Harbinger: Chapter 1 – FUBAR

Somewhere in Afghanistan


His ears rang loudly, and they hurt badly. As he shook his head to clear his thoughts, Keith A. North, SEAL E-6 on detached service, was desperately trying to regain his senses. The current composite operation, code-named Night Wind, was FUBARed beyond doubt. Luckily, he had not lost his FAST high-cut carbon helmet.

Shit. Lost my NVG, Keith thought. He had lost the advanced four-tube panoramic night vision goggles in the IED explosion. Blood was running down his face. His blood. Must be a nasty cut there, he grimly thought. Internal hemorrhaging was the pain in his ribs and chest – not to mention his burst eardrums. The bloody bundle that was his left leg concluded the list of major injuries he could see so far. Cuts, light wounds, and bruises all over his body rounded out the whole bloody mess.

In complete silence, they had entered the house at 0200. Other teams had already eliminated the three dogs in the walled Afghan compound. They stealthily crawled through a small side opening of the house, which led to a storage room. The intel was picture perfect up to that point.

Then somebody pulled the trigger on the waiting IED in the room. Still, he was lucky. He was the last one to drop inside. The sudden explosion hit Evans and Gardner so hard that he could see bits and pieces of them around the room, even on the dingy walls. He was fortunate that Gardner’s body shielded him from the brunt of the IED’s explosive force. Roughly thrown behind some wooden crates in a corner of the room, Keith was dizzy and disoriented, and he knew he would die in an hour or so. If not from the injuries, the continuing blood loss would finish him off. Or a quick burst from the weapon of whoever was going to check on the IED’s effectiveness.

Most of his gear was gone – swept away or destroyed by the force of the explosion. Keith had his back turned when it happened, as he had just climbed down from the window. Even the MOLLE assault backpack was torn from his back, though it did provide additional protection from the violent blast. Unfortunately, it also contained his medical kit. He didn’t know if he was lucky or unlucky to be still alive. It was a trap. A nicely baited one. Knowing the experienced enemy, a lot of men and firepower were going to be brought against them. Keith wouldn’t be surprised if they hid some light armor around the compound. Even an old BRDM armed with a Soviet-era NSV heavy machine gun would be dangerous to the extreme.

It was plain that the enemy knew their tactical plan. He now expected that the details of their operational extraction were also compromised. Operation Night Fart would have been a better name for this FUBARed mission, as every aspect of it stank to the high heavens. Given the compromised situation, the rest of the assault teams, the backup group, and even the blocking squad would be pinned down, dead, or doing retrograde action. He loved that word. Retrograde. Such a fancy term for running away after you’ve had your ass handed to you.

Hearing through his bloodied and deafened ears was almost impossible, but he could feel the detonating thumps on the ground and the structure of the house as RPG rockets started raining. Immediately after that, even heavier thuds began. Must be Russian B-10 or the Chinese copy, the Type 65, Keith observed. Old 82mm recoilless rifles, but still deadly and with a respectable rate of rate. They were evidently expecting guests. It was evident that the asset had been turned, and the stupid Powerpoint pogs bought the RUMINT hook, line, and sinker.

The entire covert operation was to be a quick snatch and grab. The “very reliable” intel pinpointed the target to be in the house only for that night, with minimal guards. Hence, the composite nature of the team.

The stupid black ops handlers were in an excited rush, but all Special Forces meat-eater teams were on an assignment that night. So, they grabbed what they could, cutting Keith’s R and R short when they reached him as he waited in Bagram Air Base for his flight. Even the gear appeared to be put together by a fobbit. At least he got a Mark 18 Mod 0 CQBR M4 with an Aimpoint T-2 red dot and a Sig Sauer P226, as well as the NWU type II uniform. But the assault vest was a commercial one with provisions for plate inserts. He did have a Kevlar plate, but it was at the front. Ammo loadout was only 240 rounds, as “quick” was the word of the day. Communications gear was tactical bone conduction headsets. At the moment, however, the high-tech com system was useless. The damage had done its job. To make matters worse, his holed hydration bladder watered his back and his butt.

Thankfully, the sling of M4 was still within his grasp. Keith pulled the weapon to him. The Aimpoint T-2, the infrared illuminator, and the visible bright light attachments were all damaged beyond use. He then checked the firearm by feel. He couldn’t see anything given the darkness and the sweat and blood dripping all over his forehead. A quick swipe with his sleeve remedied the problem, though he could feel fresh blood flowing down his face again. The M4 appeared operational, but he couldn’t tell if the barrel had been twisted or bent. His P226 with its suppressor was also missing. Keith had unclipped the holding clasp of its holster as he slung his assault rifle on his shoulder, preparing to climb down the small entry point to the darkness of the storage room.

The soldier laboriously dragged himself up after he collected himself. Muttering a quick prayer and moving as fast as he could manage, Keith half-crawled through the terrible, chunky, and bloody mess in the room and up the stairs. Any rising panic at the desperate situation was squelched by experience and his mounting anger. As he neared the middle of the steps, the door opened. It revealed two silhouetted figures, both armed with the ubiquitous AKM. The distinctive barrel profile of the weapon settled matters for him. He quickly fired short bursts at each target. At that distance, precise aim didn’t matter.

Deafened ears made sure the low and lethal spitting of the suppressed M4 couldn’t be heard, though he saw the deadly flashes from its suppressor as he fired. Its minimal recoil was a relief to his aching body. Keith’s usual carry was an M14 EBR with a Leopold 3.5-10x scope. The recoil of that 7.62x51mm beast would have been painful. The two figures quickly crumpled to the floor. A dropped AKM slid past him.

Hoping the firefight in the compound was still ongoing so the bedlam outside would cover the sounds of his firearm, he waited for a few anxious seconds. Rushing to the top of the stairs wouldn’t be a good idea considering his wounds. Despite his weakened physical condition and the increased psychological stress brought about by the ambush, Tyler heard the palpitations of his heart as he waited with bated breath for any alarmed reaction. Being on the receiving end of any combat encounter never did any good for morale and clearheaded thinking.

Adrenalin pumped through his system. He figured that would be enough to carry him through the next few minutes. A grenade suddenly rolling down the stairs wouldn’t be a far-fetched response, if anybody was still in the room above. The wounded soldier gathered what remained of his strength and crawled to the top of the stairs. He looked around. Empty.

The target was reported to be in a room to the right.