Image Author: Micha Niskin.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Reprinted under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.
9 months earlier
In an early January morning, a U.S. Army Humvee turned north along a back road in southeast Turkey. The Humvee slowed down to pass a ten-foot crater made by an errant artillery shell. It rolled off the shoulder between the wreckage of a pickup truck and a military transport, and then continued its slow journey.
Inside the Humvee, Barnie sweated in dusty fatigues and scratched his wrists underneath his handcuffs. His legs were sore, but leg irons prevented him from moving them much. Up front, the driver and passenger Military Police were arguing over a football game, ignoring the squawk coming from the radio. Sitting to Barnie’s left, an officer from the Trial Defense Service droned on in legalese. The only thing Barnie considered in his favor was the hood over his head. It blocked out the morning sun, and just might help him get a nap in.
That thought ended when the officer yanked his hood off. “What was that for?” Barnie muttered, shielding his eyes with his cuffed hands.
“You need to pay attention to my advice,” said Lieutenant Colonel Mike Tanner. The guy was clean cut and looked like dirt was afraid to touch him. He continued, “Someone has a giant hard-on for you. We’ve got our own plane waiting on a dirt strip to haul you directly to Gitmo.”
Barnie blinked. He said, “Can they do that?”
Tanner sighed and flipped his file to the cover sheet. He said, “In a nutshell, they’re saying you’re a terrorist piece of shit that killed twenty U.S. military personnel. The ‘terrorist’ part lets them do whatever they want.”
“I didn’t kill anyone,” Barnie offered meekly. He stared out the window at the rocky terrain, wondering how close he’d got to the Syrian border. “But you’re not here to care about that, are you?”
“Surprisingly smart for a dead man,” said Tanner. “I got handed this case file and put on a plane out here at the last minute. Whoever wants your ass is also making sure none of your rights get violated. Go figure.” Tanner shrugged.
“So you’re here to represent me then,” said Barnie.
“Not exactly,” said the military lawyer. “I’m here to let you know how fucked you really are. There’s a recording of the patrol that got ambushed. They asked for help, and you didn’t give it to them. You abandoned your post. Next thing anyone knows, you’re thousands of miles away trying to hotfoot it to Syria. How’d you get off post and slip through the roadblocks? Did one of your terrorist buddies pick you up?”
The Humvee jerked around another obstruction, a twisted pile of metal that was probably a car. Barnie saw the familiar signs of a missile strike. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught the piece of a child’s car seat impaled on the car’s aluminum frame. He sighed and said, “If what you’re saying is true, nobody is going to care how I got out.”
“You’re right,” said Tanner, flicking some lint off his uniform. “Either way, you’re getting tortured. It’s just one fewer question they’re going to ask you.” He looked out the window. Off to the west, there was a C-130 with four propellers spinning. Tanner said, “Your chariot awaits. Oh, and before you leave, I want you to know one of those guys you killed was my step-brother. He didn’t deserve what he got.”
Their Humvee pulled up to the back of the plane, whose cargo bay door had already been lowered. Inside, two men in matching black windbreakers and khaki pants stepped out. One had a satellite phone to his ear. Tanner said, “Those guys look like CIA. They might get to work on you a little early.”
One man waved to the Humvee, signalling the MP’s and Tanner to get out while he took Barnie into custody. Barnie hobbled along as best he could, guided at the elbow by his new escort. On the other side of the vehicle, the man on the satellite phone lowered it and walked up to Tanner. He pointed at Barnie and asked, “Is that Haskell?” Tanner nodded.
In less than a second, Barnie watched the man drop his phone and pull out a pistol. Holding it in two hands, the man shot Tanner in the head twice. Neither MP had enough time to fully register what happened. The first stood there, jaw open, and watched the man squeeze off two rounds into his chest. The second, scared into complete panic, started to run towards Barnie.
Barnie watched in shock as the man with the gun take aim and squeeze another two rounds through the second MP’s chest. The bullets exited in fountains of blood that spattered over Barnie’s face. He felt the urge to empty his bladder, but collapsed to his knees instead. Sand mixed with the blood on his face, and he watched the MP’s chest heave as it tried in vain to get him oxygen.
Behind him, Barnie’s escort let go of his elbow and went to the MP. He took off a set of keys and went to unlock Barnie’s chains. Taking out a handkerchief, he wiped Barnie clean and helped him to his feet. “This way, sir,” he said.
The other agent had recovered his phone and extended it to Barnie. “Mr. Haskell, this is for you,” he said.
Without any further explanation, Barnie took the phone and held it to his ear. “Y-Yes?” he asked.
“Mister Haskell, we don’t have much time,” said the voice on the other end. Barnie could only tell that it was a woman. She said, “We’ve taken over this plane, but we only have a short window to fly you to safety.”
“Who are we?” the woman asked. “We’re an organization dedicated to peace and global prosperity. This is your chance to join us. Normally we’d give you more time to think it over. We need your answer right now.”
The phone shook in Barnie’s hand. None of this made any sense to him, even considering everything that had happened to him the previous week. Under better circumstances, he might have thought of his options more clearly. He asked, “What if I say no?”
The other end of the line was quiet for a few seconds. She said, “Your government knows where you are, and they will know within a few hours that you are missing. To be blunt, you need us if you want any hope of being a free man.”
Looking down at his hand, Barnie saw a splotch of blood and sand stuck between his thumb and forefinger. His mind couldn’t hold onto anything right now, except for the knowledge that he’d just watched three people get shot in front of him. Would the two gunmen he was with actually let him leave? Would he be able to get far enough before getting picked up again?
“I’ll join you,” said Barnie, staring at his hand and the last stain of a person’s life. “I just want to be clear. I’m not killing anyone. I’ve left that life behind.”
“We understand,” said the woman. “Welcome to Anarki. Please board the plane, and keep this phone with you. Further instructions will be provided when you arrive at your destination.” The line went dead.
“This way,” said the man who’d helped him out of his cuffs. He guided Barnie onto the plane, and then went to help the other man move the bodies. The C-130’s engines hummed louder, and the plane lurched forward to begin taking off. Barnie found a seat and strapped himself in.
He held the phone in his hands, next to the splotch of blood, and stared at them both for the entire flight.
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