The Long War, Part XIX - Mirage

Several kilometres from Aleppo a large convoy of UN trucks laden with food, supplies and fresh drinking water waited in a depot guarded by Syrian government forces. In and among the halted vehicles was a makeshift camp populated by idle UN staff. Tents, makeshift shelters, hammocks and fold-out chairs and tables festooned the spaces around the trucks, and in and around the nooks and crannies laptops and electronic devices of all kinds played wildly different forms of media to bored men and women lounging in the heat.

Mesmer, Syncaine and Azuriel sat in the shade of a tarp at the edge of the camp, watching a stocky Scottish woman berate a pair of Arab soldiers. McMasters was nominally charge of the relief mission, and whoever had picked her had done a good job - she was fearless in the face of guns and glowering soldiers, and the force of her personality and her belief in the righteousness of her cause was usually enough to bulldoze aside any obstacle in her path. That was before Syria, however. Today she was haranguing the government soldiers for stealing UN supplies from the stalled trucks. Two young soldiers stood shame-faced before the onslaught, before finally fleeing for the safety of their barracks.

"She's a firecracker," said Syncaine laconically. He rubbed the growing stubble of his beard, and took another sip of water.

"It won't do much good," replied Azuriel. He was laying on his back half-dozing in the sweltering heat. "The guards grab stuff during the night when everyone is asleep."

"Yeah, I know."

Mesmer looked at the bottle Syncaine was drinking from. "Did you take that from the trucks?"

Syncaine shrugged. "Everyone else was, so I thought why not?"

Mesmer sighed and shook her head. They'd been in a holding pattern for two weeks now, waiting with the stranded UN supply trucks for a call that would probably never come. The UN had come to Syria with supplies and good intentions, but their attempts to supply the refugees trapped in Aleppo had been stonewalled by the government's refusal to allow them access to the so-called neutral zone. The civil war was in its fifth year, and every year more and more nations joined the carnage. Despite the presence of blinking lights in the sky - despite the incident in Nigeria - despite the meltdown in France - the war in Syria continued unabated. The conflict in the desert had a timeless quality about it. It was a sand-blasted, arid and parched purgatory, and every year the dead and the hollow eyed were replaced by a limitless supply of more men, women and children destined for similar fates. The deserts of the Middle East was where the hopes for peace and prosperity came to die - yet, even in this blasted landscape, the olive trees dug their roots stubbornly in the flimsy soil, and the doves returned year after year, seemingly oblivious to the desolation around them and the shattered, desiccated bones of their forebears.

The Scot stomped over to the lounging X-Com soldiers, and her eyes immediately locked onto Syncaine's purloined bottle of water. "You took that from the trucks," she said accusingly.

Syncaine shrugged.

"Unbelievable." She walked off angrily, the tension in her shoulders clearly evident.

"I think she likes you, Syn," Azuriel observed. 

"Lucky me," replied Syncaine. They knew the real source of McMaster's frustration came from not having any authority over the X-Com operatives. They'd been inserted into the UN aid mission by order of the Secretary-General, and all McMasters ever received was a memo signed by Ban Ki-Moon ordering her to give the squad every form of assistance at her disposal. Nominally the squad were UN observers reporting on the status of the temporary cease fire between all combatants in Aleppo. The reality, however, was far different.

It was EXALT's presence in Syria that X-Com was interested in most. The newest player in the volatile and deadly game of international terrorism, EXALT had apparently begun as mercenaries for the jihadists, but had rapidly expanded, in some cases appearing to subsume substantial parts of both the ISIS and al-Qaeda networks. That did not concern X-Com directly - for them the biggest concern was the growing evidence that EXALT was being armed with alien tech. Kurd rebel forces claimed to possess cadavers bearing indisputable signs of genetic modification, and they had approached Mossad with a deal - they would turn them over if the refugees in Yarmouk were supplied. And so here they were.

Today, though, the war against the aliens was on dangerous ground. Azuriel, Syncaine and Mesmer were all Israeli, and their presence on the ground was a closely kept secret. No commander in their right mind would have ever considered deploying Jews in Syria, given the decades long enmity between the two nations, but X-Com's hands were tied - the Kurdish rebels had deep historical ties with Mossad, and they would only deal with the representatives of the Israeli secret service. So when Mossad was offered the deal, they relayed it on to X-Com command through Mesmer.

"So, you're a spy, Mesmer?" Bradford had asked after the briefing concluded.

"I'm a patriot, General," the scout-sniper replied. "Just like you."

"Any more patriots like you on the strike force? In the task force?"

"We have patriots from all over the world, General," she had replied.

It was a running joke that the X-Com strike force was made up exclusively of spies. No one had taken the unit seriously in its inception, and it was joked that the only people who applied for the strike force were intelligence officers for their respective nations looking to keep tabs on the movement of the international force. Mesmer knew she was a spy, but the fact that she had been ordered to reveal herself meant that Mossad no longer felt the need for subterfuge within X-Com. Her superiors in Mossad told her that Jeromai was an FSB officer, and she suspected that either Bhagpuss or Tremayne reported to British MI6. Even Bradford probably reported every X-Com movement to his superiors in the US Army. There was nothing secret about X-Com - every move it made was reported to a dozen intelligence agencies shortly after it acted. Yet somehow the coalition limped on, acting on an ad hoc basis and moving under its own inertia.

An olive skinned woman wearing a hijab emerged from one of the distant tents and walked towards the Israeli trio.

"What's happening, Saylah?" Azuriel called out from his bunk.

"Same story." The Saudi Arabian spoke in perfect British English. "Nothing. Assad won't budge. Neither will the Kurds."

"The aliens are laughing their asses off at us," Mesmer said suddenly. "Look at us. Humanity is a fucking joke. Maybe we should just let them take over."

Azuriel laughed mirthlessly, his eyes hooded. "Maybe they should."

"Worried about the Palestinians, Mesmer?" Saylah asked. "Uncommon sentiment from your people, isn't it?"

"Are you picking a fight, Saylah? Or just being a bitch as usual?"

"I have no problems with Palestinians," Azuriel grunted. "As long as they stay out of our country, and leave us in peace."

"And if they don't?" 

"As the good book says," Azuriel replied, eyes steadily fixed on the Saudi woman. "An eye for an eye."

"Here comes the sarge," Syncaine commented, smoothly cutting off the Arab woman's rebuke. Two more figures approached the throng of operators gathered under the tarp. One was a short, well-built Japanese soldier, while his companion was a large hulking bear of a man. The Japanese soldier, Okami, was the most respected squad leader of the task force. His marksmanship was second to none, and he was the founder and chief instructor of the impromptu sniper school founded in Tanegashima for new X-Com recruits. He led two squads in Ogbomosho during the African crisis, and fought in the week long battle to keep the chryssalids contained within the city. His companion was another respected soldier. Jeromai was a 40 year old plus veteran of the First and Second Chechen Wars. The Russian cut an intimidating figure with his massive build and piercing blue eyes. He rarely spoke, but every utterance was issued with the force of a command. The two of them were an unlikely pair, but together they were an effective command element for the X-Com platoon known as Shirogumi, or White Team.

"Get your gear together," Okami said in his clipped, strange English. "We're moving out in 10." 

"What changed?" Saylah queried.

Okami shrugged. "Assad won't move. Neither will the PYD. But the local commander has come to an agreement with the leader of the opposition forces in the Yarmouk area. He says we can deliver the supplies today."

Syncaine looked skeptical. "I don't like it."

"Neither do I," Azuriel agreed. "No official sanction from up high is an invitation for a gigantic clusterfuck."

Okami nodded. "I understand. However, the local commander is willing to provide an escort and accompany the convoy to Yarmouk. He says that he has negotiated a ceasefire."

"Do you trust him?"

"He's coming with us, so he is willing to bet his life on it. It's good enough for me. Otherwise we have to wait here longer. Maybe forever."

"Are we going in geared? Or as UN observers?" Syncaine again.

Jeromai answered the question. "I insisted that if we're going to go in on his word then we would go in armed, just as a precaution. Our UN credentials won't mean anything if someone starts shooting."

"What about al-Nusra? What happens if they show up?" Mesmer asked. The ceasefire between the government and the rebels did not apply to al-Nusra, the militant arm of al-Qaeda, nor did it apply to ISIS.

Jeromai looked at Okami, and shrugged. "Then we kill them."


  1. Fantastic entry. It's always refreshing to break away from the big picture and see things from the troops' point of view.

    1. Cheers dude - I'll have more time in August to write, so hopefully can develop some of these threads further.

    2. Ahh, nice, I was impatient for updates. Keep up the good work Duke, I will read anything you choose to present us with. Which begs the question: Have you written anything else?

    3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    4. Removed the double post. :D

      Sorry for the delay Felipe - TBH I've just hit major's writers block with the story and can't decide which way to go. For July I'm just doing a report of my play through because it's less taxing - I only have to describe what happens in the game.

      For August I'll switch back to the fan fiction, but for the remainder of July I'll just work on trying to complete my Long War run. Hopefully it will kickstart something in my brain.


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