The airfield in Turkey was buzzing.
White Land Cruisers sped around the runway, ferrying Westerners around the immediate area. Were they working for relief organizations, intelligence services, or corporations? Deckard watched another group of middle aged men depart a third airplane that had landed that morning and decided that probably they were working for all three at the same time.
Syria was now a global conflict that had pulled in actors from far and wide. Russia backed Assad as the Russian Navy had a warm water port in Syria, their last in the Mediterranean, as well as over a billion dollars in defense contracts a year sunk with the Syrian regime. The House of Saud supported the Sunni extremists such as the Al-Nusra front in order to hedge their bets against a strong Shia presence in the Middle East. Qatar supported the same simply because they wanted to be an influential player in Middle Eastern politics, and international influence meant assuming an Islamist bent these days.
America supported the rebel movement, the so-called Free Syrian Army with covert assistance but so little that even the moderates in the movement had defected to Al-Nusra as they were the best support, drawing cash and weapons from the Saudis and Qataris. With the FSA gutted, America was left with few options by the time they began to overtly assist the rebels. Meanwhile, China supported whatever players in the region were not aligned with America.
Long story short, Syria was fucked. Corrupt elites in the Assad regime fought tooth and nail knowing that the Baath party would sink or swim together. If they lost, there would be no negotiated peace. That time had long since passed. Now it was total war until one side annihilated the other. The civilians paid the price as Islamists and Alawite death squads executed entire families in their terror campaigns.
The country would hollow itself out of human life until there simply were not enough fighters left to carry the rifles.
Deckard watched the foreigners load up and drive off, no doubt heading to the converted military garrison in nearby Antakya where the FSA command center was housed along with the headquarters for other Western-sponsored rebel groups. It was also where the rebels met with American, British, Turkish, and Qatari intelligence officers.
What a shit show.
The satellite phone in his pocket buzzed.
Deckard took it out and looked at the screen.
Hostage extracted. One friendly KIA. Negative SSE.
Aghassi was alive but at the cost of another of his men and they were back to square one.
Walking back into the hangar, one of those Westerners he had seen fly in earlier was crouched over one of the two mustard gas bombs they had recovered from Libya. The technician was removing the impact fuse and replacing it with a custom electronic trigger mechanism. The plan called for the bombs to be detonated on the ground with Al-Nusra taking the rap for it, thus providing an excuse for the Western world to invade Syria because no one wanted Islamic radicals trotting around with weapons of mass destruction.
Deckard knew that whoever cooked up this plan was a quack. They were going to end up triggering World War Three.
The technician replaced the nose cap with one of his own design. It had a keypad and digital display. The client may have been a quack, but whoever he was, he wasn’t crazy enough to let Al-Nusra finger the trigger. Liquid Sky would have to input a code to arm the chemical weapons. The nose cap also included a GPS so that its movement could be tracked by satellite. Otherwise, Nusra might flip the switch and ship the bombs to New York or London.
The mustard gas bombs weighed in at eighty pounds each. For them to be parachuted into Syria with the Liquid Sky team, they would both be carefully packed into a Tandem Offset Resupply Delivery System or TORDS, which consisted of a giant cylinder rigged to one of the freefall jumpers by a tether. TORDS could be loaded up with 500 pounds of gear and was designed for a parachutist to jump in a combat resupply for long range reconnaissance teams that operated deep behind enemy lines. The system was awkward to say the least and the U.S. military hardly even used it anymore.
Arriving by plane from Libya was not only the twin mustard gas bombs but also a weapons cache the team was to infiltrate into Syria with, all courtesy of their friend Yezza. Extra weapons, ammunition, explosives, and other mission-essential gear would be loaded up in the TORDS along with the bombs. There were also extra weapons to give to Nusra to help grease the wheels and get them into the rebels’ good graces.
The Liquid Sky team was on the other side of the hangar, laying out their kit and packing their MC-5 parachutes. They had Crye precision jumpable plate carriers and an AK-47 rifle for each team member. They would also jump with rucksacks filled with food, some water, ammunition, and other gear in addition to what would be going off the ramp in the TORDS.
Deckard checked over his kit again. He had considered sabotaging at least one Liquid Sky member’s parachute. Probably Bill’s, or maybe The Operator’s, but he didn’t have time to do a thorough job. There were too many fail-safes on a MC-5 between the main chute, reserve, and CYPRES system, and he would have to defeat all of them without being noticed.
The Operator sat next to him on the concrete floor, cleaning his rifle for the eighth time that day. Of course his weapon was already immaculate, as was the 1911 pistol he had shipped along with it from Libya. He had on his ever-present mirrored Oakley sunglasses, despite being indoors.
“If you need a sling, there is a box full of them around here somewhere,” Deckard said as he noticed that The Operator’s Kalashnikov was lacking something.
“You had your way of doing things at Range 37 and we had our way of doing things on Range 19,” The Operator said curtly.
The Operator took a deep breath.
“One of the things you quickly learn as an operator as opposed to being in another unit is that you don’t use slings. Your weapon goes where you go and aims wherever your eyes look. If you lose your weapon you lose it; you can always get a new one.”
That was an interesting theory. Deckard opted not to follow up on that.
Across the hangar, the technician finished working on the first bomb and moved on to the second. Once he was done with his work, they would load up the TORDS for airborne operations. Deckard decided to wipe down and lube up his AK rifle as well.
They had air laid on to insert them that night.
“Bring it in,” Bill said, his voice echoing as he walked into the hangar. He had an Iridium satellite phone in his hand which he had been using to talk to the client. With an encryption sleeve their commo would be relatively secure, but it was clear that Bill really only talked shop over the Pirate Net he had set up in Mauritius. Over the Iridium phone they would use encryption and only use pro-words, which were pre-determined codewords.
Deckard and The Operator set their rifles down and stood up. Paul and Ramon walked away from their half-packed parachutes. Rick and Nadeesha joined them a few moments later.
“We’re cleared hot for tonight,” Bill informed them. “We are jumping at 18,000 feet. The only question left is who here has ever jumped the TORDS before?”
Everyone looked at each other and then up in the air or down at their feet.
“I’m qualified on the TORDS system, but not current,” The Operator volunteered.
“Well nobody is checking to make sure that your online safety worksheets have been completed out here. You got the job.”
“Also, each of you needs to know how to work the keypad destruction sequence for the bombs,” Bill told them. “In case I get killed, I expect the rest of you to carry out the mission. Not a big deal since I will never die but you never know.
Bill then walked them through how to enter the activation code into the keypads, set the timer, and how to deactivate the bombs if necessary.
“One more order of business before I cut you all lose to get some sleep before we roll.”
Bill reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of little white pills wrapped inside squares of cellophane. He held them in the palm of his hand, one for each Liquid Sky member.
“Fuck, not this again,” Rick complained.
“If I wanted to hear you bitch and moan I would take my dick out of your mouth,” Bill hissed.
One by one they took a pill packet out of Bill’s hand.
“What are they?” Deckard asked.
“Your go-to-hell plan.”
The Operator looked down at his pill pack in the palm of his hand, then made a fist and placed it in his pocket.
“I haven’t seen these since Dagestan,” The Operator said.
“Technically I should be making you guys carry them on every mission, I just haven’t been enforcing it because I figure each of you has the good god damn common sense to do yourself if it comes to that. This time the client insisted. There is too much riding on this mission and the results are too high profile. If you are going to be captured, take the pill. It works the same way as a morphine overdose, puts you to sleep and then stops your heart. It’s painless.”
“How would you know? Have you ever taken one before?” Paul said.
“Yeah, what is the quality assurance on these things?” Ramon started in. “I would hate to have it only be half effective.”
“And walk around like the fucking window-licker for the rest of your life,” Rick added.
“Knock it the fuck off and keep those pill packs on you at all times. You won’t be fucking laughing if they grab you and Jackie the fucking Iraqi is sawing your still-beating heart out,” Bill yelled.
Turning, he stormed away from the group.
“Fuck,” Rick cursed.
“Stress must be getting to him,” Ramon said.
“When the time comes, I will take this pill,” The Operator said flatly.
Everyone turned to look at him for a moment and then went back to doing whatever they had been doing before Bill’s team huddle.