Here is part of a story I’ve been toying around with for awhile. Enjoy!
1 June 2011 – Twenty thousand feet somewhere above the border between the Northwest Frontier Province, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The Jump Master was attempting to look calm and composed as he walked up and down the center of the aircraft but Fredrick could tell he was nervous. He could almost see the pent up energy trying to burst out of his small frame. It wasn’t clear why he was so jumpy since in the half dozen times Fredrick had leapt out of a aircraft with this particular Jump Master the guy had never left the plane. He was always yelling and pushing everyone out and wouldn’t be seen again until everyone had made it back to base. What the hell did he have to be nervous about?
“You alright, bud?” Dave kneeled down in front of him and began checking his gear and tightening his straps. He didn’t think they could get any tighter but a good yank elicited a muffled ‘woof’ of air escaping his chest. He liked Dave. Training had been brutal and almost constant but whenever they could they’d spend a few minutes relaxing and playing catch behind the barracks. Kicking off your gear and running around without having to worry about orders or plans or timing was like a bit of heaven. He was pretty sure it’d be awhile before he even saw a ball again let alone had a chance to play.
Dave looked him in the eye. “This is the real deal. You’re heading into the shit. Be careful you sonofabitch.” There was the briefest of delays, most people would never have even noticed it, before Dave smiled. It looked more like a grimace, though, and Fredrick could tell it was an attempt, even if an incredibly poor one, to put a good face on. Fredrick moved to shake Dave’s hand which made the smile genuine and brought out a bit of a laugh. “Yeah, nice to meet you too.”
Fredrick looked up and down the aisle. The members of his small team were on either side of him getting their gear checked as well. Argos to his left and Shuck and Garm to his right. And Morris. He didn’t like Morris at all. None of them really did. He was added to the group rather late and just about everyone had tried to take a shot at him at one time or another. Sometimes the cadre had broken them up in time to prevent any serious damage but Garm had a nasty scar from one of their fights. Nobody would shed a tear if his chute didn’t open although the bastard would probably land on his feet and give everyone one of those crazy looks like it had been his plan all along.
Morris turned his head slowly down the aisle and met Fredick’s gaze. The guy looked bored and like he was ready to take a nap. Once their eyes met he broke out into one of those grins and licked his lips. ‘Great.’, thought Fredrick, ‘My first time leading a team and they give me a psycho to deal with. I really don’t need this.’ Unfortunately, command decided that Morris was needed. He was familiar with the country and had two missions under his collar. That alone made him valuable, never mind his other skills. Still, Fredrick wasn’t convinced Morris was on anyone’s side other than his own.
The rear door to the aircraft began to open and the last rays of evening light crept through the cabin of the plane. The team began getting to their feet and shuffling into position with the help of their ‘handlers’. Fredrick always thought that was a strange and somewhat condescending term. The team had trained to operate independently and without outside assistance behind enemy lines for weeks or months and they needed ‘handlers’?
A light near the cargo door began flashing and everyone stiffened in anticipation. It wouldn’t be long. Argos took a quick look back at Fredrick and let loose one of his trademark howls. It was corny but effective as the rest of the team joined in, bolstering their courage for the next few seconds.
Almost immediately after they finished, the light went solid red and before the Jump Master even had a chance to say ‘Go!’ Argos ran out the back of the plane. He always did love that part. The rest of the team followed suit, gathering up as much momentum as they could under the weight of their gear and flinging themselves out of the aircraft.
Fredrick took his leap and felt the satisfactory tug of the static line and the opening of his parachute a moment later. He hated hanging from the chute as it was probably the most vulnerable he’d been since he was born. He also didn’t particularly care for the sensory experience either. Sure, the view was amazing but seeing a lot wasn’t as exciting as seeing well and he always preferred viewing things up close so he could scrutinize them. The lack of smells was also disconcerting. He wasn’t sure if it was the excitement of the jump or just that smells didn’t make it up that high but the lack of any scent just made the whole experience seem unnatural. He barked a laugh at that thought. As if hanging from a piece of cloth at 10,000 feet was natural.
To say the world they were jumping into looked uninviting was an understatement. The rocky, mountainous landscape was almost entirely barren and broken with only the occasional instance of pathetic scrub to indicate the countryside was totally devoid of life. A few miles away a ribbon of trees indicated a stream or small river as did the presence of farmland nearby. Fortunately, the evening sun had sunk over the horizon and the scant moonlight meant they were unlikely to be observed with their state of the art ‘stealth parachutes’. They were made from a material that absorbed and reflected light in such a way that people actually saw through them in light conditions like this.
As the ground rushed up to meet them, the team began looking at their landing spot. They had virtually no control over their parachutes or where they would land but it was always helpful to see what sort of trouble one was about to find oneself in. Fredrick saw Argos going down a short distance away from his landing spot but wasn’t able to see him hit ground as he had to focus on his own touchdown. He hit the ground harder than he had practiced and rolled, almost getting caught up in the lines of his chute. Upon contact, the automatic releases freed him from the parachute harness and he got to his feet quickly. He looked to see where the rest of his team was landing, listened for Argos to come towards him and sniffed the air for trouble.
Shuck and Garm came down about a couple of hundred meters to Fredrick’s left but Morris landed directly in front of him. While everyone swore those parachutes were impossible to maneuver, Morris appeared not only to land exactly where he wanted it to but he made it look like he floated to earth like a feather. Morris stared at Fredrick without saying a word but managing to emit both contempt and boredom at the same time.
‘I’m not going to let him bait me…I’m not going to let him bait me.’ Fredrick kept thinking to himself wondering where the rest of the team were. Unable to contain himself, Fredrick met Morris’ gaze.
“Ok…I give up. What?”
“Well,” Morris began “let’s just say I’m not exactly filled with confidence based on what I’ve seen so far.” The team had finally begun to assemble, everyone appearing to have made the jump without sustaining any injuries. “And while I appreciate you all are the ‘rah, rah, do or die’ types make no mistake that I have no intention of turning this into a suicide mission. So, make stupid mistakes at your own risk and don’t expect me to save you.”
“Now, I’m going to check out the area and see if I can find anyone in this country who didn’t hear your crash landings. Try to be useful and find something for us to eat.” Morris said over his shoulder while he padded off into the darkness.
Shuck walked over to a scraggly shrub and sniffed. “I’ve said it a hundred times now. I hate…fucking…cats.” With that he lifted his leg and urinated at the bush.
“Well, then, stop sniffing around the litter box.” Garm replied with a panting laugh as he came over and sniffed the shrub. “Ugh…dude, I thought you stopped drinking out of the toilet bowls at base. What are you, a stray?”
“Enough!” Fredrick snapped. He was always aware that given he was the smallest of the group he had to work hard to maintain his alpha status. “Morris is part of the Pisho Palang unit and the only one of us who’s ever been here in Afghanistan. He might not be as disciplined as us but the bosses decided to transfer him to our unit so let’s just deal with it.” Fredrick jumped up on a nearby rock. As a Jack Russel Terrier the move just brought him to eye level with Argos, a huge Mastiff and Garm, an Akita. “Now, Garm you go and recon the area. Argos, get the food from our jump packs. There’s no need to try to hunt tonight.”
“Got it.” The Akita said as she slid off into the night.
“What about me?” Shuck said. The black labrador looked at Fredrick.
“Why don’t you go with Garm.” Then he thought of Morris again. They said that this mountain lion breed was ‘domesticated and trainable’ but Fredrick couldn’t help feeling like lunch every time the cat looked at him. Even with his Kevlar armor Fredrick wouldn’t last two seconds against the cat. Morris wouldn’t really eat him, would he? He remembered a line from a movie he and Dave would watch after training sometimes. What did that actor say?
‘Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?’
Fredrick most definitely did not.
“On second thought. What don’t you hang around here with me.” We’ve got to come up with a plan to find our target. Those jihadi monkeys have their base around here somewhere and they aren’t going to find themselves.
“Yeah, monkeys.” Murmured Shuck as he sniffed around at a rock that appeared perfect for marking. “Just so long as we don’t have to deal with any more cats. I hate fucking cats.”