The Black Hawk slowly made its descent to the ground. From there, the men quickly hopped out, forming a perimeter around the bird in the dirt clearing. A hurricane of dry earth was thrown into the air by the propellers, creating a thick wall of dust. Immediately, after vacating, the bird took off into the air again.
The steady tempo of its blades released a cadence echoing like an audience applauding in sync. Eventually though, the clapping noise faded, leaving the men to the calm sounds of the jungle around.
“Comms check, this is Till, how copy?” Till said, adjusting the small intercom piece in his right ear.
“This is Gerber, that’s a clean copy,” Ryder replied soon after.
“GL, here, that’s a good copy as well,” Tinsley said.
“Crackshot, I’m good and ready, Ladies!” Jones followed.
“Taskmaster responding, that’s a green on all comms, Fox Lima!” Snow finished up.
“Copy that, Intel reports possible enemy traffic in the area,” Till began. “So let’s keep chit-chat to a minimal. Target estimated at 15 miles due East. EENT is at 1900, so make sure we move with a purpose,” he went on. “Eagle Eye, this is Fox Lima. Toms have set, I repeat, Toms are set, how copy?”
It took a second before a deep voice distorted by static answered, “That’s a clean copy, Fox Lima. You’re green to go.”
Till looked over to Snow and quickly flashed three fingers followed by two. Snow nodded and spoke over the intercom.
“Okay, GL take point, Gerber wedge it off to my right. Jones you got six. Brush is deep so I want heads on a swivel.”
The team came together forming a makeshift triangle facing the jungle tree line.
Even now in the late afternoon, the sun was still present lingering like the last guest who couldn’t take hint at the end of a house-party. It didn’t help either that every cloud seemed to avoid the flaming ball of misery like the plague.
Before them stood the boundless city of trees, acting as conveyors to their world. Their splintering, wooden bodies appeared dry and ragged. Many of them had bark peeling in layers like molting skin.
Till gave a quick notion, signaling the team to move forward into the thick brush. The bushes and branches mocked their attempts to move with subtlety – announcing every notion of movement with a snap and harsh sway.
The team pressed onward though, enduring a lengthy trudge through the vegetation slowly eating away at the time.
Two hours in, they grew close to the edge of the jungle. Tinsley quickly threw up his fist signaling for the team to halt. Immediately everyone froze, raising their weapons and assuming a position.
“What do you see, GL?” Till asked, leaning up against a tree.
“We got two Sierras ahead – facing away. Both are armed with light weapons – AKs,” he answered.
“Can you confirm they’re Extremists?” Till asked.
There was a slight pause before he heard an answer, “Yeah it’s them alright. And Sarge–”
Before he could finish, several men sprang from the brush, each holding an AK-47 and yelling in Somalian tongue. The numbers seemed to be around seven, maybe more, all surrounding Till and his men. The Somalians’ hollers seem to elevate, probably for them to throw down their weapons. Yet, Till had not given such an order. His team had their weapons up, each trained on a target before them ready to fire if commanded.
Finally, Till spoke up softly, “Alright, Ryder, you’re up.”
At his words, Ryder let his weapon hang to his sling. With his hands up in a surrendering pose, he began speaking out, matching the Somalian men in language. A few of the men exchanged confused looks at each other; no doubt surprised they had a translator among the group.
Till had no idea what Ryder was saying, but they always had the same strategy for dealing with these types of situations. Ryder was fluent in several languages and always crafty with his words. He was a cunning b*****d, again reminding him of himself minus the linguistic skills. The plan was always to get their assailants to call forth their leader.
If Ryder felt like the conversation was going well, he would keep his hands firm in the air. However, if he felt it was heading south, he would twitch his hands; it was subtle to the untrained eye, but to the team it meant open-fire.
Ryder’s hands remained firm for now. He continued to converse with the men, making slow advances to them. At every word he issued, the men would return an angry response.
The skinny bunch of Somalian men appeared like nothing more than average townsfolk – men who probably picked up a gun not long ago. Each of them had a chain link of ammunition across their chest. They were all sweating profusely, reflecting faces like cheap action figures. They wore a red bandana either on their heads or on their arms, a symbol most likely of their organization.
Till had his weapon trained on the big one arguing with Ryder. His face held a twisted snarl with eyes glaring like a bull. His weapon was pointed a mere foot away in the face of Ryder. Inside, Till craved the brute to give him an excuse to drop him, but Ryder had not relayed a signal.
Finally, after another minute of the argument, the big guy called back to the others. Till could see the brush dancing and flailing from someone approaching. Emerging from it was a young man appearing no older than Ryder. With a confident stride, he made his way up to the big Somalian still holding Ryder at gun point. Immediately, he began talking to the man as if irritated at the request to being summoned.
He seemed to badger the big guy until abruptly holding up a hand to gesture silence. He glared quietly at Ryder before speaking out in a strong accent.
“Who the hell is in charge of this pack?” he demanded. “I know it is not this little mouse before me.”
You’re one to talk, Till thought. He walked up slowly lowering his weapon, keeping it tight in his hands. “I am, SFC Till. I take it you’re the man in charge?”
Several of the team took a glance back at the situation, but kept their weapons trained on the men around them.
“I am Odour, leader of the Twisted Bantu,” the man answered. “This is my land. Tell me why you American Pigs are in my jungles and why I shouldn’t slaughter you like such?”
“We’re simply passing through?” Till answered.
“To go where? Why are you here?”
“Sight-seeing,” Till mocked, “heard the Kenyan jungle was a hell of a spot to tour. I had to see it for myself.”
The man’s face was solid like a statue before issuing a false laugh. Afterwards, he took out a pistol from his side, aiming it. Till immediately complied with his own weapon. The notion sparked a domino-effect forcing some of the Somalians to aim their weapons at Till. In turn, Tinsley adjusted his angle to a few of those men. Snow’s weapon however, remained in place.
“Do you think it is wise to mock the leader of the Twisted Bantu?” Odour continued. “My men could slaughter all of you right here and now.”
“Is that so?” Till retorted.
Without warning, a red dot appeared on the man’s left shoulder. It flashed a few times in his eyes before settling back over his heart. He glanced down at the dot.
“Just give me the word, Big Sarge,” Jones whispered over the intercom.
“Hold that shot, Jones,” Till relayed.
These Extremists thought they had Till’s team ambushed, but Jones always kept a sharp eye out. It was not unlike him to purposely linger behind to post up. His signal had always been three blank receivers over the comms – a sharp beeping noise from turning the comms on and off. If they all heard the sound, they knew to be on high alert.
“So, Odour, was it?” Till began. “I suggest you tell your men to stand down. Unless of course, the ‘Bantu’ have other a******s lined-up to take your place. In any case, we’ll be more than happy to send them your way as well.”
Hesitation was not a factor for Tinsley and Snow when it came to a firefight. It would only take seconds for them to mow down the targets near them. As for Till, he had a choice between dropping the big guy or denying Jones a pleasurable shot on the self-pronounced leader.
The man flared his nostrils, glaring intensely back. Eventually, he gestured for his men to lower their weapons.
“So now what, Sergeant?” the man questioned. “Are you going to slaughter me and my men?”
“Why not, Joe?” Snow spat. “Serves these civilian killing bastards.”
This didn’t seem to sit right with the man. His eyes ensnared with anger, more than before. “Who has told you this? We are the Twisted Bantu, the fighters of the people against the government!” the man erupted.
“B******t, you’re the scum killing the people! You expect us to believe the government is attacking their own?” Snow shot back.
“Yes!” the man replied. “Those spineless cowards began taking our women and children, doing God knows what to them. When the people began speaking out against it, they claimed we were trying to overthrow them and began firing on us. I witnessed their soldiers open-firing on a group of unarmed protesters. After that, we knew what we had to do.
“We formed the Twisted Bantu to protect ourselves.”
“Sarge?” Jones asked on the comms.
Till was quiet for a minute before lowering his weapon. “Stand down, everyone.”
Tinsley immediately complied, lowering his. Snow was hesitant at first but eventually conceded as well. The red dot faded from Odour’s shirt.
“Odour, you said the government is the one attacking the populace?” Till repeated.
“Yes, I give you my word,” Odour answered.
“You’ve crossed paths with them in a firefight?”
Odour gave a confused expression as if his pride was on the line. “Of course, I have killed thirteen of those cowards.”
“In these fights, have you ever come across any powerful weaponry you couldn’t handle?” Till went on.
Odour’s eyes flashed with the utmost amount of subtlety, but Till caught it. “I’m not sure what you mean,” the man finally answered. “I know nothing of what you say.”
Till exchanged a glance over to Snow who returned a soft shake in disapproval. It was clear he was aware of Till’s intentions. However, they were running low on time and daylight.
“About three hours ago,” Till started, “a chopper went down from Somalian Extrem- … Somalian soldiers. You tracking the whereabouts of that?”
Odour took a minute to converse with the large man in Somalian tongue. Till in turn exchanged a glance towards Ryder, who nodded. After conversing, Odour returned to English.
“My men did see such a craft. American, no doubt?” Odour asked.
“Yeah,” Till answered.
“So, that is why you are here,” Odour answered. “Your chopper should still be there, assuming the government filth hasn’t reached them first. You need help to find this craft, yes?”
“No,” Till rejected. “We know how to find them. We just need to know if any government soldiers are posted up along the way.”
Odour shook his head. “No no, it is easier to show you. It would be too difficult to explain Kenyan lands to those unfamiliar with her. I can show you, take you there.”
“No,” Till stated more firmly. “This is an American operation.”
“Really, Sergeant? Well I cannot guarantee where the soldier scum are posted then. I’m sure you’re short on time.”
Till glared at Odour as a thin smile grew on the man’s lips.
“And what do you get out of this?” he asked.
The smile grew wider. “Oh I simply wish to help my new American friends.”
“So now we’re friends?”
“Yes, why not? How does it go? ‘The enemy of my enemy, is my friend?’ It would be a nice trade-off for these ‘powerful’ weapons, wouldn’t you say?”
“I thought you weren’t aware of these weapons?” Till reminded.
Odour simply extended his smile. “This is a chance to help each other out. The choice is yours, Sergeant.”
“I don’t know, Sarge,” Tinsley said over the comms. “Do you really wanna trust these fools?”
“Snow?” Till questioned with a look towards his way.
Snow was silent for a minute before responding, “It’s your call, Joe.”
Till gave a long sigh. “Jones, make your way back.”
“On it, Big Sarge. See in you two,” Jones relayed.
He glanced up at the smiling Odour. “Take us, there.”