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"Fan out. Three-metre spread. You catch any of these bastards twitching, put one in their fucking head."
From anyone else that might have sounded like macho bullshit, but the way Jackal delivered the order was anything but. His voice was as cold and sharp as a knife in an ice bucket, and completely devoid of emotion. It didn't sound vicious or derisive - it was almost businesslike, which was actually kind of unnerving.
Everything about Jackal seemed to be an anachronism, from his presence here to the way he acted. When she'd first met him he'd seemed stiff, almost robotic, but the way he'd calmly instructed on her on how to snipe with the Barrett and talked the AC-130 crew on to the targets in the village were at odds how he'd seemed genuinely concerned about Eddie and Lewis after they'd been wounded, and the way he'd called in a favour of such magnitude to get that IRT for them.
Considering this, Dice glanced back over her shoulder at the MTP-clad Commandos and was uncomfortably reminded of how much Jackal stood out in his distinctive digital camouflage BDUs; however, she soon came to realise he wasn't the only one.
Alpha One Zero had come prepared for any eventuality, and since none of the Marines spoke more than the most rudimentary Arabic they'd brought with him their interpreter. The man was an Afghan civilian whose real name was Ali Yusuf El-Amin, but for reasons of operational security and of brevity he was known almost universally as Alan. It had started off more as a joke than anything; someone had misheard him whilst he was introducing himself, but pretty soon it had stuck and "Alan", as he'd come to be known, didn't seem to mind.
He was a quiet man, mostly only speaking when spoken to but apparently eager to help in any way possible. He always seemed to have a slightly nervous smile on his face, as though he was constantly afraid that he'd somehow made a mistake and was going to be berated for it, but he took all ribbing and jokes made at his expense in his stride, and even though he was only a civilian he coped admirably well in combat situations. Unlike the Marines he wore mixed dress - a light blue T-shirt under his body armour, Nike running shoes and loose-fitting cotton slacks - and like Jackal he wore a balaclava to conceal his identity, not from the Marines but from any locals they came into contact with who could potentially identify him to the enemy.

Alan said he'd been born in Afghanistan several years after the Soviet invasion, the youngest and only surviving son of a family who had lost all their other children in the fighting against the Soviets - and later the Taliban. He'd spent much of his early life working on a modest farm his parents owned, and although he'd grown up in a village without running water and had been forced to walk seven miles to go to school he was not by any means stupid or even uneducated. He'd exhibited a knack for reading from a very young age, wrestling his way through complex passages of the Qur'an and gradually learning to grasp their meaning before progressing to English, which he'd excelled at. Steadfast in the Muslim beliefs he'd inherited from his parents but not harboring any animosity towards the West, he'd survived life under the Taliban's regime by being smart enough to keep to himself, but had welcomed the coming of the NATO forces who'd ousted them from power in 2001. He said he was married with two young daughters, and wanted his wife to be able to choose for herself whether she went about her business with her head covered or not, and for his children to go to school and learn English as he had, but although he'd made an effort to keep as far from the fighting that had plagued his country as possible he'd recently chosen to offer his services to the British forces after the demand for interpreters had increased. It was a dangerous business, but at least it paid well - far better than the meager living he and his family had been making for themselves before, tending a herd of skinny goats in a secluded patch of Afghan desert.
Alan may not have been military in the strictest sense of the term, but as far as Dice was concerned fair play to him for having the balls to speak out against the Taliban - or whatever it was the raghead bastards were calling themselves these days. Many still thought of them as Al-Qaeda or the Taliban and referred to them as such, but the truth was that the insurgency they were currently fighting had no proper name. Aside from the usual mish-mash of Arab mujh, Chechen wahhbists and other Islamic extremists, generally of Pakistani origin, they were mostly just the scattered remnants of the force that had made a play at taking over the Middle East during the winter of 2011. Having risen to power in the aftermath of the Arab Spring under the leadership of Khaled Al-Asad, the well-equipped paramilitary force had staged a violent coup in Saudi Arabia whilst the rest of the world's attention focused on the civil war unfolding in Russia at the time. To begin with, Al-Asad's forces had dubbed themselves The Tigers of the Revolution, but after the Americans had started conducting military operations against the group they'd simply referred to them as OpFor, an abbreviation of "Opposing Force".

The coup had been swift and bloody, culminating in the public execution of President Yasir Al-Fulani being broadcast on national television and prompting international outrage; both Britain and America had condemned Al-Asad's forces for brutality against civilians who had dared to oppose them, whilst Al-Asad himself had made a lot of grandiose speeches about Al-Fulani's "colluding with the West" and "freeing his people from the yoke of foreign oppression". In a surprise move, however, the United States, who had done everything in their power to keep their distance from the conflict in Russia, had launched a surprise attack on Al-Asad, arguing that it was neither an illegal invasion nor a declaration of war on a foreign country but rather an operation to combat terrorism, bring down an illegitimate regime and restore democracy. Still, it had been mightily unpopular move even before so many the lives had been lost; some were just unhappy about what they perceived to be America interfering in the Middle East, whilst the more cynical claimed the decision to invade was prompted by oil.
The initial invasion of the Jeddah coast had been spearheaded by the US Marines' elite Force Reconnaissance battalions; what was meant to be a simple mission to kill or capture Al-Asad spiraling into a bloody campaign that had spilled over into Iraq and ended with the detonation of a nuclear device that had decimated Al-Asad's forces - along with 30,000 American service personnel and untold numbers of non-combatants. With their leadership gone and their forces scattered, OpFor had dissolved within a matter of days, and now that the fighting in Russia had also died down the focus of NATO's forces had drifted, with depressing familiarity, back to Afghanistan.
Why is it always the bloody Arabs we end up fighting? Dice found herself wondering. If it's not us or the Yanks it's the sodding Russians.
It got even better when you took into account that back in the 80's, British and American special forces had been actively aiding the Taliban during the Soviets' ill-advised invasion of Afghanistan, supplying them with Stinger missile launchers so that they could cripple Soviet air assets, and when the same Western units had mobilised along with Northern Alliance troops back in 2001 against AQT forces during Operation Anaconda they'd been using mostly against Uzbeks and Chechens using Russian kit. OpFor, however, were far better-equipped than the Taliban had ever been, with access to bulletproof vests and modern assault rifles a world away from the looted Soviet weapons their predecessors had used.

Not that any of that had done them much good, Dice thought as her gaze roved over the carnage that lay before them. She tried to avoid looking too hard at the bodies - not because it was distressing, but because she couldn't afford to let her concentration waver. Still, there was no such thing as being too careful; nobody wanted one of these fuckers pulling a Lazarus on them.
"We're not picking up any ICOM chatter," one of the Commandos noted. ICOM stood for internal communications, meaning radio chatter from the enemy; listening on these transmissions could prove crucial in a firefight, but where the net would be buzzing with activity during a battle there was nothing to be heard at that moment but the hiss of radio static. It was a favourite tactic of insurgents to fake a retreat in order to trick advancing forces into walking into a trap, but even though the pounding they'd taken and they fight they'd put up had looked convincing enough, the sudden radio silence was making Dice skittish.
Another thing that was unnerving her was Jackal. He was silent too, his gaze was fixed on the nearest structure, unblinking. A sniper's glare. It was almost unnerving how at ease he seemed in this environment. He didn't seem to look past the carnage all around him so much as look through it, as though his target was the only thing in the world that mattered to him at that precise moment. It was easy to see how he'd become a sniper.
The door to the building was ajar; further inspection revealed that the explosions had loosened its hinges, and part of the ceiling had collapsed. It was a fairly basic dwelling, with a simple sleeping mat in place of a bed, a table with two smashed legs and a couple of chairs, both overturned. A dusty, blood-streaked hand poked out from under a pile of debris, but they all knew better than to touch any of the bodies they found. Anything was a potential booby-trap in Afghanistan.
The second building they checked was much the same story as the first. A trail of claret led them to the mutilated body of an insurgent who'd apparently been hit and dragged himself, bleeding, into what passed for a bedroom before he'd died. The rifle his fingers were still locked around was left where it lay, as were the boxes of food and ammunition stacked inside the doorway.

The next building looked to be some sort of drug refinery. There were several crudely-constructed metal cauldrons full of brown gunk in the kitchen, and used needles were scattered across the floor and worktops like spent brass after a firefight. It was common practice for enemy insurgents to shoot up before a battle; they'd all heard stories of fighters absorbing entire magazines before they went down, so jacked up on heroin that they couldn't even feel the rounds tearing into them, and here was the evidence. Apparently their fascistic interpretation of Islam said it was OK to beat women for walking around with their heads uncovered but was a little fuzzy on the subject of bankrolling a war through hard drugs.
"Fucking junkies. Watch yourself on those needles."
Jackal said nothing, but his eyes betrayed his disgust. He seemed ill at ease, for although he'd lowered his rifle he appeared anything but relaxed, scratching at his forearms and the nape of his neck as though suffering from insect bites.
"Let's get out of here," she heard him mutter after a search turned up nothing of importance. Dice got the distinct impression he couldn't wait to leave, and since his discomfort was making her uncomfortable in turn she was all too happy to oblige. She was starting to wish the AC-130 had wiped this particular building off the map completely.

Dust fell from the wooden steps to the basement, which creaked in protest under the weight of their boots and gear as they ascended. It felt good to get outside again. Even the burned-meat and cordite smell of the village was better than the air inside the house. The place smelled nauseatingly like burned toast, and something else that she couldn't put a name to but reminded her of an underpass near her house back in Essex. She used to walk past it every day on her morning route to school and avoided it at all costs when it got dark.
It was funny, the things the mind conjured up memories of when you were in the middle of a war zone. Her eyes caught a flash of dirty white streaked with red amongst the drab greens and browns, and when she realised that she was looking at a child's shoe the first thing she found herself remembering was, bizarrely, that her little brother had a similar pair.
Then she realised that the ankle poking out of the top of the shoe was connected to a leg, and the bottom dropped out of her stomach and her blood turned to ice water.
Oh no.
Jackal must have seen it too because the next thing she knew they were both converging on it, and soon several pairs of eyes were turned in their direction.
God, how she wished later that she'd not noticed it.
Little shoe. Little feet. Little legs.
Too many little legs for one person.
Even a little person.
"Jesus fucking Christ," she heard someone whisper behind her, and as she turned to look at Jackal she saw one of the men to the right of him crossing himself whilst the other clamped a hand over his mouth - whether to stop the smell going in or his own vomit from coming out, she didn't know.
She'd killed before in combat and not felt anything but a vague sense of satisfaction at having done her job well. She'd seen her own mates get chopped to bits by gunfire and personally verified the dead bodies of the enemy she'd killed. Hell, she'd seen dead civilians before - that was always bad, but she'd never seen anything as fucking awful as this before.
Jackal did nothing. Didn't move, didn't speak. Didn't show a shred of emotion. Not with his eyes, not with his body. Maybe he was open-mouthed in horror like she was but that stupid bloody fucking mask was in the way-
Her hands were trembling, and she clenched her fists hard, drew in a shuddering breath to calm herself.
Then Jackal did the worst thing he could possibly have done.
He reached out to put a hand on her shoulder.
Fucking moron.
No. No, that wasn't fair. No way he could have known about that.
"Don't," she snapped, jerking her arm away from him, hating the sound of her own voice.
"Dice-"
"Shut up, man. Just shut the fuck up."

She inhaled again - bad idea - turned away from him as she retched and bile washed into her mouth. She gagged and spewed it into the dirt, coughing. A string of spit hung from chin, snapped, and left a dark spot on her dusty boot.
She didn't want to die at that moment. No good soldier truly wanted to die, and she was a good soldier. She was a Royal Marine Commando, for fuck's sake. She wasn't the only one who felt like shit. Most of the other blokes in her platoon had kids. Some even had grandkids. Some of them were shaking, turning away in horror and disgust. Others just looked on in shock as she had done before her own nausea had crept up on her and taken her by surprise.
No, she didn't want to die. She just wanted to stop existing. She wanted the ground to open up and swallow her. She wanted, more than anything, for this never to have happened. Any of it. She wanted to be back in England with her family and for this fucking war never to have happened in the first place.
She wanted to cut the throat of the fucking murderer who'd done this and leave them to bleed out in the sand like a stuck pig.
Then a chill surged down her spine as another thought occurred to her.
"How did...who did this?"
It took Jackal a couple of seconds to understand what the fuck she was talking about. First his brows knitted in bewilderment, then his eyes widened in realisation before he cast his gaze downward with a sigh. Jesus, she thought. How can he even bring himself to look?
"No way to know for sure without a ballistics report," he said flatly. "Could've been us, could've been the insurgents. It doesn't matter either way. There's nothing we can do for them now."
"We've got to do something. We can't just...leave them here."
Someone had fetched a rough blanket from inside one of the buildings - not large enough to conceal the awful spectacle completely or scrub away the images burned into Dice's retinas, but perhaps large enough to lend a shred of dignity to the victims. Dice felt that surely they deserved that smallest of gestures, but as soon as the Marine motioned to drape the blanket over the prone bodies Jackal's hand shot out with lightning speed to grab his wrist.
"Cancel that," he said quietly. "Best thing we can do is just to keep the hell away from them until EOD have made sure they're not wired and then give the coordinates to the ANP once we've cleared this place."
Dice couldn't bring herself to hate how infuriatingly calm and utterly dispassionate he was being about the whole situation. She couldn't even bring herself to make an indignant protest about how the Afghan police could be trusted about as far as they could be thrown. She couldn't bring herself to feel anything except a kind of numbness, a heaviness in her shoulders that tied her guts in knots and made the rifle in her arms weigh a ton.
She wasn't even making an effort not to cry any more. She didn't need to, because as much as she felt like she was going to at any second she knew full-well she wouldn't have been able to even if she'd tried. Some people cried as a coping mechanism, but not her. She just couldn't bring herself to do it, not even after this. She'd not cried in such a long time. She'd not wanted to cry in such a long time. Not since-
"Sergeant!"
God, she felt pathetic. She felt so fucking weak and stupid just for feeling guilty about this when there was nothing to say it was even her fault, but at the same time she was disgusted for not wanting to feel responsible. Part of her still felt like she wasn't cut out for the Royal Marines even now, and that she was just a scared little girl pretending at being a soldier.
I want to go home, that small, scared part of her whined.
"What is it?" she heard Jackal say, his voice muffled and echoey as though her ears were stuffed full of cotton wool.
You can't go home. Not yet.
"You'd, uh...you'd better come see for yourself."
There's still work to be done.
I would say I had far too much fun writing this, but that would be inaccurate because to be honest it wasn't half fucking laborious to begin with. That said, I think this is probably one of the strongest chapters I've done so far in terms of impact - although I do apologise if you find it a bit heavy reading.

The decision to include the act of brutality that is alluded to within the last couple of paragraphs was influenced by a number of things. It was partly to balance out the rather lengthy call backs to the events of Call of Duty 4, partly because I felt the narrative was becoming dangerously Hollywood-esque and not as realistic as I originally intended, and partly because even though I've not played it in a good few months Spec Ops: The Line made more of an impact on me than I'd like to admit. I just hope that it didn't feel like an "obligatory war crime scene" in any way, and that I handled it (and the characters' reactions to it) well without making it seem melodramatic. If it upset you, then I hope it was for the right reasons and that it gave you something to think about.

If you've not read the previous chapters of this story, I strongly advise you to do so or else this won't make sense.

The first chapter can be found here: [link]
The second chapter is here: [link]
The third one is here: [link]
And the fourth one is here: [link]
And chapter five is here: [link]

Comments and constructive criticism are always welcome, so don't be shy about pointing out anything you think I could improve on - that's the whole reason I started this project in the first place.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series is Infinity Ward
"Jackal" ~metalzerofour
Elizabeth "Dice" Hankard ~JJesseh
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:iconmotor-cunt:
motor-cunt Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Well, it's been some time since I read a chapter of bullet points, and I must say, I regret not doing so...

Keep up the good work! :dummy:
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:iconmetalzerofour:
metalzerofour Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I will do. Thanks.
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:iconmotor-cunt:
motor-cunt Featured By Owner Apr 16, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
:iconforeveralonehappyplz: no prob!!!
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:iconhangmen13:
Hangmen13 Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2013
The amount of details that you breathe into your character is astounding. Love it. No more spending money for yet another game tie-in novels for me, because I'd rather go through your writings!
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:iconmetalzerofour:
metalzerofour Featured By Owner Apr 15, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
That means a lot to me, mate. Thank you.
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:icontombslug:
tombslug Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Dust fell from the wooden steps to the basement, which creaked in protest under the weight of their boots and gear as they ascended.
i had to do a double-take at this sentence but the imagery made me laugh.
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:iconmetalzerofour:
metalzerofour Featured By Owner Apr 14, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
omfg I was wondering if you were going to pick up on that even when I was writing it
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:icondennouparanoia:
DennouParanoia Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I would have thought Dice would be more indifferent to these things already?? Anyways, awesome chapter and you better start the next one you poop.
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:iconmetalzerofour:
metalzerofour Featured By Owner Apr 12, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
"...she'd seen dead civilians before - that was always bad, but she'd never seen anything as fucking awful as this before."
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:iconlightiningdragon:
LightiningDragon Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I think this is the best chapter you've written so far.
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:iconmetalzerofour:
metalzerofour Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
That's good to know, mate. Thanks a lot! c:
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:iconcysanic5:
Cysanic5 Featured By Owner Apr 10, 2013
The plot thickens! :O
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:iconmetalzerofour:
metalzerofour Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Like gravy.
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