CALLED TO DUTY by Doug Murray

EXTRACT FOR
CALLED TO DUTY 
(Doug Murray)


PROLOGUE

ANBAR PROVINCE

It had been a long and difficult mission—long enough and tiring enough for SFC Robert Piper to grab some sleep in the back of his team’s truck rather than ride in the usual shotgun slot in front.
That decision saved his life.
Piper was sound asleep when the IED went off, lifting the front end of the truck nearly ten feet into the air while a hail of makeshift shrapnel killed the driver and the SPEC-4 who’d taken Piper’s seat.
When the bomb went off, Piper was having a pleasant dream about home and Lisa, the woman he’d loved since they’d first met in High School. He’d found a spot at the very back of the truck that had enough room for his six foot four inch frame to sprawl out. That meant that when the front of the truck lifted into the air, Piper was dropped—quite rudely—into the middle of a deadly ambush.
“What the hell!” He bellowed as he smashed into the hot asphalt of the roadway, barely conscious of the truck cartwheeling away from him. He bounced and slid, still cursing, until his body slammed into the berm of hard packed sand that formed the edge of the roadbed.
Instantly he found himself under fire.
Insurgents with an IED got the truck! He realized as, now fully awake, he rolled away from the bullets impacting the asphalt all around him.
He low-crawled over the berm, putting a little cover between him and the enemy fire, crouching behind that very tentative shelter, he turned to see what had happened to the rest of his team…
Just as his truck bounced one last time before striking the berm on the opposite side of the road. It punched halfway through before sliding to a halt in a more or less upright position.
Its front end, he noted, was mangled beyond recognition.
I’ve got to see if anyone else survived! Piper thought as he stared at what was left of the truck. Although I’m not sure how that could have happened…
Piper popped up over the berm long enough to have a look around before being forced duck back down by a new flurry of gunfire.
Those’ve gotta be the ragheads who set off the IED, he groped around for his rifle—but found that the lanyard designed to secure it to his body armor had been shredded at some point in his travels.
The M-4 was gone.
Great! He drew his handgun and jacked a round into the chamber. Now where are those…?
He ducked low and tried to push himself under the sand as another flurry of gunfire came from above.
He could feel the bullets slam into the sand around him.
This is not good, he thought, eyeing the rise that ran alongside the road. They’ve got the high ground and automatic weapons! I have… He looked at his Browning. This!
He turned toward the truck, hoping against hope that just one of his squad had survived, if they had, there might be a chance…
He heard a noise from what was left of the truck—a rustling sound followed by the appearance of a familiar face...
Gianelli! The RTO still had the radio strapped to his back—but he wasn’t trying to use it—he wasn’t trying to do anything more than fight his way clear of the truck.
He looks dazed, Piper thought. I don’t think he’s really aware of what’s going on—instinct is pushing him toward the light. Piper’s eyes widened with shock when Gianelli, using his right hand only, pushed his chest and head free of the truck—and rolled forward and out—revealing what was left of him.
God! Piper’s eyes widened. His left arm is completely gone! Piper stared at the man. It must have been sheared off by the blast. He watched as Gianelli struggled to be free of the truck. He’s bleeding pretty badly—it’s a miracle he’s still alive!
A moment later, Gianelli half-jumped, half-fell from the back of the truck and into the sand below. He pushed himself upright, barely able to stand, before staggering unsteadily away from the wreck.
He took one step, two steps…
Gunfire exploded from the top of the rise—a lot more than before. There are more shooters up there now, Piper realized. Their leader must have called for reinforcements…
He heard a bullet spang off Gianelli’s body armor; another hit him in left leg.
Blood exploded from the wound…
Gianelli cried out mindlessly and fell to the ground. He tried to get back on his feet, tried to crawl forward—and found he couldn’t move. Crying, he gave up; rolling himself into a fetal position, arm in front of his eyes as he tried to hide.
The insurgents did not take pity on the wounded man. They kept firing, hitting the Gianelli again and again. The RTO cried like a baby as he was hit in the legs over and over …
He screamed when one well-aimed shot hit him squarely in the groin—and was silenced an instant later as an AK-47 round hit him in the head...
Piper shook his head in disbelief and horror. The man had barely managed to clear the remains of the truck before he had been—quite literally—shot to pieces.
I might have saved him if I had been able to give him cover fire; Piper looked at the unmoving body of the youngster who had served with him for months. But with my rifle gone, I couldn’t even do that!
He shook his head and took a moment to check the load on his Browning. I can’t do much for myself, either.
Then he realized that the squad radio—the PRC-117F—was still strapped to the dead man’s back.
It looks like it might be intact, he thought for a long moment. If I can reach it—and if it works—I might be able to call in an airstrike…
More gunfire sounded from the hillside above. The insurgents had apparently decided that Piper couldn’t escape from his position so, having seen Gianelli crawl out of the truck, they’d decided it would be smart to make sure there were no other survivors.
The canvas top of the five ton rippled from the impact of round after round of AK-47 ammo…
I’ve got to get to that radio, Piper decided. If I stay here, they’ll come down on my flanks…
He waited until the fire slowed.
They’re reloading, he took a deep breath, got a firm grip on his handgun…
And made a full-speed dash for the truck.
The sudden and unexpected move took the gunmen on the ridge by surprise. It took nearly three full seconds for them to react—more than enough time for Piper to slide behind the tires on the right hand side of the truck.
Okay! He pulled himself into a ball, tight enough to use the thick rubber and metallic belt of the tire as a shield against the insurgent fire. If these guys continue to show their usual lack of fire discipline…
They did—the insurgents kept firing at full automatic, spraying and praying that they’d get a hit.
AK-47’s on automatic chew up ammunition at a rate of about a hundred rounds a minute. Piper knew that the insurgents always fired on automatic and would run their magazines dry in a very short time. He stayed under cover and waited until the firing sputtered to an halt before making his move. I hope nobody up there saved a few rounds...
Firing his pistol blindly toward the men on the hill (hoping to keep their heads down), Piper scrambled out from behind the tires and grabbed the webbing that held the radio on Gianelli’s back.
He didn’t intend—and had no time—to undo the buckles and snaps that held it in place. Instead, he emptied what was left of his magazine in the insurgents’ direction and dragged the RTO’s body back behind the cover of the big tire.
He had just gotten beside the body when the insurgents completed their reload and opened fire again…
Now let’s see if this was worth the effort, he steeled himself and unbuckled the radio, pulling it away from his dead friend’s back. If this thing took a hit …
He made a quick inspection. Found no holes, no obvious dents…
It seems okay. He rested the radio against the back of the massive tire sheltering him and switched it on, picking up the headset as soon as he saw the dials light up…
“Rainbow Echo Five Five,” he spoke as clearly as he could. “I say again, Rainbow Echo Five Five is requesting immediate assistance. My vehicle is disabled and I am under fire…”
“Rainbow Echo Five Five, this is Hunter One Niner. The return transmission was strong and clear. “State position, over.”
“I am on Highway 80—that is Highway eight-zero somewhere between Mosul and Al Khidhir,” Piper paused. “Can’t give it to you finer than that—I was asleep when the truck took the hit.”
“Roger Rainbow Echo Five Five,” the voice seemed unperturbed. “I have a GPS fix on your radio and an asset in the air.” A pause. “Three minutes out—can you hold on?”
“Yeah,” Piper nodded. “I’ve got good cover and...” He checked his remaining magazines. “Thirty rounds of ammo—that should last me three minutes.”
“Roger, stay on the line and I will let you know when the asset is approaching.”
“Roger Hunter One Niner,” Piper took in a deep breath. “And many thanks.”
“Don’t thank me, man.” The other’s voice seemed amused. “Thank the boys at ‘General Atomics’ who built the damn Predators—I don’t think there’s anything else in the area that could reach you in time.”
“Roger that,” Piper took a quick look up the rise—the insurgents were still there. “Although I’ll be happy to buy you a cold one if I get out of this.”
“I’ll hold you to that.” The other man chuckled. “One minute. Give me your exact position.”
“I am sheltering under what’s left of a five ton truck on the south side of the highway—the Insurgents are on the North side of the road on top of a rise.”
“Roger that,” there was a long pause. “I see them now.” Another pause. “Stay down…”
The top of the ridge suddenly exploded in smoke, flame, and dust.
“Looks like a good hit with the Hellfire,” Piper heard. “Stay down while I make a strafing run…”
“Strafing run?” Piper frowned. “I thought you were flying a Predator, they can’t…”
Piper stopped in mid-sentence as bullets hit just to his right. He ducked away, the Browning automatically coming up into firing position…
And saw four insurgents—each armed with an AK-47—approaching from his right.
I guess they got bored! He realized. And realized that I wasn’t going to give them a clear shot He flicked the safety off the Browning. So they decided to try to flank me!
He dropped the pistol’s sights onto the closest man’s chest. Wish I had a rifle… And squeezed the trigger.
The target jolted to a stop so suddenly he might have run into a wall, and then crumpled to the ground in a heap.
Piper nodded to himself. As long as they just spray and pray and don’t stop to aim…
He fired again—and the second man dropped in his tracks, blood spurting from his forehead.
One of the two survivors began shouting orders and broke to one side.
They’re going to try to take me from both sides. Piper thought. I’ll go for the leader first… He tracked the man running to his right, allowed his finger to take first pressure on the trigger…
Thunder sounded in the sky behind him as the drone made a second run, this time firing a minigun that Piper could see was in a weapons pod slung beneath a wing.
The two surviving insurgents barely had time to look up before dozens of 30mm depleted uranium rounds chewed them into bloody chunks…
A moment later, the Predator banked and made a long strafing run along the ridge line, scattering bloody bits of insurgent in all directions.
The fight was over.
“I think you’re clear now,” the voice on the radio told him. “I have a medevac on the way and I’ll orbit the site until it gets there.”
“Roger that,” Piper nodded. “One question.”
“Ask.”
“What’s your name?”
The man chuckled. “Farrell,” the voice told him. “Franklyn Fitzgerald Farrell.”
“Alright, Mr. Farrell,” Piper grinned. “I’ll be looking to get you that drink!”
“And I’ll be waiting.” There was a short pause. “Chopper on approach now—good luck, Sergeant.”
“How do you know I’m a Sergeant?”
“I’m CIA,” Farrell chuckled. “I have your file in front of me right this minute.”
“What does it say?”
“It says that I should be the one offering you a drink—and a job.”
“I might take you up on both,” Piper looked at Gianelli’s lifeless body. “I’m getting kind of tired of the one I have now.”
***
The Medevac chopper didn’t wait to pick up the bodies of Piper’s men—a truck from graves registration was already on the way to take care of that unhappy chore and the pilot had orders to fly Piper directly to Camp Freedom for a meeting with higher command—and the pilot had enough experience not to keep the brass waiting.
“Why do they want to talk to me?” Piper asked the warrant officer flying the Apache. “I mean, I expected to go through a debrief but figured I’d have time to get a shower and a change of clothing…”
“No clue,” the pilot shrugged. “All I know is that I was ordered to get you back as quickly as possible—no loitering, no delays, and no excuses.”
“Crap,” Piper began thinking of ways he might have screwed up. Are they pissed that I wasn’t in the front seat of the truck? He frowned at the thought. Was there some kind of ‘instruction’ on that I missed? He didn’t know and, as Camp Freedom’s helipad loomed ahead, he knew he wouldn’t have time to look it up—if he had any idea of where to look. All he could do was wait and see what was to come…
***
“You’re Piper?” The man who met him at the helicopter door was short and wiry; with hair long enough to mark him as a civilian despite the cammo fatigues identical to Piper’s—albeit fatigues that were clean and sans insignia of any kind.
“I am,” the sergeant looked the man up and down. “Who are you?”
A smile split the other man’s face as he stuck out a hand. “Farrell’s the name—Frank Farrell.” the grin widened. “We sort of met a little while ago…”
“Mr. Farrell!” Piper took the offered hand and gave it a firm shake. “Glad to meet you,” he grinned. “I guess this is about that drink?”
“Not just yet,” the shorter man nodded toward a Humvee parked at the edge of the helipad. “You need to report in first—I came to give you a quick debrief,” he shrugged. “And a warning.”
“Warning?”
“Yeah,” Farrell climbed into the Humvee’s driver seat and motioned Piper to join him. “First, you should know that the brass is going to present you with the Silver Star for your recent action.”
“I didn’t do anything…”
“Of course you did,” Farrell put the vehicle into gear and spun the steering wheel. “You killed nine insurgents single-handedly,” he glanced at Piper. “With nothing but a handgun!”
“The Predator…”
“Oh, you did get a little help from the drone’s missile,” Farrell gave him a hard look. “Just the missile because there was nothing else the drone could do...”
“But the strafing run…”
“Predator’s don’t have guns,” Farrell looked at Piper. “You know that.”
“I don’t understand…”
“I’ll give you a full explanation later—when we have that drink. For now, just keep the story straight—you killed the insurgents the Hellfire didn’t get. You and you alone.” Farrell held up his index finger in a rather pedantic gesture. “There was no strafing run—no minigun mounted on a drone--nothing unusual at all. You got some help from a Hellfire missile.” He raised an eyebrow. “The rest was all you.”
The Sergeant nodded slowly. “Yeah, I got it.”
“Good,” Farrell halted the Humvee in front of a large prefabricated building. “I believe this is your headquarters—just smile and take the medal—your wife will be proud of you.”
“Yeah,” Piper nodded. “So will my son.”
“You’ve got a boy?”
“Sean,” Piper smiled. “He’s almost ten.”
“You’re a lucky man,” Farrell slapped him on the back. “A hero with a pretty wife and a son—what more could you ask for?”
“More information?”
“Later.” Farrell nodded toward the door. “After they finish blowing smoke up your ass.”
“Where should I meet you?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Farrell smiled. “I’m your ride—I’ll be right here when you’re done.”
Piper nodded and climbed out of the Humvee—which pulled away the instant he slammed the door closed. I’m not supposed to talk about Drones with chain guns, he nodded to himself. Okay, OK—Farrell saved my life so I owe it to him to play along. He watched the Humvee turn toward the far side of the base. But I’ll expect a hell of an explanation when we have that drink! He stretched, checked his uniform, and headed for the headquarters door, automatically straightening his shoulders as he went.
And Mr. Farrell is definitely the one who’ll be doing the buying!
***
Farrell did buy—but not at the NCO club that Piper frequented. Instead, the shorter man drove them to a very well-appointed bar on the far side of the base where a pretty girl took their order.
“What is this place?” Piper looked around. “I never heard anything about an O-Club in this quadrant.”
“It’s a private club,” Farrell smiled. “Civilian contractors…” His smile widened. “And their guests, of course.”
“So I’m your guest?”
Farrell nodded before leaning forward. “How did your debrief go?”
“Nobody asked anything about armed drones, if that’s what you’re asking,” Piper told him. “They just talked about what a great job I did and how proud they all are.” He looked at his companion. “They let me talk to my wife—already had her on the phone when I walked in.”
“Nice of them.”
“Yeah, nice.” Piper nodded slowly. “Now why don’t you tell me about what you’re doing here—and how do you come to have impossibly-armed Predator drones.”
“Okay,” Farrell took a quick look around. “First, as I told you back there, I’m not some damn contractor—I’m CIA.”
“Yeah, I remember that.”
“I’m here to test a new generation of Predators—drones that are far more mission-capable than the ones we’ve been using up to now.”
“Drones with guns and missiles?”
“And some other things I can’t talk about right now.”
“Okay,” Piper sat back while the pretty girl returned and placed a bottle, two glasses, and a bucket of ice in front of them. When she was gone, he leaned forward, eyes fixed on those of his companion. “What can you talk about?”
“My superiors have had a look at the footage from today’s little escapade—they think you might be a good addition to our team.”
“Me?” Piper’s brow creased. “In the CIA?”
“Why not?” Farrell smiled. “We need all kinds of men—and I think you’d be a real asset. You have a good rep as a leader and a better one as a shooter.”
“Why me?”
“I’ve been through your packet—you have a BA in history and an AA in computer science.” He looked at Piper, eyes narrow. “Which forces me to ask you: Why are you here?”
The soldier poured a drink and took a sip. “Good stuff.”
“Nothing but the best.” Farrell filled his own glass. “And you haven’t answered my question.”
“I’m not sure I can.” Piper finished his drink, poured another. “It’s complicated…”
“I know that your father was career military—I also know that he was in the Khobar Towers when they were bombed...”
Piper nodded.
“So you felt you had to, what, avenge him?”
“Not exactly,” the tall soldier emptied his refilled glass. “I did sort of feel like…” He shrugged. “I felt like I owed him and the others with him something…”
“That’s stupid.”
“Yeah,” Piper grinned. “I know, but…”
“But you still have to do it.” Farrell looked him in the eye. “How does your wife feel about it?”
“Lisa knew all about me when we got married—she’s okay with it…”
“Really?” Farrell shook his head. “She’s happy with that shithole of an apartment? Happy with that beat-up car she’s driving?”
“She’s a soldier’s wife…”
“She doesn’t have to be.” The CIA man poured a second drink. “I can give you the same salary as a GS-13…”
“How much is that?”
“Just over Seventy grand a year.” He looked at Piper. “You can get a decent house, a nice car…”
“You’re serious about this?”
“Dead serious.” Farrell looked Piper squarely in the eye. “Say yes and you leave here tomorrow.”
“Going where?”
“The Farm—it’s where the CIA sends new people for their version of basic training.” Farrell smiled. “I don’t think you’ll have any difficulty graduating.”
Piper thought for a long moment, the faces of Gianelli and the rest of his now-dead team running through his mind’s eye, then…
“Okay,” he held out his hand. “I think you have a new recruit.”
“Good,” Farrell shook. “It’ll be good to have someone I know I can trust in the field with me…”
***

HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN—2 YEARS LATER

“Who chose this spot for a listening post?” Piper shouted into his earbud. “There are two Taliban camps within a half-mile!”
“Just a little mistake,” Farrell’s voice was low and clear in Piper’s ear. “I depended on surveillance information given to me by our friends in Kabul.”
Piper grunted.
“Okay, I was wrong to trust them! We can argue about it when you get back.”
“Yeah—and all I have to do is take out thirty or forty Taliban fighters before I get clear enough for a pick-up.”
“There are way more than that!” Farrell’s tone was almost jovial. “I’ve got a satellite over you right now—and it shows a second large party of Taliban just to the east of your present position.”
“Wonderful!”
“We can handle it—pull back to…” He shuffled some papers in front of him. “Charlie Five on your map. Lots of cover there—fort up and wait.”
“How long,” Piper motioned for his party to move in the indicated direction. “And what are we waiting for?”
“The cavalry of course,” Farrell’s voice was amused. “I have two Predators and a Reaper enroute to your location. They’ll be overhead in three mikes.”
“You’re gonna use us as the anvil for your little drone hammers, aren’t you?”
“Why not? The bad guys are going to do their best to run you down no matter what I do and that position in Charlie Five has lots of cover.” He paused. “You and your team still have plenty of ammo, right?”
“Right.”
“Then just grab some cover, keep your head down, and wait. The drones will do all the hard work.”
“You have a lot of confidence in those damned drones.”
“They’ve saved you more than once!”
“I guess…” Piper muttered as he led his men through a lightly wooded area and up a slope that led to the position Farrell had indicated. “How’re the others doing?”
“Team Four picked up four senior commanders—they’ll have the bastard’s enroute to Gitmo by the time you get back to base.”
“Gitmo?” Piper held up a hand to stop his men, eyes studying the lay of the land in front of him. “I thought the whole idea of taking those guys prisoner was to get Intel? We’re not going to get that in Gitmo—maybe at one of the black sites…”
“Maybe,” Farrell chuckled. “But our masters are busy playing politics right now. Abu Ghraib burned a lot of bridges for the Administration so they think it’s safer to just stick them in Gitmo—out of the way—until things blow over and we can try something else.”
“That makes no sense at all.” Piper started pointing his men to picked positions. “We might as well just let them go.”
“Not our call,” Farrell hesitated. “No talk now—just get your guys under cover as quickly as you can. One of the Taliban groups has reached the base of the hill and is starting up.”
“Roger that,” Piper positioned the last of his men and took the spot he’d decided would be his own. “Make sure your ‘cavalry’ isn’t too late.”
“It won’t be.”
“Good,” Piper laid the red dot of his sight onto the chest of a man just appearing at the edge of their position. “Because those Taliban are here right now.”
He squeezed the trigger and watched the man fall—revealing a second man just behind.
His M-4 spoke again, taking that man down. And the one behind him. And the one behind him…
***
“How many did you end up shooting before the drones got there?” Farrell asked as he poured a single-malt scotch later that evening.
“I didn’t do a head count,” Piper told him, quickly knocking it back. “Twenty-five, maybe thirty.” He reached for the bottle. “If your little terminators had arrived a few minutes later…”
“They didn’t, though.” Farrell smiled. “You know I’m always going to be there for you.”
“Yeah,” Piper took another slug. “I know that.”
“What’s bothering you?”
“I haven’t seen my family in a while,” Piper shrugged. “There’s been no time…” He looked at his friend. “Sean got into trouble—the FBI came to visit.”
“What did he do?”
“Seems he got curious about his grades,” Piper shook his head. “So he hacked into the school’s mainframe to take a look and set off some kind of alarm…”
”That might be my fault.” Farrell smiled sheepishly. “Hackers are going to be a really valuable commodity pretty soon—so I gave Sean a laptop for his Birthday gift—one that has a lot of Agency software loaded into it.”
“He’s only fourteen years old!”
“Young is the best time to learn.” Farrell shook his head. “Hell, I can pilot a drone but it’s a chore for me to program my TiVo! Real computer experts—men and women who can think in code and stay one step ahead of the hackers are the future of counterintelligence.”
“So hackers are the next big threat?” Piper shook his head. “You’ve got some imagination!” He grinned. “Next thing you know, you’ll tell me its pollution!”
“Don’t laugh. Those guys—-the ones out there,” he gestured to the Afghan mountains visible through the O-Club windows. “Might be a problem right now but you know we’re going to handle them when we get serious it. The guys with the computers, though. They’re going to be the next big problem.
He looked at his friend. “The really serious enemy—the one who might be able to beat us—is the one who figures out how to get inside the machines we depend on for so much,” another gesture, upwards this time. “Inside so he can control the satellites that handle our communications and orient our GPS systems. Get into the drones that we send into battle to save pilot’s lives, take control of the systems that keep our Cruise missiles on course…” He looked Piper in the eye. “Negating any of those things would constitute a real threat.”
“Science fiction!”
“Not at all.” Farrell poured another drink. “One of these days, someone’s going to figure out how to break into some important computerized system—maybe the electrical grid, maybe the banks.” He looked at his friend. “That’s when we’re going to be forced to find new ways to fight back.”
“I’ll be long gone by then,” Piper took another drink. “And you’ll probably be the one responsible.” He smiled at his friend. “If it works out that way, find a job for Sean.” He grinned. “He’ll probably be good at it.”
***

OUTSIDE HOMS, SYRIA THREE YEARS LATER

“There’re a lot of ragheads out there,” Piper reported. “I don’t think we have enough security to protect the subject if things go south.”
“Not to worry,” Farrell replied. “We’ve got more men out in the annex, and serious air support less than two hours away.” There was a chuckle. “You’ve got everything you need to hold out for two hours, don’t you?”
“I guess.” Piper shrugged. “Although I’m surprised that you don’t have drones ready to fly in and bust things up at a moment’s notice.”
“There are none in range.” Farrell’s voice was half-angry, half-joking. “We requested one or two to keep in orbit overhead but State said it would be ‘provocative’.”
“And State is never wrong.”
“They do have one of their top people out there with you. I doubt they’d just throw him to the wolves.”
“I don’t know—remember what happened in Benghazi…” There was a long pause. “Hold one; they’re getting a little noisy down there…”
Farrell glanced at the monitor that showed the various video feeds he had managed to get on line. The crowd outside the residence they’d chosen for the meeting was certainly growing larger—and he could see raised fists and yelling faces.
“We’re starting to take some gunfire now,” Piper reported as he came back on the line. “Just the odd potshot but…”
There was a loud crash followed by a long pause before: “That wasn’t a rifle! I think…” Another pause. “Okay, they’ve got mortars out there—and they’ve already got them zeroed in on this place. I doubt we can hold out against that level of firepower…”
“Do what you can,” Farrell picked up his secure telephone. “I’ll get help moving.”
“Roger that.” Farrell heard Piper firing his rifle. “Don’t take too long,” Farrell heard more rifle fire chattering over the connection. “’Cause we don’t have a lot of time …”
There was an explosion just before the line went dead.
Farrell dialed a number on the secure phone and spoke quickly. “This is Farrell at site four-nine. We have activity at the Mission…”
“Roger four-nine, wait one…”
Farrell bit his lip as the line went quiet. On the surveillance screen, he could see more and more activity around the Mission. The crowd now numbered in the hundreds and he could see the flash of weapons coming from far too many places in that crowd.
“Site four-nine?” The voice that came from the phone was eerily calm. “This is Home Base.”
“Roger Home Base.”
“Say again situation?”
“Many—I say again, MANY unfriendlies attacking the residence—I can see rifle fire and my team inside the Mission reports incoming mortar rounds as well.”
“They can’t have mortars,” the voice said. “They haven’t had time to get them into position.”
“My source is there, sir—inside the building.” Farrell snarled. “If he says there are mortars, you can bet there are mortars.”
“All right,” there was a sigh. “I’ll pass this on to higher headquarters and find out what they want us to do.”
“Sir, we have men in harm’s ways—under attack and at risk.”
“Higher headquarters will decide what to do—is that clear?” The voice came back.
“Clear, sir.”
“Good,” another sigh. “Stand by your phone. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
“Roger.” Farrell kept a lid on his temper and did not slam the phone into its cradle as he wanted. Instead, he carefully lowered it as he watched the action in front of the Mission heat up.
Looks like there are a couple of hundred rioters out there, he thought. And Piper’s got—what—four effectives? He glared at the phone. Higher headquarters better make up their minds pretty damn quick or I’ll… Farrell hesitated. What could he do? He only had ten reliable fighters in the Annex. Even if he got all of them into the fight right now, what good could they do?
He stared at the screens, watching as the crowd surging around the Mission grew larger...
Come on, Piper! Hold on! Hold on just as long as you can…
***
Crap! Piper flinched as a mortar round hit the interior courtyard of the building the CIA had chosen for their meeting. A few more hits like that and the walls will come down!
He was scanning the crowd, looking for leaders, assessing threats. Most of the men he could see were just milling around, angered by something they had heard in the Mosque, but not willing to spill blood over it.
Others, however, the ones Piper was really searching for—were far more focused.
There’s one, Piper put the aiming dot of his M-4 on the forehead of a man holding an AK-47 and haranguing a group near the left edge of the crowd.
He’s herding the mob in our direction. Piper thought as he stroked the trigger, keeping his optics on the man long enough to watch the round impact just behind his target’s left eye, caving in that side of his skull.
Okay, that’s one down. He kept scanning, his gaze moving slowly from left to right. Who’s my next customer…?
Another mortar round struck—this one deeper in the courtyard. Piper ducked down as bits of rock hit his back.
Wish we could reach that mortar; he straightened up and resumed his search for targets. If we could knock that out, we might stand a chance…
He saw a man near the center of the crowd hold his arms up and begin to scream in Arabic. That was enough to allow him to drop his sights onto the agitator’s chest and softly squeeze the trigger…
There was a cry to his right. He swiveled to see that Blanchard had gone down. His absence left a chunk of wall free of cover--clear for rioters, some of whom were already climbing over...
They’ve gotten inside the compound, Piper realized. If they get to the gates and open them, the rest will come in. If that happens we’re cooked! He came to a quick decision. I’ve got to stop them! He moved toward Blanchard’s position as he flipped his M-4 to ‘Automatic’ and began hosing the interlopers.
One man dropped. Two. Three…
Piper’s rifle went dry. He pressed the magazine release, pulled a new mag from an ammo pouch, and slid it into place an instant before Piper released the charging handle and opened fire once again …
“Farrell!” He yelled into the earbud pickup as he took another man down. “They’ve broken through our perimeter!”
Even as he spoke, more men came over the wall, all of them carrying automatic rifles of one sort or another.
“I need back-up now! I need it NOW!”
There was no reply.
“Farrell!”
Another mortar round impacted in the courtyard, sending shrapnel zipping through the little compound. Piper winced as a red-hot piece bit into his calf.
No time to worry about that now, he turned toward the men who were now coming over the wall in a steady stream. Got to clear them out…
He killed three, four, ten, a dozen…
“Farrell!” He saw Whitney go down. “Farrell! Where’s the air cover! Where’s…”
The courtyard was filled with rioters now--far too many for to stop with or without air cover.
Piper disengaged and began looking for a way out. If he could reach the main house—he might be able to fort up until help came. If it ever does!
He changed magazines and emptied the new one into the crowd, then smashed the nearest attacker in the face with the rifle butt and drew his pistol…
***
“Crap!” Farrell cursed as he saw Piper go down—overwhelmed by the sheer number of attackers.
Others were already smashing their way into the residence.
He picked up the phone and gnashed his teeth as he waited for headquarters to answer…
“This is Farrell,” he spoke as soon as ‘Home Base’ answered. “Where’s my back-up!”
“Higher Headquarters has ordered all units to stand down.” The answer came.
“Stand down?!” Farrell stared at the phone. “My people are dying! The subject…”
“Your orders are to stand down—do you understand?”
“No,” Farrell snarled. “I do not understand.”
“Agent Farrell—you will stand down. This is an order.”
“Shove your damn order up your ass! I’m not going to let those men die…”
“There’s nothing you can do Farrell. You have no back-up, no air cover.” The voice on the other end of the line hesitated. “Deal with it.”
“Deal with it?” Farrell shook his head. “That’s all you’re going to say?”
“That is all I am at liberty to say.”
“Well screw you!” Farrell yelled into the mouthpiece. “And screw whoever came up with this damned decision.”
“Farrell!”
“What are you going to do?” Farrell sneered. “Are you going to fire me?” He shook his head. “Too late for that!” He was holding the phone at arm’s length now, shouting into the mouthpiece. “I quit!”
He slammed the phone down into the cradle, cracking the hard plastic with the force of his rage.

CALLED TO DUTY by Doug Murray

EXTRACT FOR
CALLED TO DUTY 
(Doug Murray)


PROLOGUE

ANBAR PROVINCE

It had been a long and difficult mission—long enough and tiring enough for SFC Robert Piper to grab some sleep in the back of his team’s truck rather than ride in the usual shotgun slot in front.
That decision saved his life.
Piper was sound asleep when the IED went off, lifting the front end of the truck nearly ten feet into the air while a hail of makeshift shrapnel killed the driver and the SPEC-4 who’d taken Piper’s seat.
When the bomb went off, Piper was having a pleasant dream about home and Lisa, the woman he’d loved since they’d first met in High School. He’d found a spot at the very back of the truck that had enough room for his six foot four inch frame to sprawl out. That meant that when the front of the truck lifted into the air, Piper was dropped—quite rudely—into the middle of a deadly ambush.
“What the hell!” He bellowed as he smashed into the hot asphalt of the roadway, barely conscious of the truck cartwheeling away from him. He bounced and slid, still cursing, until his body slammed into the berm of hard packed sand that formed the edge of the roadbed.
Instantly he found himself under fire.
Insurgents with an IED got the truck! He realized as, now fully awake, he rolled away from the bullets impacting the asphalt all around him.
He low-crawled over the berm, putting a little cover between him and the enemy fire, crouching behind that very tentative shelter, he turned to see what had happened to the rest of his team…
Just as his truck bounced one last time before striking the berm on the opposite side of the road. It punched halfway through before sliding to a halt in a more or less upright position.
Its front end, he noted, was mangled beyond recognition.
I’ve got to see if anyone else survived! Piper thought as he stared at what was left of the truck. Although I’m not sure how that could have happened…
Piper popped up over the berm long enough to have a look around before being forced duck back down by a new flurry of gunfire.
Those’ve gotta be the ragheads who set off the IED, he groped around for his rifle—but found that the lanyard designed to secure it to his body armor had been shredded at some point in his travels.
The M-4 was gone.
Great! He drew his handgun and jacked a round into the chamber. Now where are those…?
He ducked low and tried to push himself under the sand as another flurry of gunfire came from above.
He could feel the bullets slam into the sand around him.
This is not good, he thought, eyeing the rise that ran alongside the road. They’ve got the high ground and automatic weapons! I have… He looked at his Browning. This!
He turned toward the truck, hoping against hope that just one of his squad had survived, if they had, there might be a chance…
He heard a noise from what was left of the truck—a rustling sound followed by the appearance of a familiar face...
Gianelli! The RTO still had the radio strapped to his back—but he wasn’t trying to use it—he wasn’t trying to do anything more than fight his way clear of the truck.
He looks dazed, Piper thought. I don’t think he’s really aware of what’s going on—instinct is pushing him toward the light. Piper’s eyes widened with shock when Gianelli, using his right hand only, pushed his chest and head free of the truck—and rolled forward and out—revealing what was left of him.
God! Piper’s eyes widened. His left arm is completely gone! Piper stared at the man. It must have been sheared off by the blast. He watched as Gianelli struggled to be free of the truck. He’s bleeding pretty badly—it’s a miracle he’s still alive!
A moment later, Gianelli half-jumped, half-fell from the back of the truck and into the sand below. He pushed himself upright, barely able to stand, before staggering unsteadily away from the wreck.
He took one step, two steps…
Gunfire exploded from the top of the rise—a lot more than before. There are more shooters up there now, Piper realized. Their leader must have called for reinforcements…
He heard a bullet spang off Gianelli’s body armor; another hit him in left leg.
Blood exploded from the wound…
Gianelli cried out mindlessly and fell to the ground. He tried to get back on his feet, tried to crawl forward—and found he couldn’t move. Crying, he gave up; rolling himself into a fetal position, arm in front of his eyes as he tried to hide.
The insurgents did not take pity on the wounded man. They kept firing, hitting the Gianelli again and again. The RTO cried like a baby as he was hit in the legs over and over …
He screamed when one well-aimed shot hit him squarely in the groin—and was silenced an instant later as an AK-47 round hit him in the head...
Piper shook his head in disbelief and horror. The man had barely managed to clear the remains of the truck before he had been—quite literally—shot to pieces.
I might have saved him if I had been able to give him cover fire; Piper looked at the unmoving body of the youngster who had served with him for months. But with my rifle gone, I couldn’t even do that!
He shook his head and took a moment to check the load on his Browning. I can’t do much for myself, either.
Then he realized that the squad radio—the PRC-117F—was still strapped to the dead man’s back.
It looks like it might be intact, he thought for a long moment. If I can reach it—and if it works—I might be able to call in an airstrike…
More gunfire sounded from the hillside above. The insurgents had apparently decided that Piper couldn’t escape from his position so, having seen Gianelli crawl out of the truck, they’d decided it would be smart to make sure there were no other survivors.
The canvas top of the five ton rippled from the impact of round after round of AK-47 ammo…
I’ve got to get to that radio, Piper decided. If I stay here, they’ll come down on my flanks…
He waited until the fire slowed.
They’re reloading, he took a deep breath, got a firm grip on his handgun…
And made a full-speed dash for the truck.
The sudden and unexpected move took the gunmen on the ridge by surprise. It took nearly three full seconds for them to react—more than enough time for Piper to slide behind the tires on the right hand side of the truck.
Okay! He pulled himself into a ball, tight enough to use the thick rubber and metallic belt of the tire as a shield against the insurgent fire. If these guys continue to show their usual lack of fire discipline…
They did—the insurgents kept firing at full automatic, spraying and praying that they’d get a hit.
AK-47’s on automatic chew up ammunition at a rate of about a hundred rounds a minute. Piper knew that the insurgents always fired on automatic and would run their magazines dry in a very short time. He stayed under cover and waited until the firing sputtered to an halt before making his move. I hope nobody up there saved a few rounds...
Firing his pistol blindly toward the men on the hill (hoping to keep their heads down), Piper scrambled out from behind the tires and grabbed the webbing that held the radio on Gianelli’s back.
He didn’t intend—and had no time—to undo the buckles and snaps that held it in place. Instead, he emptied what was left of his magazine in the insurgents’ direction and dragged the RTO’s body back behind the cover of the big tire.
He had just gotten beside the body when the insurgents completed their reload and opened fire again…
Now let’s see if this was worth the effort, he steeled himself and unbuckled the radio, pulling it away from his dead friend’s back. If this thing took a hit …
He made a quick inspection. Found no holes, no obvious dents…
It seems okay. He rested the radio against the back of the massive tire sheltering him and switched it on, picking up the headset as soon as he saw the dials light up…
“Rainbow Echo Five Five,” he spoke as clearly as he could. “I say again, Rainbow Echo Five Five is requesting immediate assistance. My vehicle is disabled and I am under fire…”
“Rainbow Echo Five Five, this is Hunter One Niner. The return transmission was strong and clear. “State position, over.”
“I am on Highway 80—that is Highway eight-zero somewhere between Mosul and Al Khidhir,” Piper paused. “Can’t give it to you finer than that—I was asleep when the truck took the hit.”
“Roger Rainbow Echo Five Five,” the voice seemed unperturbed. “I have a GPS fix on your radio and an asset in the air.” A pause. “Three minutes out—can you hold on?”
“Yeah,” Piper nodded. “I’ve got good cover and...” He checked his remaining magazines. “Thirty rounds of ammo—that should last me three minutes.”
“Roger, stay on the line and I will let you know when the asset is approaching.”
“Roger Hunter One Niner,” Piper took in a deep breath. “And many thanks.”
“Don’t thank me, man.” The other’s voice seemed amused. “Thank the boys at ‘General Atomics’ who built the damn Predators—I don’t think there’s anything else in the area that could reach you in time.”
“Roger that,” Piper took a quick look up the rise—the insurgents were still there. “Although I’ll be happy to buy you a cold one if I get out of this.”
“I’ll hold you to that.” The other man chuckled. “One minute. Give me your exact position.”
“I am sheltering under what’s left of a five ton truck on the south side of the highway—the Insurgents are on the North side of the road on top of a rise.”
“Roger that,” there was a long pause. “I see them now.” Another pause. “Stay down…”
The top of the ridge suddenly exploded in smoke, flame, and dust.
“Looks like a good hit with the Hellfire,” Piper heard. “Stay down while I make a strafing run…”
“Strafing run?” Piper frowned. “I thought you were flying a Predator, they can’t…”
Piper stopped in mid-sentence as bullets hit just to his right. He ducked away, the Browning automatically coming up into firing position…
And saw four insurgents—each armed with an AK-47—approaching from his right.
I guess they got bored! He realized. And realized that I wasn’t going to give them a clear shot He flicked the safety off the Browning. So they decided to try to flank me!
He dropped the pistol’s sights onto the closest man’s chest. Wish I had a rifle… And squeezed the trigger.
The target jolted to a stop so suddenly he might have run into a wall, and then crumpled to the ground in a heap.
Piper nodded to himself. As long as they just spray and pray and don’t stop to aim…
He fired again—and the second man dropped in his tracks, blood spurting from his forehead.
One of the two survivors began shouting orders and broke to one side.
They’re going to try to take me from both sides. Piper thought. I’ll go for the leader first… He tracked the man running to his right, allowed his finger to take first pressure on the trigger…
Thunder sounded in the sky behind him as the drone made a second run, this time firing a minigun that Piper could see was in a weapons pod slung beneath a wing.
The two surviving insurgents barely had time to look up before dozens of 30mm depleted uranium rounds chewed them into bloody chunks…
A moment later, the Predator banked and made a long strafing run along the ridge line, scattering bloody bits of insurgent in all directions.
The fight was over.
“I think you’re clear now,” the voice on the radio told him. “I have a medevac on the way and I’ll orbit the site until it gets there.”
“Roger that,” Piper nodded. “One question.”
“Ask.”
“What’s your name?”
The man chuckled. “Farrell,” the voice told him. “Franklyn Fitzgerald Farrell.”
“Alright, Mr. Farrell,” Piper grinned. “I’ll be looking to get you that drink!”
“And I’ll be waiting.” There was a short pause. “Chopper on approach now—good luck, Sergeant.”
“How do you know I’m a Sergeant?”
“I’m CIA,” Farrell chuckled. “I have your file in front of me right this minute.”
“What does it say?”
“It says that I should be the one offering you a drink—and a job.”
“I might take you up on both,” Piper looked at Gianelli’s lifeless body. “I’m getting kind of tired of the one I have now.”
***
The Medevac chopper didn’t wait to pick up the bodies of Piper’s men—a truck from graves registration was already on the way to take care of that unhappy chore and the pilot had orders to fly Piper directly to Camp Freedom for a meeting with higher command—and the pilot had enough experience not to keep the brass waiting.
“Why do they want to talk to me?” Piper asked the warrant officer flying the Apache. “I mean, I expected to go through a debrief but figured I’d have time to get a shower and a change of clothing…”
“No clue,” the pilot shrugged. “All I know is that I was ordered to get you back as quickly as possible—no loitering, no delays, and no excuses.”
“Crap,” Piper began thinking of ways he might have screwed up. Are they pissed that I wasn’t in the front seat of the truck? He frowned at the thought. Was there some kind of ‘instruction’ on that I missed? He didn’t know and, as Camp Freedom’s helipad loomed ahead, he knew he wouldn’t have time to look it up—if he had any idea of where to look. All he could do was wait and see what was to come…
***
“You’re Piper?” The man who met him at the helicopter door was short and wiry; with hair long enough to mark him as a civilian despite the cammo fatigues identical to Piper’s—albeit fatigues that were clean and sans insignia of any kind.
“I am,” the sergeant looked the man up and down. “Who are you?”
A smile split the other man’s face as he stuck out a hand. “Farrell’s the name—Frank Farrell.” the grin widened. “We sort of met a little while ago…”
“Mr. Farrell!” Piper took the offered hand and gave it a firm shake. “Glad to meet you,” he grinned. “I guess this is about that drink?”
“Not just yet,” the shorter man nodded toward a Humvee parked at the edge of the helipad. “You need to report in first—I came to give you a quick debrief,” he shrugged. “And a warning.”
“Warning?”
“Yeah,” Farrell climbed into the Humvee’s driver seat and motioned Piper to join him. “First, you should know that the brass is going to present you with the Silver Star for your recent action.”
“I didn’t do anything…”
“Of course you did,” Farrell put the vehicle into gear and spun the steering wheel. “You killed nine insurgents single-handedly,” he glanced at Piper. “With nothing but a handgun!”
“The Predator…”
“Oh, you did get a little help from the drone’s missile,” Farrell gave him a hard look. “Just the missile because there was nothing else the drone could do...”
“But the strafing run…”
“Predator’s don’t have guns,” Farrell looked at Piper. “You know that.”
“I don’t understand…”
“I’ll give you a full explanation later—when we have that drink. For now, just keep the story straight—you killed the insurgents the Hellfire didn’t get. You and you alone.” Farrell held up his index finger in a rather pedantic gesture. “There was no strafing run—no minigun mounted on a drone--nothing unusual at all. You got some help from a Hellfire missile.” He raised an eyebrow. “The rest was all you.”
The Sergeant nodded slowly. “Yeah, I got it.”
“Good,” Farrell halted the Humvee in front of a large prefabricated building. “I believe this is your headquarters—just smile and take the medal—your wife will be proud of you.”
“Yeah,” Piper nodded. “So will my son.”
“You’ve got a boy?”
“Sean,” Piper smiled. “He’s almost ten.”
“You’re a lucky man,” Farrell slapped him on the back. “A hero with a pretty wife and a son—what more could you ask for?”
“More information?”
“Later.” Farrell nodded toward the door. “After they finish blowing smoke up your ass.”
“Where should I meet you?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Farrell smiled. “I’m your ride—I’ll be right here when you’re done.”
Piper nodded and climbed out of the Humvee—which pulled away the instant he slammed the door closed. I’m not supposed to talk about Drones with chain guns, he nodded to himself. Okay, OK—Farrell saved my life so I owe it to him to play along. He watched the Humvee turn toward the far side of the base. But I’ll expect a hell of an explanation when we have that drink! He stretched, checked his uniform, and headed for the headquarters door, automatically straightening his shoulders as he went.
And Mr. Farrell is definitely the one who’ll be doing the buying!
***
Farrell did buy—but not at the NCO club that Piper frequented. Instead, the shorter man drove them to a very well-appointed bar on the far side of the base where a pretty girl took their order.
“What is this place?” Piper looked around. “I never heard anything about an O-Club in this quadrant.”
“It’s a private club,” Farrell smiled. “Civilian contractors…” His smile widened. “And their guests, of course.”
“So I’m your guest?”
Farrell nodded before leaning forward. “How did your debrief go?”
“Nobody asked anything about armed drones, if that’s what you’re asking,” Piper told him. “They just talked about what a great job I did and how proud they all are.” He looked at his companion. “They let me talk to my wife—already had her on the phone when I walked in.”
“Nice of them.”
“Yeah, nice.” Piper nodded slowly. “Now why don’t you tell me about what you’re doing here—and how do you come to have impossibly-armed Predator drones.”
“Okay,” Farrell took a quick look around. “First, as I told you back there, I’m not some damn contractor—I’m CIA.”
“Yeah, I remember that.”
“I’m here to test a new generation of Predators—drones that are far more mission-capable than the ones we’ve been using up to now.”
“Drones with guns and missiles?”
“And some other things I can’t talk about right now.”
“Okay,” Piper sat back while the pretty girl returned and placed a bottle, two glasses, and a bucket of ice in front of them. When she was gone, he leaned forward, eyes fixed on those of his companion. “What can you talk about?”
“My superiors have had a look at the footage from today’s little escapade—they think you might be a good addition to our team.”
“Me?” Piper’s brow creased. “In the CIA?”
“Why not?” Farrell smiled. “We need all kinds of men—and I think you’d be a real asset. You have a good rep as a leader and a better one as a shooter.”
“Why me?”
“I’ve been through your packet—you have a BA in history and an AA in computer science.” He looked at Piper, eyes narrow. “Which forces me to ask you: Why are you here?”
The soldier poured a drink and took a sip. “Good stuff.”
“Nothing but the best.” Farrell filled his own glass. “And you haven’t answered my question.”
“I’m not sure I can.” Piper finished his drink, poured another. “It’s complicated…”
“I know that your father was career military—I also know that he was in the Khobar Towers when they were bombed...”
Piper nodded.
“So you felt you had to, what, avenge him?”
“Not exactly,” the tall soldier emptied his refilled glass. “I did sort of feel like…” He shrugged. “I felt like I owed him and the others with him something…”
“That’s stupid.”
“Yeah,” Piper grinned. “I know, but…”
“But you still have to do it.” Farrell looked him in the eye. “How does your wife feel about it?”
“Lisa knew all about me when we got married—she’s okay with it…”
“Really?” Farrell shook his head. “She’s happy with that shithole of an apartment? Happy with that beat-up car she’s driving?”
“She’s a soldier’s wife…”
“She doesn’t have to be.” The CIA man poured a second drink. “I can give you the same salary as a GS-13…”
“How much is that?”
“Just over Seventy grand a year.” He looked at Piper. “You can get a decent house, a nice car…”
“You’re serious about this?”
“Dead serious.” Farrell looked Piper squarely in the eye. “Say yes and you leave here tomorrow.”
“Going where?”
“The Farm—it’s where the CIA sends new people for their version of basic training.” Farrell smiled. “I don’t think you’ll have any difficulty graduating.”
Piper thought for a long moment, the faces of Gianelli and the rest of his now-dead team running through his mind’s eye, then…
“Okay,” he held out his hand. “I think you have a new recruit.”
“Good,” Farrell shook. “It’ll be good to have someone I know I can trust in the field with me…”
***

HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN—2 YEARS LATER

“Who chose this spot for a listening post?” Piper shouted into his earbud. “There are two Taliban camps within a half-mile!”
“Just a little mistake,” Farrell’s voice was low and clear in Piper’s ear. “I depended on surveillance information given to me by our friends in Kabul.”
Piper grunted.
“Okay, I was wrong to trust them! We can argue about it when you get back.”
“Yeah—and all I have to do is take out thirty or forty Taliban fighters before I get clear enough for a pick-up.”
“There are way more than that!” Farrell’s tone was almost jovial. “I’ve got a satellite over you right now—and it shows a second large party of Taliban just to the east of your present position.”
“Wonderful!”
“We can handle it—pull back to…” He shuffled some papers in front of him. “Charlie Five on your map. Lots of cover there—fort up and wait.”
“How long,” Piper motioned for his party to move in the indicated direction. “And what are we waiting for?”
“The cavalry of course,” Farrell’s voice was amused. “I have two Predators and a Reaper enroute to your location. They’ll be overhead in three mikes.”
“You’re gonna use us as the anvil for your little drone hammers, aren’t you?”
“Why not? The bad guys are going to do their best to run you down no matter what I do and that position in Charlie Five has lots of cover.” He paused. “You and your team still have plenty of ammo, right?”
“Right.”
“Then just grab some cover, keep your head down, and wait. The drones will do all the hard work.”
“You have a lot of confidence in those damned drones.”
“They’ve saved you more than once!”
“I guess…” Piper muttered as he led his men through a lightly wooded area and up a slope that led to the position Farrell had indicated. “How’re the others doing?”
“Team Four picked up four senior commanders—they’ll have the bastard’s enroute to Gitmo by the time you get back to base.”
“Gitmo?” Piper held up a hand to stop his men, eyes studying the lay of the land in front of him. “I thought the whole idea of taking those guys prisoner was to get Intel? We’re not going to get that in Gitmo—maybe at one of the black sites…”
“Maybe,” Farrell chuckled. “But our masters are busy playing politics right now. Abu Ghraib burned a lot of bridges for the Administration so they think it’s safer to just stick them in Gitmo—out of the way—until things blow over and we can try something else.”
“That makes no sense at all.” Piper started pointing his men to picked positions. “We might as well just let them go.”
“Not our call,” Farrell hesitated. “No talk now—just get your guys under cover as quickly as you can. One of the Taliban groups has reached the base of the hill and is starting up.”
“Roger that,” Piper positioned the last of his men and took the spot he’d decided would be his own. “Make sure your ‘cavalry’ isn’t too late.”
“It won’t be.”
“Good,” Piper laid the red dot of his sight onto the chest of a man just appearing at the edge of their position. “Because those Taliban are here right now.”
He squeezed the trigger and watched the man fall—revealing a second man just behind.
His M-4 spoke again, taking that man down. And the one behind him. And the one behind him…
***
“How many did you end up shooting before the drones got there?” Farrell asked as he poured a single-malt scotch later that evening.
“I didn’t do a head count,” Piper told him, quickly knocking it back. “Twenty-five, maybe thirty.” He reached for the bottle. “If your little terminators had arrived a few minutes later…”
“They didn’t, though.” Farrell smiled. “You know I’m always going to be there for you.”
“Yeah,” Piper took another slug. “I know that.”
“What’s bothering you?”
“I haven’t seen my family in a while,” Piper shrugged. “There’s been no time…” He looked at his friend. “Sean got into trouble—the FBI came to visit.”
“What did he do?”
“Seems he got curious about his grades,” Piper shook his head. “So he hacked into the school’s mainframe to take a look and set off some kind of alarm…”
”That might be my fault.” Farrell smiled sheepishly. “Hackers are going to be a really valuable commodity pretty soon—so I gave Sean a laptop for his Birthday gift—one that has a lot of Agency software loaded into it.”
“He’s only fourteen years old!”
“Young is the best time to learn.” Farrell shook his head. “Hell, I can pilot a drone but it’s a chore for me to program my TiVo! Real computer experts—men and women who can think in code and stay one step ahead of the hackers are the future of counterintelligence.”
“So hackers are the next big threat?” Piper shook his head. “You’ve got some imagination!” He grinned. “Next thing you know, you’ll tell me its pollution!”
“Don’t laugh. Those guys—-the ones out there,” he gestured to the Afghan mountains visible through the O-Club windows. “Might be a problem right now but you know we’re going to handle them when we get serious it. The guys with the computers, though. They’re going to be the next big problem.
He looked at his friend. “The really serious enemy—the one who might be able to beat us—is the one who figures out how to get inside the machines we depend on for so much,” another gesture, upwards this time. “Inside so he can control the satellites that handle our communications and orient our GPS systems. Get into the drones that we send into battle to save pilot’s lives, take control of the systems that keep our Cruise missiles on course…” He looked Piper in the eye. “Negating any of those things would constitute a real threat.”
“Science fiction!”
“Not at all.” Farrell poured another drink. “One of these days, someone’s going to figure out how to break into some important computerized system—maybe the electrical grid, maybe the banks.” He looked at his friend. “That’s when we’re going to be forced to find new ways to fight back.”
“I’ll be long gone by then,” Piper took another drink. “And you’ll probably be the one responsible.” He smiled at his friend. “If it works out that way, find a job for Sean.” He grinned. “He’ll probably be good at it.”
***

OUTSIDE HOMS, SYRIA THREE YEARS LATER

“There’re a lot of ragheads out there,” Piper reported. “I don’t think we have enough security to protect the subject if things go south.”
“Not to worry,” Farrell replied. “We’ve got more men out in the annex, and serious air support less than two hours away.” There was a chuckle. “You’ve got everything you need to hold out for two hours, don’t you?”
“I guess.” Piper shrugged. “Although I’m surprised that you don’t have drones ready to fly in and bust things up at a moment’s notice.”
“There are none in range.” Farrell’s voice was half-angry, half-joking. “We requested one or two to keep in orbit overhead but State said it would be ‘provocative’.”
“And State is never wrong.”
“They do have one of their top people out there with you. I doubt they’d just throw him to the wolves.”
“I don’t know—remember what happened in Benghazi…” There was a long pause. “Hold one; they’re getting a little noisy down there…”
Farrell glanced at the monitor that showed the various video feeds he had managed to get on line. The crowd outside the residence they’d chosen for the meeting was certainly growing larger—and he could see raised fists and yelling faces.
“We’re starting to take some gunfire now,” Piper reported as he came back on the line. “Just the odd potshot but…”
There was a loud crash followed by a long pause before: “That wasn’t a rifle! I think…” Another pause. “Okay, they’ve got mortars out there—and they’ve already got them zeroed in on this place. I doubt we can hold out against that level of firepower…”
“Do what you can,” Farrell picked up his secure telephone. “I’ll get help moving.”
“Roger that.” Farrell heard Piper firing his rifle. “Don’t take too long,” Farrell heard more rifle fire chattering over the connection. “’Cause we don’t have a lot of time …”
There was an explosion just before the line went dead.
Farrell dialed a number on the secure phone and spoke quickly. “This is Farrell at site four-nine. We have activity at the Mission…”
“Roger four-nine, wait one…”
Farrell bit his lip as the line went quiet. On the surveillance screen, he could see more and more activity around the Mission. The crowd now numbered in the hundreds and he could see the flash of weapons coming from far too many places in that crowd.
“Site four-nine?” The voice that came from the phone was eerily calm. “This is Home Base.”
“Roger Home Base.”
“Say again situation?”
“Many—I say again, MANY unfriendlies attacking the residence—I can see rifle fire and my team inside the Mission reports incoming mortar rounds as well.”
“They can’t have mortars,” the voice said. “They haven’t had time to get them into position.”
“My source is there, sir—inside the building.” Farrell snarled. “If he says there are mortars, you can bet there are mortars.”
“All right,” there was a sigh. “I’ll pass this on to higher headquarters and find out what they want us to do.”
“Sir, we have men in harm’s ways—under attack and at risk.”
“Higher headquarters will decide what to do—is that clear?” The voice came back.
“Clear, sir.”
“Good,” another sigh. “Stand by your phone. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
“Roger.” Farrell kept a lid on his temper and did not slam the phone into its cradle as he wanted. Instead, he carefully lowered it as he watched the action in front of the Mission heat up.
Looks like there are a couple of hundred rioters out there, he thought. And Piper’s got—what—four effectives? He glared at the phone. Higher headquarters better make up their minds pretty damn quick or I’ll… Farrell hesitated. What could he do? He only had ten reliable fighters in the Annex. Even if he got all of them into the fight right now, what good could they do?
He stared at the screens, watching as the crowd surging around the Mission grew larger...
Come on, Piper! Hold on! Hold on just as long as you can…
***
Crap! Piper flinched as a mortar round hit the interior courtyard of the building the CIA had chosen for their meeting. A few more hits like that and the walls will come down!
He was scanning the crowd, looking for leaders, assessing threats. Most of the men he could see were just milling around, angered by something they had heard in the Mosque, but not willing to spill blood over it.
Others, however, the ones Piper was really searching for—were far more focused.
There’s one, Piper put the aiming dot of his M-4 on the forehead of a man holding an AK-47 and haranguing a group near the left edge of the crowd.
He’s herding the mob in our direction. Piper thought as he stroked the trigger, keeping his optics on the man long enough to watch the round impact just behind his target’s left eye, caving in that side of his skull.
Okay, that’s one down. He kept scanning, his gaze moving slowly from left to right. Who’s my next customer…?
Another mortar round struck—this one deeper in the courtyard. Piper ducked down as bits of rock hit his back.
Wish we could reach that mortar; he straightened up and resumed his search for targets. If we could knock that out, we might stand a chance…
He saw a man near the center of the crowd hold his arms up and begin to scream in Arabic. That was enough to allow him to drop his sights onto the agitator’s chest and softly squeeze the trigger…
There was a cry to his right. He swiveled to see that Blanchard had gone down. His absence left a chunk of wall free of cover--clear for rioters, some of whom were already climbing over...
They’ve gotten inside the compound, Piper realized. If they get to the gates and open them, the rest will come in. If that happens we’re cooked! He came to a quick decision. I’ve got to stop them! He moved toward Blanchard’s position as he flipped his M-4 to ‘Automatic’ and began hosing the interlopers.
One man dropped. Two. Three…
Piper’s rifle went dry. He pressed the magazine release, pulled a new mag from an ammo pouch, and slid it into place an instant before Piper released the charging handle and opened fire once again …
“Farrell!” He yelled into the earbud pickup as he took another man down. “They’ve broken through our perimeter!”
Even as he spoke, more men came over the wall, all of them carrying automatic rifles of one sort or another.
“I need back-up now! I need it NOW!”
There was no reply.
“Farrell!”
Another mortar round impacted in the courtyard, sending shrapnel zipping through the little compound. Piper winced as a red-hot piece bit into his calf.
No time to worry about that now, he turned toward the men who were now coming over the wall in a steady stream. Got to clear them out…
He killed three, four, ten, a dozen…
“Farrell!” He saw Whitney go down. “Farrell! Where’s the air cover! Where’s…”
The courtyard was filled with rioters now--far too many for to stop with or without air cover.
Piper disengaged and began looking for a way out. If he could reach the main house—he might be able to fort up until help came. If it ever does!
He changed magazines and emptied the new one into the crowd, then smashed the nearest attacker in the face with the rifle butt and drew his pistol…
***
“Crap!” Farrell cursed as he saw Piper go down—overwhelmed by the sheer number of attackers.
Others were already smashing their way into the residence.
He picked up the phone and gnashed his teeth as he waited for headquarters to answer…
“This is Farrell,” he spoke as soon as ‘Home Base’ answered. “Where’s my back-up!”
“Higher Headquarters has ordered all units to stand down.” The answer came.
“Stand down?!” Farrell stared at the phone. “My people are dying! The subject…”
“Your orders are to stand down—do you understand?”
“No,” Farrell snarled. “I do not understand.”
“Agent Farrell—you will stand down. This is an order.”
“Shove your damn order up your ass! I’m not going to let those men die…”
“There’s nothing you can do Farrell. You have no back-up, no air cover.” The voice on the other end of the line hesitated. “Deal with it.”
“Deal with it?” Farrell shook his head. “That’s all you’re going to say?”
“That is all I am at liberty to say.”
“Well screw you!” Farrell yelled into the mouthpiece. “And screw whoever came up with this damned decision.”
“Farrell!”
“What are you going to do?” Farrell sneered. “Are you going to fire me?” He shook his head. “Too late for that!” He was holding the phone at arm’s length now, shouting into the mouthpiece. “I quit!”
He slammed the phone down into the cradle, cracking the hard plastic with the force of his rage.

EXTRACT FOR
CALLED TO DUTY 
(Doug Murray)


PROLOGUE

ANBAR PROVINCE

It had been a long and difficult mission—long enough and tiring enough for SFC Robert Piper to grab some sleep in the back of his team’s truck rather than ride in the usual shotgun slot in front.
That decision saved his life.
Piper was sound asleep when the IED went off, lifting the front end of the truck nearly ten feet into the air while a hail of makeshift shrapnel killed the driver and the SPEC-4 who’d taken Piper’s seat.
When the bomb went off, Piper was having a pleasant dream about home and Lisa, the woman he’d loved since they’d first met in High School. He’d found a spot at the very back of the truck that had enough room for his six foot four inch frame to sprawl out. That meant that when the front of the truck lifted into the air, Piper was dropped—quite rudely—into the middle of a deadly ambush.
“What the hell!” He bellowed as he smashed into the hot asphalt of the roadway, barely conscious of the truck cartwheeling away from him. He bounced and slid, still cursing, until his body slammed into the berm of hard packed sand that formed the edge of the roadbed.
Instantly he found himself under fire.
Insurgents with an IED got the truck! He realized as, now fully awake, he rolled away from the bullets impacting the asphalt all around him.
He low-crawled over the berm, putting a little cover between him and the enemy fire, crouching behind that very tentative shelter, he turned to see what had happened to the rest of his team…
Just as his truck bounced one last time before striking the berm on the opposite side of the road. It punched halfway through before sliding to a halt in a more or less upright position.
Its front end, he noted, was mangled beyond recognition.
I’ve got to see if anyone else survived! Piper thought as he stared at what was left of the truck. Although I’m not sure how that could have happened…
Piper popped up over the berm long enough to have a look around before being forced duck back down by a new flurry of gunfire.
Those’ve gotta be the ragheads who set off the IED, he groped around for his rifle—but found that the lanyard designed to secure it to his body armor had been shredded at some point in his travels.
The M-4 was gone.
Great! He drew his handgun and jacked a round into the chamber. Now where are those…?
He ducked low and tried to push himself under the sand as another flurry of gunfire came from above.
He could feel the bullets slam into the sand around him.
This is not good, he thought, eyeing the rise that ran alongside the road. They’ve got the high ground and automatic weapons! I have… He looked at his Browning. This!
He turned toward the truck, hoping against hope that just one of his squad had survived, if they had, there might be a chance…
He heard a noise from what was left of the truck—a rustling sound followed by the appearance of a familiar face...
Gianelli! The RTO still had the radio strapped to his back—but he wasn’t trying to use it—he wasn’t trying to do anything more than fight his way clear of the truck.
He looks dazed, Piper thought. I don’t think he’s really aware of what’s going on—instinct is pushing him toward the light. Piper’s eyes widened with shock when Gianelli, using his right hand only, pushed his chest and head free of the truck—and rolled forward and out—revealing what was left of him.
God! Piper’s eyes widened. His left arm is completely gone! Piper stared at the man. It must have been sheared off by the blast. He watched as Gianelli struggled to be free of the truck. He’s bleeding pretty badly—it’s a miracle he’s still alive!
A moment later, Gianelli half-jumped, half-fell from the back of the truck and into the sand below. He pushed himself upright, barely able to stand, before staggering unsteadily away from the wreck.
He took one step, two steps…
Gunfire exploded from the top of the rise—a lot more than before. There are more shooters up there now, Piper realized. Their leader must have called for reinforcements…
He heard a bullet spang off Gianelli’s body armor; another hit him in left leg.
Blood exploded from the wound…
Gianelli cried out mindlessly and fell to the ground. He tried to get back on his feet, tried to crawl forward—and found he couldn’t move. Crying, he gave up; rolling himself into a fetal position, arm in front of his eyes as he tried to hide.
The insurgents did not take pity on the wounded man. They kept firing, hitting the Gianelli again and again. The RTO cried like a baby as he was hit in the legs over and over …
He screamed when one well-aimed shot hit him squarely in the groin—and was silenced an instant later as an AK-47 round hit him in the head...
Piper shook his head in disbelief and horror. The man had barely managed to clear the remains of the truck before he had been—quite literally—shot to pieces.
I might have saved him if I had been able to give him cover fire; Piper looked at the unmoving body of the youngster who had served with him for months. But with my rifle gone, I couldn’t even do that!
He shook his head and took a moment to check the load on his Browning. I can’t do much for myself, either.
Then he realized that the squad radio—the PRC-117F—was still strapped to the dead man’s back.
It looks like it might be intact, he thought for a long moment. If I can reach it—and if it works—I might be able to call in an airstrike…
More gunfire sounded from the hillside above. The insurgents had apparently decided that Piper couldn’t escape from his position so, having seen Gianelli crawl out of the truck, they’d decided it would be smart to make sure there were no other survivors.
The canvas top of the five ton rippled from the impact of round after round of AK-47 ammo…
I’ve got to get to that radio, Piper decided. If I stay here, they’ll come down on my flanks…
He waited until the fire slowed.
They’re reloading, he took a deep breath, got a firm grip on his handgun…
And made a full-speed dash for the truck.
The sudden and unexpected move took the gunmen on the ridge by surprise. It took nearly three full seconds for them to react—more than enough time for Piper to slide behind the tires on the right hand side of the truck.
Okay! He pulled himself into a ball, tight enough to use the thick rubber and metallic belt of the tire as a shield against the insurgent fire. If these guys continue to show their usual lack of fire discipline…
They did—the insurgents kept firing at full automatic, spraying and praying that they’d get a hit.
AK-47’s on automatic chew up ammunition at a rate of about a hundred rounds a minute. Piper knew that the insurgents always fired on automatic and would run their magazines dry in a very short time. He stayed under cover and waited until the firing sputtered to an halt before making his move. I hope nobody up there saved a few rounds...
Firing his pistol blindly toward the men on the hill (hoping to keep their heads down), Piper scrambled out from behind the tires and grabbed the webbing that held the radio on Gianelli’s back.
He didn’t intend—and had no time—to undo the buckles and snaps that held it in place. Instead, he emptied what was left of his magazine in the insurgents’ direction and dragged the RTO’s body back behind the cover of the big tire.
He had just gotten beside the body when the insurgents completed their reload and opened fire again…
Now let’s see if this was worth the effort, he steeled himself and unbuckled the radio, pulling it away from his dead friend’s back. If this thing took a hit …
He made a quick inspection. Found no holes, no obvious dents…
It seems okay. He rested the radio against the back of the massive tire sheltering him and switched it on, picking up the headset as soon as he saw the dials light up…
“Rainbow Echo Five Five,” he spoke as clearly as he could. “I say again, Rainbow Echo Five Five is requesting immediate assistance. My vehicle is disabled and I am under fire…”
“Rainbow Echo Five Five, this is Hunter One Niner. The return transmission was strong and clear. “State position, over.”
“I am on Highway 80—that is Highway eight-zero somewhere between Mosul and Al Khidhir,” Piper paused. “Can’t give it to you finer than that—I was asleep when the truck took the hit.”
“Roger Rainbow Echo Five Five,” the voice seemed unperturbed. “I have a GPS fix on your radio and an asset in the air.” A pause. “Three minutes out—can you hold on?”
“Yeah,” Piper nodded. “I’ve got good cover and...” He checked his remaining magazines. “Thirty rounds of ammo—that should last me three minutes.”
“Roger, stay on the line and I will let you know when the asset is approaching.”
“Roger Hunter One Niner,” Piper took in a deep breath. “And many thanks.”
“Don’t thank me, man.” The other’s voice seemed amused. “Thank the boys at ‘General Atomics’ who built the damn Predators—I don’t think there’s anything else in the area that could reach you in time.”
“Roger that,” Piper took a quick look up the rise—the insurgents were still there. “Although I’ll be happy to buy you a cold one if I get out of this.”
“I’ll hold you to that.” The other man chuckled. “One minute. Give me your exact position.”
“I am sheltering under what’s left of a five ton truck on the south side of the highway—the Insurgents are on the North side of the road on top of a rise.”
“Roger that,” there was a long pause. “I see them now.” Another pause. “Stay down…”
The top of the ridge suddenly exploded in smoke, flame, and dust.
“Looks like a good hit with the Hellfire,” Piper heard. “Stay down while I make a strafing run…”
“Strafing run?” Piper frowned. “I thought you were flying a Predator, they can’t…”
Piper stopped in mid-sentence as bullets hit just to his right. He ducked away, the Browning automatically coming up into firing position…
And saw four insurgents—each armed with an AK-47—approaching from his right.
I guess they got bored! He realized. And realized that I wasn’t going to give them a clear shot He flicked the safety off the Browning. So they decided to try to flank me!
He dropped the pistol’s sights onto the closest man’s chest. Wish I had a rifle… And squeezed the trigger.
The target jolted to a stop so suddenly he might have run into a wall, and then crumpled to the ground in a heap.
Piper nodded to himself. As long as they just spray and pray and don’t stop to aim…
He fired again—and the second man dropped in his tracks, blood spurting from his forehead.
One of the two survivors began shouting orders and broke to one side.
They’re going to try to take me from both sides. Piper thought. I’ll go for the leader first… He tracked the man running to his right, allowed his finger to take first pressure on the trigger…
Thunder sounded in the sky behind him as the drone made a second run, this time firing a minigun that Piper could see was in a weapons pod slung beneath a wing.
The two surviving insurgents barely had time to look up before dozens of 30mm depleted uranium rounds chewed them into bloody chunks…
A moment later, the Predator banked and made a long strafing run along the ridge line, scattering bloody bits of insurgent in all directions.
The fight was over.
“I think you’re clear now,” the voice on the radio told him. “I have a medevac on the way and I’ll orbit the site until it gets there.”
“Roger that,” Piper nodded. “One question.”
“Ask.”
“What’s your name?”
The man chuckled. “Farrell,” the voice told him. “Franklyn Fitzgerald Farrell.”
“Alright, Mr. Farrell,” Piper grinned. “I’ll be looking to get you that drink!”
“And I’ll be waiting.” There was a short pause. “Chopper on approach now—good luck, Sergeant.”
“How do you know I’m a Sergeant?”
“I’m CIA,” Farrell chuckled. “I have your file in front of me right this minute.”
“What does it say?”
“It says that I should be the one offering you a drink—and a job.”
“I might take you up on both,” Piper looked at Gianelli’s lifeless body. “I’m getting kind of tired of the one I have now.”
***
The Medevac chopper didn’t wait to pick up the bodies of Piper’s men—a truck from graves registration was already on the way to take care of that unhappy chore and the pilot had orders to fly Piper directly to Camp Freedom for a meeting with higher command—and the pilot had enough experience not to keep the brass waiting.
“Why do they want to talk to me?” Piper asked the warrant officer flying the Apache. “I mean, I expected to go through a debrief but figured I’d have time to get a shower and a change of clothing…”
“No clue,” the pilot shrugged. “All I know is that I was ordered to get you back as quickly as possible—no loitering, no delays, and no excuses.”
“Crap,” Piper began thinking of ways he might have screwed up. Are they pissed that I wasn’t in the front seat of the truck? He frowned at the thought. Was there some kind of ‘instruction’ on that I missed? He didn’t know and, as Camp Freedom’s helipad loomed ahead, he knew he wouldn’t have time to look it up—if he had any idea of where to look. All he could do was wait and see what was to come…
***
“You’re Piper?” The man who met him at the helicopter door was short and wiry; with hair long enough to mark him as a civilian despite the cammo fatigues identical to Piper’s—albeit fatigues that were clean and sans insignia of any kind.
“I am,” the sergeant looked the man up and down. “Who are you?”
A smile split the other man’s face as he stuck out a hand. “Farrell’s the name—Frank Farrell.” the grin widened. “We sort of met a little while ago…”
“Mr. Farrell!” Piper took the offered hand and gave it a firm shake. “Glad to meet you,” he grinned. “I guess this is about that drink?”
“Not just yet,” the shorter man nodded toward a Humvee parked at the edge of the helipad. “You need to report in first—I came to give you a quick debrief,” he shrugged. “And a warning.”
“Warning?”
“Yeah,” Farrell climbed into the Humvee’s driver seat and motioned Piper to join him. “First, you should know that the brass is going to present you with the Silver Star for your recent action.”
“I didn’t do anything…”
“Of course you did,” Farrell put the vehicle into gear and spun the steering wheel. “You killed nine insurgents single-handedly,” he glanced at Piper. “With nothing but a handgun!”
“The Predator…”
“Oh, you did get a little help from the drone’s missile,” Farrell gave him a hard look. “Just the missile because there was nothing else the drone could do...”
“But the strafing run…”
“Predator’s don’t have guns,” Farrell looked at Piper. “You know that.”
“I don’t understand…”
“I’ll give you a full explanation later—when we have that drink. For now, just keep the story straight—you killed the insurgents the Hellfire didn’t get. You and you alone.” Farrell held up his index finger in a rather pedantic gesture. “There was no strafing run—no minigun mounted on a drone--nothing unusual at all. You got some help from a Hellfire missile.” He raised an eyebrow. “The rest was all you.”
The Sergeant nodded slowly. “Yeah, I got it.”
“Good,” Farrell halted the Humvee in front of a large prefabricated building. “I believe this is your headquarters—just smile and take the medal—your wife will be proud of you.”
“Yeah,” Piper nodded. “So will my son.”
“You’ve got a boy?”
“Sean,” Piper smiled. “He’s almost ten.”
“You’re a lucky man,” Farrell slapped him on the back. “A hero with a pretty wife and a son—what more could you ask for?”
“More information?”
“Later.” Farrell nodded toward the door. “After they finish blowing smoke up your ass.”
“Where should I meet you?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Farrell smiled. “I’m your ride—I’ll be right here when you’re done.”
Piper nodded and climbed out of the Humvee—which pulled away the instant he slammed the door closed. I’m not supposed to talk about Drones with chain guns, he nodded to himself. Okay, OK—Farrell saved my life so I owe it to him to play along. He watched the Humvee turn toward the far side of the base. But I’ll expect a hell of an explanation when we have that drink! He stretched, checked his uniform, and headed for the headquarters door, automatically straightening his shoulders as he went.
And Mr. Farrell is definitely the one who’ll be doing the buying!
***
Farrell did buy—but not at the NCO club that Piper frequented. Instead, the shorter man drove them to a very well-appointed bar on the far side of the base where a pretty girl took their order.
“What is this place?” Piper looked around. “I never heard anything about an O-Club in this quadrant.”
“It’s a private club,” Farrell smiled. “Civilian contractors…” His smile widened. “And their guests, of course.”
“So I’m your guest?”
Farrell nodded before leaning forward. “How did your debrief go?”
“Nobody asked anything about armed drones, if that’s what you’re asking,” Piper told him. “They just talked about what a great job I did and how proud they all are.” He looked at his companion. “They let me talk to my wife—already had her on the phone when I walked in.”
“Nice of them.”
“Yeah, nice.” Piper nodded slowly. “Now why don’t you tell me about what you’re doing here—and how do you come to have impossibly-armed Predator drones.”
“Okay,” Farrell took a quick look around. “First, as I told you back there, I’m not some damn contractor—I’m CIA.”
“Yeah, I remember that.”
“I’m here to test a new generation of Predators—drones that are far more mission-capable than the ones we’ve been using up to now.”
“Drones with guns and missiles?”
“And some other things I can’t talk about right now.”
“Okay,” Piper sat back while the pretty girl returned and placed a bottle, two glasses, and a bucket of ice in front of them. When she was gone, he leaned forward, eyes fixed on those of his companion. “What can you talk about?”
“My superiors have had a look at the footage from today’s little escapade—they think you might be a good addition to our team.”
“Me?” Piper’s brow creased. “In the CIA?”
“Why not?” Farrell smiled. “We need all kinds of men—and I think you’d be a real asset. You have a good rep as a leader and a better one as a shooter.”
“Why me?”
“I’ve been through your packet—you have a BA in history and an AA in computer science.” He looked at Piper, eyes narrow. “Which forces me to ask you: Why are you here?”
The soldier poured a drink and took a sip. “Good stuff.”
“Nothing but the best.” Farrell filled his own glass. “And you haven’t answered my question.”
“I’m not sure I can.” Piper finished his drink, poured another. “It’s complicated…”
“I know that your father was career military—I also know that he was in the Khobar Towers when they were bombed...”
Piper nodded.
“So you felt you had to, what, avenge him?”
“Not exactly,” the tall soldier emptied his refilled glass. “I did sort of feel like…” He shrugged. “I felt like I owed him and the others with him something…”
“That’s stupid.”
“Yeah,” Piper grinned. “I know, but…”
“But you still have to do it.” Farrell looked him in the eye. “How does your wife feel about it?”
“Lisa knew all about me when we got married—she’s okay with it…”
“Really?” Farrell shook his head. “She’s happy with that shithole of an apartment? Happy with that beat-up car she’s driving?”
“She’s a soldier’s wife…”
“She doesn’t have to be.” The CIA man poured a second drink. “I can give you the same salary as a GS-13…”
“How much is that?”
“Just over Seventy grand a year.” He looked at Piper. “You can get a decent house, a nice car…”
“You’re serious about this?”
“Dead serious.” Farrell looked Piper squarely in the eye. “Say yes and you leave here tomorrow.”
“Going where?”
“The Farm—it’s where the CIA sends new people for their version of basic training.” Farrell smiled. “I don’t think you’ll have any difficulty graduating.”
Piper thought for a long moment, the faces of Gianelli and the rest of his now-dead team running through his mind’s eye, then…
“Okay,” he held out his hand. “I think you have a new recruit.”
“Good,” Farrell shook. “It’ll be good to have someone I know I can trust in the field with me…”
***

HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN—2 YEARS LATER

“Who chose this spot for a listening post?” Piper shouted into his earbud. “There are two Taliban camps within a half-mile!”
“Just a little mistake,” Farrell’s voice was low and clear in Piper’s ear. “I depended on surveillance information given to me by our friends in Kabul.”
Piper grunted.
“Okay, I was wrong to trust them! We can argue about it when you get back.”
“Yeah—and all I have to do is take out thirty or forty Taliban fighters before I get clear enough for a pick-up.”
“There are way more than that!” Farrell’s tone was almost jovial. “I’ve got a satellite over you right now—and it shows a second large party of Taliban just to the east of your present position.”
“Wonderful!”
“We can handle it—pull back to…” He shuffled some papers in front of him. “Charlie Five on your map. Lots of cover there—fort up and wait.”
“How long,” Piper motioned for his party to move in the indicated direction. “And what are we waiting for?”
“The cavalry of course,” Farrell’s voice was amused. “I have two Predators and a Reaper enroute to your location. They’ll be overhead in three mikes.”
“You’re gonna use us as the anvil for your little drone hammers, aren’t you?”
“Why not? The bad guys are going to do their best to run you down no matter what I do and that position in Charlie Five has lots of cover.” He paused. “You and your team still have plenty of ammo, right?”
“Right.”
“Then just grab some cover, keep your head down, and wait. The drones will do all the hard work.”
“You have a lot of confidence in those damned drones.”
“They’ve saved you more than once!”
“I guess…” Piper muttered as he led his men through a lightly wooded area and up a slope that led to the position Farrell had indicated. “How’re the others doing?”
“Team Four picked up four senior commanders—they’ll have the bastard’s enroute to Gitmo by the time you get back to base.”
“Gitmo?” Piper held up a hand to stop his men, eyes studying the lay of the land in front of him. “I thought the whole idea of taking those guys prisoner was to get Intel? We’re not going to get that in Gitmo—maybe at one of the black sites…”
“Maybe,” Farrell chuckled. “But our masters are busy playing politics right now. Abu Ghraib burned a lot of bridges for the Administration so they think it’s safer to just stick them in Gitmo—out of the way—until things blow over and we can try something else.”
“That makes no sense at all.” Piper started pointing his men to picked positions. “We might as well just let them go.”
“Not our call,” Farrell hesitated. “No talk now—just get your guys under cover as quickly as you can. One of the Taliban groups has reached the base of the hill and is starting up.”
“Roger that,” Piper positioned the last of his men and took the spot he’d decided would be his own. “Make sure your ‘cavalry’ isn’t too late.”
“It won’t be.”
“Good,” Piper laid the red dot of his sight onto the chest of a man just appearing at the edge of their position. “Because those Taliban are here right now.”
He squeezed the trigger and watched the man fall—revealing a second man just behind.
His M-4 spoke again, taking that man down. And the one behind him. And the one behind him…
***
“How many did you end up shooting before the drones got there?” Farrell asked as he poured a single-malt scotch later that evening.
“I didn’t do a head count,” Piper told him, quickly knocking it back. “Twenty-five, maybe thirty.” He reached for the bottle. “If your little terminators had arrived a few minutes later…”
“They didn’t, though.” Farrell smiled. “You know I’m always going to be there for you.”
“Yeah,” Piper took another slug. “I know that.”
“What’s bothering you?”
“I haven’t seen my family in a while,” Piper shrugged. “There’s been no time…” He looked at his friend. “Sean got into trouble—the FBI came to visit.”
“What did he do?”
“Seems he got curious about his grades,” Piper shook his head. “So he hacked into the school’s mainframe to take a look and set off some kind of alarm…”
”That might be my fault.” Farrell smiled sheepishly. “Hackers are going to be a really valuable commodity pretty soon—so I gave Sean a laptop for his Birthday gift—one that has a lot of Agency software loaded into it.”
“He’s only fourteen years old!”
“Young is the best time to learn.” Farrell shook his head. “Hell, I can pilot a drone but it’s a chore for me to program my TiVo! Real computer experts—men and women who can think in code and stay one step ahead of the hackers are the future of counterintelligence.”
“So hackers are the next big threat?” Piper shook his head. “You’ve got some imagination!” He grinned. “Next thing you know, you’ll tell me its pollution!”
“Don’t laugh. Those guys—-the ones out there,” he gestured to the Afghan mountains visible through the O-Club windows. “Might be a problem right now but you know we’re going to handle them when we get serious it. The guys with the computers, though. They’re going to be the next big problem.
He looked at his friend. “The really serious enemy—the one who might be able to beat us—is the one who figures out how to get inside the machines we depend on for so much,” another gesture, upwards this time. “Inside so he can control the satellites that handle our communications and orient our GPS systems. Get into the drones that we send into battle to save pilot’s lives, take control of the systems that keep our Cruise missiles on course…” He looked Piper in the eye. “Negating any of those things would constitute a real threat.”
“Science fiction!”
“Not at all.” Farrell poured another drink. “One of these days, someone’s going to figure out how to break into some important computerized system—maybe the electrical grid, maybe the banks.” He looked at his friend. “That’s when we’re going to be forced to find new ways to fight back.”
“I’ll be long gone by then,” Piper took another drink. “And you’ll probably be the one responsible.” He smiled at his friend. “If it works out that way, find a job for Sean.” He grinned. “He’ll probably be good at it.”
***

OUTSIDE HOMS, SYRIA THREE YEARS LATER

“There’re a lot of ragheads out there,” Piper reported. “I don’t think we have enough security to protect the subject if things go south.”
“Not to worry,” Farrell replied. “We’ve got more men out in the annex, and serious air support less than two hours away.” There was a chuckle. “You’ve got everything you need to hold out for two hours, don’t you?”
“I guess.” Piper shrugged. “Although I’m surprised that you don’t have drones ready to fly in and bust things up at a moment’s notice.”
“There are none in range.” Farrell’s voice was half-angry, half-joking. “We requested one or two to keep in orbit overhead but State said it would be ‘provocative’.”
“And State is never wrong.”
“They do have one of their top people out there with you. I doubt they’d just throw him to the wolves.”
“I don’t know—remember what happened in Benghazi…” There was a long pause. “Hold one; they’re getting a little noisy down there…”
Farrell glanced at the monitor that showed the various video feeds he had managed to get on line. The crowd outside the residence they’d chosen for the meeting was certainly growing larger—and he could see raised fists and yelling faces.
“We’re starting to take some gunfire now,” Piper reported as he came back on the line. “Just the odd potshot but…”
There was a loud crash followed by a long pause before: “That wasn’t a rifle! I think…” Another pause. “Okay, they’ve got mortars out there—and they’ve already got them zeroed in on this place. I doubt we can hold out against that level of firepower…”
“Do what you can,” Farrell picked up his secure telephone. “I’ll get help moving.”
“Roger that.” Farrell heard Piper firing his rifle. “Don’t take too long,” Farrell heard more rifle fire chattering over the connection. “’Cause we don’t have a lot of time …”
There was an explosion just before the line went dead.
Farrell dialed a number on the secure phone and spoke quickly. “This is Farrell at site four-nine. We have activity at the Mission…”
“Roger four-nine, wait one…”
Farrell bit his lip as the line went quiet. On the surveillance screen, he could see more and more activity around the Mission. The crowd now numbered in the hundreds and he could see the flash of weapons coming from far too many places in that crowd.
“Site four-nine?” The voice that came from the phone was eerily calm. “This is Home Base.”
“Roger Home Base.”
“Say again situation?”
“Many—I say again, MANY unfriendlies attacking the residence—I can see rifle fire and my team inside the Mission reports incoming mortar rounds as well.”
“They can’t have mortars,” the voice said. “They haven’t had time to get them into position.”
“My source is there, sir—inside the building.” Farrell snarled. “If he says there are mortars, you can bet there are mortars.”
“All right,” there was a sigh. “I’ll pass this on to higher headquarters and find out what they want us to do.”
“Sir, we have men in harm’s ways—under attack and at risk.”
“Higher headquarters will decide what to do—is that clear?” The voice came back.
“Clear, sir.”
“Good,” another sigh. “Stand by your phone. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.”
“Roger.” Farrell kept a lid on his temper and did not slam the phone into its cradle as he wanted. Instead, he carefully lowered it as he watched the action in front of the Mission heat up.
Looks like there are a couple of hundred rioters out there, he thought. And Piper’s got—what—four effectives? He glared at the phone. Higher headquarters better make up their minds pretty damn quick or I’ll… Farrell hesitated. What could he do? He only had ten reliable fighters in the Annex. Even if he got all of them into the fight right now, what good could they do?
He stared at the screens, watching as the crowd surging around the Mission grew larger...
Come on, Piper! Hold on! Hold on just as long as you can…
***
Crap! Piper flinched as a mortar round hit the interior courtyard of the building the CIA had chosen for their meeting. A few more hits like that and the walls will come down!
He was scanning the crowd, looking for leaders, assessing threats. Most of the men he could see were just milling around, angered by something they had heard in the Mosque, but not willing to spill blood over it.
Others, however, the ones Piper was really searching for—were far more focused.
There’s one, Piper put the aiming dot of his M-4 on the forehead of a man holding an AK-47 and haranguing a group near the left edge of the crowd.
He’s herding the mob in our direction. Piper thought as he stroked the trigger, keeping his optics on the man long enough to watch the round impact just behind his target’s left eye, caving in that side of his skull.
Okay, that’s one down. He kept scanning, his gaze moving slowly from left to right. Who’s my next customer…?
Another mortar round struck—this one deeper in the courtyard. Piper ducked down as bits of rock hit his back.
Wish we could reach that mortar; he straightened up and resumed his search for targets. If we could knock that out, we might stand a chance…
He saw a man near the center of the crowd hold his arms up and begin to scream in Arabic. That was enough to allow him to drop his sights onto the agitator’s chest and softly squeeze the trigger…
There was a cry to his right. He swiveled to see that Blanchard had gone down. His absence left a chunk of wall free of cover--clear for rioters, some of whom were already climbing over...
They’ve gotten inside the compound, Piper realized. If they get to the gates and open them, the rest will come in. If that happens we’re cooked! He came to a quick decision. I’ve got to stop them! He moved toward Blanchard’s position as he flipped his M-4 to ‘Automatic’ and began hosing the interlopers.
One man dropped. Two. Three…
Piper’s rifle went dry. He pressed the magazine release, pulled a new mag from an ammo pouch, and slid it into place an instant before Piper released the charging handle and opened fire once again …
“Farrell!” He yelled into the earbud pickup as he took another man down. “They’ve broken through our perimeter!”
Even as he spoke, more men came over the wall, all of them carrying automatic rifles of one sort or another.
“I need back-up now! I need it NOW!”
There was no reply.
“Farrell!”
Another mortar round impacted in the courtyard, sending shrapnel zipping through the little compound. Piper winced as a red-hot piece bit into his calf.
No time to worry about that now, he turned toward the men who were now coming over the wall in a steady stream. Got to clear them out…
He killed three, four, ten, a dozen…
“Farrell!” He saw Whitney go down. “Farrell! Where’s the air cover! Where’s…”
The courtyard was filled with rioters now--far too many for to stop with or without air cover.
Piper disengaged and began looking for a way out. If he could reach the main house—he might be able to fort up until help came. If it ever does!
He changed magazines and emptied the new one into the crowd, then smashed the nearest attacker in the face with the rifle butt and drew his pistol…
***
“Crap!” Farrell cursed as he saw Piper go down—overwhelmed by the sheer number of attackers.
Others were already smashing their way into the residence.
He picked up the phone and gnashed his teeth as he waited for headquarters to answer…
“This is Farrell,” he spoke as soon as ‘Home Base’ answered. “Where’s my back-up!”
“Higher Headquarters has ordered all units to stand down.” The answer came.
“Stand down?!” Farrell stared at the phone. “My people are dying! The subject…”
“Your orders are to stand down—do you understand?”
“No,” Farrell snarled. “I do not understand.”
“Agent Farrell—you will stand down. This is an order.”
“Shove your damn order up your ass! I’m not going to let those men die…”
“There’s nothing you can do Farrell. You have no back-up, no air cover.” The voice on the other end of the line hesitated. “Deal with it.”
“Deal with it?” Farrell shook his head. “That’s all you’re going to say?”
“That is all I am at liberty to say.”
“Well screw you!” Farrell yelled into the mouthpiece. “And screw whoever came up with this damned decision.”
“Farrell!”
“What are you going to do?” Farrell sneered. “Are you going to fire me?” He shook his head. “Too late for that!” He was holding the phone at arm’s length now, shouting into the mouthpiece. “I quit!”
He slammed the phone down into the cradle, cracking the hard plastic with the force of his rage.

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