Chapter 4 – Ranger

© Copyright 2016

Anna’s orders gave her three days travel time to her next station and ten days leave time. She spent the weekend with her parents. Late Sunday evening she said Goodbye to them, walked into the back yard, and vanished.

Thirty minutes later she was over the Middle East, having passed over night-time Europe to get there. It was late Monday morning.

The Middle East from space was a tapestry of beige, brown, and yellow. Dropping lower down she could see details. The first were the mountains in the northern parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. There was snow on their tops, forming labyrinths of white. Lower down still she could see oases and strips of green in valleys and other areas.

She’d studied maps of where she would work. It was a long stretch of road running east and west. It connected eastern Afghanistan with western Pakistan via the Khyber Pass.

Rather than go directly there, where she was not expected for 11 more days, she dropped down into the capitol of Afghanistan, Kabul, some 200 kilometers or 125 miles to the west.

Reasoning that she might be asked about her trip to her duty station she alighted at the international airport and floated through the terminal, invisible. The view was unimpressive. It was more like a small regional airport than an international one, but there were lots of travelers. Since the opening up of the country two years ago to foreign investment, especially of the trillions of dollars in mineral possibilities, it had become a magnet for foreigners.

This included the U. S. military, which the government had contracted to provide security and help the country develop its own military. Anna saw many U. S. soldiers in uniform traveling the airport.

She stopped at an automated bank terminal and drew several hundred dollars in local currency from her account in a variety of bills.

She followed some of the soldiers to the outside where they embarked on various buses and taxis. Then she swooped up and turned south toward the downtown area. As she flew she saw a tall mountain range to her right, westward, the higher elevations shrouded in snow. There was a smaller range to her left, eastward.

Kabul was in a mostly flat valley between the two ranges but it had hilly areas. Everywhere there were buildings, some of them which looked as they must have looked during the several thousand years of the country’s history. Spotted here and there, randomly to her eyes, were more modern buildings.

There were various more built-up neighborhoods, with shops and restaurants and food stores. They teemed with people, men, women, and some children, crowding each other and the cars and buses which to her seemed randomly mixed with no sidewalk-street distinction. Most were in local dress. A few men were in suits and the women in modern dresses, though each woman wore a head scarf.

She noticed that women were always in groups or attended by men. She understood why when she alighted enshrouded in the blue tent-like burqa, her view filtered through a veil. After an hour of sight-seeing two men approached her. Without a word they grabbed her upper arms and marched her into an alley. There they began to feel her breasts and buttocks.

She tossed the veil up so that it lay atop her head. At the same time she had Suit project an image of someone else’s face over hers. It had long tusks which stretched her mouth wide. Her eyes were red pools of light.

One man saw her face, screamed, and ran. The other gasped and turned to run. She grabbed the back of his shirt and pulled. He tore away from her so hard his shirt back split, leaving a strip of it in her hand. He raced desperately away from her.

She laughed until her sides hurt.

Recovering, she became herself dressed in desert camouflage uniform. A long sand-colored scarf covered her hair and her throat, ready to cover her nose and mouth in case of a sandstorm. Resting on her belly was a black submachine gun suspended by straps and on one thigh rode a large black pistol. On her other thigh was a long non-regulation knife. Despite her curves she appeared supremely dangerous. And of course was.

For the next couple of hours she wandered, sightseeing. But her walk was not idle. She was listening to the conversations around her, trying to absorb the nuances of speech. Most of it was in Dari, a bit in Pashto, and the rest in several other regional languages. She was also observing body language, as essential to communication as spoken language.

After a while she turned into an open-fronted restaurant and ordered, in Dari, three meat sandwiches somewhat like Mexican tacos and a large carton of grape juice.

While standing at a long waist-high counter attached to one wall she had lunch with a dozen other customers doing the same. She idly watched the people in the restaurant and passing by. A few looked back curiously, a few more with scowls, but most ignored her. Most of those, she could tell through Tiara, simply accepted her as much part of the background as anyone else.

Done, she still felt a bit hungry, so she ordered a stick of baklava wrapped in some cheap plastic, a bread dessert flavored with cinnamon and nuts and molasses. Tearing open one end she ambled out into the crowd, her fingers protected from the sticky treat by the peeled-back plastic.

Two more hours were enough for her. She disappeared and flew east along the road to the Khyber Pass. Midway there she drifted down to Jalalabad. This was to her a much smaller version of Kabul, however.

For a time she wandered invisible through the winter palace of a former king, then through Nangarhar University. There was little else there which interested her at this time so she soon lofted into the sky once again.

She skipped over the area where she would serve, the western side of the Khyber Pass and the pass itself, a deep cut in the Khyber mountains. She came down in Peshawar, about 40 kilometers or 25 miles inside Pakistan.

Wandering invisible, she found the city very interesting. There were more languages being spoken than in Afghanistan, and there were several colleges and universities. There was an airport and a train station connecting the city to the rest of Pakistan.

Dusk was beginning to bathe the land. She’d done enough for today. She hopped a few hundred miles toward the east and south to New Delhi, India. This was one of the richest countries in the British Empire and the city one of the richest and most modern cities in that country. It was early evening there.

She had no problems finding a room in a four-star hotel. She’d assumed her natural appearance and was dressed in a dark blue business suit with a frilly-collared white satin blouse and low-heeled dark blue dress shoes. She had no luggage but the hotel had no problem with her Platinum credit card.

<>

Tuesday she wandered the area where she would work, the Khyber Pass and the area a few dozen miles west in Afghanistan. Her headquarters would be in an Army base, Post 373. This was small prefabricated town recently set up a couple of miles west of the small village named Baha Tor near the mouth of the pass. The meandering Afghan-Pakistan highway, following a narrow tributary of the Kabul River which created a long green valley, passed to the north of the post then through the pass.

All around the post for a quarter mile the low tough vegetation had been bulldozed bare. It had been surrounded by a twelve-foot high steel mesh fence topped with razor wire. The two bulldozers which had done it still rested inside the fence.

She invisibly scouted the post and got to know by sight some of the hundred or so troops who manned it. Then she scouted Baha Tor closer to the Pass. It was shabby and had little more than a mosque, general store, a small three-story hospital, some other shops, and two gasoline filling stations at each end of the village.

She also scouted the Khyber Pass. This was narrow, winding valley 50-plus kilometers or 30-plus miles long. The sides of the pass were very close and steep at some points. At others it widened out to one or even two miles wide. The road at some places had hairpin turns. A tributary of the Kabul River passed through the pass, now downsized to a stream which occasionally disappeared underground. At several wider spots the stream reappeared and small villages were strung on both sides of it.

Lunch was a large hamburger platter and a soft drink created from air by Suit. She ate sitting on a boulder atop one of the higher elevations above one the greenest parts of the pass. Done, Suit transmuted the plate and drink can back to air.

Dinner was in Paris, 3500 miles to the west. It was two and a half time zones earlier than the pass. Then she found a room at a three star hotel with a view of the Eiffel Tower, a lovely sight as night fell and the lights on the tower came on.

<>

So far Anna had been mostly learning the context of where she’d be stationed. She’d spent most of that time in the air from a mile up to a few feet. Wednesday after a buffet breakfast at her French hotel she landed a few miles away from the U. S. military post. She exited Pegasus, who returned to his normal brick-of-soap shape and his usual position a few feet above her and invisible. She began to walk in a tightening spiral around the post.

She felt this to be necessary. These were the areas from which the bandits and haters of foreigners would launch attacks on the post and other nearby areas. And she needed to know more about the area than her eyes and the “gravity radar” of Tiara could tell her. She needed to know the many subtle sounds and scents of the deep brushy areas in which the attackers would hide.

<>

She spent three days at this, taking her time, resting when she needed to. With her enormous physical reserves this was not often.

She stayed visible but wore traditional male dress: a loose long-sleeved shirt, loose pants, a long vest, and a long scarf wound around her head and over her nose and mouth and neck.

From a distance she would appear a male, but since her clothing was much the same color as the mostly head-high vegetation even a person close up would have a hard time even seeing her as long as she stood very still.

Anna ate food from air gathered by Suit and transmuted to copies of her favorite foods. These were identical down to the sub-atomic level as natural food and thus were equally nourishing. At night she slept hidden amidst the brush on what appeared to be leaves but was actually comfortable force fields mimicking a bed. For entertainment when she wanted it she had the resources of all the cable and internet networks in the world, visible whenever she closed her eyes.

<>

Monday morning she visited Jalalabad and flew till she found just what she wanted: a vehicle sales lot. There she had Pegasus study one of the small pickup trucks they used till he could duplicate it. Then she landed halfway between the city and her soon-to-be home.

It was a stretch of highway with no one within miles of it. A few hundred yards to the north the Kabul river stretched east and west and the land was green around it. Along this stretch of highway there was a long line of trees on both sides and she was in shade. To the south the land was beige and brown and dead.

It took Pegasus a half hour to duplicate one of the battered but mechanically well-kept trucks. The rest of the truck was gaily decorated in the Afghan fashion, with patches of color and writing in Dari and English scripts. The truck bed was dusty and held a few brown leaves, the cab smelled of tobacco and held the remnants of pizza-like food and juice containers.

Satisfied that it met her requirements, Anna had Suit garb her in a male’s costume, one stained here and there with what could equally have been oil or spilled drinks but not smelling like either. Then she retrieved her duffel and small suitcase from Pegasus who had been carrying it dissolved but in its memory all this time and placed it in the small luggage space just behind the truck seats.

She got in and merrily began driving east. She turned on the radio. Like everything else in the truck it was functional because it was an exact duplicate of the original down to below the atomic level.

Accompanied by loud wailing Arabic music Anna rolled to meet her soon-to-be companions. Just past mid-morning in mid-April the weather was chilly and cloudy, but the clouds were breaking up and blue was overtaking the grey.

She passed a bus which might have started as a yellow school bus but now was covered with so many rainbow-colored patches and stripes and text that she could not tell what its former color had been. A little boy and girl waved at her out of one window. She tooted her horn.

A couple of white vans passed her going in the opposite direction.

Then she came to a toll gate. A bored man sitting on a high chair in a booth watched as she tossed coins into a toll collection machine.

She was about a half hour from her new duty station. Through Tiara she sent a text message to the captain who commanded it.

REPRTNG EARLY 2 DUTY N ABT 30 MIN KING USMC

It was 35 minutes later when she saw off to the right up ahead Guard Post 373. It was not impressive: several dozen prefabricated metal buildings of several sizes plus a few low blocky concrete buildings. It was surrounded by a low wall of stones. Further out was a twelve-foot high fence made of very tough chain-links. Rolls of razor wire topped the fence.

She slowed her vehicle and soon came to a big sign. In white on olive green it said UNITED STATES ARMY GUARD POST 373.

She turned right onto a two-lane concrete road. It ran a quarter mile to a guard shack where two soldiers were on duty. Slowing to a stop she saw they were in full battle gear over their camouflage clothing. This was helmet with embedded communicator, body armor, and web belt from which hung a canteen, pistol, first aid kit, and several smaller pieces of equipment. Each held an M5 carbine across their bellies, trigger fingers near but not in the trigger guard.

She looked up at the closest of the men. He was staring at her. The other was scanning the countryside and the several monitors of infrared and video cameras and motion sensors hidden in the ground outside the chain-link fence. She approved.

“What is your business?” he said in crude but intelligible Dari.

She replied in English: “Lance Corporal Annalisa King reporting for duty, Corporal…Hathaway. I texted the Captain I was coming in early about a half hour ago.”

“I’ll phone him.”

He spoke loudly enough to alert a tiny voice-activated microphone held beside his mouth by a narrow stem.

“Captain, Corporal King at the gate.”

Through Tiara Anna heard: “I see a truck. That her?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Check her papers. If they look good have her park the truck by the HQ.”

Anna was holding her orders and ID in the hand not on the steering wheel. She had them ready at the vehicle window when the guard asked for them.

He took them and examined them carefully. Meanwhile the other guard switched his gaze from the distance to her. Again she approved privately. For all he knew the papers were a diversion and she’d next lift a hand with a weapon in it.

She nodded at him. His expression did not change but through Tiara she sensed more interest than just duty. She was sure that was because he could see her face, very beautiful despite the lack of makeup. It was a reaction she’d come to expect long ago.

The paper orders and her picture ID badge checked out. The soldier gave them back to her and ordered her to park near the command building. He pointed it out. As she already knew, it was the biggest and most central of them.

She covered the 100 feet or so distance over a continuation of the outside roadway. Looking about she saw what she remembered from her earlier visit: various paths and blocks marked out with pegs. Post 373 was still in the early stages of construction.

She entered the large concrete building by way of a heavy metal door set in a steel door frame. Inside, the building was partitioned into a wide front room and several smaller rooms behind it.

Seated at a desk directly in front of her was an Army master sergeant, Albert Taylor. He was First Sergeant of the company and so was responsible for overseeing all the administrative jobs of the company. He was a heavy-set but muscular man with a strong nose and chin and short-cropped grey hair. The man’s eyes measured her carefully.

Standing beside the sergeant was a trim soldier with captain’s gold bars on each desert camo uniform lapel. He was Matthew Giatelli, the commander of the company of 146 troops. He had an Italian’s dark good looks and he was very bright, one of the youngest Army captains ever promoted to that rank since the Global War of the 30s.

For that matter, the sergeant was also very bright. She knew because she had studied both of their personnel files and researched their pasts via Tiara. As she’d done to everyone else in the company.

Anna marched up to the captain, braced, and saluted.

“Lance Corporal Annalisa King reporting for duty, sir.”

He returned her salute and said, “At ease, Corporal. Please have a seat.”

He gestured at one of three straight-backed chairs in front of the sergeant’s desk. She obeyed and sat in the one nearest the two men, moving with a dancer’s grace and sitting relaxed but alertly upright.

The sergeant sat back in his chair and placed his two hands tented together in front of his mouth. The captain remained standing as he spoke.

“We didn’t expect you till later in the week.”

“Friday,” the sergeant added.

“I spent some time with my parents. But they both work during the day. All my friends from school have scattered. So I came early to see if I could do some good.”

“Why are you dressed this way? And driving that truck?”

“My job is recon. When I got in I bought some used clothes and a used truck and did some traveling, stopping here and there to soak up the atmosphere and improve my language skills and hear what’s going on.”

“Traveling? Where specifically, Corporal?”

“I came by here and spent a day memorizing the land for a few miles out. Then I went into the pass as far as the Pakistani border. Then I turned around and came back. On the way there and back I also reconnoitered all the places in the pass where an ambush might take place.”

The sergeant stirred in his seat. His captain looked at him and the sergeant spoke.

“Did it occur to you that a woman alone in the Middle East is not safe?”

“I’m very able to ensure I stay safe.” Her voice was utterly neutral and non-confrontational. But she saw the small signs that indicated he was angered by her response.

The captain was amused. “Nevertheless, while you are here you will not place yourself in any more jeopardy than can be helped.”

“Aye, aye, sir. But respectfully I must remind you that I am an independent command whose job is to ‘assist you in whatever way you and I mutually decide is in the Army’s best interests.'”

The sergeant did not like that at all. And for the first time the captain was unhappy too.

But they had to accept it. The services had always jealously guarded their autonomy, to the point where in a war sometimes it almost seemed as if they warred against each other. Anna had taken advantage of that and through Tiara changed her original orders to give her complete freedom in what she did here.

Not that she would make waves unless absolutely necessary. Still, she was determined to use her special abilities to the fullest extent that she could as long as that did not reveal what they were.

The captain calmed himself. “We’ll have to discuss that matter further. But for now I’d like you to get settled in. I’m assigning you to the company intelligence squad, starting tomorrow. From now on I want to see you in the proper uniform for your duties.”

Anna stood. Tiara had just told her that the sergeant had sent a message somewhere via his computer console, and the captain’s statement had told her why.

He held out his hand to shake. “Welcome aboard, corporal. Dismissed.”

“Thank you, Sir.” She shook his hand and stepped back, braced, and saluted. He returned it and retired to his office, a small cubbyhole behind the sergeant.

From another cubbyhole behind the sergeant a short sandy-haired corporal came. He looked askance at the sergeant.

“Dennison, take Corporal King to Barracks 21. She’ll be bunked there. On the way go by the supply room and pick up the usual bedding. Have her get settled in. Then go to Lieutenant Wang and let him know his S2 assistant has arrived. Then come back here.”

He returned his attention to his computer console, underlining his annoyance with her by ignoring her.

“Thank you, Sergeant. I look forward to working with you in the future.” She was mildly amused but kept her face solemn.

He glanced at her and then back at the screen in front of him.

The corporal nodded at her and ushered her out the door, probably trying to get a good look at her ass. If so, he was disappointed. She’d picked Afghan men’s clothes which were so loose they hid her sex quite well.

“What did you do to tick off the Sarge, King?”

“I’m a Marine and an independent command. I had to remind him and the captain of that.”

“Wow. Try to stay on his good side. He’s tough.”

“I believe it.”

They were now at a building with the sign SUPPLIES mounted over the entrance. He pushed through the hanging flap doorway. She followed him.

“Hey, Georges. This is that Marine. We need some bedding.”

Corporal Andrew Georges was sitting behind a counter, frowning industriously at a computer screen. Tiara let her know he was watching a set of bikini-clad images of Olympic athletes rather than some military data.

The sturdy pug-nosed soldier tapped a button to hide what he was “studying” and looked up. His surliness vanished when he saw Dennison’s companion. Anna’s sex was well hidden, but her face wasn’t. And despite her attire just enough of her shape showed through her clothing to reveal her sex.

“Yeah, sure. Are you King?”

Anna nodded.

“Welcome to Post 373. Hold a sec, I’ll get your bed clothes.”

He got up from his chair and disappeared into a back room. Moments later he reappeared with a stack of blankets, sheets, and so on. He hefted it onto the counter top, took up an info slate from his desk, and placed it beside the clothing, atop which he also placed a towel set.

“Sign here,” he said, pointing at a slot on the form displayed on the slate.

She did so, saying Thanks.

Anna also said, “Do you know if my sniper rifle arrived? And its ammo?”

“Pretty sure I saw them come in and go to the armory. Let me check.”

A quick search of the company’s secure database (which Anna monitored via Tiara) revealed that they were here. Anna thanked the corporal and she and her escort left.

Barracks 21 was big enough to house four troops with space left over for a small lounge. The couch in the lounge was occupied by another corporal lying lengthwise in it, watching a movie on an info slate. He was listening via ear-buds. Dennison quietly said that was a requirement as he led her to one of the four door flaps behind the lounge.

“With four people on different work schedules you have to have rules so everyone gets enough sleep. So read the rules posted inside your room sometime soon.”

Anna thanked him for his help and walked with him back to the HQ. There she parked her truck in the designated parking lot to one side of the building. She then retrieved her duffel and suitcase. She soon had them unpacked and their contents hung in the narrow open area which acted as a closet. She made the bunk with the bedding she’d left on its foot, then sat on it and looked at her room.

It was as minimal as you could get, the only other furniture a folding chair and a desk just big enough to hold a laptop computer or an info slate. She had neither, having Tiara to do all the necessary functions.

It included a tiny bathroom with a standup shower, barely large enough to wash herself without her elbows bumping the walls. A large sign beside its entrance told her water was metered and warned her not to use more than her daily allowance. If she did the water would be cut off till after midnight.

As she sat there the man who’d been lying on the couch outside in the lounge leaned on the open aluminum framework which held the door to her room.

“Hey. I’m Lopez. You’re the sniper?”

“Yeah. I’m Anna.”

“Anibal.” He pronounced it ah-nee-BOL. “Hope you’re good. I always go to sleep wondering if I’ll never wake up. Or wake up screaming from being half blown away by a mortar.”

“Sleep soundly tonight. I’ll be patrolling all night starting about midnight. Smart attackers will wait till they think most of us are asleep.”

“I just hope we don’t have any dumb attackers. And they don’t get you.”

“I’m better than you can possibly imagine, Anibal. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to draw an M5 from Armory and some ammo for tonight, then take a nap before chow. Maybe I’ll see you there.”

“Count on it.”

<>

She did see him at chow, along with Georges and Dennison, both of whom made sure they sat with her.

At the end the meal she was intercepted just outside of the mess building after dropping off her tray and plates, glasses, and utensils at the mess-building garbage-intake area. Not that she left more than a smudge of garbage; it was her policy to clean her plate. Her extra-efficient body needed a lot of food.

“Corporal King, I’m Lieutenant Wang. Don’t salute. We like to keep the bad guys from knowing the command structure. Not that they don’t know already, but it’s good to keep up the habit of security.”

She knew who he was: head of the intelligence squad to which she’d been assigned. She also knew who were the staff sergeant and two corporals who manned it.

“Yes, sir.”

“Come on with me. I’d like to have a short chat.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

They walked what amounted to two city blocks to a medium-sized building off to one side of the company HQ. Wang talked as they walked. He moved very easily despite his bulk. This was partly because he had mastered several of the martial arts which movies and books decreed every Chinese in the world was expert.

“I heard that you got in early, but not before spending a few days doing recon from Kabul up through mid-Pass. True? Gossip?”

“True, sir. I spent three whole days in this area. I especially wanted to see how well your night guards did their job. I’m happy to report they did it well.”

“But they didn’t detect you.”

“I’m a lot better than the irregulars you have around here.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because they’ve been sneaking around out there. I shadowed three different groups. None of whom got anywhere near enough to do any surveillance of the company.”

“I also got a somewhat annoyed report from the First that you are an insubordinate bitch who would be doing extra duty if you weren’t a fucking jarhead.”

“Quite understandable. Nobody likes the fact that each service guards its autonomy too well. Except, of course, for their own service. I regretfully had to remind the Captain and the Sergeant that mine is an independent command.”

They arrived at the Intelligence building just then. The lieutenant went inside and held the door for Anna before closing it behind her.

The building held only a staff sergeant. The two corporals who’d be her work mates were off duty or had duty elsewhere.

Anna gave the building a quick visual once over. It was as she’d discovered a few nights ago when she’d dropped down invisible into the midst of the camp and probed everything with her gravity radar. It had several rooms.

The one where she’d work held several desks with straight-backed chairs. Three of the desks had ergonomic chairs, the ones in front of the computer consoles which would be occupied for long stretches of time.

There was a bank of communications and computer equipment along one wall, alight with several green lights and a couple of yellow ones, one of which was blinking. There were also several filing cabinets with padlocks on them.

The sergeant was sitting back in one of the ergo chairs with his feet up on the desk which supported a computer screen. He was idly watching a scrolling list of numbers and images.

He swung his feet off the desk and stood up. He was a medium-height black man with an athletic body.

“Matlock, this is Lance Corporal King. King, this is the real brains of this outfit–“

She said, “Staff Sergeant Tafari Matlock. I know. A pleasure, Sergeant.”

Wang chuckled. “I see we’ve got another brain in our little legion of spies.”

“I made up dossiers on everyone in the post before I came. Amazing how much information is public.”

The sergeant shook her hand and indicated a couple of chairs near his. Both were ergo chairs.

Anna waited for Wang to sit before sitting herself. The sergeant spoke to him.

“Anyone with that kind of computer savvy is better off on the net than out getting her ass shot off by some ragheads.”

“No,” said Anna. “I’m better off shooting the asses off the ragheads. Whom I should remind the sergeant are children of God just like the rest of us and entitled to more respectful terms than raghead for the sorry assholes.” Her expression was dead pan.

Wang laughed out loud. Matlock suppressed a smile.

“I have to concur. You’ve read her record.”

“Yeah. I just wish our two wizards were as sharp. Well, Wilson is. But Schultz isn’t yet up to speed.”

“He will be.

“Now, Anna has just told me she was surveilling some insurgents during the last three days before reporting in here.”

Matlock examined her curiously.

“I tracked three groups to their base camps. Can I borrow a computer?”

Wang waved at the console in front of Anna. She struck the keyboard to wake it up. Matlock leaned over and typed in a userid and password, holding up a hand to keep her from pressing Enter.

“Those are yours. Memorize them, then go.”

She pretended to, though she knew from Tiara what they were. Then she quickly brought up a map of the area and used a forefinger on the touch-sensitive screen to draw a circle around three areas. One was to the east in the mountains just inside the Khyber Pass. One was to the west toward Kabul, the other to the north a dozen miles past the east-west highway.

Wang and Matlock looked at the map. Wang mused and the NCO agreed that the three did not seem to be working together.

Anna interrupted them. “Gentlemen, I need to go take a nap. Unless you can come up with a good reason, at midnight I’m going to spend the night making sure the base is safe. Would you give orders to the gate guards to let me out?”

The sergeant looked at the lieutenant, who nodded. The man then typed a few things on his computer as his boss continued speaking.

“I’d like to see you at 0800. But only if you do not need to get some sleep. I’d like you fully alert for a few hours so I can get you up to speed on things.”

“No sweat, Sir. May I be dismissed?”

He waved at her and returned to talking with his sergeant.

<>

Anna did get some sleep, waking just before midnight. She visited the bathroom then used Tiara to be sure no one saw her walk out of her quarters. Instants later she was a mile up inside Pegasus.

Using Tiara’s gravity radar she carefully studied the area around the post out to about five miles distance. There were no fanatical Moslems in the vegetation down below determined to wipe out those cursed foreigners who were determined to bring riches and education and immorality to their country.

That done, she dropped back down to her building. There she used Suit to dress herself in a standard tan and grey camouflage uniform properly sized to her. She added over it a matching harness. It had two horizontal straps, one just under her breasts and one at waist height. Vertical straps over her shoulders connected the two together. She had Suit add two flat ammunition packs which hung from the waist strap on each side of her.

On the front of the waist strap were two large Velcro patches. She pressed the M5 carbine against them. Matching patches on the weapon attached it to her very securely, yet would allow her to jerk the weapon loose.

She also had Suit create a sword stick for her about two feet long. Concealed inside it was what would look very like a straight Samurai sword when drawn. She swung it by its hilt up over one shoulder and down. The stick hit a vertical strap and stuck to the strap as if by invisible Velcro. There was just enough of its handle sticking up behind her ear that she could quickly draw it.

She practiced drawing the sword. It had a front edge of a composite material which would cut steel and a back edge which was blunt.

She left her building and walked to the security “shack” of the base. Contrary to its nickname, it was the size of a house with long sides and a mildly pitched roof, armored. Included in its several rooms was an armory and a control room with video monitors which let the two or more soldiers inside it monitor the base and its surroundings with video and infrared cameras and dozens of motion sensors in and around the base.

She “rang” the doorbell and looked at a video camera positioned above it. In just a few seconds one of the security troops inside the control room recognized her and buzzed her inside.

She pushed the door open when its solenoid-operated lock released it and was inside a reception area. It was empty and dimly lit, it being so late. Just beyond it was a hall, also dimly lit. Inside the hall a uniformed soldier motioned her to join her in the control room off to one side of the hall.

Anna did so, the sturdy blond woman moving aside and letting the door to the room slam shut behind them.

Anna saw the large flat-screen monitors she expected mounted on a wall to her left. Several feet before them was a couple of long tables with several computer monitors and keyboards connected by wireless to hidden computers. Several ergonomic chairs were positioned so that their occupiers could see the monitors and use the computers. Against the wall to her right, the back of the room, were a dozen or so chairs.

Anna turned her attention to the woman of (she knew) 29 years and spoke to her and a tall black private sitting at one of the computer screens.

“Corporal Cynthia Armstrong, I believe. And Private First Class Roland Jones? I’m Lance Corporal King, just reported in today.”

The blond woman said, “Yeah. You’re that scout/sniper, right? We heard you’d got in.”

“Would you check your orders? There should be a note that I’m to go out right about now and do recon.”

“Don’t need to. I remember it. When will you be back?”

“I’m going to stay out till just before sunup.”

The tall black private had glanced at her curiously, then continued scanning the monitors. Without turning his head toward her he said, “What’s that on your back, Corporal?”

“It’s sort of a high-tech version of a samurai sword. It comes in handy when I want to get up close and personal.”

The corporal said, “I thought you snipers stood off a thousand yards.”

“If the ground lets us, yeah. But in this kind of terrain a knife is sometimes better than a rifle or carbine. Especially at night.”

“OK, King. Go out and do your stuff. Come back safe, OK?”

Anna nodded and left the room and the house. Several minutes later she approached the front gate to the base. It opened slowly outward. When it was wide enough Anna slipped through it and began to jog toward the closest edge of the low brush. When she was shielded from the base sensors by the vegetation she vanished.

<>

Anna flew to the closest of the three insurgent bases, dropped down into its midst, and studied the small group. All of the men were asleep. For weapons they had rifles and other small arms and a kind of short sword or long knife. They certainly were not about to launch an attack on the base. If they did, the alert, able, and well-trained and well-supplied base would wipe them out.

Anna was ready to kill them and anyone else who would kill her mates. But so far there was no hard evidence this group ever would act on that desire. For all she knew they would play soldier for a few days or weeks or months and then go home to plant and harvest and otherwise live out their lives.

This was unlikely. But she thought she’d have plenty of warning if they did decide to act on their desires. Then she would kill them as mercilessly and as mercifully as she could.

The second nearest camp was awake and making preparations for the long march and then long sneak to near the base to set up an attack. This group was larger and seemed better organized than the first group. They also had more and better ammunition. This included heavy machine guns and RPGs: rocket propelled grenades.

Staying a few dozen feet above them, invisible, she drifted along with them for a mile or so. They moved efficiently through the brush, taking paths of least resistance amongst the less dense foliage. The crescent moon to their side and the stars lighted the way to dark-adapted eyes but their speed suggested they’d come this way before.

She was sure they planned to attack the base. She thought over the several options she had and decided on one which was likely to cause the least loss of life among them. One which just might discourage them from ever again thinking of attacking foreigners.

She lifted up to better see the undulating terrain below with her gravity radar. It showed the land and the vegetation on it as if by the light of several full moons.

She found what she was looking for: a small clearing containing sparser grass and almost no bushes. One through which the attackers were bound to pass.

She floated down to a few feet above the earth, exited Pegasus, and turned off her invisibility. She gave Suit a command which garbed her body in a voluminous black burqa which ended not in a squared-off hem but in jagged trailing “feet” visibly not touching the earth. Over her eyes she had Suit ready to place glowing red circles like the eyes of Arabic and Persian genie, or JNN in Arabic script. In each hand she held long swords whose blades glowed faintly red.

She waited. Gravity radar told her the attackers were coming toward her and how fast.

The first of the men who came into the little open area got a dozen or more feet inside it before noticing the still black blot in the air before them. They slowed, then stopped and exclaimed to each other in Pashto.

Anna waited until the laggards bunched up around the leaders of the party. Then she turned on the red “eyes” and spoke through a sort of force field megaphone which turned her Dari into a wailing cry.

THE FOREIGNERS ARE UNDER MY PROTECTION. GO BACK OR YOU WILL ENTER HELL.

There was stunned silence, then whispers, then louder voices. Then they were shouted down by a man in the lead.

“This is a trick! It is a machine! Shoot it!”

He set an example by firing an automatic rifle at the apparition. It had no visible effect. Nor any other kind. Suit absorbed the momentum of each bullet and turned the bullet to air.

Other men began to fire. The only effect was that the luminous swords began to glow more brightly as if made of dying embers being blown back to life. Then as if made of flame. Growing ever brighter.

LEAVE NOW OR ENTER HELL!

By now the demon swords were turning bright blue. And ever brighter.

The leader ran at the demon and struck it with his emptied automatic rifle. It bounced with a clank. The demon’s nearest sword did not. It swept through the body of the man and he fell in two pieces to the dirt.

More men ran at the demon. Its swords clove heads and bodies and steel. More men ran away, dropping their weapons, screaming and calling upon Allah. Soon there were only dead men in the clearing.

Anna gave a long shuddering breath. Killing was a horrible act. And this was her first time.

Then she swooped up and followed the fleeing men. Some of them returned to their base. More of them fled further further.

She waited at the base for an hour until she was sure the survivors planned nothing more. Then she visited the third camp up in the mountain pass, still feeling a little sick. Happily all those in it were asleep.

She made a last lap around the post, returned to her building, and had Tiara bring sleep to her. She dreamed once of the murder she’d committed but then used Tiara to interrupt any further distressing dreams.

<>

At forty minutes till 08:00 she awoke, the events of the night before only slightly dimmed. She pulled herself out of bed and made a quick toilette in her tiny head. She called a force-field duty camo uniform to her body and headed to the base cafeteria.

Night security guards Corporal Armstrong and Private Jones were there and waved her over to their table. They’d gotten off at 07:00. Shortly they were joined by Georges and Dennison, who were at another table.

The Corporal said, “How did it go last night, King?”

Anna put up a “Wait one” finger while she chewed and swallowed a mouthful of scrambled-eggs-and-bacon and a drink of orange juice.

“At about 03:30 I met a group heading to attack us. They had machine guns and RPGs as well as other stuff. I warned them off and when they attacked me I killed nine of them. That scared the rest off. I followed them and spent an hour making sure they didn’t regroup and retry. Then I checked out the other two groups and came home.”

Private Jones said, “Other two groups?” at the same time Armstrong said, “You WARNED them off?!”

“Yeah,” she said to Armstrong. “I used some special effects to make them think I was one of their demons. But they weren’t fooled. At least until I killed a few of them.”

She turned to Jones. “Before I reported in I did a couple of days recon and found three groups who were sneaking around in the area. I tracked them to their bases and reported on them to Lieutenant Wang and Sergeant Matlock yesterday.”

Georges said, “Damn, Anna. You’ve been busy!”

Corporal Armstrong said, “I can’t believe you tried to warn them off. Usually you just kill as many as you can.”

Anna had thought about what she was going to say when people asked her this. Especially the captain commanding the base. Here was a chance to practice her reply on someone of low rank.

“My job is to protect us from attacks. Not to just kill attackers. Prevention is cheaper than protection. If we can make them think a supernatural agency is protecting us, they’ll more likely to be discouraged. I mean, they know how to fight bullets. But not demons.”

The Corporal made a face. Anna couldn’t tell if it was rueful agreement or resignation in the face of foolishness. But the other three looked thoughtful. Dennison even nodded his head slightly as if in some agreement.

<>

Anna entered the intelligence building a minute or two before the hour. Lieutenant Wang and Sergeant Matlock had just arrived. They were standing in front of a large electronic white board and drinking coffee. They were discussing complicated diagrams displayed on the white board.

There were also two corporals sitting at computer consoles with coffee mugs beside their keyboards: Janice Wilson and Abraham Schultz. The woman was slender, black-haired and black-eyed and looked Italian. Her hair was short and chic as well as functional. Schultz was a large blond with a slightly ruddy complexion. He was muscular and his balding hair cut almost invisibly short.

At Anna’s entrance everyone looked at her. She was clad in her regular duty outfit of tailored but not tight desert camouflage and wore the short-billed cloth cap designated as the proper “cover.” Her curly black hair peeped out around the cap. To this she had added the harness she’d worn the night before with the same set of weapons, though the M5’s stock was collapsed so that it appeared to be a machine pistol.

She flowed into the room like some prowling lioness and came to a halt near the lieutenant but where she could address all of them. Still, yet seeming poised to move, she waited for the lieutenant to speak, who glanced at her weapons but did not question her right to carry them.

“Glad to see you, Corporal King. You look ready to work despite spending a good deal walking around in the dark last night. Let’s get you up to speed.”

He introduced her to the two Army corporals. They stood and she shook hands with them.

“I’m glad to meet you, Corporal Wilson, Corporal Schultz. But Sir, before we go much further, I think I should be debriefed first about my actions last night.”

“It sounds like you have something significant to report.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Very well. We’ll take advantage of that and teach you the standard procedure for intel debriefs by actually running you through it. This is something you’ll need to do in your role as an intel operator.”

He began to walk out of the room.

The sergeant said, “Wilson, Schultz, join us. It can’t hurt to review the process. And, everybody, if you need to, get a drink or refresh it.”

Wang led the way through a narrow hall. On the way they passed a kitchenette area with a refrigerator and a narrow waist-high table holding a microwave and heated-drink console where you could fashion a mug of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. There were also paper plates, plastic dinner ware, napkins, and other supplies. Plus a narrow waist-high sink with hot and cold faucets.

The others refreshed their drinks. Anna took a foam coffee cup and made herself a cup of hot chocolate from hot water and a tear-open packet of dry mix. She didn’t especially want it but thought it would help build camaraderie.

The debriefing was in a conference room with a table in its middle which would seat a couple of dozen people. Chairs lined the walls and everyone selected one and pulled it up to the table. Wang sat at the head which had an info slate lying in front of him. He waved Anna to a seat to his left. Sergeant Matlock sat at his right side and the two corporals sat beside the sergeant and opposite Anna.

The Lieutenant said, “Every mission has a prebrief before and a debrief after. They can be very simple or very complex.”

He was obviously giving a lecture but spoke so informally that it seemed more like a conversation.

He tapped at the info slate to wake it up and give it a command. Opposite him on a wall a large flat screen woke to life. It showed a vertical diagram of oval boxes with brief notations inside them. Arrows led downward from each oval to the oval below. A few arrows also came out the sides of the ovals and looped upward or downward past some ovals to end in other ovals.

“This is a flow chart which acts as a checklist for the debrief. There’s a nearly identical checklist for prebriefs. Naturally, since the two cover the same territory, before and after the mission.”

He then went through the chart, prompting her at each stage. The first was what her purpose was.

“My job was to find any hostiles, find out what they were doing and going to do, and prevent any attacks.”

And what sensors and effectors went on the mission? The first included people and machines, as did the second.

Anna pointed to herself.

“List them.”

“My eyes and ears and so on for sensors.” And the super-advanced gravity radar of Tiara and Pegasus.

“No night-vision goggles or hearing aids?”

“No. My own built-in sensors were adequate.”

The Sergeant said, “We have quite good equipment for that sort of thing in the armory. You might consider checking them out.” His tone was so mild it was clearly a rebuke.

“Aye, aye.” I hear and obey, that meant. But since her command was independent of the Army it meant she was only obligated to consider his suggestion.

“And what were your effectors?”

She stated it was her hands and feet and brains, and her clothing and weapons. But did not mention her super-advanced equipment.

Corporal Wilson asked about the sword-stick she carried on her back. Anna drew the sword and showed it briefly, saying that it would cut through steel. Then she slid it back into its sheath without looking at the sheath or sword and without using her fingers to mate the blade with the sheath opening.

Corporal Schultz said, “Aren’t you afraid you’ll stab yourself in the back doing that?”

“Two reasons. Practice. And weapon design. The opening to the sheath flares. The tip of the blade is a blunt triangle which eases the blade into the opening. And the back of the blade is dull. I actually rest it on my shoulder to help locate the sheath, but that’s so brief watchers don’t notice.”

A map of the base and the surrounding territory flicked onto the screen. It showed the three enemy bases Anna had discovered among other features. Wang explained them to the two corporals.

“Wow,” said Schultz. “The Sarge said you’d done some recon before you checked in. This is impressive.”

“Thank you, Corporal.”

Lieutenant Wang led her through the paths she’d taken, starting at midnight, and added them via dotted lines on the map. He also added time notations at certain points.

“Now we come to my encounter with a group of hostiles.”

She described the time and place of that encounter and the approximate numbers and weapons they carried.

Wang said, “Procedure is to double-check all such numbers in several ways. Often we see over and under estimations.”

“Some of this can be checked when a squad goes out to where I confronted the hostiles.”

Everyone looked at her. Wang told her to explain, in detail.

She did so, including just a bare mention of the “special effects” she used to scare the attackers. She was ready to refuse to further describe or demonstrate the effects equipment, claiming it was experimental and classified.

She thought they might ask about the effects but they ignored her mention of them. Instead they focused on her claim that she fought the attackers with her sword rather than firearms.

Wang plainly disbelieved this. He called a halt and took out his inter-base phone.

“Captain, Wang here. I’ve got something I need to have checked out immediately if at all possible. Could you send a squad out with satellite-connected vidcams? The location is about nine clicks to the west.”

With Tiara Anna snooped on the other side of the conversation. So she knew that a quick-reaction squad would be dispatched within fifteen minutes.

Wang put the phone away and announced that fact.

“I frankly think you are out of your mind, Lance Corporal King, and spinning a fantasy. But let’s act as if you are not and continue the procedure. Describe the ‘fight’ you had.”

“They emptied their weapons at the apparition that I was projecting. Then they tried to attack it. I was able to kill nine of them before they broke and ran. I then followed them as far as their base camp and stuck around to make sure they didn’t regroup.”

Schultz said, “Why didn’t you kill some more of them at their base camp?”

“Partly, frankly, because I was a little sick to my stomach about killing them. It was my first time.

“But there’s another reason. The more live insurgents there are who witnessed their fight against a demon the better. They’ll spread the story more widely. And maybe we’ll face fewer threats. Going up against guns they’re prepared to handle. But they don’t know how to fight demons.”

Schultz said, “They can’t exorcise them or use holy water or something?”

Wilson said, her voice thoughtful, “I’ll have to check my memory against the literature. But I don’t think the locals have that kind of equipment in their mythology.”

“And they really believe in demons?”

“Even the educated. Except they’re not demons the way we think of them. They’re djinn, or jinni. In Arabic script JNN. Supernatural beings, some evil, some good, just like people.”

The debriefing continued for a half hour more, then broke up, where they returned to their desks in the main work room. Everyone but the Sergeant returned to their tasks. He spent some time with Anna telling her more about what her duties would be.

This included simple matters such as entering data into the Intel Database, checking for updates to their local version from higher up the chain of command, and doing analyses. She was surprised at how many kinds and how complicated they were, but it helped that there was software which guided analysts through the process.

About an hour later the Lieutenant got a call on his phone. He put it away and called everyone to go into the conference room.

They settled into their former places and Wang said, “We’ve got the squad in place. They’ve reconned around the site and it’s secure.”

He gave a command to the info slate on the table before him. The large wall screen lit up to show the face of a Latino male of middle years in full battle dress including body armor and flak helmet.

“Sergeant Ariaga. Com’esta?”

“Pretty good, Sir. We’ve got an interesting site here.”

Wang nodded. There was a camera inside the conference room flat screen, for the sergeant obviously saw him. He moved aside and the view panned over the location of Anna’s fight of the night before. Whoever was manning the camera had a pretty steady hand or else it was mounted on a tripod or something similar.

“Here’s where the ragheads came into this clearing. They milled around a bit, as you can see from the marks on the ground.”

The camera panned down and Anna saw where the attackers had stopped when they’d seen her floating in the air before them.

“They started firing. See all the shell casings on the ground? They practically emptied their magazines to have produced so much glitter. They were firing that way.”

He pointed and the camera panned up and sideways to show where Anna had fought the attackers. The ground was littered with bodies, scattered in twisted heaps in some places. The colors were bright in the sunlight of day. The red of blood and the details of strewn intestines and body parts was especially vivid.

Her stomach lurched and she fought to get it under control.

The lieutenant and sergeant continued studying the scene on the camera but the two corporals turned to look at her. She avoided their gaze by following their example.

“Someone used some kind of anti-personnel weapon on them. Not a machine gun. Maybe a bladed weapon. But it was sharp as Hell and wielded with a lot of force. Take a look at this one.”

The camera jumped and then moved several paces closer to the fight scene. Then it steadied and zoomed in on one corpse.

“This one was cut entirely in two at the waist. Look.”

On screen could be seen the barrel of a rifle pointing at a dead man, apparently Sergeant Ariaga’s weapon.

Anna’s stomach lurched again. The insides of the man had spilled out. The camera caught all the details in full color and high resolution.

The camera held the image for a moment, then zoomed back out to see more of the fight scene. It showed the squad sergeant to one side where he’d moved closer.

“There are two more cut open like that. One was sliced crossways at the shoulder. That took a Hell of lot of force. It cut this carbine entirely in two. That’s tempered steel, Lieutenant.”

Anna kept her eyes on the screen as it zoomed in and down to show the ruined rifle but she could see that the Sergeant across from her was looking at her.

The image held and then zoomed back out and up. The sergeant onscreen pointed down again and the view panned down but did not zoom in.

“The rest of the bodies had their heads cut off. Clean off. All in all nine hostiles, Sir, bit the dust here.”

“Good work, Sergeant. Any indications of who or what did this? Do you see tire tracks or boot tracks leading away from the scene?”

“Only those of the ragheads. They went back the way they came, some dropping weapons. In a Hell of a hurry to judge by the boot tracks. They were running as if Satan Himself was chasing them.”

“Any more dead hostiles? Further back along their track?”

“Not out to 1000 yards. That’s as far as we did a spiral search.”

“Do a complete workup of the site. Still and movie shots. Leave it as it is. I’ll have another squad come out and do cleanup and physical evidence gathering. When you’re done, follow the track for up to three miles for more evidence, then return to the scene to guard it till cleanup gets there.”

“Yes, Sir.”

The flat screen blinked to black, then to grey and off.

Everyone was looking at Anna. She gazed back, a little nervous under the scrutiny, but her face showed none of it. As perfect in its beauty and composure as that of any PhotoFixed actress, she could have been “grey-eyed Goddess Athena” come to life.

“Hmm,” said the Sergeant. “That’s quite a weapon you have there, Corporal. Where did you get it?”

“It’s a one-off made for me and a few others. By a high-tech client company of my father’s.”

“What’s the name of the company?”

“I signed a non-disclosure agreement. Sorry.”

“Hmm.”

Lieutenant Wang said, “How much did your father pay for it?”

“He didn’t. I did. I have a trust fund.”

“It must be pretty generous. That’s a very expensive piece of equipment.”

“Not that much. I’m one of the beta testers. The results will eventually go into production equipment for the military and other clients.”

As she spoke she was analyzing responses via Tiara and coming up with answers with Tiara’s help that would be plausible.

“Let’s see it again. Lay it on the table.”

“Yes, sir. I have to caution no one to handle it. Especially the blade. It’s so sharp you can literally cut a hand off and not even feel it at first.”

She drew it and carefully laid it on the middle of the table in front of everyone. It gleamed, the hilt molded for her hand a soft shine as if of polished wood, the composite material of the blade a duller gleam of seeming steel.

Corporal Wilson tentatively reached a finger toward it, looking at Anna for permission.

“Touch only, please, Corporal.”

The woman slid her finger tip along the hilt, then very carefully along the side of the blade. She drew her hand back.

“It feels like silk.”

Everyone was quiet. No one else seemed to want to feel the weapon.

“May I sheathe it again, Sir? I’m very nervous about the blade being out of its home.”

Wang nodded his head and Anna smoothly retrieved the sword and slid it home. Everyone else leaned away from it and almost visibly breathed a sigh of relief when she was done.

Schultz said, “How do you clean it?”

“It’s self cleaning. Debris slides right off.”

The corporal grunted, not quite a laugh.

“Debris. Yeah. Like blood and guts.”

The Sergeant said, “And bone. And metal filings. Don’t you worry about cutting metal, Corporal? Dulling the blade?”

“No. I was told that it’s far harder than steel, the edge at least. It will even cut diamond.”

Schultz said, “I’ll be very interested when this material starts to go on the market. It just might revolutionize some fields.”

Lieutenant Wang said, “Well, that’s it for now. Let’s get back to work. Corporal King, you and the Sergeant work up a report on the debrief. Tofari will guide you in the format we require. I’d like it by day’s end.”

<>

The rest of the work day was routine. The two corporals were tasked to teach her some of the duties the two officers told them she’d be involved in. Wang was considerate enough to ask her if she needed to leave early to make up for lost sleep. She did not.

At 1700, the end of the official work day, the Sergeant released her. She retrieved her weapons from the top of a filing cabinet, put them on, and walked out.

She was halfway to the chow hall when she heard a call from behind her.

“Hey, wait up!” It was Corporal Schultz, walking quickly. Behind him came Corporal Wilson, not in quite as much hurry but clearly focusing on Anna.

She waited till they caught up. The three entered the chow lines, separated, but came together when their trays were full, and found a table. They were joined shortly by Georges and Armstrong. Soon the three men were deep in some discussion about an online video game. Wilson rolled her eyes and the two women began to share histories.

They were working on their desserts when a sergeant approached their table. It was Ariaga from the fight investigation detail.

“Hey, you’re Corporal King, right?”

“Yes, Sergeant. Lance Corporal Annalisa King. I recognize you from the video conference we had this morning.”

“Well, good job, King. Those ragheads would have given us a bit of trouble last night. They were carrying RPGs and heavy machine guns.”

“Nothing you couldn’t handle, I’m sure. I checked out your sensor array when I went out last night. I was impressed with what I saw in your guard shack.”

“Yeah… Hey, Wilson, could you move a bit and let me sit here?”

“Certainly.”

The sergeant’s position in front of her separated Anna a little from Wilson, who was right across the table from her, but not so much that the woman could not easily hear. She looked on curiously.

“Thanks, Wilson,” the man said to her, then turned back to Anna.

“The thing is, every time we get one of these attacks, and we’ve been here seven months now and had several, everyone loses sleep and we have to spend more time on security. We need to get this base set up permanent by the time the cold season gets here. It snows and the wind gets in everything. It’s hard to do the heavy outside work in those conditions. So we’re extra grateful we’ve somebody who really knows their job to help out.”

“Pleased that I can contribute.”

“Yeah. They’ve given us a tough schedule. We need to spend all daylight hours doing heavy construction work, right up to dark. But the sensor guys complain they can’t guarantee security near nightfall.

“Tell me, not complaining, but how come you carved up those guys instead of standing out and plinking them? You could have gotten more, and might have got killed working so close up.”

She explained her prevention-not-protection theory, and her idea of playing to the insurgents’ supernatural fears.

“Well, sounds good. You’re a smart cookie, King. I suppose we’ll see how it works out.

“Is that the weapon you used?” He pointed at the hilt sticking up over one shoulder.

She nodded.

“Some kind of samurai sword? Can I see it?”

“No, I’d rather not let it out of my hands. Sorry.”

“No need to be. No need. I don’t feel that way, but some good people I know are very particular about their personal weapons.”

He stood up and leaned down to shake her hand. “Good to have you with us, King.”

The three men at her table had been listening. Georges asked that was about, and Schultz began to tell him and Armstrong.

Anna and Corporal Wilson got up and took their emptied trays to the garbage area. Outside the building the other woman said, “You want to come to my place and hang out? Or vice versa?”

“Sure. But tomorrow night would be better. I need to turn in early. I got very little sleep in the last two days.”

“OK. And call me Janice.”

“I’m Anna. See you in the morning.”

Continued in Chapter 5 – Agent.

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