Something Must Be Done
“I heard mention of this BBC report on training schools being run in PoK, include that as well, no?”
QD looked up from the file he was frowningly reading through and nodded to the gentleman seated to his left – my right – at the table. The man made a note on his pad, the page more than half-full already. QD went back to perusing the file, and I to ruminating. After a minute or so, the note-taker spun his chair about to face his computer, and started typing. QD continued turning the pages, making small annotations here and there. I sat and thought. It took another ten-fifteen minutes for him to finish. At the sound of the heavy flap of the manila folder closing, the note-taker spun his seat around to face the still open pad, and picked up his pen.
“We’re good to go, almost.”
“Yes, almost. Apart from the few usual typos, the file” – he tapped lightly on the one he’d been reading – “is perfect. Now the typos I can handle, the rest is up to you. Shall we go get a signature?” I nodded, and all three of us rose and made our way to another, larger, plusher, more important office. The lady in the chair smiled congenially, and I felt calm as I smiled back – we’d met once before, she knew what I wanted.
“When it is convenient, I’d like to meet the entire team, Mr. Ackshatt,” she said as she took the file from QD and signed on the last page, gesturing to QD to help himself to the seal of her office, which he affixed below her signature, almost reverently.
“Absolutely, Ma’am. They were all enthralled when I met them after meeting you last month, and I assure you they cannot wait to express their gratitude to you in person.”
She smiled with laughter in her eyes. “Always the eloquent one, aren’t you?”
I smiled back; there was no sarcasm from her. “It pays to be, most of the time, Ma’am, don’t you think?”
QD was back at my side, and she nodded to him. “It is your support they need, QD. Give them all you can.” I looked at QD, and was relieved to see him smiling as he responded affirmatively. We bowed with our palms together, and she half-rose and bowed back. As the note-taker shut the door behind us, I felt, for the first time in my life, the fear of never again being able to be where I was today. The fear of not returning. I chewed my bottom lip and we returned to QD’s office to discuss details.
The evening had been cool and clear, and the night was expected to be no worse. As seven-thirty drew closer, my mind raced. All our minds raced. The seven of us sat in the middle of a large tent, in various stages of readiness, and in various states of mind. PS, HS, QY, AS, SK, SC and I. I looked at each, and wished I could know their thoughts better than I did. But then, I wish for a lot of things. I checked my watch and spoke.
“Seven o’clock. Time to lock and load, boys!” everyone shuffled to their feet and retreated to the periphery of the tents, where benches and the ground bore the weight of our equipment.
In the absence of any formal code of language, Hollywood lingo wasn’t unwelcome. We were all intelligent enough to know what the other meant. An officer paused at the flap, searching for eye contact with me. I gave a reassuring nod, held up all ten fingers, and he let the flap fall back into place and went away. I looked again at everyone, and QY’s eyes caught mine.
“Dude, you remember second year, or maybe third, I got one of these from home?”
He smiled and held up a black ski mask. I laughed out loud, indeed I did. By the time I told the story of the nomenclature that had resulted from this object of clothing, we were all smirking at the irony of it and ready to go. I hefted my pack, and led the way out.
* * *
This is outrageous; I found myself thinking as I read through the newspaper. Something must be done. And if I have to do this, I need a team which knows me, and helps me know them. You in, Paddy? Sud? Qaiser? Sisodia? Satyen? Soumu? Seven is good, I think, to do what I have in mind. Let’s start calling. I can’t decide whether to use these last five sentences together (to relate to the blog post, like an Easter egg of sorts).
This is outrageous; I found myself thinking as I read through the newspaper. Something must be done. I started to daydream, letting thoughts, plans, ideas and scenarios wash over me endlessly, over each other, and drifted off to a sleep rife with similar convolutions the mind is capable of. When I woke up in the morning, I was disappointed that it hadn’t been one of those nights when one can recall the dreams; but equally surprising was my desire to start thinking about the issues that plagued my country in a more practical manner. I thought things through over breakfast and Googled for QD.
Three weeks later, when I had forgotten about the email I’d sent to him because of the triviality of routine life, I got the call. It was the first time I’d talked to the man who had noted the important points of everything that transpired between QD and me.
“Hello,” I said, frowning as I answered because I faintly felt I remembered dialling a similar number some days ago, to no avail. The man was clear and concise.
“We have given a thought to your views. Would you care to discuss them in detail?”
“Sure,” I replied. The image of the sentence ‘...I strongly feel my views deserve a thought.’ crossed my mind, and I hastened to add, “Thank you.”
“Thankfulness is not yet in order, Mr. A. Are you free later today?”
“I’ll make myself free whenever you require, sir.”
“A simple ‘yes’ will do.” I felt affronted, if only a little.
“Should I send a car for you at your workplace or will you prefer your own conveyance?”
“My own, thanks. When and where should I arrive?” I felt inadequate talking to this man, and so my words came out fast – nervousness, I guess, had crept up on me.
“Anytime after six, the address you can find where you found this number. Good afternoon, Mr. A.”
“Is this a test?”
I heard for the first time his smile, and I do mean I heard it. Later, when I met and was acquainted with him, I realized his mouth opened wide and he exhaled through his teeth, and so it came out as a low, soft hiss. Over the phone, it scared me outright.
“No, Mr. A, this is with regard to the email you sent us after trying this number a couple of times. You should know that your past history is very interesting, and sets you in excellent stead to act upon your views. We would like to collaborate.”
I let out a steady breath. “Okay, Sir, I’ll see you in the evening. Whose name shall I take at the gate?” knowing the red tape and the “referral” or “reference” system afflicting the workings of all things bureaucratic, I didn’t want to keep dialling numbers to get admission into the lofty corridor of power.”
“Yours, Mr. A.” I heard his smile again. “Anything else?”
“No, thank you again. Good day,” I said, but what went through my mind as I hung up was, to put it mildly, tension. It took me an hour alone on the upper flight of stairs and a half litre of water to calm down and redial the number. It answered on the third ring.
“Yes, Mr. A?” no inflection, no irritation, just mild curiosity in his voice.
“Umm, hello, sir, yes, see, I was... I wanted to know, have I done anything wrong? Am I in trouble or something?”
“No, Mr. A, please be confident and try and write down whatever you feel is worth not missing, and bring along your laptop. I’m glad you called; we are always prepared for no-shows. At least, like I said, your past stands you in good stead.”
“See, sir, this is what I’m talking about. In good stead for what?”
“To help along the good of everyone, Mr. A. To act upon your expressed views in whatever capacity you can, and perhaps we can help you along a bit, eh? Isn’t that what you were looking for, or have we misinterpreted your email?”
I felt calmer, this guy wasn’t joking. “Alright then. I’ll see you later, sir.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. A.” All sincere and courteous. Very nice. I could get used to this.
* * *
I spun in as controlled a manner I could, trying to take as far a 360° view as possible, with the height advantage of the chopper hovering about 5 feet above the tree-tops in a valley that I was rappelling out of. As soon as I found a footing on the ground, forcing my way through the last couple of branches of evergreen trees, I switched on all my sensors and took a complete spin within fifteen seconds. The furthest range was one hundred feet, and there were no life forms above a speck on the head-up display I had on my visor. I spoke clearly and distinctly. “Let’s go.”
Four minutes later the chopper was gone and we stood in an outward-facing circle, discussing which best way to head. While AS pinpointed our location and waited for support’s maps to load on his GPS, we maintained a vigil on the scanners, thus forming a hundred-foot circle around us. Two or three animals registered overall, and on AS’ word we all took a bearing NNW. It was smooth going; I didn’t bother with IR vision since no life-forms were registering even as I led at a quick and silent walking pace.
AS said, “Support says there are about a half dozen terrorists, and there may have been a couple or more waiting for them beforehand, to welcome them.”
SC sniggered, and it was heartening to hear it; I felt the mood lighten. We were nearing lights, scattered the way random lights are when one looks up at the surrounding mountains from a valley. It was just as the slope turned steeper when I halted, a solitary human figured on the scanner. PS and I got out our binoculars and searched in the direction of the blip; moving a couple of yards here and there gave both of us a sight of the man – on his shoulder was slung an AK-47. It was a dark
night, yet when PS and I looked at each other and nodded, both of us knew we had nodded to each other. PS continued vigilance on the man while I tiptoed back to the team. I whispered into my mic, not because I feared getting overheard, but because I feared talking too loud because of my excitement.
“Found them, boys. Thank support, AS, spot on info, spot on drop. SK, this guy appears bored as hell, seems he’s on sentry duty or something. PS, anything?”
“This guy’s boring me, man. He’s playing around with branches.”
“Cool. SK, you and PS take out this guy, rest of us make a narrow sweep, and we regroup at this guy’s position? Everyone good to go?”
Like before, I saw the nods despite the night, and various types of breaths came through the headset.
“Okay then. Let’s go, 2-5, 360-bio, silent.”
SK headed up to PS, they observed their target for a minute before heading out, about ten feet apart, guns hefted and safeties off. I walked sideways to my left, and switched the biomass scanner to 360° mode. Within three minutes, the two dots ahead of me had approached and stood over the furthest dot that now appeared at the edge of my HUD; two dots about ten and twenty feet to my right began, as I did, to converge on the three dots ahead. As I approached, two more dots registered further to my right, so I knew we were all accounted for. I risked breaking silence.
PS and SK both said, almost simultaneously, “Check.”
I couldn’t believe it, I was so happy I licked my lips – hadn’t realized how dry they had become – and smiled to myself. Perfect!
“Awesome. Check in one.”
“Let’s meet up, then, bio-90, get the next of these fuckers.”
We regrouped where PS and SK stood scanning the areas I front of us, PS with binoculars and SK with sensors, and I checked over the man who slept peacefully under the tranquilizer. A packet of biscuits in the pocket of his worn, dirty kurta; a spare magazine stuffed at the small of his
back into the waistband of his salwar. He wore black shoes, sturdier than those generally prevalent in the region. A plastic-strap watch with a plain analog dial, showing the time – 2215 hours. I instinctively checked it against my watch; I didn’t expect so much time had passed. It hadn’t; he was set more than twenty minutes ahead. There was nothing else on him, so I said, “AS, beacon this guy,” and got up to join PS and SK in checking out the nearest huts, easily identifiable by the solitary, bare yellow light bulbs that hung from two-ply wires and holders in front of the doors of the huts.
“No, no activity, let’s get the one on the right, up ahead, within range and check for people.”
“Right, team, you heard the man, let’s go, 3-4, concentric arcs, watch the sides, okay? Any observations? Alright then. Let’s go silent.”
There was no one in the hut as we took a good look around it, the three of us in front staying well clear of the pool of light thrown by the bulb. I spoke a single word, “West,” and switched back my scanner to 360°. I was relieved to see they’d understood; as we moved towards the next semi-pucca hut with light blue whitewash on the outside walls, the team organized itself again in two concentric arcs, three in the front and the four of us behind, with me at the rightmost of the outer arc. I switched to the longer range, narrower angle mode and swept my right flank; no discernible life forms. I focussed my attention on the hut we were approaching; the three dots leading us were almost at the edge of my visor, meaning they were almost eighty feet ahead of me. Even the other three of my arc were twenty-thirty feet ahead of me. I cursed myself and picked my way at a faster pace, catching up ground as the three leaders congregated.
When we were all together, HS said, “Three inside, one keeps walking on and off the edge due north, and there’s periodic movements inside.” He was standing gazing towards the hut, a few feet ahead of us, finding a spot that gave him visual access of the hut while keeping out of the feeble light of the bulb.
SC said, “If they’re busy, they probably will be for more time. While they’re preoccupied, I say we find the others.”
It sounded logical, I heard a couple of agreeing noises. “Okay, then, HS, SC, QY stay here, we four head north from the left, do not engage unless absolutely certain of discretion; we do not want these three inside” – by now I knew what HS meant by periodic motion, it seemed one dot was sitting and the others were bringing him something from two different locations within the small hut – “to come running out. They’re sitting for the gas.” I looked around at the team, there were nods and shuffles as SC and QY moved themselves into better positions to sit guard over the hut.
I retreated completely out of the light and started to skirt around the hut from the left, scrutinizing ahead and to my left. As HS had said, I was soon aware of a blip hundred feet ahead of me, moving in short straight lines but always stopping and taking random obtuse and about-turns. It reminded me of how some people walk about while talking on the phone; I halted and whispered, “Wait.”
I turned around, saw SK about fifteen feet behind me, and whispered, “AS, come up here, check for audio,” saw the second blip – beyond SK – start to move towards me, and turned around
to keep the erratic blip within my visor. AS moved a couple of feet ahead of me and extracted a small tube from the side pouch of his backpack. A soft click, like that of a torch’s slider making contact, emanated from his hand, and the front end of the tube opened out in a serrated cone. AS slid up his visor to peer at the soft blue readings on the body of the tube, and I continued to check around us for any more activity or life, finding neither. After half a minute AS slid his visor back down and spoke in a hushed voice.
“He’s on a low-grade satphone; I even picked up the crackling of the people on the other end. Could be a conference link-up, too. Support can probably trace it.”
“Inform them. What’s this guy saying?’
I saw AS shake his head. “No go, even if I got closer, I couldn’t tell, his lingo is too rustic and unfamiliar. He’s not happy, though.” I discerned a smile in his voice, and smiled myself. There certainly weren’t many things this man had to be happy about.
“Okay, let’s get back to them, sweep this side a little wider, and then start from the other side. Let this one finish his talk, we don’t want the other side to feel something’s gone wrong.”
We retraced our silent way back to the previous hut; there was the usual occasional activity going on, though a bit slower, and when the two mobile dots didn’t move they huddled together on the edge of the hut furthest from the stationary blip. Without a word, I touched SC on his shoulder and indicated that we were going around the right side, while they were to hold their position. On seeing his affirmative nod, I waved to the three behind me in a wide, right-to-forward sweep, and we started out as before.
I circled to the right until I had the person still furtively speaking on his sat phone at the edge of my HUD, and then proceeded in a straight line to the hut. Approaching it going downhill, I got down on my hands when I reached the thin, zigzag strip of light that escaped through the centimetres-wide gaps between the brick wall and the corrugated roof. Getting my face near the cold, sweet-smelling fresh earth, I slid up my visor to look inside.
The man who was showing up motionless on our visors was seated at a rickety wooden table flush against the wall, building a bomb. The other two crouched behind his back, and I was looking at this from behind them. I got back up, slid my visor, and retreated about twenty feet to where I knew my three teammates were congregated, each looking a different way, hence overlapping each others’ sensor ranges.
“There’s a bomb in the hut, being built; it’s in the trickier stages. These three aren’t going anywhere except to take a leak, or try to. Observers, fall further back, hold tight till the four of us gets another guy up ahead.
“We four, spread out within range of one another between the talker and the hut. Whichever way he goes once he stops talking and heads back, drop him noiselessly. No calling, just be sure of your aim. We on?”
Voices of assent. “Cool. Go silent.”
I hefted my gun and started off.
The blip moved less now, but it moved nevertheless. After ten-odd minutes of waiting in position, I whispered, “Anything?”
A couple of clicks of the tongue and some negative uh-huhs confirmed my feeling that we were getting impatient. “AS, call support and find out if they did anything with this satellite link-up?” Just something to kill the time, like we had on the previous couple of preparatory excursions. We heard AS and our support guy – that’s what we called them even when we met them – exchange info, how they had a fix on the location of this guy right in front of us, and that it was a matter of a few more minutes that they’d manage to trace the originating location.
I realized I’d started looking in AS’ direction as I heard them talk, and spun my head ahead just in time to see the blip halfway across my visor; he crossed the miniscule, fluorescent dash that marked the halfway range just as I whispered, as loudly as I dared, “Hold.”
I raised my gun to my shoulder and activated the infrared. The figure picked its way down the slope, I kept my sights trained on his torso, switched to night vision once and back to check for trees in my line-of-sight, waited for him to come within fifteen feet of me and let it fly. The man clutched his chest, drew in a sharp intake of breath, and fell over backwards. I switched to normal vision and strode over to the body, drawing a small metal disc from my right knee pocket; running my gloved finger around its periphery, I located the press-button, clicked it to release a small antenna, and thrust it deep inside one of the pockets of his sherwani.
“The talker is out. Form a circle around the hut.” I checked him for weapons and inside all his pockets, found a little currency that I stuffed back in – it would aid in wheedling information from the poor bastard – and laid the body out in shavasan. Stepping over him to pick up the sat phone, I saw something glint on his chest; I checked again and realized with a smile that it was a little bit of the steel of the needle of the dart that hadn’t fully penetrated. I swept the area ahead, where he’d been talking, visually and on sensor, and walked back to complete the circle of blips standing more or less equidistant from the hut.
I checked the inside through the little slit between the roofs and wall again. No change; the bomb’s insides seemed to be reaching a stage of togetherness. I smiled, in spite of myself. No problem. I straightened up and spoke.
“Check outside perimeter, maximum range. AS, call in support. We’re breaking and entering, shoot to down, no fire-explosives. Check in on outside perimeter scan. Go.”
SC whispered, “Far south-east, possibly wildlife, small.”
“Who’s at SC’s sides?”
“Three of you, check it out. Slow and easy.”
A murmur of assents, and I focussed on the three dots breaking the circle and move back towards the valley. They turned back from the edge of my HUD, and I heard their phraseful
discussion on the animal, a four-legged ruminating variety. I turned back to the hut and cycled through all the scans I had. Checking to my left to make sure we were all back in position, I whispered, “Problems, anyone?”
No silence had sounded better. “Go.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * “The existing facilities are...well, pedestrian. Any football player could work through that in a day or two, given its run,” said AS. I nodded.
“What do you guys think?”
“Let’s sit in the shade and talk about this, no?” said SC, shielding his eyes from the sun.
I had to agree, and we retreated to the excellently supplied – even though hastily erected – canvas tent. It took the better part of the evening to get most – all would’ve been impossible – of our ideas and brainstorming written down. It was exhilarating.
The next morning we discussed the details of exactly what we needed – without the excellent stocks, and I handed over a broad, plain manila envelope to QD in the evening. The next morning, we received the same envelope, annotated in red ball-point ink. It took us two days of arguing, bickering, discussing, explaining, convincing, fighting, bad-mouthing, and plainly conversing to make another envelope’s worth of notes; upon receiving and examining this one, QD requested a meeting and arrived the next morning.
“You’re still over-budget, my friends.” Throughout all of our acquaintance, he called us his friends. “This last ask is still doable, but we still need to cut a few corners. Seeing this as somewhat of an issue near and dear to each of you personally, I will ask each of you to strike off one thing from your lists of – if I may mistreat the word – needs.” He handed the envelope to me, and I passed out the slips. We had a clipboard and a rubber-tipped pencil each; I felt irresistibly reminded of that scene in Men In Black. Suppressing my smile, I concentrated on the task at hand. QD had it right when he said those lists were important to us. It was a tough choice to let go of something I personally felt critical to our elaborate agenda’s success – to go without even one of those hard-discussed things meant a risk of regret, not only personal but as a team. Anyway, I made my choice, firmly struck out the entry twice, and tossed the clipboard on the table in front of us.
It took a while for the last one to come in, but it did. The man who took notes collected the clipboards as QD rose to leave.
“Well, then. We shall meet again in a month or so.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I approached the front door, PS beside me. About a metre away from the brown wooden ply panel serving as their fortress’ gate, I switched to thermal HUD and surveyed the inside of the room at leisure. The bomb-maker was still at work, and the other two still hunched against the wall. I shouldered my gun, aiming for the bomb-maker. PS tapped my shoulder; I took my left hand off the barrel and gave him a thumbs-up. Then I practiced shooting on entry, taking myself through the
sequence of shots twice. Holding my gun ready, I planted my right foot firmly and hit the door with the flat of my left boot.
A minute or so later, I carefully examined the store of explosive they had, a low-grade RDX type; I heard AS directing the hum of the chopper closer, until it was a throb in our headsets, at which point in time I said, as loudly as I could without what I would consider impolite loudness, “Good job, laundon. Let’s get out. Any observations that can’t wait till base, anyone?”
Negatives and uh-huhs all around; I even suspected a few people smiling. I smiled again. Something is being done.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“Okay, we’re gonna be practicing getting dropped-in. Don’t smirk, fuckers, we aren’t dropping acid.”
I waited for the smirking to subside. “I go down first, take a three-sixty look around, and then give a go-ahead. Next person gets down, puts his back at mine, and gives the go-ahead after a one-eighty check. Next dude joins to the left of him, and on till the last of us. We stay till we’ve made a full-range scan of the surroundings, and then send the chopper back.”
“Where are these scans you keep talking about?”
“They’re getting here; we’ll do their first field test along with the drop-in practice.”
We were waiting for our first collective look at the choppers. I had seen them before, but on the ground. AS and PS were familiar with the scanners, which had certainly helped in assuaging the others about the delays in procuring equipment. The preceding week had been fun, testing the weapons we would be carrying. Two days ago, we had finished with the gear and weapons; expectations were high that things would continue to run on schedule. As RHCP put it very truly, nothing ever goes according to plan. Anyhow, word was that today was the day; any minute now we would hear the choppers coming. As it turned out, the tent walls started waving gently about before we heard the choppers; we rushed out to witness two super-sleuth versions of the Comanche helicopter landing in front of us. It was exhilarating; the pilot of the nearer chopper waved at us encouragingly, beckoning us to approach. SC and QY reached the door first; the pilot glanced at his dashboard, flicked a switch, and within a minute all seven of us were on board, crowding together in the limited space. It was practically built, without protrusions and paraphernalia – a means of transport, designed to be radar-evasive and super-silent. HS snapped out the headphones from the clasp on the steel wall separating us from the pilot, and spoke.
“Take off! Take off! We’re all here!” he said, beaming at us. Then he frowned, concentrating on, presumably, the pilot’s reply. After about thirty seconds, he nodded at the floor where he’d been
staring, took off the headphones, and smiled all around, proud of something. The rotors were slowing down, unmistakably.
“He says they’ve been warned about us. He’s not going anywhere until we get the briefing they’ve come prepared with.” We laughed our way back to the tent we were in two minutes ago.
We spent the next four hours learning – digesting – the knowledge the officers gave us. As a bonus for our “good behaviour”, as the senior-most of the three officers put it, we were to get our first practice drop at night – ideally the best operating condition.
We spent the next three weeks putting ourselves through drills involving choppers, most of the times fully geared, incorporating and executing mock scenarios and situations. We more than enthusiastically made up for the two lost days by taking half a dozen more night outings than scheduled. Every weekend the choppers flew back to their base and we whiled away the time going repeatedly over the info on our first mission. On the morning of the last day, we flew back to the base of the choppers so that aqueous drills could be run. It was fortunate we did, since we discovered that our GPS systems were not waterproof enough. The addition of a simple casing sufficed to render the unit impenetrable, and it felt like everything was ready on time. Our communication and understanding with support was fine-tuned; emergency procedures and situations-turning-catastrophically-bad had been argued about, pondered over, solved, and laughed off. QD had been sharing periodic updates on the enemy’s activities; things were progressively looking like intelligence was right. At last, after four days of lounging around and getting comparatively lazy as all of us were wont to, we got the go-ahead. It was time to do something.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I couldn’t wait any longer. After the usual exchange of greetings, QD had hunched over the file on his desk and not looked up. The note-taker wasn’t there – not that he was very unnecessarily communicative when he was. I thought it a good starting point.
“Umm, so, where’s Mister...uh...” I said, hoping he’d fill in the note-taker’s name and I’d get his attention.
“He had some work. Not related to this work.” Not even a raise of the head. The red ballpoint pen made another scribble. I clasped my fingers together and breathed deeply. Patience. That was the key. No point coming across as arrogant or impatient, no matter how big a stunt you’ve pulled off, I told me. I glanced around the office, tilted my head to read the spines of the books on the shelves. Being and Time caught my eye; I glanced at the remnant of the file he was poring over. At least a dozen pages of thick, yellowish, official-looking material. Holding my breath, I slid my chair back, rose, and stepped to the shelf with the book on it. It was the Stambaugh translation. QD was still immersed in his file and raised no objection as I slid out the book and returned to my chair. Letting go of my breath as noiselessly as I could, I opened the book and started to read...
When I looked up, QD had his fingertips pressed together and was looking at me. I started; looking down at Sein und Zeit I realized I’d been reading for a while now. I smiled sheepishly, surreptitiously noting the page number I was on – I fully intended to borrow it from him.
“Sorry about that, I’ve always wanted to read this book, and many others,” I said, closing it and placing it on the table. QD smiled thinly, briefly.
“You can borrow it, Mr. A. Take care of it. Now, to business?”
“Of course. I was just waiting for you to finish your...err...file.” Instinctively I looked down where the file had been; it wasn’t on the table anymore. I dismissed it and looked up again, “I did want to know, though, did they talk?”
“Yes, it was beneficial, what you did.”
I couldn’t help smiling as I added, “We thought it went as good as it could’ve.”
“I agree, and might I add that I thought you did tremendous job, too.” My smile broadened. “So, this second outing of yours has some differences from the first, though not too many. I trust you and your friends have gone over everything?”
“Yes, we have, and we’re good to go.”
QD paused in his words, and squinted at me, amusement and incredulity playing on his face. “Good to go? Mr. A., you’re turning all Hollywood.” Having allowed himself the joviality of the moment, he turned his sight on the file I’d brought with me. I passed it over, and he flipped through it in silence. It was quick; he had annotated it himself before sending it to me. I had made my own annotations in green, and he mainly looked at those. Nodding a few times as he finished the five-page compilation, he snapped it closed and slid it back to me, nodding again as he said, “Well, let’s go get the signature.”
* * * * * * * * * * * *
“Everyone seeing four in north-west?”, I whispered. There were no negatives.
“Anything to add?”
“Support says there is movement by a group of people, half a dozen approx, between our targets’ location and the civilian area half a klick north. Ground intel was unable to ID anyone positively.”
“Is there any more detail forthcoming in the next” – I glanced at the digital clock in my HUD – “four to six minutes?”
There was a pause, then AS said, “No.”
I looked around. The hills we were on were terrace-farmed. We were at the point of closest concealment; although there was a chance the terrorists were more than my estimated two levels above ours, I thought that unlikely, given the distance they were from us and the average width of the terraces. What if there’s backup that’s coming from the edge of civilization that lay on the other side? I exhaled slowly. Time ticked away. I felt I should raise the question, throw it out to the team. I heard myself repeat, “Anything to add?”
There were no positive responses. I took a deep breath, blinked a couple of times, and said, “Advance in a line. Scale this level, stay low till the next embankment, and regroup at next level’s edge. 360-bio. Okay?” I paused longer than I myself was used to. “Go silent.”
I dragged myself over the embankment we were taking cover behind and crawled forward on my hands and knees. Slight rustles on both my sides told me I wasn’t alone; within ten seconds I had three dots on my left and three on my right, and just as I was beginning to enjoy the dark, almost moonless night I heard a ping about three feet ahead of me and to my left. Some dirt kicked up, and I said, loudly, “Back! Cover!” and scrambled backwards until I slid feet first, face down, over the edge I had cleared not half a minute ago. Sniper fire, more of it, thudded into the ground in darkness. These people were getting cautious. I counted my fellow dots as quickly as I could; relieved all of them were spaced feet apart from each other in the previous location we were in; I tried to calm down silently. “Check in one.”
I blinked, hard. That was the first enemy fire we had encountered. I wondered how the others felt. I imagined enemy scopes scanning the edge over our heads, waiting for a helmet to show, waiting for a movement giving away our position...best to ask, I thought. “Everyone okay? Any ideas?”
“What does support say?” said PS. AS flicked an external switch on his headset; there was a snick in our earpieces and we started to listen in the middle of a sentence as, apparently, it was being read to AS. “...position, hostile action confirmed, repeat, legit forces engaged with our targets, maintain position, hostile action confirmed. Extraction plan is being worked out, two to five minutes. Standby on open channel.” AS flicked the switch and said, “I’m on it.”
Support was always-on only in AS’ comm., it made it easier for their scribes to log our activities as AS described them on the go; as opposed to all of us handing in classified reports and what not, we just listened through the entire tape together later and jotted one signature each.
“So it was their backup that was coming in,” said SC. “Who do you think they ran up against? Para?”
“Could be anyone, this area is heavy-patrol anyway. I was surprised they were letting us come in this close,” said HS.
“Yeah, but think about this – if these – our targets, I mean – guys were waiting for their backup or support or whatever, wouldn’t they be looking with their backs towards us? How’d they see us?” said SK, almost done assembling a periscope.
“Yeah...but, we knew they had good grade weapons, sniper rifles come with all sorts of scopes and scanners these days. You done with that, dude?” asked HS, and SK confirmed. He extended the retractable camera to its full height of over eight feet, and worked for a minute or two in finding a fix on our target site. There were definite echoes of gunfire now, coming from the other side of the targets. SK pressed a very final-sounding button on the periscope, and handed it to HS. The good part about this equipment of ours was, once you lock a sight in its sights, so to speak, you could move it within a thirty feet sphere from that point, and it will orient itself to give you a view of the locked sight. We took turns to look at the window from where their sniper had fired on us; it was empty. Movement could be seen inside the room to which the window belonged, however – frantic, life-depends-on-every-move movement. AS spoke, “Support says there the previous party of six has managed to make it to within a hundred metres of the front door of our target. If they reach it, there will be a siege, and our target is seemingly prepared for one. We – “ he paused, then – “Okay. We’re all on.” He flicked support’s signal through to all of us. I was almost surprised to hear QD’s voice.
“Mr. A. Are all of you okay?”
“Yes, thanks. What’s the plan?”
“Well, if it weren’t for the terrain, we would’ve droned them, now that there is out-and-out exchange of fire. However, since that easy, painless option has been ruled out, I must ask you – has your team carried explosives?”
“Uh, yes, sir, yes we have.”
“Hmm, so then, they can’t have a siege if they don’t have a fort, now, can they?”
“Understood. Please ask support to coordinate extraction to our subsequent actions. AS?”
Another snick told me it was us seven again. “Okay, you heard him. Ideas?”
“We can cut a little to the left from here, keeping an eye on that window. The hill has a drop into the next one, we can advance up that crevice almost to within fifty metres of target,” said PS. “Once we get a look at the front side of the location and have the others on our scans as well, we can be decisive.”
I nodded, and said, “Sounds good, dude, everyone, let’s go, no silence on this one.” We moved off along the embankment and in five minutes of duck-walking, reached the eight to ten feet drop in between hills. Two minutes later we were making our way up the ravine, or so it seemed from the trickle of water that ran under our feet. The sounds of gunfire got closer.
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“Well, these are it. Kind of how we sent up; let’s test them out. We can’t be the Mag-10 types, obviously.”
“No, of course not, that’s as good as criminals.” We had a laugh at that. The weaponry was not lethal, to say the least. When it came to it, it was better than anything we’d imagined that was possible in India. Maybe they were made in China, I don’t know – there were no markings. It was awesome.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I didn’t really like the person in whose car I was currently occupying the passenger seat. I couldn’t tell if he liked me, the wraparound shades and heavy beard made it difficult to read his face. In the three-four odd minutes since I had been dropped off at this man’s pre-occupied parking spot, he had only nodded in acknowledgement of the crude pass phrase. To be fair, I think he thought the same about my wraparound shades and heavy beard. Suddenly, I caught a jerky movement out of the corner of my eye, but it was only him pointing out our target to me. At the same time, AS’ voice sounded in my ear, “That’s him, right there.” So all info was spot on. Good, good. It was the best kind of mission that was founded on the bedrock of non-conflicting intelligence.
I looked and recognised, and got out of the car. Later, we went over the plan the final time while gearing up with the minimal gear we were taking, and set out. We parked at the predetermined spot, headed for the building and split up 3-2-1-1. The three of us in the lead team were ushered into the office itself, having made prior appointments. It was a matter of a drink or two that we persuaded him to “enjoy” an evening about town with us, and we left in good spirits. An hour later all of us were back at the operating base, and transport arrived a minute or two later, being the only recipient of the only call we made that day. It was a breeze when it went smooth. The only thing that remained was to cover the couple of thousand miles to our homes – without losing anyone.
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