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Person of Interest / Honneur et Fidélitié (continued)
« Last post by KernilCrash on April 20, 2023, 12:43:37 PM »
Part 7

China, 2010

Reese sat facing into the early morning sunlight, taking advantage of the peace and quiet to do some thinking.  The difficulties he was attempting to resolve required a greater amount of concentration than his usual early-morning level of poorly directed mental focus. 

He was stuck.  He had gotten as far as he could on his own.  He needed assistance from some organization, undoubtedly one that was illegal, and all of potential solutions he had managed to formulate faced the same stubborn cluster of complications. 

After fleeing the uninhabited city in Ordos, his intention had been to make his way south by either car or truck as far as Wuhan.  Once there, he had planned to assess the travel situation before making a decision whether to head for Shanghai or Hong Kong.  None of that had come to pass.  The Chinese government had been understandably upset that a foreign nation had fired a cruise missile at a structure located well within China’s borders.  There was no question that dropping a missile on Ordos had not been an ‘Oops, our missile malfunctioned and strayed off course’ variety of technological error, and the government had responded with outrage.  Checkpoints were thrown up, roads closed, cities locked down while the military hunted for anyone that might be associated with the unprovoked attack, and foreigners were detained by the thousands.  Anyone without an iron clad reason for being in the country and impeccable credentials became a suspect. 

To say that it made travel difficult might have been the understatement of the century. 

Reese had been forced to head in the wrong direction, away from the coast and the larger cities where he might find the types of illegal organizations that could get him out of the country.  Every time he attempted to turn south or east, patrols and checkpoints had forced him farther to the west.  It barely mattered, since he hadn’t figured out how he would pay for that kind of assistance.  He no longer had access to bank accounts of any sort, either personal or those funded by the CIA.  He was deceased, after all.  In the ultimate irony, if he wanted to go on living, John Reese had to stay dead.  That meant that every bit of monetary or personal identification linked to his old life could no longer exist, including his passport.  Reaching a coastal city took second place to the money and identity portion of the equation. 

All of which left him facing one overriding question:  How the hell was he going to get back into the United States?  In the post-911 world, he could not even board an airplane destined for the US without a valid passport, let alone enter the country.  Short of walking north to Russia, hanging a right at the Bering Strait and dog-paddling across to Alaska, he had not been able to come up with another way to get home. 

The pressure to produce a solution had been building the entire time he had been slowly herded westward by the military cordons.  Jessica had called him; she needed his help.  When he told her he could be there in twenty-four hours, she had said she would wait.  It had been weeks longer.  He had not been able to contact her to tell her he was still coming.  Every time he thought of her, the need to find a solution mounted to a level that begged for rash, immediate action that would end in disaster, such as stealing a helicopter. 

He pushed that call to action back into the cage where he kept it imprisoned, and worked through the more rational options several more times.  He kept coming up with the same result.  He was stuck. 

The quiet scuff of a footstep on concrete brought his futile musings to an end.  The gray-haired man who had provided him with a refuge came out of his small ground-floor apartment, moving without hesitation. 

“I’m here,” Reese said, to give him a reference point. 

Mister Han traversed the distance unerringly, placed a hand on Reese’s shoulder, and sat down beside him.  “Meditation?” he asked. 

It had become a running joke.  Mister Han was able to enter a calm, imperturbable mental state at the drop of a hat, regardless of his surroundings or distractions.  Reese’s attempts to do the same thing worked in reverse; he invariably wound up more tense instead of less, with his thoughts skittering in a thousand directions.  He had not yet caught the knack of how to push all of his concerns aside in order to clear his mind. 

“Of a sort,” Reese said.  Meditating on how to get himself and a Chinese national out of the country, perhaps.  Han had been an intellectual and an outspoken dissident before he lost his vision, which had marked him as someone to be kept under surveillance.  It did not matter to the government that he had been blinded.  His life here consisted of an unending stream of official harassment, physical assaults, deprivation, and misery.  Considering the potential repercussions if they were discovered, his decision to help Reese was a mystery.  It could only make things worse for him if the government learned what he was doing. 

“How is it this morning?” Han said. 

“Better, as you predicted.  It’s healing.” 

Kara’s bullet had passed through his side front to back at an angle, managing to miss every major blood vessel and organ in the process.  It defied luck and comprehension.  The shot should have been fatal.  His best theory was that he had begun to turn away as Kara pulled the trigger, and had shifted all the important internal organs out of the way by millimeters.  That did not mean it had healed quickly and easily.  For the second time in his life, he had contracted a potentially fatal abdominal infection.  He had been losing ground rapidly when Mister Han took him in and began treating it with traditional Chinese medicine.  Herbs, compresses, and powders had beaten it back to the point where his immune system could finish the fight without additional assistance. 

Mister Han’s question and his subsequent thoughts about getting shot shifted the focus of his mental gymnastics from the future to the past.  For the hundredth time, thoughts about what he needed to do gave way to those revolving around how he had gotten here. 

He had been sold out.  Betrayed by the people he believed he could trust.  That realization had been sapping him of interest in survival ever since Kara’s bullet tore through his body.  He was ambivalent about Kara’s role in the treachery.  She had always followed orders with a blind, unthinking fanaticism.  She had done what she was ordered to do, as always.  No more and no less.  He had not been able to get mad at her for that.  Not yet.  Mark Snow, on the other hand, had known exactly what he was doing, and had implemented it with exquisite treachery.  Mark, he would be happy to shoot without any additional provocation if they ever crossed paths again. 

Reese had never liked the job he was expected to do for the Agency, but he had believed in the overall purpose behind their missions.  His belief that they were striving for something beneficial may have faltered occasionally; it had never failed.  Up until this mission, he considered the things he had done a form of self-sacrifice.  He had put aside his own psychological well-being in pursuit of a greater good for all Americans.  The goal had been to make his country a better, safer place to live.  That was an honorable thing to do, even if the methodology was repugnant. 

There was no honor in what had happened in Ordos.  No honesty, no loyalty, no unit cohesion.  At the last moment, he had drawn back from the brink of betraying everything he had been fighting for.  Kara had not. 

Han’s voice broke into the darkness that never failed to envelope him whenever he revisited those events.  “You are quieter than usual this morning, John.  Even for you, this is unusual.”

Reese turned his face up toward the sun, closed his eyes, and focused on the warmth soaking into his body.  It took a while to come up with some way to respond to Han’s observation.  There were many things he did not want to talk about, few that would not lead back in that direction.  He tried something safe. 

“Do you believe in honor, Mister Han?” 

Han gave him a little nudge with his elbow.  “I believe the question you really wish to ask is whether you believe in honor.  Or perhaps it should be whether you still believe in honor,” he said, putting emphasis on the word ‘still’. 

“You see too much,” Reese said. 

The comment pleased the blind man.  He chuckled.  The smile remained in place, sucking any offense out of his next question.  “Well, do you, John?” 

“I don’t know whether I ever knew what it was.”

“If you are worried that you have lost your belief in its existence, then you know what it is.”

“I don’t know what half of your remedies are, but if one falls off the shelf, I know it’s missing.”

“Hardly the same thing.”

Reese wasn’t so sure.  His intended purpose had gone so far astray, he had begun to question whether he had known what he was attempting to fight for and against in the first place. 

“Tea,” Han said.  It was his solution for all problems.  Rain or shine, illness, poverty, moral dissolution, death, or overflowing bounty, his recommendation never varied.  In Mister Han’s opinion, every circumstance would benefit from the internal application of a specific remedy.  He went inside to heat some water. 

Honor.  Reese continued to roll the concept around inside his head, testing to see if he knew what the word represented.  And fidelity to one’s comrades, something Mark Snow would never understand.  There had been a time when a path had opened up before him that had promised a life-long application of those principals in both directions, bestowing and receiving.  Who would he be now if he had chosen that direction?  Someone better maybe.  A small ache came to life in his heart, generated by a desire to go back in time and make a different decision. 

Honor and fidelity.  The words bounced around an echo chamber deep inside his head, sounding each time they connected with the walls and went soaring in a new direction, sending out a message in the chiming reverberations.  The sounds began to shift with each repetition, altering the syllables without changing the meaning.  They shifted into French. 

Honneur et Fidélitié. 

The motto of an organization that could be trusted to keep its promise. 

The answer hit him with a near physical impact.

Reese dug into his pocket and pulled out a cheap disposable cellphone that he had purchased his second day on the run, before merchants like the sidewalk cellphone vendor had been closed down by the government search.  He no longer had the white plastic card.  He had memorized the number years ago, drumming it into long term storage through repetition until it resided beside the two other numbers that were impossible to forget.  He would go to his grave able to recite three phone numbers without error or hesitation:  the phone number for the house where he had spent his childhood, Jessica’s cellphone, and the one he was about to call. 

He punched in the number and hit the green button.  It was answered after two rings. 

“Nom,” a voice said. 

“Daffyd Crockett.”  He spelled it out. 

“Avez-vous besoin de l’anglais?”  Do you require English?

“Non.”  He had learned to speak French during the intervening years, albeit with an Algerian accent that would make any self-respecting Frenchman cringe and request that he use a different language. 

“Attendez.”  Wait.  

A computer keyboard clattered in the background.  Reese waited with a mixture of curiosity, apprehension, and excitement squirming behind his breastbone.  The colonel had said anywhere, anytime.  Part of him wanted to take the colonel at his word; a larger portion of his being was wondering if ‘anywhere’ included China.  As far as he could see, the only way it could be worse was if he had gotten himself trapped in North Korea. 

After a lifetime of waiting, which was probably closer to six seconds, the voice returned.  “Quelle est votre situation?”  What is your situation?

Reese explained where he was located and what he needed.  He was told to stay on the line.  It might take as much as thirty minutes, the voice informed him.  He was not to hang up.  If they got disconnected, call back without delay, same number.  If it was busy, add a one to the final digit in the phone number and try again. 

The directives for maintaining contact made it easy to wait patiently.  Also, the man on the other end had not said, “China?  Are you out of your fucking mind?” which he took as a positive sign.  Reese sat in the strengthening sunshine, occasionally shifted the small phone from one ear to the other to keep his hands from cramping, and listened to the silence coming from a military facility located somewhere in France.

The voice returned.  “Restez où vous êtes.  Deux jours.  Quelqu-un viendra.  Vous comprenez?”  Stay where you are.  Two days.  Someone will come.  Do you understand?

“Oui, je comprends.” 

It seemed that as far as the Foreign Legion was concerned, getting a stranded ex-CIA operative and a persecuted dissident out of China and into the United States was no big deal.  Or if it was, it did not matter to them. 

Honneur et Fidélitié.  Such a thing still existed.

He went inside to tell Mister Han that he would need to pack a bag. 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
The End

Final Note:   The physical description of the white card is fiction.  The existence of the card, the telephone number, and the promise that goes with it, is not.

From an interview with General Norman Schwarzkopf (Ret.), who was made a member of the Foreign Legion in recognition of his role in Operation Desert Storm:  “They gave me a card with a telephone number on it.  They said, ‘If you are anywhere in the world, and you get in trouble, call this number and we will come to your aid.’”

Person of Interest / Honneur et Fidélitié (continued)
« Last post by KernilCrash on April 20, 2023, 12:41:05 PM »
Part 6 (continued)

Not long after he had made his decision, as though mind and body had coordinated their recovery, he woke up one morning after ten hours of rest and couldn’t get back to sleep.  Over the course of the next three days, that dropped to eight.  A persistent lingering dullness in his head that often made it difficult to think disappeared.  His appetite improved.  The food did not.  One afternoon he returned from swimming laps to find the door to the closet in his room standing open.  Inside was a neatly folded set of clothing, everything he would require from the skin outward in order to rejoin the world appropriately dressed, and a pair of shoes in the right size.  Reese closed the door on the sight, and tried not to get his hopes up. 

Two days later, he received an unexpected visitor.  Reese was sitting in the armchair in his room, putting together a complicated plan to get a call through to the US Embassy in order to ask them to come spring him from his doctor-run prison, when there was a polite knock on the casing of the already open door.  Reese turned quickly, surprised at the courtesy.  Hospital staff tended to rap once as they barreled through the door without slowing. 

The captain stood one step inside the room, dressed in a carefully pressed, precisely creased working uniform, the everyday military dress that some in the US still called fatigues. 

Reese’s first impulse was to yell, “Help me escape from here!”  His second was to feign keeling over in shock.  He had not expected to ever see the man again.  The response he acted on was to get to his feet and gesture for the captain to enter the room. 

The captain stepped smartly to one side, making way for another officer.  This one was dressed in the same immaculate, sharply creased uniform, but he was older, a bit heavier and less fit.  He also had more stripes on the rank tab on the front of his uniform—five stripes compared with the captain’s three.  That might make him a Lieutenant Colonel.  Once again, Reese chose to go one high to avoid an inadvertent insult. 

“Colonel,” he said. 

The man inclined his head, acknowledging the greeting.  “Are you educated on our ranks or was that a guess?”

Reese put his hand out palm down and wobbled it from side to side.  “A little of both.”

The colonel turned to look at the captain.  “As you said, observant and diplomatic.”

“And lacking in manners,” the captain said. 

It was a message meant for Reese alone.  The captain was telling him that there had been an exchange of information about what had gone on during and after his interference at the site of the ambush, and that he should assume the colonel knew everything that had been said and done.  Reese rearranged the chairs in the room so two were positioned together facing a third, and waited for the two officers to take their seats.  They sat down without any fuss or ceremony, and waited until Reese joined them. 

“May I be direct?” the colonel said.

By direct, Reese assumed the man meant blunt and quite likely tactless.  He would also get to the point more quickly.  “I would prefer it.”

“Excellent,” the man said, and as Reese suspected, went right to the reason why he was there.  “Your comrades abandoned you.  Your survival was as much luck as tenacity.  A soldier deserves better.” 

Reese debated how to respond.  Telling this man that it was the way things worked in the military was unlikely to be well received.  Using the soldier’s justification for most things that went wrong while in uniform—be it a rip in a pair of pants five minutes before inspection or a bullet wound in someone’s buttocks—would be equally unproductive, since that was normally summed up with “Shit happens.” 

He put more thought into his answer and came up with a reply that might illustrate his philosophy about being left behind.  “If your superior officers came to you, presented an operational plan, and said that if certain events occurred the mission would demand leaving the wounded behind, wouldn’t you accept that as part of the job?” 

The colonel gave him a smile that embodied understanding and sympathy for someone who was rather stupid.  The last time someone had bestowed that expression on him, he had been a teenager, he had just done something that had put a dozen lives in danger, and he had deserved it.  Finding himself on the receiving end of that look at this stage in life was humbling. 

“Death, we accept,” the colonel said.  “Being left behind, abandoned by our comrades, we do not.  More importantly, no such order would ever be given.  If it were and a single man among us accepted it, in that moment, the Legion would cease to exist.  Legio patria nostra.  It means ‘The legion is our country’.  A man will gladly give his life for his country.  You cannot order a man to betray it.”

The implications of the colonel’s final sentence sent a small shiver of emotion down Reese’s spine.  To start with, there was the truth of what the colonel had just said, phrased with elegant simplicity.  ‘You cannot order a man to betray his country.’  The larger concepts expanded outward from that statement.  The moment someone began viewing the organization as a country to which they had voluntarily given their allegiance, rather than as a military unit, all of their perceptions had no choice but to change.  He had understood, recognized, and enjoyed esprit de corps throughout his time in the military, the loyalty to each other that soldiers built up through hard training and combat.  Nothing he had experienced compared to what this officer was describing.  It the penultimate example of unit cohesion, and would command a fierce breed of loyalty from the men who dedicated themselves to the ideals.  He understood because the idea of that total commitment to the unit resonated with him; it ignited a form of hunger inside his body, from toes to chest.  If he joined their ranks, he would never again be expected to face the bleak reality of watching his teammates walk off into the early morning darkness, leaving him to die alone. 

The colonel was watching him intently.  “You comprehend.”

“Yes.”  Reese assembled his newly acquired insight, the opening comment about a soldier deserving better, and the colonel’s presence into a bundle, shifted them around, and came up with a possible configuration that would allow the pieces to fit together into a neat whole.  “Are you here to present an offer?” 

“No,” the colonel said emphatically.  “We do not recruit.  We do not invite people to join.  They must have a desire to come to us.  We do not provide assistance reaching the gates to the recruitment centers.  If a person cannot arrive on his own, we are not interested in having him join.  Call this”—the colonel paused to consider his next words—“a simple declaration that a door is open should you wish to walk through it.” 

Reese translated that into ‘you will be greeted warmly, having already proved your worth to the Légion étrangère, and that will last until ten seconds after signing the enlistment papers, at which point you will be treated like every other applicant who wanders in off the street.’  Despite that, it was a nice offer.  He was pretty sure this sort of thing did not happen very often, which made it an exceptional honor.  He thanked them accordingly, as though he had just received the French version of the Medal of Honor. 

The colonel approached and handed him a small plastic card.  It was the same size and thickness as a credit card, which meant that it would fit easily into a man’s wallet and could remain there long term, hidden among the other plastic.  There were no emblems, crests, or colorful insignia emblazoned on it that might draw attention.  It was white with a small amount of printing on each side.  The one facing Reese as he accepted it read ‘Legio Patria Nostra’.  He flipped it over.  On the reverse side was a phone number.  It was arranged in pairs, as was typical in France, with an international extension in front of it. 

“If ever you are in trouble, anywhere in the world,” the colonel said, “call that number.  Someone will come to your aid.  Anywhere, anytime.”  He gave Reese one last sharp nod, a form of salute, and left the room. 

Reese looked toward the captain.  The magnitude of the promise he had just been handed in the form of a small white card was trying hard to overwhelm him both psychologically and emotionally. 

“Legio patria nostra,” the captain said in a quiet, matter-of-fact tone of voice. 

He was saying that they would do no less for any member of their family.  This was not a unique service that had been arranged to honor one person.  The captain’s three words in Latin conveyed that it was commonplace, a piece of Legion tradition that would be provided to anyone who successfully served out his time in one of the regiments.  The lesson being presented here was that this particular family would always be there for each other. 

Reese tried to come up with an intelligent response.  The best he could do was, “Wow.” 

The captain smiled and relaxed in his chair.  The officer disappeared and the man within the uniform was suddenly sitting there.  The change in demeanor revealed that the captain was not as old as Reese had been assuming all along.  A younger person shone out through the captain’s eyes, one who still had the joy of life and some recklessness running about in his veins, ready to burst loose when the responsibilities of command did not demand that it remain shackled and restrained.  The shift invited a more relaxed conversation. 

Reese asked, “Are you here because you want me to join?” 

The captain shook his head.  It was a definitive single left-right movement.  “No.  The Legion is not for people who have a place in the world.  As long as a man has a purpose and a place, it is not the right choice.  You have those.  It shows.”  He tilted his head to one side and straightened it back up.  “Should that situation change—”  He left the sentence hanging there. 

“A door is open,” Reese said. 


The captain stayed for a time, chatting about small things, updating him on the small glimpses into the lives of his men that Reese had been provided.  The marksman from Nepal had set a new range record with his beloved TAC-338.  “He has been slated to receive extra training, and will be transferred into a different regiment where his skill can be put to better use,” the captain said.  “The instructors suggested that he might become even more proficient with a different weapon.  He refused.” 

“That one has good karma for him.  You don’t mess with that kind of belief.” 

“No, you don’t.  He will not be forced to change.”

The Tale of the Tourist had become entirely outlandish, the captain reported.  It had passed beyond believability into ridiculous fiction.  His sense of humor peeked out as he recounted the latest version.  Based on a few hints interjected during the telling, Reese concluded that the captain had added fuel to the storytelling conflagration by dropping comments in the presence of one or more of his sergeants.  If his contributions were the pieces that provoked him into brief snickers of laughter, they were good ones, both devious and creative.

“The story was never believable in the first place,” Reese said once the captain had finished and the urge to break out in an unmanly fit of giggles had died down. 

“No, it never was.” 

The tale had never needed any embellishment; it was ridiculous in its original form.  A tough, well-trained unit is about to be wiped out by a bunch of badly equipped insurgents when a wounded noncombatant wanders into the mix and begins taking the attack plan apart one bullet at a time.  It had all the elements of a poorly written, outrageous fiction.  No reasonable person would swallow such a story. 

The captain cocked his head to one side and let his curiosity loose for a brief reconnoiter.  “Did you keep track?  Do you know how many shots you made?” 

“I stopped counting after seven hits out of ten.”  Reese explained about trying to get the mortar shells to explode, and that it had taken multiple attempts.  “That would have brought my percentage down.  Toward the end I wasn’t trying for specific targets.  I was throwing rounds into their positions to let them know I was still there, to keep them disorganized.” 

The captain asked one or two more questions about his marksmanship that day, inquiring about the technical side of the process.  After that, the conversation lagged.  Reese kept waiting for the captain to say it was time for him to go and to take his leave.  The captain stayed where he was and began to fidget.  Something uncomfortable was going on, and it was building up strength, approaching the human version of a pressure overload that would demand an explosive release if it continued to mount. 

Reese saw it then, the thing the Australian had been talking about during his last visit at the forward base.  A thank you was struggling to get out.  It wasn’t that the captain did not want to say it, or did not think it was necessary.  The words simply did not want to be spoken.  No, that wasn’t right, Reese thought.  The words did not need to be spoken.  This had nothing to do with the Legion and its credos.  What the captain was struggling to reconcile was normal and acceptable among men who had been at war.  Valiant behavior, self-sacrifice, and dedication to one’s comrades became ordinary behavior.  When he held a door open for someone, their ‘Thank You’ was a courteous acknowledgement, not a mandatory expression of heartfelt appreciation.  In the same way, when a soldier saved another soldier’s life, thanks were not rigidly required.  Life in a war zone guaranteed that the favor would be returned at some point in the future. 

As with all things in life, there were exceptions.  When a man is inches away from stepping on a mine, and his buddy yanks him back, risking his own life if he’s a second or two late getting there, an appreciative “Sweet Jesus, that would have blown both my legs off!” is obligatory.  Shooting a bunch of the enemy did not fall into that category.  It was his job.  That was why he was there in the first place. 

He said that to the captain, and watched the man’s discomfort ease.

“Insightful,” the captain said when Reese was finished.  “If I understand you correctly, then I do not need to thank you for saving the lives of my men.  I can simply say I appreciate that I did not have to order them to start an attack that I was certain would result in their deaths.” 

“And I don’t have to say thank you for sharing your philosophy about ‘just walk’, which saved my life.” 

The boyish person inside the captain made an encore appearance.  “Excellent.  I am pleased that we did not have to say these things.” 

He got to his feet, still smiling.  “We called the US Embassy and reported that we had picked up a stray”—he produced a fake sounding cough and looked amused—“tourist.  It required being transferred to several different people before we found someone who expressed an interest in our wayward traveler.  Our representative made it very clear that the individual had performed a great service to the Armée de Terre and to La France herself, a service that we would describe as heroic.  We wanted to ensure that they were aware of our interest in the person’s continued well-being.” 

The captain stepped over to where Reese was sitting and handed him a slip of paper.  “This individual will be arriving here at the time indicated.  We were assured that he would bring a replacement passport and whatever other credentials are required for you to re-enter your country.  The doctors will have your release processed prior to his arrival.  You may leave with him if that is your desire.”

They had taken care of everything.  The Legion had ensured that his transition back into his life would be as effortless as humanly possible.  Transportation, documentation, medical care, communication with his own people:  they had seen to it all.  He continued to stare at the slip of paper, and said, “Legio patria nostra.” 

“Bon chance, Monsieur Buteur.” 

When he looked up, the captain was gone.  Reese let his gaze drift back down to the information written on the piece of paper.  The person coming to debrief him was someone named Mark Snow, and he would arrive at ten o’clock the next morning. 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Person of Interest / Honneur et Fidélitié (continued)
« Last post by KernilCrash on April 20, 2023, 12:39:44 PM »
Part 6

He was no longer John Reese.  For the duration of his time at the hospital, he was Sergeant Daffyd Crockett, with a note on his records that he preferred to be called Davy.  Someone in the Legion had a sense of humor.  Thankfully, the song, the TV show, and the historical figure were not well known in France.  He went through his entire stay without having to fabricate an explanation for the name.  On the bright side, at least he hadn’t come up with a name that was recognized in other countries, such as George Washington or Paul Revere, which might have raised both eyebrows and inconvenient questions. 

His recovery took longer than he liked.  If the only injuries to his body had been the bullet wound and the infection, he might have been ambulatory in a few days and ready to begin rehabilitation in under a week.  Circumstances had heaped insult on top of injury.  His slow three day hike, the short supply of food and water, and the sustained physical strain demanded by his marksmanship were just the start of the additional toll he had placed on his body.  Things had gotten worse after that.  A doctor pointed out that from a medical standpoint, the worst thing he could have done was make the walk with the captain’s platoon.  Reese responded by saying that if he hadn’t, he would have been killed by the Taliban, which he thought would be the number one item at the top of the list of ‘medically contraindicated activities’.  The doctor grudgingly agreed, and then reiterated that the long hike had exhausted physical reserves that should have been safeguarded for repair and recovery.  The various flights, shortage of oxygen, surgery, and fever were icing on the debilitation cake. 

Reese spent the best part of the first four days sleeping.  Sedatives were not required.  He had seen the sense in what the surgeon at the first hospital had recommended, and put his mind to it.  Every time he woke up, he went in search of the place where healing would occur most quickly by exerting an active effort to shut down brain and body.  It wasn’t difficult.  His body was happy with his choice.  Freed of the energy demands that came with being conscious, it set about making repairs.  Outraged intestinal nerves stopped their incessant shrieking over every small movement, and the grating heat of inflamed internal organs was extinguished.  Parts of his anatomy that had become irritated by the side effectives of the antibiotics resumed normal function, the last of the nausea went away.  The surgical incision started to itch, which meant it was healing. 

On the fifth day, Reese stayed awake for several hours.  After receiving permission from the staff, he spent some of it sitting up on the side of the bed.  Every day after that, there was a slow but steady improvement. 

The doctors felt he had reached a turning point in his recovery when his fever went away and the wound stopped oozing, signaling that the infection had been overcome and the internal injuries were on the mend.  After forty-eight hours with no relapse in either condition, the drain was removed, the remaining wound in his skin was covered with what amounted to an oversized bandaid, and he was declared fit to start rehabilitation. 

Reese agreed that a turning point had been reached; he had a different opinion concerning when it happened.  As far as he was concerned, it occurred on the morning when he used the toilet standing up for the first time, which was the same day he was given permission to take a hot shower.  Not counting bed baths, it was the first time he had bathed since the day he set out on his mission with Kara Stanton.  He stayed in the steaming floods of water for so long, a nurse stuck her head in to make sure he hadn’t passed out and was lying unconscious on the shower floor, slowly poaching.  Best of all, and the true sign that he was no longer an invalid, when he finally emerged from the shower he found a set of cotton pajamas laid out on his bed, replacing the ignominious open-backed hospital gown he had been wearing.  He slid into the long pants and short sleeve top with relief.  At long last, he was decently clothed. 

The progress continued.  Slippers appeared on his bed.  He began to take short walks around the building, accompanied by a male nurse who looked sturdy enough to catch him if he showed signs that he was going to pass out.  If he did, it was going to be from lack of lung capacity after being bedridden for so long, not from a relapse.  Several days later, the nurse got tired of walking in circles after his fourth circuit of the morning, declared him stable enough to proceed on his own, and left him to his ‘maudit manège’.  Reese had to look it up.  Cursed merry-go-round. 

He was given solid food to eat.  At least that was what the hospital staff claimed was on his tray.  Some things were universal.  He choked down every calorie, walked in circles, slept twelve hours a night, and began to ask the doctor when he could be released.  “Have patience,” he was told.  They would tell him when he was ready.  “Heal, regain strength.  You are not fully recovered.”

“Let me have some coffee and I’ll be back to normal after two cups,” he said. 

The doctor laughed and had the kitchen bring him another glass of orange juice. 

He began to eye the window in his room as the possible start to an escape route, and continued to sleep for twelve hours at a stretch, which he had become convinced was the criteria the doctors were using as a measure of his recovery.  He tried cutting back to eight hours a night and ended up dozing in an armchair for four hours every afternoon. 

The wound on his abdomen closed.  He was told he could go swimming if he liked. 

“Where?”  If they allowed him out for an excursion to the ocean, he intended to make a break for it.  He had completed the Level C SERE course with top marks.  They’d never catch up with him.

There was a pool on the ground floor.  It was there for patient rehabilitation and several types of therapy that were best done with flotation.  There was no reason he could not use it for swimming laps as long as he avoided the busy spots in the schedule.  Reese began swimming laps two times a day for a total of four hours.  His wind and lung capacity increased, he began putting on muscle to replace what he had lost over the last weeks, and he considered adding ‘Dolphin’ to his list of specialized job skills. 

Throughout it all, starting the first day that he was awake more than a few minutes, he spent most of his free hours debating whether he had made a mistake joining the CIA.  It wasn’t being abandoned that made him reconsider.  It was how comfortable he had felt in among the soldiers of the Legion. So much had not needed to be said or expressed.  His thinking and theirs traveled the same route, took the same factors into account when plotting out what needed to be done.  They perceived strategic and tactical elements that other people never considered.  When the captain had said that Reese had to go with them, little explanation had been required.  All the pieces had been there for him to read and put together for himself because they were working from the same manual. 

He had felt the same way aboard the helicopter.  After a mission with Kara, with or without additional operatives, there was never any shared exuberance over a successful execution and extraction.  No joyful letdown in the aftermath, no macabre jokes that went hand in hand with the release of a constant, all-encompassing tension while the mission was underway, no sense that they had accomplished something worthy of rejoicing.  Kara had begun to beat it into him through repetition.  They did not walk in the dark; they were the dark.  He had not expected that he would be required to give it access to his soul. 

When he thought about whether he wanted to leave the Agency, he began to go in circles.  He had left the army because he wanted a more active role protecting the United States against terrorism.  He wanted to be on the front lines against the people sowing fear and destruction across world.  He could spend the rest of his adult working life in the army and never get the chance to shoot another terrorist.  He had spent time operating in a Tier One unit, and had never been deployed anywhere that brought him face to face with the enemy. 

From there his thoughts bounced to the Legion.  Collectively, they saw more combat than any other military unit in the world.  Small, elite, considered more disposable than France’s own sons, they were the first of France’s military to go to war whenever there was fighting.  He did not like that answer either.  He wanted to fight for his country, not some other. 

That took him back to reconsidering the army and from there back to the CIA, and around again, day after day, until he had looked at it from every angle.  Nothing changed except his mood.  The indecision made him grouchy. 

One night he dreamed he was back on the medical evacuation aircraft.  In his dream, he was healthy and free to walk around.  He went across the aisle to see how the critical patient was doing.  The soldier lying there looked younger than eighteen.  He was mangled beyond description.  Missing limbs and half his head, burned, barely recognizable as a human being.  The boy opened his remaining eye, looked at Reese, and said, “I’m scared.  Will you hold my hand?”  There was no hand to hold. 

Reese jerked awake in his hospital room feeling as sick as he had during the first round of antibiotics.  This nausea had nothing to do with his recent injuries.  The boy’s plea from the dream and his inability to fulfill a young man’s simple wish for human contact stayed with him for days. 

He eventually found his answer there, in his recall of the dream and his emotional response to the imagined events.  Reese had seen too many young men headed home in a similar condition.  Not just mangled by bullets and explosives, but frightened by what their future held in store.  Most had met the prospect with an outward show of courage bolstered by the instilled belief that soldiers were not supposed to dissolve into a blubbering puddle of tears.  It had been in some of their eyes, though—the desire to cry, the urge to turn back into boys who wanted their mothers to be there, alongside them, telling them it would work out and they would live happily ever after.  A tired, unshaven, dust-covered sergeant crouched down alongside their stretcher saying, “You’re going to be okay,” was a poor substitute for their mother.

He would continue to work for the CIA, no matter how distasteful it seemed to him at times.  If his efforts could prevent just one young man from facing a bleak future of disfiguration and dreams dashed by permanent disability, it was sufficient justification for him to continue in his current occupation.  Reese set that decision firmly in mind, and placed the memory of his recent battlefield experience alongside it, so the two were joined as one.  He’d had his moment of assisting with a clearly defined assault on evil and terrorism.  If he faltered, he could look back and take heart that he had been given a unique opportunity to do some obvious good. 

* * * * *

Person of Interest / Honneur et Fidélitié (continued)
« Last post by KernilCrash on April 20, 2023, 12:38:16 PM »
Part 5

Starting before dawn the next morning, Reese spent the next thirty-six hours either in the air or moving between aircraft.  His day began with a helicopter flight to Bagram Air Base, as the Australian had predicted.  He slept through a transfer to the base hospital, an hours-long wait, and a ride back to the airport in the evening.  They preferred to arrive and depart in the dark, he was told during one of the rare intervals when he was awake.  The aircraft was less likely to get shot down.  If that was supposed to reassure him, it wasn’t working.  He went back to sleep before he could ask the question. 

Reese woke long enough to watch with interest as he and five wounded soldiers were loaded aboard what amounted to a flying hospital, and went back to sleep while waiting impatiently for the flight crew to start the engines.

The next time he woke up, one of the medical staff informed him they were over the Caspian Sea, more or less half way through a seven hour flight.  He asked if he was still being given the sedative that the doctor at the forward base had prescribed to help him sleep.  Not exactly, an Air Force nurse explained.  Earlier in the day he had been given something to make him drowsy.  It was standard practice for patients in stable condition.  It didn’t matter that he was lying down or that he wasn’t required to do anything.  Simply being moved around, changing a patient’s surroundings, and waiting to board the aircraft could create unnecessary anxiety and stress for already damaged bodies.  If he was comfortable, content, and relaxed, he was welcome to decline the next dose. 

Reese chose to stay awake.  He had things he needed to think about.  First and foremost was the CIA.  By this time, they had undoubtedly concluded that he was dead.  He spent some time counting backwards to the day he had been shot, then worked forward again, this time moving along Kara’s proposed timetable for reestablishing contact with the Agency.  It took several tries and he resorted to counting on his fingers before he could get it straight.  If the remainder of her operation had gone as planned and the team had rendezvoused with their pickup on schedule, the CIA had been notified of his probable demise five days ago. 

Reese wasn’t sure what the procedure was for returning from the dead.  He had been employed by the CIA for less than six months.  They had not covered ‘Reestablishing Contact After Being Dead’ yet, let alone how to go about submitting that type of request for reinstatement from a bed in a military hospital.  If he were healthy and mobile, he would have walked to a US Embassy and asked to see a liaison. 

Then a bigger problem occurred to him.  He had no idea what name the French forces had provided when they arranged for his transportation.  He had never mentioned his name to anyone in the Legion.  Everyone had been calling him ‘Monsieur Buteur’.  The Marksman.  What name was he going to provide when they wheeled him into the hospital at Ramstein and someone there said, “Who the hell are you?”  This situation very definitely had not been covered in his training.  No one on an American military base was going to let him near a phone if he asked to call the CIA before answering their questions.  First thing they were going to want to see were some credentials, of which he had exactly none. 

“Well, shit,” he said under his breath.  Maybe sleeping through the arrival was the best method after all.  He could skip the questions, yelling, and confusion, and jump ahead to the chapter where he wound up in a military prison. 

A nurse dressed in a one-piece Air Force issue green overall stopped alongside where he was reflecting on the dim prospects for his future.  “Everything all right?  Feeling okay?” 

“Is it possible to sit up a little bit?”  He felt odd asking her for assistance.  According to the insignia on her flight suit, she was a captain.  She outranked him.  But he had been lying flat on his back for so long, he was starting to ache.

“Of course.”  She made some adjustments to the bed, retrieved a couple of pillows to prop up his head, and made sure he was comfortable before moving on to the next patient.  “Let us know if you need anything else, sergeant.  It’s not an imposition.  It’s why we’re here.”  She walked on down the aisle between stretcher cases. 

Sergeant, she had said.  He was a dunce.  The Legion must have created an identity for him, otherwise he never would have been permitted to enter Bagram Air Base, let alone board the plane.  Now all he had to do was figure out who he was before someone asked him for his name. 

He spent the next hour slowly pondering the various possibilities while watching the medical crew care for the men being transported.  Four were lying on canvas stretcher-like bunks hooked onto vertical pillars in the cargo hold.  They were arranged in pairs, one above the other.  All four of those patients looked comparatively healthy.  No one was hooked up to an IV, none were connected to monitors.  They were all sound asleep, tucked up snug and warm with thick pillows and plenty of blankets.  He and the sixth patient were on hospital-style beds locked down to the flooring plates in the cargo bay aisles.  The other man was the most badly injured on the flight.  His bed was surrounded by monitors, machinery, and a confusion of cables, hoses, and IV tubing, and the medical staff were spending a majority of their time clustered around him.  Reese was practically walking wounded by comparison.  His attachments were limited to a small number of ins and outs, and a pulse-ox sensor that had been added for the duration of the flight. 

“How are you doing?” interrupted his observations.  The nurse-captain was back. 

“I’m good.”  He nodded toward the critical patient on the other side of the plane.  “IED?” 

She looked in that direction.  “Yes.” 

He almost asked if the guy was going to make it.  He decided he didn’t want to know.  He had seen too many IED ravaged bodies headed home during his tour in Iraq, and knew what lay ahead for the most severely injured.  He focused on the nurse instead, and thought about how many of those patients she had cared for during her time in the service.  “You have a tough job, seeing guys like that all the time.” 

Her smile looked a little tired.  “Thank you for understanding.  If you don’t mind me saying, you speak excellent English.  You don’t have any accent at all.” 

He almost laughed.  It was both ironic and a relief.  Her comment gave him the clue he needed in order to figure out more of what they had done.  If he could get a look at the list of patients on the flight, he was certain that among the ranks and names there would be a sergeant from the French Army.  He said, “I’m American,” and explained about the multinational makeup of the Foreign Legion as a way of avoiding the fact that he wasn’t part of any segment of the French Army. 

“You shouldn’t have told me the truth.  I was terribly impressed by your lack of accent.” 

She stayed with him for a while, answering his questions about her job and the medical evacuation unit, and talking a little about her life when she wasn’t flying back and forth between various military bases.  He kept hoping she would call him something other than ‘Sergeant’, to provide a clue to what name he had been given.  It never happened.  She stuck exclusively with Sergeant, which was nice but unhelpful.  Eventually she said she had to check on the other patients, made a quick inspection of him and the various medical paraphernalia arranged near his bed, and moved on down the aisle. 

Shortly after, he suffered another of the sudden ‘tire blowouts’, identical to the one he had experienced on the helicopter.  One moment he was alert, aware, and thinking about what kind of debrief he might have to endure once he was back in the hands of the CIA, the next he was barely conscious, incapable of moving enough to look for a call button, and struggling to provide his body with enough oxygen.  Whatever had happened, it must have set off an alarm.  The nurse arrived first, followed closely by a doctor. 

The diagnosis was a combination of fatigue, fever, and altitude.  Even with pressurization, the cabin altitude inside the aircraft was around seven thousand feet, which was where the earth’s atmosphere pressure dropped to half what it was at sea level.  Once again, he was hypoxic.  The solution was the same as before.  They provided a lightweight oxygen mask.  Once that resolved the problem with his breathing, they recommended putting him to sleep. 

“You’ve been lying in bed, so you think you’re resting.  Your natural thought process is that this shouldn’t tire you out,” the nurse said when he objected to the sedative.  “It’s a strain, even on a healthy body.  The noise, being awake in the middle of the night, changing time zones, it takes a toll.  You’re not being weak, sergeant.  You’re injured.” 

He gave in, mostly because he was too exhausted to argue.  What followed was a replay of his experience on the helicopter.  He slept through the descent, the approach to Ramstein, and the landing.  He was roused long enough to know that the doctor had checked on him during the ground taxi portion of the journey, and for the nurse to explain, “You’ll be on board for a while longer.  We’re going to take the others off first then they’ll bring the other aircraft over from where it’s parked to this ramp area, and take you aboard.” 

He had a two second interval of functional consciousness to think, “Other aircraft?” and to wonder if the CIA had been notified that he was in transit, and he was asleep again. 

The next time he woke up, he was in a military hospital on the outskirts of Marseilles.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Person of Interest / Honneur et Fidélitié (continued)
« Last post by KernilCrash on April 20, 2023, 12:37:20 PM »
Part 4 (continued)

Reese would eventually learn that his sudden collapse aboard the helicopter had been caused by a plummet in his blood oxygen level, not a catastrophic hemorrhage as he feared.  It had been no one’s fault, least of all the doctor’s.  It had been a combination of blood loss, the multiple units of plasma he had received from the medic, which had restored blood volume and the ability to clot but not the capacity to carry oxygen, and an unplanned increase in altitude by the helicopter’s flight crew.  Reese had been coping well and probably would have made it back to the forward base without a problem if they had remained at their initial altitude of 6000 feet.  But there had been reports of insurgents firing ‘dumb’ anti-aircraft missiles up to that altitude in one area, so the flight crew has chosen to climb higher for a short distance rather than make the long detour around.  A healthy person can withstand the thin air at 12,000 feet for a short time; someone in Reese’s condition could not. 

Fortunately, the solution was a simple one.  The doctor put him on pure oxygen for the remainder of the flight and sedated him in order to keep his body’s demand for oxygen at a minimum.  That, however, meant that Reese missed the landing, his transfer to the hospital tent, preparation for surgery, and everything that came after it until the anesthesia wore off. 

Recovery was slow.  The infection was widespread and tenacious.  He spent the first day after surgery nauseous from the combination of strong antibiotics on top of the anesthesia, and with an unpleasant ringing in his ears from the fever.  His body seemed to be putting all of its energy into producing what the helicopter doctor had termed discharge.  Reese thought it looked like more like what the word ‘pus’ was attempting to describe.  The first twenty-four hours would have made a good horror movie.  The plot would involve a germ-infected bullet that triggers an alien transformation within the protagonist’s body.  No one is aware of the genetic alteration until the hero’s body begins exuding foul matter from every orifice.  Reese was ready to play the ill-fated hero.  If he had to audition for the part, he had the exuding portion of the role nailed to perfection. 

When he issued a quiet complaint about the side effects, the doctors tried a different antibiotic.  The nausea abated.  The irritation moved to his lower intestinal tract, which was worse.  They shifted to a third and adjusted the dosage.  He stopped ejecting material from his body, the infection started to clear, the fever subsided, and he fell into an exhausted coma-like sleep for the next twenty hours. 

He woke to find that the pain parasite had undergone a resurrection; the throat to pelvis misery made an encore appearance.  The pain could have been held entirely at bay with medication if he was willing to spend all his waking hours in a drooling stupor.  He said he would rather hurt than be lobotomized by the drugs.  A compromise was worked out concerning dosage.  In return for enduring a nonstop grinding ache throughout most of his torso, brain function was restored. 

When he commented that he had expected the surgery to make things feel better instead of worse, the surgeon who had worked on him mimicked removing all of his intestinal organs, twisting them about, and aggressively stuffing them back where they belonged.  It had not been performed quite that harshly, he was told, but some rummaging about in his abdominal cavity had been involved in order to retrieve the bullet.  It had been on the move ever since he got shot, leaving a trail of irritated nerves and inflammation in its wake. 

“Give it time,” the surgeon said in conclusion.  “It may take as much as two weeks for everything to settle down.  The best thing you can do to hurry your recovery is to give your body as much rest as possible.  I would recommend that you sleep around the clock for five or six days, except I think you would tell me to go to hell.” 

Reese wanted to deny it.  But when he imagined the doctor turning the lightly delivered recommendation into instructions for his recuperation, a very similar set of words begged to be spoken.  In his case, it would have been, “Like hell I will.”  He confessed that to the doctor. 

The man received the admission with good humor.  “The only difference between you and them”—he gestured to the sounds of the military base outside the walls of the hospital—“is that they would not have hesitated to say it.” 

Reese took it as a compliment. 

The exchange generated some thought, however.  He spent most of his waking hours for the rest of the day thinking things through.  The doctor’s recommendation wasn’t much different from receiving a prescription for a drug that would speed recovery.  If the doctor had handed him a bottle of pills and said, “Take one of these each hour for the next week and you will heal faster,” he would have been obediently chucking tablets down his throat every sixty minutes.  The difference was that the theoretical pills would not reduce his recall of entire days to zero.  What if they did, he asked himself the next morning.  What if the price of the magical, health-restoring pills was sleeping for hours at a time?  Would he have objected to the proposal if it was presented in that manner?  It wasn’t like he could do much anyway.  The prognosis he had been given was that he would be restricted to the hospital bed for several days. 

When the doctor checked in on him, he posed a question. 

The answer was, “Yes.  Very definitely.  We have a mild sedative that will do what you describe.  It won’t actively put you to sleep, and it won’t make it difficult to think.  All it will do is make it easy to fall asleep if and when you decide that’s what you want.  If you want to stay awake, it will take a small amount of extra effort to do so.  That is the only side effect.  You will be clear headed.  If it would make it easier, I can stipulate that you must wake up once every twenty-four hours and agree to continue.”

The doctor’s final sentence made it easy to decide.  “Do it.” 

He began to sleep, soundly and dreamlessly.  He was occasionally aware of the hospital personnel coming in to check on him and performing certain periodic duties such as changing bandages and inspecting the wound, but for the most part, he spent twenty-four hours in a state of total unconsciousness.  The second day, he chose to stay awake for several hours midday, simply to prove that he could, then plummeted back into the peaceful darkness.  On the third day, he woke several times to talk to visitors.  Some of the men from the patrol arrived in groups of two and three, to talk to him briefly and to see how he was doing.  As promised, once he woke up he was clear-headed and had little trouble staying awake.  The sporadic visits continued on and off throughout the day, in little clusters of activity. 

The Australian showed up last, together with two men who appeared to be either Tibetan or possibly from Mongolia.  One was carrying his TAC-338, the other had his rucksack. 

The Australian started the conversation with, “Nice knowing you, mate.  It’s been a distinct pleasure.”

“Which one of us is going somewhere?” Reese said. 

“You are.  Early tomorrow morning.  There’s a medical evacuation flight scheduled between Bagram and Ramstein tomorrow.  You’ll be headed south on a helicopter first thing in the morning, and you’ll be on US controlled soil the following day.” 

The day’s visits had been a slow motion going away party for an invalid, delivered in small increments.  He wished he had known at the time. 

“These two fellows don’t have any English,” the man said, pointing at the two Tibetan-looking soldiers.  “They want to know what you want done with your gear.  Your military has their own set of rules about transporting firearms and such.  No one knows what to do with your kit.” 

Reese didn’t have to think once, let alone twice, about the rucksack and its contents.  He had been on a covert mission.  Nothing in it was his and none of the equipment could be traced back to the United States or the organization that had authorized the operation.  The TAC-338 was similar.  Non-military issue, chambered for commonly used rounds that were available all over the world. 

“Distribute or throw out everything in the pack.  I won’t need it.”  From the look on the Australian’s face, he suspected a number of people had already laid claim to certain items in the event that was his answer.  “If I leave the MacMillan behind, would someone want it?” 

“What does it fire?”

The shell was one used throughout NATO.  There were undoubtedly several thousand in the armory on this base, and millions in a warehouse back near Kabul. 

The Australian relayed the information to the man holding the rifle.  He got an excited reply in return, coupled with a question.  Whatever had been asked, the Australian’s answer was an exaggerated nod of his head, and several reassurances.

“What was the question?” Reese asked. 

“It boiled down to him asking if you were sure, no takie-backs.” 

Reese beckoned to the man, asking for the weapon.  “Tell him I’m about to give it back to him.  No takie-backs.  I promise.” 

The man reluctantly handed over the rifle.  It had been cleaned to perfection.  The last time he had seen the weapon, it had been coated in dirt, grit, and dust, and there had been a frayed spot on the sling.  His last several shots the bolt had not slid closed easily, as it should, and the adjustment knobs on the sight had been equally covered in sandy grit.  It was no longer in that condition.  Every moving part operated without a hint of friction, all the appropriate parts had been oiled, and the entire weapon spoke of painstaking attention to detail.  There wasn’t a speck of dirt from stock to muzzle, and the frayed spot on the sling had been carefully mended.  This had not been a labor of love.  What he held in his hands was an expression of reverence, not for what the rifle had done but for the weapon itself. 

Reese glanced up at the Australian, silently requesting an explanation. 

“These two, they’re from Nepal.  They both wanted to be Gurkhas, to serve in the British Army, god knows why.  They got rejected, so they came to us instead.  Where they come from, they’ve got nothing.  Nobody gives them valuable stuff for free, and they sure as hell never got handed something like that to keep for their own.  That weapon there, as far as he’s concerned if he gets to keep it, he just won the fucking multi-million dollar lottery.”

“Can you tell him he gets top marks for cleaning this?  I’ve never seen better.” 

The Nepalese beamed at the praise and continued to look worried. 

Reese ran his hand down the stock of the rifle for the last time.  He did not get attached to individual weapons the way some soldiers did, and this one held no special meaning for him other than that it had performed its job admirably.  It had, however, been the crucial piece of equipment in an event that had altered over four dozen lives for the better, including his own.  Men who should have died had survived.  A close-knit unit had come back to base with all of its members intact.  He had been admitted into a strictly regimented society for a short time, benefitted from one of its rituals, enjoyed the peculiar humor and comradery that flourished among men at arms, and would eventually be sent home safe and whole because he had been carrying the rifle when he happened to stumble in among them. 

Reese picked up with rifle with both hands, holding it across his palms like a ceremonial saber, and presented it, arms outstretched, to the Legionnaire from Nepal.  The soldier received it as it was given, with ceremony, the way he might have if he had just been bestowed with a knighthood. 

“It shoots straight.  Make sure you do,” Reese said. 

The Australian translated it into French, and it broke the serious mood.  The man beamed, bowed with thanks several times, and then he and his countryman left, chattering excitedly over the gift. 

The Australian lingered behind.  “That was nice of you.”

“Easy to do.  It didn’t belong to me.”

“Okay, I get it.  It’s fun sticking your thumb in the government’s eye by giving away its equipment.  Still nice of you, especially how you did it.  He’ll do right by it.  He’s the best marksman in the company.  If the two of you had a contest, he’d give you a run for your money.” 

“I told you—” Reese began. 

“Yeah, yeah.  You were aiming for something else.  I heard it the first time.”  The Aussie began to drift uncomfortably around the small room, examining some of the medical paraphernalia, looking hesitant and indecisive.

Reese switched to a lighter topic, hoping it might help the man work up to whatever he was trying to say.  “How’s the tale of the tourist coming?” 

His visitor brightened.  “Oh, my sweet lord.” 

Reese’s contribution involving a flight to Tahiti had taken hold.  The plane flight had necessitated a creative and thoroughly absurd explanation covering how the tourist had come to be carrying a rifle, the wife’s outrage over the unintended detour had been given a larger role in the story, and it seemed that somewhere along the way, the tourist’s arsenal had been expanded to include a Javelin shoulder-fired missile. 

The Australian was laughing with unrestrained gusto by the time he had finished describing the latest rendition of the tourist’s story.  Reese would have been close behind if he hadn’t been doing his best not to laugh at all for fear of tearing stitches.  The Australian regained the ability to talk first.  He wiped his eyes and let out a long, satisfied sigh.  “You’re going down in Legion history.  Ten years from now, they may not remember what you actually did, but The Tourist will be a part of our history forever.” 

“Probably better that way,” Reese said. 

“Yeah,” the man said, drawing it out far beyond the typical Aussie drawl.  “Listen—”

The hesitation and uncertainty were back.  Reese had no idea what was causing it.  It was time for the direct approach.  “Whatever it is, just spit it out.” 

“Right.”  He fidgeted for a moment, took in a deep breath, and said, “I’m betting no one has actually said the words yet.  We’re not like that.  It’s not that no one wants to.  We just never get around to it.  I think you need to hear the words though.”  He looked directly into Reese’s eyes.  “Thank you.” 

“Glad to do it,” Reese said.  The room went silent. 

The Aussie let out a laugh.  “Well, that was a big build up to a lot of nothing, wasn’t it?” 

“It wasn’t nothing.  I appreciate it.”  Reese held out his hand. 

“Good luck, then.  Safe flight.”  The man shook his hand, turned, and he was gone. 

It wasn’t until an hour later, that Reese realized he had never learned the man’s name.  He had never seen a name tape on a uniform, either.  In the field, they either did not wear one, which was not uncommon in Afghanistan, or it had been underneath the MOLLE vest that most soldiers wore.  This afternoon, the man had been wearing a t-shirt above the greenish-hued camo patterned pants.  Again, no name stenciled on the shirt.  And it finally occurred to Reese that he had never provided his name either. 

It was the last time he saw any of the members of the Legion platoon, and he was halfway to Ramstein Air Base before it sank in that the captain had never come to see him.  That disappointed him.  He would have liked to say the difficult two words to the captain.  ‘Thank you.’  The captain had introduced Reese to a new philosophy, one that might come in handy in the future.  In Ranger School, he had learned to push himself to his physical and mental limits, how to continue functioning at an operational level when he was physically exhausted and sleep-deprived.  The captain’s philosophy had demonstrated that he could go beyond that level, past what most people would consider their functional limit.  If he narrowed his focus down to a single goal, a single movement, a single precise thought, he could tap into physical reserves that might otherwise remain out of his reach.

He wished he’d had an opportunity to tell that to the captain. 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Person of Interest / Honneur et Fidélitié (continued)
« Last post by KernilCrash on April 20, 2023, 12:36:05 PM »
Part 4

Swimming up through the layers of fatigue and confusion was a laborious process.  Not to mention noisy.  His first impression as he was began to surface was that they had taken refuge in a manufacturing facility filled with a deafening collection of operating machinery.  He floated closer to full consciousness and managed to latch on to a memory as it drifted by.  There had been talk of a helicopter.  The machinery racket shifted tone and rhythm, underwent a vibratory transmutation, settled down into the unchanging roar of turbine engines, and he suddenly knew that he was inside a helicopter running at idle power. 

What registered next was that he no longer hurt.  All of the pain was gone, as was the middle of his body.  It seemed worth investigating.  Reese opened his eyes to discover an IV setup hanging near his head, some blood-filled tubing running down toward his arm, and a gloved and masked doctor hovering over the wound in his abdomen.  When he rolled his head to the right, to see what else was going on, he saw the captain and a sergeant standing on either side of the open tail of the aircraft counting heads.  Troops were still boarding the aircraft.  Whatever had happened to him had happened quickly.  He had only been out ten or fifteen minutes.

He rolled his head back to check on what the doctor was doing.  Two corpsmen were assisting him in what appeared to be full surgery.

“Hello.  You’ve decided to rejoin us, I take it.”  The doctor had a cheerful intonation and a British accent, both of which seemed out of place.  After hours of listening to a wide variety of French accents and putting a lot of effort into picking out some recognizable sounds from amidst the rapid-fire syllables, switching to very proper sounding English was jarring. 

“Half of me,” Reese said. 

The doctor kept his eyes on whatever he was doing.  “Tell me about that.  Any discomfort?  Any sensation?”

“No.”  He didn’t think the doctor was referring to his arms and legs.  The section of his body that was supposed to be located between the middle of his chest and his hipbones had gone missing. 

“Good.  Let me know if you start to feel anything.  I’ll numb it if you do.” 

Reese waited for an explanation about what was going on near his waist.  None was forthcoming.  The doctor’s eyes and his attention remained fixed on his midsection.  “If you’re searching for my appendix, it was removed when I was ten.”

The skin around the doctor’s eyes crinkled above his surgical mask, forming the top half of a smile.  “I’m trying to find the bleeding.  You’re not making it easy.  You've got quite a bit of blood sloshing about in here.”

“I’ll try to bleed slower.”

The conversation lagged while the doctor directed one of the corpsman to mop out some blood and then hold something to one side. 

“Normally, I wouldn’t do this now, but”—he concentrated on his task for close to a full minute before picking up where he left off—“you’ve lost enough blood that I thought it advisable to stop the bleeding right away.  You were down a few pints by the time they got you aboard.  Right there!  See where it’s surging?  Clamp that off for me.  I don’t want to let go of this.”  The corpsman standing next to him leaned in and did something mysterious inside Reese’s body. 

“That’s better,” the doctor said.  “I’m going to suture that pesky bleeder, pack the wound, and leave it open.  You can expect to be wheeled into surgery the moment we get on the ground.  We’ll radio ahead so they’re ready.”

The proposed sewing had to wait.  The last of the platoon clattered into the cargo bay, set their rucksacks and rifles down with the others already stack in orderly rows, and dropped into the remaining empty seats.  The captain and the sergeant consulted, verified that they had come up with the same number of personnel coming aboard, then the captain turned toward the front of the cargo hold and signaled to the crew by spinning his hand in a small circle over his head.  The ramp started to close and the pitch of the engines increased.  The doctor snatched a green surgical drape off a nearby surface, quickly flipped it across the middle of Reese’s body, and hastily tucked it in along both sides of his body.

The rotor speed increased, and all of the men ducked and turned their heads to one side.  Reese realized what was about to happen and tried to free his right arm from beneath the sheet to shield his eyes and nose.  He didn’t need to.  A second surgical drape settled over the upper half of his body, including his head and shoulders, and a moment later, a battering blast of air blew a cloud of dirt and dust through the half-open tail of the helicopter.  Sand and grit pattered down on everyone and everything.  Then they were airborne, climbing fast, and the tailgate thumped close.  The noise and the sandstorm came to a stop. 

“I wish they wouldn’t do it that way,” the doctor’s voice said.  Metal instruments chimed and clattered, rattled noisily, and then hit a surface with a multi-tonal metallic crash, as if they had all been dumped carelessly into a heap on the floor.  “So much for sterile instruments.”  His voice became less distinct, the way it would if he had turned away to speak to someone else.  "No, don't open another pack yet.  Let this sandstorm dis down."  He drew closer to where Reese remained under the green surgical sheet.  “I haven’t forgotten you.  I’ll take that off once everything settles down.  It’s a bit dusty out here.”  He sneezed several times.  “I swear they do that on purpose, just to be annoying, the silly sods.”

Reese was content to remain under his green-tinted shroud for as long as the doctor considered medically prudent.  It was peaceful, he did not hurt, and with nothing to look at other than the fabric resting on his forehead and nose, he was provided with the perfect excuse to close his eyes and get some well-earned rest.  He slipped into a barely conscious state, asleep yet minimally aware of the noise and movement on the other side of the sheet.  The helicopter bucked and bounced as it climbed up through the rising thermals near the ground.  He felt the bouncing and shuddering the way he would identify with a plane full of people being tossed around in a training film about the dangers of turbulence.  He was part of it without feeling the physical sensation, aware that it was happening yet not subject to the unpredictable movements.  Voices came and went, some speaking French, some chattering in unidentifiable languages, and one delivering comments in British-inflected English.  The sheet over his face and upper body disappeared in an abracadabra display of magic.  One moment it was there, the next it was gone, no transition from one to the other. 

“How does that feel?” the doctor said more loudly. 

“How does what feel?”

“Right answer.  Here we go.”

One of the sergeants walked by headed toward the front of the helicopter.  He paused near Reese’s feet, peered at what was going on, and produced an exaggerated grimace.  His eyes slid up to Reese’s and he discovered that he was being watched.  The sergeant grinned, pointed to his own stomach, and mimicked being sick.

The doctor glanced up, saw the direction of Reese's eyes and looked over his shoulder just in time to catch the last act of the mime show.  He snapped, “Go away.  That’s not helping.” 

The sergeant moved on. 

“It’s not that bad,” the doctor said.  “It looks worse than it is because there’s a lot of blood.  I haven’t made an incision.  I’m working with the access that god and some fool with a gun provided.” 

Reese doubted that the sergeant’s reaction was in response to the presence of blood alone.  Soldiers were familiar with that particular sight.  Their acquaintance with it started in basic training—the occasional bloody nose, cuts and gashes, fingers dripping gore from minor accidents, even the smallest head wounds bled like crazy.  Returning to barracks with a crimson-sodden t-shirt wrapped around a hand, or a half-clotted smear on a bare arm or leg was the basic training version of a badge of honor.  It said that the person had gone above and beyond with effort, paid a price, ignored it, and persevered. 

Plus, the doctor’s gloves were not covered in blood.  Every time one of his hands came into view, it was slick with a runny mixture of red and yellow.  Reese's internal organs weren't swimming in blood; they were overflowing with infection.  The next time the doctor reached for something and his hand came into view, Reese gestured with his chin, and said, “Pus.” 

“I prefer the term discharge,” the doctor said.  “But yes, since you already know, the wound has become infected.  I don’t suppose telling you not to worry about it will set your mind at rest.

Reese had seen outwardly healthy men sicken and die from internal infections.  Others had lost yards of intestines, any number of organs, or if they had been lucky enough to hang on to all of their anatomy, they had been reduced to rickety, permanently weakened versions of their formerly robust selves.  “Convince me,” he said.

The doctor shifted position.  He said, “Slippery little devil,” in a distracted manner, then “Grab that with some forceps and stop it from playing hide and seek, would you?” to the corpsman standing beside him.   

This was the first time Reese had been awake for any kind of surgery.  He wasn’t enjoying the front row seat.  Hearing someone describe his internal organs like there was a mischievous blood-slick sprite running around in his abdomen was no more reassuring than being told to ‘not worry’. 

The doctor seemed happy with whatever they had done to snare the runaway blood vessel.  He resumed work while talking to Reese.  “Listen carefully.  Is it a mess in here?  Yes, it is.  I’ve seen cesspools that were less revolting than what you’ve created here.  Are you going to lose sections of your intestinal tract or die?  No, you are not.  Are you going to enjoy what the antibiotics are going to do to you?  No, you will not.  You are going to be sicker than a hungover Royal Marine his first week on leave after a one year deployment, and you may reach a point when you think dying would have been better, but you will survive, whole and intact.  Does that help?”

Being assured he would feel wretched did the trick.  “Yes.” 

The doctor tugged hard enough on something that Reese could feel the sensation in his lower back, then he snipped a long length of thread loose and dropped it and a pair of scissors onto a tray.  He did the doctor trick where he leaned to one side to peer at his handiwork while he stripped off his gloves in the other direction.

“The bleeding has stopped.  That’s the important thing.  What’s going to happen now is that I’m going to dump two or three gallons of antiseptic in here, pack it with ten miles of gauze, and stuff you with antibiotics until its coming out your ears.  That will hold you until we get on the ground.” 

The doctor did exactly what he said he would even if his quantities had been off by a factor of twenty or more.  Within a half hour, Reese had been bandaged, given another large dose of antibiotics intravenously, another unit of blood was making its way into his body, and at his request, he was sitting up halfway, supported by someone’s rucksack and a pillow, with two blankets to keep him warm.

He was going to live.  The exultation was an unquenchable bubbling happiness in his chest.  There was no urge to throw both hands up over his head in victory, and bellow, “Yes!” at the top of his lungs, or indulge in a victory dance.  He wouldn’t have felt like doing that even if he could.  The sensation that was flowing through him was one of penultimate personal achievement, far outstripping any physical accomplishment he had achieved in the past.  The pig-headed portion of his psyche that had spent three days insisting that he not give up his struggle to live was quietly rejoicing that things had turned out the way it wanted, without indulging in any annoying ‘I told you so’s’.  The segment that had been ready to sit down and die conceded the contest with eagerness and grace.  It was happy that the pig-headed section had won and wasn’t too proud to belatedly jump on the bandwagon. 

The moment deserved a celebrationof some variety.  He partook of the festivities vicariously, by watching the men in the rear of the aircraft.  They were doing a good job of expressing what he was feeling.  There was horseplay, jokes, mock arguments, and cheerful bickering.  Several men were cleaning their weapons; they were taking abuse for falling back into their customary routine so rapidly.  One of them went into a long explanation about why he was doing it, accompanied by a lot of physical gestures demonstrating why he had chosen his course of action.  Based on the exuberant performance, he was expecting an attack from the Taliban Air Force and intended to shoot some aircraft down with his automatic weapon.  Everyone roared with laughter, the antiaircraft expert included. 

Reese watched the post-battle letdown with enjoyment.  Every man in the cargo hold had expected to die; each had been presented with the possibility that their remaining span of life might measure in minutes, and had found a way to face it squarely, without panic or histrionics.  They had beaten the odds, and the restoration of a normal life span was making them giddy.  Add on the floods of adrenalin that had coursed through their bodies for several hours, put the thought of a hot shower and sleeping in their own rack on top of that, and they had every right to be downright silly.  He felt the same, although in a less exuberant manner. 

Some of them came to say hello, to meet The Marksman.  He was greeted that way, as ‘Monsieur Buteur’.  There were no effusive thanks, no gushing emotions.  He was treated to a series of brief greetings and small reminiscences of specific shots.  Six of them had seen the mortar shell go skipping across the battleground toward the armored vehicle and understood what he had accomplished.  He got to hear what that had looked like from ground level. 

“I was aiming for the one next to it,” he said, trying to deflect some of the admiration.  That drew a burst of laughter from the small group.  They drifted back to their seats, talked to the men lounging nearby, and another round of laughter sounded over the rotor and engine noise. 

Another man strolled over.  He started the conversation with, “Un touriste américain,” to let Reese know that he was one of the four men who had located him on the ridgeline. 

Reese fumbled through half a sentence of badly mangled French, attempting to say he had been feverish at the time and shouldn’t be held accountable for anything that had come out of his mouth. 

The man put a stop to his pitiful effort.  “Relax, mate.  I’m Australian.”

“Thank god.  I don’t know enough French for this.” 

“I wandered over to let you know that the American tourist story has taken on a life of its own.” 

It was natural.  Combat stories frequently grew into exaggerated tales of daring, stupidity, clumsiness, or idiotic luck.  Someone tripping half way through a desperate sprint across open ground and not getting shot eventually turned into a tale of multiple near misses and a dozen or more bullets failing to find their target.  He had heard an account involving a fumbled grenade transform into a story that ended with the person swatting it through a firing slit into a hardened position and killing ten men.  In reality, the pin had not been pulled.  The soldier calmly picked it up, pulled the pin, threw it, and missed the intended target by ten feet. 

“How bad has it gotten?” he asked. 

“There’s a suit and tie, a funny little business hat, the sniper rifle was being carried in a leather suitcase, and every shot was an unfortunate accident.  The possibility of a taxi driver who misunderstood the destination is being thrown around, and there is a very angry wife waiting for the tourist back in Kandahar.”

He didn’t know whether to laugh or get angry.  He chose to throw gas on the fire.  “Tell them it’s worse than that.  The wife and I got on the wrong airplane.  We were supposed to land in Tahiti.  That’s why she’s angry.”

The Aussie immediately turned and shouted a string of French to the assembled company, relaying Reese’s contribution.  There was a wave of laughter, and Reese could see the story pick up energy and increasing levels of imagination.  By the time the helicopter landed, the wayward tourist would undoubtedly have a mousy little mustache, wire-rimmed glasses, and the visual acuity of Mister Magoo.  His entire role in thwarting the Taliban ambush would turn out to be a huge misunderstanding.

He found himself comparing his current environment to the one he had been working in for the last four months.  The cargo bay rang with humor and camaraderie, shared hardship, and esprit de corps.  He wouldn’t go so far as to say he disliked Kara Stanton, but working with her was like trying to beat his way through solid rock by banging his head against the surface.  She was cold, hard, unyielding, and immovable.  If there had ever been anything warm about her, in any sense of the word, it had long since been jettisoned in favor of the qualities that made her the right person for her job.  He missed being in the army.

He wondered if he had made a mistake. 

The last of the enlisted men who had come over to meet him had returned to their seats.  There was a short interval, a break that said, ‘I am separate from them,’ and the captain got to his feet.  Reese was pleased.  He liked what he had seen of the man so far. 

The captain opened with, “Un touriste américain.”  He had been listening and paying attention to the source of the rapidly growing mountain of outrageous fiction.

Reese started to say something about how it was a big pack of lies.  He wasn’t able to say anything because he could not breathe.  Or move or talk or continue living.  This might have been how a car tire would feel if it suffered a catastrophic blow out while traveling at highway speed.  One moment he was properly inflated, in the correct shape and configuration to fulfill his purpose in the world, to behave in the manner for which his form had been designed; the next instant all of that was gone.  His body underwent an explosive rupture, expelling everything necessary to maintain his existence.  There was no energy, no willingness to go on breathing, no interest in learning what had happened or why. 

The captain yelled, “Docteur!” 

The doctor was alongside the stretcher, cutting away the bandages, checking the wound, moving with purpose and haste.  There were noises, small sensations, flashes of moments past and present, mild cursing in an accent from a TV show, muttering in frustration.  Cold, fatigue, pain, rest the reticule on the target then exhale, the noise of a turbine engine, he should have said wait for me, in the end he was alone.  He was too tired to go on.  No one said he could stop walking.  He no longer cared. 

* * * * *

Person of Interest / Honneur et Fidélitié (continued)
« Last post by KernilCrash on April 20, 2023, 12:33:13 PM »
Part 3 (continued)

The captain gestured toward where his troops had gathered.  “For these men, this walk is as nothing.  It is a quick casual stroll.  It is part of being a Legionnaire.  Yes?”  When Reese nodded his understanding, he continued.  “For you, it will not be the same.  So, I ask that you think of one thing only.” 

“What is that?”

The captain said, “Walk.”

“Walk,” Reese repeated, not entirely sure where the captain was headed.  The single word did not seem large enough to suggest or encompass an entire philosophy.

“Yes, walk.  That is all.  Once we begin, I want you to think ‘walk’ and nothing else until I tell you otherwise.  One foot in front of the other.  Keep walking.  There is no time, no distance, no fatigue, no existence except to fulfill that one purpose.  Nothing but walk.  Reaching the rendezvous will happen here”—he tapped Reese lightly on the forehead—“not here.”  He pointed to his legs.  “It will happen in your mind.  It is a mental process, not a physical one.  Walk until you hear me say you can stop walking.  Understand?”

“I understand.”  He opened his mouth to ask how far he would have to walk, thought better of it, and said, “Je comprends,” instead.

“C’est bon.”  The captain swiveled around and gestured to his men. 

Two jogged over, picked up Reese’s rucksack and his rifle, and returned to their places.  Two more lifted him to his feet, steadied him while he adjusted to being upright, and remained alongside him while he walked to join the rest of the command.  He was guided to a position three quarters of the way back in the loosely arranged formation.  He was not expected to stay up front with the men moving fastest, nor was he relegated to the rear where it might be too easy to fall back and become a vulnerable straggler.  The captain shouted a command in French, several men moved out quickly as an advance scouting patrol, the main portion of the command gradually shuffled into motion from front to back, and Reese began to walk. 

* * * * *

The next several hours were an experience that Reese would have willingly erased from his memory if that were possible.  He carried a double burden with him as he put one foot in front of the other.  The first was the wound and the jolt of pain every time his right foot hit the ground.  The second was the knowledge that if he could not maintain the same pace as the men around him, some would drop back to stay with him, turning the group lagging behind into a ripe target for another attack.  For their sakes, he had to keep up. 

The first twenty minutes weren’t too bad.  The burning, throbbing ache blossomed in his gut and spread outward exactly as he expected, expanding in time with his footsteps until it inhabited his entire torso.  If he could have stopped, it would have receded, contracting inward until some portions of his body near his shoulders and hips did not reverberate with pain.  Instead, as he continued walking, his nervous system began radiating the pain into his shoulders and upper legs, detaching his limbs from the rest of his body, making him clumsy.  He concentrated on how his feet were supposed to feel when they hit the ground, and tried not to stumble. 

“Walk,” he said to himself, complying with the captain’s philosophy.  “Keep walking.” 

After another ten minutes, his nervous system started to rebel.  The chills and mental disorientation set in.  He began to trip and stumble.  The two men alongside him took hold of his arms to steady him, and they kept going.  He wanted to ask them if they had been warned about this, if it had been part of the plan from the beginning.  The necessary words tumbled about inside his head, fragmented into individual letters, and turned to dust.  He could not remember what he had wanted to say.. 

“Walk,” the captain’s voice said nearby.  “Keep walking until I tell you to stop.” 

He kept walking, eyes fixed on the boots of the man ahead of him.  The fringes of his vision turned to shades of gray and black and contracted inwards.  The men beside him changed places.  New bodies were there, different voices.  His hands were guided to the shoulder straps of their packs, and his fingers were induced to hold on.  That worked better than having his arms held.  He could feel the cadence of their steps, match the rhythm of their movements, and maintain a straighter trajectory.  When his vision sometimes darkened to the point where he could not see the terrain in front of his feet, he could keep walking. 

Walk.  Just keep walking.  The captain’s philosophy was appropriate to the situation.  If he began to wonder how far they had come and how much farther he had to travel, he might have given up.  One foot in front of the other was all that mattered.  He kept going. 

Motion stopped.  He was on his knees, confused, not sure what had happened.  The captain had not told him he could stop.  He was in a shower, except that did not make sense.  He was fully dressed.  Reese’s head cleared, the confusion contracted into a small knot located at the base of his skull, and he was suddenly on his knees in the sand and someone was pouring water over his head.  A hand rubbed it into his hair so the soothing trickles could penetrate to his scalp.  Life returned to his body and his brain began to function.  He turned his face upwards to catch more of it on his forehead and his head cleared the rest of the way. 

The captain was there, down on one knee in front of him.  “You must keep walking.  Are you ready?”

“Yes.  Get me up.” 

Hands pulled him to his feet.  Someone made a small airy sighing noise that hinted of physical suffering.  He knew how they felt.  The pain was so severe, weak-sounding noises were in danger of getting loose.  He wanted to ask how far they had come.  He could not risk it.  If they answered that he had managed to walk a half mile and had ten more to go, he would give up. 

“Walk,” the captain said.  “You are going to make it.  All you have to do is continue walking.” 

He looked for his two guides, latched on to their pack straps, and stumbled into motion. 

The shock-driven haze set in faster this time.  Almost immediately, he slid back into a mental miasma of fragmented impressions where ordered thought was impossible, and all that was left to him were physical sensations.  The pain was transformed into a living entity, a monstrous parasite birthed from a spot several inches behind his navel that rapidly took over his body.  The walking went on, the jolts of energetic agony reached a new level of intensity, the parasite fed off the infusion of pain, and suddenly he was an external entity, an impotent rider no longer in control of his body, reduced to the status of helpless observer.  The parasite rewired his nervous system, hijacked his brain, transformed normal neural impulses into a form malevolent to human existence.

“Walk,” someone urged him from ten or twenty light years away. 

He wrested control of his legs away from the parasite and kept walking.  It was all he had left, the full extent of his universe.  There was him and his legs, no body or consciousness in between, the total embodiment of the captain’s philosophy.  One step, then one step more, then one step more.  Ad infinitum.  It went on for a decade or two.  Endlessly.  A gritty, dusty never-ending treadmill taking him nowhere, inflicting unendurable levels of pain with each step. 

“You may stop walking,” the captain’s voice said.  “Stop.” 

Reese hauled in a breath, put some effort into standing up straight, and looked around.  They were in the middle of nowhere.  There was no helicopter, no transportation of any kind.  He wondered if he was dreaming or if the entire ordeal had been the product of a fever-addled mind.  Those two possibilities seemed like the only options available.  Then he saw that everyone else had stopped walking.  Men were lowering their rucksacks to the ground.  A third possibility sprang to life. 

“Say it again.” 

The captain was there, standing beside him.  “Stop walking.”

Before he could be certain this was real, he needed to resolve one mystery.  He did not want to embrace the belief that it was over only to be told he had to start walking again.  “There’s no helicopter.”

The captain pointed into the distance.  “Five minutes.  They have us in sight.  This is a good place for them to land.  We’re going to wait here.”

Thinking was hard work.  He contemplated in a dull-minded, half conscious sort of way whether spending several hours in a shock-induced mental fog could cause permanent brain damage.  “Does that mean I can sit down?”

The captain smiled as though he had said something funny.  “Do you want to sit down?”

It wasn’t a bad question.  Getting his ass down to the ground was going to hurt.  Getting back up would hurt more.  He had another option, however.  “No.  How about if I pass out instead?”

“If you feel it is necessary.” 

It was necessary.  The last thing he was aware of before everything faded away were hands catching him before he hit the ground and gently lowering him the remaining distance. 

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Person of Interest / Honneur et Fidélitié (continued)
« Last post by KernilCrash on April 20, 2023, 12:25:55 PM »
Part 3

Two hours later, his situation had improved.  It was starting look like he might live through the day. 

His new friends had not expected him to walk on his own to where the Legion troops were mopping up and reorganizing after their battle.  One of the men had disappeared at a run; the other three had stayed with him.  They had moved him into a sliver of shade, given him some water, and when he requested some assistance with a certain task, two men had helped him limp several yards away and politely looked off into the distance while he resolved the nearly catastrophic pressure in his bladder.

Loud voices and careless movements heralded the return of half a dozen men bringing a stretcher.  He had objected, saying that with a little help, he could make the journey down the ridge by himself. 

“Quicker,” one of the men said, pointing to the stretcher.  “Vite.”  Hurry.  “We must go quickly.”  He gestured toward the hills and mountains to the north.  “More Taliban.”

The man was smart.  Presenting an operational need that might impact the safety of the entire force was more likely to quell a soldier’s objections to being treated like an invalid.  It was guaranteed to work better than saying, “Don’t be a horse’s ass.  We don’t feel like standing around while you take three or four hours to hobble down this mountain just to show everyone you’re tough.”  Plus the man had a valid point.  Just because the Taliban had lost this phase of the battle did not mean they weren’t regrouping at this very minute.  Time was of the essence.  Reese motioned for them to move him onto the stretcher.

The trip down to join the rest of the force had been conducted quickly and without difficulty.  A place for him had been set up in the shade provided by one of the disabled vehicles.  A soldier-medic was standing by, waiting, with supplies laid out ready for use.  Reese concluded that someone had described his condition, giving the medic time to prepare.  Fortunately, their medical supplies were intact.  They had been stored in one of the vehicles that had not caught on fire.  Perhaps more importantly, along with all the standard first aid supplies typically carried by combat units, this patrol had been carrying both freeze-dried plasma and the sterile water necessary to use it.  The first thing the medic did was get a needle into Reese’s arm, hang more than one unit, and set the drip for wide open.  Only after that was completed did he begin cutting away the blood-soaked bandages and asking questions. 

In quick succession, Reese received two large doses of antibiotics to fight the infection, a fistful of aspirin to help with the fever, and the medic had done what he could to address the bullet wound.  He did not have the tools or expertise to remove the bullet or stop the bleeding entirely.  The best he could do was flush out the wound in an attempt to remove any foreign substances responsible for the infection, pack it with gauze soaked in antiseptic solution, and wrap his midsection tightly in fresh bandages.  The units of plasma should slow down the bleeding, the medic explained.  Depending on the extent of the internal damage, it might even stop. 

Reese decided that the medic was being intentionally over-optimistic, and acted like he believed was he was being told.  It was the polite thing to do. 

A short time later, he was sitting with his back against one of the wheels of the vehicle, watching the troops get ready to move out.  He was hydrated, he’d been given something to eat, his blood soaked shirt and pants had been rinsed out, dried in the sun and returned to him, and he was feeling cautiously optimistic about his future.  He had expected to be dead by now.  The day held promise.  Until he knew what else lay in store for the remainder of the day, he sat without moving, conserving his energy and keeping the discomfort of the wound at a minimum. 

At the moment, he was watching a man who was circulating through the troops.  The individual took the time to check on every man, spoke to one or two, and stopped once to give some more extensive instructions to a pair of men who were behaving with the kind of authority that shouted ‘sergeants’.  The interaction interested Reese.  To his eye, the man was clearly an officer; he had the aura of command about him and he was relaying directives through his non-coms instead of issuing orders.  What was unusual was the impression of equality about the exchanges.  What he was seeing was the embodiment of Égalité.  These men operated on the basis of mutual respect regardless of rank.  Hard earned and well deserved respect flowed in all directions.

The man finished what he was doing, looked toward Reese and turned in his direction.  Reese continued to watch and assess what he was observing as the man crossed the short distance to where he was sitting in the shade.  The officer was lean, heavily tanned, and looked as tough and hardened as every other man in the group.  Every individual here, officers and enlisted alike, had earned their position in one of the toughest boy’s clubs on the planet.  There would be no soft officers in this force, no incompetent leaders looking for a brief cushy combat assignment in order to move up in rank, no safe postings. 

The officer was still eight feet away when he motioned for Reese to remain sitting.  It was a ‘save your strength for later’ sort of gesture, to ensure that he did not try to get up.  Reese was happy to oblige.  He sat quietly, ran his eye over the man’s uniform for an indication of his rank, and tried to recall the progression of French officers’ insignia.  All he remembered was that it was different from the US Army.  Based on the number of personnel, if this was an American unit the commanding officer would be a lieutenant.  He went one high to be safe.  Better too high than too low.  No lieutenant would object to being mistakenly identified as a captain.  The opposite was not true.


The officer smiled and said exactly what Reese had been thinking.  In contrast to some of his men, the officer’s English was fluent with just enough of an accent to let the world know he was French.  “Based on the number of men here, you should have guessed Lieutenant.  You are diplomatic.” 

Reese debated the next step.  The officer had not confirmed his rank and he was not wearing any insignia. 

“Captain is correct,” the man said.  He sank down onto one knee beside Reese.  “I am quite certain that all of my men would be dead now had you not interfered in our dilemma.” 

“Interfered,” Reese repeated.  He liked the term.  He filed it away for future use.  “I’m American.  We have no manners.  We barge in without invitation.” 

A muscle at the corner of the captain’s mouth tugged upward into a hint of amusement.  “You are forgiven for your lack of manners.  Considering your condition, it was an interesting choice.” 

“I was a dead man.  I was not going to live out the day.  It was a simple choice.” 

The captain studied him intently for several seconds.  Whatever he found in Reese’s expression, nothing in his own let on what he was thinking or hinted at the conclusions he was forming.  He gave a small shake of his head and changed directions.  “You performed a great service to the regiment today.  Honor and tradition dictate that for the moment you are a member of the Legion.  So, you must come with us.”

That announcement carried with it a number of questions and potential problems.  “Where?” Reese said to get things started. 

“A helicopter has been dispatched.  We cannot wait here.  We must move.” 

Reese understood.  Some of the Taliban had escaped.  They knew that the French force’s vehicles had been destroyed and that they were on foot, short of food, water, heavy weapons, and ammunition.  At this very minute, they would be regrouping, gathering reinforcements and rearming, hoping to catch their prey unprepared and unprotected.  The rout could be turned into a bloody massacre if they could catch the Legion troops out in the open.  Reese glanced off to the side, toward the barren ridges and rocky escarpments to the north and revised his assessment of the situation.  If the captain and his troops remained where they were, the Taliban would not need to attack in person.  If they could maneuver mortars, rockets, or artillery into position, they could sit back in the hills, and obliterate the Legion troops from a distance. 

The captain had been watching him while he worked through it, reading his body language and whatever changes in his expression had gotten loose.  “You understand.”

“Yes.  You must leave.  Immediately.” 

They would also need to move fast to get out of range before the Taliban had a chance to bring up long range weapons.  It did not matter whether he tried to walk or they carried him on a stretcher.  Either way he would slow them down at a moment when speed was imperative.  He was a liability.

“You have to leave me.  I’ll slow you down.” 

“We do not abandon our wounded,” the captain said with emphasis.  “The Legion does not leave our wounded behind.  You have to come with us, and you have to walk.” 

“I am not a member of—”

“Yes, you are.  As of today, you are.  When you made it possible for us to fight back, you became one of us.” 

What Reese was hearing was not a promise, an assurance, or a motivational encouragement.  He was listening to the ethos of a religion.  The belief system was not one of blind, unreasoning faith.  It was founded on thought, honor, hard work, and courage—qualities that Reese had embraced for most of his adult life.  The pieces fit together naturally for him, comprehension flowed into place without effort.  Just because his status as a member of the Legion was both honorary and temporary, it did not alter that he was now subject to all of its credos, codes of honor, and the unbreakable bonds forged between its members. 

One of those codes said that if he did not go with them, some of them would have to stay with him.  If he broke faith and chose to stay where he was, the captain would be forced to select which of his men would remain behind.  Reese could not allow that to happen. 

The captain had been observing the process as he worked his way through the implications.  “You will come with us,” the captain said, confirming that he had read Reese’s conclusions correctly. 

“Yes.”  He put one hand on the ground, intending to get to his feet. 

The captain gestured for him to remain seated.  “One moment.  If you will permit me, I wish to share a—”  He hesitated, clearly searching for a word.  “I wish to share a philosophy.” 

Reese eased back into a sitting position.  “Go ahead.” 

Person of Interest / Honneur et Fidélitié (continued)
« Last post by KernilCrash on April 20, 2023, 12:21:20 PM »
Part 2

His name was John Reese, and he was going to die. 

The first portion should have bothered him and didn’t.  Four months had passed since Kara Stanton had chosen his new name for him.  It had provided a poor start to their partnership because Kara’s take on the process had been annoying, as if she were naming a pet instead of a human being who was supposed to work with her as an equal.  In spite of that, he had eventually settled into the new name the same way he adjusted to a new pair of boots that chafed when he first put them on.  With time and usage, it had begun to fit more comfortably.  Truth be told, he was relieved that she had settled on Reese.  Her first suggestion had been Wilson, which was reminiscent of a movie character portrayed by a volleyball.  Not the sort of name he wanted to carry around for the rest of his career.  The name originally assigned by NCS had been worse.  Whatever his gripe with Kara’s way of going about it, Reese had turned out to be an acceptable choice, to the degree that he had begun to like it better than his real name.

The part about dying should not have bothered him and it did.  Not the dying aspect.  That was what he had signed up for, both when he joined the army and when he had accepted his current position.  What annoyed him was that his death was going to be the result of nothing more than bad luck.  Getting shot in the middle of a fierce fire fight with ordnance flying in all directions he could have accepted.  Catching one of only two bullets fired, and a ricochet at that, seemed like a pointless way to die. 

He had been one of four people on a team assigned to a mission in Afghanistan.  In addition to him, the team had consisted of Kara Stanton and two Special Forces operators who were there to help share the work load and, if necessary, provide fire support.  The brief involved a drop off by helicopter, three days of hard travel to where they expected to find their target, execute the mission—with an emphasis on ‘execute’—then haul ass out of the area before the enraged supporters of the recently deceased could catch up with the team and cut them into little pieces. 

The first two days had gone according to plan.  There had not been any surprises, they had not stumbled over unexpected patrols or blundered into any villagers who might have reported their presence, the intelligence provided concerning route and terrain had been accurate.  They were breaking camp before dawn on the third day when things went to shit.  The two SF’s were ready to go, packs on their backs and weapons in their hands, when everyone heard the quiet gritty whisper of footsteps on sand-covered stone, and an Afghan tribesman strolled into their camp. 

Kara had barked out, “Kill him!”  Both specialists had snapped their rifles to their shoulders and pulled the triggers.  One round struck the intruder in the center of his forehead and his body collapsed to the ground.  The second bullet—one foot and a fraction of a second behind the first—had passed through empty air where the man’s head had been, hit a rock, whanged off a second chunk of stone, and hit Reese squarely in the midsection. 

He remembered staring dumbly down at his own stomach where the soggy red patch on his shirt had been expanding outward in a rush, Kara letting out a string of profanity, and the man who had fired second saying, “Oh, shit!”  His memory of the following hour was less clear.  Kara and the larger of the two specialists had dragged the body away to be hidden while the other guy attempted to stop the bleeding and bandaged the wound.  There was no discussion concerning who the strange man had been, why he was in the middle of nowhere, or how he had managed to walk into their camp before any of the four team members heard him coming.  Attempting to answer those questions was pointless.  All that mattered was that he had appeared, Kara had jumped to her standard solution for most problems, and the two operators had responded as they had been trained.  After that, a quirk of fate had taken over.  Lousy luck and a trajectory that no one could have predicted had put Reese and the bullet in the same spot at the same time. 

Kara’s commentary on the debacle had been limited to, “Sorry, John.  You know how it is.  The mission comes first.”  She had seemed more upset at having to switch to one of the contingency plans than she had been at losing her new partner.  The other two members of the team had been more sympathetic.  They had left him with as much food and water as they could spare, worked together with him to plot out the easiest route to friendly territory in case he could walk out on his own, and departed reluctantly. 

If the second shooter had been a hair faster or the bullet had hit the first rock an inch to either side, he would still be part of the mission, undoubtedly hot-footing it toward their extraction point by this time.  Instead, he was on his own, miles from a friendly installation, with a bullet lodged in a spot  that was indescribably painful, a slow seepage of blood that refused to quit, and no way to extricate himself other than on his own two feet.  The team would not be coming back this way.  Their planned exfiltration route would take them in a different direction. 

After two days of slow travel, he had covered less than half the distance to the nearest forward outpost where he could expect to find help, and he had resigned himself to the fact that unless he crossed paths with a patrol or convoy of some sort, he was not going to make it.  The bleeding was slow but inexorable, the wound was showing signs that it had become infected, and the pain made it difficult to walk.  Every time he moved his right leg, it felt like someone was thrusting an acid coated red hot metal rod through his gut from front to back.  Subjecting his nervous system to the repetitive waves of pain kept him teetering on the brink of shock.  He began spending too much time in a semi-conscious daze, stumbling along chilled and nauseous, unaware of his surroundings.  After slipping into that state for the sixth time, he set up a twenty minute timer on his watch.  Each time it went off, he stopped, allowed the physical symptoms to abate, waited for his brain to resume normal functioning, and checked his navigation.  While the solution was effective, it slowed him down.  The number of miles he was able to cover each day continued to drop.

By midmorning on the third day, he was down to walking in ten minute intervals and resting three times that long before moving on.  He was low on water, he had developed a fever that was adding to his disorientation, and the pain in his gut was constant whether he was moving or not.  That was the moment he reconciled himself to the fact that he was going to die.  Reese picked out a spot on a chair-sized boulder that would make it easier to get back to his feet, set his pack and his weapon on a nearby rock so he would not have to bend over to pick them up, and eased down onto the perch he had chosen.  It was time to make a decision about how he wanted to use the time he had left.

The only options remaining were whether he wanted to keep walking in what he considered a vain attempt to find some help, or find some quiet spot, possibly with a nice view, and spend his final hours sitting peacefully.  The second choice called to him.  He would have preferred that his final moments were not spent subjecting his body to thought-shattering levels of pain.  The core nature of his personality wanted to choose Door Number One.  The pig-headed portion of his psyche was  insisting that he not give up, that he should continue fighting to live no matter how futile the struggle. 

Reese drifted for a while, slipping back and forth between useful thought and the uncontrolled semi-conscious mixture of dream images and reality.  The word ‘Why’ kept rising to the surface while he was in that state.  Why go on struggling when the outcome had already been determined?  Why was he compelled to be so stubborn about clinging to life?  Why had this happened?  Why was he here, in this place at this time?  Why not let go? 

He was sinking deeper into insensibly, giving in to his injuries without intending to take that path, when a tiny physical sensation drew him back from the mental abyss.  A vibration shivered through the rock underneath his body.  He felt it in his ass and in the soles of his feet.  If that had been all there was too it, he might have slipped back into the dark and never resurfaced.  But he felt it again.  It was like coming home at the end of a long day’s travel, seeing the first of a series of familiar landmarks that said, “This is where you belong; this is the place where you live.”  His head came up, his mind cleared, and he knew what was generating the vibrations. 

Explosions.  Possibly artillery or shoulder-fired rockets, more likely mortars.  And now that he was more alert, he could hear the crackling of sustained gunfire.  That meant humans were nearby.  The ratio of good guys to bad guys remained to be seen. 

Reese made the agonizing transition from sitting down to standing up, stood motionless and breathing shallowly until the chills and sweating died down, and then gathered up his pack and rifle.  He would go uphill, he decided.  There was a rocky outcropping on the crest of the ridgeline ahead.  The mound of rocks would provide some cover while he figured out what was going on. 

It took longer than he liked to reach his destination.  He arrived clear-headed though, which was good since twenty feet from his goal he realized it was not a good spot for a sniper.  No matter how he positioned himself, he would be clearly visible at the top of the ridge.  He shifted to the right, climbing slightly, and found a gap in the rocks that promised adequate concealment.  Reese let his ruck drop to the ground, went down on one knee long enough to dig through the contents for the pouches of ammunition and the spotter’s scope, and began a slow squirm forward into position. 

He had been struggling with the decision whether to leave his rifle and all of its ammunition behind ever since he began his slow retreat.  Each time he opened his rucksack to dump out the ordnance he could not bring himself to do it.  He should have.  It would have been the right thing to do.  The rifle itself, a MacMillan TAC-338, weighed over fifteen pounds with the legs and sights attached.  Add on the range finder, wind meter, and shells for it, and he was lugging around twenty pounds that he did not need, doubly so since he was injured.  By all rights, he shouldn’t have needed it.  On the other hand, neither did Kara.  She was one of the best he had ever seen up close.  At hand gun range, she could put Annie Oakley to shame.  At a distance, she was self-admittedly pathetic, which probably had something to do with why they had been put together as partners.  Place a long range rifle in her hands, and as she had once put it, she couldn’t hit Afghanistan if she was standing on it.  The contingency plan in the event that Reese got knocked out had nothing to do with using the TAC-338, which meant that it could remain with him, if he wanted it. 

Reese had chosen to hang on to it.  The prospect of traipsing around Afghanistan with no rifle felt suicidal.  He reasoned that he could always decide to get rid of it later … and never did.  He had hauled the useless weight for three days, allowing it to sap his energy and slow him down.  Now he knew why.  This moment had been waiting for him.

The spotter’s scope answered the question of good guys versus bad guys.  He took one good, long look, studying the situation, set it aside, and picked up the rifle.  He glanced at his shadow to check the position of the sun, lay down on his stomach, and inched forward.  He checked the position of the sun one more time, to be certain he was not about to inadvertently sent out bright flashes of code saying, “There’s a lens up here on the hill, please come shoot me,” settled into position behind the scope, and took a closer look at the situation below. 

He was perched on one end of a series of hills that formed a half ring around flat open ground.  The hills curved off to his right and extended away from his position in an arc, slowly climbing higher as they progressed.  Flat plains stretched out for miles to his left with snowcapped mountains in the far distance.  That view was incidental.  Everything he was interested in was contained in the area surrounded by the hills. 

On the left was an immobilized column of vehicles.  Some were on fire, putting out impressive amounts of smoke.  All of them were either disabled or completely destroyed.  To the right of that was a dry river bed with sheer vertical walls.  Troops in camouflage uniforms were pinned down there.  Short of sticking their heads up like targets in a carnival shooting gallery, they had no way to establish a line of fire on the people doing most of the shooting, and considering the depth of the gulch, possibly no communications in order to call for support.  Reese expended three precious seconds studying the uniforms.  They were part of the allied force fighting the Taliban.  That was not difficult to figure out.  He was able to rule out the Americans and the British.  There was too much green in the camouflage pattern and the helmets were wrong.  He pushed that unknown aside.  There would be time to find out who they were if he and they lived through the next couple of hours. 

He shifted his sightline to the right.  The bad guys were spread out behind cover that had been built up in advance, putting a steady stream of small arms fire onto the tops of the river bed to keep the troops trapped in the gulch.  Farther back were several mortars.  They had begun firing, adjusting their aim after each round, walking the explosions toward the force trapped in the river bed.  Personnel were gathered around each mortar.  They were taking their time; they had no reason to hurry.  The force in the river bed was pinned down. 

All of the why’s he had been contemplating earlier were answered.  The events of the last three days—lousy luck, ricochets with a mind of their own, the nonsensical decision to continue carrying the TAC-338, his stubborn insistence that he keep walking when he knew it was futile—had worked together to bring him to this place at this moment, where he could do a final bit of good before ending his time on the planet.  He could do something no one else could.  With skill and a light sprinkling of luck, he could upset the plans of the Taliban troops down below. 

It would have been easy to hurry.  The force trapped in the river bed was intact; they remained a potentially effective fighting force.  A single well-aimed mortar shell could change that.  He also did not want them to break out early.  He could see them moving around, getting ready for an assault.  He wanted time to create some disorder before that happened.  It would increase their chances of success.  The need to start shooting began to build.  Take your time, he reminded himself.  Get it right on the first try.  The extra seconds spent preparing will pay off.  Firing in haste without the correct preparation could undermine what he hoped to accomplish. 

He studied the forces on the right, choosing targets, mapping out the best way to inflict confusion and mayhem.  The first few rounds would be freebies.  He would be able to get off between two and six rounds, possibly as many as eight if he could create enough confusion, before the men down there realized what was happening and began looking for the source of the shooting.  Every round after that would increase the likelihood that his position would come under attack. 

The mortars were his primary target.  It was critical that he disable them, preferably with the first three shots.  After that, the goal would be to inflict fear.  Reese watched for patterns in how the men interacted with each other, deciding who might be the coolest under fire, picking out the leaders who could restore order.  Those individuals would be his second priority.  After that, he would look for targets of opportunity, which meant identifying anyone who looked as though he was capable of picking up a weapon and shooting straight while a sniper was operating in the area. 

The optics slid across a symmetrical arrangement several yards behind the mortar tubes.  He stopped the slow left-to-right travel and reversed direction.  The Taliban had a made a mistake, one stemming from over confidence and the overwhelmingly successful start to their ambush.  Several dozen mortar shells were arranged on the ground, out in the open.  Setting one off would not be easy.  If he could, the payoff would be worth the effort.  He might be able to blow up the entire collection.  Reese smiled.  This was going to be fun. 

He arranged his rounds where his hand would fall on them naturally, slid the first one into the chamber, and eased the bolt home.  He let his body settle onto the ground in a loose, relaxed sprawl, and snugged the stock of the rifle into place.  He was where he belonged.  Happenstance had brought him here for a reason.  His body faded away.  He no longer hurt, no longer felt light headed or weak.  There was no fever, aching muscles, headache, or thirst.  He was exactly where he was supposed to be, ready to engage in an activity that he had spent his entire adult life training to perform with expert capability.  The planet shifted on its axis a few degrees, and he felt the rightness of the new alignment.  Call it karma, call it fate, call it destiny.  The terminology did not matter.  He was in harmony with the universe.  Reese settled his sights on the spot where the tube and the legs of the nearest mortar all came together, let out his breath, waited for his pulse rate to drop, timed his shot so it fell between heartbeats, and squeezed the trigger. 

He expected to miss with his first several shots.  His adjustments for range, wind, and elevation had been wild ass guesses instead of the careful calculations that accurate marksmanship required.  His first shot was a real-world demonstration of ‘Better lucky than good’.  He hit the spot he was aiming for dead center, no adjustments required. 

He went three for three on the mortars.  An attempt to put a second round into the middle tube, just to be sure it was disabled, worked out better than he could have hoped.  A body stepped between him and his target after he had begun the trigger pull, and he wound up killing one of the leaders he had designated as a second priority target.  Call it four for four even though the hit was unintentional.  He was on a roll, and men were running in all directions, scrambling for cover as they figured out that they were dealing with a sniper.  He found someone standing in one spot, gesturing and yelling out commands, trying to restore order, and removed him from the equation. 

“First rule is move,” he said under his breath, and looked for another target. 

The next man started to run at the last possible instant, but did not know where the bullets were coming from and foolishly ran in a straight line.  He required two shots.  Six out of seven wasn’t bad at this range.  His next target was more experienced.  It took three tries to bring him down.  Seven for ten.  Reese reloaded, slowly swept his sights back and forth across the chaos below, could not spot anything worth expending a round, and shifted his aim to the mortar shells. 

The first round struck home without effect.  He knew ahead of time it was not going to be easy.  He tried two more times, changed targets long enough to keep the enemy from reestablishing order, then returned to the shells, taking his time, trying for a precise hit mid-shell where the explosive charge would be located.  Bullets from return fire had begun to smack into the ground and buzz past him before he managed to hit something cataclysmic.  He wished he could have been close enough to get a good view as the first shell exploded.  It blew up with a satisfyingly loud blast, shrapnel flew in all directions, and something either in or near the collection caught fire.  Men started to run toward the fire in order to salvage the ordnance, realized what was in the midst of the blaze, and frantically reversed direction. 

On the far side of the open ground, three men were attempting to get an ancient armored vehicle moving.  It looked like leftover Russian equipment from the 80’s.  Normally the best choice was to shoot the driver, not the vehicle.  He could not guarantee that what he was firing would pierce the old style Russian-made armor.  Reese tracked back to the mortar rounds lying on the ground.  Most were in the fire; some had begun to explode.  On the right side of the array were three undamaged shells, butt ends facing toward him.  He checked the alignment several times, and chose the one in the middle.  It looked like it was pointed in the right direction. 

“You’re dreaming,” he whispered to himself.  The target was scarcely larger than his bullets, and he had serious doubts whether this would work.  It rated a single attempt.  No matter what the outcomes, after one try he would move on to other objectives.  He took his time, believed he could make the shot, willed the bullet to fly straight, and caressed the trigger.  His luck had shifted from ridiculously bad to insanely good.  The bullet hit the fuse, the shell took off across the ground, skipped twice without hitting the nose, struck the armored vehicle on one of the front wheels, and detonated.  The front end of the vehicle went up in a burst of flames, smoke, and fast moving metal shards, and the entire vehicle flipped over on its back. 

 Reese expended two precious seconds watching the devastation before getting back to work.  By this time, they had figured out where he was located.  Bullets were fizzing overhead, thumping into the dirt below his position, and smacking into the rocks.  He ignored the incoming rounds, and began searching for targets of opportunity.  Several men were attempting to save one of the mortar tubes.  He shot one of them, the rest ran, and he put two more bullets into the abandoned mortar.  A round whanged off a rock six inches to his right.  Reese reloaded, searched for someone with a larger, more powerful rifle, and sent a bullet back in the direction of the man who had just fired at him.  His aim was better.  Another figure ran toward the rifle now lying on the ground.  Reese waited until he bent to pick it up, and squeezed the trigger.  No one seemed interested in retrieving the rifle after that. 

He had begun to look for another target when the men in the distance shifted their attention from Reese’s position to a different direction.  The amount of gunfire down below abruptly increased.  The noise of weapons firing gained strength, and suddenly men were falling to the ground and getting knocked off their feet.  Those still standing began to retreat, trying to fall back in a coordinated movement, but one side of the formation began to take fire, then the other, and the attempt at an orderly withdrawal turned into a confused melee. 

Reese swung his scope to the left.  The soldiers from the river bed had broken out.  They were arranged in a three pronged attack, advancing one segment at a time, two units laying down heavy fire while the third moved forward a certain distance, established a firing line, and waited for another section to advance.  The movements were well coordinated, fast, decisive, and devastatingly effective.  Reese did what he could to assist by firing on the Taliban positions, sowing more panic and confusion.  Even exceptionally well-trained forces would find it hard to hold their ground when a sniper had an unobstructed line of fire into their positions. 

The combination worked.  Individuals began to break and run.  Firing from the Taliban became more sporadic, the camouflaged troops continued to move forward, and increasing numbers of the men arrayed on the right side of the battlefield began to fall.  Reese continued to fire into the clusters of men huddled behind what had become defensive positions, letting them know that they could not hold out indefinitely, and suddenly it was over.  Rifles were being thrown to the ground and hands were in the air. 

Reese kept his sight trained on the Taliban forces, watching for anything that might upset the rout, anything that the forces wearing camouflage might not be able to see.  A man who had been doing something near the vehicles walked forward to join the small gathering of fighters who had surrendered.  In a different country, under other circumstances, Reese would have categorized the event as ordinary.  On one level it was unremarkable and not worthy of additional surveillance or consideration.  Except they were in Afghanistan, this was the Taliban, and the man was walking awkwardly.  Reese centered his sight on the man, poured all of his concentration into how the distant, miniscule figure was moving, and tried to determine what it was that made his movements appear awkward. 

It was nine-tenths hunch, one-tenth observation.  The man had something large and heavy hidden inside his robes. 

There was no way of knowing whether he was about to produce a white flag of surrender, a suicide bomb, or something that he could use to inflict mass casualties on the advancing force from the river bed.  Reese decided to err on the side of caution.  The approaching troops were getting close.  It made him anxious.  He hurried the shot, snatched at the trigger with too much haste, and missed.  The group of Taliban reacted.  Their movements conveyed that they knew what he was trying to do and who he was attempting to kill, which made him want to hurry even more.  Reese forced himself to relax, exhaled and held it there, calm and ready while he waited for the man with the mysterious object to come back into view.  He saw a body start to shift out of the way to one side, and with infinite care, reminding himself that every movement should be conducted smoothly, squeezed the trigger. 

The man exploded, taking all of his comrades with him.  The dead were spread out in a ring around the blast mark where the man had been standing.  It broke the will of the remaining Taliban forces.  Anyone still able to move turned and ran.  Within two minutes, the only people left were the men in the camouflage uniforms, the dead and the dying. 

Reese checked on the force he had labelled as the Good Guys.  Eight of the soldiers who had been at the front of the advance had been knocked flat on their backs by the final explosion.  As he watched, they sat up, moving in a manner that suggested they were dazed, and their comrades helped them to their feet.  Everyone was up and moving.  They all had four limbs attached to their bodies and he could not see any red splotches or gestures that indicated they had been wounded.  His choice had been the right one.  He had saved lives. 

The Good Guys had won.  He let the stock of his rifle settle into the dirt, lowered his head onto his right forearm, took two slow breaths, and allowed all of his physiology to resume its normal function.  Awareness of his body returned.  He did not welcome the restoration of physical sensations.  There was a slick feeling area under his stomach that meant blood had pooled between his body and the rock underneath, the intensity of the pain had increased to the point that the pulses were reverberating from throat to pelvis, he did not have the strength to get to his feet, and perhaps worst of all in light of that overwhelming weakness, he needed to piss.  It would have to wait.  His first priority was to lie there and let nature take its course.  As he lost consciousness, it was with full awareness that if he let go—if he relaxed, stop struggling, stop fighting to live, and eased his grip on consciousness long enough to escape from the pain temporarily—he might never wake up.  In light of how his recent excitement had worked out, he was content with that possibly. 

He woke to the sound of hushed voices, footsteps, and the rattle of a dislodged rock.  Whoever was approaching, it was not the Taliban.  They were not speaking any of the languages of this region.  The cadence and the intonation of syllables were wrong.  Another quiet exchange between two people gave him more to work with.  They were speaking French.  The greenish camouflage design and the helmets he had seen earlier fit together with some memories of joint exercises conducted in Europe.  The Good Guys were members of the Armée de Terre.  The French Army.

He said, “Ici.”  Here.

Four men appeared, moving cautiously, weapons at the ready.  The moment they got a look at him, they relaxed and the muzzles of the rifles were turned away.  The way he felt, it wasn’t surprising.  It was unlikely that he presented much of a threat.

“Qui diable êtes-vous?” one of the men said.  Who the devil are you?

“Un touriste américain.”

Someone let out a single laugh.  The first voice was not as amused.  “No jokes.  Answer.  Who the hell are you?” the man said in slow, heavily accented English. 

Reese left his head where it was, resting on his forearm, and patted the stock of his rifle with his free hand.  “I’m Davy Crockett and this here is Old Betsy.  Who the hell are you?” 

He knew they were French.  What he wanted to know and what he would have asked if he’d had more energy was where they were based, what they were doing here, and how they had gotten into such a mess.  The answer he received sent a tickling shiver of surprise down his spine, and answered none of his questions. 

“Légion étrangère,” a different voice said.  “Foreign Legion.”

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Person of Interest / Honneur et Fidélitié (G)
« Last post by KernilCrash on April 20, 2023, 12:19:50 PM »
Honneur et Fidélitié

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TV Show:  Person of Interest
Rating:  G.  (If you find the F-bomb offensive, I’ll warn you that it appears twice.)
Time Frame:  Prior to Season 1; approximately 2006.  Reese is on a covert mission in Afghanistan.  He has been partnered with Kara Stanton less than six months.

Disclaimers: The characters and universe of Person of Interest are entirely the property of the creators.  I own nothing.  I hope they do not object to me playing with their action figures for a while.  The fact that I want to write a fanfic using the characters and established plot lines means that I am thoroughly engaged with their creation, and have nothing but the highest level of respect and appreciation for their work. 

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Part 1

The captain looked around at the men scattered across the harsh, dusty landscape and wondered how many would be alive at the end of the day.  Unless he could come up with an inspired way to alter their situation, he feared the answer would be ‘none’.  Some of their eyes were on him, but without blame or recrimination.  They were simply waiting for orders.  More than three quarters were experienced hands—steady, calm under pressure, and realistic about their current circumstances.  The remaining men were taking their cues from the more senior personnel, following their examples, watching what they did, seeking out similar places to take cover. 

He wasted several seconds reflecting that he was not supposed to be commanding this operation.  There was no sense of regret, reflections on the unfairness of life, or self-recriminations.  It was merely a quick fleeting thought that sometimes life did not turn out as expected, and that this was the way his particular job sometimes came to a close.

When the patrol was originally planned, it was supposed to be conducted by a platoon, which meant it should have been led by a lieutenant.  Then someone higher up in command requested a wider sweep, some new troops were rotated in who would benefit from some exposure to the challenges presented by the landscape and geography, two heavy weapons specialists and an interpreter were added on, and suddenly the complement was up to forty-eight.  Even with the extra bodies, the number was well within the command capabilities of the lieutenant who was supposed to be leading this operation, except three days earlier, that officer had come down with a severe case of appendicitis. 

As company commander, choosing who would replace the lieutenant had been the captain’s decision.  He could have assigned a different officer to lead these men, or rearranged the duty rotation so an entirely different platoon was assigned to the mission.  Instead, he had decided to take command of the operation himself.  It had seemed like a good decision at the time.  He had told himself that he would benefit from getting some boots on the ground time outside the base, that it had been too long since he last led men in hazardous duty, and that he could use a refresher in what type of opponent they were fighting. 

The real-life reminder he had received was that their adversaries were fierce, experienced fighters who frequently used their extensive knowledge of the terrain to their advantage, and who would willingly sacrifice themselves if it meant killing him and every man under his command.  The ambush had been well planned and executed with precision, a tribute to the fighting skills and tenacity of the Taliban.  A barrage of rockets, heavy weapons fire, and pre-aimed mortar rounds had brought the convoy to a stop.  Within minutes, every vehicle and the weapons mounted on them had been disabled.  Once they had been brought to a standstill, the armor had turned into nothing more than stationary targets, impotent playthings for the Taliban to batter into useless wreckage at their leisure.  The men had abandoned the vehicles and taken cover in the only piece of ground that offered protection, a dry river bed that was roughly twelve feet deep and thirty feet across at its widest point with sheer vertical sides. 

That had turned out to be part of the trap.  The moment they dropped into the ravine, the Taliban positions had the high ground.  To make matters worse, the steep walls were blocking radio communications, and they made getting up onto level ground to mount a counterattack a slow and therefore lethal process.  The captain had sent men in both directions to see if there was an easier way out of the gulch.  There were, but their opponents had both ends covered.  Anyone trying to get out either way would be cut down before they could assemble an effective force to mount an attack. 

His staff sergeant scrambled along the line, checking on each man as he went along until he reached the captain.  He dropped to one knee and waited.  Words were not necessary.  Neither man needed to be informed that they were in trouble. 

“Weakest spot?” the captain said. 

The sergeant pointed toward one end of the wadi.  “Lighter weapons but less cover.  Flat open ground for twenty or thirty meters.” 

“Can we break out?”

The sergeant shrugged.  The gesture conveyed that they might get out, but the cost would be heavy. 

“Can we withdraw?”

The sergeant grimaced.  His expression said no.  His mouth said, “A few might make it.” 

“Any radio contact at all?”

“No.  The operators have tried every spot in both directions.  Nothing.  They tried lifting the set.”  He demonstrated by raising one hand over his head.  “It drew immediate fire.” 

The captain did not grill the sergeant on whether they had attempted other solutions.  The man was experienced, intelligent, and creative.  If there was another way to establish radio contact that did not hinge on men dying in the attempt, it had already been tried. 

The ambush had been exceptionally well planned.  The captain wondered how long the Taliban had been waiting to catch an oversized column in this particular spot.  He could imagine their excitement when they saw this group of men and vehicles headed in this direction, how quickly they would have assembled their weapons and forces, the gleeful anticipation as their prey trundled straight toward the spot where they could be funneled into a series of increasingly deadly assaults. 

The captain kept to himself that he was pleased he had chosen to lead the patrol.  He would not have wished this moment and the decisions he was going to have to make on any other officer, least of all the lieutenant whose place he had taken.  That young man had shown exceptional promise as a combat leader.  The captain took some small satisfaction that the lieutenant would survive, continue to gain experience, and perhaps one day would avenge what was destined to happen here. 

“One of the men got a look at what’s going on,” the sergeant reported.  “They are repositioning the mortars, preparing for a barrage.” 

The captain glanced up at the top of the vertical wall.  “Once they get the range, there will be little hope.”  He assumed the Taliban had stockpiled enough shells to pound the river bed for hours, until there wasn’t a man or creature left alive. 

As if triggered by their brief discussion, there was a distant thump, someone yelled for everyone to take cover, and the landscape was rocked by an explosion.  The sergeant scrambled up, took a fast took, and slid back to the bottom of the gully.  “Fifty meters.” 

It would not take them long to adjust their aim.  They did not have to rush.  If the men were not skilled at operating the adjustments, they could simply walk the explosions forward a few yards at a time until they were dropping them on top of the men trapped in what amounted to an oversized drainage ditch.  It was a rotten way to spend their last moments.  The captain made a decision.  One way or another, they were going to die.  If they attempted a counterattack, a few men might survive.  If they waited, they would be wiped out to the last man.  Still, he hesitated.  He did not want to give the order that would cost so many lives. 

Another explosion rocked the ground.  A shower of sand and gravel pelted down on them, followed by a thick cloud of dust.  The sergeant took another fast look.  “Thirty meters.” 

Two more rounds, possibly three, and the mortars would have the range.  The captain turned to his left, waved a hand to get everyone’s attention, waited until all eyes were on him, and used hand signals to issue his orders.  He directed everyone to begin moving toward the spot the sergeant said they would face the weakest resistance.  The men began hustling past him in an orderly manner.  He was pleased to see that they were all calm and focused. 

“Any wounded?” he asked the sergeant. 

“Small stuff.  Minor flesh wounds.  A few men caught some flying metal.  Nothing that will slow anyone down.  They’ve been seen by the medic.” 


The last of the men were filing by.  “Time to go,” the sergeant said, and gave him a wide grin.  “It’s been a pleasure serving with you, captain.” 

The captain opened his mouth to return the sentiment, intending to say something about the sergeant’s years of exemplary service and his courage.  Before he could produce a sound, he heard a loud metallic bang, yelling and shouting from the direction where the enemy was positioned, and lastly, a loud crack. 

“What was that?” burst out of him. 

The sequence of sounds was repeated, and again a third time.  The sergeant scrambled up the embankment, spent some time clawing a head-sized groove in the earthen lip, and cautiously peeked over.  “They’ve stopped firing.”  He ducked down, waited, and when no shots were fired in their direction, took another look.  “They’re grouped around the mortars.” 

Another crack reverberated through the dry air. 

“High powered rifle.  A sniper,” the sergeant said.  “Where did he come from?”

The captain refrained from saying, “Who cares?”  Whoever the sniper was, wherever he had come from, he had created a slim, tenuous possibility that they could form an effective counterattack.  He said, “Get the men ready.  Here is what I want,” and laid out his plan for how they would fight back.

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