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Operation Walleye

Part 3 of The Final Two Minutes

By Stephen A. RoddewigPublished 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 19 min read
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Operation Walleye
Photo by Leon McBride on Unsplash

Author’s Start Note: Set in an alternate timeline from Parts 1 and 2, “Operation Walleye” explores another deadly consequence of the Cold War that lingers today well after its conclusion: the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and the thousands of Soviet weapons engineers suddenly unemployed and desperate for cash (see end note).

To read two stories set in the very opening moments of a Cold War turned hot, check out “The Final Two Minutes” and its continuation “The November Network”:

Also, there will be a Part 4 dedicated to examining the massive biological weapons program the Soviets ran in complete secrecy after signing a treaty with the U.S. banning them. Stay tuned!

***

Run, cover, shoot.

The mantras of numerous instructors from all my training course claw their way to the surface, attempting to drown out the rattle of the heavy machine gun.

Move or die. Move or die.

To my left, Jimenez is in a dead run for the next rise in the dunes as a 7.62 round removes his right shoulder. He collapses to his knees. I go to lift him by his non-savaged arm when two more rounds punch through his back and out his chest.

I turn my head even as I continue my own sprint up the dune, sighting in on the offending enemy vehicle, its DShK barking hot death in our direction. I fire a three-round burst from my M4A1, doubting I’ll hit the gunner on the back of the Toyota Hilux but hoping to at least make him flinch as I claw my way to the crest of the dune.

It doesn’t work. A round slices through the top of my boot, a glancing shot that still makes my left ankle scream. Painful, bleeding, but everything vital still works. It can wait.

I fling myself over the top, digging my elbows and feet into the sand to keep from sliding down the backside. The Libyans continue to fire, raking the other side of the rise where I’ve just vanished.

I roll to the right, waiting a few moments before I creep upward, doing my best to expose only the slightest bit of my head and assault rifle without any telltale flashes in the unforgiving Saharan sun.

The hostiles appear to have lost track of me, settling for sweeping the top of the dune with random bursts from the heavy machine gun. I wince as a couple rounds zip within a foot of me, but the gunner then swivels to drill a patch of sand ten feet away, and I carefully slide my M4A1 into position, sighting the primary target.

Had it been me in the shoes of those Libyan troops, I would have pursued and kept my enemy on the backfoot. But these men are apparently apprehensive about dueling toe to toe with a Delta Force operator.

I’m more than happy to reinforce their unease.

The first round sends the gunner falling back as his chest geysers blood.

The passenger, who had dismounted to add his AK-47 to the fight, fires a wild burst before attempting to take his dead comrade’s place on the DShK.

The second round cleaves through his spine, and he tumbles from the side of the truck.

The driver, realizing the tables have been definitively turned in this engagement, starts the engine. He lays his hand on the gear shift.

The third round shatters his skull before he can move the Toyota into drive.

I savor the victory for a moment. One shot, one kill. Times three. And with an assault rifle, no less.

Then I’m back on the move, half running, half sliding down the sand dune and doing my best to compartmentalize the bolts of pain coming from my ankle. I file Patch the wound away in my mental to-do list, but it’s several line items down the priority queue.

First, I run to Jimenez. As I originally suspected, my comrade is dead, felled by a 7.62 slug that had obliterated his heart. Despite the sea of blood surrounding his body and the sweat soaking my face shield, I only seem to smell sand.

I log Retrieve Jimenez’s remains into the to-do list. It falls several rungs down as I lift my head, catching the distinctive rattle of another Russian machine gun and the much quieter answering shots of American M4s and the rapid staccato of an M249.

Next: Save the rest of the team.

I vault over Jimenez’s body and race to where the Toyota Hilux is continuing to idle, yanking the dead Libyan sergeant out of the driver’s seat. I expect the seat to be wet with the man’s blood and brains, but it’s already dried in this arid hell. New blood spills from the shattered head, and I swear I can hear it hissing on the hot sand.

Of course, that could also be due to the fact that Drink water has now fallen onto Page 2 of the mental to-do list.

Blinking and forcing myself back to the task, I close the door and shift the Hilux into gear, rolling the window down so I can follow the sound of battle back to the crash site.

I had chided the Libyans on their tactics earlier, yet all it had taken to blow my own operation to hell was a single ground-to-air missile. The Blackhawk had spun out of control, slamming into the ground while our sister ship streaked away as fast as possible to escape a similar fate, carrying half our strike team and firepower with her.

Our enemies had been chasing us across the dunes, desperate to recover the VIPs aboard. One lucky long-range shot by a Stinger, and here we were, fighting for our lives while doing our level best to shield these sacks of shit with our bodies.

Those VIPs left, at least. One had died in the crash, and another had a bone sticking out of his leg. Russo, the team’s medical lead, feared moving him would risk undoing the bandaging and cause the scientist to bleed out. This was the main reason Jimenez and I had volunteered to lead our pursuers away while the others remained to defend the crash site. Two foot mobiles attempting to head off roving hostiles in wheeled vehicles. A true act of desperation.

Wisely, the Libyans had detailed one vehicle, the Toyota I’m now racing along the sand, to deal with the interlopers while the others pushed on to the main objective.

Let them be okay. Let them be okay.

Cresting a ridge, I brake as the scene takes shape.

The Blackhawk had landed mostly upright except for a slight lean to the left. The team had used this windfall to their advantage, positioning themselves inside the bird to use the only available cover in these rolling dunes.

The Libyans had split off into two groups: one between me and the Blackhawk and one on the far side. Both were dumping rounds from their machine guns into the bird while additional tangos fired their rifles. Five trucks in all; one burning on the far side while another rests on its back, wheels pointed to the sky.

They certainly didn’t go quietly, I conclude with a grim nod.

No one seems to have noticed me yet. Most of the casualties have been on the far side, and the closest hostiles have their backs to me. Further drawing their attention away from me, the gunner on the far technical’s head explodes. A single well-aimed shot; clearly someone is still combat effective in the bird.

However, both sides redouble their efforts to kill the shooter, and as pieces of the Blackhawk fly off its hull, it’s clear this cat and mouse game is quickly coming to its conclusion.

I shift the truck into park and jump out, the plan still working itself out in my head even as I spring into the truck bed. I ignore the machine gun, instead going for my M4. The DShK is a hammer when I need pliers. Soon enough, I console it.

Phase 1: a single shot drops the closest gunner. The next shot is farther away, and I don’t have time to sight in as the second gunner starts to spin around, so I switch my select fire to three-round burst. At least one round catches the hostile in the torso, and that’s enough to move to Phase 2.

Phase 2: with the closest machine guns silenced, I hop to the DShK and pull the charging handle back on the Russian death dealer. I fire a burst over both trucks, attempting to intimidate anyone thinking of taking the dead gunners’ places. Given the booming roar of this beast and the size of lead it delivers, a short burst should suffice.

Then I get down to business, swiveling back and forth as I drill rounds into both engine blocks one burst at a time. Immobilized, I now attempt to maximize casualties by probing for the fuel tanks.

A few seconds go by before the second truck erupts, spewing broken glass and burning gasoline over anyone unlucky enough to be sheltering nearby.

Despite all my training, all my professional detachment, I find myself watching two men as they stumble into the open, clothes ablaze. They aren’t even screaming, just stumbling as the sand seems to be parting beneath them. I blink, and they’ve collapsed, the fire already smothered as the silt smothers their crackling corpses.

At once, I can feel the sweat on my forehead. It’s not streaming down like usual. Instead, it beads and runs to where the dust has caked itself, then burns away.

The sand. This fucking sand is smothering everything.

I shake my head. Get your head back in the game, jackass.

Movement catches my eye, and I swivel the DShK just in time as a brave Libyan mans the non-burning machine gun. Squeezing the trigger, I blow him off the truck and then force a burst onto the rival weapon, sparks and pieces flying as the .50 caliber slugs impact.

That should knock it out of the fight.

All of thirty seconds have elapsed. The explosion has drawn the eyes of the Libyans across the crash site, and they are now throwing rounds my way. Of course, the distance is much farther, so they’re splashing into the sand around me without hurting anything. For the moment, anyway.

I hate dueling machine guns, but any other course of action requires additional time, and even a lucky stray round from the Libyan’s heavy weapon could cause serious damage.

The same goes for my DShK, of course. I fire an initial burst, watching for the impacts to adjust.

What I didn’t anticipate is for the gun to run dry after the third shot.

Shit.

I could engage with my M4, but it’s doubtful I’d do much damage to the truck and the distance means any sharpshooting would be negligible. Not to mention, my M4 ammo is at critical levels.

Should have taken the clips off Jimenez, dumbass.

I think back to the body, reminding myself that I need to go back once this present task was completed. Yet, whenever I try to mentally record my fallen comrade’s location, all I see is a dune where Jimenez should be. As the silt shifts, a single finger protrudes before withering to join the dust around it.

Fighting to regain control, I wipe at my forehead, shocked to find no perspiration on my glove. Only sand. This place is sucking the moisture from us while we waste time shooting at each other.

Fuck that. The sand won’t have me, too.

Before I know what’s happening, I’m back behind the wheel of the Hilux and racing down the front slope of the dune. Bullets wang off the hood, but the tough little truck keeps on charging. We hit 30 miles an hour as the truck zips past the savaged Blackhawk, not slowing in the least as it approaches the small rise where the final Libyan technical is perched.

Enemy rounds tear into the Toyota now, but the momentum is too great. The windshield shatters, and only with the added tenor of the wind do I realize I’ve been shouting along with the thundering engine.

Twenty more feet to impact. I throw open the door and leap out, rolling across the scorching sand as the grinding of metal on metal nearly deafens me.

Slowing at last, I look up through swaying vision to see the trucks have not exploded like I originally thought. Perhaps for the best, considering I’d likely be caught in the blast. At that thought, the sand grows hotter beneath me, and I scramble to my feet.

Though far from an inferno, the crash has catapulted the enemy machine gunner into the dirt and left the other soldiers disoriented. I drop the nearest with my M4, hearing the distinctive click of the firing pin hitting an empty chamber with the second trigger pull.

I let the M4 dangle on its sling, hands shifting to my Glock 17 in its holster. Rearmed, I circle the truck, shooting anything that moves. I’m using three or four bullets per target when two is more than enough, but my fingers don’t listen to my brain’s attempts to conserve ammo.

Offerings. Offerings to the sand.

I’m past trying to resist the thoughts. They’re coming from somewhere outside of me, impossible to block out and equally hard to disobey. For now, at least we appear to be on the same side.

Leaving the hostiles to bleed out in the sand, the water in their life force hopefully enough to stave off my own drying, I stumble back to the Blackhawk.

Expecting to find no one left alive, I nearly draw a bead on the shape emerging from the wreckage. Bradley, the team’s sniper, casts his SR 25 into the sand.

“Clip ran dry,” he swears, limping up to me. I note the bloody patch of pant leg above his right thigh. “Can’t believe you’re still alive, brother.”

“Russo? Medhi?” I ask about the remaining operators.

Bradley shakes his head. “Gone. The Blackhawk crew that survived the crash are gone, too. The door gunner took out one of the trucks with his minigun and refused to get down. Dude had a pair on him.”

“Jimenez didn’t make it, either.” I feel an edge in the pit of my throat as I continue, “What about the packages?”

Bradley blinks, a momentary lapse before answering, “Abderov got hit. Vasili and his assistant are still with us.”

“Show me.”

Before he turns, Bradley’s eyes flash to the Glock hanging at my side. Then he walks into the hull of the Blackhawk, dots of sunlight dappling the floor from new bullet holes. Where the bird impacted with the desert, sand is already streaming in.

Won’t be long now.

I shake my head, scanning until I find the Russians.

Vasili is kneeling over Abderov’s body, the skin pale from blood loss. Beside him, his assistant Mikhail moans, his shattered leg bandaged and splinted but clearly causing him great agony.

“Sergeant Adamson,” Vasili says with obvious relief, rising to his feet. “We feared the worst when the shooting started.”

Then the Russian seems to blanch as his eyes meet mine.

“A lot of good men died so you could live,” I rasp. “Their bones belong to the sand.”

Everyone’s mood seems to shift, except for Mikhail, who doesn’t appear to be able to hear us through the pain.

“Hey, Nick,” Bradley speaks beside me. “You okay, man?”

I don’t bother to look at him. “All that blood, to save a few men who sold out to build weapons for Gaddafi? That don’t sit right.”

Vasili recovers a bit of spine. “So that’s what this is about? It’s easy for you to stand in judgment, but what would you do? The Soviet Union is gone, and our jobs went with it. There is nothing left for us. So I ask you, what would you do if your children went hungry every night while your wife wept in the bathroom to keep them from seeing?”

I don’t know. And moreover, I don’t care. All I can feel is the grit in my tear ducts, sapping the moisture from my eyes. Every breath through my nostrils is choked with dust. It’s already started.

I need to get out of here. Now.

But there’s no escape from it.

I feel my hand tightening around the Glock’s grip.

You must earn its mercy.

Bradley’s hand is shaking my shoulder. “Nick, snap out of it. You’ve got a strange look, man.”

I don’t bother looking at him. He’s a fly, still buzzing only minutes from the end, unaware of just how little time remains. After all, his drying has already started with that leg wound.

“Nick,” the fly continues, “our mission is to extract these men.”

“No, our mission is to keep them out of enemy hands. Gaddafi’s men will be back with more weapons, and there’s only the two of us left to fight them.” The words come from somewhere foreign, vestiges of a previous time. They are merely expedient to get this parasite out of the way. To follow the natural course of things.

A new thought occurs to me. Not only is the fly buzzing in my ear, but it’s making me expose what little saliva remains in my mouth with each word. Time to wrap this up.

The first offering is almost a mercy. At once, Mikhail’s moaning ceases.

Vasili cries out in terror, shouting something at me before he runs out of the helicopter. I wait until his feet meet the silt before presenting my next offering to the sand.

My neck prickles as the fly resumes its buzzing, no longer galled into silence. “What… what the fuck, Nick. You killed them. You gunned them down in cold blood!”

I turn to face him with slow, casual steps. The old voice returns. “It was a mission necessity.”

“No, don’t start with that shit. You did that because you wanted to.”

The fly is starting to wake up.

“I’m getting out of this place,” I mutter, shuffling toward the Blackhawk doorway where Vasili is lying face down in the sand. I note the blood flowing away with satisfaction. Between him, Mikhail, and the Libyan troops, I should be safe now.

“No!” The fly grabs me by the shoulder. “You’re not just walking out of here. You have to answer for this shit, man.”

I shrug. One more offering won’t hurt.

I whip around, Glock already leveled at the parasite’s chest. The fool doesn’t even have a weapon ready to counter me. It’s over in less than a second.

Satisfied with my offerings, I emerge into the light, sweat returning to my brow where only dust had reined seconds ago. Somehow the sun feels cooler on my skin even as it blazes in all its prior brilliance. I will escape the drying. I will—

Something kicks me in the side. I look down, finding a red spot billowing on my fatigues.

Gut shot, a distant yet familiar voice dictates from the previous part of my mind, not good.

But the new voice wrests control. Something is still alive out there. My trained eyes soon locate the source: a wounded Libyan has propped himself up and fired at me with his sidearm. The first shot appears to have taken all of his strength, and the other rounds fly harmlessly into the sky as I close on his position.

I raise the Glock, hearing the now familiar click of an empty chamber when I squeeze the trigger.

But the sand will not be denied. I will not take this man’s place in the dust.

My eyes scan the Glock again, realizing the empty handgun can still serve the purpose. A smile curls up the side of my silt-caked face.

The smile persists as I kneel down, planting my knee across the spent man’s throat. As he flails about in the sand, fists too weak to dislodge me, I revert back to my forebearers, turning my piece of finely engineered steel into a club.

A few seconds later, and I gaze down at the man’s broken skull, certain that I will now be free to leave this land of eternal thirst.

However, my knees shake when I try to stand. I can’t seem to raise myself.

Looking inward for a cause, I find a foreign feeling spreading along my left side and leg. Moisture. Wet. Water.

Is it a sign? A sign that my salvation is close at hand?

Then I look down and find the sea of crimson that is its cause. Realization washes over me, like the blood hemorrhaging from my wound. There is no satisfying that which is perpetually unsatisfied. Until every last drop of water, every last trace of moisture is burned from this place, the sand will forever hunt. Until the Earth itself dies of thirst and all shrivels to dust.

Unable to keep my vision straight, I lay down in the silt, spreading my arms to join the sand. I feel a final smile forming on my cracked lips. At last, the ultimate truth is revealed.

Engulfed in the desert's parched silence, I was nothing but another grain of sand in the wind.

***

Author’s End Note: To be honest, the original premise of this story took a backseat to a Delta Force operator going insane in the middle of a firefight in the desert. I often worry when I try to do too many things in one story that I end up doing none of them well. Case in point, I ended up abandoning the first draft that was in danger of becoming a history lesson.

This version almost spends too little time with its original reason for being, but it stands as one of my more unique horror stories to date, and that, to me, is worth its wait in gold. So, it at least did one out of two things well. Is it as unsettling as I think it is? I’ll leave that to you to decide.

I also only intended for this one to be max 2,000 words, but the plot demanded I blow right past that and keep moving. So I post this knowing it’s going to have some insane read time like 15 minutes that will probably scare most potential patrons away. Oh, well. Most of the value I derive from Vocal is that these stories make great fuel for my podcast and reprint sales.

But if you did make it this far, then wow, thank you so much for taking the time! It means a lot.

Stay tuned for Part 4.

CONTENT WARNINGfiction
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About the Creator

Stephen A. Roddewig

A Bloody Business is now live! More details.

Writing the adventures of Dick Winchester, a modern gangland comedy set just across the river from Washington, D.C.

Proud member of the Horror Writers Association 🐦‍⬛

StephenARoddewig.com

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  • Randy Wayne Jellison-Knock5 months ago

    Incredibly cold for such sizzling heat. Anxiously awaiting part 4.

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