Kajagugu © 2008
It wasn't supposed to be this cold. I made it a high priority to check the forecast all week and let everyone know how cold it was going to get. Can't trust the fucking weatherman, I thought to myself. I should have prepared better. It's not like I can go back now and get an extra set of gloves for everyone or some heat packs, right? We were more than twenty kilometers inside enemy territory, laying in a star ambush formation on the frozen ground, just waiting for those idiots to show up. And I've been there, awake, for over 48 hours.
Terrorists love anniversaries. It's common knowledge in the military intelligence field. If something bad happened on a certain day, they would either try for a repeat or try something new to commemorate the occasion. The problem is that so many terrible things have happened already, that the calendar is pretty much full. So now, every day could bring a new threat. But this time we had real information. We knew they were coming. We knew where they were heading, how they planned to get there and how many they will be. They did it before, a long time ago and we were not prepared. They killed innocent women and children. We were not going to let it happen again. Not on my watch.
Planning this lethal operation had to happen on an extremely shortened schedule. No time for fancy maps and diagrams. We only had a couple of dry runs to make sure everyone knew what they were supposed to do. We had less than 48 hours before they would be leaving on their mission. We had to select the teams, arm them with the right weaponry and knowledge and make sure they were in position without being detected. And then we just had to wait.
Our side consisted of three teams of 12 highly-trained, barely past their teenage years, elite infantry soldiers. And me. I had been with the unit for a few months now and had earned my place by showing my capabilities. I did not have to use my rifle. I just had to use my brain. I had the power to blanket the whole area with exploding shells fired from a big distance. I was their Artillery Officer. I brought with me the power to crush any target, provide smoke cover for a rescue operation or sneak attack and with a few words I could light up the night sky. They couldn't do it without me. And I was happy to be there.
When we crossed the border we had to avoid detection and make it quickly to our destination. We had decoy units who crossed the border with us and then led the UN peacekeeping soldiers on a wild goose chase. With these fools out of the way we moved swiftly and silently. Twenty kilometers go by pretty fast when you're pumped full of adrenaline. We reached our target in a little over three hours and made an initial sweep. Then we got in position and I located the targets. I easily spotted the intersection, the old barn, the hill top and mosque down the road. They were all where they were supposed to be. I took a few measurements to confirm the coordinates and everything checked out just fine. My boys back beyond the border had their cannons aimed for the past few hours. One command from me and this whole landscape would erupt.
Now we just had to wait for them. The reports said they would arrive in two vehicles, possibly two beat-up green Mercedes sedans. They would come to the intersection and each driver would drop off a team of three with their gear. They would split up and follow two separate paths. But they wouldn't get very far. We had them out-numbered six to one, not including the drivers. The drivers were going to wait until they made sure their passengers did not need a quick evacuation. Two of our teams were in position to strike these threesomes about thirty seconds after they left the vehicles. It was my job to take care of the drivers.
It wasn't supposed to be so cold, but I liked it anyway. It kept us alert. It kept the guys from losing concentration and dozing off. You'd be surprised how easy it is to lose focus and fall asleep after staring at the same scenery for 48 hours without moving. At one point doubt starts creeping in as well. Did we miss them? Did they sniff us out? Did they change plans and we were in the wrong place? Are they bringing reinforcements? You have to stay focused on the mission and not worry about other things. That's what back-up plans are for.
And then it just happened. At first it felt like a slow motion scene out of a movie. The two cars arrived with their headlights off. We could see them approach through our thermal imaging systems. When they stopped at the intersection we could see by the light of the moon that they were in yellow and orange Mercedes sedans, not green. They quickly got out, put on their gear and quietly went down the pre-determined paths as planned. I was going to strike first.
I knew it would take the shells about thirteen seconds to hit that intersection. All I had to do was count it down and give the command at the right time. We heard distant, faint, cannon roars. It wasn't loud enough or too unusual for anyone to notice. All of a sudden the intersection burst into a gigantic, scorching ball of fire, heat and light, being struck by eight shells simultaneously. At the exact same moment our other two teams opened fire on the surprised terrorists. They didn't stand a chance. Just like those women and children didn't stand a chance years ago.
And just like that, it was over. And it didn't feel too cold anymore.
Kajagugu is a wannabe poker player and veteran world traveler who now lives in Atlanta.