Deckard was up on his feet and moving the second the grenade exploded. It was early morning and the cold night air cleared his head as he threw the blanket off. Running out the door, he turned through the smoke hanging in the air from the explosion and sprinted down the hall as he slung his Kalashnikov over his shoulder. He had done a quick route recon before drifting off to a restless sleep and now it was paying off.
Diving into another empty apartment, he made for a window and took a quick look before jumping. Vaulting out of the window, he sailed through the empty space above an alley before his combat boots made contact with the balcony of an adjacent apartment. He had quickly broken contact with the enemy but had to keep moving. Using the butt of his rifle, he cleared away some broken glass and climbed through a window.
Once inside, he carefully looked out a few windows at the building he had just escaped from. He could see the Nusra fighters taking a knee in the shadows at two corners of their target building. He had no doubt that they were on the other two corners as well. Someone had directed them to isolate the building before the assault team began clearing. They were using American tactics. It was Nusra with Liquid Sky in an advisory role. They were looking for him.
Whether they had been able to specifically track him to his bed-down site or if they were just doing a cordon and search on the entire area was irrelevant. Now they were back on his trail. Deckard couldn’t run and hide. There was nowhere to run to as he was in enemy territory no matter what direction he went. A stand up fight was out of the question. He’d be gunned down in seconds as he was up against overwhelming numbers.
Mentally noting the enemy positions one last time, he turned and looked for a way down to the ground floor. What he could do was wage an unconventional battle, nickle and dime Nusra bit by bit and wear them down with a harassment campaign. Hopefully he could hold out until he could link up with Samruk.
Deckard quietly stepped down the stairs and out on to the street. There were four Nusra shooters at the nearest blocking position up ahead. Deckard stayed low with his AK in his hands as he moved forward in the dark. It would be another hour or so before the sun starting coming up. There was a burned-out car in the middle of the street and he was able to keep that between him and the enemy as he advanced towards them. When he came up alongside the car, he was less than ten meters away.
The undisciplined jihadists talked amongst themselves as they waited. They had been posted at the corner of the building to prevent anyone from escaping, specifically Deckard. They didn’t seem to be taking their job all that seriously despite the booby trap that their comrades had set off. The four gunmen squatted on the street corner next to the target building.
Deckard slowly eased off the safety on his Kalashnikov. Staring down his rifle sights, he had them dead to rights. The jihadists were all facing in towards the target building with no rear security posted. Deckard quickly worked them like human e-type silhouettes at the range, shooting from left to right, two shots center mass in each one.
Crawling forward towards the bodies, he could hear shouts from the other security positions. White lights flashed from inside the building as the assault element continued to clear room to room. A walkie-talkie radio snapped inside the pocket of one of the dead jihadists crackled. Arabic voices came over the net as the other checkpoints tried to find out who was shooting.
Working quickly, Deckard stripped a couple chest rigs full of AK magazines off two of the bodies, grabbed the radio and then retreated back the way he came. The voices were getting more frantic on the radio. Depressing the push-to-talk button, Deckard began shouting in Arabic.
“He’s at our position, he shot at us until we had to retreat. He’s there now.”
Seconds later, one of the other blocking positions opened up on the one he had just taken out. The bullets kicked up little clouds of dust around the dead bodies.
“Not that one,” Deckard corrected. “The other blocking position!”
That did it. The remaining three blocking positions began opening fire on each other. In the confusion, they then returned fire on each other as well. The radio cracked and hissed as shouts and screams were garbled over the net. The jihadists were working themselves up into a confused panic as they shot their team mates.
Deckard turned the knob on the radio until it clicked off. He wasn’t about to get decisively engaged with the enemy when they could just wear themselves out instead. His work was done here.
They were getting close. Pat could feel it.
The fighting had picked up in volume and intensity over the last few minutes. The jihadists had their backs up against the wall and they knew it. The Syrian Army had them stonewalled on one side and Samruk International was turning the handle on the meat grinder on the other. The boys had already run through their ammunition and were scrounging what they could off dead enemy. It was Deckard’s foresight that they had to thank when he bought a 7.62 platform for the mercenaries rather than going with something cooler and more high-tech which would not be able to fire ammunition found on the battlefield.
Deckard knew that Samruk would be going into austere environments and denied areas.
Homs seemed to fit the bill.
Between a rock and a hard place, the Nusra fighters knew this was their last stand and were not budging any further. Samruk had traded fire with them off and on throughout the night. With night vision capability, their shooters were much more accurate at night fire to say the least. Nikita had been having a turkey shoot up on the rooftops. Every time a Nusra gunman poked his head out from behind a wall, the Kazakh sniper had taken it off.
But now the momentum had stalled and they were not making any further progress. Samruk needed to attempt a breakthrough to blitz forward, locate the chemical weapons, and capture them. Right now they were at a stalemate; every time they tried to push across the street they took fire from multiple heavy machine guns spread around the surrounding buildings.
Cracking this problem would require a little unconventional thinking, Pat knew. While Samruk mercenaries pulled security on the front line, others were busy at work inside the buildings they had occupied. It was dawn, and Pat wanted to wait until they had some good daylight before baiting Nusra into his trap. The men would have some more time to prepare their defenses.
Pat continued to inspect the lines and their preparation until Sergeant Fedorchenko approached him. The Sergeant had been with Samruk International since day one. As one of their first recruits, he had risen to the rank of Platoon Sergeant. Between Pat’s bad Russian and Fedorchenko’s bad English, they were able to communicate. The Platoon Sergeant informed him that his men were ready to go.
Everyone moved to take their places. It was a few minutes past seven in the morning when Pat gave the order. Samruk mercenaries fired RPGs at the machine gun nests they were able to locate and the riflemen and machine gunners on the ground began pouring it on with everything they had. Pat let the onslaught continue for a good half-minute before ordering the men to go from a cyclic to rapid rate of fire while they initiated a phased withdrawal plan.
One element fell back at a time as the Nusra fighters returned fire in earnest from their positions in the ruined neighborhood. The Samruk mercenaries were retreating to positions to the rear in groups of five or six while others provided cover fire. To the Nusra fighters, it looked like the Kazakh mercenaries were spent and were now beating a hasty retreat. Pat knew it was working when he heard the shouts in between bursts of gunfire as the jihadists celebrated.
From his vantage point on the second floor, Pat saw them poking their heads out from their fighting positions. Some of the Arabs were coming out into the open to fire their weapons in the general direction of the Samruk men. Pat fired off a short burst himself and then joined the retreating mercenaries.
Bailing out the back of the building, he joined the rest of the men in the secondary positions they had scouted out the night before. They were now barricaded inside three other buildings, behind what had been the front line for them over the course of the night.
Meanwhile, Nusra fighters spilled out of their own fighting positions and surged forward to occupy the ground they had lost the previous day. They were feeling the pressure from being stuck between Samruk and the Syrian Army. Now they wanted some breathing room back.
Pat smiled when he heard the first explosion.
It was a tactic called defense in depth. There is no need to hold a defensive position until the last bullet. Why waste the resources when you can just booby trap your position and then fall back to a secondary position? With the enemy running into the buildings that Samruk had occupied, they were now getting a special surprise.
Explosives ripped through the Nusra fighters as they mindlessly walked into trip wires and stepped on pressure plates that the mercenaries had rigged overnight. Many of the doorways leading out had been blocked by tumbleweeds of razor wire that the mercenaries had found on the battlefield and improvised as obstacles by jamming the mess into the exits. Now the Nusra gunmen were panicking and running right into razor wire.
Another blast sounded, probably one of the bricks of C4 plastic explosives that they had rubber-banded pieces of scrap metal to. Dust clouds rolled out of the windows and screams filled the morning air as another detonation was triggered.
Pat turned to Fedorchenko. It was time to skirt around the booby-trapped buildings. With Nusra softened up, they were ready to drive into the hold-outs and crush what was left of them. The platoon sergeant nodded and went to gather his Squad Leaders without having to be told.
The former Delta Force operator looked at the black smoke spiraling into the sky and knew that, one way or the other, it would all be over by the end of the day.
Deckard turned and pulled the Kalashnikov’s stock into his shoulder. Gaining target acquisition, the front sight post on the rifle bobbed slightly as it was superimposed over a human form approximately fifty meters away. Deckard gently squeezed the trigger. The rifle recoiled in his hands and the Nusra fighter collapsed.
A stand up fight was out of the question, so Deckard turned and beat a hasty withdrawal as more gunmen bounded forward through the rubble. For the last twenty minutes or so Nusra had been alternating between trying to outflank him and simply blitzing forward to try to overwhelm him. Each time, Deckard had managed to slip through their fingers only to be picked up and engaged again moments later.
The no-man’s land they fought in was the most heavily damaged part of Homs, and more than once had they come under fire from the Syrian Army. Nusra had also taken some friendly fire from their comrades who mistook them for the Army. Deckard thrived in the chaos, letting all sides of the battle bounce against each other and wear themselves down.
The building he was in now had been reduced in place by airstrikes. All that stood were waist high outer walls that gave a rectangular outline. Realizing that he was exposed to the Syrian Army lines a few hundred meters away, he ducked down behind one of the walls not a moment too soon. A bullet zipped right through the space he had occupied a fraction of a second ago and splashed against a concrete pillar.
Deckard crawled hand over hand to the other side of the building until he heard something behind him. Looking over his shoulder, he saw two of the jihadists creeping into the remains of the building behind him.
The Syrian Army sniper took out the first one, his head exploding like an overripe melon. The second jihadist looked down at his friend’s body, not registering the immediate danger he was in. The sniper put a quick end to his confusion.
Deckard continued forward through the debris. Whoever the sniper was pulling overwatch on this sector of the front lines, he wasn’t playing games. He had clearly ranged out the area he was to cover ahead of time so that he could dial in the correct range as soon as a target appeared.
Moving into the next collapsed structure, he finally found some good cover. It felt like the ruins of civilization went on and on, city blocks of devastation in every direction. Whatever the Syrian civil war had been about, the one thing he knew for sure was that the country would never be the same. It would take decades for Syria to recover.
It was only mid-morning. Deckard kept moving, this time doubling back on some of his old positions to observe Nusra movements. Maybe watch that sniper take out of few more of the Arab foreign fighters who had come to partake in the fighting.
Climbing into the second story of a building, Deckard had eyes on a courtyard as Nusra fighters jogged across in ones and twos. Their black man-dresses and long beards bounced as they ran. There were only a half dozen left from the cell that had attacked him before dawn. Then, he spotted the leader of the group.
Deckard’s suspicions had been correct. It was Ramon. He watched as the Special Forces veteran ran across the courtyard and continued to direct the Nusra fighters.
Leaving his perch, Deckard followed after the gunmen. The hunters were now the hunted. Every now and again he could hear sandals slipping across the ground or one of the jihadists crunching over some debris. A few muffled words in Arabic here and there. Deckard was close. When an artillery strike rained down a few blocks away, Deckard took advantage of the noise that it created to close the gap and get close to the Nusra fighters.
He found one walking down an empty hallway and quickly put him into a choke hold before breaking his neck with a dull pop. Deckard moved forward cautiously, careful not to overshoot his prey and put himself into their line of fire. Before long, he caught the others bunching up in another courtyard. They realized they had lost one of their men and were having some kind of confab to figure out who was going to go looking for him.
Deckard edged as close as he could to the open door that led to the courtyard. Very carefully, he switched the selector on his Kalashnikov to full auto, trying not to make any noise. He peeked from around the cover of the door and hosed down the Nusra fighters where they stood, cutting across them with one long burst of gunfire. Four down. That left one more plus Ramon.
They announced themselves to Deckard by firing at him from the next building over. Their muzzle flashes lighting up two windows. Deckard jerked back inside to avoid the gunfire. Outside, he spotted a RPG-7 launcher that one of the dead jihadists had propped up against the courtyard wall while they had been talking. Out in the sunlight, Deckard saw that it was loaded with a PG-7 rocket.
When the gunfire tapered off for a moment, Deckard sprinted forward and then slid through the dirt in the courtyard, right up to the wall. Snatching the RPG, he swung it over his shoulder, yanked the pin on the nose cap of the PG-7 round, pulled the cap off, and cocked the hammer on the trigger mechanism in just a few seconds. Using the iron sights, he aimed at one of the windows where the gunfire had come from and pulled the trigger. The RPG was deafening as the rocket spiraled away.
Even from up close, Deckard’s aim was off. He was dehydrated and exhausted, which gave him shaky hands. The RPG rocket slammed into the wall just below the window and exploded. The blast carried into the building and seemed to take out whoever was there because the gunfire ceased.
Dropping the rocket launcher, Deckard reloaded his AK and headed towards the building. With his heart pounding in his chest, Deckard forced himself to slow down, check his corners, and be more deliberate in his actions before he got himself killed. Up on the second floor he found the bodies.
The last jihadist had been standing in the window that the RPG rocket has struck under. He was basically torn in half. Flies were already buzzing around the pink elastic of his intestines. Deckard trained his rifle on the second casualty.
Ramon was breathing heavy. His torso was soaked in dark crimson from several chest wounds. As he saw Deckard approach, his hand fumbled with the kit strapped to his chest. Ramon’s gloved hand tore at the handle of the knife mounted to his chest rig.
Deckard was about to grab Ramon by the wrist and stop him when the former Special Forces soldier suddenly flipped the knife around and held it out for him. Deckard took the black Karambit from him as he knelt down beside Ramon. His breaths were sharp and short. He was critical and they both knew it.
“Finish,” Ramon gulped. The blood was seeping out from under his shirt and covering his neck. “Finish it.”
“I’m not going to leave you here,” Deckard told him.
“No.” Ramon tried to catch his breath. “Finish all of them.”
Deckard looked down at the Emerson Filipino fighting knife in his hand.
“We went too far,” Ramon gasped. “It has to end. This can’t go on.”
“It ends today.”
Ramon nodded, but it was barely noticeable. He was fading fast.
“That’s a promise.”
“That bastard,” Ramon said, his voice going soft. “The Operator. He is only a few minutes behind me.”
“I’ll handle him.”
“You need,” Ramon took another breath. “To go. Leave me. I want to die alone.”
Deckard looked down at him with uncertainty. Leaving him behind like this didn’t seem right. Deckard never left a fallen comrade. He would not even leave an enemy to suffer without putting a mercy bullet in him.
“It’s okay,” Ramon said. “It’s okay.”
Deckard wiped the sweat off his forehead and looked down at Ramon one more time before standing up and beginning to walk away.
“Deckard…” Ramon called, his voice going soft as he faded away.
“Yeah?” Deckard said turning to face him again.
“I always. I always knew, brother.”
“Because I let that poor girl who was chained up under the bridge go free?”
“Before,” Ramon wheezed. “At the docks. At the armory. You let that…security guard live. Saw him breathing. You were never one of us.”
Deckard was still for a moment.
“You should have said something,” Deckard said, his voice now filled with regret.
“No. Too late for me. You have,” Ramon took another deep breath. “Another chance.”
“Don’t screw it up,” Ramon said, pleading with him.
Deckard walked away.
Bill flung open the car door and started the engine.
Tiger was going to open a corridor for them to escape, but he could only keep it open for a few minutes. Their timing had to be on the money. Ramon and The Operator were still chasing Deckard around in no-man’s-land, the Syrian Army was still pounding them, and some new player was smashing them from their six o’ clock. Bill had gotten an eye on them and they looked like Russian mercenaries. They lured the Nusra idiots into a kill zone and killed nearly half the force that the jihadists had in this neighborhood.
Deckard’s private military company.
He would deal with Deckard and his cronies, but first he had a job to complete. If he couldn’t make it to Damascus, he would just have to find some other civilian population to gas along the way.
“Get the weapons loaded,” he ordered the jihadists. “Where the fuck is Nadeesha?”
He looked over at Tiger. The Chechen shrugged.
“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me,” Bill practically spat. He went back inside the apartment building and looked around one more time before walking back outside.
“That fucking whore cut and run.”
Someone had seen the writing on the wall.
Pat reached out and slapped the muzzle of an AK-103 up in the air. The Kazakh mercenary looked at him in confusion for a moment.
“No one fires on the gray sedan,” Pat said into his radio. “I repeat, do not fire on the gray car.”
They had just watched a large container being loaded into the trunk of the car. There was no mistaking it. It was one of the two weapons they had come to secure. The Samruk International mercenaries had cheated forward into enemy lines. Their defense in depth had bought them some breathing room, far more than any of them had anticipated. Within minutes of bounding into what had been Nusra controlled lines they were already on top of their query.
Of course, their luck didn’t hold out long enough for Pat to plan a hasty scheme of maneuver. Kalashnikovs ripped long bursts through the neighborhood as the Samruk mercenaries were spotted. The white guy who had been organizing the loading of the weapon in the car suddenly jumped into the driver’s seat. From down the street, Pat had a feeling that he was looking at an American, a former soldier at that. It was one of the Liquid Sky members.
Pat had his own rifle up and trained on the vehicle as the Liquid Sky leader put it into drive and peeled off down the street.
“Fuck,” he cursed in frustration. He couldn’t risk shooting at the driver and inadvertently detonating the chemical weapon. In the confines of the city, it would be especially devastating. Nusra terrorists, Samruk mercenaries, and civilians on the battlefield would all die a horrible death. Once images of the bodies were broadcasted across the internet, major news services would pick them up. It would get the ball rolling towards overt international intervention in Syria, and God knew what else.
Suddenly, Pat heard a pop over his left shoulder. One of his men had blown off his order and took a shot at the fleeing vehicle. The mercenary commander was about to punch his teammate in the face for his carelessness when he spotted more movement out on the street.
Four more jihadists had walked out of the nearby building carrying a litter with the second bomb on it. Seeing the vehicle disappear, and hearing the gunfire all around them, they dropped the bomb and yelled after the getaway car. One gave chase after it with his arms flung in the air.
Pat hit the push to talk button on his radio, but their sniper was already on it. Four shots rang out from his HK 417 and four bodies hit the ground.
While the gunfire continued in spurts throughout the neighborhood, Pat looked back at the Kazakh who had fired. He was holding a Mk14 grenade launcher. The six-shot grenade launcher looked like an oversized revolver, because that was basically what it was. It was one of many weapons the private military company had scrounged off of past objectives. The Kazakh smiled.
“G-P-S,” he said to his boss with a toothy grin.
Now it was Pat’s turn to smile. He clicked on his satellite phone and opened the GPS app. It would take a few seconds for it to boot up. The Kazakh hadn’t fired a high explosive round which was what they normally loaded in the Mk14. This time, he had shot a very specialized 40mm GPS round. The cartridge itself stuck to nearly any surface with adhesive and a GPS unit inside it would then activate and begin broadcasting.
Once the app loaded up on Pat’s phone, a moving blue dot appeared in Homs. The mercenary had hit his mark. Samruk didn’t do medals, but they did do pay bonuses and the Mk14 gunner had certainly earned one.
Having a tracker on the target, or rather the car, was a start but the target was mobile; Samruk was on foot and engaged with the enemy. Pat forwarded the GPS signal to Deckard’s cellphone. Hitting the send button, Pat wondered whether his friend was still alive or not. The answer to that question would have to wait.
Fedorchenko was already bounding his men up to the chemical weapon laying in the street.