The infantryman stood diligently at his post. The night watch had been long, lonely and thankfully, uneventful. He looked at the moon. Though partially obscured by cloud he reckoned it was about 30 minutes before the next soldier would stand watch and he could get some much needed sleep. What waited for him was no more than a thin bedroll and dirt but it was something that, three weeks into the extended patrol, he was not only used to, but something he looked forward to. For thirty long minutes he stood while the tiredness of a six month tour and three weeks on extended patrol collected in every joint, bone, and muscle fibre in his young body and collectively railed against him, willing him to sleep.
He was moments away from sleeping where he stood as he heard a twig snap to his left. Instantly he snapped around, gun at the ready.
‘It’s just me, mate.’ Came a whisper from the darkness. He stepped forward out of shadow and into the full moonlight so that his mate would recognize him. The guard on duty shook his head as relief washed over him. The oncoming guard had broken protocol by approaching without warning. He gestured to the new guard to get back into the shadows. In that moment a flash caught their eye on a distant hill. The new guard barely had time to register a panicked expression before his facial features disappeared in a cloud of red mist. The guard swore as the body of the private slumped to the ground. The gunshot echoed around the valley.
He hit the dirt and waited. There were no follow up shots. He crawled on his belly to the private in the vain hope that he was still alive. There was nothing left above his neck that resembled a human, it was a wet mess of tangled flesh and splintered bone. Bloodied from the dead soldier, he crawled back to safety in the darkness. He hugged the tree line and stayed low as he made his way back to his squad and reported to the sergeant. The sergeant was already awake and ready for the report.
‘The Proby was on his way to relieve my watch, sir. He scared the crap out of me and I almost shot him, then he stepped into the full moonlight. There is a sniper not far off that must have got a lucky shot. He picked him off straight away.’ The guard said all at once.
‘Well at least we know they are still here.’ The sergeant said, looking for his sat phone to contact HQ.
‘Hell of an expensive recon, don’t you think?’ The guard replied.
‘He was a Proby, and he never listened. We’re probably lucky that he didn’t get you killed as well.’ The Sarg said as he dialed the number for HQ.
The guard was about to protest the callousness of his commanding officer. The Sarg just held a finger up as he spoke into the sat phone. ‘Patrol Code: Golf, Foxtrot, Yankee, Sixer, Niner.’
‘I’m sending you our current position. We have an active sniper within a kilometer of our position. That information should also be en route.’ He put his hand over the receiver and said to the guard, ‘Can you indicate on this map the position of the sniper.’
The Sarg handed him a tablet computer with a thick rubber edge all around. The guard pressed the hillside where the shot came from.
‘Did you get that, HQ?’
‘Loud and clear. What would you like us to do?’
‘Light it up.’ He paused for a moment and looked that the guard, ‘I also need a medical extraction for one of my new guys. He took a sniper round to the head. He’s dead.’
‘Can you confirm, please? Did you say one of your guys has been fatally shot?’
‘Predator is inbound, approximately five minutes from the target. Your medical Helo is about 30 minutes away, there is a bird on the pad but needs refueling. Can you please get the body to extraction point alpha.’
The guard sat on a log. Tired from the long night and long patrol and long tour.
‘What’s wrong soldier?’ The Sarg asked in a moment of sincerity.
‘I, I just thought it would be different.’ The soldier put his head in his hands.
‘Son, a man has died. He died because he made a mistake. He gave his life too cheaply, we might be able to take advantage of his needless sacrifice but only if we act quickly. This sniper gave up his position for a cheap kill. We need to use that.’
‘I understand, but it’s all so clinical.’
‘I know, the days of us flying off into a rage to avenge the needless death of a fellow soldier are long gone. We are war professionals. This is business to more people than you care to imagine.’ The Sarg heard the single propeller of the drone high above and switched back in to business mode.
‘Watch this.’ He said as the far hillside exploded into a fireball. The soldier didn’t watch the hillside explode. Instead he was watching the sergeant. His eyes glowed in the orange light and the corners of his mouth turned up into a smirk. He’s enjoying this. Thought the guard. After a brief moment enjoying the fireworks and probable death of an enemy, he turned to his subordinate.
‘Let’s get the Proby out of here. You grab someone else from the squad and accompany them back home. You look like you could use the rec leave.’
‘What do I tell the family?’ He asked, as he willingly accepted his new assignment.
‘Dunno, make up some bullshit about how he saved his whole platoon but ended up paying the ultimate price. He’s a hero.’