Deckard heard the screams when his hand grenade detonated.
The Operator had been driving his cell of Nusra fighters hard. They kept pushing Deckard deeper and deeper into no man’s land. He had nowhere else to go. It had become a running gunfight, Deckard finding a position that offered good cover and concealment and offering an attack that would stall the enemy, if nothing else. He could nickle and dime them, but only slow the gunmen down for a few minutes at a time. Deckard never saw The Operator, but knew he was there, leading the jihadists at gunpoint.
When the grenade he had thrown exploded, he could hear the yelling of at least one Nusra gunmen caught in the blast. It was the kind of primal scream you hear from someone critically injured, from someone who is dying on a battlefield.
He turned and ran through the debris littering the streets and jumped over the twisted metal of what had once been a car before disappearing into what was left of a bombed-out apartment building. Ducking down, he shifted under a collapsed wall and kept moving.
Something slammed into Deckard’s chest. The next moment he knew, he was on his back and looking up at the ceiling.
“Not bad, Johnny Rico,” a voice said. “Not bad at all.”
Deckard reached towards where he had dropped his rifle but a booted foot kicked it away.
“I cannot help but admire you Deckard.”
It was The Operator. He’d somehow gotten behind Deckard while he was busy engaging the Nusra gunmen. He had anticipated Deckard’s withdrawal route and clotheslined him, knocking the wind out of him in the process.
Deckard pushed back with his feet, backing away from The Operator as he stepped out of the shadows.
“You are strong Deckard. Resilient. I underestimated you.”
Deckard continued to shuffle away on his back as The Operator stepped forward. All he had left to fight with was his Karambit. It seemed that his foe wanted to play mind games with him before moving in for the kill. The Filipino fighting knife would do Deckard little good. The Operator could shoot him as soon as he was ready.
Continuing to back away, Deckard pushed into a couple dead bodies.
“But I have to question your resolve Deckard. In the end, we become victims of our own restraint.”
He was still having trouble breathing after The Operator knocked him down but as he crawled over the bodies, Deckard realized where he was. The entire outer wall of the building was blown out.
“These bodies Deckard, these corpses. We didn’t kill them. God killed them. We are merely the hand of God, carrying out his wishes.”
“Keep talking,” Deckard coughed.
“It isn’t enough just to kill you Deckard. You are a special case. First, I have to be inside your mind.”
The Operator stepped forward, cradling his AK-47 in his arms. He looked like he was barely winded, as if the combat of the last several days hadn’t taken anything out of him at all. Deckard rolled and tried to scramble forward but the Operator fired two shots just inches from his face.
Deckard was trapped. The Operator stepped over the two bodies, the bodies of the two jihadists that had been killed earlier in the day when he was still chasing after Ramon.
“America is being taken over, Deckard. Someone has to act. Someone must do what must be done.”
“You’re a fucking wind-up toy,” Deckard said.
“Patriotism means serving one’s nation Deckard, not one’s self. We must keep our goals in view. Would you have these Muslims install sharia law across America? That is what will happen if we fail our mission. God has delivered unto us a mission, and by God-”
The Operator’s face was ripped and peeled away. It hung by a flap of skin in the air as the shot rang out, just a split second behind the bullet. The Operator collapsed to the ground. His face lay beside him like a Halloween mask.
The Syrian Army sniper had done his job.
Deckard took a couple deep breaths. Blood was surging out of The Operator’s skull, the red pool quickly expanding under him. Deckard crawled forward to retrieve his rifle and beat a hasty exit. Whoever was left in the Nusra cell would probably desert without The Operator pushing them forward, but Deckard wasn’t about to take that chance. He stayed low and made his way back to the courtyard where he had fired the RPG from that morning.
He felt the satellite phone vibrating in his pocket. Turning it on, he looked at the text message from Pat. Good news. Finally.
One chem wpn secure. Other tagged and on the move. Check GPS.
Sure enough, when Deckard started up his GPS app a blue dot appeared moving through the map of the city that his phone displayed. Deckard texted him back.
Who has the last wpn?
The reply came seconds later.
Not sure. Big guy. White dude.
It had to be Bill. He was the only Liquid Sky member unaccounted for aside from Nadeesha. Who knew where she had gotten to. Deckard texted Pat one more time.
I’m going after him.
Samruk International had completed half of their mission by securing one of the chemical weapons. They had three dead and a dozen walking wounded at this point. Pat had to move his element out of the city before Nusra reduced them to the point that they were no longer an effective fighting force. Samruk was composed of two rifle platoons with machine guns, sniper, and anti-tank attachments but those numbers could dwindle fast.
Mk48 gunners and Carl Gustav gunners were helping blast a path for them out of the city. Several Nusra vehicles had been hijacked. The dead and some of the wounded were loaded onboard and driven forward as Samruk cut a path out of Homs. The city was still a slaughterhouse. Practically every street welcomed the mercenaries with fresh horrors.
Pat was moving with the lead element. His Mk48 gunner suppressed an enemy machine gun while the riflemen scooted down the street. One of the Kazakhs took out the enemy position with a well-placed hand grenade.
The former Delta Force operator had seen a lot of war over the years. Sometimes he felt as though he has seen it all. Life, however, had a very unpleasant way of surprising him.
A woman ran out into the street. She was covered in blood. She held her son above her head as she screamed. The boy could not have been more than two years old. His skull had been turned into a canoe. He had been executed. The woman pushed the dead boy into the arms of one of the Kazakh riflemen. She began clawing at her face, tearing away the skin as she screamed.
Pat tried to calm her down with the limited amount of Arabic that he knew but she kept yelling at the top of her lungs the same word over and over again.
“Shabeeha, Shabeeha, Shabeeha!”
Bill watched as one of Tiger’s men operated the remote control. Suicide bombers were going out of style. These days they were building remote control cars. Better for terminal guidance than human beings since you don’t have to worry about them getting afraid. Better in most cases anyway. Sometimes there were people in your group you wanted to get rid of after all.
The Nusra technician finished his functions check by manipulating the joy sticks on the remote control and watching to make sure the hardware attached to the steering column responded appropriately. A bicycle chain wound around a couple of gears moved the steering column which turned the car’s wheels.
Some key neighborhoods in Damascus were controlled by the rebels, but the route from there to Homs was dodgy at best with both rebels and the Syrian Army setting up snap checkpoints along the road. They were about a hundred miles from Syria’s capital city and had encountered the first Army checkpoint only twenty miles into their journey.
Tiger looked at the rebel fighter and nodded. The rebel used the remote control to nudge the car forward and it gradually began to pick up speed. Bill looked at the soldiers manning the checkpoint through his binoculars. They appeared tired and lackadaisical. With the sun setting, they knew the day was almost over and were probably preparing for a shift change.
The Syrian soldiers didn’t notice the car barreling down on them until it was only a hundred meters away. By the time they got their guns up, the car had closed to fifty meters. Maybe one of them got a shot off, maybe not. It was hard to tell as the entire checkpoint went up in a giant fireball. The remote control IED had been loaded with four 155mm artillery rounds. It had been overkill for taking out a half dozen Syrian soldiers, but Bill wasn’t complaining.
He was done with this mission. Ready to gas some civilians and get the hell out of the country. He’d broken another Liquid Sky team. Not his first and certainly not his last. He’d get more from somewhere and start picking up contracts again within a month. It was only within the last thirty minutes that he had stopped seeing red and started to get back on task. He had over-committed to the task of chasing down Deckard. He was ultimately irrelevant to Bill’s goals, just a loose end to tie up when it was all over.
That was one scalp that Bill relished the thought of taking. He would add it to his collection.
When the smoke cleared, there was nothing left of the car that the IED had been in or the Syrian soldiers. They were reduced to scraps of burnt flesh. Tiger looked at Bill. The Chechen smiled.
“Good,” Bill affirmed. “Lets get moving.”
Bill got behind the wheel of the car with his last chemical weapon. Tiger got in a second car with the rebel who had piloted the remote control car and a third Nusra fighter. Between Deckard, the mercenaries, and the Syrian Army, it was all they had left.
The former SEAL Team Six operator started down the road towards Damascus. They might be light on manpower, but he knew damn well that he had the ultimate equalizer riding in the backseat. They would push hard for the capitol through the night and by early morning it would all be over.
Deckard looked down at his satellite phone as the battery continued to dwindle.
Pat had gotten him on the line and forwarded the GPS tracker information to Deckard so he could follow the last weapon, assuming they hadn’t changed cars. Deckard could feel his entire mission slipping through his fingertips. If Bill was able to detonate that weapon in the middle of Damascus, it was likely that the entire Middle East would explode. More so if the rebels coupled the attack with an effective propaganda campaign.
Thirty minutes prior, he had driven through the smoking remains of what was probably a roadside checkpoint. The stench of smoke and burning flesh had seeped in through the crack in the window of his hotwired car.
Looking down at the blue dot moving across the map on his satellite phone, Deckard saw that the vehicle he was after was nearly half way to the capitol already. They were tearing down the highway, pushing for Damascus before dawn. Deckard was already driving recklessly fast through the night in an attempt to catch up with them. He only had one more replacement battery for the satellite phone. If he had to improvise a recharger with some copper wiring to the car’s internal electrical system, it would only waste more of his time.
He was gradually gaining on the blue dot. For now, anyway.
One way or another, he knew that it would all be over soon. If Bill had his way, he would murder thousands of civilians with mustard gas and drag the Middle East into a massive war, all because his mysterious employers had designs on the region.
Deckard floored the gas.
He couldn’t let that happen.