Preview Chapters of DOMINION First Blood by Richard Mann

DOMINION  First Blood

Book One

by Richard Mann

Preview Chapters of DOMINION First Blood by Richard Mann

Copyright © 2017 Richard Guy Mann Goldbloom Publishing

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval without permission in writing from the author. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

“Sometimes doing your best is not good enough. Sometimes you must do what is required.”

Sir Winston Churchill

 

“A time to love, and a time to hate, a time of war, and a time of peace.”

Ecclesiastes 3:8

 

Cast of Characters

 Captain Peter ‘Bullet Proof’ Morgan – SAS soldier / MI6 agent

Corporal Vinnie ‘The Terminator’ Carson – SAS soldier

Lucia – Vampire Elder and member of the Vampiri Grand Council

Count Cassian – Vampire Elder and Head of the Vampiri Grand Council

Frank Wilson – US President

General Bill Scott – US Chief of Defence Staff

General Julian Grimbald – Head of US Space command

Professor Picard – Eccentric French Polymath

Father Sebastian Harris – Priest. Ex SAS

Ergtuk the 82nd – Sumeri Alien Clone

Herr Herg-Zuk – Sumeri Alien Emperor

Marshall Zurg-Uk – Sumeri Alien Defence Chief

Jennifer Morgan – Peter’s wife

Gill Carson – Vinnie’s wife

‘Handsome’ Mike – US Navy Seal

Captain Duke Miller – CIA agent

 

“I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.”

“To my mathematical brain, the numbers alone make thinking about aliens perfectly rational.”

“The real challenge is working out what aliens might actually be like.”  “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”

“If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the American Indians.”

Professor Stephen Hawking

Prologue

SUMERIA (ANCIENT IRAQ) 4000 BC

A huge object lands silently in the desert, next to a primitive settlement of mud huts. A temple and pyramid of polished white limestone stand nearby. The moonlight reflects off the massive alien craft.

Alien shapes move out of the craft, closely followed by snarling hounds with yellow eyes glowing in the dark. Spines project from their backs, saliva drooling from their large fangs.

‘Inim en-lil-la-ta sa šu gal bi-šu,’ barked a tall alien. ‘Take the human women – kill the men if they resist.’

The aliens enter the mud huts and drag out wide-eyed women dressed in simple, cloth tunics, screaming for their lives. The tallest of the marauders smiles sardonically at the scene before him – so many worlds conquered – such a weak enemy. He shouts an order to the hounds. His large black eyes squinted in the moonlight as he scratched at the diseased pale green flesh on his hand. ‘Na-ru-a-bi i-pad’.

‘Attack – Attack!’

The hounds leap forward and tear the men to pieces, the dog’s saliva arcing in concert with the victims’ blood. The green-skinned commander grins in satisfaction as the women are herded like sheep into the spaceship, still screaming, calling frantically for their husbands and children.

Nearby, on the top of the pyramid, an ancient vampire with long blond hair, looks on in disgust. As he stands his immensely strong and wiry body is framed against the moonlight. He opens his mouth to reveal sharp fangs that could tear an animal or human to pieces in just seconds. His name is Cassian and he is the oldest vampire on Earth.

‘Disgusting filth! Why don’t they leave the humans alone?’ Cassian’s eyes slowly turn red, he grows larger and black leathery wings sprout from his body. One of the alien troops looks up and freezes – standing open-mouthed and speechless. For Cassian was transforming into an ancient demon, his eyes blazing red, his hands now giant claws, his teeth huge fangs, drooling saliva.  Cassian leaps into the air and swoops down the pyramid, his leathery wings gliding silently towards the group of alien invaders. The alien soldier looks up as he sees the red-eyed vampire swooping towards them,

‘Nergal tuk! Nergal tuk!’

‘Night-crawler, Night-crawler!’ screams the terrified alien as Cassian swoops down.

‘I am Nergal, ancient demon, God of The Dead – come to me!’ he spoke in deep guttural tones, the alien soldiers slowed their advance, their black eyes wide with fear.

Other vampires appear out of the darkness, slipping through hidden crevices in the pyramid, their red eyes glinting in the moonlight.  As Cassian lands on the sandy soil he tears apart two frozen aliens with his talons. His red eyes glinted in joy and, with a swoop of his sword, he slices two alien dogs in half, then with lightning speed, bites the head off a green-skinned soldier as the head tumbles across the sand to a group of shocked soldiers who back away slowly, frantically looking to their leader.

‘Run for your lives – Run!’ orders Cassian to the freed women.

The freed women huddle in a group, clutching each other for support. Children clutch at the skirts of the women, wailing. A woman looks at her husband, fatally wounded, the sand stained red with his blood. She screams as she picks up a rock and throws it at the retreating aliens.

The tall alien commander points at Cassian and tells his troops to attack, but they run back to the spaceship instead, closely followed by the  commander, shouting over his shoulder as he scrambles up the ramp, knowing the battle is lost, his soldiers no match for the night crawlers.

Cassian watches as the remaining aliens flee to their ship, dropping their laser weapons as they ran up the ramp, the door closing behind them, the engines whine and the craft takes off, slowly at first, shooting off at lightning speed until it is out of sight.

‘Good riddance to the alien filth,’ muttered Cassian, as he looks at the scene of carnage around him, then back at the disappearing ship.

‘We are hungry,’ a vampire says as he goes to take the blood of an injured man. Cassian puts his hand on the vampire and throws him off.

‘We only feed on dead humans – let the others go.’

A bruised and bloodied woman with a torn tunic approaches Cassian, his demon red eyes glowing red.

‘Thank you – thank you,’ said the frightened woman. Cassian nods as the woman ran off to find her children.

They will be back, Cassian thought, as he watches his vampires feed hungrily on the dead, his eyes return to their natural blue color and his black leathery wings shrink. Cassian walks back to the pyramid, over the sand, his black cloak flowing behind him. He places his hand on the cool stone, utters ancient words of magic and where before, there were large blocks of stone, now a stone door appears. It opens to reveal a dark passage lit by torches – he walks into a room with a sarcophagus, and inside the tomb is an alien, large black eyes and tall thin body – preserved for study. He examines the body and takes a sample from the green diseased skin.

Why are the filth coming here – pillaging and kidnapping human women; are they declining, as a race? Their green flaking skin-they are not in good shape. We are not prepared for another attack, not nearly enough. The humans do not deserve to suffer at the hands of these despicable aliens, we need them – and they need us. One thing is for certain.

The alien filth will be back.

 

Chapter 1 – Getting Badged

BRECON BEACONS 2005

Two fit young soldiers are running up a mountain in military fatigues and full Bergen, sweat drips into their eyes, and down their backs, in the searing heat. Other soldiers are lagging behind – one collapses exhausted. They reach the top of Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons and pause for breath.

The sun bounces off Peter’s bald head as he shields his sharp blue eyes, surveying the majestic scene. His super vision picking out a struggling soldier miles away. He feels on top of the world, king of the mountain. His friend Vinnie smiles a cheeky grin, his short brown hair sticking up. Peter looks at his friend and has a moment of reflection.

Why did Peter become a soldier? Seemed like the best career move really. He left school at 16 with only one O level, in geography, and joined the army. His father died young so he had to support the family – his teachers said stay on and study but his family came first. He loved looking at maps and reading about exotic places in the world. Besides, growing up in Merthyr Tydfil – back end of nowhere, it was either wading through cow shit as a farmer or join the army. So he chose the army. Besides, he could travel the world and experience those exotic places for himself. He had been to Gibraltar with the army, but he knew if he passed SAS selection he would have real adventures in far-away places, just like his father.

He loved the mountains, the green valleys, more than anything else. The fresh spring water that sprung from the rocks – the smell of the air that filled his lungs, it wasn’t the dirty air of the city for him. He remembered the fairy stories that his Grandmother used to tell him about the hidden and ancient places in the Welsh valleys, places where time forgot and old memories lingered. Places of magic and wonderment, witches and wizards and cave dwelling hermits, and a story about an old wood in a hidden valley, where a priest lived, who had lived there since time began.

‘We’d better get a move on, they’re catching up’, panted Vinnie who looked down the mountain. Peter’s sensitive hearing picks up a conversation between two soldiers four hundred yards away – “You know what they say about Pete Morgan, he isn’t human!”

‘They won’t catch us’, replied Peter as they sped off again. Peter was the fittest soldier ever to be entered for SAS selection, and that’s saying something – nothing fazed him. Not the grueling thirty kilometer marches in pouring rain with a forty-pound Bergen on the back, nor shoulder lifting dead weight Vinnie, ten times up and down a steep hill. The directing staff are astounded, and rumors were spreading fast about him. Peter is built like Bruce Lee, with the same lightning agility, and the strength of ten men. Nobody could outrun him on the marches.

No one.

The SAS selection process either makes you, or breaks you, but you are never the same person again. Some on selection die, of heat exhaustion, in summer selection, or hypothermia in the winter selection, or simply collapse from exhaustion.

Peter, however, felt elated.

He felt strong as steel, as if another force, was within him, something stronger than himself. This was what he is meant to be, a warrior, him and Vinnie together, conquering the world. He had a vision of fighting dragons, with a sword, against all odds, and winning. Maybe he was fighting himself, and the dragon was his own inner demons he was trying to defeat, in this supreme test of endurance.

Any member of the Her Majesty’s Armed Forces can be considered for Special Forces selection, but normally most candidates have an airborne forces background. All instructors (directing staff) are full members of the Special Air Service. Selections are held twice a year, in Summer and Winter, in Sennybridge in the Brecon Beacons. Selection lasts for a total of six months. Less than ten percent will pass. Soldiers regularly died during a selection exercise. There is the hill phase, jungle phase, weapons and combat survival phase, weeklong escape and evasion phase and finally the Resistance to Interrogation.

On arrival Peter had completed a Personal Fitness Test (PFT) and an Annual Fitness Test (AFT). The doctors could not believe the readings. He was the healthiest candidate ever to enter for selection. Then he marched cross country against the clock, increasing the distances covered each day, culminating in what is known as Endurance: a sixty-five kilometer march with full equipment, including a sixty pound Bergen on his back, scaling and descending, Pen y Fan, which must be done in twenty hours. The endurance march, designed to bring out personality defects – must be completed in twenty-two hours. One candidate tried to cheat, by removing bricks from his Bergen to make up the weight, but Des, one of the DS’s had checked, and he was RTU’d, returned to unit, in short order.

It was completed by Peter in just three hours, a record. He literally ran down the hills and had the amazing strength and stamina to half trot, half-run up the hill again. Vinnie just scraped through in just under twenty-two hours. Peter did have some aches and pains and the Bergen had chaffed the skin on his back, and it was red raw, but nothing compared to Vinnie. He was a physical wreck.

By the end of the hill phase soldiers must be able to run four miles in thirty minutes and swim two miles in ninety minutes. Peter broke all records – rumors started among the directing staff.

Who was he – superman?

Following the Hill phase in the Brecon Beacons Peter’s wish came true and he travelled to Belize, for the jungle phase. Exotic places. He was taught jungle survival skills – patrol formation, movement and navigation. He returned to Stirling Lines (Hereford) to finish training in foreign weapons, battle plans and take part in combat survival exercises.

The final phase of selection is the weeklong escape and evasion. Peter and Vinnie were formed into a patrol, an SAS four-man unit, with two other candidates, dressed in old Second World War uniforms and carrying only a tin can filled with survival equipment. They were told to head for a point by first light. Peter was worried about Vinnie, he wasn’t keeping up, and for the last few miles, Peter had carried Vinnie as he had sprained his ankle, but nobody talked about it.

He would do anything for Vinnie.

They were being hunted by half a battalion of infantry and off-duty policemen with dogs – and helicopters. Most soldiers would be captured within a couple of hours, but Pete and Vinnie, managed to hide out by hiding in a ditch and covering themselves in branches and grass. They could hear the voices of the hunters and the barks of dogs as they huddled and lay motionless daring not to breathe – then Vinnie burped, loudly, and it was all over. ‘Come on sunshine,’ said the off-duty policeman, as he pulled back the branches, holding his dog on a leash. Then Des walked up, a half-smile on his face. ‘These are the last two.’ As they were put in the back of a truck with the other captured soldiers, filthy and exhausted, Peter had to laugh, Vinnie had the uncanny, and anti-social habit, of being able to burp and fart at the same time. Only Vinnie.

Up until this point, the phases have been to test physical fitness, which Peter excelled in. Now, the final selection test is possibly the most difficult: Resistance to Interrogation, RTI, which lasts for 36 hours. This tests a candidate’s mental toughness. Only if the candidate passes this test, do they pass for selection.

Vinnie, coming from an East End crime family, had struggled and been tempted to ‘nut’ the interrogator, but had thought better of it. Peter had been mentally much stronger than Vinnie but even he had thought about taking revenge on the interrogator, Des, but then thought no, don’t get emotional, it’s just training. Why come all this way to fail at the last minute. He only gave four pieces of information to the interrogators, name, rank, army number and date of birth. Up until this point Peter had played along with the interrogators, knowing he could literally walk away. But now, he was in the interrogation room, sat opposite two interrogators, Des and Artie. They sat there in silence for a while; then it began.

‘Artie told me your penis is so small, it’s a wonder you can pee,’ smiled Des. Artie laughed. It was expected; the personal insults. Peter was silent -they were trying to bait him.

‘I bet you used to sleep with your mummy, didn’t you?’ asked Artie, an evil smile on his face. Peter’s blood started to rise, the old warrior blood, as he stared at Des and Artie, his countenance changing. Des and Artie paused as they looked at Peter, he seemed to grow larger, maybe it was the light playing tricks, but his appearance had changed. Artie hesitated then leaned forward.

‘Were you a mummy’s boy, were you?’

‘I bet you wanted to fuck your mother didn’t you?’ The room seemed to grow darker, the atmosphere seemed heavy, like a thunderstorm approaching. Peter gripped the solid metal table legs, his biceps flexed and slowly but surely he bent the sturdy steel table in half, before their eyes. Des and Artie stood up and backed away, genuinely frightened, but still Peter was silent.

‘Interrogation over!’ said Des as they hurriedly left the room. Peter sighed, they had tested him, but he had not killed them, as he wanted to. He had kept his mouth shut, and he had passed the test. He sat there for a while, then walked out into the open air. Vinnie was there, looking like a sack of potatoes.

Peter was glad it was all over as he joined Vinnie outside. Then they saw Des approaching them, ‘No hard feelings eh?’ as he gave them a cigarette each. Peter nodded as Des lit his fag for him and he sucked in the smoke.

Peter looked around him, but they were the only two waiting, in the cold drizzle, looking like tramps.

Des lets them finish their fags, then instructs them to go to the Colonels office. Des actually managed a smile, and had a look of admiration on his face. It was at that point that Peter knew, that he and Vinnie had done it.

 

Vinnie and Peter wait outside the Colonels office in the SAS headquarters. Vinnie tucks his shirt in and tidies his hair. They are filthy and exhausted, both mentally and physically from the RTI, but Peter less so than Vinnie, who looks haggard. Peter feels calm and at peace as they are invited in and stand before Colonel Bradley, who is busy reading a document. They stand patiently for a minute before the grey-haired Colonel looks up. His hard eyes soften a little, and he manages a smile. He stands up and hands Peter and Vinnie the SAS badged cap – looking inquisitively at Peter as if not quite sure what to make of him.

‘Congratulations Gentlemen. Of one hundred and two you are the only two who passed final selection. Welcome to the SAS. You will both join A Squadron, Mobility Troop. Dismissed.’ The SAS has four squadrons A, B, D & G. Each squadron has four troops, Air, Mountain, Boat and Mobility Troops. Each troop has sixteen men when fully manned, but as the SAS is so difficult to get into, it is generally less than this.

Peter and Vinnie grin at each other as they salute and walk out, a feeling of exhilaration and accomplishment filling their souls as they look at their new caps. A badge with a dagger, the sword of Excalibur – with wings on either side. Peter studies the sword on the badge, it seems to resonate with him for some obscure reason. The SAS motto is “Who Dares Wins”, and their emblem is a dagger with wings. Their philosophy is to train hard, fight easy.

‘We did it Vinnie – we did it!’ Peter clapped Vinnie on the back.

‘My old man will be so proud,’ a tear welling in his eye.

So would my father, if he was alive, thought Peter.

He watches as he recognizes one of the soldiers on selection who collapsed, being stretchered onto an ambulance – he did not look good. He recognized him as a fellow candidate from the Welsh guards, Lefty, he did everything with his left hand. Lefty was a bit awkward and clumsy, and Peter used to stick up for him when the lads took the piss out of him. As he watched Lefty being put on the ambulance he reflected – Lefty knew what the risks were when he signed up for selection. That was the discipline, but he hoped he would be ok.

As he stands there, reflecting on his achievement, he is met by the SAS instructor team; Des and Artie, the Directing Staff. This time, instead of shouting at him, they are smiling and warmly shake his hand, congratulating him and Vinnie; a look of pure admiration on the instructor’s faces.

Des and Artie, hard, experienced SAS soldiers, all battle hardened, with the scars to prove it, look at Peter, as if they have a question that needs answering, no one had finished the selection, easier than this man. No one had completed the soul destroying marches quicker, or survived the mind-numbing torture in the interrogation sessions, easier, than this man. Their experience in the RTI had shook them.

Des looks at him. A look almost of disbelief, was this man human? Maybe they would find their answers later. Its’s impossible to cheat selection, so how did he do it? He would certainly be fast-tracked for promotion. Des felt a bit jealous, it took him ten years to become a sergeant in the SAS.

Peter looked at each of them in turn, knowing they had been through the same experience and come out the other side. They were made of the right stuff. He felt humbled.

‘I see the truth of it,’ He smiled.

‘How did you do it?’ asked Des. Peter just smiled again.

He shook their hands then went to find Vinnie. ‘I’m taking some leave – see my old man and Gill’, Vinnie looked at Peter. ‘You?’

‘I’m going home to see Jennifer and my kids – before the action starts again. She’s probably forgotten what I look like.’ He looked back on his life and how he met Jennifer. In his late teens he decided to study, part time, and did an Open University degree course in Geography and Languages. Which is where he met Jennifer on one of the study days at the campus.

It was love at first sight. They were married soon after.

Peter looked at Vinnie, hugging him.

‘See you soon brother – don’t get into any trouble!’

He thought about how long it was since he last saw his family, as he walked up the country lane past his local pub, up onto the moor. It had been a whole year, too long. Will his children recognize him? He stood there a while breathing in the air and the view of the surrounding, rugged hills, the green rugged greenery, wild and ancient. He walked down into the small wooded, hidden valley in the Brecon Beacons where his home was. Home where he would find peace from the memories of the selection course.

The air was fresh and full of the smells of spring as he trod through the dewy morning grass. All he could hear were the birds singing as he made his way along an old worn path through the woods. As well as the flowers he could smell horses, up ahead was a wild pony quietly chewing the grass. As he passed it on the woodland path, he gently stroked it. It turned his head and looked at him, then continued chewing the cud.

He would be home soon. The sun shone through the oak and pine trees – then he could see bluebells and he stopped for a moment to admire the beauty. A squirrel stopped and looked at him then scurried up an oak tree carrying an acorn. He loved this place, it was so peaceful.

Magical.

As he stood there in the silence, he could hear a stream trickling through the woods. He walked near some rocks and looked at the clear stream as it made its way down through the woods near to his house. He was sure there were fish, maybe trout in there – he would fish with his son and they would have fried fish for dinner. His son used to drink from the stream – Jennifer used to tell him off for it, but he seemed none the worse for wear. It was good, clean water, trickling down from rocks at the top of the valley.

As he looked at the water in a dreamy, half-trance he seemed to enter a different reality – time seemed to stop and there was silence as he had a vision of a large, ancient black book with gold embossed letters that he didn’t understand. He could see the book in front of him. Time seemed to have stopped as a bird is frozen in midair. He could see a man, a bearded priest.

When Peter awoke it was late afternoon, and at least several hours had passed and his family was expecting him. He shrugged off the visions, and put it down to fatigue as he walked quickly through the woods to his house, in the center of the valley. There were stories these woods were haunted by an old wise man, a Celtic warrior priest from early Christian times when the Celtic and Christian religions were one, who lived in a cave in the woods at the edge of the valley.

But he dismissed this as he came out of the woods to a small clearing. His heart felt glad as he saw his house, made of timber, strong and sturdy with flowers growing up its walls. He stood there and smiled as he looked at his wooden house, which seemed to grow out of the woods. His absence was telling – the grass is overgrown and the gutters needed clearing out.

But he was home.

He could see Jennifer, his darling wife in the kitchen window, her long brown hair and bright eyes, he suddenly remembered how beautiful she was. His children are playing in the garden as they looked up at the stranger coming out of the woods.

‘Daddy, daddy!’ they came running down the garden path and threw

their arms around him.

Jennifer looked up from the kitchen sink and ran out of the house, her eyes tearful as they all hugged each other, laughing and crying.

Jennifer stood there, pensive.

‘Well, how did you do?’

Peter showed her his new cap and Jennifer threw her arms around him. ‘Does this mean you’ll be spending more time at home?’ asked Jennifer her bright face looking hopeful.

‘We’ll see’, replied Peter, trying to sound optimistic. He smiled at her but inside he knew he would be away a lot, perhaps putting his life in danger, but he needed to find out who this warrior was inside of him, find some answers to his dreams and visions. Why did he have the strength of ten men, how could he run so fast, why did he have super vision, super hearing and why did he feel like there was someone watching over him?

His gut told him he had a destiny to fulfill. He knew that meant leaving his family. Again.

They all sat on some garden chairs in their small garden, surrounded by pine and oak trees, the late afternoon sun beaming down on them – butterflies are flying around. Peter had never felt happier than he was right now. He was finally home with his family. The sun was shining, and Peter and Jennifer could not stop looking into each other’s eyes. Then Peter kissed Jennifer and held her in his arms.

Peter took his young son into his arms and stroked his hair.

‘Let’s go fishing later – in the stream, in the woods.’

‘Yes, Dad,’ Robert replied.

Peter then lifted his daughter Sarah onto his lap and she gave have him a big kiss on the cheek.

‘Can I come fishing too, Daddy?’

‘Of course you can, sweetheart.’ He thought back to his vision of the priest in the wood by the stream.

Peter looked at his family and he was filled with a warm joy of contentment as he thought back to when he and Vinnie built this house from scratch. Peter had asked special permission for army leave so he could take a longer break. He and Vinnie would scour the woods for wood in the deep hidden valley in the Brecons he called home. They looked for fallen oaks and pines that were not rotten, and selected oaks that he could legally cut down with a felling license from the forestry commission, without orders signed in triplicate – Peter hated paperwork and beaurocracy. They would use a small tractor to drag the trees back and use a hastily erected mini sawmill to cut and shape the wood for the beams and tresses for the house. Jennifer and Gill would make homemade lemonade as they collapsed in chairs in the garden, sweating like pigs gulping down the cold drink, seeing who could make the loudest burp, laughing childishly.

In the evening, they would make local lamb stew on a roaring log fire, the Dutch oven sizzling the roast lamb, potatoes and vegetables. They would look up at the stars in the clear night sky, getting drunk on wine, often falling asleep in their chairs. Jennifer and Gill would keep on talking to the early hours, listening to them snoring – then help them to their beds – ‘magical days’, Peter thought. This was as much Vinnie’s house as his really – he helped him build it after all.

It really was beautiful in the spring and summer; the bluebells sprouting forth, the clear stream meandering its way through the woods, the sunshine breaking its way through the treetops. At Christmas they would collect chestnuts, then go home and cook them around the wood burner, warming their hands.

Jennifer looked at Peter longingly.

Peter smiled at Jennifer.

‘You two go and play. Mummy and me are going for a rest.’

They went upstairs to the bedroom, tore their clothes off and made frantic love – making up for lost time. Afterwards, Peter fell into a deep sleep, dreaming of battle and a shining sword – and a name, it was on the tip of his tongue…then he woke up suddenly shouting, ‘Caius! Caius!’

Jennifer put her arms around him, shaking him – ‘What is it? Who is Caius?’ Peter looked at her, his blue piercing eyes like jewels, the eyes of a warrior. Jennifer thought he looked like a god as she ran her fingers over his bullet hard, sinewy muscle, resting her head on his chest, then reaching downwards with her hand.

Vinnie, strong, muscular, fit – wearing an expression of permanent aggression on his face walks down Whitechapel Road in the East End of London. He reflects on his life, how he met his friend Pete, how he joined the army, and how he had the choice of working for his father, as an East End gangster, or join the army. He remembers the conversation he had with his father, Reg.

‘Son, You’re a good boy and I’m very proud of you – me and your mother love you very much – but this is not the life for you. I don’t want you to be like me – it’s too late for me – but you have a chance, join the army son – see the world.

Make me proud.

Vinnie never forgot his father’s words. He smiled as he looked around; it is familiar territory for Vinnie, where he grew up, his manor. His father Reg is a local businessman, as Vinnie calls him, but everyone is afraid of Reg, even the local law enforcement.

He smooths down his leather jacket and jeans as he walks into the Blind Beggar, a notorious pub in the East End. Everyone turns to look as he walks in, and stops talking. In one corner of the bar stand four very large, serious looking heavies. They are wearing smart Italian suits and sport combed back hair. In the silent pub, in the middle of the bar, is his wife Gill and his father Reg. Vinnie walks towards his father, trying to contain his emotion. As Reg hugs his son there are loud shouts and cheers from around the bar. ‘‘Hurrah for Vinnie!”

‘We’re so proud son, so proud of you!’ Reg wipes away a tear as he stands back and admires his son.

‘My son, a member of her Majesty’s Special Air Service.’

Vinnie looks at Gill and cuddles her, as he beckons for a pint of beer. Reg claps him on the back. They clink glasses as they down the real ale. Everyone cheers again.

‘It’s supposed to be a secret, Dad – getting badged’, whispered Vinnie. ‘Don’t worry son, your secret is safe with us. Where is Ron? He’s supposed to be here’. At that moment, as if by magic, Ron walks in and walks up to Vinnie, an expectant look on his face.

‘Hello Uncle Ron.’

‘Well son?’

‘I did – me and Pete passed!’

‘I’m so proud, me and Reg – were so proud – so very proud,’ as Ron put his hands on Vinnies shoulders, congratulating Vinnie.

‘Drinks are on the house,’ shouts Reg as the piano player begins a rendition of knees up mother brown.

‘Have some jellied eels son,’ offered Reg as Vinnie tucked in. Vinnie put his arm around Gill and kissed her again, as he looked at his family, his gangster family, and felt proud. They carried on drinking and partying until the early hours, but nobody complained about the noise. Later that night, a policeman patrolling alone heard the noise from the pub, thought about having a chat with the landlord, then thought again, besides he had a family to think about.

 

Chapter 2 – Yemen

MI6 HEADQUARTERS, VAUXHALL CROSS, LONDON

Peter arrives with Colonel Bradley at the MI6 building in Vauxhall Cross, London. The official name for MI6 is the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). He wasn’t told what it was about, and when he asked his Colonel he just smiled at him. ‘You will see.’ They get through the strict security and enter a lift which goes down to the lower levels of the building. He remembers the James Bond movies, with a suave debonair 007 driving an Aston Martin. If only the public knew the truth, it was people like him – battle hardened SAS soldiers who were recruited by MI6 to do their dirty work. Civvies are simply not up to the job of being a secret agent. No going to casinos in tuxedos, but spending hours, days, holed up in a dingy room, eating unhealthy food, monitoring suspects. When in the field taking enough imodium to constipate an elephant – an SAS operative must leave no trace of their being there. Smelling like a tramp. Boredom. Then moments of extreme danger and adrenalin.

Kill or be killed.

The lift opens and they are escorted into a huge white room, which is empty except for a large rectangular glass room in the center. It seemed out of place. From a hundred yards away Peter can see someone sitting down at a table in the glass room. Mid-forties. Posh looking. Pin striped suit, combed back hair, old school. Their footsteps echo as they walk in silence towards the sterile looking glass room. Their escort punches a code into a panel and the door slides open. The man is sitting opposite them and beckons them to sit down. Peter can see a perfectly ironed shirt, gold cuff links, old school tie – bet he went to Eton, but there was a hardness about him, as if he had seen military service. He had a scar on his left cheek. His face cracked open as he smiled, ‘Ah welcome Colonel Bradley and Sergeant Morgan. I am Nigel Goldbroom. Peter, can I call you Peter?’ as he looked at him, questions in his eyes. Peter decided to like him – he seemed genuine, not a beaurocrat.

Not a politician.

‘Yes Sir Nigel– I just wondered why I was brought here?’

‘This is a secure room, a completely sealed room, sound and bug-proof, for what we are about to discuss is top secret.’

Colonel Bradley and Sir Nigel smiled, as the SIS Chief leaned forward.

‘Myself and the Colonel were thinking of entering you into the Olympics young man!’ Colonel Bradley sniggered and his blue yes sparkled.

‘But then you wouldn’t be secret anymore would you?’

Sir Nigel looked at some papers on his desk.

‘You did the 65k endurance in three hours, a record unlikely to be beaten. The strength of ten men, super hearing and vision. Everyone’s talking about you Peter. And clever, a degree in languages, including Arabic. You can be a great asset to us. I have agreed with the Colonel here that you can work for us occasionally. Is that ok for you?’

‘Sir Nigel, I like you – you seem genuine so I will say yes.’ Then Peter added, ‘As long as Vinnie can accompany me that’s my only condition.’

‘Ah yes but he doesn’t have your abilities?’

‘He’s my wingman – I don’t do missions without him.’ Sir Nigel looked through his papers again.

‘Corporal Vinnie Carson, of questionable character, rebellious – father a suspected gangster. Ok but you must vouch for his behavior.’

‘Could provide useful intel – his father I mean,’ suggested Colonel Bradley brushing back his silver hair,’ raising his eyebrows.

‘On London terror suspects. Mmm,’ Sir Nigel rubbed his chin.

‘Me and Vinnie are a team,’ prompted Peter.

‘OK Agreed,’ smiled Sir Nigel who now leaned forward, a worried look on his face.

‘There will be no record of our conversation for what I am about to tell you, is above Top Secret.’ Sir Nigel drank some water, cleared his throat, then continued.

‘Thing is Peter – we have a problem here at the Intelligence Service. We think we have a mole in our organization. A rat. We have a few suspects but nothing concrete. We suspect they are working for the other side. With the terrorists. We are not sure if its Al-Queda or some or other terrorist group. Now very shortly you will be going on a mission to Yemen. Some terrorists kidnapped the Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. It’s a black operation – no-one will hear about it. You will receive a full briefing when you get there. Thing is, and this is the important bit – I have arranged for all the suspects to go with you as MI6 liaisons with your SAS team, which you will be leading. Keep an eye on them – there’s Saunders, Ponsonby and Ahmed. Here’s a file on them. Read it then give back to me. This cannot go outside of this room.’

Peter read through the two-page report on each suspect. They all appeared to be clean, good service records, no suspicious activities. Ahmed was a Muslim but he would not hold that against him. He knew many good Muslims himself; hardworking and good family men. Ponsonby. Went to Eton.

‘Did you go to Eton with Ponsonby Sir?’ asked Peter. Sir Nigel leaned forward, ‘Yes he’s a good man. He was my room-mate.’ Peter looked Sir Nigel in the eye. There was a look of sadness there, then it was gone.

‘Sir Nigel, let me be frank, these missions are dangerous enough, without rats in the pack. I need to trust people. I trust my men implicitly. It’s a dangerous variable.’

‘I understand Peter – but we want you to find out who the rat is.’

They sat silent for a while.

‘Thing is Peter, I don’t trust anyone,’ Sir Nigel said unhappily.

‘Here is my Personal number, it’s a secure line.’ Sir Nigel looked expectantly at Peter, almost pleadingly.

‘I have one more condition,’ asked a poker faced Peter.

‘Yes….what is it,’ asked a desperate looking Sir Nigel.

‘I want brown leather trim on my DB9 please.’

Colonel Bradley and Sir Nigel nearly fell off their chairs as they laughed. ‘Excellent, excellent, priceless Peter. I will enjoy working with you,’ laughed Sir Nigel.

As they come out of the MI6 building into the fresh air Peter thought he would enjoy working with Sir Nigel.

A range rover with blacked out windows pulled up outside.

‘You are going directly to RAF Lyneham and flying out tonight. Good luck Peter. I don’t have to tell you how important this mission is.’ Colonel Bradley shook his hand.

YEMEN 2007

peter and Vinnie are sitting in a C130 military transport with five other men from A squadron of the SAS. It was a rushed operation – only twenty-four hours notice – and it showed. It was supposed to be two four man teams, but one operative got pulled at the last minute. No explanation. The planning? What planning? Peter and Vinnie had no time to do their normal triple checks on their kit, as they normally do, apart from anything else. They had prepped their mission at the hangar back at the British base in Qatar – RAF Al Udeid, which is used to support military operations in the Middle East.

Peters mind raced at a million miles per hour – Not enough time to check their weapons (an M16 with grenade launcher), ammunition, radios, maps, survival kit, food. Not enough time to beg, borrow and raid the stores for all the kit they needed. Not enough time to get some food down their necks before the early evening flight. Something was bound to be missed in the rush. He liked attention to detail, but he supposes, time is of the essence. And last but not least, flakey MI6 liaisons. A rat in the pack.

‘I cannot fight on an empty stomach,’ Vinnie kept complaining.

Peter felt uncomfortable, both emotionally and physically, in the noisy, cold C130, a flying box basically, no first class loungers, no champagne and steak dinner, and certainly no pretty stewardesses. Peter wished he was back home – but he was here and he had to make the best of it – for his men.

The noisy C130 hits some turbulence and Vinnie winces and whispers to Peter about his sore arse. Peter is busy looking at the map again…… remembering the rushed briefing by the young, fresh looking MI6 man in charge, a short thin officer type with a posh accent called Ponsonby. One of the suspects. Peter and Vinnie took an instant dislike to him, and nicknamed him Pencil-neck. He had no military experience – seen no action, had no idea what it was like out in the field. Ahmed and Saunders were there, but they kept themselves busy, avoiding the SAS men, avoiding their gaze, then looking at Ponsonby. Peter thought there was an agenda here, and he didn’t like it. Not one bit.

‘Chaps, some Al Qaeda terrorists are holding the Saudi Ambassador to Yemen in a village in East Yemen on the edge of the Rubʿ al-Khali desert. The village is near Thamud in northeastern Yemen. We suspect there are least four terrorists, but there may be as many as ten. We don’t know the exact location. But we think it’s here.’ Pencil-neck pointed to a map on a board.

Not enough intel thought Pete, how can they plan their mission? Pencil-neck continued.

‘He was kidnapped some 24 hours ago. He has since been moved. Their demands are we release ten Al Queda terrorists being held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. We of course do not negotiate with terrorists. The Saudi government want to keep this quiet, and there is a news blackout, so this has been classified as a black ops mission, no one will ever hear of it. So if you get in trouble, you know the score.’

The assembled men winced – if things go pear shaped they will leave us with our dicks hanging out, thought Pete.

‘Mission code name is Desert Fox One. Desert Fox One will be commanded by Sergeant Morgan. Wheels up in minus 30.’

Pencil-neck tried to smile insincerely at this point and got dagger looks from the eight man SAS team, particularly Vinnie. ‘If we don’t make it back I’m going to kill him,’ Vinnie whispered.

‘Vinnie, if we don’t make it back…never mind,’ Peter reassured Vinnie, ‘I will make sure we get back okay?’ Peter stood up to address Pencil-neck.

‘Target appreciation. We need more intel. Number of terrorists, photographs, weapons. We need a precise location of our target – Our men are at risk without more information. This is not how we work. We need to formulate an Immediate Action plan.’

His fellow SAS men admired Peter at his directness with the Rupert, they liked him because he didn’t stand for any nonsense from officers, and this had made him some enemies. Pencil-neck looked with disdain at Peter as if to say, ‘Impudent fool.’

‘We will provide further intelligence as we get it, Sergeant Morgan. Dismissed.’

Out on the tarmac Peter is chatting to the C130 pilot. He is nicknamed “Kojak” because he has a bald head and wears dark glasses, just like Telly Savalas. He looked worried.

‘Pete, I’ve had no weather reports for Christ’s sake. I cannot fly without up to date weather!’ said Kojak with a deep Scottish accent. Pete looked intently at Kojak – ‘We got fuck all on target appreciation. I don’t like this mission Kojak, I don’t mind telling you.’ Kojak nodded.

At that moment Pencil-neck strolled up. ‘We need wheels up in twenty minutes.’

Telly looked pencil-neck straight in the eye. ‘I’m not flying without weather reports – I’m responsible for these men – I need the METAR report before I fly!’

‘You will fly in twenty, and that’s official,’ was his reply then he added,

‘There’s little chance of bad weather this time of year, particularly over the    desert.’

Kojak shook his head as he strolled off to his C130 to make final checks, muttering. Peter looked at Pencil-neck and swore that if this mission went to rat-shit he would do him himself. In military missions, especially the high risk missions the Special Air Service carry out, any small error can be soon escalate out of control. Men die. That’s why preparation is the key.

Men’s lives depend on it.

Peter was responsible for these men – they were his brothers.

Brothers in arms.

Pencil-neck looked at the fearsome presence of Peter, bald-headed, blue eyed, six-foot frame, built like Bruce Lee, the SAS man who is called “Bullet-Proof.” He had read his personnel record and it was impressive, if insubordinate, but then again the SAS does not recruit yes men, but operates a system of democracy, where each man can have his say, even if it contradicts a superior officer.

He went to shake Peter’s hand but Peter just looked at him, in silence, with his thousand-yard stare, keeping his counsel. He didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve like Vinnie, but he would ensure justice was done, if required.

It would be a HALO drop, High Altitude, Low Opening mission for secrecy and stealth so they could land quietly and surprise the terrorists. They would be flying at 30,000 feet.

Peter looked across at Sebastian, one of their four-man team. He was rough looking, had a lived in face, looked foul, but felt fair. He had turned religious, was reading a bible, and had a nervous twitch. He was a bit worried about him; Sebastian had been showing signs of stress recently. Understandable, but that was the job they did, that was the discipline.

They were in the life and death business. Peter and Vinnie both liked him and looked to him for spiritual guidance and advice, like a father figure. He would often read quotes from the Bible, and Peter would listen intently, trying to squeeze any ounce of wisdom to explain what they did.

Peter looked at the other members of his team, all oddballs, all amazingly fit, all with a touch of that resourceful fighting spirit – Baz, Mad Mike, Des and Artie.

On top of their flying suits, they had oxygen lines and strapped to their backs was the BT80 special forces parachute. By necessity the straps were very tight – the last thing you needed was a loose strap at 10,000 feet.

Peter recalled with humor, back at the RAF base, on the ground, how Vinnie, with help from a parachute dispatcher, had put his Para-Pack on in a hurry, and had trapped one of his nuts inside the strap. Peter, Sebastian and the dispatcher all rushed to adjust the strap and free his trapped nut. They all had a good laugh about it afterwards, but at the time, it was serious. Peter had never seen Vinnie looked so relieved.

On their fronts were strapped their Bergens with the kit and an M16 strapped to their sides. They wore their helmets and breathing apparatus getting ready for the jump.

As they sat in the C130 checking their oxygen masks and lines, and checking the parachute straps were okay, they felt a shudder as they hit another bit of turbulence. Vinnie swore again.

Then another shudder.

The noise inside the C130 was deafening, so it was difficult to talk, so he could just about hear Kojak’s announcement that they were hitting turbulence.

‘No shit Sherlock,’ thought Peter. The turbulence was even making Peter uncomfortable, and Vinnie, who didn’t fly well, was cursing every other second. Peter suddenly realized – they had only just started the pre-breathing period before the jump; they needed to breath 100% oxygen in order to flush nitrogen from their bloodstream, to prevent the risk of hypoxia and the risk of falling unconscious during jump. But only for five minutes.

What if they had to jump now?

This mission was fucked up already.

Peter could hear thunder, then he caught a flash of lightning. He couldn’t see it but he could feel, and hear it. The hairs on his body stood on end under his suit with static electricity. His sixth sense told him they were in danger; he had that feeling in the pit of his stomach. His warrior instinct, his Caius nature kicked in.

He would have to act soon.

He looked at Vinnie. Then he felt the C130 get hit by a lightning strike – the plane lurched. As Kojak struggled with the C130 controls, he heroically righted the plane, but both port engines were now on fire. The C130 is as tough as old boots, and he had flown many times in bad weather, but this was different.

They were flying into hell.

Kojak shut down both port engines, and was now flying on just two engines. He adjusted his flaps in a desperate attempt to keep the plane flying through the storm and driving rain.

Peter could smell smoke.

‘Fuck!’

The C130 lurched to the left this time, and Vinnie took off his oxygen mask, just in time as he threw up onto the floor. The plane shuddered again. Then it lurched to the right.

Then suddenly it dropped a hundred feet in a few seconds, in a freefall, then it came upward sharply, harnesses broke as some of the men landed in various positions on the floor, bruised and battered – the Jumpmaster lay on the floor; injured. It couldn’t get any worse thought Peter.

But it did.

‘Port engines out!’ screamed Kojak. The SAS men, hard as nails, now looked nervous, and looked to Peter as their natural leader. He read their minds.

He was responsible for these men, he trained with them, eat with them, drank with them, fought battles with them – they were like his brothers.

Then the C130 is hit by a lightning strike again, near the cockpit, and a fire started – most of the instruments went dark, as Kojak grabbed the controls, hanging on for dear life, while the co-pilot struggled with a fire extinguisher; smoke filling the cockpit. They put oxygen masks on as Kojak glanced back mindful of the men he was carrying.

‘We might need to jump!’ shouted Peter to the men and pointed to the tailgate of the C130. But it was closed shut. He had to talk to Kojak. He got up, and grabbed the headset from the unconscious jumpmaster.

‘Kojak, release the tailgate, we need to jump now – before it’s too late!’

‘Releasing!’ shouted Kojak. Then Peter had an afterthought.

‘Where are we?’ shouted Peter above the noise around him.

‘In the desert – Empty Quarter – near the border to Yemen – about two hundred miles from target!’

Peter hesitated, ‘Empty Quarter – shit – middle of nowhere!’

Then he saw flames and smoke coming from the cockpit. The tailgate was not moving.

‘Kojak – the tailgate!’ Peter shouted at the top of his voice.

Kojak tried the tailgate again. He burnt his hand as the fire spread in the cockpit.

But the tailgate would not move.

Peter stood up and walked awkwardly to the tailgate. If he couldn’t move it were all dead. He knew his own strength – the strength of ten men, but was it enough?

He grabbed the tailgate as high as possible to get maximum leverage and pushed down with all his might. He could hear the tail – gate creaking under the strain – but it didn’t move. He pushed down again, like a bull – this time it moved an inch, creaking and complaining.

He had some leverage now. Two inches, then a foot. Then it gave way and came down revealing the blackness of the night. Lightning streaks illuminating storm clouds.

He nodded to the team and they checked their helmets, breathing apparatus and suits, then followed Peter to the edge of the tailgate ramp.

He stood there looking out into oblivion.

Out into darkness, into the maelstrom of the storm. He looked at Vinnie.

‘Follow me!’ he shouted.

And then he walked out from the tailgate and launched himself into the air, closely followed by Vinnie, and the rest of the team. Visibility was non-existent, as he went through cloud, through rain, through the inky darkness. Flashes of light lit the clouds from the lightning. He would wait until he was through the storm before opening his parachute. It grew less windy and the clouds started to clear, the thunder became less loud as he plummeted through the air. He thought he spotted Vinnie, but it was too dark to tell. He looked at his day-glo altometer – twenty thousand feet. Then the oxygen system packed in – nothing was coming through. His heart raced as he gulped for air.

Nothing.

He tore off the mask and gulped in the air as it rushed by him. But the air was thin. He needed to get to 10,000 feet, where there was oxygen. His heart was racing as he looked at his altimeter again.

18,000 feet – he needed to calm his breathing and slow his heart rate.

17,000 feet. His heart slowed as he speeded through the inky darkness, which was now strangely quiet.

The storm had passed. He felt faint and blacked out for a second. Then came to. He had to open his parachute now. He pulled the cord and the silk parachute opened out elegantly above him.

Then he blacked out again.

He felt warmth on his face as he was sleeping. It felt kind of dreamy like he was on a beach somewhere, somewhere nice like Spain. But it was quiet.

Deadly quiet.

And alone.

How long had he been out? Several hours at least.

Then he opened his eyes and was blinded by the sun, he still wasn’t sure where he was as he dug around his pockets for his sunglasses. Then reality hit him with a shock.

He sat up, he still had his jump suit on, and the parachute was still attached to him. He stood up and detached the parachute, and buried it in the hot sand. The sun blazed around him as he dug around his Bergen and changed into his desert smock and Shemagh (Arab) headscarf. He took a swig of water from one of his water bottles and surveyed the scene.

Sand dunes, great rolling sand dunes – golden brown against a light blue sky, for as far as he can see – he can feel the heat radiating from the sand. Then he remembered Kojak’s last words. ‘‘Empty Quarter, the desert.’

On the transport to the Gulf from the UK, he had read up on the region, focusing on geography (his favorite subject). Rubʿ al-Khali, also known as the Empty Quarter, is a huge desert in the southern Arabian Peninsula, covering about 250,000 square miles, that includes portions of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen – about the size of France. It holds roughly half as much sand as the Sahara, which is fifteen times the Empty Quarter’s size, but the Sahara is mostly comprised of rocky outcrops and gravel plains.

He remembered one fascinating fact that is the largest area of continuous sand in the world. Rainfall of less than 1.2 in and daily maximum temperatures average at 47 °C (117 °F) reaching as high as 51 °C (124 °F). Then he jolted awake as reality hit home.

Vinnie! Where is brother Vinnie?

He looked around him – he was with him until he blacked out on the way down. He left his Bergen and walked up a sand dune – the soft sand shifted underneath his feet as he walked up. He adjusted his Shemagh as he battled his way up the sand dune. The sun beat down on his head as he climbed about two hundred feet, then stood on the top. He shielded his eyes against the sun and used his eagle eyes to survey the silent landscape.

More sand dunes. Sand dunes – as far as the eye could see.

What was that? In the hollow of a sand dune.

He walked towards the shape in the sand and shouted ‘Vinnie!’ Then he saw a hand come up and started running. He jumped over the top and into the hollow. It was Vinnie.

‘How are you mate?’

‘Sprained my ankle – I think. Where the fuck are we?’ answered Vinnie blinking in the sun.

‘Empty quarter; near the border with Yemen.’ Peter looked around him.     ‘Any sign of the others; Baz, Mad Mike, Des, Artie, Sebastian?’

Vinnie shook his head.

‘Let’s get our kit sorted and come up with a plan.’

Peter retrieved his Bergen and dumped it in the hollow with Vinnie, which offered a small amount of shade. They stuck the rifle buts of their M16 rifles into the sand and put a canvas sheet over them to make a make-shift shelter. Vinnie dug out his tommy cooker and put some water into a mess tin, and got a brew going. Peter nodded in approval.

They lay with their backs against the sand with the shelter above their heads, and sipped their tea. It is amazing how a simple cup of tea can improve moral – critical on any mission thought Peter as he dug into his army rations and they shared some biscuits. Then Vinnie dug out the radio, switched it on, selected a channel, and tried to make a transmission. It crackled with static.

‘Alpha One Zero this is Desert Fox One. Over.’

He was met by the crackle of static.

‘Channel 14 Vinnie.’

‘Yes, its’ set to Channel 14,’ Vinnie shouted in frustration.

‘Repeat – Alpha One Zero this is Desert Fox One. Over.’

Static again.

‘It was definitely Channel 14 Vinnie. It’s encrypted so….’

Then Peter stopped and looked at Vinnie. ‘You don’t think…’

‘They put the wrong encryption codes in?’ answered Vinnie. Vinnie tried again, but it was no use. They tried other channels but he was met with more static.

‘Who was responsible for setting the encryption codes?’ asked an angry Vinnie, trying to control himself.

‘It was Pencil-Neck,’ replied Peter. They sat there for a while and finished drinking their tea in silence, their minds moving at a million miles per hour, attempting to assimilate their situation – which was very serious.

Peter retrieved his map of Yemen and his GPS, which was working. He calculated the route they should take to the nearest point of civilization, which happened to be Thamud, a town in northeastern Yemen. The village where their target was being held was near Thamud. But for the moment their mission was aborted, well, it had already gone to rat shit. The mission was now a low priority – they just needed to get out of the desert.

Alive.

Thamud was directly South, about a hundred miles, as the crow flies, through the vast desert. A simple enough plan, but it was harsh terrain – it would be tough going, even for the infamous Bullet-Proof Pete. Worse, Vinnie had sprained his ankle on the parachute landing.

Peter looked at Vinnie, he was hobbling on his leg.

‘Vinnie – fuck the mission, let’s just get out of this desert.’

Vinnie nodded and winced again in pain.

They went through their Bergen’s and decided which kit to keep and which to throw. Food, water, clothing, survival kit, medical kit, M16 rifles and ammunition they would keep. Everything else, including claymore mines, they would bury, along with the parachutes. This was a Black Op operation, where normally they would even keep their poo inside a plastic bag, in their Bergen, to avoid DNA identification. But their survival was now the most important factor – how to get out of the desert alive, that was their driving need.

It would require all their training, just to stay alive.

Peter made the decision to put most of the kit inside his Bergen, while Vinnie would just carry the radio (that didn’t work) in his. If there was a chance they could get it working, they would take it. They slung their M16’s over their shoulders, and put the Bergen’s on their backs.

Peter, having the strength of ten men, could easily manage this. But like any human, he still needed water, and subject to the exposure to the sun like anyone else. Even though his ancient warrior ego, seemed to be taking over more and more of his persona these days, he was still human. Peter had the sense to pack some Factor 50 sun-cream, and they shared this, smearing it onto exposed areas.

Peter plotted a course, using his GPS and map – then double checked the course to his compass, just in case. Then he pointed South. ‘That way.’ And they set off.

‘Ice cold in Alex,’ smiled Peter to his friend, recalling the famous World War Two drama, where John Mills, after walking across the Sahara Desert, walks into the officers bar at the British base in Alexandria and orders an ice cold beer. He remembers the look on John Mills face just as the glass touches his lips.

‘Ice cold in Alex,’ replied Vinnie.

Peter looked at his watch, it was only 8am local time but it was hot already. Vinnie panted as they climbed a steep sand dune – three hundred feet high, hobbling on his sprained ankle through the shifting sand. They got to the top and took a breather – it was a fantastic spectacle, beautiful golden sand dunes as far as they can see. It was quiet and peaceful, just the sounds of the soft breeze blowing the sand on the shifting dunes, little lizards scurrying across the sand.

Peter felt a deep connection with the desert – it was a very spiritual place, never ending, like infinity and he had a sense of timelessness and oneness with it. A little lizard dashed past him, stopped, looked up at him, then buried itself in the sand.

Peter smiled. He felt a sense of himself and his place in God’s universe – in this harsh, hostile environment, which seemed to cut to the spiritual truth of everything.

Life and death.

He felt the presence of God all around him, silent and omnipotent, the potential of all things. Maybe this was a test, maybe God was testing him.

Peter was thoughtful as they continued down the far side of the dune, which was like going into a valley, the top of the dune blocking the sun, so it was cooler there, like a darkened valley. They sat back on their Bergen’s and let themselves slide down the hill to the bottom. Peter laughed, it was actually fun, this sand dune surfing as he looked at Vinnie, who was wincing a bit in pain.

It was noon and they stood on top of another massive sand dune, sun now floating above their heads like a halo. The sun was very hot and they adjusted their Arab head-scarves to prevent burning. Peter reckoned they had travelled all of six miles.

Six miles in four hours. Not good going.

He had tabbed sixty-five kilometers in three hours on endurance, (an SAS record), so this was very poor going by comparison, but this was very difficult terrain.

It was hot now and they stayed in the shade of the valley of the dune for an hour. Peter had a look at Vinnie’s ankle, it was definitely swollen and bruised; this was more than a sprained ankle. Peter touched Vinnies ankle joint and he winced again. He took Vinnie’s boot off and examined his foot.

‘Bone might be fractured.’ Peter put some cream and some bandages around the ankle and foot, and gave Vinnie some painkillers. They waited until four in the afternoon when it would be less hot and they got moving again, but Vinnie was getting slower. Peter put the radio into his Bergen to ease Vinnies burden, and they carried on.

‘Come on Vinnie – we need to cover some miles mate.’ Peter checked his GPS and compass again, they were slightly off. He adjusted his course, with Vinnie lagging behind again.

‘Do you want me to carry you?’ Peter joked, Vinnie grunted as they soldiered on. It would be getting dark in a few hours, and they needed to cover some miles.

They stopped at sunset, and watched the sun go down – a golden haze on the golden sand dunes, Peter liked the quiet and spirituality of the empty desert as he watched the sunset, trying to make sense of their situation, and how they got into this mess, in the first place. On the positive side there were no wild animals or enemy to worry about out here. They ate in silence as it slowly got cooler and they eventually crept into their sleeping bags and not even Vinnies loud snoring could keep Peter awake.

He dreamed of an ancient warrior in chain armor, and carrying a huge silver Sword of Power, a Holy Sword, which vibrated and emitted a blue light, which his enemies were terrified of – then he dreamt of being on a plane in a storm and flying through the air and walking through a golden desert. When he eventually awoke, he half opened his eyes but wasn’t quite sure where he was, was it in Wales in his nice comfy bed, but then he realized with a shock that he was not in Wales, but in a desert in the middle of nowhere, trying to stay alive, with his friend Vinnie.

He checked their water supply – he had two full NATO Osprey water bottles, plus halfway through a third. Vinnie had one and half bottles – four liters, not enough. He reflected on his survival training, which was extensive. In the hot dry desert with temperatures approaching 50c at peak, he would need three liters per day, each, as it was the hot season.

They didn’t have enough water.

He looked at his watch 6am. They would need to get going soon, before it got too hot. Vinnie winced as he stood up and limped behind Peter. Peter put on his Bergen, then put his arm around Vinnie to help him. Vinnie is his oldest childhood friend and he would go to the ends of the earth to help him. They were brothers, blood brothers, brothers in arms, and they needed a miracle.

With Vinnie hobbling they were making very slow progress. Vinnie could feel Peter’s impatience as they made their way up and down sand dunes – in the end they found the easiest way was to walk along the top of the dunes, as long as it headed south, towards Thamud.

Around noon when it was baking hot, they stopped for a drink in the shade of a dune. Vinnie took a gulp, Peter just took a sip, in an attempt to conserve water. He looked at Vinnies ankle again. It was swollen and looked infected. He put a new dressing on, then helped Vinnie to his feet, then Vinnie looked at him, his lips cracked and sore, his face burnt by the sun, his eyes misty and confused.

‘Leave me Pete, I can’t walk. Leave me here to die. I’m not worth it. I’m a burden……Tell Gill I love her. Tell her I’m sorry.’

‘Vinnie shut up, I’m not leaving you here to die mate. We carry on.’ With that Peter switched his Bergen round to his front, and Vinnie climbed on his back piggy-back style. Peter did not complain as he carried Vinnie’s weight under the baking sun.

As he trudged in the burning heat, the dead weight of Vinnie on his back, he thought he could see something. In the distance Peter could see an object – in the desert, an aircraft, definitely an aircraft. As he got closer, he could see it was a C130 – their C130. It was broken in two, but the wings were intact. They looked inside, then looked in the cockpit, the co-pilot was dead, but no sign of Kojak. Where was he? He searched the fuselage for water, but there was none. Did anyone know it had crashed? Was the transponder working? Why were they forced to fly in bad weather? Was there another agenda here?

Do they stay or go?

Peter was tempted to stay in the shade of the C130 fuselage, but they continued on to their destination of Thamud for two more days, making progressively slower progress, Vinnie’s condition getting worse.

They didn’t have enough water. One bottle left between the two of them. Peter tried to push this thought from his mind as they watched another sunset go down.

He had never been much of a churchgoer but living in the beautiful and isolated Welsh valley that he did, he had a sense of the nature of God, the stillness and the beauty, perfection of nature, in all its forms. He didn’t like cities – too much concrete and glass. He respected nature and felt closer to God in this lonely desert; but they needed a miracle. He bowed his head and said a silent prayer in the sunset. Then they slept.

When they awoke they drank the last of the water and got going again. But his throat still felt parched – he hadn’t peed for two days now. As he carries Vinnie he can feel the heat of the sun, beating down on his head. He feels dizzy and disorientated as he staggers forward, the desert seemed hazy, and the desert and sky seemed to become one.

Peter’s mind wanders and he thought about when he and Vinnie first met. As a teenager, Peter used to spend weekends shooting rabbits in the Welsh hills. Vinnie used to come up from the East End of London to get away from the smoke as he calls it. Vinnie could shoot a rabbit at three hundred yards; he was a natural. They immediately hit it off and became best mates – camping out in the hills, eating baked beans and sausages from a tin can – as well as roast rabbit of course. They talked about joining the army together. It all made sense at the time. For Vinnie, it was either be a gangster, like his father, or join up. For Peter, it was either the army or work on a farm, there weren’t many jobs in Wales, after all.

Vinnie – he could always count on Vinnie. Dead reliable, saved his back more than once. And in life that’s what’s important – finding people you can rely on. Vinnie’s a scruffy bastard and he’s got no manners. I mean, you wouldn’t take him to have tea with the Queen or anything, but Peter loved him like a brother, and that’s what counts, someone you can trust one hundred per cent.

Peter thought about his reputation of never being shot in a firefight, and not even getting a scratch, his amazing speed and agility, and the best soldier in the regiment, which made him curious. Many of his SAS colleagues and friends thought it was unnatural, supernatural some called it. There was something greater than himself at work here.

His mind then wandered back to his home in the valley, his sanctuary away from the madness, fishing with his son in the stream that ran through the woods, those ancient enchanted woods. His vision of the old man, the priest, and what was he saying as he was pointing at him?

“You are the one.” What the fuck does that mean?

Peter staggers as the desert shimmers in front of him. Then in front of him he has a vision of a huge black ship in the sky, monstrous and foreboding. It filled the horizon, making a thunderous grinding noise, as it turned slowly, in the sky. It felt alien, as if it didn’t come from Earth. Then it shimmered and then it was gone, but it didn’t feel like an illusion.

It felt real to him.

He reached for his water bottle, to get some water on his dry cracked lips, but it was empty and he fell to his knees, weak and confused – Vinnie’s arms around his neck. ‘Leave me…Leave me Pete – I’m a burden…’ Vinnie whispered almost incoherent.

Then in front of Peter – the desert shimmered again and he could see something in front of him…

His heart races, as through a mist, a man in a cloak is pointing at him. He has a brown tanned face, wise, kind eyes and a small beard. He has the look of a priest with a hooded cloak and an aura of patience and understanding that some priests possess. The wise man patiently opened a large black book. The man beckoned to him as he turned the old, heavy script-like pages – it looked like Greek, and then the man looked at him. Peter hesitated confused – who was this man? What was this book? Peter looked at the priest, he had a kind and gentle face, was this the man he had seen in the wood when he fell asleep? His heart slowed as he began to trust this man. He joined the man and looked at the ancient black leather bound book.

There was a picture of an ancient warrior, a knight with a sword. Peter was transfixed as the wise man gave him the sword from the book. It had a gold handle and pommel and the silver blade gave off a bluish light. It felt strong in his hand and he felt empowered as he held it. The priest called “Caius, Caius you are Caius” – Peter felt confused, my middle name is Cai, he thought, an old welsh name meaning Kay, not Caius. His father told him it was after one of King Arthur’s knights, the one closest to him. The indestructible one.

The priest continued, “That is your name, your name of power, Caius – remember it. The sword you hold is ancient. It is your birthright. It was created before the angels by the one who came after. It is one of the seven holy swords of Prince Michael; the Lord of all Angels, the one who is like God. You may call your sword only in time of great need. It will give you power, just call it three times and see it in your hand. It is Caledfwlch, an ancient Welsh name, later it was called Excalibur, in Latin the sword is called Caliburnus. It has other names. Listen to your heart, you will choose the right one. It has existed before the creation of the earth, before men, before the dinosaurs roamed the earth. The sword will give you power, strength and the will to succeed and conquer your enemies,” said the priest.

As Peter stood in the desert he admired the blade, and it vibrated in his hand, the power running through his body – he felt invigorated and indestructible.

“One more thing – You have the ability to grow as tall as the tallest tree in the forest if so pleased and the ability to radiate supernatural heat from your hands. Now sleep,” said the priest. Peter lay on the sand and slept – he had confused visions of battles, strange flying craft and beings which were not human – but all around him is an aura of blue light.

When he awoke he had another vision….A golden haired being surrounded by blue light, with white angel wings, dressed in white robes, with a gold belt, and a gold necklace with a blue jewel. In his left hand, he holds a golden cup, and in his right hand, he holds a silver jeweled sword. It was the same sword the priest gave to him. The entity smiles benevolently at him and Peter is filled with hope. The being spoke no words, but he felt comforted, and reassured; that in the end, all would be well.

The entity walks toward him and puts the golden cup to his mouth and Peter drinks a cool liquid, like crystal water, and immediately he feels invigorated – the being does the same for Vinnie. Was it an angel thought Peter, like in the bible stories? Was he dreaming? But Vinnie is with him. It must be real. Then the being spoke.

“The water from the cup will sustain your mind and body in the battles ahead. You are Caius.”

Then the entity is gone and they fall unconscious lying in the sand.

They awake and Peter continues walking, carrying Vinnie again, who is moaning incoherently. Vinnie isn’t going to last much longer thought Pete.

They need a miracle.

The heat became unbearable, like an oven, the air hot and still with no breeze. Just over the lip of that dune, I must make it to the top of the dune. Peter summons all his remaining strength and manages to crawl over the top and Vinnie falls on top of him. They lay there in the shade of the dune, but it was midday and the heat was stifling.

‘You look like shit,’ laughed Vinnie deliriously. This is the end thought Peter just before they both fell unconscious.

Peter is being prodded by something – his eyes half open and his parched mouth and cracked lips try to speak – his eyesight is blurred as he tries to focus. He can see a dark brown, leathery face looking at him with keen eyes. Kind, gentle eyes.

He is wearing a traditional red check headdress with a black band around it and white robes. He puts a goat water skin to Peter’s lips. The water is cool and pure as Peter gulps the water down his parched throat.

In perfect English he speaks, ‘My name is Abd Al-Wali,’ the Arab man bowed. Peter feels refreshed and recovers slightly as his quick mind analyses the name in Arabic. Peter bows to the man and shakes his hand.

‘Servant of the Guardian.’

‘That is correct,’ spoke Abd Al-Wali, ‘You are most knowledgeable for a westerner.

‘I studied Arabic,’ replied Peter. The kind Arab helped Vinnie to his feet and gave him more water from the skin.

Peter looks at the Bedouin nomad, for that is what he is, for no other Arab is as welcome to strangers. He is small and thin, for food is scarce in the desert and being thin helps get rid of body heat. His face is fierce, with a pointed, hawkish nose, olive skin and sharp little beard. His eyes are kind, but wrinkled by years of squinting in the sun. He looked a bit rough but felt fair so Peter decided to trust him. Gut instinct.

‘Come, you will be guests in my home.’ We are saved thought Peter as he reflects on the chance meeting in the desert. Peter and Vinnie climb onto a camel each, strap their gear and follow their new friend. The camel looks back at Peter and sneers at him, showing its crooked teeth, drooling saliva.

Eventually they descend into a valley in the dunes, and it feels a bit cooler. Some Bedouin tents are arranged around a herd of goats and camels. Peter sees a small cluster of date palms and a few hardy plants – a small oasis in the middle of nowhere.

This peaceful, place of quiet and solitude. Was this the peace he had been seeking thought Peter?

They walk inside the tent and there is a flurry of activity as their Arab host issues orders to his wife, daughters and relatives. They scurry round preparing food, and offering tea to their honored guests. Peter had read up on Bedouin culture – Bedouins are expected to boil their last rice and kill their last sheep to feed a stranger. Hospitality is regarded as an honor and a sacred duty.

Peter and Vinnie are invited to sit and share a cup of thick, gritty coffee. Vinnie winces, but Peter nudges him and he thanks his host graciously. Then they are introduced to his wife, two daughters and son. The women wear long decorated robes, which cover their head, but are not masked. They sit on soft cushions while Abd Al-Wali’s family smile and stare at them.

‘Be on your best manners Vinnie,’ Peter warns, but Vinnie is very grateful and thanks his host again.

Peter watches as a goat is slaughtered in accordance with Islamic law and their host approaches Peter and Vinnie in turn and smears blood from the goat onto of the mouth of his guests, in a show of hospitality. Peter knows this is a great honor and thanks him again.

Soon they are sitting down to a feast of goat, rice and beans, and mint tea. It is delicious and Peter nods and thanks each of the family in turn for the food.

‘Allah be praised,’ said his host.

‘Why is your English so good?’ asked Peter.

‘I listen to the BBC World Service with my family.’

Peter thought this Bedouin Arab man, whose race have lived in the desert since before recorded time, had more honor in his little finger than Pencil neck had in his whole body. Peter stood up, bowed to his guests, then addressed Abd Al-Wali in fluent Arabic.

‘You are a man of honor – and you always be my friend.’ With that his host kissed Peter on the lips in a show of great affection. Vinnie also bowed and shook his hand, but refrained from kissing him.

Then they were shown to their beds; blankets and soft cushions. ‘We will talk in the morning Peter.’ With that they both fell into a deep sleep. Peter wakes at dawn and strolls out of the tent to stretch his legs and is greeted by his Bedouin host.

‘Your friend Vinnie is injured – you are welcome to rest a while.’

‘Thank you. We will stay for two days then we need to get going again,’ said Peter liking this man more by the minute. But could he trust him?

‘You are a military man. You are on a mission,’ Peter smiled at his intuitive friend. Could he still complete his mission?

‘I’m looking for a village near Thamud where an important man is being held.’ Abd Al-Wali nodded and understood.

‘My Bedouin brothers told me about this. I will take you there in three days.’ As if reading his mind he looked at Peter – ‘There are other soldiers like you – nearby.’

Peter was elated – some of his team must have survived! He tried the radio again changing frequencies to try to contact his team and superiors but it didn’t work. While Vinnie was nursed and his ankle bandaged by the Bedouins family, Peter wondered how they could have survived.

Was the angel real? It felt real. Peter began to believe in miracles as he rested in the Bedouin tent quickly regaining his awesome strength. On the third day they loaded their gear onto camels and set off with Abd Al-Wali, leading the convoy of three camels, and their riders.

As they set off through the desert again the scenery changes and they see ancient temples built out of the rock, with stone pillars, made out of pink and brown rock. Peter looks at the holy sites, and ponders about what may transpire – but decided that nature will take its course and everything will work out okay. It was a miracle being saved by the Bedouin man, he knew that – after his mirage of the angelic entity dressed in white robes.

Was he dreaming?

Soon they are on the outskirts of a village. Abd Al-Wali points to a mud hut near the edge of the village, gets off his camel and greets another Bedouin man, who stands guard outside, carrying an ancient Enfield rifle. Peter and Vinnie follow him into the mud hut and in a dark corner, he can see Sebastian sitting, his head going back and forth, nodding. He is holding a bible and chanting something, repeating himself. He looks up at Peter, but his sunburnt features show no recognition of him.

‘Sebastian, its Peter from A squadron.’ Sebastian looks up again and suddenly, there is a look of recognition.

‘You are Peter – they call you Bulletproof Pete.’ In another room he finds Des and Artie.

‘Allright lads, where’s Baz and Mad Mike?’ he asks. They shake their heads, they looked sunburned, with cracked lips, but otherwise look okay.

‘Lost in the desert,’ replies Des shaking his head. Sebastian joins them, mumbling to himself, as if he is talking to someone who’s not there.

Had the desert driven him mad pondered Peter, as he looked at Sebastian. They all gathered round, while Vinnie, got a brew going.

‘I’m very grateful and everything but don’t you think it’s odd that this Arab just found us in the desert?’ said Vinnie.

‘He saved our lives Vinnie – if he was one of the terrorists he would have killed us where we lay – if we hadn’t died of thirst first.’

‘Yes you’re right,’ said Vinnie.

‘Besides I know these people. I studied Arab languages and culture at University. The Bedouins, this Bedouin I think is genuine. What do you think lads – shall we trust him?’ Peter looked around the room at his sunburnt colleagues.

‘He saved us,’ said Des.  Artie nodded.

They are joined by Abd Al-Wali.

‘Ok lads time for a Chinese parliament. First off, a big thank you to our friend here, Abd Al-Wali. Without him, we probably wouldn’t be here now.’ They all nod and shake his hand warmly. Peter decided they needed more than Vinnie’s tea to boost their morale.

‘I think we should make our friend here an honorable member of our squadron, for services rendered. Hands up who agrees.’

They all put their hands up.

‘Abd Al-Wali, you are now an honorable member of the Special Air Service.’ The Bedouins eyes watered as he looked at his comrades.

‘It is an honor for me – thank you,’ he bowed his head.

‘Now down to business. Did any of your radios work?’ They all shook their heads.

‘Wrong fucking codes,’ swore Des as he sipped his tea.

‘It’s Bravo Two Zero all over again.’ Vinnie found some biscuits in his pack and handed them round, which went down very well.

‘Who was it?’ asked Des.

‘Pencil-Neck,’ replied Peter. They all nodded and looked at Peter.

‘I will do it,’ replied Peter acknowledging their need for justice. They were silent for a moment then Peter continued.

‘Anyone seen Kojak? – we saw the crashed C130 in the desert. Co-pilots dead, but no sign of Kojak.’ They all shook their heads.

‘I spoke to Kojak before we left – he never received any weather reports from Pencil-Neck.’ They all looked in disbelief at Peter and shook their heads. The weather report was a big detail that was missed in the rush.

‘Cheers Vinnie, best cuppa tea ever,’ said Des – the lads nodded at Vinnie as he handed round more biscuits. Peter admired Vinnie – he had the amazing knack of brewing the best tea you ever tasted and the lads loved him for it.

‘Yorkshire Tea,’ said Vinnie.

‘Now back to the mission. Our Bedouin friend here has some information about the Saudi Ambassador.’ In perfect English the Bedouin addresses the rough looking, super fit, sunburnt soldiers around him.

‘My Bedouin friends tell me the Ambassador is being held in a house just one mile from here.’ He draws a map of the target house and its environs in the sandy floor.

‘More tea please Mr. Vinnie,’ the Bedouin asks politely. Vinnie obliges and Abd Al-Wali smiles taking two more biscuits.

They all warm to the Bedouin man who had saved them from the desert – who had brought them to this place of safety, they appreciated his great compassion and kindness towards them. The man who through his Bedouin network in the region had gathered all the required intelligence for their mission. Peter had always tried to befriend the locals in any mission, they could always give intelligence that wasn’t available elsewhere.

Hearts and minds.

‘How many terrorists?’ asks Peter.

‘Maybe ten. Four outside keeping guard, four in the backroom with the Ambassador and two in the other room. They armed with Kalashnikovs and RPG’s. But they are not good shots; praise be to Allah.’

‘How do you know?’ asked Peter.

‘We saw them practicing,’ replied the Bedouin.

‘I want you to get a message to the Ambassador to stay in his bed, lie flat at all costs, ok?’

‘One of my kinsman delivers food to the house. It will be done. When will you attack?’

‘5am tomorrow morning.’

‘Oh my kinsman will have to go tonight,’ answered the Bedouin.

‘We cannot wait – we need the element of surprise. Thank you my friend,’ said Peter and shook his hand pleased as punch with the intel. The rest of the team thankfully shook the Bedouins hand again, hardly believing their luck in finding this man.

They decided to rest up and strike before dawn. Before First light. They cleaned their M16’s of sand and oiled the parts before reassembly. They packed enough magazines in their belt kit and webbing for the following days’ mission. Then they scrounged in their Bergens for what was left of their rations, before Abd Al-Wali saved the day by inviting them to another house where they gratefully ate a delicious meal of goat, rice and beans. Vinnie tried his best to keep good table manners and when he burped he was a bit embarrassed, but his hosts smiled and clapped.

Then they said their heartfelt thanks and went back to the mud hut to get an early night. Peter decided not to call Pencil-Neck again in case his M16 operatives alerted the terrorists – there had been enough fuck-ups for one mission.

Zero hour was set to 5am precisely.

The target house apparently was not much more than a mud hut. They would not risk any surveillance to avoid detection and retain the element of surprise – there were no suitable lying up points available.

Des and Artie would take up positions in front of the target house to take out the four guards at zero hour. Des and Artie would take out the terrorists in the front room. Vinnie would set a charge and blow the back of the target house at zero hour. This was where the Ambassador was being held – his codename was hotdog. Then Peter and Vinnie would clear the backroom and acquire hotdog.

They were up before 4am rechecking their kit, blackening their faces to stop reflective light before changing into traditional Arab clothing. At 4.00a.m. they moved stealthily into the night – a Bedouin friend of Abd Al-Wali showing them the way. As they made way, they only met two Arabs, but were ignored. They were careful to keep their magazines in their belt kit underneath the robe and their M16’s covered.

At 4.30a.m. they were at target and started taking up positions. Outside the mud hut were four guards, but two of them were sleeping. No sign of any other activity. Des and Artie took up positions at the front of the house, hiding in an alleyway, while Peter and Vinnie, along with Sebastian, moved quietly up the street, down an alleyway, and went to the rear of the building, hiding behind a low wall.

They lay there absorbing any activity around them. All was quiet. The moon was still out and lit the night, and there was no cloud cover. A mouse scurried in front of them. Then two rats started sniffing Vinnies boots, before they got bored and went on their way. There was just fifty yards between them and the target house. They absorbed all activity around them, every shadow where someone might be hiding, every noise.

Peter beckoned to Vinnie to fit the charge. It was 4.40 a.m. – twenty minutes to zero hour. Sebastian shifted nervously behind Peter as they watched Vinnie quietly and expertly place the charge; then stoop low and get back to safety. Peter had decided to use Sebastian as backup for them in case they needed it, but he was nervous about using him for the main assault, he just wasn’t up to it.

‘All set,’ whispered Vinnie as he got back behind the low wall. Sebastian crossed himself and said a prayer for them while they waited.

4.50a.m. ten minutes to zero hour.

They had no other comms so he assumed Des and Artie were good to go. At the front of the mud hut the two terrorists who were asleep were now awake and sharing a cigarette, Peter could see smoke drifting over the mud hut and the faint smell of cigarette smoke touched his nostrils.

4.55 a.m. Five minutes to zero hour.

At that moment Peter could hear the sound of bells, and looked round to see a young shepherd boy, walking towards them, the bells around the goats noisily jingling away. They crouched lower down behind the wall further to get out of sight. The shepherd boy stopped behind the mud hut with his goats and looked around him, unaware of the explosives just ten feet from him. Peter looked at his watch nervously.

4.59 a.m. one minute to zero hour.

‘Sebastian, I want you to grab that boy, and keep him quiet till it’s over – GO NOW!’ Peter whispered. Sebastian crept forward behind the boy and put his hand over his mouth, the boy struggled, eyes wide with terror, as Sebastian dragged him back behind the low wall they were crouching behind.

‘Ten seconds,’ said Peter.

They readied their M16’s, on semi-automatic, as Peter looked at his watch.

Five.

Four.

Three.

Two.

One.

Nothing.

Peter looked at Vinnie – horror struck.

The charge had not gone off. Peter could not afford this mission to fail – they had come this far, walked across a desert, nearly died, only to fail again.

‘Follow me!’ shouted Peter as he rushed to the rear wall of the mud hut, clutching his M16, closely followed by Vinnie. Peter rushed at the rear wall and using his bare fists, punched two holes into the rear wall, a second later he had made a hole large enough to get through – they rushed in, threw two stun grenades making a loud bang – and saw four pairs of shocked white eyes looking at them, eyes watering from the smoke, and the Ambassador on a low bed.

Everything seemed to move in slow motion as Peter and Vinnie dropped the four terrorists in two seconds flat, each downed with a double tap. Then they dragged the frightened Ambassador out the hole in the wall and back to the safety of the low wall.

They could hear firing from the front of the house, and panicked shouting in Arabic, but then it went quiet. Then shots from inside the house, then the sound of running boots as Des and Artie came rushing through the hole in the wall.

After the mission Peter had telephoned the base and they sent a C130 to pick them up. The base commander had put a crate of beers in the plane, which they ritually demolished in good order, Vinnie burping and telling jokes about Lieutenant Ratti on the way back. Then they slept for a while but Peter was wide awake, he didn’t sleep much, or rather he didn’t need much sleep. Had Pencil-neck deliberately sabotaged the mission, was he in league with the terrorists, or was he just incompetent?

They were now back at the British base in Qatar – RAF Al Udeid, sitting alone in the mess, which was more like a restaurant, laughing, eating and joking. Vinnie was doing a good impression of Pencil-Neck, which Peter thought was very funny. Then Peter did his impression of Pencil-Neck which made Vinnie fell off his chair, and Des, Artie and Sebastian all fell about laughing again.

As they recovered from their fits of laughter Peter thought about how they had not seen the object of their merriment since they got back – which was unusual. He was avoiding them obviously. He had chatted with Ahmed and Saunders when he arrived back at the base, and they had apologized profusely for the shocking planning cockups. He HPeter had given a full report to SAS Colonel Bradley, which filtered down to Sir Nigel at M16, being a joint mission. But Peter felt uneasy, something wasn’t right.

He smelled a rat.

Then the coin dropped.

He walked away from the table to a quiet corner, retrieved the private number of Sir Nigel and dialed.

‘Goldbroom,’ came a curt reply.

‘It’s Morgan Sir.’

‘Ah Peter, I read your report. Tough mission.’

‘Yes sir. I think we have a problem. It’s Ponsonby.’

Silence at the other end.

‘Go on.’

‘Things don’t stack up – radios didn’t work, C130 crash, no intel on the targets. He has avoided me since I got back, as if he wasn’t expecting to see me. I want you to run a financials check on him.’

‘He was clean. But I will do it again, and dig a bit deeper this time. I trust your instincts. I have had my eye on him for a while. I will meet you when you get back,’ Sir Nigel seemed reluctant as if he was hoping it wasn’t Ponsonby his old Eton buddy.

Then the room went deadly quiet as they all looked in the direction of the door. Pencil-Neck, real name Ponsonby, strolled in trying to look casual. As he came up to where they were sitting you could have heard a pin drop. He was accompanied by two strong looking military police sergeants, who looked like they worked out every day.

Ponsonby shifted nervously.

‘Hi chaps! – Glad you made it back ok, and great job on rescuing the Ambassador. The Saudi Arabian Government wish to convey their thanks for your efforts.’ He coughed slightly.

‘Listen I know there were some shortcomings in the mission, but we have taken these on board for the future. We have learnt lessons and I have conveyed these to our Chief Sir Nigel and your Colonel Bradley, Sergeant Morgan. Why don’t you take a few days R and R (rest and relaxation) and we can talk again, about another mission.’ He coughed nervously again.

Peter’s demeanor began to change and he seemed to grow in size. The menace oozed from every pore of his body as he stared directly at Pencil-Neck who tried to avert his eyes.

Peter now stood just two inches from Pencil-Neck, staring him out.

The thousand yard stare.

Pencil-necks eyes began to water. The two military police Sergeants, stepped forward a step. Peter’s muscles flexed underneath his T-shirt, his six-foot frame, his blue eyes burned with a fire. The military police stepped back a step, genuinely frightened.

‘Baz, Mad Mike – lost in the desert. Presumed Dead. Why? Radios didn’t work – because you put the wrong fucking codes in. The C130 went down. We nearly died out there. This is the worst planned mission I have ever been on!’

Peter stepped back and punched Pencil-Neck in the face with lightning speed and he flew back through the air ten feet landing on his back semi-conscious. He slowly gets up on his elbows, his jaw is broken, his nose is bleeding, and two teeth fall out.

‘I will have you court martialed Morgan!’ as blood and saliva drool from his mouth. He nods to the two policeman who move toward Peter who in the blink of an eye, pushes his hands out impacting them in the chest and the two men fly backwards twenty feet, landing hard on the floor, lying moaning, unable to move.

Then to their shock and amazement Kojak, the C130 pilot strolls in, looking sunburnt, thin and above all, angry. He nods at Peter and his team then walks up to Pencil-Neck and gives him a good kick in the nuts. Pencil-Neck rolls up in agony, moaning incoherently.

‘Standard Operating Procedure – we never fly without weather reports!’ Kojak’s face turned red as he unleashed a verbal torrent at the hapless Ponsonby.

‘We could have had avoided that weather. My co-pilot Chris died because of you – he was my friend – these men nearly all died out in the desert,’ pointing at Peter and his team. Ponsonby clutched his balls in agony, moaning.

Peter’s blood started to cool as he reflected on his actions; he had probably just ended his military career. He thought about Jennifer – she would not be pleased if he got a court martial, he had a family to provide for. Still it was done now – and he felt better for it.

Justice was done.

 

 

Chapter 3 –

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

 

peter, in civvies, is sitting patiently in the SIS Chief’s office in Vauxhall Cross, London. His colonel, in the regiment, had given him strict instructions to go MI6 directly, and see the Secret Intelligence Service chief himself. He had not seen Sir Nigel since the last meeting in the glass room. He had worked with MI6 operatives before on black ops missions of course, but he never mixed with the big wigs, apart from the first meeting with Sir Nigel, so this must be something important.

The chief walks in confidently, wearing a blue, three-piece pinstripe, ignores Peter, and sits himself down at his luxuriant desk, going through some papers. Then he looks up, leans across his teak desk to speak to Peter. Sir Nigel Goldbroom is an old Etonian, his family had old money, and he was rich. He is much respected, having had a distinguished military career – a successful soldier rising to the rank of General, before he took on the role of SIS Chief. He had seen real action, and had the scars to prove it. He had that disciplined air about him that senior military officers have.

‘Sergeant Peter Morgan. How are you?’

‘I’m well sir thank you for asking.’

‘I didn’t update you on Ponsonby. He was the rat. You were right. Found out he had a mistress in Egypt, and a secret bank account, but we turned him. We turned him all right. We extracted a lot of information on the terrorist network in the Middle East. Thanks to you Peter.’

Sir Nigel walks over to the drinks cabinet inside an old wooden globe.

‘He is now a double agent, he feeds false information to the terrorists and we get valuable intel in return. You have distinguished yourself, your Colonel Bradley thinks very highly of you. And so do I.’

‘So I won’t get a court martial for hitting Ponsonby?’

‘No, no, don’t worry about all that. You did good,’ Sir Nigel laughed adding, ‘I gave him a good kick in the bullocks myself, but don’t tell anyone,’ Peter laughed, he was really beginning to like Sir Nigel, he was the genuine article. He became more serious as he looked at his single malt whisky selection.

‘Ice?’

‘Yes please,’ replied Peter.

‘With the agreement of your Colonel, you are being seconded to MI6 permanently for a while.  Thing is Peter, we need you. I need your guile, strength, intelligence and your military skills. I’ve just had a meeting with the Prime Minister, and we need to stop the terrorist funding network in Saudi Arabia. It will take tenacity, patience and possibly extreme violence. What do you think?’

‘Yes, sir – I’m up for it.’

‘Good man, good man!’ Peter paused then added, ‘But Vinnie comes with me – he’s my wingman.’

Sir Nigel poured them both a drink, he would not normally do that for an operative, but there was something special about this man. Were all the stories true?

‘That’s fine – I will arrange it. I know you two work together.’

Peter tasted the whiskey. Single malt, it slid smoothly down his throat.

‘All we have is a picture, we don’t know his name, we don’t know his whereabouts, but it’s probably Saudi, Riyadh perhaps. Your mission is to find him, get intel on this terrorist funding network, and then extract him for questioning. His code name is ‘Goldilocks.’ It will be a joint mission with the CIA. Your CIA contact is Captain Miller. Peter looked at Goldilocks picture, trying to find something, anything. He looked at the one page of data about him. Real name: unknown. Associates: Ali Ab-Dala, address possibly Jeddah. Goldilocks last known address: unknown – possibly Riyadh. Then he looked back at the picture of Goldilocks. His super vision spotted something. There was a tiny label on his Arab robe, his thawb – almost undetectable.

‘Do you have a magnifying glass?’ asked Peter. Sir Nigel, dug round in his drawer and found a large old-fashioned magnifying glass and handed it to Peter who focused on a tiny label on the Arab garment.

‘There we go…’ Peter wrote down a name.

‘Let me use your computer and google this name, it’s a name of an Arab tailor, I think.’ Peter typed in a name.

‘Abdul Gents tailoring, King Fahd Dist., Riyadh.’

‘It’s come back with an address of a tailor, in downtown Riyadh sir. That will be my starting point.

‘Excellent, well done.’ Sir Nigel shook Peter’s hand warmly.

‘Good luck Peter.’

‘Thank you, sir.’

Sir Nigel watched Peter walk out of his office. In five minutes flat he had accomplished what his MI6 operatives had failed to do in one month.

 

SAUDI ARABIA – 2008

After spending the whole summer in Saudi Arabia, Peter looked like an Arab. His skin was dark and leathery due to the harsh, dry climate. He was wearing a thawb – traditional Arab dress. The white cloth reflected the harsh summer heat, and he was glad of that. He had also grown a beard. Add to that, he could speak fluent Arabic and it was impossible to tell him apart from any other Arab walking down the street in Riyadh, his thawb covering his large, muscular body.  But of course he was not an Arab, he was on secondment from the SAS working for MI6 tracking down terrorists, and their funding network.

Using his natural charm and wit, and the five hundred dollars in hard currency, the Riyadh tailor had given him an address. There was no need for violence. He had been following Goldilocks discreetly for about a month now, and had gained valuable intelligence about his contacts. But now he suspected Goldilocks knew he was being followed. He had to be careful, else he would lose him completely.

Peter looked at a thermometer sign on a building – the temperature had hit 50 degrees centigrade as the unrelenting heat reflected off the pavement. ‘Too fucking hot’, thought Peter as he followed Goldilocks at a discrete distance. Peter was glad when his target turned into a shopping precinct, it would be cooler there. The tall, thin Arab was not a terrorist as such, but a financier, a middleman, who oiled the wheels of terror. He was wiry, dark with shifty eyes which darted about, here and there. Vinnie, in western civilian clothing, followed a discrete distance behind Peter and the target.

Using his hidden radio and ear piece Peter radioed Miller. ‘Have eyes on Goldilocks, Following him into Riyadh Avenue shopping Centre. Standby. Out.’ Millar waited in a blacked out Mercedes down a side-street.

Miller is an ex-Navy Seal, black hair, moustache, fit as a fiddle – he came from New Orleans and has a southern drawl. He is blunt talking but a Southern Gentlemen to boot, and he provided great kit, which was a blessing, and the radios worked, unlike the unreliable British radios. He immediately hit it off with Peter and Vinnie and they took advantage of time off for R & R in secret Riyadh drinking bars, more than once nearly ending up in a police station cell.

Peter followed his target up an escalator, and into an internet café. Air conditioning, thank God. He ordered a coffee and one-hour surfing time from the man behind the desk. Goldilocks sat down at a terminal, Peter sat down in the cubicle next to him, sipping his coffee, blending in, looking normal. Goldilocks looked over at his cubicle neighbor and curiosity peaked him, as he studied Peter with his blue eyes and tanned face, but his fluent Arabic at the counter, and the local accent, had allayed his suspicions, and he continued typing with his thin fingers.

Peter studiously ignored him, knowing the slightest slip would give him away. He put a USB into his computer which ran some special software, which could pick up keystrokes from an adjacent computer. The USB flashed letters onto his screen as he picked up Goldilocks’ keystrokes. Peter could see what Goldilocks was typing – a bank in Yemen, an account – Golden Brotherhood Society, an account number, even a mobile number – BINGO! Peter did a screenshot, logged into a secure MI6 site and emailed the screenshot to his contact at MI6. His job was nearly done, he could get back to Jennifer and the kids now, get out of this bake oven climate, and relax at home.

Goldilocks looked again at Peter, as another Arab man, a huge, swarthy man with a military demeanor, built like ‘The Rock,’ walked behind Peter and saw his screen, the MI6 secure website page; Peter had left it a second too late.

Fuck it!

The Arab man shouted and put a knife to Peter’s throat. Quick as lightning, Peter instinctively held the man’s sinewy arm, the blade a millimeter from his Adams apple. A bead of sweat ran down Peter’s nose as the men struggled, his attacker had monstrous strength. Even though Peter had the strength of ten men, he struggled as the man’s grip tightened around the blade. Peter slowly stood up, pulled back his arm, the knife just grazing his cheek, as he launched his body and flew backwards, hitting a wall, breaking several of his attacker’s ribs and winding the monster Arab, as he hit the wall. At that moment, Vinnie rushed in and in a split second, had fired off two shots; the swarthy Arab man dropped to the floor lifeless.

Goldilocks swung around in panic, eyes wide with terror and surprise. Peter and Vinnie manhandled him out the café door before onlookers knew what was happening. Peter took off his bloody headdress as they rushed along and radioed Miller – ‘Require immediate evac. Have Goldilocks. Repeat – have Goldilocks. Out.’

‘If you make a scene, my friend here will kill you,’ whispered Peter in fluent Arabic.

Goldilocks nodded and walked between his two captors, looking for an escape route, but of course, there was none. He relived the last thirty seconds in his mind as he saw his minder being shot – one in the head, and one in the neck, and his feeling of desperation.

Peter looked at his Thawb, it was covered in blood, passers-by were looking at him, including two security guards, who started following them. They shouted a warning, and started running after them.

Peter practically carried Goldilocks out of the shopping precinct as a black Mercedes with blacked out windows pulled up outside –  and skidded to a halt. They bundled him into the back. The two security guards started running towards the car, but the Mercedes sped off at high speed, wheels screeching. In the backseat of the car was Captain Miller, Goldilocks sat silently between Peter and the CIA man, Vinnie in front, as they sped off to the secret CIA station in Riyadh. Peter relaxed – he would be home soon.

 

Peter sat in the SIS Chief’s office in Vauxhall Cross, London, the MI6 building. The chief is looking at one of his paintings, smartly dressed in an Italian wool bespoke suit. Peter looked around him, Different world, thought Peter. Deep pile carpets, wood panelling, gold-framed paintings, teak furniture and leather backed chairs. Peter thought he recognized a painting by John Constable, he had seen one like it in the national Gallery, he liked landscape paintings – it reminded him of his native Wales. But this painting did not have a signature. As they now sit opposite each other, the Chief offers Peter a glass of Glenmorangie, in a proper whiskey glass, Excellent whiskey, I shall buy a bottle with my bonus, contemplated Peter.

‘Single malt, my favorite,’ Peter smiled as he looked at his new boss and relaxed in the comfy leather-backed chair again.

‘Glad you like it. Take the bottle with you.’ With the agreement of Colonel Bradley you’re being promoted to Captain,’ Sir Nigel smiled. Peter smiled back, he had heard on the grapevine and he is very happy about it.

‘Thank you Sir,’ as Peter takes another very satisfied sip.

‘And please, no more late night phone calls from Riyadh Peter. If you want to go drinking – be more discrete,’ Sir Nigel tried to look serious, then smiled. Sir Nigel handed him a card. ‘It’s a get out of jail free card Peter. Use this number next time, I need my sleep.’

They both laughed.

‘Thank you, sir,’ smiled Peter, liking Sir Nigel even more.

Sir Nigel leans on his polished teak hardwood desk and looks at this Peter Morgan, this amazing operative who had done so much to fight terrorism and the funding network. Intelligent too, thinks on his feet, and the strength of ten men. Likes a drink, but who doesn’t? He would forgive his minor misdemeanor in the Riyadh drinking den. Peter is his best operative, he was seriously thinking of taking him on full time, that’s if the CIA don’t get his services first. He was hoping to appeal to his British patriotism. He was trying to fend them off, as he knew this young SAS man had already been offered a role across the pond. They were going to overlook the rule that he had to be a US citizen. There was something different about him, not so much as a scratch in all his operations, no wonder his nickname was “Bullet-Proof” in the squadron. There was an aura, a charisma, about him, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it though.

‘Captain Morgan, congratulations on a job, well done.’

Sir Nigel refills Peters glass and tops up his own, he adds some ice as he smiles at Peter. ‘With your help, we have shut down a major terrorist funding network. It will set them back years.’

‘Sir Nigel, I haven’t seen my family in nearly a year,’ Peter said as he sipped his whiskey.’

‘You have six months paid leave from today – enjoy it, and again well done.’ Sir Nigel stood up, and brushed his bespoke suit. Then added. ‘There’s a bonus coming your way too.’

‘By the way, Langley are interested in you – they like your work. But we would like to keep you, if that’s ok?’

Sir Nigel looked for a response from his young secret agent but did not get one. ‘I see you like the painting.’

‘Yes it reminds me of my home in Wales.’

They both stood up and walked over to the painting, admiring its beauty in silence, Peter felt a warm rush from the whiskey as it made its way down his throat. This was a good moment, one to savor, a moment of success, enjoy it he thought.

‘It’s an unknown, but I strongly suspect it’s an early Constable,’ ventured Sir Nigel. ‘I like this painting,’ he added.

‘So do I, very much’ Peter nodded.

‘You can have it,’ said Sir Nigel looking directly at Peter.

‘Thank you,’ replied Peter, genuinely thankful for the gesture. Never turn down a good thing – he had learned that much in life.

‘So you will stay with us?’ asked Sir Nigel earnestly.

Peter didn’t respond, the CIA probably paid better than the Secret Intelligence Service – the official name of MI6, and Jennifer could see her parents, who were also in Virginia. But he was loyal, and besides, he liked Sir Nigel. After all, he was British, a warrior for the Isle of Albion, the ancient name for Britain. Peter had a vision of himself as a warrior wielding a sword, centuries ago, in an ancient war, in the mountains of Wales, He was a warrior: it was in his blood. But then the vision passed, and he was in Sir Nigel’s office again, drinking whiskey.

Then his thoughts turned to his brother Vinnie.

‘Don’t forget Vinnie – he saved my life,’ responded Peter.

‘Of course, of course, Corporal Carson – we will, er, give him a pat on the back,’ the Controller smiled patronizingly.

’Pat on the back – I bet Vinnie will be pleased’, Peter said sarcastically, as he walked out of Sir Nigel’s office.

Sir Nigel called him back aware that he had offended Peter – he had not realized how close he was to Vinnie. He did not want to upset this Peter fellow – he looked fearsome when angry.

‘Peter – Peter I am sorry.’

Peter came back into the office and sat down on the leather-backed chair again, his demeanor angry. ‘Vinnie deserves a bonus too. And leave.’

‘OK I will arrange it,’ replied Sir Nigel, eager to please.

There was knock on the door. It was a quiet knock, tentative. Ponsonby poked his head round the door – Pencil-neck from the ill-fated Yemeni mission – Ponsonby.

The rat who got two of his men killed. Peter stood up, even more angry now, as Ponsonby crept past him. He gave Peter a sideways frightened look ‘Ah I understand you have already met Ponsonby,’ said Sir Nigel with a wicked smile.

‘Yes I have Sir Nigel,’ as Peter gave Ponsonby an icy stare.

‘You are a fucking rat Ponsonby and you got two of my men killed. By all rights I should kill you where you stand. But I’m not allowed; Sir Nigel needs you.’ Peter now stood an inch from the terrified Ponsonby’s face.

‘But if Sir Nigel tells me you’re giving him false information, or if you lie to him, I will find whatever rat-hole you’re in and tear your limbs off, one by one. That’s a promise.’

‘Yes, yes, of course Captain Morgan, anything you say,’ stuttered Ponsonby, his frightened eyes shift furtively from Peter to Sir Nigel.

Sir Nigel turned his attention to Ponsonby, the thin weasel stood to attention.

‘Ponsonby – You heard Captain Morgan. Make sure your contacts in Yemen give us the location of the terror cell in London. You’re dismissed.’ Sir Nigel winked at Peter as Ponsonby scurries out the door behind him.

Sir Nigel then smiled at Peter.

‘Don’t worry Captain I will look after Corporal Carson. Have a safe trip back to Wales.’

Peter breathed a sigh of relief, he would be glad to get home. He could trust Sir Nigel, but he didn’t trust Ponsonby as far as he could throw him. Question is, what other enemies did he have?

 

 

Chapter 4 – Ancient Discovery

 

IRAQI DESERT – PRESENT DAY

In Iraq, what was once Sumer, an aging, bearded archaeologist, Professor Picard, excavates under a rock statue of an ancient Sumerian Goddess. The perfectly preserved Goddess wears a headdress, she is naked, her breasts prominent. In her hands she holds what looks like an ankh, she has wings like an angel, and her feet are claws. On either side of her are two owls. Next to it is another statue that looks like a vampire. He smiles and nods to himself.

‘This is the one.’

Under the blistering hot sun, he uses a brush to wipe away the dust to reveal a stone slab. The Professor uses a handkerchief to wipe away the sweat and dust from his face. As the hot desert sun beats down on his back, the Professor takes a swig from his water bottle. Along with his young male assistant, they manage to move the slab to reveal a dark chamber.

They struggle through the small entrance and fall heavily onto a stone floor. There is Sumerian cuneiform writing on the ancient stone walls and in the middle of the chamber is a sarcophagus. The Professor studies the writing, running his finger along the characters ‘Ah oui…oui – The Shining One from the stars – here he rests.’ The assistant listens intently as inside the chamber, it is strangely cold and there is an eerie silence. The assistant shivers and looks at the Professor.

’This place gives me the creeps,’ whispered the assistant.

‘Let’s move the top slab’, gestures the professor.

‘What do you think is inside Professor?’ asks the assistant almost too afraid to ask.

‘Only one way to find to find out!’

‘Christ, it’s heavy! Here it comes’, replies his assistant.

They manage to move the slab just enough to reveal what is inside. Professor Picard is shocked at the sight that confronts him. In the sarcophagus lie the mummified remains of an alien creature. It has a large oval head and large eye sockets, where the eyes were. It has long thin arms and legs.

‘Sacre bleu! Sainte Mère de Dieu – it’s not human!’ exclaimed the Professor.

‘Look at the size of the eyes!’ whispered his assistant. They cross themselves, the professor whispers a prayer, and they edge closer to look at the alien mummy. Professor Picard takes photographs of the ancient writing, while his assistant carefully takes flesh samples from the mummy.

‘We can analyze these later, back at the university,’ ordered the Professor as they make their way out with their equipment. While the assistant loads the gear into their jeep, the Professor stands silently looking at the sky.

‘Penny for your thoughts Professor,’ as his young student stands by him.

‘Mon ami, there is change in the air.’

‘What do you mean Professor?’

The Professor looked at the young man but didn’t want to frighten him unnecessarily. He needed to talk to his adopted father, his secret protector, from early childhood. He turned and smiled at the curious young man.

‘Take the equipment and samples back to Berkeley, I must travel to Europe, to see an old friend.’

 

MOUNTAIN CASTLE – ROMANIA – PRESENT DAY

Professor Picard and Count Cassian, who is wearing a hooded cloak, stand on a stone balcony, overlooking the mountains under a blue sky. Cassian is deep in thought, his piercing deep blue eyes hide ancient wisdom, the cloak hiding his long blond hair. They are in Cassian’s home in Romania, his ancient castle, forgotten by time, nestling in the remote valley in Transylvania. Due to its remoteness, and inaccessibility by road, it has very few visitors, which is just how Cassian likes it.

‘I know you like to keep a low profile Cassian, mon ami, but you could have found a home….well a bit more accessible,’ complained Professor Picard.

‘It suits my purposes, Professor,’ as he turned to look at his old friend, smiling warmly, which is something he did, very rarely.

‘Your finding that ancient tomb was no mistake, Professor.’

Cassian looked again at the mountains, searching the skies, looking for something. ‘I have become aware of an ancient threat. Our old enemies, that ancient filth – the aliens, are coming back to haunt us. I suspect they are coming in numbers this time, and we are not prepared. Not prepared at all.’

Cassian slapped the balcony in frustration.

‘Not prepared at all.’

‘We have been complacent Professor, we must start to make preparations, make plans. Nothing will be the same anymore. The winds are changing, my old friend.’

‘Cassian, if you are right the humans will need our help. You must meet with them.’ Cassian was thoughtful.

‘The humans?’ Cassian raised his eyebrows.

‘Professor, you are right, of course. In the past, I have been reluctant to meet with them, they could not be trusted, but now, things are different. It is time.’

Cassian put his head in his hands.’

‘We cannot meet this threat alone. We cannot.’

‘Cassian, we must consult the old book,’ Picard touched his protector’s arm.

‘I have always trusted your counsel Professor, but the book, it is full of riddles.’

‘And perhaps wisdom, my old friend.’

They are joined by Lucia, a vampire elder, wearing a cloak. She puts her arm in the Professor’s and looks at him affectionately with her blue eyes and smiles at him, brushing back her long black hair. She is very fond of the Professor, and affectionately calls him uncle. ‘Lucia my dear, exciting times are ahead,’ announces the Professor seriously.

‘Yes, Uncle Louis.’

‘But it’s good to see you smile my child.’

As they stand there, a large crow lands on the balcony, still as stone – its black beady eyes looking at Cassian – hiding great intelligence. It blinked then waddled toward him on the balcony, then jumped onto his shoulder.

‘Morfran, Morfran…wise old bird, give me news.’

The cunning old crow cawed into his ear as Cassian stroked it’s head, The ancient vampire listening intently and nodding as the wise old bird cawed away. He dug into his pocket and dug out some walnuts and acorns which Morfran ate hungrily, nuzzling his head against Cassian. Cassian strokes his pets neck, then looks up concerned.

‘We have less time than I thought.’

In the distance, a massive swarm of birds are fleeing south, in the valley below, they can see hundreds of rabbits, and deer, running and stampeding through the wood, the deer, heading towards a cave system at the bottom of the valley.

‘The birds are fleeing, the animals are hiding; they know something is afoot. We do not have much time. Come, Professor, we must consult the book,’ Cassian sighed. ‘Mai oui, let us go consult the book.’ Cassian whispered into the crow’s ear and it flew off again, no doubt on another mission.

They leave the balcony and their footsteps echo as they go down a narrow, spiral, winding stone staircase. They brush past cobwebs and walk down a corridor while the Professor wraps his cardigan around him to protect against the draft.

‘Cassian, have you ever thought about central heating?’ They walk past suits of armor and tapestries – and old wooden boxes. Portraits of Romanian nobility adorn the cold stone walls, bearing a striking resemblance to Cassian. The Professor studied these closely, rubbing his beard, removing his glasses.

‘Come along Professor, we haven’t got time for a history lesson.’

Cassian produces a key from his pocket and he opens a thick, solid oak door with strange inscriptions on it – the Professor looks at ancient runes written in gold, on the upper part of the ancient door.

‘They protect against unwelcome visitors Professor,’ reading his thoughts. The thick oak door creaks open and Cassian looks around the room searching – then walks towards a huge wooden chest. He mutters some unrecognizable words and the chest opens – he lifts out a huge book wrapped in leather. He blows away the dust. ‘It’s been a while since I looked at this ancient tome, Professor, two hundred years in fact – I got a bit bored trying to solve its riddles.’

‘I have listened to you talking about it but this is the first time I have seen it Cassian.’

Professor Picard stood back in shock when he saw the tome being put onto a large wooden table. He touched the hard leather and the Greek letters embossed on the cover in reverence. As he ran his fingers over it, he spoke to Cassian without looking up.

‘It cannot be. Cassian, where did you get this?’

‘I looked everywhere for it, including Alexandria.’

‘You mean the ancient city of Alexandria?’ the Professor stood aghast and looked up from the book.

‘Yes – some 2000 years ago in fact. I had spent twenty years looking for this book before going to Alexandria. In Athens, I looked in all the temples. I traveled to Rome, I spent a year looking in all the libraries, temples and archives, but the authorities starting asking me questions, got suspicious. Then I heard it was in Alexandria, but I got there too late. There was a fire – when Julius Caesar attacked the city in 48 B.C. He was cornered by the harbor and lit a fire – it burned down the library unfortunately – I thought all was lost. Then I heard another rumor, after a bit of persuading. I tracked down and questioned the librarians that had worked at the library.’

‘You did more than question them, Cassian,’ muttered Lucia.

‘I discovered that many scrolls had been secreted away by the Romans to the Imperial library of Constantinople, the Eastern capital of the Roman Empire. They wanted their own great library. They wanted their second capital to be great. So the capital city of the Byzantine Empire contained one of the last of the great libraries of the ancient world.’ Cassian’s eyes lit up.

‘It was a magnificent place, columns stretched to the ceiling, great carved arches, murals and paintings on the walls and ceilings. Great rooms filled with scrolls, teeming with scholars, scurrying back and forth, studying ancient texts – you would have loved it, Professor!’ The Professor listened in awe as Cassian described the great spectacle.

The professor beamed as he pictured the scene in his mind. ‘Mai oui, mai oui – the book, the book! Berossus Book,’ Professor Picard was almost beside himself with excitement and nodded excitedly, and ‘Berossus was a Greek Hellenistic-era Babylonian writer, a priest of Bel Marduk, a mystic – he was also an astronomer,’ The Professor enthused. Cassian continued.

‘Yes, the book, Berossus Book of Prophesy. I had discovered that an Arab scholar had bound the Berossus scrolls into leather covers – so this narrowed down my search from 100,000 scrolls to about ten leather bound volumes. I stole into the main Imperial Library in the dead of night. The guards were sleeping and I can make myself invisible, so I wasn’t disturbed – it still took me an hour to find it, though.’

Professor Picard was in his element as his eyes watered with emotion – he faced Cassian and Lucia.

‘You know after the destruction of the Great Library of Alexandria, the Imperial library of Constantinople stood out as a beacon of ancient culture – it preserved the knowledge of the ancient Greeks and Romans for almost 1,000 years. The Emperor Constantius II established a Scriptorium so that the surviving works of Greek literature could be copied and so preserved. Incredibly, the library survived until 1453 when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, and everything was destroyed. A light went out in the world. Such a tragedy,’ said the Professor, shaking his head.

‘It’s in Greek, Professor. Ancient Greek. Now my ancient Greek is a bit rusty, so I will need your help.’

‘Looks like Berossus wrote in the Koine Greek language – Hellenistic. The new testament was written in this language,’ as the Professor ran his fingers over the gold embossed letters on the front of the remarkably well- preserved tome, scratching his beard, his eyes full of wonder and excitement.

Βιβλίο της Προφητεία

‘Professor, I’m looking for a passage about “Flames of fire come down from the Sky… when the Gods come down from the Heavens”.’

Professor Picard put on some white gloves and leafed slowly and studiously through the book. His concentration did not waver as he totally immersed himself.

‘Fascinating… such insight.’

He continued while Lucia brought him a cup of coffee.

The Professor did not look up as he sipped his coffee.

‘Thank you, my dear.’ Lucia put her hand on his shoulder.

‘Found anything interesting, Professor?’

‘Oh here… here is the passage you’re looking for, Cassian!’

“Flames of fire descend from the Sky and blacken the earth and it is burning and scorched. The Gods come down from the Heavens and create fear among the people. The nations are scattered, and confused, and they ran beating their breasts. Their buildings are rent asunder as they wail and weep. The people flee from the demons in their chariots in the heavens above. They get on their knees and cry unto God.

But there is one who will come forth from the Isle of Albion, from Cymru, from the land of the mountains. A warrior with foresight and strength who will travel to the land of the eagles. And he will destroy the demons in their chariots.”

‘That’s it Cassian.’

‘The land of Albion?’

‘That’s easy – it’s the ancient name for Britain,’ the Professor scratched his beard.

‘From the land of Cymru?’

‘Wales.’

‘Does this warrior have a name?’ asked Lucia.

‘It says here his name is Caius. He sounds superhuman – “No one man would be able to brave fire or water like him. He can run as fast as the wind and has the strength of ten men.”

‘Sounds indestructible,’ said Cassian.

“Caius can go nine days and nine nights without the need to breathe or to sleep, and can grow as tall as the tallest tree in the forest if he pleased. He radiates God Like heat from his hands. Furthermore, it is impossible to cure a wound from Caius sword.”

‘He will travel to the Land of the Eagles.’

‘Eagles…eagles… symbolism? – ah, the USA?’ beamed the Professor.

‘It is decided. We must move to the United States of America,’ Cassian stood upright.

‘We must meet with the leaders and find this warrior. We must seek him out.’

‘He might even find us,’ Lucia said as she played with her hair and imagined what this mighty warrior would look like.

 

They sit silently at the ancient oak table in the cold, stone room adorned by hunting trophies and tapestries. On the table is a large map of the world, Professor Picard has another cup of coffee and Cassian helps himself too.

The Professor smiled to himself – the humans would be amused to know that a vampire drinks coffee, but Cassian was full of eccentricities.

Cassian stands to speak.

‘Our brethren are scattered all over the world. I have not spoken to many of them for over a hundred years. We haven’t had a council meeting of the Vampiri since World War Two, it has been too long. It will be difficult – Old friendships will need to be renewed; there are old grudges and feuds among our clans, Professor. We must set aside our differences if we are to stand a chance against the oncoming threat.’

‘Who are our main allies?’ asked the Professor.

‘There is Lady Vesilia in England, Lord Aswerne in the Philippines certainly – those are the ones we can count on – maybe Baron Titas in Germany – but he’s a stubborn old fool. I need to hold a council meeting of the Vampiri – soon. Time is of the essence. He looked at Lucia.

‘Lucia, make the arrangements. They are compelled to attend.’ Cassian stroked his long chin. ‘Professor, you need to come with us, to the United States of America, I need your help.’

‘Mon ami, you know I found a tomb with a preserved alien in it, in Iraq, it’s incredible. There are some cuneiform texts I need to translate and papers to write. I need to get back to the university to continue my research, but I will be in constant touch.’ Cassian put his hand on his friend’s shoulder, a look of concern on his face.

‘We do not have much time, Professor, the storm is approaching – fast. Lucia, pack your bags we leave in twenty-four hours. We may be already too late.’

 

 

Chapter 5 – Of Questionable Character

EAST END, LONDON

peter had promised Vinnie he would meet him for a drink after his meeting with Sir Nigel, and he was wondering why he sounded so serious about it – which was unusual for happy go lucky Vinnie. As he walked through the city and down Whitechapel Road, he admired the contrast between the old and the new. Flash city skyscrapers and flash city traders in flash suits, drinking red bull and yelling into their mobiles. And old London – cobbled streets, ancient medieval pubs, a sanctuary of old history, wooden beams and cask conditioned ales, an oasis away from the stresses of the world. As he looked around him, he realized there is nowhere else in the world quite like London.

The old and the new.

The world was changing fast – but did he fit into this new world? How fast do you have to run to keep up? He thought about the visions he had –   the eternal warrior, an ancient memory with a magical sword, the priest, – and part of him was part of the new. How could be combine the two parts that pulled at him? He dismissed these thoughts as he approached his destination.

As he walked towards the Blind Beggar Pub he saw two huge, tough looking men outside, wearing Italian suits. People walking past avoided them – the tough men then broke into a smile as Peter approached them. They both shook his hand and clapped him on the back.

‘Vinnie and Reg are waiting for you.’

As he entered the pub he could see Vinnie and his father Reg standing by the bar. Reg’s normally hard as nails features cracked into a warm smile as he walked towards him.

‘Peter, nice to see you again – anything you need just let me know.’ Reg turned his head towards the bar.

‘Doris, two beers for Vinnie and Pete. We have some jellied eels left, they’re lovely.’

With that, his face turned back to his normal granite features and the two mountainous men in suits joined him.

‘I have a job for you two boys – someone’s not toeing the line.’

Peter and Vinnie sat on two barstools by the bar supping their pints of London Pride. Peter declined the offer of the jellied eels – they made his stomach turn. Vinnie took one eel as they turned to face each other.

‘I’ve traveled all round the world with this job but only in England can you get a decent pint of bitter,’ Peter smiled.

‘Heaven,’ replied Vinnie as they look at the dark golden liquid reflecting in the sunlight, almost in a trance. They enjoyed that moment of pure pleasure as they took the first few sips of real ale. A ripple of satisfaction showed on Peter’s face as he looked at his old friend Vinnie.

‘Spoken like a poet.’

‘How did your chat with Sir Nigel go?’ Vinnie narrowed his eyes, concerned.

‘I have just been promoted to Captain.’

‘Captain Morgan – well done mate, do I have to call you sir? Maybe we should be drinking rum instead – Captain Morgan.’ Vinnie joked. Vinnie walked around behind the bar, grabbed two glasses and poured them both a Captain Morgan. Vinnie joined him, they raised their glasses then both downed in one.

Peter laughed and carried on. ‘Ahoy shipmates – me hearties!’ he added and they both laughed. Vinnie tells a joke, ‘Horse walks into a bar. Why the long face said the barman?’ They both laughed, they heard it before, but it was always funny. Then Peter became serious.

‘Sir Nigel, he said he would give you a pat on the back.’

‘Pat on the back? – What the fuck does that mean?’ asked Vinnie angrily.

‘Don’t worry Vinnie. I’ve got your back.’

‘I got a problem Pete – for some reason the HR department put a new handler in charge of me – you know, “shit face”’. Vinnie looked unhappy and had that look about him that made ordinary mortals run for cover. Some called it the thousand-yard stare. Peter sipped his pint.

‘Oh yes I met him – Lieutenant Ratti. Very new. Doesn’t know his arse from his elbow. I don’t like him much either. He gave me a dressing down for not doing paperwork properly. Technically, I’m his superior officer, so I told him to fuck off. Later he found out who I really was – and avoided me like the plague.’

Vinnie moved even closer as if he was plotting a war and waggled his finger.

‘He said my father “was of questionable character – moi?”’

Vinnie tried to look innocent and Peter smiled. Vinnie went on. ‘Ratti says my methods are unorthodox. He stopped my bonus for Christ’s sake.’

‘Unorthodox? Stopped your bonus – he really is a shit face!’ exclaimed Peter.

Vinnie leaned in towards Peter and whispered. ‘I saved your ass for Christ’s sake. You know, the gig in Saudi.’

‘Not for the first time mate,’ Peter moved closer.

‘It’s a black op for Christ’s sake, you have to think on your feet!’

Vinnie leaned even closer. He waggled his finger again and his eyes grew thinner, as his features changed – he looked fearsome – Peter recognized this as battle mode – Vinnie “The Terminator” mode.

‘Oh yeah, Lieutenant Ratti, goes on about how he went to some posh English school, starts showing me these powerpoint slides about how I’m going wrong. Says he’s a CA.’

Vinnie paused for emphasis.

‘What’s a CA I said to him, Cunt and Arse?’

‘No,’ he said. ‘I am a Chartered Accountant.’

‘My uncles a Chartered Accountant – good business brain – so he didn’t offer you another job then, Vinnie?’ Peter asked innocently trying not to laugh, imagining the scene.

‘No, not after what I said to him after that.’

‘What was that?’ Peter was captivated and entertained.

‘I told him to go fuck himself.’

‘Oh Vinnie, you need to be more diplomatic mate.’ Peter laughed heartily, nearly spilling his beer, as he looked at Vinnie’s deadpan face.

‘I told him to stick his powerpoint slides where the sun don’t shine.’

‘Vinnie, you have to think about your career,’ Peter was sympathetic.

‘He tried to get me expelled from the Service.’

‘I heard.’

‘I don’t know what to do Pete – I really don’t.’ Vinnie looked forlorn.

‘Don’t worry Vinnie, I put in a good word for you with Sir Nigel. He blocked it – your job is safe. I heard through the grapevine that it really pissed off Ratti, you will be happy to know.’

‘Good, thanks Pete.’

‘That’s what mates are for.’

‘What about my bonus, Pete?’

‘I talked to Sir Nigel and he’s arranging it – tax-free of course. And he doesn’t mind your father being a gangster – really. In fact, he quite likes it, he might use him.’

They hugged each other in a tight embrace. Then Peter looked Vinnie in the eyes.

‘Vinnie, I know what you’re thinking mate – don’t do it, it’s not worth it.’

‘It’s a matter of honor, Pete – he insulted me.’

‘I know Vinnie and I understand, I really do – we live by a code of honor, just don’t do it.’

Vinnie seemed disappointed. They hugged each other again

‘All right, I will give him a pass,’ said Vinnie reluctantly.

‘It had better be a good bonus – I promised Gill we would be putting a deposit on a house. After I get my bonus I’m thinking of retiring from all this bullshit.’

‘But Vinnie you’re my wingman, I can’t work without you mate! I told Sir Nigel that – it’s both of us or nothing.’ Vinnie hugged Peter then had a worried look in his eye.

‘Rumor has they were going to transfer you to a test facility,’ asked Vinnie.

‘Who said that?’ asked Pete.

‘The boys at Hereford.’

‘Someone from the CIA interviewed me – they wanted to find out how I can run so fast, be so strong like I was someone from a marvel comic – like I was the Hulk or something,’ said Peter angrily then added. ‘I’m not going to be some test guinea pig Vinnie and put on display. No way.’ Vinnie nodded. They hugged again before Peter walked out of the pub.

Peter stood outside the pub and looked around him, He looked up as a huge flock of birds flew past.

As Peter sat on the train on the way back to Wales, his mind wandered. ‘Is it worth the stress? I should give up being a Secret Agent working for MI6 and become a farmer’.

The quiet life. Retire from all the bullshit – like Vinnie.

If it wasn’t for Vinnie watching his back he would have given up years ago, it was like having insurance, having Vinnie around, despite his Bullet Proof reputation. His thoughts moved to Jennifer – his family, they would see him again, at last, it had been too long since he had been home – far too long. He missed the peace and quiet of his home in the enchanted wood. His little enclave of serenity and beauty – away from the mad world of guns, terrorists and politicians. And politics. Here in this wooded valley, a spade was a spade, no grinning politicians to call it something else.

Home, the enchanted wood – there were all sorts of stories about that place, told to him by old Welsh farmers in the pub. He had never told anyone else about his experience in the woods with the priest, not even Vinnie. As he walked up the garden path there was no sign of anyone in. He thought back to his waking dream.

Did he imagine it? As he looked out the kitchen window at the green countryside, the woods, he felt sleepy. He felt as if he was in a dream, time seemed to stop, and all was quiet around him – the old black book with gold letters, the old, wise priest. The ancient warrior, a knight with a sword. He was holding a long silver sword that seemed to shine and illuminate everything.

A name repeated in his mind, Caius, Caius, he was standing on an island off Wales, looking out over a cliff, the breeze blowing his long hair, as he looked out over the ocean. He heard a growling behind him. As he swung round, he saw a huge catlike beast, a Palug Cat, ancient, wild and stalking him, its evil eyes fixated on him as saliva drooled from its fangs, a deep growling came from deep within the beast; it was ready to pounce. He was cornered, nowhere to run – his heart pounded. He raised his sword, it was glowing blue, and radiated light and seemed to vibrate with power.

Then his wife was shaking him, ‘Peter, what’s the matter with you? What’s the matter!’ Peter came out of his trance, he was standing in his kitchen and Jennifer was shaking him. ‘I’m sorry, I was daydreaming.’ He held her in his arms and didn’t let go.

‘It’s good to be home. I’m not leaving again – not in a hurry.’

‘Why don’t you go upstairs and rest – you look exhausted,’ she stroked his bald head.

As Peter lay on his bed, he saw a large black crow at the bedroom window, looking at him, its beady eyes looking into his soul. Then it was gone. He had a feeling in his gut, that things were about to change. His life was about to change. The world was about to change. Gut instinct he called it. It had saved him more than once, sixth sense, survival instinct, an ancient sense of knowing. Humans had lost this primordial instinct, but Peter had it, in spades. The atmosphere seemed different – people seemed different – the world was changing. Events were moving fast, his visions more frequent now. Then Peter fell asleep. His children watched him, as Jennifer came in to the room. Peter dreamed of ancient lands and ancient battles and a silver blue sword – then the landscape changed; he was standing on a hill overlooking a city and above him was a huge, menacing black ship covering all in dark shadow.

And he was alone.

‘Daddy’s very tired – let him sleep. Help me cook him dinner.’ As Jennifer stood in the kitchen something made her glance up – the sky was dark, but it wasn’t storm clouds – she dropped her pan as she saw a huge swarm of screaming birds as they descended on the hidden valley, covering all the trees. It seemed all the birds in the world were seeking sanctuary, in this hidden valley. Jennifer hugged her frightened children as they watched the spectacle. Then she froze as a huge crow jumped on her window ledge and stared at her with black knowing eyes.

Nature knows – nature was moving.

 

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