Chapter 1

"Slow is smooth, smooth is fast," Jon whispered to himself, consciously slowing his breathing, and trying to calm his racing pulse. A bead of sweat dripped down from his right brow, and he blinked hard. Shimmering heat waves danced across the 1600 meters of desert, causing the North Sudanese truck to quiver in his scope. Jon shifted his weight a little, and panned the heavy Cheytac rifle across the convoy. A quick burst of static sounded in his left ear. "Wile E, any change?" A half smile crossed his lips. "Negative, Roadrunner, they're still working on that flat tire." "Roger, Wile E." Jon hadn't known Roadrunner for very long, but had quickly developed a respect for the big man who slipped slowly and silently across the desert floor. "Lord, please keep Hakim safe," Jon prayed quietly. The two had been out scouting in the desert together for 2 weeks, and this was the first patrol they had run across. It was never a good thing to find north Sudanese troops ranging in the borderlands. Although they were not the most dangerous thing in the desert, they were always up to no good. Hakim knew this firsthand.

Jon had met one of Hakim's nieces, a once beautiful young girl of 12. She was caught by a band of 70 men as they swarmed their small village in trucks mounted with russian DSHK .50 HMG's (Heavy Machine Guns). Most of the village didn't survive. Hakim returned to his village 2 days later with mail from the city and parts for the village well pump, to find most of the village burned to the ground and his sister's child the only surviving member of their family. Mutilated and abused, she clung to life with ferocious tenacity. That had been 3 long, bloody years ago. Many were the villages torched and ravaged by either the north sudanese army itself, or more often the Janjaweed, Islamo-Arabic raiders crisscrossing the Darfur region and the border with Chad. While Omar al-Bashir's Muslim regime in Khartoum denied official association with the Janjaweed any time the UN bothered to ask, everyone on the ground knew the truth. [note: documents would later show conclusively that elements of the Janjaweed were armed by the Khartoum government starting at least as far back as 1999, and several instances of Janjaweed units seeking and obtaining permission from key elements in the North Sudanese Army to attack specific targets have been verified by multiple independent sources.]

Jon had never fired a shot at a human being before, and wasn't anxious to start now – certainly not at high-noon in the middle of an African desert, 28 kilometers from the nearest village. He and Roadrunner were on their own, their rifles and prayers the only hedge between a 60 man raiding party and 185 innocent villagers. Jon shifted his focus to the edge of the small convoy, pressed the PTT (press-to-talk) key on his left glove, and spoke softly, "Roadrunner, you have three, repeat three men fifteen meters to your northeast, and two men twenty meters to your south." One click of static, and Jon knew Hakim understood. Jon keyed the mic again, "Go, or no go?" The two clicks of static meant no, and Jon nervously tapped his trigger finger on the side of the receiver, slowly panning his scope across the convoy, mentally reviewing his range card, making windage and drop calculations and prioritizing targets, waiting for Hakim to signal a change in plans. 30 long, hot, tension filled minutes later, the trucks rumbled back to life, and Hakim sent a quick, "These guys return to base, Wile E. No threat now." Jon breathed a deep sigh of relief, and watched the hostile government troops take a northern turn at the dusty crossroads 2 klicks from his position.

3 nights later, Jon and Hakim trudged quietly into the nearby village, having checked the area carefully with Jon's PVS-14 NVG monocular first from an adjacent hilltop. Hakim's niece met them at the door of his thatch house. "Gud even," she smiled. Jon's heart went out to the sweet girl and her quiet, unassuming uncle. "Good evening to you, as well, Miss Rebekah," he replied, removing his boonie hat and bowing gently. "You want water, wash?" "Yes, please, thank you." The girl smiled and limped into the other room, motioning them to follow. A simple basin full of water and a few rags, simple though they were, brought light to their eyes and a hearty grin to the faces of the tired, salt-encrusted scouts. "Many thanks, Rebekah." Jon bowed again, and the girl left the room with a dip of the head. She rattled off a quick phrase which Jon's hastily acquired language skills implied to be a combination greeting and farewell to her uncle. Hakim smiled and responded similarly, and, after another gentle bow, she slipped out of the hut. Stepping past Hakim back into the other room, Jon lowered his pack to the ground and carefully removed the big rifle some friends of his Father had sent him for testing. With a languorous stretch and yawn, he dismantled the beast and began cleaning. Hakim's voice floated softly from the kitchen/wash room, "Perhaps soon we put rifle to real test, ya?" Jon grinned, "Ha! I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing, Hakim. Good to test it, good to protect your people, but I don't think this is what my Dad had in mind when he sent me over here. If you get me killed, my Mother will never speak to me again!" Hakim's voice floated softly back, "He sent you rifle, ya?" Jon was silent for a few minutes, gently wiping the inside of the large receiver with oil. "True, Hakim, quite true. We Trachsel men have never shied away from danger, not if it was necessary. I can't say that I like it, per se, but to defend the oppressed is a mandate of honour. Not something to go hunting, necessarily. There will always be the poor and oppressed, and it's not our job to police the world. But wherever we encounter it, we fight injustice as best we can. My ancestors fought the Catholics in Germany, the British in the Americas, the Americans in Tennessee when they tried to kill off the Cherokee, the Germans in WWII, and the communists in Vietnam. I guess I'm just the latest in a long line of warrior merchants." Jon chuckled, picking up the long barrel and running a lubed patch down the bore. "You know, according to legend, one of my ancestors was actually a merchant in the colonies, got appointed as an emissary to the Cherokee by the Continental Army. Ended up marrying the head honcho's daughter, and about got himself killed thirty years later escorting a bunch of Indian kids up to an orphanage run by some missionaries in Kentucky." Hakim came out, drying his long beard. "Your turn, fresh water in big pitcher. What is, 'honcho, and where is this, 'Kentucky?'"

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Story tagged with:
Romantic / Heterosexual / Historical / Interracial / Slow / Violent / Military /