Deckard set down his second cup of coffee and opened his laptop computer. The reality of running a private military company was that there was a lot of mundane bullshit to deal with. Samruk International had expended a lot of human and financial capital lately. He had been reduced to selling off two of the company’s mammoth An-125 cargo jets. Now they only had the one An-125 and two C-27J’s left in their aviation wing. At least the C-27s had been bought dirt cheap. The U.S. Air Force decided they didn’t want them anymore after wasting millions of taxpayer’s dollars.

They had taken the oil security contract in the Arctic to keep the revenue coming in. Maintaining a small private army wasn’t cheap, and this wasn’t the way most companies did business; usually, they just hired independent contractors from job to job. Deckard was instead running a de facto military unit, and he wanted to keep his team intact.

However, as it turned out, there could be many interesting tasks rolled up under an oil security contract. Not only could those tasks include static security around offshore oil rigs, but they could also involve training other security personnel, and maybe even killing off those who would would threaten the business interests of said oil companies—threats like the Russian mafia, who had recently been acting like Arctic pirates.

Deckard’s office door swung open again. Rocheniore looked up at him with a grin.

“We got the green light,” the former SEAL announced.

“No shit?”

Preview: Gray Matter Splatter, a Deckard Novel

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“No shit.”

“Everything is prepped and pre-staged, correct?”

“You know it.”

Now it was Deckard’s turn to smile.

“Spin the boys up.”

The giant black man turned around in the doorway.

“DROP SOCKS, GRAB COCKS. IT’S A GO!”

Deckard flung open his gear bag and began donning his kit. The first layer was thermal clothing, then a bare plate carrier, which rode underneath his heavy winter jacket. Over his clothes he wore the new Samruk uniform for their arctic contract, a winter camouflage pattern made by PenCott called Snow Drift. Finally, a chest rig loaded with ammunition and grenades went over his chest. Picking up his AK-103 rifle, Deckard walked out into the the warehouse.

About 80 mercenaries were going through the same routine, kitting up for combat. The mission had been planned and re-planned for weeks. They were just waiting on approval from the Russian government. Mob ties ran deep in the halls of power and getting the political ducks in a row took some time. At the end of the day it was all about business, and the pirates were costing both the government and private industry millions of dollars in extortion fees. Someone had finally gotten fed up.

Pre-Order Gray Matter Splatter, a new military thriller by Jack Murphy

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Using a private military company that had a Kazakh face rather than an American one made the job more politically acceptable, and kept the Russia military out of the firing line when things went pear-shaped, which of course they always did.

“What about the new guys?” Kurt Jager asked as he spotted Deckard walking out of the office. The former GSG-9 commando spoke perfect English, leaving no hint of his German nationality.

“Take them along. It will be on-the-job training. Keep them with the security elements so they can observe how we do things without getting them overly involved on their first op.”

“Got it.”

Deckard slung his rifle and pulled a white watch cap over his head. Pushing open the door, he pulled his hood up as well. The sunlight stung his eyes. As outlined in the stipulations of their contract, Samruk International was based out of an unused warehouse leased to house oil-drilling equipment—and the occasional private army.

The wind swept snow across the desolate coastline, the cold already stinging Deckard’s cheeks. By the end of this deployment he knew they would all be sporting lumberjack beards just to try to keep themselves a little bit warmer.

A few hundred meters away was their new ride. It was a monstrosity of a ship, a chimera that never should have existed, but did thanks to a failed U.S. Navy and Marine Corps experiment gone awry. But just like the C-27J airplane, Deckard saw an opportunity to purchase some hardware that fit his needs and at bargain-basement prices.

Renamed the Carrickfergus, the ship was a one of a kind. Sharing the characteristics of both a barge and a catamaran, the ship rested on two massive pontoons with the bridge of the ship, housing the captain’s control center, joining the double-hulled design. On top of each hull were two passenger compartments.

It was big, it was blue, it was ugly, and it wasn’t even that fast.

But it was an ice breaker with a cargo deck that lowered from the center, which accommodated beach landings. During travel, the deck would be raised and then lowered again along with a ramp when the vehicles onboard were ready to drive up onto the shore. Currently, the deck was lowered and waiting to take on the passengers. Under the tarps were eight Iveco assault vehicles, six snowmobiles, a few kayaks, two Zodiac boats, and a small Conex container filled with ammunition.

“Let’s go!” Frank yelled, ushering the mercenaries out the door. The former Ranger was about as wide as he was tall, and had been with the company since the beginning.

The Kazakh mercenaries were led out in an orderly fashion by one of the two platoon sergeants named Fedorchenko. He had started with Samruk as a corporal after being recruited from a Kazakh special police unit. Since that time, he had more than proven his mettle. He had been leading a platoon since Mexico and had done an outstanding job.

Integrated into the platoons of Kazakhs were Westerners from units as diverse as Polish GROM and the French Foreign Legion. Initially they had been the trainers and mentors, but now they were assaulters fighting alongside their former students who were every bit as good as they were.

The mercenaries boarded the Carrickfergus and began climbing up to the passenger compartments. Inside, the seats had been torn out and the space converted for military purposes. Gear and weapons were everywhere; white boards with task lists scribbled on them were hung on the walls; and the soldiers’ individual equipment, bags, and boxes of military rations were neatly stacked on plywood shelves they had constructed. The ship was set up not just as a means of transportation, but also to act as a mobile staging ground.

Designed to ferry 130 passengers, there was enough room for two platoons of mercenaries, plus Samruk’s intelligence, mortar, recce, and headquarters sections, but it was still cramped inside. Deckard walked up the ramp and climbed up the ladder to the bridge as the captain began raising the deck and preparing to get underway.

The ship was a hulking beast at 59 meters long, and it looked like it had been cobbled together from the leftover parts of other ships. As Deckard reached the bridge, the twin motors, which powered the hydraulic system that lifted the deck, switched off as it was locked into place. Walking inside the helm, he was confronted by a dizzying array of dials and instruments on several consoles.

The old salt that captained the Carrickfergus stood behind the wheel. He wore a battered old sweater, out from which his beer belly swelled, revealing a stained white T-shirt underneath. His beard was almost fully gray and his shoes were a beat-up pair of loafers.

“Hey Deck!” he exclaimed. “Glad you could make it.”

“Thanks Otter.”

They had been calling the captain by his sea name long enough that no one really remembered what the real name on his file was anymore.

“Time to go kill some commies, huh?”

“Organized criminals,” Deckard carefully corrected.

“Same difference,” Otter said as he grabbed the wheel with one hand. In the other was a coffee mug that looked like it hadn’t been washed in years. Unlike Deckard’s coffee, Otter’s was always spiked with something a little more fun.

“Can you get us to the beach landing zone without killing us?”

“We’ll find out,” he chuckled.

The four diesel-fueled engines churned, and the Carrickfergus began reversing out into the icy waters. This close to shore, and at this time of year, there wasn’t much ice to cut through, but they would still be traveling relatively slowly. The ship’s top speed was only 20 knots. By comparison, most commercial shipping vessels traveled at 25 knots, although most deliberately slowed to 20 to keep fuel consumption down.

Deckard looked out to sea and was greeted with a sight that would have been impossible just a few years ago. A half dozen commercial cargo ships loaded with Conex containers, or sitting low in the water because they were filled with oil, could be seen in the Arctic Sea with the naked eye as he swept his gaze across the ocean.

With polar ice melting, a new trans-Arctic sea route had been opened. The opening of the northeast passage in the spring and summer months in Russia was already saving European companies billions of dollars and cutting days off their shipping times to Asia. The opening of the northwest passage in northern Canada was having a similar effect for commercial shipping. More than that, the melting ice was also opening up the region to other commercial ventures. From oil drilling to the mining of rare-earth minerals, the Arctic Circle was now ripe for the taking.

But with that came Arctic sovereignty disputes, and the further militarization of the Arctic as great powers like Russia and the United States eyed each other from across their frozen shores. Of course, with the advent of commercial interests in the Arctic, along came crime. That was what brought Samruk International to the Arctic in the first place.

But what really shifted commercial maritime traffic up into the Arctic was ISIS. Once the jihadis had launched terrorist operations around the Suez Canal, sinking several ships, the insurance premiums for ships traveling through the canal skyrocketed. Churning through the Arctic was cheaper in more ways than one.

Looking through the window to the deck below, Deckard could already see the mercenaries throwing the tarps off their vehicles and mounting PKM machine guns in swing-arm mounts.

“How long?”

Otter snorted. “I’ll get you there by EENT,” he said, referring to End of Evening Nautical Twilight.

He could have just said ‘at dusk,’ but the U.S. Navy has a way of institutionalizing sailors.

Deckard ran the numbers in his head.

“It’s almost too good to be true.”