. He’s one of our more senior ‘agents’ in Europe.”
Blake took the proffered hand and shook it, noting the hand was sweaty, but the grip was firm.
“Major, a pleasure to meet you, I’ve heard a great deal about you.”
Blake nodded politely, noting the public school accent and the Cambridge University rowing team tie. Then he raised an eyebrow.
“Europe? You’re a little out of way here aren’t you?” he let go of the hand and stepped back.
“Well, yes, I am, but the matter I need to speak to you about is urgent, and I was in the area, sort of…”
The Brigadier indicated the chairs. “Why don’t we sit down gentlemen, and then Mister Southall can brief us?” Blake took a seat, wondering what this was all about, but Southall said nothing, just fiddled with a laptop computer on the table in front of him, before clicking on a video file on its screen.
“This video was received approximately 03:00 hours this morning. It has not been posted on the internet, but came directly to… well shall we say to proper authorities?” He shrugged, and pressed the play button on the screen.
The video started up and the first thing Blake saw was a weathered Arabic face, its features contorted into a mask of hatred.
“Sabak!” He exclaimed, while his own features writhed into a matching expression, and his body posture changed to one of instant aggression. The Brigadier looked on saying nothing. He knew Blake would react like this; after all he was looking at the man who’d ordered the slaughter of his family.
Southall pressed the stop button on the screen and turned to Blake.
“Yes, Mahmoud Sabak, code name ‘Missing Link.’” Blake ignored him, his gaze glued to the man he’d sworn he would kill. He knew Sabak had been given the name as the only known terrorist leader with direct links to both Al Qaeda and the Taliban. This was a fact that gave him more notoriety to the governments of the world than even Osama Bin Laden. The only difference was the wider public didn’t know who he was, after his involvement in the London seven seven bombings had been covered up by the intelligence services.
Southall pressed the play button and the despised face became animated again, but the expression was calmer, and the mannerisms calculated.
“I have a message and demands for the governments of Europe, you who have decided to throw in your lot with the sons of Shaitan, the American Imperialistic dogs who wage an unholy war against my brothers and I.”
Blake relaxed slightly as Sabak talked, but still sat tensely in the chair, while details of what he saw and heard registered on him as though through a mist; the fact that Sabak’s English was good, although tinged with a slight French accent, and that he had an ever so slight turn in one of his dark brown eyes.
“My brothers and I have taken over your Large Hadron Collider facility, and hold all of your people hostage.” The camera panned away from the man, showing a view out of the glass window of the control room onto massively complex looking machinery.
“We have several demands for you. You will firstly release all of our brothers you are illegally holding in the following prisons and detention centres…” He began to read out a list, and while he did so the Brigadier asked a question.
“We have verified the authenticity of his claim?”
Southall nodded. “I’m afraid so. The machinery behind him is genuine, but even if we didn’t have that fact… well, there’s more to come.”
The Brigadier nodded and turned his attention back to the screen, where Sabak completed his demands for the release of his imprisoned compatriots.
“As well as this, we require you to pay five billion Euros into the following numbered bank account…”
Blake turned his attention away from the screen to the Brigadier.
“I’ll do it,” he said quietly in a cold monotone that made the Brigadier feel all the colder for it.
“Do what?” he asked, but he knew the answer.
Blake shrugged. “Whatever it is you asked me here to do… as long as it means I get a chance at him,” he nodded at the figure on the screen.
The Brigadier sighed before saying, “There will be conditions…”
“I don’t care. Sabak wants to meet Allah. I want to help introduce them.” Blake turned his attention back to the screen where the terrorist leader had moved on.
“…We will give you until mid day of New Years day to meet our demands. If you do not meet them by this time, we will kill all four hundred of our hostages, before damaging this facility in such a way that it will need to be completely rebuilt, something I believe would take a large amount of time and resources, not to mention money.”
He stopped, and then nodded at someone out of camera shot, and the three men could hear someone pleading, as two men dragged a third, a man in the typical laboratory coat of a scientist, into view. The man was struggling, but to no avail as he was forced onto his knees, both arms extended out to one side as he was held in position. Sabak grinned for the camera, and then walked towards the man who was gibbering in terror and begging for his life.
The terrorist leader turned once more to the camera, and drew a classic Arabic scimitar from a sheath at his belt, the polished blade reflecting in the artificial light, lifting the poor man’s head so he was looking into the camera.
“What is your name?”
“P… please…” the man licked his lips nervously, but Sabak just smiled and lay the metal of the sword against his cheek. “All right! My name is… Doctor Ernst Gerhardt…” Sabak’s smile widened as he turned fully to the camera.
“This will be the fate of the other hostages if you do not comply with our demands,” Sabak lifted the curved sword above his head before swinging it down with all his strength, the hostages’ screams ending with a chilling finality as his head leaped from his neck in a torrent of blood, and his body slumped forward as the other two men let go of his arms.
Sabak stooped and picked up the head by the hair, holding it up for the camera, blood dripping to the floor as he beamed a smile of satisfaction.
“Remember, you have until mid day of New Years day to comply with these demands.” The video ended, with Sabak’s face the last picture displayed remaining on the screen as the men stared at it.
“We have confirmed the identity of the scientist that Sabak decapitated,” Southall looked between both men. “Doctor Ernst Gerhardt was an eminent scientist, a leader in the field of particle physics. He was also a father of two.”
“What conditions?” Blake asked suddenly, as if Southall hadn’t spoken, and causing the Brigadier to start in surprise.
“I’m sorry?” he asked.
“You said there were conditions. What are they?”
The Brigadier nodded, deciding to start with the easy one first.
“You will be taking two civilians with you.”
“Civilians? Into a combat zone?” Blake stroked his chin. “Well there must be a reason?”
The Brigadier nodded. “Of course. You will need some expertise regarding the Collider and the layout of the complex. So you’ll be taking Doctor Willis, a renowned authority on the Collider, and Mister Harold Doyle, the design engineer and contractor for the physical site.”
Blake nodded. “Good. Anything else?”
The Brigadier licked his lips nervously, and Blake folded his arms. He knew before the Brigadier said anything he wasn’t going to like the next condition. The Brigadier stood, and moved to the door to the office. He opened it and gestured to the two men outside who had been reading newspapers, and they got up and walked into the room, folding the papers under their arms.
“Blake, I’d like to introduce you to Captain Renaud and Lieutenant Lisseau of French Special Forces.”
Both men nodded their heads, and the one nearest Blake, Captain Renaud, held out his hand for Blake to shake. Blake ignored the hand and turned back to the Brigadier.
“With respect sir, we will be attempting to rescue hostages from what will be a high risk combat situation.” His mouth gave a small grimace of contempt. “If we were planning a strategic retreat then I’m sure these gentlemen would be valuable assets to the team.”
The two French officers stiffened, but gave no other signs of anger as the Brigadier tried to berate Blake.
“Blake! These gentlemen are French Special Forces…”
“Which just means that they have training in advanced techniques for running away from an enemy.” The sarcasm of Blake’s reply was palpable.
The Brigadier’s face coloured in anger. “That’s enough! This is non negotiable. The Large Hadron Collider is just inside the French border, so they have every right to be on this mission.”
Blake turned away from the Frenchmen with a hint of disdain, and glared at the Brigadier, who continued. “And another thing, you know from our intelligence files that Sabak has dual nationality, one of those being French.”
Blake continued to glare, but then nodded his head slowly before asking another question.
“I’m mission commander. Is that in dispute? Sir?”
The Brigadier rubbed the bridge of his nose, and shook his head. “No, it’s not in dispute. As long as you work with our allies here.”
Blake drew a deep breath then exhaled slowly.
“All right. If it means I get at Sabak…”
The Brigadier moved on swiftly, indicating to the French Officers they could leave, and with a salute both men did.
“There are a few other parameters you need to know Major,” Southall piped up, after remaining silent for the previous exchange.
Blake arched an eyebrow, so Southall continued. “The Collider is worth billions of Euros, and we need it to be undamaged. Your mission is to infiltrate the complex, take out the terrorists, save the hostages, and not damage the equipment.”
Blake smiled, before saying sarcastically, “You make it sound so difficult.”
Southall ignored the remark. “So that is why you will only be equipped with light arms, your usual machine guns with their low calibre rounds and sidearms. No grenades or explosives of any sort.”
Blake shrugged. “Ok. It’s not like I’ll need them specifically to kill that terrorist scum,” he nodded in the direction of the display and Sabak’s image.
“Ahem, well I’m afraid that brings us to the last condition,” Southall said, now eyeing Blake nervously. Blake in turn, remained silent, his face neutral as he waited for Southall to continue. “I am aware of your reputation Major Blake, and your… disposition towards terrorists, and Mister Sabak in particular.” Southall nodded to himself, his eyes avoiding Blake’s as he thought of that reputation, and the fact that Blake, never, ever took prisoners. After a short pause, he looked into Blake’s eyes, a slight tightening of his lips giving away his nervousness. “Sabak, as the link between Al Qaeda and the Taliban, has more information about their forces, distribution, logistics and planning that any other terrorist alive with the possible exception of Osama bin Laden himself. He must be captured and brought out of the complex…alive.”
Nobody spoke for over a minute.
Blake kept his gaze focussed on Southall, who after thirty seconds of scrutiny started to twitch, his hands tapping nervously on his knees. Eventually the Brigadier spoke.
“Blake. Are you clear on the mission parameters?”
The Major turned his gaze from Southall to the Brigadier, but didn’t answer immediately, so the Brigadier tried again. “Blake, are you clear on…”
“Yes, I am… sir,” Blake responded, speaking quietly, and the Brigadier nodded, seeming to accept the reply, but Southall didn’t believe a word of it.
“Brigadier, I don’t think the Major-” was all he managed, before the Brigadier stopped him.
“Mister Southall, I am sure the Major understands the mission requirements,” he turned to Blake, who nodded his head almost imperceptibly, and the Brigadier picked up a large brown envelope marked “Top Secret,” from his desk and handed it to Blake. “That contains your orders and mission brief. Please read it and then organise your men, I have arranged transport for you,” he looked at his watch, “which is scheduled to leave in an hour and a half. Weapons and kit will be provided once you reach situation control in France, where you’ll meet up with the civilians and the rest of the French team. You’ll be given a full briefing regarding the complex and everything else you should need then. After that, well, it’ll be up to you.”
The Brigadier returned Blake’s quick salute, and the Major turned, ignoring Southall, and left the room.
Southall watched the door close, before turning his attention to the Brigadier.
“You actually think he won’t kill Sabak?”
“Blake is one of my finest officers.”
Southall nodded. “I’m sure he is, but that’s not what I asked you.”
“No, it’s not!” the Brigadier retorted hotly. “When you came here you asked me who the best man for the job was. Well, you just met him. You want the Collider undamaged? You want four hundred hostages freed unharmed? And you want Sabak.” The Brigadier wiped his brow, struggling to regain his composure, and after a few seconds he managed to find it, looking at Southall calmly and using his words deliberately.
“You want all that, then you want Trubble. Major Trubble.”
Southall exhaled slowly.
“I just hope you’re right.”
The object of the two men’s discussion was currently walking across the square outside in the direction of the shower block, his boots kicking up small puffs of sand as he contemplated the last half hour.
It was almost impossible to think of the terrorist without thinking of the family he’d lost in that tragic day just over four years ago. Not that he could stop thinking about them anyway, but he needed to focus. This was his chance, what he had trained and driven himself for; a chance at the beast that had taken away his life and almost destroyed his sanity.
As the sun hammered at the anvil of the ground and heat haze rose all around him, Blake thought back to the time he’d learned about Sabak and his involvement in seven seven.
He’d been returning from a covert mission with an MI5 agent in Eastern Europe, and had told the man, Davidson his name had been, about the day his world had been shattered. Davidson had been sympathetic, and gone on to tell him that the man who’d given the order for the attack had been Sabak.
Blake had been confused, and told Davidson that he must be mistaken; they’d caught everyone involved in the atrocity. But Davidson had told him he was wrong, and that there had been a cover up regarding Sabak’s involvement. Blake had asked why, and that was when he got an answer he really didn’t like.
“Because Sabak has dual nationality; he’s Syrian, but he also has French citizenship.”
“So?” Blake had asked, not understanding.
Davidson shook his head. “You don’t get it, do you? We’re already at odds with the French over their stance on Afghanistan and Iraq, and that pillock of a French Interior Minister went on record as saying that our government knew about one of the terrorists and didn’t do a thing about it, straining the international relationship even more. No, this is all about politics; if we argue with the French any more it’ll damage us in Europe, and we’ve already done enough damage by allying ourselves with the Yanks.”
Blake had been shocked, then angry in that order.
Shocked that the British government could conceive of such a cover up, and then angry at them, then the French, and of course, Sabak.
From that point on, he’d done everything he could to find out more about the animal that had ordered his family killed, using all of his own contacts to gather information.
Piece by piece he’d put together a picture of the man that he swore he would find and avenge himself on.
Mahmoud Sabak had been born in France to a Syrian mother and French father, and had spent a considerable portion of his formative years travelling back and forth between various countries, his father being a member of the French diplomatic service.
The young Sabak spent a lot of time with his mother, and it seemed she had played a major part in shaping the youth’s thinking, indoctrinating him in the Muslim faith, and educating him in the suffering of their Arab brothers around the Middle East.
All the while that Sabak was being exposed to the hardships of such people as the Palestinians, he was taught the teachings of the Koran. He was also given the reasons why the unbelievers of the world, the Christians, the Jews and all the other nations that oppressed his brothers and stifled the word of Allah, did not deserve to live.
But Sabak’s mother was also skilled at subterfuge, and taught the boy that he should not air his views in front of his father, or anyone else who did not worship Allah or who didn’t sympathise with their views. Sabak was intelligent enough to understand her reasons for this, and that was why his father never knew of his son’s extremist ideals.
Or at least not until it was too late to do anything about them.
As Sabak travelled the Middle East and some of the old French African colonial countries, his Mother helped him meet other extremists, and slowly he built a network of contacts. At first, these contacts did not involve him in terrorist activities, but rather benefited from the confidential information he soon learnt to steal from his father, information that proved valuable to these men. In exchange, Sabak was given knowledge on weapons, armaments and explosives, which the young man took in eagerly. This was combined with a first class education; although Sabak had to move around with his father, the French Diplomatic Service provided the finest tutors in every subject, and Sabak was an able student.
As he became a young man, his relationship with his contacts changed; he began to provide them with financial information, information that helped them raise money to finance their war against the West. He also benefited from this information personally; but he wasn’t interested in personal wealth. No, he had a mission in life. Money was just a mechanism for helping him achieve it.
At eighteen years old, Sabak astounded his father by refusing to continue his education at a University, announcing that he would be leaving the family home to start his own business. When his father demanded to know what business his son would be conducting, Sabak had smiled and said simply, “Import and Export.”
At nineteen years old, Sabak planned and implemented his first terrorist activity, the bombing of an American Embassy. The mission went well, destroying the Embassy building and killing over a hundred American staff and soldiers. Spurred on by success, Sabak began a lethal campaign of death and destruction on a range of Western targets across the Middle East.
It was in his twenty fifth year that Sabak’s hatred of all things non Islamic reached its fanatical height. While planning an attack on a target in Pakistan, he learnt of his mother’s death. In itself, this was enough cause for grief, but the circumstances surrounding it were calculated by fate to incense him.
While travelling with his father on a tour of the Gaza strip to understand the plight of the Palestinian people there, Israel launched a rocket attack in reprisal for a bombing that had taken place in Tel Aviv the day before. The resulting destruction had destroyed his parents’ vehicle, as well as a large proportion of the buildings through which they had been travelling.
Sabak had felt rage so powerful at this news that he physically foamed at the mouth, and for two days no one around him could speak to him or approach him.
After those two days, he emerged from his self imposed solitude, a newer, grimmer and even more determined man, focussed on the complete destruction of everything non Islamic.
He had evolved into a fanatic.
Now the real Jihad would begin.
And this time it was deeply personal.
Blake shook his head to clear it as he opened the door to the barracks and stepped in to the relative coolness inside. He could hear happy raised voices, singing, and the sound of running water, and he headed to the shower room where he sat quietly waiting for his men to finish showering and come out to the changing room.
After five minutes the first of them appeared, a tall lean wraith appearing around a corner, a towel draped casually across his shoulder, the light playing on his salt and pepper coloured hair.
Steve, ‘Thomohawk’ Thompson, or ‘Thomo’ as he was often called, Sergeant and trusted second in command of the squad, smiled as he saw his officer sitting on a slatted bench. But the smile faded as he took in the grim face and strained body language.
“Sir?” the sergeant asked, “Is everything all rig-” he stopped as Blake held his hand up.
“Let’s wait for the others Thomo,” Blake said quietly, and Thompson just nodded, his piercing blue eyes expressing curiosity, but he knew better than to ask. There was something going on was all he thought, as the three other members of the troop rounded the corner, one of them slapping the two in front with a wet towel across the cheeks of their buttocks, to much shouting and laughing.
This activity stopped when they saw Blake, who had now stood up.
“Not showering sir?” asked another Steve, this time Corporal Steve “Pocket” Walters. The nickname came from his relatively small size – four foot nine, which belied his martial skills – the nickname was short for ‘Pocket Rocket.’
“I will Pocket, but not quite yet.” He looked at his men, who looked back at him wearing slightly puzzled expressions, waiting for him to speak.
“Men, we’ve been given a new mission. An extremely difficult and dangerous mission.” The four remained silent. They knew that this must be something out of the ordinary if they were going straight out on a mission after six weeks of straight field work. Blake nodded slightly to himself, proud of his men and the discipline that stopped them bombarding him with questions even though they would obviously not be getting the break they had definitely earned on one of the biggest holidays of the year.
“Given the nature of the mission, the Brigadier, hell, all of Europe needs the best team for the job. And that’s us.”
“No argument there,” Thompson nodded, grinning, while the others nodded their heads in agreement.
Blake smiled. “Good. Because this is not just another mission to rescue hostages this time. No, it’s an opportunity as well.”
Expressions changed, becoming more interested, and Blake paused before he spoke again.
“We’re going after Sabak.”
Thompson whistled, a high pitch changing quickly to a low pitch, and Blake nodded. “Yeah, we’re going after the famous ‘Missing Link’ himself.”
The last three men to emerge from the shower smiled and clapped each other on the backs, while the Sergeant shared a look with his Major. While all of them knew about Sabak and his infamy as a terrorist, only Thompson, who had worked with Blake the longest, actually knew what it meant to Blake personally to go after the monster who’d been instrumental in the deaths of his family.
While the others made jokes and slapped each other with enthusiasm, Thompson stepped closer to Blake, and leaning forward quietly said to him, “Nil captivum?”
Blake inhaled deeply, thinking of his orders from the Brigadier, who’d asked whether he was clear on capturing Sabak alive.
He looked into his sergeant’s eyes and nodded.
“That’s right. No prisoners.”