Human, Not Machine!

We all have our time machines.  Some take us back, they’re called memories.  Some take us forward, they’re called Dreams.–Jeremy Irons

You are starting to slip a bit into the hole of loathing that has become a constant in your life.  The same revolving list of questions, torment you in every moment, sight, sound, smell and action. Now you are here, the energy of the world seems to be circling you.  Your skin has been itchy for days, like a static charge has been following you. The growing jewel of the Middle East, Dubai. Normally this would be a place that would be on your bucket list, a place that you would save every penny for that once in a lifetime trip, a place that inspired Disney’s’ Aladdin, and now you would be the thief in the story.  A thief, taking life from everything; Joy from parents, livelihood from fathers, sons and grandparents, and the very brightness from the world. Your Karmic debt would be taking another entry. How high was it? You had actually kept close track. More of a nervous habit when all this started years ago, now it was therapy. A way to empty your brain of details, so you could focus.  Now…You would focus.

 

Your heartbeat comes steady and even in your ears.  A stark comparison to the hell you are about the unleash.  You know this is the first sign of numbness. Your actions are less crisp, less charged with energy, and more of something you were just doing.  Go here, do this. Go there, lift that. But here, in a building thought deserted. You lay on your belly, breathing…just breathing. Feelling the world around you.  Through all the pain of your life, a different set of perceptions were starting to hone themselves through the furnace of the world. You hear the normal things from your new partner.  Distance to Target, Wind Speed and Direction, Temperature in your location and the target. Time to optimal shot. Like a robot, you make adjustments to your weapon, or tool. A few click of this, a click of that.  And you look down the scope. For some reason, you take your focus off the target, to the surroundings…lanterns, smiling faces and seeming joy of the people. You were easily 500 meters from the target, but your ears faintly picked up the songs and muffled sounds of laughter.  Then you see it, the markers, the lanterns, the people. What day is it? Wait? This is last day of Ramadan…Its the Festival of the New Moon. You spotter snaps you back to reality, with a poke from a blade that draws blood just beneath your right wrist.

 

Unlike most of the operations, this one was broadcasted and in constant contact with your control; the General and his minions of Avian Death.

 

“Ghost, do you have the target?  Ghost.. Ghost?” asked Burke.

 

“Affirmative, target acquired. Advise..there is no clear vector to target without collateral damage.  Advise?” you replied with a tinge of actual human panic in your voice. In stark comparison to how you went about your work a year ago.  This was a reticent feeling, one of doom, not joy at completing your mission or task.

 

“Collateral Damage acceptable, proceed with assignment.” barked Burke.

 

“Civilians are pouring into the area, unable to take objective.”  You scramble behind the scope, you have to find a way to complete this mission without killing anyone that did not deserve it. Your fingers came off the grip, and your hands relaxed, as if you were going to get up.

 

“Take the objective”  This time it was the General. He was being direct.  The very sound of his voice sickened you. It was a constant disdain that came from him lately.  You just could not seem to do anything right. Ever since Danny had been killed, you had been off, dull, and slower than normal.  You were still able to meet the requirements to stay with the unit, but had lost the drive to do this kind of work.

 

You handler chimes in, “take the damn shot Matt, we have tracked this target for 3 months, stop suddenly having a conscience”.

 

Your mind races again, working out the given angles of the bullet to the target.  Was there another vantage for this? Was this the right time? How can you fix this?  You started to hesitate…

 

“Ghost, complete the mission.” General Thomas is on the line again, speaking directly to you.  You notice the click in your earpiece. “Matt, this is Thomas, you have to do this. You know the atrocities that this man has brought to others.  The collateral is acceptable.”

 

“Negative…there are civilians in the area…no clear shot without secondary casualties……Advise..”  you answered in a closed way, not acknowledging who was on the line. Your gut started to get cold, you knew there was no better vantage, that this was a one time appearance of this target.  After he would enter hiding again and the opportunity would be gone.

 

“Take the shot ghost.” multiple voices are on the line.  All telling your to take the shot. Time is slowing down again, your senses are sharpening.  Your eyes focus down the scope, fingers and hands tighten and loosen in a pattern that is normal for you.  

 

“Say again…”  you ask, just to verify again what is about to happen.  

 

“Take the shot…the civilian are expendable in this situation.” rang in your ears, General Thomas delivered this last message.  As you engaged.

 

“Ghost….Ghost.”  was muffled as your just blocked out the entire world.  The safety of the weapon was disengaged, time just seems to stop in this instant.

 

An almost inaudible click of the trigger being squeezed, then a muffled “wumph” of the round being ignited, then the briefest moment of regret as the round travels from the weapon toward its target. In a heartbeat regret grabs you and takes you down a familiar path..you know what is going to happen in less than 2 seconds…..

 

The Little Ghost took the shot….and watched as large group of civilian festival goers just simply disappear along with the one person they were after.  There would be no body to bury. There would be no closure for family…..they simply ceased to exist and were burned at the pire of avarice and greed, in a mix of phosphorus, gasoline, and butane that ignited along the inner city alley that the festival as going down.  The plan had been laid weeks ahead of time. A stockpile of items in certain spots to change the entire block of Middle Eastern Festival of The Heavens Grace turned into a white hot hell of fire, phosphorus gas and death….What had Matt done? He watched through the scope of his weapon as the people…just ceased to be…You took your eye off the reticle of the weapon…stunned….numb….you were floating for a few seconds, like you had been knocked over the head.

 

“Time to go,” your new partner chirps.  In a matter of fact..time to go to work tone, you had not even bothered to get to know him, or even know his real name.  You just didn’t care anymore. You started calling him Cheetah, because he moved quickly with everything he did. He would jog everywhere, and was lighting quick with just about everything involving his hands.  He was certain to be a match to Matt in hand-to-hand combat or anything with drawing a sidearm. Matt had an okay skill set in that regard, but was never that good or fast with it. His strength was always planning for out of the box solutions, not mixing it in close, even though he was getting better before Danny died, it was not something he wanted to do anymore.  

 

“What…okay” you stumble with your words.  Sitting up, letting our eyes adjust to the light of dusk.

 

“Ghost get with it….you’re seriously sliping”  barks Cheetah

 

“Fuck you, we just killed a bunch of innocent people to get one person.  That doesn’t make this right, or even close to justified. This is so far off the grid, that I can’t believe our country even condones this…” you snapped.  Inside you knew this was off the grid, and more than likely a “
Pay-to-Play” operation, but just did not want to believe it.  The more you had been in contact with this unit, the more your perception has been widened.  There was an underbelly to the world, a small group within the military that was outside the scope of normal operations, and yet needed at the same time.  It really was funny when you had sat back and watched things during your off time between missions. The other members of the unit were rejects in every sense of the word, but possessed a unique skill set nonetheless.  The normal special operations forces did lots of things, but when an operation was deemed to risky for the normal assets, the Ravens were asked to complete it.

~~

You see reader, it all boils down to investment.  Take for example a US Navy Seal. The military will devote almost a million dollars to the training, education and readiness of each person from the start of their career to the end.  So, every operation is weighed against the, ‘Can we afford to lose this asset?” So, when an opearton is deemed to ‘ expensive’. You would get the Ravens. Okay…back to the story.

~~

“Right or Wrong, it’s a job, your getting paid.  You can start having morals after we get back. I want no more than to be rid of you. The broken Raven, an operative who just can’t get over his spotter being dead.  Look, I don’t like you, actually General Thomas codels you, besides, I don’t think our country of origin knows about this. Damn it, let’s go. “ The new spotter just glared at you, got up abruptly and started to gather gear.  You are in a state of shock or just numb. You get up, not saying more than two words all the way back to the railyard, which was the HQ for this little operation.

 

The whole debrief and evac seem to be happening outside and around you, like its just white noise, a buzzing in your ears.  You help, finding your way to loading a few of the crates of gear and getting inside the last van to make an exit from the area.  If you had not been so lost in your thoughts, you may have caught the signs. The little things that would have keyed you off to danger, threats and otherwise prepared you for what was going to happen next.  

 

The vehicle had stopped, you had been staring at the floor the whole time.  Then, like the air suddenly cleared, your mind un-clouds, all your senses explode in color, and light.  A whisper in your ear, a familiar yet foreign voice speaks. “….get out, stay alive, move NOW…” You’re sitting in the middle of the van, the driver spins around, weapon ready.  It happens again, time slows down, you shift around, grabbing his forearm, pulling him toward you over the seat, and snapping the bone. In the brief half-second, you disarm him, and place a single round through in his nose, into his skull, muffling the sound in the floor of the van..Your alone.  “….one person to take me out…..no, the van is rigged….get out.” Another second passes, as you try the doors…locked….dumping the crate of gear, you climb into a mobile rally crate.,.another second passes, you know what’s coming…..then the van explodes into a little ball of fire. The crate pushed free of the crumbled vehicle. Pulling yourself out of the crate, ears ringing, breath coming in rasps, looking at the wreckage…..stumbling off, the voice comes again, a whisper in your ear?  In your mind? “…stay low, make the call, friends waiting.” it’s time to get home and get some payback.

 

~~ a few Miles Away~~

 

“General Thomas, The Ghost is still alive.” mutter the intel officer, Burke.

 

“Of course he is.  He is harder to kill that you can possibly know.  Keep on him, and monitor his direction,” said the General, turning toward his new partner.  “It’s time you get to take him out, I know you’ve been wanting to for so long.”

 

“A pleasure, you coddled that one too long.  He should have been culled after his partner got killed.  You saw it then, that he was no longer an asset. Curious, why did you keep him?”

 

“Make it clean, make it quick” snapped the General.  Inside he knew that the spotter was not going to find Matt.  He earned the moniker ‘Ghost’ for a reason. He could blend in and meld himself into his surroundings with an uncanny ease.  It was like a special radar that was constantly attuned to everything that was around him. Clothing would be swapped, he would make sure he even smelled like everyone else.  In a brief few moments he turned the mental tape backward to the time Matt was in training and how he had observed the little Airman, go from sacrificial lamb, to hardened steel killer in a matter of weeks.  However, that was what the Raven program was designed to do. Take members of the civilian service and military ranks, that would not normally qualify for true special forces duty and see what they could do without the rigid expectations of that group.  They were all expendable, most were sworn to secrecy, formally discharged from the service they were in, and then reinstated 30 or 60 day later. Paid in bonuses through the defense pay system, so there would not be any raised flags in the process. They did not get any of the normal perks of hazardous service, akin to normal military operations.  They were nameless, and faceless. They would come and go with ease through other military bases, yet they were respected among the military. Not for their accolades, far from it. It was for the expendability. They were the throw away forces, taking the most risks of anyone, it was not a focus on survival, or even coming back home, but on completing the mission.  It took a very diverse and slightly psychotic group to pull this off with any regularity.

 

“Don’t worry, I will, the little pet of yours needs to be put down, just like all animals that outlive their usefulness” the spotter snapped as he turned and walked out of the room.

 

~~ Miles away~~

 

Matt’s mind was clearing, it was time to make an escape plan.  He stole a pay-as-you-go phone, and dialed Luke, blending into a corner of the market.  Taking off his jacket and dropping most of the contents of his pockets in trash cans. He had to change his appearance and fast.  It would be minutes before the other members of the unit would descend on him.

 

“Luke, I don’t have time.  Its an Aura-Event..do you understand”  It was code between the two. Against orders, he came to an understanding with his husband on what he was involved with and were the deposits had come from in the joint accounts.  Both knew is was black money, and they would pay for it some day.

 

“Yes, tell me what to do.” Luke said plainly, not wanting to let on that he was scrambling internally, scared for what was about to happen.  Plans and actions were swirling through his head. It was a game of chess. However, there was not any room to sacrifice any of the players, and the board had gotten lean in the last 45 minutes.

 

“Go to my desk…now” Responded Matt, listening intently to the doors opening and closing and the dogs barking in the background.  He missed them.

 

“I’m here” Luke responded. Knowing that whatever was about to happen, was going to be fast and rocky.

 

“Open the middle drawer, grab the blue folder, open it, and follow the instructions…and I will come home alive, deviate and it will be a casket….do you understand” Matt stated, trying to keep all emotion out of this, it was not a time for emotions or feelings.  Both he and Luke had to be clear and purpose driven.

 

“I do. Be safe, Do whatever you have to, Kill whoever is in your way, come back to me.” Luke said.  He would follow the directions. The two had made several evac plans, set aside gear and other things that would be needed.  It was a thing that Luke just hated. He did not like always being prepared for the worst, but hoping or a better day. He was an Andy Griffith kind of guy, Disney show tunes and all that.  

 

“I plan on it.” Matt responded and ended the call.  He knew that all outbound calls would be getting scrubbed and eventually they would stumble on the call to home that he just made, but if luck were on Matts side, it would take them an hour or so, the time Luke needed to make calls and get out of the house.  The next call Matt made had been coming for over 5 months. He knew this was the end of everything, but Matt saw no other option.

 

You listed to the rigning, partially holding your breath.  Praying that your friend was at his desk and not at lunch, or coffee break, or chasing tail in the office.

 

“Hello, this is Agent Andrews, Federal Bureau of Investigation, how may I help you?”

 

Sighing slightly “Jason, its Matt.  It’s an Aura Event, information coming.  Extraction needed.”

 

“Understood. Location?”  The mood shifting immediately into a heightened state of work. Matt could hear keys being tapped on Jason’s keyboard and other clicks on the line. He knew others were now listening.   

 

Waiting until after several clicks, you answer “Dubai, central region, headed toward the embassy”

 

“Divert, Divert….stay clear, protests right now.. Go to the east safe house, I will text the address.”

 

“Can you give me any top cover, they’re coming for me”

 

“Not immediately.  What’s your current location.” Jason asks.  You hear more tapping of keys.

 

“Nakheel Tower Station.”

 

“I will text the # of a supply cache in the lockers at the next stop with the code.  After you get it, destroy the phone, they will have it by now.

 

“Understood” you answer with a machine like tone.  Your head was spinning, but an eerie calm had come over you.  Making it to the locker and keying the code, you quickly grabbed one of the duffle bags and a small backpack and made a fast exit toward the toilets. Snapping the phone you were using, taking the battery out, rendering it junk.  Inside you open the larger of the duffels you find typical contents. A change of clothing, something to cover your head, eyes and hands, luckily, the shoes fit. Two blades, small supply kit, money, and a sidearm, with 30 rounds, and another phone.  “…this will have to do”, mumbling to yourself as you dress, and get ready to move. Finishing; the clothes you were wearing went in the trash. Walking out, the voice came again in that moment. “….watch your back, they can track you, figure it out.”  

 

Mingling with the glut of people that were moving toward the trains, you board one heading into the city, staying inside of the glut of people.  The feeling of apprehension ebbed as you stood thinking. “..they can track me. It can’t be in the cloths, every stitch was new, the only things I keep on me is my watch and pendant.”  The pendant was an silent sign of love between you and Luke, irreplaceable. But you had do dump it all and observe to see what happened.. So as the next station, you exit with the glut of people and hand your pendant and watch to one of the beggars lining the inside of the station. Making a u-turn, you get back on the train as it pulls out of the station.  Through the window, you see your handler, come down the stairs and make his way toward the beggar, looking confused. He turns a circle, but you slip from sight down the tunnel and emerge onto the raised rail line, headed toward the city center. Just one more stop and you will be at the same house. You pocket vibrates; answering.

 

“Yes,” saying little

 

“Matt, yes or no, are you being tracked?” Jason asked.

 

“Yes”

 

“Did you determine how” Jason is gauging how fast the General is trying to erase the asset.

 

“Yes”

 

“Can you make the next stop, exit the station, find the blue sign with a compass rose on it.  Inside ask for ‘Markus’. Understand? This was the closest thing to an secure location they had.  

“Yes”

 

Click…the line went dead.  The station approached. Making an exit, you easily find the blue sign with the compass rose.  It was a travel station of all things. Making the quick walk across the plaza, you enter. “May I speak to Markus?” asking the young female.  

 

“May I tell him who is asking,”  she asks.

 

Stumbling a little with your words.  “A good customer, that would like to thank him,  Mike Aurora”.

 

“The young lady picks up her phone, touches a few buttons and delivers the message.  In seconds, the back office door opens and Markus comes out to take me back into his office.  You were safe. This was a storefront safehouse. Inside you are asked a few security questions, which are answered quickly and honestly.  After a few minutes, the phone of the desk rings and the handset is passed to you.

 

“Matt it’s Jason.  We have Luke, and all the documents.  You knew how fast things would go, Luke was picked up by local law enforcement, and he is enroute now to HQ.

 

“Good” You answer, and audibly and physically deflate as you had been holding your breath.  Luke was the one thing that Matt struggled to plan for. It was not that luke would not do what Matt has instructed, it was that Luke, by nature, second guessed everything, and that hesitation could cause trouble.

 

“A transport is en-route to get you, also authorities  are moving to stop the Generals Operations. Everything you sent has been verified as credible.  You are being moved back to the states via concealed transport. Looks like that Senator you save last year, is in your corner, and most everyone in the office as well”

 

“Thats a good thing, tell Luke I will be home more now…”  You can feel the internal dam of emotions starting to crack.  You needed to have some alone time to let all this out and deal with it  

 

“I will. He is being brought in and I have been assigned to watch him.”  Jason was actually pretty fond of Matt, and the regarded each other as brothers.

 

“You know General Thomas is going to fight this, as well as everyone else in the unit.”  You did not tell Jason anything that he was not ready for. It was always a fine line between sanctioned operations and something that was truly off the grid.  

 

“Dont worry. It would seem that Utah is going to be your new home for a while.  We are moving Luke at the same time, you will be seeing him in about 12 hours.” Jason knew that these two would be fine, but they would be moved and placed in a form of witness protection

 

“So, that’s it. I get to start over.”

 

“Yep….new everything.”

 

“Everything?” You ask a little worried.

 

“Yes.  Agents are already enroute to your home in Texas.  It will be packed as is and be gone in several hours.  The dogs and cat are being taken care of, and the horses are being moved to a local shelter.  Looks like, as always, you have thought and planned for every detail.”

 

“I try”

 

“Okay, Kangaroo Cowboy, get some rest, food, and come off the ledge.  It’s all in motion, and cannot be stopped by anyone.” Jason was reassuring to Matt, trying to get him to relax and not be so on edge.

 

“Jason, I owe you brother.”  matt muttered, almost in tears.

 

“Don’t worry, I will add it to my Tab.  At some point, I will call it…and you will have to pay up.  Maybe with that awesome spaghetti you make.”

 

“It’s a deal.”  your tone lighter.

 

Then the phone line goes dead.  The next 12 hours are tense, but also super quiet.  You eat quietly on whatever you are given. The short ride to a civilian regional airstrip.  Boarding a Gulfstream G650, you settle into the seat, and start to drift as the engines spool up and the plane makes a quick takeoff.  You had kept an eye out the window of on the way to the airport, looking for anything suspicious, but nothing was ever there. It would seem that operations had indeed been halted and forces recalled.

    

The next 60-ish days are a bit fuzzy as life settles down.  All the nasty that your diaries and logs outlined was turned over.  Some 4,000 pages of handwritten text, maps, pictures, details. You had been prudent when turning down the path of Killer for God and Country.  You had contacted authorities and contacts in the FBI and CIA, but kept working and gathering real time evidence.  But the catalyst for all this…..You keep replaying in your mind…It still haunts you to this day. Its funny how an entire course of your life was changed with a 30 minute conversation……and a random IED in a roadside tea stand.  

 

~~  10 months earlier, just after the last story on another mission in the middle east~~

 

“Matt you are not a machine.  You have feelings….what the fuck?  Have you shut them off or are you really turning into the psychopath that the General wants you to be”  Danny barked at you as the vehicle you were driving pulled up a roadside street food vendor.

 

“I have them, but not when i’m working” you answer, knowing that it’s a partial lie.  You have started to enjoy some of this, not all the parts of the job, but it has perks.

 

“Seriously, stop being coy.  I’m the spotter, but you pull the trigger.  You can’t tell me you don’t think about it sometimes.”

 

“I do, but I have to lock it away, otherwise it would bother me”

 

“Okay, so you do have feelings.”

 

“I do, and they are deep and strong, but they also affect me if I dont keep them in check.”

 

You let the conversation go further during your meal.  If you both had not been so engrossed, you both would have noticed, the little package dropped at the front of the vehicle, and the departure of the few people that were around.  

 

The vehicle exploded as you both entered, Danny had been standing with the door open, and the blast took his legs, and knocked you cold.  When you came back to consciousness, Danny was in the passenger seat, returning fire. He had put a tourniquet around one of his legs and used the seatbelt to fashion one for the other.  Your hand been impaled to your right chest plate. Pulling yourself free, you click your radio and put in the trouble call. Then pulling Danny out of the vehicle you place another tourniquet on his other leg.  From here you keep returning fire, reloading and returning fire.

 

“Go, leave me here” Danny barks and half screams.

 

“Fuck you”  you reload and take down another person firing at you.  They are largely local, without any rifle training or discipline.  Easy targets actually.

 

“Were almost out of Ammo, get out  while you can. Just come back for my body.”

 

“No, I’m not doing that.”  You struggle with it, knowing he’s right, that you are getting closed on, there are no great vantage points or cover to speak of.

 

Danny pushes you back and away and pulls the pin from a grenade, holding the spoon tightly in his hand.  He tossed his last full magazine to you. “Circle around and kill them all. Tell Judy I loved her.”

 

Looking at him for a moment, you, get ahold of yourself.  This situation grim, Danny would not survive, he had lost way to much blood.  Nodding, you belly crawled back and away from the vehicle, into a sewer drain and made your way under the street and into the river you were beside.  Reaching water, you looked up to hear the grenade going off. Hopeful that he had taken out a few of them. Your radio chirps, the evac helo was en route.  You have to make it to the extraction point. As before when you thought he was dead, now Danny was dead. Your conscience would be clear. You killed that day, avenged your partner 1000 fold.  Everyone on the way to extraction was a target, you arrived at extraction a gory mess, and an emotional wreck.

 

Later that night at debrief, calm came your soul and body.  It was here you realized that given all the skill in the world, you were not a machine, and this all had to stop, but could you get off the ride and still keep your life…

 

~~~

Epilogue

 

As it turns out, there were many within the operations community that had come out against General Thomas and how the unit was handled.  You had not been the only witness to this, and many, including his intel Officer Burke has testified against him. After the first testimony, life settled down to normal and you went back to the real military.  Wearing a uniform and trying to raise a family. Getting lost in it, your life would seem to be working out for the better.

 

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