15 Escaped Afghanistan NALTS - Tuesday

Escaped: Fighting my way home

© Copyright 2009

Written by Banzai Ben and Amazing Anastasia

ben@banzaiben.com

 

 

Chapter 15 – Monday 08 October – Wednesday 10 October

 

Afghanistan & NALTS – Monday Day Thirty-eight – Wednesday Day Forty

 

Dawn was just thinking about showing up and the ten minutes I held Jens seemed like an eternity.   Finally, she started to stir. "Mmm, I love waking up in your arms," she bravely said.

 

"You'll do anything for a little attention." I teased.

 

"I have missed our cuddling lately."

 

"So Jens, square with me - how do you feel and where do you hurt?"

 

"I feel sicker than I've ever felt. I'm nauseated, have diarrhea, have a fever and have no appetite. And I have severe pain here." She moved my hand underneath her body armor to her right lower abdomen.

 

I gently pushed her abdomen and found it was unusually firm. She jumped and grunted, "If you do that again, I'm going to kick your butt."

 

"Jens, you’re the doctor and the smart one here. So why is it I'm the one that figures out you have appendicitis?"

 

"Oh Shit! You're right! Why didn't I see it?" She responded.

 

"You probably didn't want to. I think you've had some symptoms since Bethesda."

 

"Dammit, you're right again! Shit, this is going to leave a scar and I won't be able to wear a bikini anymore." Jens grumped.

 

I laughed, "You do know I dig chicks with scars don’t you?" I kissed her cheek.

 

"Did you call them for an extraction?"

 

I called and they are coming to get us, but it could be a few hours before they arrive. Can you walk?"

 

She tried to get up and screamed in pain, "I don't think I can."

 

I slipped off her pack and dumped everything out on the ground. "Hey jarhead, you're making a huge mess out of my pack, " she complained.

 

"Well, I can't carry you, the rifles and both packs out of here. So we're going to have to lose some weight." I took off my pack, dumped my gear on top of hers, and gently leaned her up against an empty pack. She moaned as I was moving her.

 

"Owww - that did not feel good! Thanks for taking it easy with me."

 

I handed her a red flashlight. "Will you go through the gear and pare us down to essentials? We'll throw them into my pack when I get back."

 

"I'll try my best. What are you going to do?"

 

"Well I figure the chewchemeks are going to follow us and I'm going to go and set up some claymores to see if we can slow them down. Fire a shot if you need any help." I put her Bravo beside her, grabbed all the claymores, threw them in my pack, picked up my Bravo and started back down the trail.

 

I ran a klick, stopped to set the first claymore and worked my way back - placing them about every eighth klick. When I got back, the sun was up enough so I could look at Jens. She looked bad! Her face was ashen, her lips were dry and she was sweating like hell. I smiled at her, "Have I ever told you how beautiful you look in the morning?"

 

"Don't you lie to me! I look like hell and we both know it." She grumped.

 

I leaned down beside her and kissed her. "You look lovely to me! Did you get the gear figured out?"

 

She had two piles, "This is the pile we are taking with us and the other pile we need to destroy."

 

I looked at the destruction pile and the cameras were in it, "Hey don't we want to keep the cameras?"

 

"They're digital and I have the memory cards out of them, that's all we need."

 

I loaded the keeper pile in my pack and lifted it - it wasn't bad but I knew it would be hell carrying the pack, the rifles and her. The other pile I moved away from us and threw in a single heap. I took off my body armor, threw it on top and dropped a WP grenade on the whole mess. I went back to Jens and asked, "Are you ready?"

 

She faked a grin and said, "I'm as ready as I'll ever be. I don't think you can use a fireman's carry on me though."

 

"Then I guess I’ll have to practice carrying you across the threshold."

 

I took the emergency locator beacon off my belt and activated it, "Now, they should be able to find us."

 

"Hey, where's your body armor?" Jens asked.

 

I looked over at the pile, "It's cooked now. I don't need it because it's just extra weight."

 

"You'd better not get your ass shot. I don't want to have to carry you out of here." She teased and then grimaced.

 

I slipped on my pack, threw the four rifles over my shoulders and squatted down to pick up Jens, "I'll try to be gentle, but this will probably hurt like hell."

 

"Hand me that stick over there." Jens said.

 

I gave her the stick and she put it between her teeth, bit down, and nodded her head. I squatted again, slipped one arm under her back and the other under her legs, pulled her close and struggled to my feet. Son-of-a-bitch this was a lot of weight. She let out a long and low moan and passed out again.

 

It's a funny thing, when your body gets loaded with adrenaline you can do things that you normally couldn't imagine doing. I didn't do the math on how much weight I was carrying because I might convince myself  I couldn't do it. I took off on the best run I could, trying to hold Jens as still as I could. I was glad that Jens passed out and couldn’t sense my feelings because I'd made up my mind that if the towel heads caught us before we were rescued, they weren't going to take either one of us alive. I worked into a rhythm, was making about three miles an hour, and sweating like a pig.

 

I ran for about thirty minutes (Jens was still unconscious) when I heard the first claymore go off behind us. Shit! That means that the fucking towel heads are only three and a half klicks back. I picked up my pace.

 

Jens finally started moving, "Uhhh, damn this hurts like hell."

 

"Hey beautiful! It's good to see that you decided to wake your lazy butt up." I teased and another claymore went off.

 

Jens looked at me, "How many claymores is that?"

 

"That's only the second one."

 

"How close are they?"

 

"They're not close enough to catch us. Because run, run as fast as you can, you can't catch me I'm the gingerbread Marine."

 

Jens tried to laugh, "Owww, don't make me laugh. That hurts too much. So are you going to teach that story to our children?"

 

"Your wish is my command." I quipped.

 

"I wish that you'd marry me!" Jens said.

 

"If we get out of here I just might do that." I said and saw Jens's violet eyes twinkle.

 

"I think you're just trying to get into my panties, Marine." She bravely teased.

 

"I don't think they'd fit me." I laughed.

 

I hit a really rough spot and jostled Jens, "Ayeeee," She screamed and passed out again.

 

Another claymore went off. I knew they'd figure it out soon and bypass the rest of the claymores. I was hoping it would at least slow them down. I couldn't see my watch so I didn't know how long it had been, but help should be here soon. It only had to come from the Mediterranean but it had to fly over hostile territory part of the way.

 

I was reaching the end of my adrenaline-fueled endurance and I needed to find a place to make a stand. I scanned the area, saw a hill that was about two-hundred meters higher than anything else in the area and headed towards it. The slope was steep and covered with loose shit so for every step I climbed up I slid back a half step. I finally made it to the top, gently put Jens down and rolled her on her side just in case she vomited again.

 

I un-slung all the rifles and lined them up side by side, threw my pack on the ground, dumped all the mags out and sorted them by rifle. I crawled behind the XM-109, flipped open the scope caps and found the towel head bastards chasing us. I ranged them  as well as I could using the mildots. This was going to be a hell-of-a shot I thought as I fired at the first one. When I reacquired the targets, I could see that one was down and the rest were hitting the ground. There was just enough height on this hill that I could still see some of the bastards but it wasn't a very big target. Maybe I could at least keep them at bay until rescue arrived. I cranked the range on the BORS, lined up on the chewchemek I could see the best and tickled the trigger.

 

When I found the targets again, I determined I must have hit him because there was a bunch of blood all around. It bothered me some that I couldn't see the red mist.1 I had three more rounds in this mag, one more full mag and then this rifle was nothing more than a big, heavy club. I decided to wait and see what happened if I didn't resume firing right away. I looked over and Jens was still out of it. I waited and finally they started standing up. Two dumb fuckers let me line up on one behind the other - I fired and got two rat bastards with one shot. They hit the ground again and I took out another one on the ground. I had one more round left in this mag. I don't know why, but I did a tactical reload and set the mag with one round off to the side.

1 I couldn't bring myself to use this term earlier, it's a bit graphic and filled with mostly bad memories. When you shoot someone, “red mist” is the spray of blood that exits the body.

 

I had a bunch more ammo for the Bravos so I scooted over behind mine. Two-thousand meters would be a hell-of-a shot but I had a feeling I wanted to save the twenty-five millimeter rounds. I ranged on the closest towel head on the ground, cranked the BORS to the estimated range, did the windage and my first shot missed right! Shit! I missed the windage. I did a mildot hold and fired again and this time saw the red mist. I changed the windage and started firing at all the towel heads I could see. I had them pretty well pinned down and if they moved much I could hit them.

 

I heard some noise and hoped it was the rescue team, but was disappointed and then worried when I realized it was a troop truck. I switched back to the XM-109, ranged the truck and blew the engine to hell. I reacquired and dumped another two rounds into the truck hoping to kill some of the bastards sitting inside. They boiled out of the truck and I saw some towel heads carrying big fucking guns. Shit! They had some fifty cal rifles and now they could reach me. I lined up on the first one I saw and blew him to hell with the XM-109 - the other one hit the ground so I couldn't see him. I had two rounds left on the XM so I switched back to the Bravo.

 

Just as I lined up to fire there was a spat and a zing from a ricochet about twenty meters below me. Well, they had big guns but they sure didn't have big shooters. I scanned the area and found the bastard with the fifty and his rat bastard spotter. I lined up on the shooter and fired just at the same time a saw a puff of smoke from his rifle. I heard the crack as the round passed over us but I saw the red mist as my round struck home. The spotter moved over to the fifty so I lined up and nailed him too. I jacked another mag into the Bravo.

 

I heard a moan and looked over and saw Jens was awake, "It looks like you're having all the fun again." She whispered.

 

"Hey beautiful! I'd invite you to join me but I think you'd better just rest."

 

"I'm thirsty, do you think I can have a drink?" She asked.

 

"Jens, you know you can't have anything to drink. Wait a minute I need to take care of a little business." I turned back and shot the rat bastards that were standing up.

 

Jens said, "You know I feel much better now. The pain is much less."

 

"You need to lay still and rest." I turned back and kept firing but was very worried now. I knew if her pain is less it's probably because the appendix burst and that meant peritonitis would be a problem soon.

 

Where is that damn rescue team! I looked and saw another troop truck coming so I switched again to the XM-109 and blew the hell out of the engine. I then switched to the final mag - one round left.

 

I heard more noise but this time I wanted to jump up and down - it was the noise of choppers! I grabbed my pack, found the smoke, and popped it. Two cobras ripped past me and started opening up a can of whoop ass on the fucking towel heads. A CH-46E started landing about twenty meters away. I rolled over and covered Jens so the rotor blast wouldn’t bother her, "Mmmm, I love it when you hug me." She said and gave me a hell-of-a kiss. Her mouth tasted like shit from the puke but it was one of the sweetest kisses she'd ever given me.

 

The CH was down and a group of seals and medics came running over. The seals felt bummed out because the cobras had pretty much taken care of the towel heads. The medics came over, "Move the hell out of the way." One told me.

 

"You'd better take it easy with her, or I'll kill you." I replied and moved to the side.

 

They were very gentle, got her on the basket and strapped her down. The seals were eyeing the rifles, especially the XM, "You guys care to give me a hand hauling some of this gear?" They almost had a fight to see who got to carry it. We booked it back to the CH and took off.

 

I was sitting by Jens holding her hand. They medics started an IV and I said, "I think she has a ruptured appendix." I went on to describe all the symptoms. They checked her over and one said, "I think your right." They added some antibiotics to the IV and gave her a shot for the pain.

 

The seals were screwing with the rifles, "Hey, those aren't toys! If you fuck around and shoot down this chopper I'm going to kick all of your asses. Leave them alone and I might even let you fire them later. And what the fuck took you guys so long!"

 

"We had to fly over Turkey and come in from the north. The stealth's took out the whole northern power grid with the carbon fiber wires. But we still had SAMS to deal with and sent in some jets running ECM to deal with them. I don't know who you are but you must be important as hell."

 

I looked at him, "I'm SM Blaine and this is my spotter Sgt. Donaldson."

 

"Shit! I know of you two. You've been all over the news for a couple months now. It's great to meet you two. He came over and shook my hand."

 

I left them alone and concentrated on Jens. She motioned for me to come closer to her and when I got close enough she grabbed me and gave me a hell of a kiss and then started giggling. "I always wanted to do that and other things in a chopper." The she started singing,

 

Heaven, I'm in heaven
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When were out together dancing cheek to cheek

 

I looked at the medics, "She's just loopy from the morphine. Don't worry about it."

 

"So where are we headed?" I asked the medic.

 

"Were headed directly to Incirlik Airbase in Turkey; they have a great hospital and have been alerted. A team is standing by to do the appendectomy."

 

The flight engineer yelled at me. "Hey, I was told you need to get on the horn with the general."

 

I grabbed the sat phone out of my pack and made a call, the general came right on the phone.

 

"SM Blaine, as soon as you touch down we need you and the data back here."

 

"But Sir, I need to stay with Sgt. Donaldson, we're a team." I complained.

 

"Excuse me! Are you disobeying a direct order?" The general bellowed.

 

I seriously thought about telling him to go fuck himself, but I knew I'd end up in the brig. "No Sir, I'm requesting permission to stay with Sgt. Donaldson while she has surgery. Then I would be glad to come back."

 

"Marine, you will either do as you are told or I will order the seals that are on the chopper to take you into custody and force you to come here."

 

I could tell I could not win this one! "Yes Sir I understand and I will comply with your order." I thought to myself, someday I'm going to make your fat ass pay for this. "Sir, is there a chance that I could speak with Elizabeth Morgan?"

 

"She's right here." He said. The next voice on the phone was Liz. She was trying to talk a mile a minutes and I said, "Shut the hell up and listen to me. I need you to get your ass over to Incirlik Airbase in Turkey. I don't care what it costs and I don't care how you do it. The fucking general is having me come back to Afghanistan and Jens needs someone to be with her."

 

Liz replied, "Don't worry, I'm on my way." I heard the phone click off.

 

I was pissed as hell and wanted to punch someone. I looked at the largest seal in the group and was getting ready to go and smack him in the face. I went to get my hand free from Jens's and she held on tight and motioned me close, "You're so sexy and cute when you're angry. But remember dogs get mad, people get angry and Marines get even."

 

"Shit Jens, the fucking general's making me head right back to Afghanistan and won't let me stay for your surgery."

"Shush, I will be fine and I'll have a great scar for you to kiss - just as I kiss your scars. Don't worry, when I get back we will come up with some evil plans for the general. When you see him ask him how Belinda is."

 

"Is that his wife?" I questioned.

 

"No silly, that's his girlfriend." Jens giggled.

 

"Liz is coming to be with you, but I'm not sure when she will be here." I answered.

 

"Just relax my love and let me take care of this when I'm better. I'm going to make that general soooo sorry." Jens giggled.

 

Jens was so silly that it defused my anger, besides I wanted to spend every second I could with her. I was sure the general would shit his pants when I asked him about Belinda. I might even do that in front of the Colonel.

 

"Move out of the way jarhead, we're landing." One of the medics said. I didn't listen and stayed right by her side. The minute we touched down some hospital staff ran out with a gurney and Jens moved to the gurney. I held her hand the whole way and tried to head in the building with her. We were stopped by two MPs. "Sir, we're told that you need to get back on that chopper and head over to the flight line." I thought about taking them both out and then I heard the seal team behind me and knew that it would be futile. I leaned down and gave Jens the best kiss that I could, looked at the hospital staff and said, "You had better take good care of her."

 

They wheeled her off as I was escorted back to the chopper. "Sorry to do this Sir, it's the general's orders."

 

"Fuck you and fuck the general and fuck the whole damn Marine Corps. I'm doing this just because I know I can't take all of you at once. But if anything happens to Jens I will hunt each of you down and make you die a slow and painful death."

 

I jumped back on the chopper more pissed than ever. The seals wouldn't even look at me, let alone talk to me. The MPs wanted to sit on either side of me until I told them to leave me the fuck alone.

 

It was a short ride to the flight line and when they touched down the MPs and seals escorted me to the waiting C-130. They wanted to help with the gear but I was so pissed I wouldn't let them touch anything. When they all boarded with me I looked at them, "So are you bastards following all the way to Jalalabad?"

 

"Those are our orders Sir."

 

"Then stay away from me and leave me the hell alone or I'll throw all you mother fuckers off this piece of shit plane. I'm taking a nap." I lay down and for once I couldn't sleep on a flight. All I could think of was Jens going through surgery without me. God! What if she died! I'd gotten so used to her that I don't think I could live without her.

 

I couldn't get comfortable so I decided to get up. I paced back and forth on the 130 like a caged animal. Shit! I was a caged animal.

 

I got a call from the pilots and I stormed up to them. "We just received a call from the hospital. Sgt. Donaldson is out of surgery. It was a ruptured appendix. They said they cleaned her all out and she should be just fine."

 

I almost kissed the pilot. Finally, some good news on this FUBAR of a mission! I relaxed, walked to the back of the plane, started planning my revenge on the general and promptly fell asleep. My dreams were oh so sweet about Jens and I remembered her saying just as the plane touched down, "Remember our last kiss."

 

I looked and the seals and the MPs were looking at me, "Sir, we've landed in Kabul and we need to escort you to a waiting chopper." I smiled at them and said, "Let's go."

 

They all blinked at me, "What the hell happened to you?"

 

"Nothing, I'm fine." I lied to them.

 

I grabbed all my gear and headed over to the chopper, "You guys don't have to follow me if you don't want. I can take care of myself."

 

"Sorry Sir, we have orders."

 

"I understand." I replied and hopped in the chopper, they followed me in.

 

The chopper spun up and we were off towards Jalalabad. My mind was preoccupied with plans of revenge so the flight seemed short. We were met at the landing pad by the Second and Gunny Horton. "SM Blaine the General wants to see you ASAP."

 

"Yes Sir. Gunny will you take my gear to the bunker?"

 

"Yes Sir SM Blaine." Gunny replied. I could tell by his reply that something was going on. I looked at him as we transferred the gear and he slipped a piece of paper in my hand.

 

"Cpt. Kast, I need to use the latrine first." I said.

 

"If you must, then we'll stop." He answered.

 

In the latrine, I opened the note.

 

Banzai,

         Watch yourself and don't push the general. He's as pissed
         as I have ever seen. I know what the bastard did to you
         and I know you want blood. But, now is not the time.

Revenge is a dish best served cold!

GH

 

I knew I didn't need to but I ate the note anyway. I sat and thought that my best friend in the world, Jens told me to wait and now the man that was as close to a dad as I've had for many years told me the same. Maybe I'm getting old, or perhaps just getting smarter but I decided to listen to their advice.

 

I flushed the toilet and started washing my hands; the Cpt. was impatient so I did an extra long and special job. "Come on dammit, hurry up!"

 

"Okay, I've just been out in the field for a while and wanted to clean up some." I smiled at him.

 

We walked over to the BCO's office and went right in. I could tell immediately that Gunny was right because the General was pissed. "It's about fucking time you got here. What took so long?"

 

I snapped to attention, "Sorry Sir, I needed to use the latrine."

 

"At ease, let's sit at the table and I want a full briefing." He ordered.

 

We sat at the table and I gave him a briefing. I even gave him one of the digital camera memory cards. The second was a duplicate so I kept it for myself because something didn't feel right. When we were finished he looked relieved (too relieved) about something, and said, "That was a hell of a job you two did. Sorry about having to take you away from Sgt. Donaldson, but the information you have is vital to us. Just so you know most of this mission will be redacted from both of your records."

 

I looked at him and gave him my evil grin, "Yes Sir! I understand exactly what you're saying. Can we at least get credits for our kills?"

 

"Not this time unfortunately." He replied.

 

"Yes Sir, I understand."

 

"You're dismissed." He said.

 

"Sir might I request leave to be with Sgt. Donaldson?"

 

"No you may not. You're needed here. You're dismissed."

 

The fucking bastard! There was something going on, I was upset, so I stood and started walking out the door as I softly sang:

 

Belinda the rain is falling
Belinda your love is calling
Belinda he'd never leave you
Belinda he won't deceive you

 

The general turned and said, "What's that you're saying?"

 

I grinned and replied, "Sorry Sir, I was just singing a favorite song of Jens's about Belinda."

 

He got all red in the face, "Never sing that song in my presence." He bellowed.

 

"Yes Sir, I will never talk about or sing about Belinda in your presence again." I left the room and had a shit-eating grin on my face. The grin was still there as I walked into the mess and grabbed some chow. I saw Gunny and we headed to our favorite back table.

 

"What the fuck did you do? You have the biggest grin I've ever seen on your face." Gunny asked.

 

I leaned in close to him, "First thanks for the heads up, the bastard was as pissed as I've ever seen him. If I had gone in there loaded for bear, he would have kicked my ass. Did you know the general has a girlfriend named Belinda?"

 

"You're shitting me!"

 

"If I'm lying I'm dying! Jens knew all about it. I don't know what the fuck is going on but he won't give me leave to see Jens. So as I walked out I sang him a little song about Belinda."

 

"I bet he was pissed."

 

"It was so funny; I thought he was going to shit his pants."

 

Gunny leaned back and laughed, "Damn, I wished I would have been a fly on the wall."

 

I pulled the memory card out of my pocket and slipped it on the table, "Gunny, I need you to hide this somewhere for me."

 

He took slipped it in his pocket, "Is this from your mission?"

 

"Yep, something wasn't right about that mission and the general doesn't want anything revealed about it. The camera had duplicate cards in it and this is the second card."

 

"Don't tell me you're thinking blackmail? I won't have anything to do with that." Gunny announced.

 

"Don't get upset, it's more like insurance. So what else do you know about that mission?"

 

"I hate to disappoint you but I don't know jack shit about your mission. And that's the strangest thing."

 

I leaned back and rubbed my chin, "That's fricken weird and just doesn't make sense. It's almost like they're trying to make the whole mission go away."

 

"I thought the same thing." Gunny replied.

 

"All I know is that something about those pictures is pretty damn important to the general. I'm glad you have them and that I can trust you. Well, I need to get back to the bunker and clean some rifles and then hit the hay." We stood up, shook hands and parted ways.

 

I walked in the bunker and it was empty and cold, just like my life without Jens. She's the one responsible for all the joy in my life and without her life was meaningless. Yes, I am still a Marine, but without Jens it didn’t matter anymore. I scolded myself, stopped the self-pity, sat down at the table, and started cleaning the rifles. As I cleaned them, I remembered the good times we shared on Hawaii and how Jens did such a good job sighting in the rifles. Damn! Everything I did reminded me of her. I finished the rifles, the XM was a real son-of-a-bitch to clean but by the time I was finished the bore sparkled. I put the rifles away, headed over to the showers, and cleaned up. It felt great to get all the grime from the field off me - I even used a scrub brush and rubbed until my skin hurt.

 

I couldn't go back to the bunker because I'd drive myself crazy, so I went through the barracks hoping to find my friends but they were gone. I didn't have any better luck in the mess tent. Dejected, I went back to the bunker and fell on the cots. They still smelled like Jens and I finally slipped into a troubled sleep hugging her pillow and thinking of her.

 

Sometime later, I heard footsteps walking across the floor of the bunker. I reached under my pillow, grabbed my Kimber and waited. As I felt a hand touch my shoulder, I grabbed it with my free hand, twisted it hard, pulled my Kimber and flipped on the tactical light. I saw the frightened face of the Second in the beam. "What the hell are you doing in my bunker without knocking first?" I asked.

 

He gulped, "Sorry, I knew that you were the only one here and the BCO needs you ASAP."

 

"You're lucky I didn't shoot you. Don't ever come in here without knocking again." I rolled out of bed, "This had better be damn important." I slipped on my boots, the rest of my gear, we went to the BCO's office and walked right in.

 

After the proper military greeting Colonel Rowe got right to the point."SM Blaine, we're sending you and a team on a rescue mission. We have a squad of Marines pinned down. Get your gear and be at the heliport in thirty minutes. You will be briefed on the details right before the flight."

 

Shit! I didn't have time to ask him what the hell was going on and he didn't offer any more information. I was excused, ran to the bunker, geared up, and beat feet to the heliport. I looked at the group he was sending in - they looked pretty good except for a green Second Lieutenant. I went down the line, introduced myself and checked their gear. One dumbshit didn't bring his body armor so I sent him back to get it. I was glad I had an extra set at the bunker and had taken the time last night to adjust them. He made it back and we loaded up.

 

The Second ran out, "I'm here to brief you on the mission." He went on to explain that there was a squad doing reconnaissance and they had been discovered. I thought in my mind then they aren't Recon. They were holding their own but need to be extracted.

 

The Second Lieutenant said, "Sir, we will bring them back."

 

I looked over at him; he was even more stupid than he appeared to be. This mission was already FUBAR. I was just praying that all or any of us made it back. We loaded into the choppers and I went and sat by the Lieutenant, "Sir, SM Blaine. I'm glad to be going on this mission with you." I lied.

 

He shook my hand, "Glad to meet you, I've heard a lot about you."

 

"Sir, if you don't mind me asking, how many missions have you lead?"

 

He looked tentatively at me, "This is my third mission."

 

I thought, things have just deteriorated, "If you don't mind a suggestion Sir. It might be wise to drop me on a roof overlooking the area so I can give you sniper support. I can fast rope down within about five-hundred meters of the landing zone and I'll take out whomever I see."

 

He thought for a much too brief moment, "I like that idea. I think it will confuse the enemy."

 

"What are your tactical plans Sir?" I asked.

 

He gave me a bogus textbook answer and I looked at him, "Sir, may I be so bold as to make a few more suggestions?" He replied affirmatively, I threw out his whole plan and gave him something that I thought would work. He looked at me and said, "That's a great plan, how'd you come up with it."

 

"Too many years of fighting these bastards and knowing how they react." I was feeling better about things now that we had a decent plan. I looked at the other men and they looked nervous. I slapped the Second Lieutenant on the back. It scared the hell out of him, and I yelled, "Damn! Lieutenant that's a hell of a tactical plan you came up with. I couldn't have done it better myself."

 

The men looked at me, then looked at the Second Lieutenant and started smiling. He looked over at me, "Thanks, I really needed that."

 

"No problem. Did they give you a tactical radio?" I asked.

 

He shook his head no. I dug around in my pack, pulled out one for him, and made sure it worked, "I'll be your eyes and let you know what I see. You just do what I say and you should be fine." When we took off we headed North West and we had been flying the same direction for quite awhile. I leaned over and asked the Second Lieutenant, "Just where in the hell are we going?"

 

"I thought you knew we're going into Pakistan." He replied.

 

I wondered why the fuck are we going to Pakistan. They get pissed off when we violate their borders. Then I remember the last mission with Jens and how it was even more fucked up. I decided the brass had their heads further up their asses than usual.  Damn! I wished Jens was here - she'd talk to her Dad, the General, and get to the bottom of what was going on.

 

"We're almost at the drop site." The flight engineer said.

 

I walked over to him, "Make one quick pass close to the area. I want to look for the best place to locate myself and the squad."

 

He radioed the request to the pilot, and I watched as we flew past the area. This was certainly FUBAR. I could see the squad was pinned down in a building and there were a shitload of towel heads shooting the hell out of the building with AK's and RPGs. I saw the building I wanted and pointed to it, "Tell the pilots I want to fast rope on the top of that building." I called the Second Lieutenant over. "You guys are going to fast rope there," I said as I pointed out the building.

 

The flight engineer gave us all smoke and said, "Pop this when you need to be picked up, just remember if the LZ's too hot we can't get you."

 

I double-checked the tac radio with the Second Lieutenant, then got ready as the pilot flew over my building and did a quick hover. I was out the door and onto the roof in just a few seconds. I un-slung the Bravo, set it on the roof, pulled the M4 in .338 Whisper2 around and started taking out targets.

2 .338 Whisper – A .338 extremely high ballistic efficient caliber bullet designed to travel at subsonic speeds. With a suppressor gives you a silent sniper rifle good to about 500 meters. (Jens's favorite rifle!)

 

They towel heads had no idea what was happening and I was opening up a real can of whoop ass on them. I cleared out any targets close to the LZ and told the Second Lieutenant the LZ was clear. I watched as the choppers came back and the troops fast roped in.

 

"Second Lieutenant, hold position while I clear the streets in front of you."

 

"Roger, Banzai."

 

I took out some towel heads that showed up to see what was going on when they heard the choppers. "Second Lieutenant, proceed down the alley to your right, it's clear unless they're hiding inside."

 

At least they knew how to move down the alley and dispatch any towel heads they ran into. I did see a few and helped. I scanned the area and looked over at the mosque a good distance away - a couple of people were on an upper porch. I pulled up the Bravo and cranked up the scope. Fuck me; these are going to be great kills.

 

"Second Lieutenant, hold position for now. I have a very important target of opportunity that I need to kill."

 

"Roger Banzai."

 

I set the Bravo on the edge of the roof, and ranged the targets using the mildots. Then I cranked the BORS knob to the distance, lined up on the first target and sent the bastard to hell to live with his god. I jacked in another round and took out the second target.

 

I switched back to the M4 and called the Second Lieutenant, "Two targets killed eyes back on you. Move your ass towards the building." I cleaned up some towel heads that were in front of them.

 

They rounded the corner and engaged the enemy. Finally the fucking towel heads figured out they had people shooting them and it was a real battle. Our guys kicked butt and made it into the building, I scanned the area and noticed an extremely large group of rat bastards moving towards the building, I switched to the Bravo and called the Second Lieutenant, "You guys need to move your ass to the pickup LZ. There's a group of about a thousand rat bastards headed your way." I saw them leave the building and head away from the group. I started blasting the rat bastards and they stopped in confusion. I grabbed both rifles and booked it down the stairs and into the street. I took time to setup some claymores across the street. I couldn't hid the tripwires very well, but I hoped they wouldn't see them.

 

I ran three blocks and climbed to the roof of a small building.  I had to kill a couple bastards on the way to the roof. I could see them getting close to the claymore. One guy looked down and stopped so I shot him. He fell on the tripwire and the claymores went off blowing the hell out of the towel heads.

 

"Banzai, where are you?" The Second Lieutenant asked.

 

"Covering your ass, how are things?"

 

"We've ran into heavy resistance but I think we'll make it to the LZ, you need to get your ass over here soon."

 

"Roger, I'm on my way," I said and emptied a mag into the towel heads that were still alive. I booked it out of the building and took off down the street, dodging some stray rounds from inside the buildings and snap firing to try to take them out.

 

I made it to the edge of the LZ and the squad was taking heavy fire. I ran in the nearest tall building and fought my way to the roof. "Second Lieutenant, I'm on the roof of the building adjacent to the LZ and I'm going to help clear things out." I had the high ground and started killing the mother fuckers. I checked back behind me and saw that the rest of the towel heads were about a klick away.

 

"Second Lieutenant, you'd better pop smoke now or we might not get out of here. Hold the last chopper and I'll come down right before you bug out."

 

He popped smoke and the battle kept going, the Blackhawks came in with their door gunners blazing and I took off for the ground. When I hit the street, there was a flash from an RPG explosion and five of our men went down. I ran over, grabbed the first one, booked it to the chopper, and threw him and both my rifles inside, "I'm going back for the others."

 

I ran back, grabbed two by their vests, drug them over to the chopper, and threw them in, "Get your ass in here." The Second Lieutenant yelled.

 

"Fuck you, I'm getting the last two!" I went back, grabbed them, just made it back to the chopper and threw them in when the main force arrived. The door gunner let loose, "I'll catch the back chopper." I yelled and the close chopper took off.

 

I ran under the chopper and jumped into the door of the second chopper. It started up in the air and I felt it shudder. Shit! An RPG slammed into the chopper! The pilot fought the controls and I thought we had it made until a second RPG hit us and we started corkscrewing towards the ground. I got to the edge of the door and was just getting ready to jump out when a third RPG hit the chopper.

 

Time passed in slow motion as I flew through the air, forced out of the chopper by the force of the last RPG explosion. I saw a wall in front of me and realized that I was going to hit it, I thrashed around in the air, slammed back first into the wall, saw the chopper explode and crash in a ball of fire.

 

 Then everything went black as I slid to the ground. The last thing I remember was Jens's face and her voice saying, "Remember our last kiss."

 

Afghanistan – Day Fifteen

 

I don't sleep very long today. I wake myself up knowing I have work to do so I tell myself  I can sleep all I want when I'm dead. I hear the girls as I crawl out of the back of the truck and wave to both of them.

 

To think, we're almost over all this crap and soon we will be in friendly territory - that is if we can make it past the gauntlet of Taliban! What I do today and what we do tomorrow morning will decide our life or death. We all need to do our jobs the best we can or death will come knocking on our door.

 

Yasmeen comes running down and greets me, "Ben, you are up early today. Are you okay?"

 

"Good morning Yasmeen, I feel fine. I just know there is much work to do today. How do you feel and what have you seen?"

 

"I feel fine and very excited! I can not wait to be in Tajikistan. We saw several trucks go by today. They all went very fast to the border and then they came back this way even faster with other trucks chasing them." She says with a smile.

 

"Let me run up and talk to Zarika. Will you make breakfast? And then I will come back and start working on the truck."

 

"Yes Sir!" She says and takes off.

 

I head up the hill towards Zarika and see her wave, "Ben it is good to see you today. I think that you are up early to work on the truck."

 

"You're right. There are things I need to do which can only be done in daylight. I think tonight we will all sleep so we are rested for tomorrow."

 

"I thought you would say that. Did Yasmeen tell you about the trucks?"

 

"Yes she did."

 

Zarika looks frightened and says, "I was a bad girl and didn't listen to you. I crawled to the top of the hill and watched what the chewchemeks did to the trucks. I was very careful and hid myself just as I have seen you hide. They waited until the trucks got very close to them and then they started shooting at the trucks. The trucks turned around and the Taliban trucks chased them. Later the Taliban trucks came back."

 

I look at her, what she did was bad and I should punish her, but the intel she has given me is invaluable. "Zarika, again you disobeyed orders." She looked down at the ground thinking she was in trouble. I walk over close to her and give her a big hug and it surprises the hell out of her. "I should punish you for not following instructions, because you really do need to listen to me and follow my orders. But, what you just told me about the chewchemeks and the trucks is very important so this time you will not be punished. However, tomorrow morning when we attack the chewchemeks you will need to follow every order I give you or we will all die."

 

She looks up at me and there are tears in her eyes, "I knew you would want to know this information and I hated disobeying your order. Next time please let be an out-look too."

 

She is right, she is good enough and besides I don't think we'll do this again. "Zarika, I'm proud that you took initiative to be a look-out, not out-look. You are very good at being sneaky but as your big brother I'm supposed to keep you safe."

 

"And as your little sister I'm supposed to keep you safe and cause you problems." She grins at me.

 

I can’t remember a more truthful statement from her, both my little sisters cause me problems now and will probably cause even more problems in the near future. Once Jens is added to the mix - well I don't know if I will survive.

 

"Zarika go and eat and I will stand guard. While you and Yasmeen are eating figure out a rotation schedule for guard duty." I order.

 

She's still grinning at me, "I will go do that. But Yasmeen and I would listen to you better if you ask us to do things using please rather than order us around."

 

She scampers off down the hill and leaves me with my mouth hanging open. She yells over her shoulder, "Close your mouth." This is just a bit too spooky and I wonder if she is channeling Jens or Jens is channeling her or – what the fuck – I don't know what it is and thinking about it gives me a headache so I decide to concentrate on my battle plan for tomorrow.

 

I see a truck approaching from the south heading towards the border and I fly up the hill to watch the action. As I crest the top I hit the dirt. The driver of the truck sees the road block and slows. When they reach about one-hundred meters from the roadblock, the fucking Taliban start firing at the truck. The driver whips the truck around and takes off. Just as Zarika said, two trucks from the end of the road block take off after the intruder. I watch the chase and as they pass the canyon, the chewchemeks are firing at the truck.

 

Slipping back down the hill I see Yasmeen coming up so she must have pulled first guard duty. "Ben, that was another truck and things happened just like before. In a little while you will see smoke down the road and the two Taliban trucks will come back."

 

We sit together and she points, "There is the smoke. I think they are catching and destroying the other trucks." I can barely see the smoke. "Ben, when you look far away you kind of close your eyes, I think that you need glasses." Yasmeen admonishes.

 

I look at her, "There's no way in hell that I'm going to wear glasses."

 

She gets huffy, "Yes you will if you need them. Zarika and I will force you to."

 

And if they can't do it, Jens will make sure I wear them. I hope it's just eye strain but I’m beginning to worry - ever since the capture I just haven't felt right.

 

"Thank you Yasmeen, I'm going to go eat and then start work on the truck."

 

She smiles, "Zarika told me she scolded you about ordering us instead of asking us. I am very glad to see you are learning."

 

I didn't know what to say, so I headed back to the truck. Zarika had a plate of food for me, but had put up the cookware and was boiling something nasty in a pot, it smelled like ass and was so revolting that I couldn't bear to start eating.

 

"Zarika, what sort of witches brew are you boiling in that pot? It's the worst thing I have ever smelled." I asked.

 

"It is a surprise and I don't like the smell of it either. As you would say it smells like sass."

 

I laugh, "I think you mean it smells like ass."

 

I move far upwind of the vile potion Zarika is cooking and eat my food. Even here an occasional gust of wind disturbs my meal so I shovel it all down, walk back and hand Zarika the plate. "Thank you very much, that was very good."

 

"Thank you for being so polite. I see you listened to me." She replies with a smile.

 

I pull out the maps and Zarika comes over. I figure out the distance from where we are to Dzartygumbez, Zarika's hometown. She sees what I'm doing and gets excited, "That is my hometown you are looking at. It does not look like we are very far away and we could just walk there."

 

"My little sister, this much distance on the map is twenty-kilometers." I tell her holding up my fingers. "How much money do we have left?"

 

"I will go see." She goes inside the cab and comes back with the purse. "We have a lot of money, plus we have the gold bars." Her eyes twinkle.

 

"Will we be able to buy fuel in Tajikistan?" I ask.

 

"There will not be much around Dzartygumbez, but once we reach highway M-forty-one we will be able to buy all we need. I know because I went there once with my papa and brother." Thinking of her family makes her sad and she lowers her head.

 

I walk over and hug her, "Cheer up my little dove, we are a family now." She hugs me back, "Thank you Ben for rescuing me from Hussein and the chewchemeks. I would be dead by now if you didn't."

 


"And thank you Zarika for helping me while I was there and for helping us to escape." I let go of the hug and I fill up the truck with fuel, making sure both tanks are topped off.

 

Not wanting a battle on my hands, I warn Zarika, "I'm going to be moving most of the stuff around in the back of the truck and I will be making a big mess. I need to do this so that we are ready for our big battle tomorrow."

 

She looks at me, "That is good I want to clean up the back of the truck anyway. Please take everything out of the back that you can."

 

I haul everything except for the fuel barrels and the gold out of the back of the truck Zarika even helps. "Ben, can you move everything that is left to the back of the truck and I will clean the front."

 

"You forgot the magic word." I say to her.

 

She gives me a puzzled look, "Sorry Zarika, it's an American saying and means that you forgot to ask please."

 

She blushes, "That is a good saying and I will remember that one and teach it to Yasmeen. Please Ben will you do what I asked earlier."

 

I slide it all to the back of the truck and somewhere she comes up with a broom and starts sweeping out the truck. I start with a careful inventory of all we have and sort it into two piles - one pile we will take and the other pile will stay here. I stop and ask a question, "Zarika, if we bring extra weapons and ammo can your town use them?"

 

She peeks out of the back of the truck, "Yes Ben, they would love to have anything you want to leave them. They can use the new rifles to hunt with and the RPGs to fight off the chewchemeks if they come to raid the village again."

 

That makes things easier because now I will bring all the weapons. Since we're going to crash through the border we won't be searched.

 

"Ben will you please come in and move the things back to the front of the truck?" I chuckle because she's already learned the magic word. I hop in the back, slide all the gold and one barrel of fuel to the front. I make sure the other barrels of fuel are sealed and then push them off the back of the truck.

 

"Why did you do that?"

 

"We won't need all that fuel to make it to M-forty-one and the extra weight will slow us down." I answer.

 

"Can we use the fuel for something else?" She asks.

 

"What did you have in mind?"

 

She jumps out of the truck, rummages around in her 'prized possessions', and comes up with a bunch of bottles. "I thought we could make some of those Molotov martinis out of some of the fuel."

 

"I think you mean Molotov cocktails." I look at the number of grenades that we have, "That's a great idea but we have many grenades and I don't think we will need them."

 

"Okay, I will keep thinking of something we can do with the fuel." She says as she jumps back in the truck and continues cleaning.

 

Her pot starts bubbling over, "Hey Zarika your soup is boiling over." She sticks her head out, runs over, and moves the pot off the fire. "Ben that is not funny. This is not soup."

 

I start dismantling parts of the truck.  I look through the parts and all the crap in the throw-away pile trying to find steel plating, I lay the plates aside.

 

I hear Yasmeen yell. I look up and see she's pointing to our truck and then to her wrist where she would have a watch. "Zarika, I think Yasmeen says it's time to change guards."

 

She sticks her head out the back and Yasmeen motions to her to come up. Zarika grabs her rifle and starts going up towards Yasmeen, "Zarika, why do you always use the same rifle. You could just use Yasmeen's."

 

She walks over and shows me her rifle, "Ben this is my lucky rifle and I have a mark on it for each chewchemek I have killed." I look and I'm surprised how many marks I see on it.

 

"Now I understand why you always use the same rifle." I reply. She takes off to relieve Yasmeen.

 

I silently curse what life has done to this beautiful young girl. She should be thinking of clothes and boys, Shit! What will I do when she starts dating boys, instead she thinks about killing chewchemeks. I wonder how I will ever help her heal from these invisible wounds.

 

I continue my sorting and dismantling as Yasmeen walks up, "Hello Ben why are you upset?"

 

I look at her, "I am sad that life has treated my sisters so badly and that you both have seen so many bad things and so many chewchemeks killed."

 

She looks at me, "Yes Ben, even though Zarika pretends that she isn't upset. We are both very upset about it."

 

"How can I help you two?"

 

"Ben, how can you help us when you need the same help? Zarika does not see it, but I see the pain in your eyes too." Yasmeen's revelation causes me to reflect on my life - I see the ghosts lurking in the corner of my mind. I also see Jens as the light that chases the ghosts away.

 

"Ben, you are thinking of Jens again." Yasmeen announces.

 

I turn, look and see she is smiling, "Yes my astute little sister I was thinking of Jens again. How could you tell?"

 

"When you think about her your eyes change and you are at peace. At first I was upset when I knew you thought of her, but now I know that you will never love Zarika or me like wives because Jens is your only wife."

 

I looked at her and wondered how in the hell women and girls did this sort of thing. "I don't know what to say."

 

"Then we should get back to work on the truck. I see that the paint that Zarika is making is almost done." She says pointing to the putrid pot.

 

"I wondered what that was, it smelled like ass," I accidentally let slip out of my mouth.

 

Yasmeen gives me a stern look, "And you try to lecture us on how to speak!"

 

"Yes I do and you need to listen to me." I reply, to which she gives me a raspberry, then went over and started messing with what the girls were calling paint.

 

I went back to my duty and had gathered about as much sheet metal as I could. I took a stick and started measuring the grill of the truck; I want to put a piece of metal in front of the grill to protect the radiator from bullets. I find a piece that was close to the right size and then start trying to attach it to the front of the truck. Damn! I wish I had a welder or even some duct tape. I finally settle on using some pieces of a tow strap that are in the truck, I tie them on tight.

 

I also want to cover the lower half of the windshield so Zarika can duck behind it. I find the perfect piece and try to figure a way to attach it. I end up destroying the wipers and using them and some strapping tied over the top of the cab to hold it in place.

 

The doors were easy; I just put a piece of metal between the door and the seat. I was sure that Zarika could see over both pieces if she was sitting. I was done and looked at the truck - it looked more stupid than it did before. Yasmeen walked over, "You put metal on the truck to protect the driver?"

 

"That's right, Zarika will be driving and I don't want her to get shot."

 

"I suppose I will be in the back again," Yasmeen pouts.

 

"Yes, but you will have a very important job so don't pout," I tell her.

 

"What is my part going to be?"

 

"I will tell you later. Shouldn't you finish your wonderful smelling soup?" I tease.

 

She stomps her foot, "I told you that was paint, not soup and it's almost done."

 

"I've yet to figure out what you two want to paint out here; it can't be your faces." I say and start laughing.

 

She turns and leaves muttering something, probably a curse, in Arabic.

 

I again start working on the truck. I look at the tailgate which looks strong. Since I already see where a couple bullets have hit it and not penetrated I decide I don't need to do anything about it. I spend the rest of the time getting my position on top ready. There's not enough metal left to do anything so I just make sure I have a place to carry weapons and a way to keep from falling off.

 

I load all the supplies we're taking, move them to the front of the truck and tie them down. I don't want them falling on Yasmeen this time. Then I start putting the weapons back in the truck and arranging them for the girls. Even with all the fighting we've done, we still have a shitload of ammo left. I set all mine in a pile so I can load up first thing in the morning.

 

Zarika yells and points to her wrist and Yasmeen comes over, "Ben I need to go watch, I will miss you while I am gone." She takes her rifle and walks up the hill and Zarika comes down, but doesn’t even say hello, she just starts messing with the paint.

 

I walk over by her, "Are you mad at me?"

 

She looks up at me with a confused look, "No, why do you ask?"

 

"You didn't come over and say hello and you didn't see all the improvements I made in the truck." She blushes and says, "Sorry Ben, I was just making sure the paint was finished. Show me what you have done to the truck?"

 

I show her all the improvements and she is impressed, "Ben this will make the truck much stronger and safer. Thank you for making the truck better, but later tonight Yasmeen and I will make the truck prettier."

 

"Ah, that's why you made the paint." I remark.

 

"Yes, we are going to paint the truck red, white and green - the colors of the flag of Tajikistan. I hope the Tajik guards will not shoot us if they see the truck looking like this."

 

I scratch my head and think that it probably won't do any good. "I hope the truck won't smell as bad as your paint. Otherwise they might shoot us for smelling bad."

 

She's not amused and scowls at me, "When it dries it will not stink. And we are a very proud people, you watch, it will help."

 

I look around and decide that I don't have anything else to do to the truck. "Zarika, I will go up and take Yasmeen's place and then you two can start painting the truck. Just make sure you can still see out the windows."

 

I switch places with Yasmeen and divide my attention between watching the road and watching those two trying to paint the truck. It is comical as hell because they spend more time arguing than painting. In the end the truck and the girls get a new coat of paint. The girls look like clowns and the truck looks even uglier than before. Now we will really look like a band of gypsies!

 

I watch as Zarika brings out the cookware and starts heating up water, I'm hungry and I wonder what she is going to cook tonight. I'm getting tired of rice and canned meat but that's all we have and it is way better than MREs. They both surprise me when they start stripping off their clothes and taking a bath, I avert my eyes but not before they notice me looking.

 

I haven't seen a truck approach the border since earlier in the day. I bet everyone has heard about the road block, seen the other destroyed trucks and decided it would be better to take a different route. I hear the girls yell and I notice they've gotten rid of the Chinese uniforms and are wearing their traditional clothes. I watch as Yasmeen comes up the hill, "Ben you need to go take a bath and I promise that I will not watch you like you did to us."

 

I blush and quickly rush down the hill; I can't wait to take a bath and to get out of this piece of crap Chinese uniform. It's itchy and doesn't fit right. The bath feels great. I don't think I've had one since we left Yasmeen's parents house. I scrub the hell out of myself taking off all the caked on dirt. The girls left me the old BDUs I wore on the mission to free the slaves and I can't wait to get back into something that fits.

 

I look over at the truck and laugh, it looks like a fricken clown car. Perhaps it will cause the Taliban to laugh themselves to death tomorrow. The driver side of the truck is red, the middle is white and the passenger side is green, the three colors of the Tajik flag. I look closer and see that they even drew gold crowns on the two doors.

 

I finish and dry off, putting on the BDUs and boots, I already feel better. "Ben, did you like your bath?"

 

"Thanks Zarika, it was great and I'm even happier to be out of those damn Chinese uniforms."

 

"You were very stinky but smell much better now." She answers.

 

"Look who's talking." I tease.

 

"At least I did not smell like an old goat."

 

"Well, if I'm an old goat perhaps I should butt you with my horns," I say as I start chasing her around pretending to have horns. She easily outruns me and I grow tired faster than she does, I sit down on the ground dejected.

 

"What is wrong?" Zarika asks.

 

I look down at my body, "I'm cursing Hussein because he ruined my health and I don't seem to be getting any better. Someday I'm coming back here to kill him."

 

"Ben we are lucky to be alive. When we get to America I don't think that you should ever come back here again."

 

"Zarika, It's my job to come back here and to kill chewchemeks. So I will be coming back here many times. Even if it wasn't my job, I still have a score to settle with Hussein."

 

"Then I will come with you because I have an even bigger thing to do to Hussein."

 

I don't want to start a fight, but I know there is no way in hell she is going to come back with me, so I just smile at her and change the subject. "I'm going up to take over for Yasmeen and will stay up there until it is dark enough that we won't have to worry about being seen. Then I will come down and we will all sleep."

 

I grab my Dragunov, some gear and head up the hill, Yasmeen smiles when she sees me and sniffs towards me, "You smell much better now."

 

I grin at her, "I know that you and Zarika planned this and I'm not going to fall for it this time."

 

She fakes a pout; gives me a hug and goes down to the truck. I was alone again, enjoying the solitude. I watch as the sun starts to get lower and the night animals come out. A nasty scorpion crawls out of a hole and I beat it to death with a stick. The girls must be inside the truck because I can't see them anymore. I decide to take a look at the Taliban one more time so I head to the top on the hill and spend thirty minutes watching them. Just as the sun sets, they all do the evening prayer. I can hardly wait until tomorrow morning because I'm going to make their prayer time very interesting.

 

It's just dark enough now that I can head down to the truck and load up all my gear for the morning. I hear the girls in the back of the truck, they are giggling and must have something up their sleeves. I think about scaring them and decide that I might get shot so I call out, "I'm here, don't shoot me. I'm going to load up all my gear."

 

I hump the gear to its location, open the truck door and crawl into the cab to go to sleep. Zarika and Yasmeen poke their heads through, "Hey, you are supposed to sleep back here." I look at them and I can see some deviltry in their eyes, "I think it would be better if I slept up here just in case we have to take off."

 

They both pout and plead but I've made up my mind. "It's no good to argue with me. I'm sleeping here for the night."

 

Yasmeen gives me a raspberry and Zarika flips me off. I really need to deal with her about that, but it will need to wait for America. I lean up against the door and slip off to sleep and have dreams of Jens and all the incredible, happy times we had together. Then the dreams turn dark and ominous - I see the gray room and the angry Jens that I always see. Then it shifts to just Jens at the cabin. I have a vision of her getting ready to go to sleep in our bed, alone. She reaches over, takes a picture of me from the nightstand, kisses it goodnight and prays, "Lord, I don't know where Ben is so please keep him safe. Ben wherever you are tonight, I still and always will love you." Then I see tears run down her cheeks as she turns out the light. My dream ends.

 

I wake shivering with tears running down my cheeks. Why wasn't I with Jens and why was she so sad? Seeing her that way, even in a dream, feels like someone piercing my heart with a red hot poker. I shake the images out of my head, wipe the tears from my eyes and blink several times. There's a false dawn in the east and it's time for us to wake up. I stick my head in the back; the girls are sleeping so peacefully holding each other, but I say, "Time to wake up you two."

 

"Oh, it's too early and I will get wrinkles." Yasmeen says.

 

Zarika scolds Yasmeen, "Wake up you lazy butt! You are too young to get wrinkles so stop whining. We are going to be in my home country today."

 

They start wrestling and giggling. Their joy drives the rest of the sadness from my demented dreams out of my mind. I get out of the truck, take care of my morning business, and then walk back.

 

"Ben, do you want breakfast this morning?" Yasmeen asks.

 

I stretch, "I don't think we have time, besides the cooking supplies are all packed. Let's go over the plan one more time." I make sure that they understand everything and I look at the eastern horizon. "Okay, let's get ready. Make sure to check your gear."

 

Yasmeen jumps in the back of the truck, "I'm ready Ben,"

 

Zarika climbs in the cab and starts the truck, "I'm ready Ben."

 

I climb up on top of the truck, tie myself down to the roof and make sure that all the supplies are secure in the boxes on both sides of me. I'm ready, "Zarika make sure that you stop about a klick and a half from the trucks so we’ll be ready when they start morning prayer."

 

She heads slowly out of the canyon and onto the road towards the border. Two klicks from the border she stops, turns the truck around and starts backing towards the fucking Taliban. I can hear Yasmeen telling her how she's doing and we get just a bit closer than I wanted when she stops. I pull up the M99 and using the mildots range the chewchemeks. It confirms what I thought -we're about 1200 meters from the roadblock. They haven't seen us yet. I take aim at the first truck's engine and fire, reload, aim at the second truck's engine and fire. I plan to disable all the vehicles I can before they can do anything about it. I aim at the third vehicle and fire nailing its engine. I jack a new round in the chamber and go after the forth, I pull the trigger and click. Shit! It's a misfire - piece of crap Chinese rifle and ammo. If this was 5.56 or 7.62 I would just clear the round and be done with it, but a .50 cal does bad things if it goes off out of battery so I decide to give it a few minutes.

 

This certainly has them stirred up. They've finally seen us and are scrambling towards the trucks which aren't a smoking wreck. I've taken out three of their trucks but they get two started and head towards us. I bang on the roof, Zarika throws the truck in gear and we race away from the roadblock. Not bad three of the ten trucks are FUBAR and we have two chasing us just as I wanted.

 

Zarika easily keeps in front of them, just out of range of their rifles. They launch an RPG and I watch as it misses us, I grab an RPG, take aim and mine nails the first truck - blowing the hell out of the engine. The driver loses control, runs off the road and tips the truck over spilling Taliban everywhere. Yasmeen starts dropping grenades out the back of our truck which causes the second Taliban truck to slow down. I look over at the M99 and decide to leave it alone awhile longer. I pull up the Dragunov, since I trust the Russian rifle much more than the Chinese piece of shit.

 

The truck is bouncing all over hell but I time the bounces and try to take out the driver of the truck following us. I miss him, but hit the radiator and watch steam start boiling out of the front of the truck. I pop off a couple more shots and hit the radiator again. It's just a matter of time until they have to stop or burn up the truck.

 

I yell down, "Yasmeen, please fire some at them. I'm going to look at the big rifle."

 

I move over, yank the bolt handle open, dump the bad round off the side of the truck, and jack a new round in the chamber. We're up shit creek without a paddle if we lose this rifle. I watch as the other truck stops. I bang on the roof and Zarika stops our truck.

 

I range the truck, aim and fire. This time the round goes and I wreck the engine on this truck. I reload and start going after individual Taliban - I hit the first one, he explodes into the air with a huge red mist and body pieces and the others hide behind the truck in terror.

 

I bang on the roof and Zarika slowly starts backing up until we're about 300 meters from the truck. I grab an RPG and blow the hell out of the truck. The surviving Taliban take off running down the road. Zarika spins the truck around, I swing both rifles around, and we start chasing them. She's honking the horn and she and Yasmeen are screaming like banshees. Every time we get within a couple hundred meters, she stops and I shoot a couple of them with the Dragunov. I'm looking though the scope and see one of them shit himself and start laughing, we're literally scaring the shit out of them.

 

There are four of them left and we're almost to the first wrecked truck. Taliban still moving around the wrecked truck come out from the wreck and start shooting at us. Stupid fuckers, I bring up the Dragunov and start blasting them. A couple of them get lucky and hit the truck. I take another RPG and blow the hell out of the wrecked truck. They take off running again and Zarika's chasing them again. The stupid fuckers just keep running down the road as we drive close, stop, and shoot them. Finally the last five get smart and take off across the desert. I think I'd rather die the fast death of a bullet than the lingering death of dehydration, but they didn’t ask me.

 

We drive on about another klick and I bang on the roof. Zarika stops, jumps out of the truck and says, "Ben that was so much fun getting them to chase us and then getting to chase them. I was scared when they shot the truck."

 

Yasmeen came around, "Ben it was scary when they chased us. I wished I would have been able to help more."

 

I untied myself, came down and gave them each a big hug, "You two both did great and I am so proud of you. We're going to be more careful this time because we won't be able to surprise them and we might have to change our tactics. Let's make sure we're ready and then head towards the border."

 

Zarika hadn't even fired so she didn't need to check anything. I double checked everything with Yasmeen and gave her a couple more things, "If I tell you to throw it out, just throw one of these in the middle of the road."

 

We were ready and Zarika drove us back towards the roadblock. We didn't totally surprise them this time, but we did shock them as they were expecting their trucks to come back. Instead, we showed up, stopped about a klick from the trucks and I started firing. I nailed one truck and then I heard a whump, I banged the hell out of the roof of the truck. Zarika gassed it and spun around and we took off as mortars start dropping!  Nothing came close so I wasn't too worried. I turned around and saw two of their trucks chasing us, "Yasmeen, throw one of those in the middle of the road." I saw it hit the road and smiled. We went about a half a klick, I bang the roof and Zarika stops.

 

I got behind the M99, aimed at the care package dropped for them in the middle of the road and waited. Right before the first truck got to it, I fired. The bullet hit my improvised claymore, the C4 with all the nuts and bolts exploded into the first truck, tipping it over on the side and setting it on fire. The next truck swerved to miss it and tipped over, spilling Taliban everywhere.

 

Yasmeen started cheering, I yelled to Zarika, "Back up slowly." I stopped her about 400 meters from the two wrecked trucks and start picking off the Taliban with my Dragunov. The sneaky bastards were hiding behind the trucks and wouldn't come out. They'd stick their AKs around the side and fire off a burst but none were getting anywhere close to hitting us. I start firing into the fuel tanks on the truck and watched it leak out on the ground. I grab an RPG because it's time to chase the rat bastards out of their holes. I let it rip and it slams into the truck and ignites the leaking fuel. The Taliban hiding behind the truck take off towards the first truck which is already on fire. I switch to the Dragunov and get four of them on the run.

 

I look up and see one more truck coming so I switch to the M99 and wait. Once it reaches about a klick I blast into its engine compartment and watch the smoke start boiling out. The Taliban start getting out of the truck so I start firing at them. They quickly realize what's going on and cower behind the truck.

 

I bang on the roof and Zarika drives down the road about another klick until I stop her. "We need to talk and decide what to do," I tell them. "They only have one truck left guarding the border and I think most of their troops are here. I think we should drive past these trucks, see if we can get close enough to pick off the last truck, and make a run for the border. Zarika, do you think that you can drive us past the four trucks?"

 

"Ben, I think that if you and Yasmeen are shooting at them I can."

 

"Yasmeen, please go up front with Zarika and we'll give it a try. Zarika, if things get too bad, turn around and head back to this location."

 

Yasmeen grabs a bunch of gear, jumps up front and rolls down the window, "Finally I will get to fire my rifle."

 

I reload all my rifles, make sure I have lots of ammo ready and I bang on the roof. Zarika floors the truck and we start flying back towards the first two fiery wrecks. As we get closer, I can see the Taliban aren't hiding but are messing around with some stuff. I bang on the roof and Zarika stops. I take aim with the M99 and blow three of them away before the rest hide behind the trucks again. I bang on the roof and Zarika takes off towards the trucks. They're both off the road so we should be able to blow right by them. As we get close enough I start firing the Dragunov and Yasmeen starts firing her AK, the Taliban freak out and start running into the desert - damn cowards!

 

The next truck will be harder because it's still on the road. I check behind me and I see we're far enough away from the first trucks that we can stop. When we get about 500 meters away I bang the roof and Zarika stops. I pull up an RPG and launch it into the truck making the Taliban scatter. I bang on the roof and hope Zarika can get us past the truck since there isn't much extra room on the road.

 

She's flying towards the truck and she and Yasmeen are yelling again. I'm firing my Dragunov and Yasmeen is firing her AK. Some Taliban are braver than the others and stick around to fire at us, I'm doing my best to make them pay until finally they lose courage and take off into the desert.

 

One truck, a few Taliban and then we are free. When we get out of range of the last truck wreck, I bang on the roof and Zarika stops the truck. "We need to talk again," I say, untying myself and jumping off the roof.

 

Zarika and Yasmeen run up and give me a big hug, "We were worried when they started shooting the truck. But you did a good job protecting us and the truck." Zarika says.

 

"Thanks girls, you were both great and we're almost done. But we will have to do things different again because of the mortar." I went on and explained what the plan was. "Zarika, whatever happens don't stop the truck until we're across the border - even if the truck starts smoking. If the truck gets totally wrecked both of you jump out and run for the border, I'll slow them up and be right behind you."

 

We all take our positions, I do tactical reloads and bang on the roof. Zarika takes off for the last truck and the border. When we get to the one klick from the roadblock, she acts like she's stopping the truck. I watch and see the mortar fired, then she floors it and we head right towards them. The girls are yelling, the truck is bouncing all over the place and I'm doing my best to hit targets with the M99, I get lucky and hit the last truck in the engine.

 

When we reach about 300 meters I start launching RPGs at them and that has them scrambling. Zarika heads off the road and skirts their truck. They're pissed off and are shooting at us like crazy, I'm blasting the hell out of them and so is Yasmeen.

 

We've made it past most of them, are close to the border and I make a mistake that will haunt me the rest of my life. I sit up, turn around so I can see the bastards, raise my right arm high over my head and flip them off.

 

Son-of-a-bitch, some lucky bastard shot me in the arm right below my elbow. God the pain is intense and the arm is hanging loose and useless. I fall back on the roof of the truck. Shit! The bastard even broke the bones in my lower arm and I can see them coming through the skin. I take a strip of cloth and tie it around the wound using my left arm and my teeth. I turn and look towards the border and see the three guards opening the gate and cheering. We pass the gate and keep rolling as I slowly slip into unconsciousness.

 

 

NOTE: This chapter ends "Escaped" because Banzai Ben, Zarika and Yasmeen have escaped into Tajikistan. You know the mission Banzai Ben was on when he was captured and why Jens wasn't with him. You finally know about one of the injuries to Banzai Ben. The next book will answer many of the remaining questions. The very first chapter finally lets you know where Jens has been all this time.

 

As always, thank all of you very much for reading our books – and stay tuned for more exciting adventure.

 

Ben and Anastasia