Passion and Fury

I lay in the snow-covered patch of grass, my breath clouding in front of me and rising slowly in the still air. Here and there, a few soft flecks of snow drifted down from the sky.

Lying belly down at the top of the hill, I could see the battlefield stretch below me: tiny pinpricks of lightning in the falling night, each one a burning hot flash of steel and white-phosphorus. In the distance, the horizon lit up with the flashes of distant artillery. The far-off roars and crashes of a tank battle echoed across the frozen landscape.

The Alps, circa 2050.

The ground around me began to vibrate. Small clumps of snow were shaken down from the grass and landed on the ground with a muffled plop. A B-104 Strategic Bomber streaked overhead, all six of its engines glowing red, its afterburners on full.

One of the chunks of snow landed on my arm. It rested there for a few moments, standing out in contrast with the spiky, grassy camouflage, before my INCIRRINA suit adjusted itself by melting my sleeve from the sharp black of dead grass into a smooth, flat white- like snow.

Once more, I was invisible.

Sometime around the turn of the Twenty-First Century, the world was consumed in a second Cold War. However, rather than an arms race exclusively between East and West, it seemed this time that every nation had access to some sort of weapon of mass destruction.

No one wanted to risk a nuclear, biological, or chemical holocaust. So instead of fighting openly, the world’s nations turned to firms of mercenary soldiers: PPFs, or Private Peacekeeping Forces. Entire wars were conducted in secret, away from the prying eyes of the public and the media: invasions, counter-offensives and liberations, sometimes of entire nations, all without the public’s knowledge. No longer was war limited to Third World countries and unstable but resource rich dictatorships. At last count, North America had been invaded a total of twenty-seven times. Of course, no civilians were ever harmed. That would be bad for business. But for the first time in human history, nowhere on the globe was spared from the clutches of warfare.

The world had been engulfed in the First World Proxy War.

It really was beautiful if you stopped to think about it. Everyone everywhere had been fooled into thinking they were entering into an era of peace kept through détente and mutually assured destruction, when really there was more money trading hands in exchange for human suffering and death than ever had before. Every single day, the lines of the map were constantly redrawn as dictators and democratically elected leaders everywhere were overthrown, replaced, and then assassinated the next day. Fighting through a proxy, most governments had lost the connection between the morality of their actions and another budget earmark by Congress. Betraying an ally for a couple hundred million dollars was as routine to most Presidents as was cheating on their taxes or having an affair with their secretaries. When the price of a human life is determined by the stock market, war becomes a game.

Poetic, really.

The battle I was watching unfold in front of me was being fought between General Initiatives Multinational, International Protection Ltd, and Die Nationale Waffenliga. I honestly could not tell you why. Most likely, one country or another had decided that this pass was of strategic importance and wanted exclusive control over it. Then, one or two other countries wanted in on the same action and before you know it, three way conflict on the border of Italy and Austria in the middle of winter.

I was being paid because the field commanders of GIM and DNW were going to be conducting a meeting to try and cut IPL out of the market share. In the World Proxy War, backroom dealings are as common on the battlefield as they are in the boardroom. And IPL was not willing to accept a loss this late in the game, so they came to us: Passion & Fury, the infamous two person PPF, specializing in covert infiltration and assassination. Normally, we worked as a cohesive team. However, for this mission, I was acting solo. Fury, my counterpart, was carrying out a contract in Ulaanbaatar at the time, and besides that, this mission required patience and tact, two traits she did not possess.

For a half a million dollars each, Field-Commander Hensel and Field-Marshal Liebermann both were going to die.

So there I was, lying belly down on a frigid, snowy hill with only an INCIRRINA suit to shelter me from the prying eyes of the enemy. Though that was actually saying quite a bit. The natural evolution of the ghillie suit, the INCIRRINA utilizes artificial muscle tissue to mimic the natural camouflage abilities of the octopus. Instead of only provided cover in one specific environment, the INCIRRINA adapts to its surroundings automatically, provided a constantly updating and endlessly useful stealth covering. My rifle was wrapped in a sheath of the same material. This was an expensive practice, but well worth it for the added protection.

A flake of snow touched down on the high-powered scope, blocking my view. I knew that if I brushed it away with my hand, it would just smear, obscuring my vision further. Instead I breathed on it, melting it into a droplet of water that rolled off the convex glass surface and onto the ground.

My breathing was slow and even, to minimize the sway of the rifle.

I had been camping out on the top of the hill for the better part of two days, and hunger was beginning to gnaw at my concentration. The cold wasn’t an issue. My suit’s built in heating coils dispelled the heat without much trouble, but damn if I wasn’t ready for a cooked meal. Cold army rations can only take you so far.

The snow crunched underneath me as I shifted my position slightly. A few moments later, there was a soft squishing sound as my suit adjusted itself to fit the shadows and crevices of my new position. I breathed slowly through my nose. Taking deep quick breaths at this temperature wouldn’t kill you, but it would tear up your lungs and throat as easily as swallowing actual shards of ice.

Above me, several small dots of flashing lights began circling and looping and dancing like fireflies on a warm summer’s night: fighter jets engaging in dogfights. One of the dots burst into a ball of fire and plummeted to the ground where it exploded in one of the fields at the bottom of the hill. It was so beautiful, watching the aerial acrobatics and imagining being one of the pilots, feeling the pull of gravity in your stomach and flesh as you dip and dive and soar above the heads of the infantrymen below you, dodging missiles and bullets before lining up a shot, pulling the trigger and-

-another plane fell from the sky, fire and smoke billowing from its engines as it did. It crashed into one of the houses in the small village in the distance. The force of the explosion knocked down the walls of several houses next to it. The fire spread quickly, and soon an entire section of the town was on fire.

A platoon of armored personnel carriers rumbled past.

It took until 23:47 for the targets to approach my kill zone. Liebermann arrived in a DNW Humvee, protected by a convoy of Kampfpanzers, while Hensel made an entrance in an HH-530 Pave Low.

Typical of the corporate types to try and intimidate each other through a friendly show of force.

By then, I had switched scopes from optical to light amplifying night-vision. I watched the meeting between the two through the black and amber display. Liebermann had a digital clipboard with him and used it as a prop, alternating between tapping at its display like it was chalkboard and swinging it wildly and pointing accusatorily like an angry housewife wields a rolled up newspaper. Hensel kept gesturing at the sky and waving his arms in broad motions, like he was trying to flap his way to flight.

Apparently, these particular corporate types weren’t as friendly as I had originally supposed.

As much as I wanted to watch this married couple’s spat play out to its full extent, the wind was beginning to pick up. Not that I was worried about the wind affecting bullet trajectory. I had once made a perfect headshot through the window of a motel during a hurricane in downtown New Orleans from an adjacent skyscraper. I could make that shot any time of any day. What I was worried about was whether or not the cold would make Hensel and Liebermann rethink the wisdom of meeting at night in a blizzard when there were more dangerous but better heated locations elsewhere. The second one of them pointed this out was the second I failed my mission and was out a million.

I tucked the butt of my rifle deeper into my shoulder and performed some last minute adjustments to my scope.

Another soft squelching sound as my suit re-adjusted.

I took a deep breath, slowly, and let it out.

I slid the safety to ‘off’.

I took another breath, let it out slowly.

Checked the wind speed against the distance, did some calculations.                      

Took another breath.  

Held it.

Rifle steadied in my hands.

Time slows down.

Pull the trigger.

Liebermann’s head disappeared in an instant, replaced by a blurry cloud that the night vision scope provided no definition to, but which I knew was a scarlet mist.

The osmium sub-caliber hypersonic penetrator continued along its trajectory, passing through three of the four tanks like a cliché knife through proverbial butter, before rupturing the gas tank of the Humvee and leaving a sizable hole through it.

Hensel and his flanking bodyguards turned and ran to the Pave Low. They scrambled in, and the bulky helicopter took off, banking towards the west.

A second bullet aimed at just the right angle sheared the main rotors clean off, sending the machine plummeting to the earth where it landed on top of the fourth tank, crushing it.

In ten seconds, it was all over.

Poetic, really.